Forget it, Link… it’s Zelda-town.
RELEASE DATE: December 1988
Zelda II is white-hot rage pockets mixed with moments of fleeting joy. It’s a jilted ex-lover employing a psychosexual hold over your thoughts, emotions, and desires. You want to put Zelda II away, out of sight, out of mind. But then it calls you at 3 am, asking where you’ve been. It coos sweet nothings into your ear about all the good times you’ve shared together: traversing Hyrule, finding extra hearts/fairies/magic containers by accident. Then its tone shifts. It gets darker, more confrontational. ‘You’ve been a lazy boy,’ it says. ‘Death Mountain doesn’t sleep. Three-Eye Rock Palace doesn’t sleep. Ganon doesn’t sleep. Only Zelda sleeps, and not because she has a choice. She’s your responsibility. Leave her to slumber for all eternity, you bastard. Go play a more fulfilling entry in the series, like Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, or your precious Wind Waker. Or if you want to be a real man, you pick up that controller and get to work.’ Sobbing, you do as Zelda II asks, or you hang up the phone and pretend the conversation never happened. Either way, there’s only so much abuse one can take.
Why did Zelda II become such a jaded, bitter game? Wild theories abound, but it’s likely due to the mixed praise the game has received from players for the past twenty-five years. Back when the original Legend of Zelda was at the height of its popularity, you would have been hard-pressed to find a gamer who didn’t appreciate its revolutionary mixture of non-linear fantasy adventure and sword-slinging action. Zelda II dared to be different than its predecessor. Like any overwhelmingly popular game series that changes its formula, Zelda II received both praise and scorn in almost equal measure.
Zelda II‘s changes are numerous and belligerent.Instead of the strict top-down exploration from the original, only the overworld utilizes a top-down view. The vastness of Hyrule – forests, swamps, caves, deserts, palaces, towns, and even battles – is explored via the overworld and is reminiscent of early RPG series like Dragon Warrior or Final Fantasy. Once you enter any of the aforementioned areas, however, the view shifts from top-down to side-scrolling and you realize how distinct Zelda II‘s structure is. It retains the unique mixture of action and adventure from the first game, while adding overt RPG elements, particularly in battle. No longer does Link fell enemies with his sword, collect Rupees/hearts, and be on his merry way. Almost every enemy you kill in Zelda II gives you experience points. Level up, and you’ll either a) upgrade the strength of your attack; b) decrease the damage you receive when an enemy hurts you; or c) decrease the cost of Magic Points to use spells. Magic spells are a crucial element to this game, and one that gamers can overlook if they’re not careful. They’re acquired from wise men in Hyrule’s towns, though you usually need to undertake item-retrieval side-quests to gain an audience with the wise men. Fail to acquire necessary spells like the extra jump, and your in-game progress will come to a halt.
Unlike the original Legend of Zelda, though, where extended periods of exploration was key to knowing where to venture next, Zelda II‘s progression is much more streamlined. The non-linearity remains, but certain parts of Hyrule won’t even be accessible to the player without key items found in the game’s dungeons or around Hyrule itself. Because of this, you’re restricted to exploring limited, but more digestible chunks of the game at one time. This makes the overall quest much easier to tackle than the completely open-world of the first game.
Alternately rewarding and busted, Zelda II‘s combat mechanics both propel the game to new heights and bog it down into excrement-filled trenches. The deeper Link traverses into Hyrule, the more tact he must use to slay his foes; mindlessly hacking away won’t cut it anymore. He must use his shield to protect from swords and projectiles (though certain projectiles, like axes, cut right through), and slice at the appropriate times to cut through the enemies’ own defenses. Stalfos, for example, are skeleton knights that employ both a shield and a sword. In order to destroy them, Link must kneel, then attack rather than stand and attack. Other jerks like the infamous Iron Knuckles will lower and raise their shield at random times while hacking at Link. Link, then, must guard and slice at the appropriate moment, or else he’ll be quickly cut down.
