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A Hyrule Fairytale
By: Ted McAuley
Once upon a time--in December of 1988, in fact--a dark Wizard came to the land of Hyrule. He cast a slumber-spell on Princess Zelda, and laid her mockingly upon a stone bed in Hyrule Temple. With the coveted Triforce in hand, he escaped to a temple surrounded by an ocean of surging lava deep within the Valley of Death. There, he set about the evil magic required to resurrect the infamous Ganon. But for Hyruleís legendary hero, all would be lost. And so it was that Link set off across two continents in a valiant quest to break the Wizardís curse and regain the Triforce from the clutches of evil...
Riding high on the success of the Super Mario Brothers franchise and the original Legend of Zelda, Nintendo produced its first deliberately innovative game in its now long list of ground-breaking titles: Nintendoís version of Sleeping Beauty, brought snugly into the 8-bit world as Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. The gameís first and most obvious change could only be this exceedingly darker, almost black fairytale approach to a story which began strictly as a somehow familiar high-fantasy adventure with only mild tones of witchcraft and no supernatural element whatsoever.
Its presentation goes a long way in magnifying this tone as well. While the Legend of Zelda was presented in over-head perspective throughout, Zelda II functions predominantly in side-scrolling view-point, only reverting to its roots when Link travels across the Hyrule map. Caves, towns, temples, and battle-zones thus take on an edginess which pervades throughout the quest; a feeling which is both intimate and claustrophobic in nature--which is by no means a bad thing (I, for one, love its obvious meditation on the dark heart of evil), though I have an inkling itís what turned so many Zelda fans off to the game.
Unlike its predecessor, Zelda II is the first, and--so far, at least--only true RPG in the series. Although simplistic in every regard, the gameís level-up system proves to be timely, well-balanced, and efficient for its demands. By gaining experience points in battle, by completing a temple, or by snagging P-Bags, Linkís attack levels will grow accordingly between three prescribed choices: Magic, Life, and Attack Power. Rote progression may bring Link up in level efficiently, but it wonít always take him to the eighth and most powerful platform by the time you reach the Valley of Death... especially if youíre familiar with the game and fly right through it. In this case, Iíd advise gaining experience until Link has reached his highest level (including the possession of all spells and sword thrusts) before moving on to the last segment of the game.
And what about spells and sword thrusts? Well, let it be said that in every Zelda game there must be a wise man--or in this case, men--who offers Link sound advice and earth-shattering wisdom responsible for any number of Linkís silent epiphanies. In Zelda II, Link must find eight said men, most of whom grant him use of a new spell, while two others teach him the ways of the mythical upward and downward thrusts. These spells and techniques range from merely helpful to utterly indispensable, so itís a good idea to collect them all.
Because the puzzles of the Legend of Zelda have been subtracted from its sequel, the combat challenge between common enemies and bosses has increased dramatically. Be prepared by gathering all Heart Pieces and Magic Containers. Also, keep a close watch on how you use magic. The gameís a.i. is quite good, and will be less inclined to offer magic refill bottles when Link needs them most. Lastly, get familiar with Linkís ability as a swordsman; Zelda IIís platform-based perspective presents for battling that often times requires Jedi-reflexes, and potentially risky maneuvering to win.
The gameís music further solidifies its dark mood. The theme for the first six temples weaves a hypnotic web of crooked sorcery and threatening madness, speaking perfectly to the faceless Wizardís morbid dealings in Hyrule. The music for the seventh temple goes even further, adding a jagged edge of frantic helplessness to the blackly brewing pot. The soundtrack gets somewhat lighter during town sequences and while journeying the map, but even here thereís a subtle alien caste that sets things in somewhat of a Twilight Zone light. The opening title might be the only exception; itís a magnificent 8-bit piece, harkening to a quest full of magic and mystery in a vein closer to the Legend of Zelda. All in all, a great 8-bit score.
The graphics, while largely presented in repetitious patterns of brick and tile and rock, remain respectable for the obvious limitations of the NES. Their jagged stiffness goes a long way in creating a look of almost ďforced-perspectiveĒ in order to further the gameís dark, canted feel. Colors and shadows are at a bare minimum here, but the Lovecraftian locales make up for most of its short-comings, lifting Zelda II into new realms of conceptualization which would later bring about other darker titles in the series.
Surprisingly, I find Zelda IIís replay value to be even higher than the original. This is undoubtedly due to the gameís exotic feel, which seems to promise a flavorful replay in which new secrets will be uncovered and advanced levels of sword-wielding mastery attained. Also, Zelda II seems quit a bit bigger than the original, with much more to explore in a landscape of far greater variance. In any case, Zelda II has unquestionably reached classic status, and thus retains a strong draw for return play even after all these years. It is a game in which I intend to return again and again.
And in the end, Link triumphed over the evil Wizard, thwarting Ganonís brooding resurrection and all the unnamable destruction which would have followed. He returned to Hyrule Temple, and--using the combined powers of the Triforce; Wisdom, Power, and Courage--broke the slumber-spell on Princess Zelda. Her rewarding kiss convinced Link that, no matter what adventures lie ahead, now they would surely live happily ever after.
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