Name: Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
Genre: Action Adventure
Region Reviewed: PAL
Year of Release: 1988 (UK)
It’s time to step back into the world of the Big N for myself (Olly023) as for RetroGameGeeks we go all 8-Bit to review one of the most Marmite (derided, even) titles on the original Nintendo Entertainment System. This particular title is a proud member of one of the most globally beloved franchises Nintendo have ever created…So what is it?
Well, obviously – it’s Zelda II: The Adventure of Link! Why so obvious? You just clicked the review link that said so, d’uh!
Anyways…Zelda II: The Adventure of Link originally hit the Famicom Disk System in Japan just under a year after the original game of the series rocked the world (January 1987 in Japan, September 1988 in Europe and December 1988 in North America) and as such is pretty much the only true direct sequel to The Legend of Zelda (prior to the timeline getting all crazy with alternate realities, branching paths and prequels upon prequels. Developed by Nintendo R&D4, this particular entry decided to go in a new direction in terms of gameplay. Side-scrolling was prominent alongside the key return and expansion of the RPG-esque nature of the original.
The game was a hit at the time, as in: it sold by the truckload. But in retrospect fan reaction has been decidedly mixed. It’s fairly frequent the game will get labelled as one of the worst sequels (alongside Simon’s Quest on the NES in terms of CastleVania at least) of all time. Yet, is all this really fair? After all that Nerd with anger-issues was even confused by the idea of it being a ‘bad game’ upon a video review being suggested to him. I have my own thoughts and feelings of the game and this is my personal rebuttal to the haters, in the form of a text review right here on RGG! While I may not be Zelda’s biggest fan, I do have a massive soft spot for Zelda II – hopefully this can sway some of you out there sat on the fence to come into the light and bask in the golden glow of this rather unique and engaging title in the franchises vast back catalogue.
Plot wise, much like the original and many of the titles since is all rather basic, all rather fairy tale. Zelda gets herself caught up in a sleeping spell and well, falls asleep. The plucky Peter Pan-styled elf we typically call Link feels the need to go on an adventure (game’s name~!) to rescue the princess yet again. Spoilers: he succeeds. Well, if you beat the game, obviously. Otherwise she’ll remain kipping. Which would be bad times. Hyrule must be ruled, after all. No republic necessary.
Okay, so it as a tad more needlessly complex than that. Link’s in his teens and notices a mark on the back of his hand that Impa is all “yo, magic door and what not” (paraphrasing), to which Link (yeah, this is Link from the first game to keep this easy to follow – God knows about Impa, I assume they’re the same), sees the original Zelda (all princesses since this one have been called Zelda…go figure) and gets told of a convoluted story involving the triforce, why she’s there and that Link is the Prince Charming to go awaken homegurl. Link has to also restore some crystals to some palaces or some such, kinda like an alien head in an Indy movie. Trials and tribulations and all sorts of Zelda series craziness obviously ensues. As expected.
So yeah, the story is pretty much whatever you make of it. But in my honest opinion it’s a heck of a lot more fathomable than the majority of games that followed this one. As standard as it may be, it certainly properly establishes a ‘true legend’ of Zelda. And that’s gotta count for something, reet!? The style of play with Zelda II is very much rooted as an Action RPG (which is more my kind of RPG, for all the records) and it was in fact Miyamoto’s conscious decision to make this a decidedly different game. To me, that’s a good move. In all fairness, there was only one Zelda game before this. Why the heck not show some guts and freshen it all up? You don’t wanna be playing fundamentally the same game, surely? I’m looking at you, Link to the Past!
Now, if you know nothing of Zelda II, its likely you’re sat there thinkin’: so what does return? Well, the story as has already been written on in some kind of depth here. The top-down perspective ‘kinda’ returns, but no longer is the entire game in this format. The overworld is where that now sits. The triple game save system returns, also – so you can have multiple adventures on the go at once.
The newer features includes the aforementioned expanded role-playing element. Now, EXP is ‘a thing’. As the 16-year old Link, you can gain experience points to upgrade your abilities. Finally, you can get your grind-on, by maxing out life, attack and magic. You gain these by cutting down pretty much anything in your path. So don’t be afraid to murder some of Ganon’s leftover minions (yeah, they want your blood literally, to bring that douche back, so don’t feel bad ‘bout it). Once all maxed out, you can gain extra lives following each 9000 EXP. Wait, what’s this lives system you ask? Oh, yeah. That’s been rijigged, too. You’ve got a life bar and a number of lives, plus continues. That about sums that up.
