By Louis Polite / March 7th, 2015
|Title||Zelda II: The Adventure of Link|
|Release Date||JP: January 14, 1987
EU: September 26, 1988
NA: December 1, 1988
|Platform||NES, Wii, 3DS, Wii U|
|Age Rating||ESRB – Everyone|
Ah, yes. The first game in the Zelda series to bring in controversy in regards to it fitting in with the rest of the series while also having it’s quality debated over due to questionable design choices. Before the post-Ocarina of Time glory with installments like Majora’s Mask, Wind Waker and Skyward Sword, this is the original misunderstood Zelda game. The one that started all of the crazy Zelda fans protesting at the experimental decisions. Then they complain when they go back to not experimenting *cough*Twilight Princess*cough* and, then, claim what they once said was bad is now suddenly a cult classic. Time only goes against Zelda II: Adventure of Link more than any other in the franchise because, with every new Zelda game, it seems like there will never be another side-scrolling title in the main canon. With the series going on it’s eighteenth installment and every one of them either being overhead or fully three-dimensional, it continually stacks the deck against Zelda’s sophomore outing. Is Zelda II an experiment that we should still give a shake once in a while?
The story of Zelda II takes place six years after the ending of The Legend of Zelda and, by Hyrule Historia accounts, is the last game in the Zelda series chronologically. Link finds the crest of Hyrule on the back of his left hand, which leads him to Impa. She shows him a sealed away room with a sleeping girl who is found to be the original Princess Zelda. This Zelda had kept secrets away from her prince brother, which, in a rage, made his wizard friend put her in an magical everlasting sleep. The spell was so powerful it killed the wizard in the process, thus leaving him unable to even reverse the spell on Zelda. The Prince laid her down in the castle tower and thus decided that, in honor of the sleeping Zelda, all princesses born in the royal family would be named Zelda. That means that Zelda II has the most original Zelda you can get, the rest of the Zelda’s in other games aren’t the real thing!
The mark on Link’s hand meant he was the chosen hero to place six sacred crystals in different locations around Hyrule. This would open The Great Palace for him to find the Triforce of Courage to unite the other two Triforces with it. Doing this saves the original Zelda and awakens her from her eternal sleep. The only problem is that Ganon’s minions now are after him again. Why? Well, because, if they kill him and sprinkle Link’s blood onto Ganon’s ashes, the villain would be brought back to life. Again, another first for the series which would be repeated; a Zelda game where Ganon is not the final villain you face.
This was the first sidescrolling Zelda game. That’s not really a problem, and, quite frankly, to put all that to rest, when this game came out, there were only two Zelda games. That means 50% of the Zelda series was a sidescrolling adventure. Ha! Now try to say “it doesn’t feel like a Zelda game” when a “Zelda game” formula was yet to be defined!
Zelda II still has the formula of the previous game; you venture out and try to explore to find the dungeons in the overworld. A new mechanic you may notice is the state of the overworld. A top-down view actually exists. It’s actually modeled after 8-bit RPGs you’ve come to know and love such as Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. The overworld is merely used for navigation and interacting with significant landmarks. Meanwhile, every key destination you arrive at will bring you to a sidescrolling view. The dual-dynamic of the perspectives create a diverse product.
Monsters will try to attack you if you leave the golden-yellow pathways on the overworld — indicated by icons (smaller blobs mean easier battles, large monsters mean harder battles) on the screen that follow you as you walk down on the map. The kinds of battles you will be in are determined by the texture of the patch of land you are on when an encounter occurs. You can try to run away from the battles by trying to run off the screen or you can fight. Some of these encounters can have really difficult enemies towards the later parts of the game, which can practically guarantee that you take damage on your way to a safe destination where you could heal!
You gain experience points for defeating (most) enemies. Every time you hit the number of experience points indicated by “NEXT” on the screen, you get a chance to increase a stat which includes the attack power of your sword, your life bar (yet another first and only for Zelda II) and magic meter. This gives the game more of a non-linear feel in terms of character development and adds a bit of replay value based on your playstyle. These can be leveled up all the way to level 8. Although it’s not the kind of leg room you get with more traditional RPGs, you’re practically bound to have everything at or near level 8 by the end of the game. Leveling a stat that is at level 8 already will reward an extra life (Extra life? In a Zelda game? Don’t worry we’ll get to that, sit tight).
All of these elements technically provide the same kind of stress and feelings gamers associate with feel of a RPG, as well as all of the actual tropes! This makes Zelda II the only game in the series you could call an RPG… an Action RPG. The battlefields being sidescrolling action battles kind of feel like a precursor to early games in the Tales series. Having enemies that you can see on an overworld and trying to avoid them? It even predates games like Chrono Trigger and Secret of Mana. This wasn’t even a feature in a Dragon Quest game until the ninth installment. As for Final Fantasy, random encounters plagued the series until the twelfth freaking game! That goes for the real-time combat Zelda II has to offer too, same goes for no real-time combat for Final Fantasy until Final Fantasy XII. Don’t try give me an excuse with that limited tech crap. An 8-bit game beat Square’s flagship series to the punch by almost two decades. Take, that, Square!
