The Legend of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link - Retroview

I Am Error.

By: Andrew Long

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 7
   Interface 7
   Music/Sound 5
   Originality 8
   Plot 3
   Localization 2
   Replay Value 10
   Visuals 4
   Difficulty Medium
   Time to Complete

3-5 hours


Title Screen

   Nintendo's relative dominance of the video game market during the 80s was sealed by the fact they also had excellent first-party support for their system, as evidenced by series such as the Super Mario Brothers franchise and The Legend of Zelda games, both of which persist to this day. The Legend of Zelda in particular developed a devoted following based on the strengths of the first two NES titles. The first game was a tile-based dungeon crawler, lacking in complexity but rich in gameplay. The second game, on the other hand, was radically different. The Adventures of Link was an action-RPG at heart, featuring fields, forests, caves, and castles for its hero to jump, slash, and sometimes fly his way through. The result was a slightly less cohesive game than its predecessor, but one that is nonetheless enjoyable to this day.

   The Legend of Zelda II picks up eight years following the events of the original game. Link has grown into a strapping young lad who now requires a sprite at least twice the size of his eight-year old self. This new and bigger hero comes equipped with his requisite sword and shield. Link also has a bone to pick, in this case with an evil magician who is trying to restore our hero's archnemesis, Ganon, to power in Hyrule. To this end, the wizard has rendered the princess comatose and stolen a triforce or two, holing up in a palace surrounded by an impressive field of lava. How this enables him to bring back Ganon is anyone's guess, but the presence of such a maleficent force in the middle of nowhere, combined with the slumbering princess, is evidently sufficient cause for Link to tear across Hyrule's two continents in search of justice (and presumably, the favour of princess Zelda once she wakes up.)

Zelda II features an overworld map with a number of dungeons, caves, fields, towns and forests for Link to become entangled in. These altercations begin one of two ways: either Link enters an area on the map, hidden or plainly visible, or he is attacked by the roving monsters that infest the landscape. There are three types of enemies on this screen: difficult, represented by cavorting miniature Ganons, easy, represented by little slimes (known, for whatever reason, as Bits and Bots in the game,) and fairies, which restore Link's life if he catches them. The first two types of encounters (as well as entry into caves, palaces, and even the occasional town) result in combat scenes, which takes place wherever Link happens to be (except on the road, which evidently serves as some sort of anathema to the monsters.) Link is always at the ready with his sword and shield, and, when at full life, possesses the ability to throw his sword. Link's throwing speed has improved from "Puet-chuwet!" to "Choing!" in the eight years between games, but as in the original game, the sole advantage to thrown swords is distance. In fact, some of Zelda II's armoured enemies cannot be damaged by this mode of attack. Link's shield is similarly less than functional, serving only to block rocks on its own, and a few other things with the help of magic spells.

She's a pediatrician, all right? Geez... you people...
She likes them young  

Because Link's basic modes of attack don't cut it, Nintendo has thoughfully included eight spells to help Link on his way. Anyone old enough to remember the eighties might remember a Nintendo commercial with a guy dressed in tights hopping around in some sort of sandy chamber, bowing before a bearded man who says "I cannot help you," among other things. There are eight of these bearded men, and gaining access to each can be as simple as walking in their front door, or as annoyingly complicated as rescuing their child from half a world away and returning it to safety. The spells are also complemented by two special swordstrokes which can be obtained by performing a variety of acrobatics, not the least of which includes Link's killer Santa Claus impression. Yes, there's a chimney somewhere that needs going down, because the up thrust and down thrust, as they're called, are indispensable, and make the game much easier to complete.

On the whole, the combat system is fairly well thought out, and surprisingly enjoyable, despite the relatively few options for upgrade that are available. Attack levels are gained through obtaining experience points, and are the only other chance for advancement, aside from the spells and sword thrusts. There are also Heart Containers and magic bottles, which increase maximum life and magic. Finally, every sixth enemy drops either a magic refill or 'P-Bag'. P-Bags really just include experience points, but the instruction book piously maintains that they can "contain monsters, tool". Regardless, the economy of this system is ingenious; points are distributed such that they take much of the game to obtain, and magic is a limited resource. If magic is used unwisely, it almost invariably results in a succecssion of P-Bags being dropped, as opposed to the precious magic refill bottles. Players must thus learn to be judicious about their use of magic, and what seems to be a very simple system is quite diverse in practice. 