It’s the side-scrolling part(s) of Zelda II that really gets me going, though. Which also happens to be a part that many dislike. The transition to the side-scrolling POV happens when you run into enemies or get from point A to B on the overworld. You get many an opportunity here to rack up that ever-important EXP here. The level sprites/background when you run into enemies are determined by the rough area of the map (sand, grass, etc.) which is a nice touch for the NES. It feels almost random at times in terms of an amount of enemies for the battle mode (if we’re to call it such), but at least there’s lots to keep you busy. That’s a key to why I like it, though. It keeps you busy. There’s always something to do, always something to fight. You’re never just endlessly wandering from one screen to the next on the map thinking “WTF?”, which I frequently happen to do on many other Zelda titles. I like to fight. It’s a video game and I have a sword, let me hack n’ slash! Zelda II facilitates. Big time. Yeah, it can become dull if you’re not into that kinda thing, but at least you’re getting some action. Everyone loves action. If you don’t like action, you bore me. How ‘bout dem appz?
The whole overworld-to-battle mode switchover feels a lot more natural in Zelda II than many an Action (or even standard) RPG, as unlike many you can at least tell beforehand when you’re about to get into it. Those little black sprites floating round mean two things: death or levelling up. Bingo. Simple. Nice. It’s never a rage-inducing “well, I didn’t see that coming”. You’d be blind if you didn’t. But if you’re blind, you’re unlikely to be reading a review on a retro game site, let alone playing the game in question itself. It’s almost an additional endurance part to the game. Are you good enough to survive? Or are you prepped to spill your own blood and bring about the return of Ganon? If the latter, you suck.
But it isn’t easy. Oh, lord no. I think if it was easy I wouldn’t have gone back to the game as much as I have over the years. That old school frustration is in full force with Zelda II. One of the major complaints is how rock hard the game is, which is fair, but I find it’s nonetheless a challenge that never feels ‘cheap’. Yes, there’s grinding involved, but it comes with the territory. Speaking of grinding, I will recommend any first time player to get in as many pre-palace battles as possible. The learning curve is decidedly harsh otherwise. Although you’ll plow through the first couple ‘levels’ with relative ease, but the difficulty goes KAPOW and BOOM and hits you right upside the head. With the fact you’ll get thrown back to the beginning if you fail, you know you don’t wanna be risking anything. So, yeah. Grind away, retrobates. You will die.
NPC’s are much more common than with the original, too. Not to say they weren’t common, but you can stroll through towns and talk to anyone you walk past. It’s a nice change of pace, because when you’re fighting hordes of enemies in the harder stages you’ll be stressed beyond belief. So take that relief. Embrace it, player. Yeah, many NPC’s are useless, but it’s not half as bad as something along the lines of a multitude of Zelda clones. Just remember, if all else fails use fire and I am error. When you’re battling your way through the six palaces, you’ve got to collect you some items and beat some bosses. Standard. When the palace is complete it turns to rock. I have no idea why, but it does. At least it’s an indication you’ve done done-dat, innit. Let’s spin off from the gameplay for a bit and focus elsewhere with the game. I’ve talked through the story, so let’s talk graphics. Everyone loves graphics.
Zelda II, much like the original, doesn’t exactly push the NES/Famicom to its absolute limit. The colour palette useage is very similar to the games predecessor, with sprites being very easily distinguishable. It’s all very ‘blocky’ and green and brown/red is all over the shop. But it’s nothing out of the ordinary. In fairness, there’s not much more I can say, really. There is nice touches such as Link being a shade of blue when in the darkness of a cave, etc. I appreciate that. Being the typical Sega fan I am I can’t help but wonder how much nicer it would have looked on a Master System. (Sorry, NES fans!) Link looks good and enemies implode. What more could you want? Exactly.
Musically, I love it. I personally would say Zelda II has the best soundtrack outside of Link’s Awakening of any Zelda game. Some of the battle music is absolutely epic, but in a much cooler way I find than with the likes of the SNES outing(s – multiple if you count the satellite games). They build to a crescendo as the level progresses which is very nice. The traditional theme makes its appearances, but feels more mature which is fitting with the older Link. The music overall just matches the action perfectly and the NES’ classic sound is as great as ever. All those glorious bloops, blips and beeps used to a full extent, giving a nice wall of sound at points. Subtle when needed, thrill-inducing when necessary – in short? Nakatsuka, I doth my cap to thee. Many a memorable tune is played and if you’re not humming the overworld theme by the end of your adventure for weeks on end, you’re probably a sociopath. Just sayin’.
