((This is my post for Dani Kelley’s Zeldathon. I volunteered to play Zelda II and review it for the celebration of all things Zelda.
Last night, I did what 8-year-old me wished he could’ve done when he rented the game from the local video store — I beat Zelda II: The Adventure of Link! I was ridiculously excited when I picked up the game from a local used game store, and that excitement followed me all the way through the process.
Last night, while lightning was starting to flash in the sky and rain was beginning to fall, I wove my way through the caves in the Valley of Death and arrived at the Great Palace, the resting place of the Triforce of Courage. It was the furthest I had ever gotten in Zelda II, but I was ready. I had my stats all leveled as high as they would go, and I slowly made my way to the boss of the level, The Thunderbird.
I promptly died thanks to rain of fireballs from the fiend’s ugly mouth.
Game over. Ganon laughed at me.
Luckily, when you continue in the Great Palace, you don’t have to start way back at the beginning of the game like every other time you game over. The game instead deposited me at the beginning of the palace.
This time, I defeated the Thunderbird with a sliver of life left. Seriously, I had so little life left that I couldn’t see any red in my life bar.
The challenge didn’t end there, though. I had to then defeat Link’s own shadow in order to gain the Triforce of Courage and wake Zelda from the sleep curse put on her.
I remembered the trick to beat Dark Link from my childhood. I crouched in the corner and slashed my heart out, finally defeating the shadow and winning the game!
I think it ended up being my favorite entry in the series. It’s just so different from the first Legend of Zelda or any Zelda game that has come since. For one, it has experience points and leveling up. Many monsters you kill will give you a certain number of experience points that help you “level up” your skills to make your attack stronger or make your life or magic bars more efficient.
Secondly, it’s primarily a side scroller. Sure, there is an overhead map (with random encounters a la Final Fantasy!), but the actions scenes are all side scrolling. I love it. Especially after gaining the down and up stab abilities. The platforming is solid; I never felt like I missed a jump because the game was unfair in its platform placement. If I fell into lava, it was because I timed my jump incorrectly.
I also really like the inclusion of the towns in the game. Most of the Zelda games that I have played (everything through the Nintendo 64 era) are settlement-sparse. In this game, there are many settlements (and sharp-eyed Zelda fans will notice that the names of the towns are also the names of the Sages from later entries in the series), and while they all look pretty much the same, having a brief respite from the difficulty of the game in order to fill your health and magic meters and maybe pick up a new magic spell (if you can solve the puzzle that is required to get the new power) is a great addition.
My main impression of the game, though, is just how difficult it is. It’s easily the hardest game to master in the series. This game, along with Ninja Gaiden and Contra, are what come to my mind when I think of something being “Nintendo hard.”
I don’t find it unfair, though; in fact, most of the time, when I die, it’s because I didn’t take my time and consider my options. Like many Nintendo games, it requires a bit of memorization so you don’t make the same mistakes. However, there aren’t a whole lot of patterns to the enemies. Some enemies have shields, and it’s hard to know when to slash up or slash down, especially when they are throwing knives at your face. They move so erratically!
I found myself very close to throwing the controller–a feeling I haven’t had in a long time–quite a few times. It didn’t help that my children watched me play. My daughter laughed every time I fell in the lava; my son would make an “oink oink” pig sound when Ganon appeared during the “Game Over” screen.
And while I love the side scrolling aspect in the game, I found it easy to get lost in some of the dungeons because of a lack of defining features. There is a whole lot of sameness in the game. Walls, floors, statues, and other defining dungeon features are very limited. I can tell that they were really pushing NES resources with this game, and the programmers might have bitten off a great deal more than they could chew. Shigeru Miyamoto, in a recent interview, stated that he wished that he could have “done more” with Zelda II. I, for one, would love for him to revisit this kind of Zelda game. I might consider buying a more recent Nintendo system just to play it.
My advice for those who are thinking of playing this game is to find a good walk-through. A lot of the secrets in the game are not obvious, but that might be due to translation issues.
I would encourage any Zelda fan to play it! Though, be prepared for the punishing difficulty.