Ancient Stone Tablets (Kodai no Sekiban) is by far my favorite of the three BS Zelda installments. It's charming, has some replay value, fun dungeons and is pretty much the perfect Zelda game for playing in between. It's basically like a mod or a 2nd Quest / Master Quest for A Link to the Past, but the game is much shorter and easier than the original. With the exception of the game's end it takes entirely place on A Link to the Past's Light World, but there are eight new dungeons and several other modifications.
Like the previous BS Zelda game(s) this one comes in four episodes. Each episode places you in another part of Hyrule and you only have one hour time to finish all the objectives, which includes two new dungeons per episode. But the most important difference between A Link to the Past is that you're not playing as Link, but as yourself. You're referred to as the "Hero of Light", who enters the realm of Hyrule in each episode and then magically disappears again. Link himself is on a journey (probably a reference to Link's Awakening) and you have to save Hyrule in his place. You're collecting eight mysterious Ancient Stone Tablets (hence the title), that have the power to open a portal into the Dark World.
Every episode has a set of special events and sidequests. In each episode you will find a stronger sword, a new bottle, eight Pieces of Heart, a minigame, a Rental Shop and a Mole. The Rental Shops let you rent a stronger sword (unless you already have the Master Sword) and a shovel for 100 Rupees. With the shovel you can dig up a Piece of Heart, whose position is marked on your map. The Mole appears at a specific time in a specific place and when you talk to him, he will open a mole cave somewhere else. Those caves have tons of rupees, so you shouldn't miss this. Also, every dungeon has an "Upgrade Thief". Somewhere inside the dungeons one of those thief characters from A Link to the Past is hidden and he offers you the ability to carry more bombs or arrows. In each episode this offer will cost twice as much as before, it starts with 50 and ends with 400 Rupees in the last episode. But by then this amount of Rupees can be considered as peanuts. Furthermore the potion shop will offer a Golden Potion once per episode. This one works like a Blue Potion, but it also makes you charge your Spin Attack faster. And it's quite cheap, much cheaper than all the other potions, but you can only buy one per episode.
The dungeons are the most fun in this game. They are small and short, but they have lots of hidden rooms with treasure chests full of rupees. Opening those treasure chests was part of a highscore system and your goal should be to find as many of them as possible. Normally you have to blow up a wall to get into the hidden rooms, but there aren't any visible cracks. However, all hidden rooms are visible on the dungeon map, so it's not as hard to find everything as you may think at first. But regulary about 50% of a dungeon is optional, which makes the dungeons quite special. Additionally the dungeons usually contain more than one new item. The bosses at the end of the dungeons are very easy, they have much lower health compared to their A Link to the Past counterparts, but you don't have much time for battling bosses anyway.
Overall you're collecting tons of rupees in this game, since the treasure chests were part of a highscore system. I got more than 10,000 in my playthrough today, the only game, that has more rupees, is Freshly Picked: Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland. But you don't need all those rupees, only for the "Upgrades Thieves" and renting a shovel. Maybe also for the minigames, but those are optional and a waste of time.
Next to live voice acting Ancient Stone Tablets offered live music. CD-quality music from the "Sound & Drama" album was played during the game. This is why the original ROMs of the game don't have any music. When I first tried the BS Zeldas about two years ago, the game felt very empty because of this, but by now the BS Zelda Homepage team has included the music tracks from A Link to the Past to make the game more enjoyable and atmospheric.
The restored version comes in four ROMs, one for each episode. This has the advantage, that you can easily replay an episode in case you have missed an item. Since you carry over your SRAM, you only have to go for the missing stuff then. This might be necessary, because unlike in the first BS Zelda you're really short in time here. If you want to complete the dungeons 100% and collect all Pieces of Heart, you really have to hurry or else you won't make it. It's possible, but there's no room for mistakes. For example in episodes 3 and 4 I faced the second boss in the very last minute.
Let's take a closer look at the individual episodes.
- Broadcasted on March 30th, 1997
- New Items: Big Bag (Ocarina, Lantern, Bug-Catching Net, Bottle), L-1 Sword, Bombs, Small Shield, Bow, Pegasus Boots, Zora's Flippers, Magic Boomerang
- Level 1: Armos Knights, Level 2: Moldorm
- Broadcasted on April 6th, 1997
- New Items: Bottle, Magic Hammer, Blue Mail, Magic Powder, Tempered Sword, Large Shield, Hookshot
- Level 3: Helmasaur King, Level 4: Arrghus
- Broadcasted on April 13th, 1997
- New Items: Worn-Out Glove, Power Glove, L-3 Sword, Bottle, Red Mail, Fire Rod
- Level 5: Lanmolas, Level 6: Mothula
- Broadcasted on April 20th, 1997
- New Items: Bottle, Titan's Mitt, Cane of Somaria, Master Sword, Mirror Shield, Ice Rod, Silver Arrows
- Level 7: Kholdstare, Level 8: Trinexx
A Virtual Console port is definitely possible. It would miss the live voice acting and music, but you can easily use the music from A Link to the Past and text boxes. The timed events aren't as strict as in the first BS Zelda game (like a Heart Container only availabe for eight minutes), it's more or less just made so that not everything is available from the start. But you could time everything with the help of the tablets. As soon as you have collected two tablets the next episode will start. The Mole will then appear in the old area and you should go back to find him. The special persons, who are following you, like Zelda or the dwarf should appear after the first dungeon and so on. Like in the first BS Zelda there are also power ups appearing in a certain time including unlimited bombs and arrows, the sword beam ability and the powers of the three Medallions. The latter could be included like in Four Swords Adventures as pick up items, that are randomly dropped by enemies. But overall you wouldn't need a clock to play the game. For the Highscore system, they should add something like a percentage meter in the Metroid games, which tells you, how many percent of all the secrets you have found.
As a conclusion, Ancient Stone Tablets is really nice. It's perfect if you're in the mood for some A Link to the Past, but don't have the time to play through the actual game. It's a short and nice dose of Zelda for in between. Of course the game is very easy and doesn't provide any challenge for A Link to the Past veterans, but still every fan of A Link to the Past should check it out.
This was the last part of my BS Zelda special. The BS Zelda games are really the "Lost Zeldas" and they were definitely the best games on the BS-X system. Nintendo should really look into this, those games on the Virtual Console would be quite popular. Until then every Zelda fan should go check out the BS Zelda Homepage.