Jordan Jones reviews The Legend of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link…
What was it about the second installments of major NES franchises? Super Mario Bros. 2 released in the West with radically different gameplay than it’s predecessor, while Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest was almost in a completely different genre. So, too, was The Legend of Zelda series’ sophomore entry: The Legend of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. It’s a vastly different experience. Not only from the first game, but from nearly every single installment to release after it. It was Nintendo’s experimental phase. If Nintendo were a rock band, this would be their obligatory, awkward late-80’s album. Perhaps the “Wings” of the Zelda series. However, just like Wings, Zelda II may not be as good as the original, but it’s far from terrible. While not perfect, there is a lot of fun stuff to be had here. Recently, I played through this game for the first time, and came to a single conclusion: this is a great NES game, but only a so-so Zelda game.
The opening is very cinematic actually: Link standing in front of this massive dais looming over him, clad with torches. On this dais lies Princess Zelda, who is under a deep, and hypnotic sleep. Impa (yes, that Impa) tells Link that he must visit six palaces, and place the crystals given him into six separate statues. Doing so will pave the way to the “Great Palace”, where Link must find the “Triforce of Courage”. Once all three Triforce pieces come together, Link can awaken Princess Zelda.
Yes, a very basic story, but keep in mind that Zelda II did a lot of things first. First off, the final foe Link faces in Zelda II is none other than “Shadow Link.” Shadow Link should be immediately recognizable to any fan of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Not only that, but there are specific gameplay elements introduced here that the series has held onto ever since. For example, this is the very first title that Link has a magic-meter, which is a feature that every subsequent release has had. Also introduced in this game were villages that Link could visit, and where he could talk to townspeople for information. This added a whole new level to the series, as secrets didn’t feel so random this time. Clues could be found by those who look, and talking to townsfolk revealed a wealth of information. This helped create a much more believable game world. Of course, there are gameplay elements in this game that never really took off. For example, Link gains experience points throughout the game, which he can then use to enhance various attributes. This makes Zelda II feel much more like an RPG than most games in the series, and no other entry has explored the concept fully since.
So, I’ve just described to you a plethora of gameplay elements that should perfectly swirl around, and create a picture-perfect Zelda game, right? Well, not exactly. It is hard to explain, really. Something just feels off about Zelda II when peering through the lens of the Zelda series. Link is there, to be certain. So are dungeons, faeries, etc. However, even with all of this, it’s so difficult to classify this as a Zelda game in many ways.
The obvious reason for this is the 2-D perspective. Putting the environments in a 2-D perspective takes away some of the charm the series’ dungeons are known for. Dungeons in the Legend of Zelda series are known for being distinct, but each dungeon just feels like a palate-swap here. Furthermore, navigating a maze-like dungeon in 2-D becomes very confusing, as everything starts to feel way too similar. For example, in the first dungeon, I kept forgetting which room would lead me to the correct area on the bottom-floor. This wasn’t a puzzle, or anything. I just couldn’t tell the rooms apart. It was easy to feel disoriented. In fact, the only time that I truly felt like the 2-D perspective worked was in villages, and even then I think an overhead perspective would have worked better.
Beyond the perspective, there are other elements that feel a bit off. Boss fights, for example, are pretty underwhelming, and generic. With the exception of (maybe) two, each fight turns into a slug-fest. Some of Zelda series’ best bosses involve finding a clever solution. Even the first game’s bosses involved some form of strategy, as players had a whole room to use. Here, the fights largely consist of backing up, and slashing, backing up, and slashing again. There is, however, a fight with the wizard Carock that felt like an early example of the developers experimenting with bosses as puzzles. To damage this boss, you needed to deflect magic with your shield. This is, obviously, straight out of the Zelda playbook. There is also a really cool knight boss with several heads that felt truly memorable, which most Zelda bosses tend to be. Just as memorable is Shadow Link, of course, but the fight with him is a complete trudge. Needlessly difficult, and boring, albeit stunning to look at.
I know it sounds like I hated the game, but I definitely did not. Truthfully, the game feels a lot more like Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest. Both games have awkward 2-D platforming, and imprecise combat. Also similar, are the way both games decided to stray from the formula of the previous entry. However, Castlevania 2 has some incredible ideas, and those ideas made the experience worth it. I would say the same for Zelda II: this is a flawed title, but a fun one, and a must-play for anyone curious about the evolution of The Legend of Zelda series.
+ Beautiful graphics for the time.
+ Unique gameplay mechanics that paved the way for future titles.
+ Villages create a more believable world.
– Some uninspired enemies.
– 2-D perspective feels odd at times.
– Combat is often imprecise.
– Doesn’t always feel like a Zelda game.
Rating: 7.5/ 10.
You can find Jordan on Twitter, and Facebook. He is a life-long fan of the Zelda series.