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Zelda II: The Adventures of Link - Review

The Bigger Green Elf Man

By: MrCHUP0N


Review Breakdown
   Battle System 8
   Interface 7
   Music/Sound 6
   Originality 7
   Plot 6
   Localization 7
   Replay Value 7
   Visuals 7
   Difficulty Hard
   Time to Complete

5 - 14 hours

 
Overall
number
Criteria

Title Screen
 

   Ah, the fresh smell of Golden Box. Back in 1988, yours truly went -- all 4-feet and a coupla inches of him -- with his sister, who dwarfed him (I now dwarf her), to the Wiz to pick up games for our then-new NES. Having heard all the hype about The Legend of Zelda from friends who had owned the system since its birth, we scoured the aisle for the title but succeeded only in finding its sequel. Sequel? Already released, and this young gamer hadn't even touched the first? But my sister swiped this, the venerable Super Mario Bros., and her wallet, and marched me off to the register. Moments later I was treated to an experience that was part adventure, part action, and all fun.

   Alright, so that was cheesy. But nevertheless, it describes my first experience with my own NES. Yes, I had played for short-lived moments at my friends' houses. Now I had one in my own home, with my own game to boil away the time after I finished my pee-wee homework. And while Mario was a quick fix (gasp), Zelda II is what started the male-pattern brain-rotting process. While Zelda II was different than what I had expected, given that I was thinking Zelda I the whole way, it certainly was great fun and succeeded in killing boredom whenever I had some to get rid of.

   The first thing you'll realize when you start an actual game is that your main character, Link, can't move up or down as he can in the prequel -- instead he's been blessed with the action-game duet of Crouching and Jumping. If you'd played the original Zelda first, you might be wondering, What's going on here? Then you'd read the instruction booklet... and still wonder, what's going on here? That's right kiddies. Zelda II has shifted gameplay focus from the previous overhead view style to a more common side-scrolling style. There's still the old overhead view, but there is little to no action involved during this view -- instead, it acts as your map-traversing view, which I'll elaborate on later. But for all of your battle needs, you'll be spending time in the side-scrolling world. While some may be disappointed in the sudden shift of gameplay, I found it to be an added challenge, and got a kick out of it. In the original Zelda, Link could "throw his sword" the entire length of the screen when his life was at full. This time around, however, the sword blast (a) has shrunk to a puny size and (b) travels a much shorter distance, dissipating within two or three of Link's body lengths horizontally. In addition to the shortened range, you must now learn to be adept with Link's shield. The shift from overhead to sidescrolling action has left Link's legs vulnerable to crouching attacks, and you must crouch to prevent Link from having his knees cut up. Of course, crouching leaves his head open, so you can imagine what would happen when you get into an intense sword fight. But that's part of the fun in Zelda II -- the immense tension that builds up when battling dreaded IronKnuckles with shields, capable of fighting at your skill level, hitting high and low in random patterns. While stabbing in the air, trying to hit your mark and get past its shield, you also must keep the warrior from penetrating your defenses, and you end up playing a hectic game of Stand-Crouch-n-Stab. The intensity level of Zelda II's battles is the source of this game's addictive fun factor.

However, missing from Zelda II is the vast usable inventory that Link carried in the prequel. In its stead are automatically used items, magic spells and fighting techniques for Link to search and find during his travels. Items such as the Candle and the Power Glove make their returns, but are used in different fashions. The Candle automatically lights up a dimmed area, for example, and obtaining the Power Glove turns Link's attacks into block-crushing blows. The interesting spells and techniques, however, make the sacrifice of the large usable inventory perhaps justifiable. In addition to stabbing and poking left and right, Link eventually gains the ability to jump and stab both downwards and upwards. He can also cast spells to halve the damage he takes (for the particular screen he's on), increase his jumping ability, recover part of his life bar, hurl fire at the opponent with his sword, and even turn into a (defenseless) fairy. You'll find yourself using these spells and skills quite often during the game, but of course, they must be hunted for and discovered. It makes for an interesting and enjoyable mix of action and adventure.

