NES Review: Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. The hero returns in 8-bits, this time to tackle side-scrolling!
Zelda 2 is one of those “obscure” titles that is known as a good game and critically acclaimed, yet very few people have actually played the game in comparison to other Zelda’s . . . not to mention beaten it.
And after finally playing it I can understand why. Zelda 2 is one difficult game, in the vein of the original. But once you have conquered the game, it is a very satisfying feeling to know that you have delved so deep into the past of the Zelda series and came out on top despite all the game’s cheap tricks.
Zelda 2 really is unique in the Zelda universe. By taking a side-scrolling perspective on the world of Hyrule and the gameplay, Nintendo gave gamers a completely different experience. Zelda 2 is a game a lot of people missed, and many modern gamers may not even know it exists. Which is definitely a shame.
Below you can read my full review to find out more info about Zelda II: The Adventure of Link and whether or not you should buy it for the Wii console later this year.
Zelda 2: Adventure of Link
Also On: Game Boy Advance (NES Classics Collection), GameCube (Zelda Collection), Wii (almost 100% assured)
Genre: 2D Top-Down & side-scrolling Action Adventure
Originally Released: 1987
Save: Cartridge Save (3 files), GCN takes 36 blocks
Creator: Shigeru Miyamoto
The Legend of Zelda is one of the most popular video game franchises of all time. The series is beloved around the world and everyone awaits the release of the next game in the series with eager anticipation.
After Nintendo‘s phenomenal success with the original Legend of Zelda in 1986, anticipation for it’s sequel was through the roof. Gamers couldn’t wait to see the continuation of Link’s quest in the Land of Hyrule and to see what Nintendo might do different for their second outing.
Nintendo was determined to do something different after the first game. And they followed through by tipping the Zelda system on it’s head . . . . Zelda 2 is perhaps the most different game in the entire series, released only one year after the original in 1987. In addition to containing the standard RPG conventions of leveling up (a feature I wish they’d bring back) it went in a direction no one anticipated . . . . 2D side-scrolling!
In Zelda 2, you once again play as Link, but this time the storyline is a bit darker. The story is only briefly displayed when you turn the game on (as was the case with the first), but the instruction manual goes into much greater detail. Which you can read in full below:
‘At the end of a fierce fight, Link overthrew Ganon, took back the Triforce and rescued Princess Zelda. However, is it all really finished? Many seasons have passed since then.
Hyrule was on the road to ruin. The power that the vile heart of Ganon had left behind was causing chaos and disorder in Hyrule. What’s more, even after the fall of Ganon, some of his underlings remained, waiting for Ganon’s return. The key to Ganon’s return was the blood of Link – the valiant lad that overthrew the King of Evil.
Ganon would be revived by sacrificing Link and sprinkling his blood on the ashes of Ganon. Meanwhile, Link remained in the little kingdom of Hyrule and lent his hand to its restoration. But circumstances did not look very good. One day a strange mark, exactly like the crest of the kingdom, appeared on the back of Link’s hand as he approached his 16th birthday. The worried Link went to Impa, Princess Zelda’s nursemaid, who was shocked and frightened when she saw the birthmark. When she regained her composure, she took Link to the North Castle.
There was a door in the North Castle called “the door that does not open.” Only the descendants of the Impa family who served the king knew how to open the door. Impa took Link’s left hand and pressed the back of it against the door. There was a sound of a lock falling open, the door slowly creaked open and there on an altar in the middle of the room lay a beautiful woman. “Here lies the Princess Zelda.”
Impa began to speak calmly. “Link, the time has come when I must tell you the legend of Zelda handed down in Hyrule. It is said that long ago, when Hyrule was one country, a great ruler maintained the peace in Hyrule using the Triforce. However, the king too was a child of man and he died. Then, the prince of the kingdom should have become king and inherited everything, but he could inherit the Triforce only in part. The Prince searched everywhere for the missing parts, but could not find them. Then, a magician close to the king brought him someunexpected news. Before he died, the king had said something about the Triforce to only the younger sister of the prince, Princess Zelda. The prince immediately questioned the princess, but she wouldn’t tell him anything. After the prince, the magician threatened to put the princess into an eternal sleep if she did not talk, but even still, she said nothing.
In his anger, the magician tried to cast a spell on the princess. The surprised prince tried to stop him, but the magician fought off the prince and went on chanting the spell. Then, when the spell was finally cast, Princess Zelda fell on that spot and entered a sleep from which she might never awake. At the same time, the magician also fell down and breathed his last.”
“In his grief, the prince placed the princess in this room. He hoped that someday she would come back to life. So that this tragedy would never be forgotten, he ordered every female child born into the royal household should be given the name Zelda.”
