A Review of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link

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Impa hands Link the six crystals while telling the tale of a magician putting Zelda to sleep.

I recently bought myself an NES, and with that I've decided it's time to experience some classics that I never bothered with before. I have played the early sections of many NES games in the past, usually getting put off by the countless number of Game Overs I would encounter having hardly even started the game. However, there's just something captivating about playing a game on original hardware that gives me the motivation to persevere through that challenge. So I decided, what better game to start my new classic collection with than Zelda II: The Adventure of Link?

Zelda II is fundamentally different from every other Zelda game in the series. Sidescrolling gameplay, experience points, lives, and more result in a completely different experience to its predecessor and sequels. These differences—combined with the higher difficulty found in most NES games compared to today's games—ensure that Zelda II will feel a bit off-putting to even the most dedicated of fans. At first, playing this game will feel miserable—and it's freaking wonderful.

Hyrule has developed significantly following the game's predecessor. There are multiple towns filled with people to speak with. The crude wording of the hints given by the townspeople can be hilarious, and unlike in Zelda I, actually useful! While there were plenty of times where I was somewhat confused, rarely was I every truly lost. After enough exploration in the early stages of the game, navigating new areas of Hyrule becomes surprisingly intuitive. As you collect items, shortcuts in the world will open up allowing for much faster travel. The dungeons are also a joy to explore. Chipping away at each one, progressing deeper and deeper with each life until you reach the boss is super satisfying. The late-game dungeons are also quite large, with the final dungeon expanding so far that I needed to draw my own map to be able to navigate it. (There are no maps at all in-game.) The experience of drawing your own maps is also quite fun.

Now, all that doesn't mean that you won't be raging at this game at a times. Respawns initially seem forgiving, with the game dropping you back into the same room that you died in instead of at the start of the dungeon. However, once your live counter drops below zero you will hit the dreaded RETURN OF GANON, sending you all the way back to the starting location of the game and flushing away your hard-earned experience points. This also happens when you save and quit. All of your progress is saved, but the trek back to wherever you died can become very tedious as the game progresses. Enemies deal high amounts of damage and with no recovery heart drops it can be hard to make it through the earlier portions of the game, though this becomes more tolerable as you discover alternate healing methods and increase Link's Life stat and health bar (two distinct stats in this game).

Zelda II is a game that I would recommend to all Zelda fans looking for something new to experience. While most of the primary gameplay mechanics differ significantly from other Zelda titles, Zelda II manages to retain the same sense of charm, exploration, and adventure found in other Zelda games. Despite it's differences, many things first introduced in Zelda II have become recurring elements of the series. (After all, Link was jumping freely in this game 30 years before Breath of the Wild came out.) It's also easily accessible through Nintendo Switch Online with rewind and save state functions that many will find quite helpful for this game. I do recommend avoiding abusing the rewinds and save states because the game just feels so much more satisfying to beat without them, but I understand that's not everybody's cup of tea. Above all, you should play the game in whatever way makes it the most enjoyable to you.

Prince of Hyrule and the Magician use force to interrogate Zelda on the whereabouts of the Triforce of Courage. The Prince is weilding a whip while the Magician is growing out of the Prince's shadow behind him.

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Zelda II is an amazing game that I must recommend everyone try out. It will test your skills and your patience, but it provides an incredibly rewarding experience that I haven't felt from a Zelda game in a long time.

Images are sourced from the Zelda II: The Adventure of Link Instruction Booklet and are the property of Nintendo.