Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
Original Release Date: 1987
While the original Legend of Zelda is typically hailed as a classic, it hasn’t aged very well. It was impressive for the time, but it doesn’t even begin to hold a candle to its 16 bit counterpart, A Link to the Past, much less many of the more advanced and far superior fantasy adventure games we have available to us today.
Zelda II, on the other hand, has had a more mixed reception. While also generally regarded as a classic, many disliked its departure from the original game’s style, and there has never been another Zelda game that followed in its footsteps. It’s a bit of a shame, because its only real crime was being different from the first game, but different isn’t necessarily bad. Is Zelda II the underwhelming black sheep of the franchise, or is it an underrated classic?
There are legitimate problems with the game. The most egregious flaw is the fact that the game sends you all the way back to the start when you run out of lives, a problem that hinders the game throughout. The way forward can sometimes be needlessly cryptic, and certain sections like Death Mountain are brutally difficult, often in cheap ways.
However, despite its faults, I actually think it’s a more enjoyable game than the original. Firstly, there’s the fact that it’s unique. While the original may have started the formula that most subsequent games would follow, most of the subsequent games did the formula infinitely better, rendering the first game obsolete. In contrast, because there is no other game quite like Zelda II, it has more staying power, and is still worth playing.
Unlike the first game, Zelda II is more linear and straightforward in its design. This may be a turn off for some, but I think it’s a change for the better. While the first game may have offered players “freedom”, the ridiculously open ended nature of the game simply meant that players would have to spend hours wandering around trying to figure out what they were supposed to do, and the game gave little to no direction to help them. And while the second game may be more linear and therefore “restrictive”, it also gives players a properly paced and cohesive experience that isn’t possible with open ended gameplay.
To that end, Zelda II is in large part a side-scrolling action platformer with RPG elements. The combat, unlike the first game, is responsive and satisfying, and gives the player the tools they need to overcome enemies. The leveling system is straightforward and rewarding, and while it does allow for grinding, it never requires it. The addition of magic spells adds a new level of depth and strategy to the game, and the gameplay as a whole is much more enjoyable than the first game.
The addition of towns also makes the game feel more alive, and gives the impression that you’re actually adventuring across the lands, and not just wandering around a barren wasteland like in the first game.
Aside from a handful of rather insane sections, the game is challenging in a hard but fair manner. Whenever you die, it’s almost always because you messed up and not because the game hampered you with awkward controls or threw too many obstacles at you at once, as was often the case with the first game. Yes, it is unrelenting, and it can be brutal at times, but it had an element of fun and accomplishment to it that was missing from the first game, at least for me.
It’s not a perfect game by any means. It does show its age, and it does have some flaws. But on the whole, it’s a well-crafted game, and has withstood the test of time a bit better than its predecessor.
How well it holds up 3/4
Overall quality 7/10
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