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Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (NES) artwork

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (NES) review

"To say that The Legend of Zelda revolutionized gaming is like saying The Beatles revolutionized music; it's an understatement no matter how you slice it. Zelda stunned the world with its complex yet digestible game play and its hours upon hours of nonstop fun, and it introduced the world to a new type of game and a new type of blockbuster. After Zelda, video gaming was never the same. 


To say that The Legend of Zelda revolutionized gaming is like saying The Beatles revolutionized music; it's an understatement no matter how you slice it. Zelda stunned the world with its complex yet digestible game play and its hours upon hours of nonstop fun, and it introduced the world to a new type of game and a new type of blockbuster. After Zelda, video gaming was never the same. 

Naturally, The Legend of Zelda would be a tough act to follow, even when the original authors were behind the next production. Expectations for a sequel were set to the highest possible level, so when a sequel, that being Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, was released the year following The Legend of Zelda, many fans of the original did not like what Nintendo did with the game and shunned the sequel. 

The heat of the controversy stems from the radical game play differences between the two games. Unlike The Legend of Zelda, which presented an entirely overhead view and placed emphasis on puzzle solving and item collecting, Zelda II is mostly side scrolling action, focusing on action-packed individual battles. The two games are as different as can be, that's for sure, but so many spent so much time picking out exactly how Zelda II was divergent from the original that they missed out on an innovative and engaging title. 

Years have past since the evil Ganon was slain, yet, unfortunately, Link's best efforts could not stave the slow corruption of Hyrule. Even without their Prince of Darkness to lead them, Ganon's surviving minions continue to terrorize the land, and, to make matters worse, Hyrule's government is beset with political instability. After the king's death, Zelda's refusal to tell her brother the location of the third Triforce, that of Courage, enraged the king's magician, who now sides with the prince. In his fury, the wizard wove a spell of permanent sleep and cast it upon the young princess. Despite the prince's efforts, he could not stop the warlock from finalizing his spell. Zelda collapsed on the spot, crumpled and still. Grief stricken, the prince placed his sister comfortably on an alter, in hopes that one day she would be revived. 

In a gamble that the power of the third Triforce can be used to revive the fallen maiden, Link sets out to recover the symbol of courage. However, before he can set foot in the holy ground in which it resides, Link must deposit six crystals into the heart of six corresponding palaces in order to release the binding seal which surrounds the Great Palace, resting place of the Triforce of Courage. 

Zelda II's plot does not wholly make sense, and there are already continuity issues, a curious problem given that this is only the second title in the series. However, what Zelda's storyline does establish is a much darker tone, a grim mood which permeates every aspect of the game. In the end, about ninety percent of the game's setup is only to be found in the instruction manual; the game references very little of it. 

Link's adventure begins at Zelda's resting place, North Castle. Traveling takes place in an overhead view reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda, only even more bland and generic looking. However, no action takes place in this perspective; almost all interactivity takes place in more detailed side scrolling sections. While traveling the overworld, Link can encounter random battles, though most of the game's time is spent gathering information and spells in towns, hunting for items in caves, and conquering palaces. 

Hyrule is much gloomier this time around. Replacing the balanced and convenient landscape of its predecessor, the geography of Zelda II is coarse and barren. Craggy mountains abound and giant boulders block time saving paths. There exist well-traveled walkways which can take Link safely from one place to another, but more often than not, Link will find himself fighting through enemy infested forests, swamps, and caves to get where he needs to go. You can find a downsized version of the predecessor's main map in this game, but it is an easily missed bland representation tossed into a forgotten and uninhabitable section of the world. 

Towns are few and far between, and even these shelters from the wild are not devoid of tension. Those who recognize Link's purpose pitifully plead with him to complete his mission while most of the rest are indifferent or even rude. Some go as far to attack link by transforming into aggressive bats! Still, Link needs to visit these towns for they contain vital information, restorative facilities, and magic spells which enable Link to conquer future objectives. 

Infesting this harsh world are the grisly enemies. Gone are the cutesy chubby reprobates who meander aimlessly. Bloodthirsty and relentless, tall and muscular assailants now charge Link, throwing everything they have at the young hero. With intense concentration on their faces, Goriyas now toss multiple boomerangs at Link. Lean and agile Moblins have become more adept with their spears; in addition to throwing they can jab and swing both low and high. And perhaps most threatening of the common enemies are the Daria, ferocious axe hurling lizards who can corner Link and finish him off in a few quick seconds. 

Fortunately, Link too stands proud and tall, ready for what comes his way. While his sword has been downgraded to a somewhat puny flesh colored dagger, Link can stab in rapid succession in standing and kneeling positions. His adulthood has brought the discipline to use sorcery. With spells gathered from towns, Link can protect himself, harm enemies, and alter his form and abilities to circumvent roadblocks to his progress. Until fairly deep into the game, however, magic is so costly that its use is prohibitive; a cast of ''Shield,'' which allows Link to sustain more hits, and ''Life,'' which restores Link's health gauge, is enough to drain Link's magic gauge entirely for much of the game. 

Link is also more graceful and fluid this time around. Jumping is liquid and controllable in height, distance, and direction. He can even stab upwards and downwards now in addition to performing the same types of stabs he executes on the ground. Link is now heavier so his adult body gives him more inertia. While some complain that this makes him harder to control, more skilled players can use Link's momentum to combat foes with seamless efficiency. 