   The game may tend to move slowly, however. Unlike the original Zelda, you do not buy things, so you don't have to spend time amassing Rupees. However, you do have to spend countless battles building up Experience Points. Yep -- that's right -- a Zelda with Experience Points. After gaining enough Exp. to reach the "level-up" point, you're presented with a menu detailing the options you have in building up Link's stats: Defense, Magic Effiency, or Attack Power. Choose defense, and the damage you take decreases per hit. Likewise with magic -- the amount consumed per spell is lowered. And obviously, attack power increases the hurt that comes packaged with each of Link's pokes, er, stabs. "But then how do I increase my magic and life?" Just like in the original Zelda, you'll increase your life by finding heart containers, and likewise, magic by finding magic containers. However, they aren't waiting for you upon the defeat of a boss character. Instead they're scattered around the map of Hyrule, and you must find them on your own.

Ah yes, the Map of Hyrule. Not only has the entire land changed; along with it has changed travel and battle initiation. Whereas in the original Zelda you bumped into enemies on the overhead map, you now encounter enemies when you stray off a predrawn "road." Once off the road, enemy icons rush onto the screen, and if you come in contact with any of them, a side-scrolling battle ensues. The difficulty and nature of the enemies is determined by the icon -- hit a blob icon and the enemies are relatively cakewalks for the area; hit the trollish looking icon and be prepared for more of a challenge. This system creates sort of a pseudo-RPG encounter effect. You traverse the map and are thrust into a different battle scenario, and are returned to the map screen to travel after the battle is won. Oddly enough, if you lose battles, you are given second and third changes. This is because in Zelda II, Link has lives. And in addition to searching for the heart and magic containers, you can also hunt for extra lives. Faeries make an appearance in this game, and guess what -- you have to hunt for them too!

The scavenger hunt does not end there, however. As mentioned before, you will need to learn certain spells and battle techniques, and collect items. Your goal in this game is to clean out the Palaces throughout Hyrule and return crystals to the stone altars at the end of each. After returning these stones, the final Palace's barrier will be broken. In order to do so, you'll need to find those items hidden inside the castle to progress; and in order to do that, it's likely that you'll need to learn a certain spell to access that castle. *deep breath* And in order to do that, you'll find yourself doing tasks for town wizards -- such as finding water for their daughters, retreiving stolen trophies, and other Good Samaritan chores. Going through all of this hunting and doing all of these tasks are rewarded with the feeling of accomplishment; the dynamic nature of the battles keeps the gameplay from getting anywhere near stale.


Hm? Gold Bricks?
Yeah that's right, Link's travels take him to Fort Knox.  

   Staleness, however, was something with which I categorized the music in the original Zelda. Even though the game had incredibly memorable tunes, the same ones played over and over and over again. There were about 3 or 4 tracks in the original game. Here, Nintendo did marginally better, but the amount of tracks can still be counted on one hand. There was the title screen, map music, battle music, town music, and palace music. None of the tunes, while some may come close, are as memorable as the main theme of the original Zelda, which surprisingly does not make an appearance in this game. I personally enjoyed the music in the game but still wish that they would have had a lot more variety.

   Many of the ideas presented in Zelda II may also seem stale in this day and age, but considering when this game was released and what it brought to the table, it came with some original concepts. The hunt-to-progress-and-unlock idea had already been executed in the first game, but mixing this concept with the side-scrolling action created a new interesting and inspirational hybrid. Castlevania II was another side-scrolling game, released in the same era, which adapted the same hybrid system. The experience system may have borrowed from traditional role-playing, but the way in which stat level-ups were handled was relatively fresh and innovative. Casting different magic spells at the touch of a (Select) button in the middle of action was also a quite original throw-in to the gameplay. All in all, Zelda II basically took some existing ideas and transformed them into a more original package.

   The plot, however, also suffered from unoriginalitis. As with the prequel, the backstory is given in the instruction booklet and in the game's introduction. Not much of it is given during the actual game itself, save for little inklings of information given by the townspeople, and you're usually left in a mystery as to what might be happening during the game. However, as with the prequel, the game is heavily focused on action and gameplay and little on in-game story. So, while it suffers from the cliche bug and a lack of originality, it manages to muster a wee bit more of originality than does the prequel.