   Diversity would perhaps be more welcome on the aural side of the game. While few NES games included more than a bare minimum of music, there are only seven distinct pieces in this game, one of these being the title theme. That music which is there, however, is decent. The map theme is a new rendition of the classic Zelda theme, and the palace theme in particular is a very complex song, at least by NES standards. Regrettably, other music in the game tends to be repetitive; battle music is roughly twenty seconds long and fairly uniform throughout that twenty seconds, and the final palace theme, as well as the music in the game's towns, can't help but stir up the image of Nintendo's square and triangle wave sound channels suffering from a stuffy nose. As for the sound effects? Well, they're about average, with some being annoying, some being acceptable. Nothing about the sound in this game is particularly remarkable, in the end.

By which, of course, I mean the palace...
Inside the house of ill repute  

  For a sequel, Zelda II strives admirably to be new and different. While it does retain many elements of the previous game in the series, the overall style of the game, coupled with a new battle system and even a different visual style, make this game unique in the Zelda series. Certainly, there are many elements retained from the original, but at no point does this game descend to the level of homogeny found in other series such as Mega Man. This is one area in which Nintendo should definitely be lauded; their first party efforts for the NES showed a great desire to innovate and change, and no two titles in either of their flagship series were ever the same.

  Well, almost no two elements. The storyline, while wrapped in a thinly veiled chunk of evil wizard, is mostly the same as the first Legend of Zelda title. Link still has to recover a damsel in distress, and this is still achieved through collecting various things from here and there. The only difference is the distinctly alien cast that everything has. This is something that is fairly difficult to explain; while the first Legend of Zelda made Hyrule feel somehow familiar, this game gives the land an exotic air, which draws its strength due to everything from the visual style to the naming of locations and the choice of characters. Even the different musical style creates a different atmosphere. That said, the plot is still rudimentary at best.

 Also rudimentary is the pathetic translation effort given the game. While dialogue by and large wasn't necessary, everything was squeezed so that it could fit into a text box which could contain at most three lines of text. This does not make for particularly stirring dialogue, and while this was still an era in which plot had to be sacrificed in deference to storage space, there are some truly cringe-inducing compressions of text as words such as "and, the, as, if" get shunted aside in favour of incomprehensibility. Just because a word is there doesn't mean it makes sense, and on top of that, there are some very questionable choices for names, such as the infamous Error of Ruto, as well as a few typos in the instruction manual (where the P-Bags that "contain monsters tool" originate). All in all, much more could have been done to ensure this game was a little more comprehensible.

The relationship in question being the one between fire and tough monsters, which is burning
Link gets some pointers on the finer side of relationships  

   Fortunately, the main point of this game isn't the story, or what they're naming people in Ruto these days, it's the gameplay, and that's present in spades. The game is a great deal of fun, and it's actually possible to finish it and then want to play it some more, even though it's relatively short. Though the game isn't particularly challenging, neither is it easy, and the level of challenge is just right to make it instantly addictive. So addictive, in fact, that it can still be entertaining, some thirteen years after its release. This, more than anything, is why this game deserves recognition as being more than just an average sidescroller.

Lamentably, there are many average sidescrollers which look better than Zelda II. The graphics aren't bad, per se; they just look somehow out of place, and have a slightly rushed air about them. Some of the game's plant life looks remarkably similar to visual effects that can be observed when old NES units start acting up, and perhaps it is this effect that makes them somehow unsatisfying. Character sprites are also very spare in terms of details, and even "back in the day," this game just wasn't considered to be that great in the visual department. Once again, it's nothing specific; perhaps it's just the combination of ugly plant life with a palace that looks rather as if it's been constructed out of bathroom tiles that leaves me vaguely unsatisfied with the look of this game.

In sum, then, Zelda II may have its flaws, but it's definitely an enjoyable game to play through. Games in the NES era are generally more focused on gameplay than story anyhow, and so it is with this title. In the end, its strong gameplay and addictive battle system more than make up for its shaky technical attributes and somewhat limited plot to carve its place in the annals of RPG history.

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