Zelda II: The Adventures of Link
Genre: Role-playing Platformer
I couldn’t tell you what Nintendo was thinking back in the day when it came to sequels. I could wager a bet that they were about innovation, as it seems that way with everything they do, but the second game of almost every one of their earlier series winds up being immensely different from the first before the third game returns to the original formula. Super Mario Brothers and Castlevania spring to mind as prime examples. Among their ilk is Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Much like the other series mentioned, The Legend of Zelda was a tour de force, even when it first arrived on the scene, and The Adventures of Link is widely considered a black sheep and (pardon the pun) a weak link, especially considering that the third game in the series was so well regarded. Does the game deserve all of the nay saying it gets?
The game starts off in a temple with a sleeping Princess Zelda. She has been placed under a curse by Ganon’s minions, who are attempting to resurrect him to take over Hyrule- because it worked so well the first time. As a now sixteen year old Link, you have been told that you are the only one who can stop this from happening, so once again, you are tasked, sword and shield in hands, to scour Hyrule. This time, you must seal the temples that Ganon’s followers have created with mystical jewels to stop them from achieving their goal.
A few things before we get into the actual gameplay and mechanics. First, this is not the same Princess Zelda, but a different member of the same royal family of Hyrule. You play as the same Link, but saving another member of the Royal family named Zelda. Also, while the story states that it has been ‘several years’ since the first game, it also states that Link is now sixteen. It sits strangely with me that he may have been about twelve or so in the first game, but I’m sure that was to appeal to the audience they were aiming for.
That’s just airing some weird laundry before digging into the core of the game.
The first thing anyone will notice jumping into this game is that it opens in a side-scrolling area, which most of the game takes place in. Visiting towns, dungeon diving, and fighting enemies on the map all take place in a platforming style, much like Super Mario Brothers, as opposed to the top down style of the original game. You can still shoot your sword across the screen when you have full hearts, but that’s about where the similarities end. Link has a shield as well, which can block some projectile attacks, though you have to line the shield up with the attack by ducking occasionally. Precise jumping also plays a part in many of the dungeons.
The second part of the gameplay takes place on an overworld map, not unlike an RPG. Travel between towns and other locales are still done in a top down manner, but you do not swing your sword or shoot arrows unless you run into an enemy, which can happen if you wander off of the beaten path. You then enter a side-scrolling ‘action screen’ where you fight enemies to get off of the screen to the right or left and continue your journey to your destination.
Other parts of the game also resemble an RPG in the fact that enemies give you experience. If you get enough experience, you gain a level, which means you can make your magic cost less, take less damage when you get hit, or deal more damage with your sword, depending on the amount of experience you have. Now, when you die, you lose the experience that you gained, but you keep the levels, which is pretty merciful given the game conditions of the time. Along those lines, you also learn magic throughout your adventure, letting you gain more defensive power, turn into a fairy to reach high places, or uncover secret areas. Though, like many early Nintendo games, they don’t really spell these things out for you all of the time. In one instance, you need to use a particular spell to make a boss vulnerable, and in another, the spell is just called ‘Spell’. Not sure what the documentation has to say about these spells, but it is another flaw of the passing of time.
You also have three lives, so if you die in the middle of a dungeon, you don’t have to trek all the way back from the original palace- until you lose all of those lives, of course. You can find more lives if you happen onto random action scenes that have them. Some of these scenes will also have heart containers to give you more life or magic jars which raise your magical capacity. In that way, there is some similarity to the original game.
When I think about the issues I have with this game, I find that I can liken it to someone excitedly making a cake.
The first time someone makes a cake, they make it simple. They want to make sure that they get everything right. If they can’t get the basics, why bother with the flourishes, right? They measure out the ingredients, make everything to spec, and put just the right amount of frosting on top. That first cake is the original Legend of Zelda. Having immense success with the second cake, this bright eyed baker decides ‘Hey! I did a great job, but I want to challenge myself!” They put in a new pinch of this, make the base cake by memory, and throw all kinds of flowers and embellishment on top. What results is something that might be nice for some, but it puts many others off and is not remembered as fondly as that first cake, despite all efforts.
