Zelda II: The Adventure of Link review

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link is a divisive Legend of Zelda entry. It’s very different from other entries with its side-scrolling action and RPG mechanics, plus the controversial lives system. It has more in common with Metroid and Castlevania than it does with other Legend of Zelda games, but there’s something about it I love. It was my first Zelda game, and I’ve wound back the clock to play it once again. Today I’m going to bring you my own review of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link.

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link originally came out in 1987, just short of a year after the first game. Nintendo rightly had confidence in the first Legend of Zelda game, much like Mario Bros 2, they took a dramatically different direction with this sequel. The first game was top-down, in what would become a familiar formula to the series. Zelda II did retain some top-down elements, but only for navigating the Hyrule map. The main gameplay loop of the game is very focused on action and sword fighting but in a side-scrolling view. Link can slash with his sword and defend with his shield, plus this is a difficult game given you only have a certain amount of lives, so precision and persistence is key.

Nintendo diverted from the foundations set by the first Legend of Zelda game in other ways too. While the gameplay focuses on intense sword battles and bullet-hell-like enemy encounters magic and classic Zelda exploration and secrets are big plus points of the game. Link has a list of spells he can acquire from Wise Old Men in various towns across Hyrule, and they help him in battle or getting around the environment itself. The shield is one of the most used spells throughout the game, which will soften the blow of enemies, plus you have Jump which allows you to jump high and Fairy, which unsurprisingly turns you into a Fairy, so you can get to those hard to reach places.

Exploration and secrets are here too in Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, which offers up some of the best moments in the game. Given the limitations of the Nintendo Entertainment System, much like the first Zelda game, you have to work hard for these secrets, although they aren’t quite as obtuse as in the first game where a guide is almost essential. In Zelda II: The Adventure of Link there are at least clues, for example, early on you meet a small boy who tells you to go south when you get to the King’s Tomb, which reveals a secret passageway to get to the Island Palace. This is a great moment when you first fall through that hole and end up near the next dungeon. It’s surprising and very satisfying, and probably one of the reasons why I fell in love with the game at an early age. There are other decent secrets in the game like finding the Mirror, the simple-but-effective NPC quests to find the Wise Old Men in towns, plus dungeon items to help make your way through Hyrule like the Raft and the Flute.

Nintendo also introduced RPG mechanics in Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, where you can level up three abilities; health, attack and magic. Throughout the game, you have to collect magic containers and also gather XP, which is shown in the top right of the screen. This naturally levels you up throughout the game, but you are rewarded for exploration, given you’ll find heart containers and pouches of XP. You are gated from progress in the game if you don’t level up enough, so it’s definitely worth your time exploring and gathering XP as you go so as to not hit these artificial gate points. This can be frustrating and off-putting, which most likely adds to the sense of frustration and why some fans of the series don’t enjoy this entry.

The final difference I am going to talk about is the ‘lives’ system. You start off with 3 lives and when you die you go back to the start of the last screen you entered. When you lose all your lives you have to go back to the start, in the middle of Hyrule next to Princess Zelda who spends much of the game asleep. Most of the time dying doesn’t really matter, it’s fairly easy to get back to where you need to be quick. The only times this is really an issue is if you have to get through Death Mountain on your way to get the Hammer early in the game, or when you are fighting a boss in a palace. If you lose all your lives there you have to go all the way back through Hyrule and make your way through the Palace, which can often include Blue Iron Knuckles. If you haven’t encountered a Blue Iron Knuckle before, these are perhaps one of the most annoying enemies in all games, not just Zelda games. The life system is unique to Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, it didn’t appear in the Zelda franchise again.

Sword fighting is a big part of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Link starts out with basic attacks, he can stand and attack and crouch and attack with his sword. Link also uses his shield to fend off enemies and projectiles. You don’t actually have to press a button to activate the shield, Link always holds it in front of him, making this action nice and easy, you simply have to face the direction of the attack or thing flying towards Link’s head. Later in the game, you learn new sword techniques like the downward and upward slash techniques, which are great for a variety of attacking styles, but also good for traversal, given the downward slash stops you from taking damage when jumping over enemies.

The gameplay structure of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link is as follows. You explore the Hyrule to find an item or find a town, speak to the Old Wise Man in the Town to get the spell, make your way to a Palace via an occasional puzzle, and find the item in the Palace which unlocks a new area of Hyrule, solve the Palace, beat the boss and then repeat. While much is different about Zelda II when compared to Zelda I, there are familiarities too. The sense of discovery is there, and there are plenty of secrets to uncover. The music is great, and this is the first game where Nintendo started building the world of Hyrule. One benefit of the RPG design of the game is you get to speak to loads of characters in the game, which builds the world making it richer from a narrative perspective. While the gameplay of Zelda I is arguably better, the lore and story of Zelda II star and brings the series forward.

While the game is good, there are also frustrating elements, and the game can feel outright obtuse at times. The Death Mountain sequence is a particular part of the game that is tough and a part of the game that had me dying time and time again. Thankfully, it didn’t make me quit the game, although there are moments in the game when you consider whether it’s worth it or not. Overall, I do think it’s worth it, and if you are a fan of the Zelda series it’s great to go back and see where the series came from. You can see plenty of the DNA of modern Zelda games in the older titles. A Link To The Past influenced many versions after it, although Zelda II didn’t influence many. Personally, I’d love to see a modern remake of Zelda II. I’m not sure this will happen though because according to series creator Shigeru Miyamoto, The Adventure of Link is the only The Legend of Zelda game he considers a failure, due to the limitations of the hardware.

Talking of Miyamoto, the development of The Adventure of Link started with his idea of creating a side-scrolling action game which used up and down movements for attacks and defence. This idea was developed as a new sword and shield action game that did not follow the system seen in the first The Legend of Zelda. At the end of development, the game was considered a type of spin-off until it was decided on a story where Link would be 16 years old, attaching the Zelda title to it.

The levelling-up system was added so players could battle enemies multiple times, while encounters on the overworld added a luck factor to the narrow map. The high difficulty of the game was implemented to extend playing sessions due to the lack of content in games at the time. That explains the high difficulty, which makes sense given its release date of 1987.

This is also a rare sequel in Zelda titles. Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask are linked as direct sequels, but Zelda II also directly follows Zelda I. In the timeline revealed in Hyrule Historia, The Adventure of Link takes place in the “Downfall” branch after Ocarina of Time. It is the latest entry in the timeline that has its roots in Ocarina of Time and starts with A Link to the Past.

After Ganon is defeated again in A Link to the Past, Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages, and A Link Between Worlds, Hyrule then entered The Golden Era, in which the wise Hyrule monarchs used the Triforce to govern the land. After the last king’s death and the attempt of the Prince of Hyrule to assemble the complete Triforce, Hyrule was led into the Era of Decline. The Prince of Darkness Ganon was revived, leading to the events of The Legend of Zelda, but ultimately defeated by Link. The events of The Adventure of Link take place a few years later but refer back to Princess Zelda that was put under a sleeping spell at the beginning of the Era of Decline.

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