Link can obtain items from palaces and caves, but, unfortunately, just about all of them are passive, serving only as tokens to get him to his next objective. Those who loved Link's varied inventory may feel cheated with Link's somewhat diminished versatility. While spells are obviously supposed to replace Link's old tools, their infrequent use makes them almost an afterthought. 

During his quest, Link gains experience while vanquishing foes, collecting ''experience bags'' littered about Hyrule, and conquering palaces. Once he meets certain quotas, Link can choose to upgrade his sword strength, magic ability, or vitality. Link loses all unspent experience points at a game over or when quitting and saving, which is somewhat irritating, but a few minutes of planning and extra game time is generally enough to ensure minimal losses. 

But the palaces are where Link's mettle will be tested to the limit, and one word alone sums up the best of what these objectives have to offer: Ironknuckle. Replacing the mindless Darknuts of the previous game, Ironknuckles are swift and murderous knights. What makes them especially dangerous is the fact that they can, unlike Link, handle their shields and swords separately, Additionally, they can kill you in about as many hits as it takes you to kill them! 

Combating with these suckers is time consuming, life draining, frustrating, but, above all, fun. The strategy and swordplay required to defeat these heavily armored freaks is incredible and innovative, and their combat skill and finesse is unmatched by any other foe in the game. Ironknuckles are practiced in their shield skills, and Link will execute many jabs before he finally lands a hit. While attacking Link, they also parry, often leading you into a trap where more enemies wait. To be successful, Link occasionally needs to retreat and bait the Ironknuckle to follow. These fights are fantastically fun, and while most of Zelda II's fights are individualistic and drawn out, those with Ironknuckles are the most involved and enjoyable. 

It's precisely this level of challenge which likely led many to dislike Zelda II. Those who began The Legend of Zelda by walking three screens upward to the first dungeon and easily obliterated every foe within got a nasty surprise when they encountered their first Ironknuckle. Additionally, life restoration is much more difficult; unlike its predecessor, Zelda II's enemies do not hemorrhage restorative hearts and fairies. While hearts exist as Link ''one-up'' dolls and fairies do make their return, both are rare and mostly location specific. Link's life is restored upon gaining a vitality level, but the only reliable methods of healing are through using the expensive Life spell, trudging back to a town, or the more desperate actions of losing a life or restarting the game. 

A final great touch to an already strong game is Zelda II's music. Keeping with the darker feel, much of the music is written in minor, beginning with the title screen music. A proud, yet foreboding fanfare plays as the game's opening story reveals Hyrule's depressing state. It's a great listen and does well to invigorate the player before the game begins. Deeper and more complex pieces play as Link gallantly struggles against superior foes, and especially haunting tunes chant as Link battles bosses. The greatest aspect of Zelda II's music, however, is the tremolo heard in each of the game's scores. Dissonant and chaotic, this musical decision adds shocking character to Hyrule's dismal state. Even the town music has an unsure sound to it, which is certainly appropriate given the proliferation of Ganon's spies. The palace score is majestic and composed, yet counterbalanced with a frantic tempo and a sense of uncontrollability due to its use of tremolo--just wonderful. 

Sound effects, unfortunately, are not quite to par, but they serve their purposes well enough. The fizzle effect heard when enemies vaporize is perhaps the game's best sound. Link's sword beam effect has been changed from its low frequency tone to a shrill, irritating reverberation, which is matched only by the high pitched squeal heard when a piercing weapon encounters a shield. The principal problem with both sounds is that they are both mixed considerably louder than most other effects. The tonal sweep heard as Link encounters a random battle seems to be the game's loudest, to the point where it generates noticeable distortion and clipping. Just about every other effect in the game--spell casting, enemy striking, and environmental effects--are quite standard, often recognizable from previous Nintendo titles. 

While The Adventure of Link is a more than worthy game, Nintendo would have done well to work on the game's convenience factor. Navigating Hyrule is time consuming. Whereas any location on The Legend of Zelda's map could be reached in a maximum of about a minute with proper equipment considered, The Adventure of Link gives few of these time saving devices. The journey Link must make from North Castle upon every restart rapidly becomes tedious. Additionally, the journey tends to gradually weaken Link via random battles, so it's not uncommon for Link to be nickleled and dimed out of a life or two by the time he reaches his real objective. More save locations would have added noticeable playability to the game yet without compromising The Adventure of Link's challenging character. 

Zelda II also lacks one of The Legend of Zelda's most charming and surprising additions: a second quest. While the primary quest of Zelda II is much longer, nothing new awaits upon completion of the game. This facet is not a major problem, however, since Zelda's second quest was little more than a novelty to most. Comparatively few people bothered to proceed very far into it. 

Though radically different from the first game in the series, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link offers a fresh and enjoyable perspective on gaming. The greatest shame is that this type of hybrid gaming essentially ended here. Imagineer would later license Nintendo's Zelda II engine to create Battle of Olympus, but otherwise Zelda II's closest relatives are Faxanadu, or perhaps members of the CastleVania series, which bear only vague resemblance. Zelda II never manages to fully recapture the glory of its predecessor, but it stands as a formidable Let it Be, forever in the shadow of The Legend of Zelda's indomitable Sgt. Pepper.

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Community review by whelkman (May 26, 2008)

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