The Master Sword in A Link to the Past


The Master Sword. The blade of evil’s bane. The sword that seals the darkness. The one that isn’t even in the original game. You know–the sword that you’re suppose to wield when you repel the ultimate evil and save Hyrule. Is there a more iconic video game weapon? I don’t know–but even if there is, how does something so simple stay so fresh through nearly a dozen appearances in its series?

Well, let’s start at the beginning, which happens to mean game three in the chronological ordering. Link’s swordsmanship is already a well established part of the series, so how do you elevate a hero’s main feature to the ultimate McGuffin?

The Setup

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past wastes little time in setting up the Master Sword as the must-have means of thwarting the evil endangering the land of Hyrule. As soon as you have brought Zelda to Sanctuary, she expounds on the greater plot of the game, explaining how the power of the wizard is the same evil that it took seven wise men to seal away in a battle that was definitely way more exciting than sleeping during a rainstorm. She then concludes that the only way anyone can stop the wizard is with that legendary blade, and tells you where to learn more. This sets up some great context: you are compelled by royalty to go look into a weapon that will give you great power. Said differently, someone important said that you need this sword–it’s an important sword for important people–like you–to do important things with–like defeat evil wizards. You’re instantly affirmed in your quest and your worthiness. You’re also explicitly assured that the sword your uncle gave is literally not going to cut it. Good thing you’re important.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past wastes little time in setting up the Master Sword as the must-have means of thwarting the evil endangering the land of Hyrule. As soon as you have brought Zelda to Sanctuary, she expounds on the greater plot of the game, explaining how the power of the wizard is the same evil that it took seven wise men to seal away in a battle that was definitely way more exciting than sleeping during a rainstorm. She then concludes that the only way anyone can stop the wizard is with that legendary blade, and tells you where to learn more. This sets up some great context: you are compelled by royalty to go look into a weapon that will give you great power. Said differently, someone important said that you need this sword–it’s an important sword for important people–like you–to do important things with–like defeat evil wizards. You’re instantly affirmed in your quest and your worthiness. You’re also explicitly assured that the sword your uncle gave is literally not going to cut it. Good thing you’re important.

The Trials

Once you learn where he’s hiding, Sahasrahla tells you just what you want to know: how to free the sword! To start, he lets you know about the three pendants, and immediately challenges you to go retrieve the first one in nearby Eastern Palace. If you want the sword, you have to possess the pendants. Those are the rules. In self-serving fashion, when Sahasrahla asks if you really want to find the sword, the game offers two options: basically “Yeah” and “Heck yeah.” Not to mention, Sahasrahla will give you another artifact if you make it back–heck yeah.

Trial I. The Pendant of Courage

Eastern Palace isn’t so bad. Those eyeball creatures are pretty unsettling, but you found one of the treasures the old lady told you about–a bow and arrow –that took care of them. And six monsters as a boss!? Good thing you’re seven times cooler than a wise man. Pendant get! Back to Sahasrahla’s place!

As Sahasrahla delivers on the promise of more story time, the game now reveals the lore-based reason you’re important: you are a descendant of the knights that protected the wise men who sealed away the evil! I guess that explains your adventurous and courageous spirit. Sahasrahla affirms his trust in you, since you were able to retrieve the pendant (which used to be guarded by your ancestors). He then urges you to regain the other pendants. Basically, prove you are a knight by regaining the things the knights used to have. Then, after proving yourself, you can obtain the Master Sword! And do even cooler knight things with it!

Trial II. The Pendant of Power

As a parting gift, Sahasrahla entrusts to you the boots, and hints at the location of another treasure. From here, the map is your main guide; you’ll find your way down to the desert where Aginah indicates that there is a prophecy regarding a Great Cataclysm that will occur, which certainly raises the stakes. Hopefully you can defeat the wizard before anything too crazy happens.

The prophecy involves you getting a book that helps you read the text you had trouble with from before, granting you the means to carry on to Desert Palace where you find more treasure, three enemies for a boss instead of six, and the Pendant of Power. Your goal of finding three Pendants is in sight!

Total side note: the Pendant of Power comes from the desert, from where, in later games, Ganondorf hails. He often possesses the Triforce of Power. Foresight? Coincidence? I don’t know, but it’s neat either way.

Trial III. The Pendant of Wisdom

Up the mountain you go, for the final Pendant yonder lies. On the way up, you are basically forced to help an old man (but you would anyway, right?), who rewards you with a magic mirror. He gives you more than that as he rambles: you learn of people vanishing in the mountains, that the Dark World and the Moon Pearl exist, where to find the Pearl, and that there’s such a thing as a magical transporter. He also reemphasizes that there’s like six maidens who are missing–maybe you can handle that once you get the Master Sword and defeat the wizard.