I think we know where this analysis is going.
There is just a lot going on in comparison to the first game here. The new magic system, the experience points, the platforming; it all equates to feel like an entirely different game. At least with other sequels that have been mentioned here, they retained the core gameplay while adding all of the bells and whistles. Zelda II upends nearly every aspect of the first game and fixes it in some other position. It can be jarring to people who enjoyed just about any other game in the series, new or old. The major problem here, yet again, is the lack of direction. At one point, a young woman says she is thirsty. That’s all. From that, it’s expected that you’ll know to go to the center of town and push a button at the fountain to get her a drink. The banality is almost genius, but where the first game would have had you go to a store or dive into a dungeon for something, these tasks receive little in the way of in game prodding.
While the game is full of new mechanics, all of them are handled well, even if they are unexplained. The platforming is precise, and everything feels responsive. There are plenty of cheap deaths, but that’s to be expected so far as games of this time go. Having to travel back to the spot that you were at once you use up a continue is rarely an inconvenience until the final dungeons, and while the game spikes in difficulty somewhat quickly in the second half, it’s easy enough to gain levels to start smashing your way through.
Throughout the game, it became apparent to me that I was visiting towns and talking with people to obtain information and quests. This was an incredibly nice improvement over the hint dropping old man, the old woman with the medicine, and the Moblin gamblers that appeared throughout the first venture in Hyrule. They may not have much to say, but it made Hyrule feel like a real place rather than a group of carved out mountain trails. Stopping in to hear about the trophy that was stolen from a town or how a child went missing in the nearby caves feels much better than wandering around by your lonesome with little to no human contact, even if some of them end up as Ganon’s spies.
For what it’s worth, the graphics also receive an upheaval, and it pays off greatly. The backgrounds and levels don’t vary greatly from place to place, save for color and the occasional tile set switch up, but it is slightly more colorful than its predecessor, resulting in a more visually appealing game overall. A major issue, which was rectified in re-releases, is that there is a lot of flashing. When you die, the screen flashes. When you cast your spells, the screen flashes. Apparently, there were some issues with seizures in the original run of the game, and that’s somewhat understandable. It happens a lot. That aside, though, things don’t blend in as much as the original game, and the graphics are more intricate with the last dungeon of the game, per usual and as it should be.
The music suffers the same fate as the first game, despite being from a different composer. It’s all good and crisp, and everything sets the mood correctly. The game also gains an advantage by having more tracks than the first game, but the same tracks are mostly used in the same places throughout the entire game. While they switch the tunes more often due to the nature of the game, the music can get repetitive. Special mention does go to the Game Over screen, however. The synthesized laughter of the returning Ganon is something that still kind of gives me a spine shiver every so often, and it made me want to jump back into the game to stop it from happening again. Little noises like the sound of the Fire spell shooting from your sword and the ‘ding’ of enemy projectiles reflecting from your shield help to propel the audio to a higher level and a more satisfying experience.
I don’t imagine this game will whet the appetite of anyone who has played any Zelda games before this, though the game earns its right as a cult classic. It’s not broken. It’s not a horrible game. Is it a Zelda game, though? Not in much more than name. If you kept everything but switched out the sprites and names, you wouldn’t realize that this is supposed to be the sequel to one of the most beloved games on Nintendo. Does it deserve all of the bad reputation it has received? Not particularly. It’s still a solid game, even by today’s platforming standards. A few concepts have been integrated into more recent titles, though most of the mechanics of this game were left by the wayside with the next addition to the series.
I would certainly say to try the game if you’re a platforming fan, as the game is available through various means thanks to Virtual Console and the e-shop on the 3DS. If you’re a Zelda fan, you’ll find something to appreciate, too. Just don’t expect the same treatment as the rest of the series, and be sure to keep a walkthrough handy.