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Zelda II: The Adventure of Link Review Rewind

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On 05/26/2015 at 08:00 AM by Jamie Alston

The Weakest Link

Great for anyone hungry for a super challenging action\RPG with platforming elements thrown in for good measure.

The Legend of Zelda set the bar for the action-adventure genre with its perfect mix of action and the thrill of finding the next dungeon or quest-critical item. It was gaming as golden as the cartridge itself.  Then came the sequel.  Zelda II: The Adventure of Link was originally released for the Family Computer Disk System (FDS) in Japan on January 14, 1987.  The game was then converted into a standard cartridge for its release on the NES in North America on December 1, 1988.  Though it still had the familiar trappings of exploration, fantasy, and adventure, it also came with some drastic changes that weren't well-received by all--myself included.

The story picks up where the first game left off.  Link learns the true origin of Zelda and her legend.  In short, the princess from the first adventure wasn't the original Zelda; she was just one in a long line of royal women with that name in Hyrule.  The real Zelda was put under an eternal sleeping spell by an evil wizard. Link must now find the Triforce of courage to break the spell.  He’ll also have to battle with Ganon's minions intent on killing Link and using his blood to bring Ganon back to life.  It's a really bad day for Link.

Most of the gameplay elements in Zelda II are a huge departure from the first game.  The top-down overhead viewpoint is mostly abandoned in favor of a side-scrolling view that emphasizes combat, exploration, and platforming elements.  If you touch an enemy character on the RPG-style overworld map (the one situation that uses the top-down view), the screen kicks into side-scroller mode and you'll need to fight your way past some enemies and exit back to the overworld.

This game was the first in the series to use role-playing elements to advance your progress throughout the quest.  It included experience points, separate towns, and more NPCs for Link to interact with than in the previous game.  After performing certain side quests, Link can learn a new magic spell from the town’s sage or a noble knight that will be useful in battle or in reaching key areas in the dungeon palaces.  Overall, the game does a good job of making the land of Hyrule more cohesive and interesting to explore with its various towns and people that will help you, or harm you, or need your help. It was a template that remains a Zelda staple. 

One thing that has not carried on in the intervening quarter-century of the series’ life is the combat system that makes fighting a chore.  Link can jab with his sword, jump, and block most high or low attacks and projectiles with his shield, depending on whether he's standing or crouching.  He also retains the ability to "throw" his sword when he has a full health meter, but the sword only goes a few inches forward before disappearing (instead of flying to the end of screen like in the previous game).  It works well enough when fighting unarmed enemies like the Octoroks, but it’s completely useless when combating sword & shield-wielding enemies since your thrown sword has no effect on them.

Other enemies like the axe-wielding lizard creatures are an absolute nightmare to deal with.  They often have the advantage of striking you before you can back away to safety.  Worse yet, Link's shield can't block their attacks either.  To be fair, Link learns a spell early in the game which gives him some extra protection from physical damage.  But it's still super easy to lose a fight unless you attack and block (where possible) with perfect precision.  Link eventually learns a downward and upward slash attack which makes things a little easier going forward, but not by much.

The battle controls often feel imprecise and slingshot-like in favor of the enemy. When an armed character blocks your attack, he “slides” back slightly and quickly lunges toward you.  It's especially noticeable when fighting against any variation of the annoying Iron Knuckle enemies (the knights with the sword and shield).  They seem to frequently block your attack, but quickly and easily land high and low hits on you thanks to that slingshot block mechanic.

Battling with these types of enemies often end up being a game of Russian roulette--you might might not.  I employed all manner of patience and strategy, but it just didn't work against the awful battle system.  And I can’t help but to mention the various sections of the game where Link needs to jump over chasms and lava pits.  The lava pit sections are especially aggravating when populated by these horse heads that float in that annoying sine pattern, just like the Medusa heads in Castlevania.

The level-up system enhances Link’s strength, stamina, and magic points. He also has a limited number of lives.  Once you lose all your lives, the game starts you back at the castle where Zelda is sleeping.  Unfortunately, you'll also lose any experience points you had worked so hard to obtain.  Of all the design elements in the game, this one in particular frustrated me the most.  It already takes a considerable amount of experience grinding to get close to a level-up after advancing a few levels; then the game just takes it all away from you in the blink of an eye if all lives are lost.  It's super frustrating having to slog through the same countless battles while trying to continue on your journey at the same time.