At the summit, you enter the Tower of Hera, retrieving the Moon Pearl, engaging your first single-creature boss, and winning the final Pendant.

Other total side note: it’s at least a bit curious that the dungeon containing the Pendant of Wisdom was named after a Roman goddess, Hera, but not the Roman goddess of wisdom, Minerva. Oh well.

The Payoff

With Courage, Power, and Wisdom in tow, it’s finally time to obtain the Master Sword! Deep in the forest you find the pedestal where the blade sleeps. Bonus points if you took the time to translate the inscription which reads:

The Hero’s triumph on Cataclysm’s Eve
Wins three symbols of virtue.
The Master Sword he will then retrieve,
Keeping the Knight’s [sic] line true.

With epic fanfare, you claim the sword–and your place in the Knights’ line–cutting away the fog and winning some immediate telepathic congratulations from Sahasrahla. You’ve realized your place as a hero, and not a moment to soon, as you’re about to find out you’ve only done about a quarter of all the awesome heroic deeds you are called to.

But Wait, There’s More!

As you depart from the forest, you receive a second, much more alarming telepathic message. The possessed soldiers of Hyrule are coming to Sanctuary to take the last of the seven maidens: Princess Zelda. AIEEEEEEE!

No matter how quickly you make it back to Sanctuary, you’re too late! The priest entreats you with his dying breath: you have to search out the wizard and rescue Zelda once more. The Master Sword is just the tool you need to enter Castle Tower, best the enemies within, and face-off with the evil wizard, Agahnim. If you maintain your full health, you also notice a new way for you to attack: sword beams! At the end of your duel with Agahnim, you’re pulled into Dark World. Have you failed to prevent the Cataclysm? Even if so, you can’t give up–you’re the Hero, after all!

From here, the beats of the story that directly involve the Master Sword become more spaced out, but include some interesting twists and turns. You’ll need to raise it in the mountains of Light World to obtain the magic of Ether, granting access to Misery Mire dungeon in Dark World. That magic, conversely, requires you to use your sword to activate–just another awesome power conferred by the blade of evil’s bane. Then, in the end, you learn that the Master Sword alone is not enough to damage Ganon; you have to use the secret technique that your uncle taught you to have a chance in the fight–on top of employing the silver arrows. (Technically, you can beat Ganon without the silver arrows, but that is considered a glitch in the game.)

Somewhat surprisingly, there’s actually two upgrades to the legendary blade available, both of which come from side quests. One of those quests, does lead to the silver arrows though, and is therefore pretty easy to get, if not downright required. While you could feel like the sword was over-hyped since you needed to further upgrade it to get the best use from it, consider this: you are such an awesome hero that you elevated this sword to a power it perhaps hadn’t before known! If my math is right, you’re basically important times seven wise men plus two sword upgrades! I’m not sure what number that is, but if you don’t feel cool after that, consult your physician.

Conclusion

A Link to the Past introduces the Master Sword proper, sets you up to earn your prize, and then has you spend more than half the game wielding it to do heroic deeds, ultimately rescuing the princess, a holy relic, and the whole world of Hyrule in the process! You get to want, earn, then employ the blade of evil’s bane, all in the course of just doing things that you as a video games player, hero, and all around champ would be doing anyway. Of course you feel fantastic, awe-struck, and incredibly satisfied when you finally reach out, with a wish in your heart, to touch the Triforce!

You wish things back to normal, credits roll, and, since you’ve brought peace to the world, you lay the Master Sword to rest back in the forest… FOREVER! (Or at least until A Link Between Worlds, but whatever.)

Overall, I really think this iteration of the Master Sword is absolutely the most salient. It’s easy to mash through the text on the SNES, but you don’t need to read a word to fall deeply into the trials and payoff of winning the Master Sword (or watching your cousin do it). The appeal is immediate and obvious–better sword, cooler deeds, more fun, greater glory. All this resonates as you have more fun playing while realizing the story, leading you to play further into the game to have more fun and get to more story. By the end, you’ve got a golden sword that’s four times as powerful as what you already thought was amazing and have tackled nearly four times the trials you might’ve expected to face from the start.

It will be seven years before your next chance to wield the Master Sword; how can your next adventure possibly follow-up this one? Well, we’re going to find out when I break down the Master Sword in Ocarina of Time in the next article in this series. Thanks for reading!

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