Before I get too ahead of myself it’s worth talking about A Link to the Past’s opening, because it’s pretty much perfect.
It starts with some text blurb, setting up the lore of the land. Hyrule, the Triforce, evil powers, broken seals, all that stuff. And then in a bit of Mode 7 willy-waving it zooms down from the world map into the castle to introduce our baddie, the evil wizard Agahnim, and our damsel in distress, Zelda.
But here’s where it gets really good. We cut to Link’s house at night. Zelda calls out to him in a dream: “I’m in the dungeon of the castle, please help me”. Before Link can process what’s happened, his uncle’s warning our sleepy soon-to-be adventurer to stay home. Bad things are happening and the uncle, tooled up with sword and shield, is off to investigate.
Link’s not the kind of kid to do as he’s told though, and anyway the player is in control now, so he jumps out of bed, grabs a lantern and heads out into the night.
Outside, rain is lashing down, lightning fills the skies and soldiers roam around ominously. Through the downpour, Link pushes on towards the castle, but it’s guarded. He can’t get in. Zelda calls out again: there’s secret passageway around the side. Link finds it, tumbles down into a dingy tunnel and almost immediately stumbles across his uncle.
Poor old unc isn’t in a good state. The victim of a soldier brainwashed by the evil wizard, he’s slumped against a wall, dying. Before he pops his clogs, he gives you his sword and shield, teaches you a “secret sword technique used by the knights of Hyrule” and tells you to rescue Zelda. It’s your destiny. Some last words: “I shall always remember… our time… together”.
That last line alone suggests all kinds of backstory. Perhaps something tragic happened to Link’s parents and the uncle had to step up, take on responsibility for the boy, raise him right. That’s why he told Link not to leave the house, why he didn’t tell him what was going on. He just wanted to protect the boy like he always has. And now he’s dead at Link’s feet and the child is on his own.
It’s all really rather well done. The super atmospheric stormy night, the secret passageway, learning a sword technique used by the knights of freaking Hyrule, the sudden shift from boy to man that Link must undergo with the passing of his uncle. This is how you set up an adventure.
One last thing: When Link’s uncle dies, his body doesn’t disappear. There’s no phasing out of the sprite or a puff of smoke. He just lays there motionless, slumped against a wall, his dead body lit by the glow of a torch in that shitty tunnel. It’s quite brutal, really.
Forget Hyrule and Zelda, there’s your primary motivation: mess up the idiot who killed your uncle. It’s such a good opening.