   As far as localization goes, text isn't as abundant as your normal RPG. It's there in towns, and what you read is translated well enough for you to understand. Of course, it's hard to find any sort of personality within the text, except for the frequent blow off from most passers-by, literally telling you they don't have time to talk to you. While the ingame text lacks personality, I consider the localization to be good for its era, because if anything, lines such as, "A winner is you!" don't rear their ugly heads in this game. You'll only have to watch out for mild errors such as "No.3 Triforce" and "...his most adventuresome quest" in the introductory text.


Huh...?
It's the... uh... "Spell" spell...  

   Considering all the hunt-and-unlock going on in the game, in addition to the level building, one might assume that an action-based game like Zelda II wouldn't be worth running through a second time around because of the burden that the RPG elements might cause. However, I picked it up a couple of times after my first run through just for kicks. I'd level up in a different way to see what would work best at different points in the game. One amusing, yet murderous thing to do is to try and make it through the game without a candle. That's a whole year's worth of replay value right there. There aren't many sidequests or optional things in Zelda II to look for, save for the magic and life containers, but it's fun to just pick up and play.

The graphics are decent, less colorful than the original Zelda but more detailed and larger in general. Link and his enemies now stand taller, at more realistic proportions, as opposed to the old squishy deformed status of old. Enemies sport certain color schemes, indicating their strength, much like the original Zelda. The palaces also have different color schemes, and tend to appear a bit on the monocrhomatic side. However, you'll see different columns, bricks (for the walls), headpieces portruding from walls, and statues of ironknuckles scattered about. Enemies stand out from backgrounds well enough for you to battle effectively (at least, enemies that aren't meant to be camoflauged). The overhead map shows very simplistic yet clear definitions of mountains, plains, forests, desert, and roads.

Paying attention to all the details in the palaces is not advised, however, as the game is quite hard. You'll have to focus on making well-timed jumps and strikes in battle, finding boss characters' weaknesses and testing your reflexes in trying to hit them. In one Palace, you'll have to act quick and demolish brick after brick to progress as the heads mounted on the walls above spit projectiles aimed directly at you. Sometimes you'll be surrounded on both sides, and you'll just have to duke it out -- believe me when I say that jumping over an enemy without having employed the Jump spell is not the best idea in the world, as Link's normal jumping height isn't that high. In some instances you'll find yourself lost in a maze of rooms -- in Death Mountain, a series of caves in mountains with numerous exits, you'll be lucky to find your way out and to your goal without once losing your cool and pulling your hair in frustration. The game offers quite a challenge, but once you get your timing in order during battles, and once you remember how to get here or there, the frustration level will wane significantly.


This is hilarious...
That's all the thanks I get? At least THIS was well localized and/or humorous.  

As a result of the high difficulty, the game can take up to 14 hours to beat. Consider: you have seven palaces to conquer. Four life containers to find. Four Magic containers to find. 8 levels to build, in each stat. Tasks to complete, techniques and spells to learn. Unless you're really good, you'll find yourself spending somewhere around half an hour to an hour on each palace, an hour or so on Death Mountain, a couple of hours level building, etc. Either that, or this game reviewer is pretty bad with his ninja-gaming skills. It's a tough game, and if you love a challenge, dust off that NES and get to work on this cartridge.

In the end, the completely different system of Zelda II's gameplay didn't bother me. I found it a refreshing change and a challenging experience, especially since I was only around 7 or 8 at the time. When I go back to it now, it still challenges my reflexes. It's still quite fun, as the rythm you get into when slashing baddies is satisfying. And, playing as Link in a full upright position -- a Bigger Green Elf Man -- was more fun at times than directing a little squishy sprite in four directions. The ability to jump and defend with more precision is welcome, and all the while the game manages to retain the heavy adventure aspect that we've come to expect from any Zelda game released. Zelda II: The Adventures of Link, is a sometimes frustrating but overall very fun experience.

Thanks a million!





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