From the stand next to the alter where Princess Zelda lay in a deep sleep, Impa took the six crystals and a scroll with the same crest and handed them to Link. “For generations, my family has been handed down these things which have been set aside for a time when a great king will come. They are written in ancient script that no one can read now. But you who have the crest may be able to read it. It is said that the key to uniting the Triforce is hidden there. Now it is time for you to read it.”
Link glanced at the scroll half in doubt, but what do you know? Although he had never seen the letters before, he found that he could read them as if they were talking to him. This was written on the Scroll:
You who’ll control the Triforce of the future. I shall hand down to you the secrets of the Triforce. There are three kinds of Triforce – Power, Wisdom, and Courage. When these three are brought together, the Triforce will share its maximum power. Of the three, I have left Power and Wisdom in the kingdom. But the Triforce of Courage I have hidden for a reason.
Not everybody can use the Triforce. It requires a strong character with no evil thoughts. But an inborn special quality is also necessary. Unfortunately, I have not found such a person during my lifetime.
Therefore, I have decided to cast a spell on all of Hyrule. A crest will appear on a young man with that character who has been brought up correctly, has gained many kinds of experiences and reached a certain age. But, what will happen if someone else uses the Triforce before then? If it is misused, it will produce many evils.
The Triforce of Courage is hidden in the Great Palace in the Valley of Death on the largest island in Hyrule. However, to enter you must first fight the guardians and undo the ‘binding force.’ When you have defeated the guardians, which I made to prevent enemies from invading the six palaces in Hyrule, set a crystal in the forehead of the statue you find. When you have set crystals in all of the statues in the six palaces, the ‘binding force’ placed on the Valley of Death will be removed and you will be able to enter the great palace. There you must fight the last guardian. And you can obtain the triforce only by defeating that guardian. There’s nothing to fear. You are the one to get the Triforce. You are the beacon of hope for Hyrule.
Impa implored Link, who raised his head slowly after reading the scroll. “The magic spell cast upon the Princess Zelda will sure to be broken if the Triforce is used. Please, Link. Unite the Triforce and save the princess. And bring back peace to Hyrule.” Link nodded silently in approval, and left the room after taking a long glance at the altar. Then with a magical sword in his left hand and a magical shield in his right, he set off alone on his long travels. At that time, Ganon’s underlings were calling up new allies from the Underworld, and were beginning to work devilishly towards the revival of Ganon.’
Zelda 2 starts you out inside a castle, seen from a side-scrolling perspective, where Zelda sleeps in the background. Once you exit, you will find yourself on the world map. The world map is seen from an overhead perspective like the first game. The biggest change in Zelda 2 is that, unlike the first game, the viewpoint is only overhead while you explore, all other times it’s from a side-scrolling perspective. And while in the overworld you cannot fight like in the first game.
Various towns, caves, etc. will be visible on the overworld, as will a dirt road. If you stay on the dirt road, you will be safe, but if you veer off it, enemies will appear at random, as black shadow-looking creatures that will move towards you.
If you can dodge them, you will not fight, but if they touch you, you will go into battle. All battles in the game take place from a side-scrolling perspective, as do villages, palaces (or dungeons) and other areas. While on these side-scrolling stages, the game will play out like you’d expect from a typical action game. You can either attack high, attack low or jump. And as you get further in the game your list of moves will grow.
When in a battle, you jump with the A Button and attack with the B Button. To use Magic (another new element) press the Select Button. You can only cast a spell if you have enough magic power to use it (a bar in the upper-left hand corner). Instead of your health being displayed in hearts like in every other Zelda, you have a health bar this time. Both the magic and health bars are made up of boxes. You start out with three and can gain more as you discover new heart or magic containers hidden inside caves.
Pressing Start will bring up your menu, from which you can select a magic spell. You can only bring up your menu while in side-scrolling screens. And in another difference from the first game (and other Zelda games for that matter), there is no inventory. Items you do discover (which are used automatically outside of the Hammer and Whistle) are displayed on this Menu at the bottom. Also displayed in the bottom left corner are the number of keys you’ve obtained, the number of lives you have and the number of crystals you’ve put back into the palaces (starting at 6 until it reaches zero). Yes, I did say lives. Zelda 2 actually has lives . . . you start out with three, and if it reaches zero then you get game over and have to start from the beginning of the game!