Back on track, the leveling system for this game is pretty watered down, but it does have a slick execution. You have three lives. Every time you lose a life, you go back to the beginning of the screen you lost a life on. If you lose all your lives, your progress to your next level resets back to zero, and you start back from the North Castle where Zelda is sleeping. Each time you get to the lowest amount it takes to increase a stat, it lets you level it up. You can, however, decline to level up the stat and try to go a more desired one that costs more. For example, at first, life costs 50 points, magic costs 100, and attack costs 200. The crucial thing to remember is that every time you level up life or magic, it refills the respective bar, whereas leveling up attack doesn’t do anything for you in your immediate survival other than raise the attack power. That means leveling up could save you from a Game Over.
So, let’s say that, where you currently stand, it costs 100 to level magic, 150 for life and 500 for attack. Do you want that attack power so you can try to survive and get to the 500 experience points? You could lose your last life at 450 points and have to start all over. Even if you get to 500 points, do you feel like you have enough health or magic to stay alive? Are you going to go for that extra attack power so the next trip back to the dungeon you may die in will be easier? Or will you play it safe and increase your life or magic so you can try to get far enough to possibly shorten the trek back itself? Keep in mind that, every time you beat a dungeon boss and put the crystal in place, it’s an automatic level up. Take all that into account and you’ve got a lot of dice rolling and gambling in the way you could be playing this game.
There is a bit of a problem with the role-playing elements of this game. It can feel like Zelda II is a battle between the Zelda formula and an RPG formula. For example, you can still save the game whenever you want, but doing so resets your experience points to 0. You could be on your way to 8000 points for that final attack upgrade at 7900 points, but because the player wants to stop playing, you’re back to 0. Not to mention that you have to keep starting at the North Castle over and over again (get ready to have that sleeping Zelda engrained in your brain) unless you are at the final palace, where the game has mercy and lets you start from there. If you’re trying to have RPG tropes, why can’t you save in towns so you can resume there? There are places to restore your health and magic in towns, so why not allow saving at inns? Hell, even the original Legend of Zelda let you have the option of starting at the beginning of a dungeon if you died. It’s almost like they built a Zelda game and then grafted in the RPG experience over it. Nintendo forgot to marry the two experiences. It feels like they’re just going steady and holding hands.
Don’t get me wrong, I like how they both work for this game, but there’s a bit of a disconnect between the action-adventure and RPG elements. If you’re going to include both, then you have to have them accommodate one another all the way. In this game they do… partially. Don’t believe me? I’ve only mentioned an example of the RPG elements hurting the action-adventure, but now here’s an example of the action-adventure hurting the RPG. There are extra lives to collect in this game, but some genius thought it was a good idea to only be able to collect them once. In an entire playthrough. As if they were collectable items like in a Zelda game to try to be a completionist rather than to actually aid you for your current play session with the game. Which means, on paper, if you find them, you should just mark down where they are and then save them all for the final palace. There are also bags of experience points all over Hyrule, but, again, you can only collect them once per playthrough. How about, once you completely ransack a dungeon, it disappears? I know that last one is supposed to make it so you can’t grind in harsh dungeons, but don’t tell me there aren’t easier ways to exploit grinding in this game, Nintendo! That causes some forced roguelike elements. That’s where Zelda II goes wrong where no other Zelda does.
Throughout Zelda II, you come across towns, and you can actually talk to moving NPCs. The fact that they even try to make the city alive at all for that day and age is a miracle. Even if it is against a generic blue sky with nothing but rectangular buildings (did I mention that this game sorely lacks round textures?). These NPCs can give you clues that could be helpful on your journey. Each town has a maiden in need of help with something (always a purple-dressed figure coming out of a building). When you solve their problem, they will let you see their elderly wizard relative who teaches you a spell. These spells are moderated by your magic meter. Towns, NPCs and the magic meter were integrated into Link to the Past, which then carried over into other future installments. It’s anywhere from hard to impossible to go into a palace without collecting a new spell before you enter. If you hit some kind of dead end that looks accessible, but isn’t, encounter something that keeps causing an annoying amount of damage or find that you just can’t hit something, chances are you should turn back, because you’re probably ill-equipped, and your destination is probably ahead.
Now that we’ve gotten the RPG variables out of the way, let’s get into detail about the consistent gradients of difficulty you will experience in Zelda II: Adventure of Link. The perplexing dungeon navigation and the potentially steep learning curve of the combat.
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