The Adventure of Link should keep your thumbs-tapping for a good while. It’s an incredible expansive gem of a game, with a sprawling epic feel, with its often darkened tone. Unless you’re an absolute pro (hats off, bro) there’s hours upon hours of entertainment to be had. It’s truly a journey you’re undertaking, like many Action RPG (especially those following in the footsteps). There’s almost infinite battles to get yourself into, secrets to be unveiled, a ridiculous number of NPC’s and the typical puzzle inducing maps that are now a standard of Zelda in overworld form. There’s much to come back to. It’s clearly a single player title, but if you’re all alone on a winter’s eve, there’s not much better on the Nintendo that you can be playing that’ll give you the over-arcing gratification of working your way through Zelda II. Not even the original. For reals, I said it. The fact you can set your own pace is a big draw for this reviewer. For all reasons mentioned with the contrast of the towns, the grinding elements, etc. It’s all great. I love it. Lastability is high, I’ve only myself completed the game twice and neither time did I find it a chore. I wasn’t bored, I wasn’t unimpressed and I actively wanted to finish it. But you do get a feeling of sadness once you do finish off your epic battle (by epic battle, I mean disgracefully tough boss fight) with Dark Link (a shadow-you, who’s all evil and whatnot). Oh, game. How I dig you so.
Zelda II: The Adventure of Link overall does a lot for the series, as well as standing on its own two feet as an incredibly solid Action RPG. With its tight controls, high-level of challenge and big in-game land to traverse, it’s a game that is well beyond simply worth playing. Many reviews have been average, but not here. I think it is a genuinely great game. It’ll be hard no matter what final scores I give because no amount of numbers can accumulate the many hours of sheer joy, anger and love that the game has given me over the years. Zelda II was the first (and at the time, only) Zelda game I had ever played. I never had the unfortunate expectations as to what I wanted out of it. Quite frankly, I had no idea what to expect. It was just played as ‘another game’. All I knew when I first slapped in the shiny cartridge like a piece of toast into my carboot-bought NES in the mid-90’s was it was a game that featured character from that cartoon I watched on TCC. Simple as that.
There’s many ways for you all to get your hands on this these days. The main way I play these days is via the collected release for GameCube, but you can also easily enough grab it through Nintendo’s store on either the Wii, Wii U or handheld. It’s a Zelda game, even without The Legend of in the name, which is another thing I find appealing as small as it may be. I have nothing but the utmost respect for Nintendo to go out of their way to make something they truly believed in when crafting a sequel to what would be one of their most successful (critically and commercially) franchises not called Mario. Wonderful, really it is.
I feel I’m rambling, but I can just assure any reader out there who see’s a review about “questionable design decisions”, etc. – this reviewer whole-heartedly disagrees. It’s about as close to perfect an early Action RPG can get and for fans of the franchise it should become an instant must play. Even if it’s just for seeing for yourself the immediate legacy of the games’ clones on the System of origin, or the multitude of references that can be found in the other Hyrule-based series entries. I’m talking town names, the fact it’s the only true sequel, the origins of the prominent NPC’s, the magic meter and the goshdarn TRIFORCE OF COURAGE!! G’ah!
Long and short? Zelda II: The Adventure of Link is my second favourite Zelda game ever…
Stop reading and play it already!!!
Verdict:- My verdict is simple and it is thus...
Zelda II: The Adventure of Link is not just one of the finest titles on the NES, but one of the best games of its particular franchise and by a very large margin.
Love it or hate it, it's completely deserving of any iconic recognition given by any fan or reviewer anywhere in the world. No matter how you played it, disk or cart; re-release or whatever...Zelda II is a game that will stick with you forever. Even if you remember it negatively, it remains.
That's what many a great game does, it challenges. Zelda II challenged fan perception in terms of style and players in terms of difficulty. Plus, there's a desert named Parapa! Although, it doesn't rap. Unfortunately.
It's a fantastic title. If you don't play it, or mark it off for the sake of its bad rep, you're missing it out. It may not have started it all, but might as well had. Play it now.
Second Opinion:- Sometimes it has to be said Nintendo really can just whack out the same old game with a lick of paint and that's where they deserve their critics, however when they do something different those same critics whine again, how can they win???
Zelda 2 was a fantastic follow-up as it retained the core elements whilst addng so many new features and play styles, it was tough at times for sure but a good RPG should challenge a player and make the completion feel like a real sense of achievement.
Overall Transbot agrees with this review, the score and opinions are valid and that's the bottom line because Transbot says so!
Transbot Scores:- 8 out of 10