Thankfully, you do have Magic and that somewhat takes the place of your items (though you can’t use them indefinitely as you could with most items and weapons in the original game). Magic ranges from defensive (Shield Magic, which cuts damage in half), to Offensive (some of the later spells in the game allow you to shoot fire out of your sword and other cool stuff), to straight-up unexpected (Fairy Magic . . . turns you into a Fairy! I’ll leave it at that, but it’s got a really, really useful technique you’ll have to discover for yourself) and more. The magic never ceases to surprise and it adds a really cool element to the game. If you are a Zelda fan you will recognize that Link does gain Magic Spells in the other Zelda’s, but they never quite got back to the RPG type feeling of magic in Zelda 2.
One of the coolest aspects of the game, and a part that I wish they’d bring back for modern games in the series, is experience points. Like a typical RPG, you gain experience in Zelda as you fight enemies. The harder the enemy, the more experience points they will give you when defeated. On the upper right-hand corner of the screen you will see how many points you currently have (on the left) and how many points you need to get to reach the next level (on the right).
Once you reach that number, you will be able to select from one of three different areas to level-up in. You can select either Attack, Magic or Life. Attack raises the amount of damage done by Link’s sword. Raising Magic results in less magic power being consumed when you cast a spell. And finally, Life will raise Link’s defense, so that enemies take less energy when you are attacked. Each time you select a category to level up in, the number of experience points you will need to level up again will raise. Similarly, each time you select a category, the specific number of points to reach the category again will also raise. So, for example, you may need 200 points to reach the level up screen. Once reached, you will have three options, Attack, Defense or Magic, as explained above. The lowest one will be the initial number you had to reach. So Magic will probably cost 200. But Attack, always the most expensive, will cost 300 while Life will cost 250. Since you only just reached 200, that means that you can only level up Life, unless you choose to wait. To do this, select cancel. You will keep your 200 experience points until you can reach 250 or 300.
This system is very cool as it really gives you a reason to fight enemies. You’ll actually want to fight because you’ll know that doing so allows you to level up. Each category can be leveled up 8 times (which is marked by that many number of swords, hearts or magic containers on the level-up screen, and you can tell what level you are at by a number next to the corresponding bar or icon at the top of the screen) and something special will happen if you can exceed level 8. As you get further in the game it will cost more and more experience points and thus it will get harder and harder to obtain enough points to level up.
Regular enemies that you come across in the overworld will generally be weak. When you start off they will only give you around 2 or 5 experience points each. However as you get deeper in the game, and especially in the dungeons, enemies will give you a lot more experience. So remember to rack up as many points as you can while you are inside a dungeon. Defeated enemies will sometimes drop blue magic jars, which will raise your magic bar about a box. You will also occasionally come across Red Magic Jars, these will completely fill your Magic meter. Also keep your eye out for pouches of money that will drop. It seems to occur when you attack several enemies in succession. If you collect these, they’ll give you a huge experience point bonus. To collect any droppable power-ups simply slash them. Other items you come across Link will pick-up when you walk over them.
One weird thing about Zelda 2 is that there are no health items, neither potions nor hearts dropped by enemies. The only way to heal yourself is to visit a town, use a spell or find a fairy. Fairies will appear randomly in the field and sometimes in other places as well. The overworld in Zelda 2 is really, really large . . . bigger than the overworld in the original Zelda was. There are also a greater variety of areas. They include grass plains, forests, sea or river areas, deserts, swamps, mountains, graveyards and bridges. However, you can’t cross mountains (and thus there are no fight scenes there) and there are no water battles as well.
Each area is different when you enter a battle there, containing different enemies and obstacles. Swamps for example will slow you down, as the ground is covered in swampy water you have to walk though. Graveyards feature very tough enemies that include ghosts. The ghosts (called Moa’s) won’t just damage you, but they also take away experience points if you are struck. Bridges will take you to a screen where you have to navigate across the bridge by jumping over gaps and dodging enemies that will jump out of the water and shoot at you. Be careful though cause if you fall into the water you will die and lose a life.
There are a few more other environments as well. Scattered around the overworld are various caves. Initially the caves will be dark when you enter them, though they can still be traversed while dark, but you’ll have to be careful not to be attacked by enemies you can’t see. Caves will contain various enemies and often-times there is an item at the end of the cave, sometimes it’s a crucial item in your quest, other times it will be an extra Heart Container or Magic Container. These containers give you a new box, raising your maximum amount of energy or magic. They are very useful so make sure to look around for them. Other caves won’t end, but will rather take you to the other side of the mountains.
You will also come across “forced battle screens”. These screens are like any other, except these battles are unavoidable and required for you to progress in that direction. Once you step over one of these spots you will be taken to the battle screen automatically and will have to fight your way to the end to reach the other side. While wandering the overworld you will come across various towns, generally connected by a dirt road (Zelda fans will recognize the names of the towns as the name of the various sages in Zelda: Ocarina of Time). Like the battle and cave scenes, towns are also navigated from a side-scrolling perspective.