The trick is to learn a particular enemy’s movements, then respond accordingly. It’s engaging, but it can also be frustrating. Link’s sword is the size of a prison shiv, which forces combat to be up close and dirty. Even after the amount of damage Link can receive has been upgraded several times, it will only take a few hits from a powerful foe for him to die. Lose all your lives and you’ll restart from Zelda’s palace. Your levels will remain the same, but any experience points you acquired towards the next level will disappear. Your rage will boileth over, but chances are, you’ll continue on Link’s toilsome journey. Zelda II just has that bewitching effect.
Despite my jarring, bi-polar relationship with Zelda II‘s eccentricities, I prefer it over the highly praised original. The first Legend of Zelda was “influential,” “groundbreaking” and any number of high and lofty expressions, but as I stated in my review, it hasn’t aged very well. The dungeons remain masterful creations, but exploring the crudely-rendered Hyrule is a tedious chore for those of us who didn’t grow up entranced by it. Zelda II was in many ways ahead of its time, and as such, has aged more gracefully. Exploring the nooks and crannies of Hyrule is far more engaging, and while the dungeons lack the moody oppressiveness of the original’s, they’re no less compelling to explore. Frustrating combat mechanics be damned, Zelda II is the rare sequel that innovates successfully without destroying the previous game’s foundation.
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17 replies on “#751 – Zelda II: The Adventure of Link”
I have always enjoyed this game. I have never met anyone who has liked this game so your review was a unexpected surprise. Until last year I had never beaten it either, but once I realized that the reflect spell will let Link's shield block clubs & axes it wasn't so bad.
I will never really understand people that say they hate this game, or call it “terrible”. It's far from that. In fact, I'd go so far as to call it fairly brilliant, and way ahead of it's time. It was one of the first true “action rpg” type games. It's the only Zelda that has actual rpg (level gaining) type elements, it has cool magic spells you can gain, MANUAL JUMPING, which I wish to God they'd put in a 3D Zelda for once. Great music, absolutely massive world for it's time, a hard-but-fair learning curve. And a very “dark” story for it's time.
Honestly Zelda II is one of the most underrated games of all time. I really wish that they'd give the next HD Wii U Zelda the rpg-lite type system and manual jumping that Zelda II had. That alone would really “freshen up” the series and open a lot of new possibilities for combat, puzzles, etc.
But regradless, while inarguably harder than fuck, Zelda II is awesome.
No one INVENTED save states. They came into being spontaneously from sheer force of the desperate will of millions of young gamers who desperately wanted to finish this game.
Heh, you hit the nail on the head regarding my (And apparently many other people's) least favorite Zelda game–You want to dismiss it because of its difficulty, differences from the original Zelda, and slightly aimless objectives, yet there's just something about it that compels you to keep playing it. Ah well, it was nice (as a child) to see the events of the game and its universe elaborated upon in both the so-bad-it's-good cartoon & Captain N and the Valient comics.
I will always remember the first time my sisters and I played this and I heard that Enemy Castle theme. I loved it! I still consider this one of the best Zelda games to date. 3D versions of today are good, but only once in a blue moon comes something truely great that remains encased in iron through out the ages. Zelda II is that iron clad game. Love it or hate it the game is memorable and had something to offer even to those who spoke ill against it.
I have never actually met anyone who hates this game. I initially gave it some backlash myself for inappropriate reasons, like the difficulty and the mindless RPG level-building. The only really good criticism I still have is the relatively weak play control. Link's sword is so short, and sometimes jumping, ducking, and turning is not near as smooth as it should be for how difficult the game eventually gets.
There were very few games I 'hated'. SO few I have a hard time even thinking of one. Link was definitely not even close on my list of hated games. It was a little challenging and rather vague on what to do or where to go, but it had its charm. I can also say I was pretty young when I first played this and would probably do much better if I had another go at it now.
I always liked the fighting mechanic of the game and was glad to see the same style used in Battle of Olympus.
Good Review man.