In contrast to these not-so-great gameplay elements, the visual presentation is one of this game’s few redeeming qualities.  Link definitely looks more like a maturing young adult compared to his diminutive stature in the previous game.  This was the best part about the side-scrolling design choice; it allowed for Link to be illustrated in greater detail than in the previous game.  The same goes for the various environments and enemies throughout the land of Hyrule. Whether you’re fending off assaults in a dense forest, confronting the perils of Death Mountain, or navigating the dangerous catacombs of a palace temple on the last leg of your adventure, the surrounding backgrounds nicely accentuate the experience.

The music, in my opinion, was just okay.  The tunes were serviceable, but lacking the heavier impact of its predecessor.  Maybe it was just the aggravation of the awful battle system messing with my head.  Or maybe it was because the audio quality sounded like something that belonged in Tecmo Bowl instead of a Zelda game.  Whatever it was, I didn't enjoy most of the music as much as I would have hoped.

Needless to say, I didn’t enjoy playing through The Adventure of Link all that much.  Even so, the game generally garnered much praise upon its initial release and there are still plenty of nostalgic fans out there that adore this offbeat entry in the Legend of Zelda series.  And to give credit where credit is due, this game pioneered the trend of platforming action RPGs that practically cloned every element from Zelda II through the remainder of the late ‘80s.  If you’ve played other NES titles like Battle of Olympus, Faxanadu, or even Rambo for crying out loud, you can thank The Adventure of Link for the side-scrolling action RPG characteristics of such games.

If you’re interested in playing this chapter of Link’s never-ending quest to be involved in Zelda’s affairs, I definitely recommend that you proceed with caution. This applies doubly so if you’re a Zelda fan that prefers the refined gameplay elements of A Link to the Past or anything in the series that came after it. The Adventure of Link is far from the worst game out there.  But the best was a far cry from this one.

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Matt Snee Staff Writer

05/26/2015 at 10:38 AM

Honestly, I love this game.  I wish there were more games like it... side scrolling RPG's...  But I appreciate that it's too difficult and obtuse.  

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

05/26/2015 at 11:10 AM

Yeah, I agree.  I had no beef to side-scrolling elements in themsekves.  The problem was the Nintendo didn't quite nail the controls and battle system down, which was a rarity for them to get things like that wrong.  But hey, sometimes that just comes with the territory of doing something different with the first sequel.  I think they learned their lesson.


05/26/2015 at 11:13 AM

I played a bit of this game in the 80s and didn't like it.  I hadn't touched it since.  I still own a NES copy and I got a digital version on my 3DS.  I'll probably try playing it again.  

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

05/26/2015 at 11:40 PM

Yeah, I remember Zelda II from back in the day, but I never played it until the Zelda Collection came out on the GameCube.  I really wanted to like this game too.

The Last Ninja

05/26/2015 at 04:35 PM

I've tried this game several times, but I never got very far. It's too frustrating for me, and I don't have the patience for it. It had NES sequel syndrom (the second game being radically different from the first).

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

05/26/2015 at 11:42 PM

Yeah, the 80's were crazy times for first-party NES sequels.

Joaquim Mira Media Manager

05/26/2015 at 08:16 PM

I love this game to this day.

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

05/26/2015 at 11:44 PM

Aaaand that's were we differ my friend.  LOL!  Naw, that's cool though.  It does have it good moments at times.

Cary Woodham

05/26/2015 at 08:46 PM

Yeah I never liked this one too much either.  It was such a good feeling when you opened the doors of the chapel in Link to the Past and heard the overworld music playing as you tromped around in top down Hyrule again.  Have you ever played Link's Awakening?  That's my favorite Zelda game.

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

05/26/2015 at 11:47 PM

I think I played through about halfway through Link's Awakening.  Then I got lost and couldn't get my bearings on where to go next.  However, I plan to restart game at some point.  It's only a matter of time before I review it.

Matt McLennan Staff Alumnus

05/29/2015 at 05:14 PM

Trying to get Rainbow Rank in NES Remix 2 for this game is such a massive pain in the ass.

Somehow it made me a bit better at the game.

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

06/01/2015 at 02:28 PM

Hey, that's the silver lining about playing really difficult parts of games.  It'll build some serious character.


06/28/2015 at 05:19 AM

This is one of my favorite Zelda games. The dungeon music was so great. I think it's high time for them to make a sequel to this. Then the "Tri-logy" of the first story would be complete. =D

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

07/08/2015 at 10:19 AM

Yeah, the dungoen music was pretty cool.  Felt like you were going into the depths of danger and intriuge.

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