Zelda II: The Adventure of Link NES The reviewer purchased this game himself.
I don’t like this game, which is a stance I clearly share with many other fans of the Zelda series. However, whereas many of my comrades dislike the game for not sticking to the same formula as the other games in the series, my reasons are a little bit more specific. Allow me to elaborate:
Five times the pages!
The story of Zelda II is a step up from its predecessor, though mostly in the sense that it now fits on 10 pages instead of just 2. We once again follow the story of Link, a heroic youth that defeated Ganon’s army of darkness and freed Hyrule from his tyranny. Except the remnants of the dark army didn’t exactly go away and are now hunting down Link so they can perform a ritual to revive their fallen master.
Meanwhile, a strange mark appeared on Link’s hand, indicating he was part of a prophesied quest. By reading the manual you find out about a prince in the Kingdom of Hyrule that inherited only a part of the Triforce, the magical relic Link had to piece back together in the first game. There are actually 3 Triforces, representing Power, Wisdom, and Courage, but this prince did not acquire all of them. A wizard who aided him suggested that the prince’s sister, Princess Zelda, held the remaining parts, but she denied such. Angered, the wizard cast a spell on the girl that put her in an eternal slumber, which obviously wasn’t what the prince intended. In his grief he had a temple built for her and demanded all girls born in his family be called “Zelda” from there on out.
Link’s new quest is to travel the land for the last triforce, Courage, and use its powers to awaken the slumbering princess. This once again forces him to delve into various temples, defeat the guardians of each, and find his way across the land with the help of the townsfolk. The effort to ascend the story of the series to a new level is much appreciated and makes it less of a “monsters bad, defeat their boss” routine. What exactly the Triforce is or does is left vague here and it mostly just seems to solve plot issues, but I do really like the background story with the prince and the wizard. Overall, it’s a neat setup for a big adventure.
Story score: 9/10
stab stab stab OUCH
For several years Zelda II would be the most dynamic game in the series in terms of combat, yet I feel very few people appreciate just how neat of a system the game uses due to how difficult it is.
Instead of fighting monsters as you travel there are now two separate styles of play you switch between.On the map screen you travel around and visit towns, but when you step off the path sprites representing enemy encounters will appear and wander around. If you touch any of them you are taken to a 2D side-scrolling stage where you have more direct control. As Link you can jump around, cast spells, and strike at enemies while standing or kneeling. This last part is important when fighting small enemies or foes with a shield, which is when the game turns into a fencing duel as you try to block their strikes while getting some of yours to land. As you proceed through the game you learn new spells and combat moves to introduce even more variety, but at the same time enemies also grow tougher and more varied.
Link still fires a beam from his sword when at full health and a second bar has been added to keep track off your magic. Also new are the experience points that turn this game into an action RPG. As you defeat enemies you gain these experience points and once you reach a certain amount the game will pop up a window asking what you want to upgrade. You can choose between health, magic, and attack, the latter of which improves the amount of damage you do while the other two just provide you with more HP and magic. After an upgrade it will take significantly more points to upgrade the same category again.
That’s all really positive, but where Zelda II trips up is with its relentless difficulty. When I first played this game I thought I had somehow triggered the second quest because right off the bat the order of things makes no sense. You are expected to make it through a dark cave before you even have the chance to get a candle, meaning you are up against invisible monsters. The game is also way too keen to send tough foes your way like the flying skulls that take 50 hits (no kidding) and leveling up early on isn’t easy since a lot of the more common enemies won’t provide you with experience.
The game also has control issues, particularly when it comes to jumping. Link’s agility is nothing to write home about and the game loves to make you go back-and-forth across long rooms with lava pits that you can just barely jump across. Magic alleviates some of these issues; you get a guard spell early on that makes you more resilient and a jump spell that increases your airtime, but even then it feels like you are just barely making it through the game’s temples. Once you get to the second area grinding becomes a must and it’s therefore a shame that the game punishes death by completely wiping your gained experience. Doesn’t matter if you had 10 or 10,000, it’s all gone.
More regrettably, the game is now completely linear. In The Legend of Zelda you had a lot of freedom to choose the order in which to tackle the temples, so it’s weird that Zelda II backtracked on that design philosophy and gated off access to new areas so thoroughly. It’s admirable of Nintendo to try something new with the series so early on, but it feels way more restrictive, the controls are just barely passable, and the difficulty is set too high. I can’t just casually put in Zelda II and have some fun, this is a game where I need to buckle down, grit my teeth, and grind myself silly for a few days.
Gameplay score: 3/10
New faces, new enemies
Presentation-wise the game is a step up from the original game, which honestly isn’t saying that much considering the first game sacrificed presentation to realize its ambitions. You now have actual towns to visit where non-player characters wander around and there are now actually more than two sprites for these friendly villagers. There are also more enemies and these are noticeably more detailed than the simplistic foes you’d battle in the first game.
To compensate for this, the world you explore is a lot less interesting. It’s larger, sure, but it feels more partitioned off by mountain ranges and obstacles you can’t pass until clearing one area. There is also a lot less to do as caves are obviously marked and you make your way through each zone much quicker since enemies no longer appear as you go and their encounters are easy to avoid if you want to, which again contributes to everything feeling small. Even if traversing the land took longer, there is rarely more than seven things worth seeing, which usually refers to towns, caves, and hidden areas, so there is a lot less content here.
The music in this sequel is not directed by series’ mainstay Koji Kondo, another fact I have heard people bring up when criticizing this title. Instead it’s Akito Nakatsuka who has the reigns in hand. I really like his work on Excitebike and Ice Climber, and I must admit that I actually prefer Zelda II‘s soundtrack over the original, as much as that may sound like heresy. I find the temple and overworld themes to fit their respective atmospheres well and the music for combat encounters is pretty nice too.
Overall Zelda II looks and sounds better at the cost of feeling smaller and less exciting.
Presentation score: 7/10
Zelda II: The Adventure of Link is one of the weirder games in my collection in the sense that the issues that bother me always fade from memory. I am really good at remembering how much I like the combat system and when I hear the fanbase protest against the game for being different I always feel the desire bubble up to replay it out of sheer spite. Then I get into it and spend 25 minutes trying to somehow clear the ridiculous jump you need to make to get to area 2 or get bogged down grinding for two hours, and then I remember why I rarely finish those replays.
The reality of the situation is that Zelda II has little to return to. While turning an existing series into an RPG usually means it’s going to be bigger and more open, Zelda II is smaller than every other game in the series. There is less secrets, less freedom to experiment, and not much to collect that isn’t mandatory for progression. There is also no second quest in the sense that it redesigns the overworld and dungeons, instead you get a new game plus that allows you to do the exact same game again with all your upgrades still in tact. At least it’s something…
Extras score: 1/10
The greatest shortcoming of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link is that it doesn’t feel anywhere near as ambitious as its predecessor. While it features an interesting take on combat, the rudimentary RPG mechanics are placed on top of a boring action-adventure title. There is too little in the game to do and what you can do is made tedious due to bad controls and design that outright focuses on punishing you.