Yep, this is my favorite Zelda game. But then again, I've always dug crazy chicks. Zelda II is so much more wild and fun than that dull girl-next-door Link to the Past.
Yes, Zelda II is actually a pretty good game. Nice review!
I have mixed sentiments about this one too. I don't like how in side scroller view Link and the anthropomorphic enemies slide around when getting hit or changing directions. Also, though said characters have human-like characteristics (i.e., a head, neck, arms and legs), their movements are stiff and lifeless. Though the characters are made to look more realistic, their movements just don't seem convincing enough.
Dylan, Your blog is wonderful because it's the only comprehensive NES game review website I could find. The fact that visitors can provide their own comments and opinions makes it a more reliable reviews site than others. Thank you for your efforts and for your tenacity to reach this far. Since I discovered your blog very late, I just spent 2/3rds of my weekend reading them and everyone's comments from the beginning until the end. I can't imagine how you did all of this for 3+ years. Also, your wit, humor, and insight kept me interested throughout. I also like how, as in the case of Link, you consider everyone's own opinions and respond to their comments (and mine). I'm sure other latecomers such as myself will stumble upon your blog and keep it going. The only thing I can think of that could add to it is if there was some kind of voting system where individual ratings are aggregated. For example ” target=”_blank”>http://www.lemonamiga.com is one such site. Still, your achievement is fantastic!
Is Zombie Nation the last one? Zelda II is the last stop for me because I don't know of any “Z” titles after it. With this I sign off, but I'll check back occasionally and tell other retro gamers about your blog too.
Thanks for the kind words, Sentri! I really want people to have their say, even if I disagree.
I'm not sure how much I'll be updating the site after the next couple weeks. I'm in the process of transitioning to a different quest. However, perhaps I could install the voting system on the next one. I've learned a lot with these NES reviews, so I'm hoping the next blog will be as close to perfect as I can get it before it launches.
Zombie Nation is indeed the last one. Everything after it is supplemental material, like the Best/Worst lists and whatever EU/JP region games I decide to review.
Thanks again for commenting and for spreading the word. Cheers.
I always loved Zelda II and I never got why people hated on it so much. Being so different from the 1st one is what saved it, imo. I was also a huge fan of Mario 2, because it went to strange places the original didn't.
I'm glad they didn't just do an expansion on the original Zelda. Plus it made A Link To The Past that much better because the overhead view/exploration was kept fresh in the process.
Back then, a lot of games were strange and somewhat experimental and that's what I love most about retrogaming. Like most kids, I'd sit and play through the foulest of the foul games just 'cause I had them on hand (M.U.L.E. as a french-speaking-only 8 year old, eshhhh) so games like Zelda II were a true blessing.
I thought I enjoyed this game until I played it again recently, and it really is an infuriating bitch of a game. Those undulating flying blue heads, the stalfos, those wolf sons-of-whores who throw axes… it is insanely difficult and sometimes so much so that it's not really fun.
I only own the GBA port (got it about eight years ago, and DAMN saying that makes me feel old!), and…………………
I. STILL. CANNOT. BEAT. IT.
I still have my first save file from back then. Every few months, I'm called back for a little bit before I run away screaming.
That is your best opening to a review ever
I didn’t see that coming after your comments in previous reviews. Great review and a fitting score. I’m glad to see so much love for Zelda II in the comments – it’s in my top three Zeldas after Link to the Past/Between Worlds. Most subsequent Zeldas just feel so bloated with (crappy) exposition, even if the core gameplay remains solid. I also really like the controls – as much as I hate the flying heads, fighting Iron Knuckles and Stalfoses never gets old. I still vividly remember my youthful awe at reaching the first boss. I didn’t know the reflect spell affected axes – that’s essential knowledge right there.
Love this game and to be honest the belief out there that this is one of ‘the hardest’ nes games out there is bogus. If you use your magic effectively and L2P everything is extremely manageable.
I’d say when compared to the overall NES catalogue you could find games that’d be 2 maybe even 3 tiers higher in terms of difficulty when compared to this game.