While in a town various people will walk buy, you can talk to them by pressing the B Button to glean possible important information about where to go next or what to do. They often give hints to hidden items or items that are crucial to proceed in your quest, as well as help you find Palace entrances.
The towns contain many houses. To enter an open house, press the up-button. Inside you will find a villager whom you can talk to. Generally the people with the most important information are the ones inside houses, so you’ll want to keep in mind what they say. Make sure you talk to everyone and enter each house.
There are also a few unique aspects across all towns. Every town contains a women in red, who will heal your life energy to full (talk to her and she will open the door to the house for you, hurry up and enter before she closes it. If you miss you can wait a bit and she’ll come back out) and an old women who’s a gold-ish color, who will heal your magic power. So whenever you are low on magic or health, simply enter a town and heal yourself.
Each town also contains a distressed villager who is looking for something, whether it’s a bottle of water or a trophy. When you find this person, listen to what they say and go on a search for whatever it is they are in need of. You will find it outside the town hidden somewhere in the overworld, probably close by.
Once you find it, go back to the town and talk to that person, they will let you enter their house. In the back of the house will be a basement where you will find an old wizard (why they have a wizard in their house is beyond me). Talk to him and you will receive a new Magic Spell! It’s recommended to try and get these spells as soon as you find a new town. They are crucial in your quest.
In addition, there are two towns that contain hidden knights. These guys won’t be in plain view, you’ll have to do something special in the town to enter the house they are in. When you talk to them they will give you a new sword technique which will greatly enhance your battling abilities.
It’s really the battling though that makes Zelda 2 what it is. Each and every enemy requires a different technique to defeat. You can jump, crouch and attack while on a battle screen, meaning you can attack in the air, standing or while crouching. You also have a shield, and like in the original Zelda, if you stand still or walk into something that’s being shot at you, you can block it (if it can be blocked) with your shield.
Add Magic on top of the other sword techniques you can obtain and battles have more to them than you’ll think initially. As I was saying, every enemy attacks in a different way, and you’ll have to learn to take their weaknesses into consideration and attack when they are open. Some can only be attacked from above, some below, some will shoot at you, some will throw things, some will stab at you from high or low, etc. You’ll need to watch your enemy and learn their attack patterns to help you defeat them. This really freshens battles up and keeps them from getting repetitive.
If you die in battle (which can also include falling into a pit, which will kill you immediately) and get game over, you will start over all the way back at Zelda’s castle! And that’s not all, if you receive Game Over (at which point Ganon will appear and laugh at you, along with the text “Return of Ganon” being splashed across the red screen) you will not only start at the very beginning, but you will also lose any experience points you currently had!
If you die, you can either select continue to keep playing, or select “Save” to save your progress. If you save, you will still start at the beginning but you will have all your items as well as any palaces you’ve completed, etc., and what level you are at, saved. So if you know you are going to die, at least try to level-up before it’s all over.
The battles in Zelda 2 are definitely one of the high points. It’s generally fun to fight and Link’s various sword slashes are cool. It’s great too when you learn the pattern of an enemy and succeed in being able to defeat them more easily. Low points include major frustration later on (particularly at invisible ghost enemies) and some cheap hits that enemies will get in.
Eventually you will reach the Palaces. The dungeons in the game are really the end goal of Zelda like they were in the first game, and like that game they will also be in hidden locations in Zelda 2, although the majority are easy to find and pretty much out in the open (represented by a kind of coliseum looking building on the overworld).
Once you enter a dungeon you will notice how much impact the side-scrolling has on the dungeon sections. It really feels like nothing else in any other Zelda.
Each dungeon you come across has a different look and color, and the dungeons all feature much harder enemies (that are worth fighting since they give you a lot more experience than the enemies you will find outdoors) and complex, labyrinthian layouts . . . as is expected from a Zelda game. Unlike in the original Zelda however, you will find no maps in Zelda 2. Since the dungeons are from a side-perspective instead of overhead, you will come across elevators that will take you to lower floors (like in Metroid except here you control them).
The dungeons are basically what you would expect if you took the original game and made it side-scrolling. You will come across various obstacles and enemies in your path. From falling blocks to deadly pits of lava to walkways that break when you step on them to walls you have to climb or jump on to holes that, in later levels, will take you to another floor if you fall in . . . . All the dungeons are very imaginative and just when you think that they couldn’t add any more variety, something new pops-up. You will often come across statues in the dungeons, many of these statues will give you bonuses if struck, including power-ups like red Magic Jars, which will completely refill your magic meter and can be a total life saver in the game.
As in all Zelda games, you won’t freely be able to roam the dungeons, rather, you will encounter locked doors that will require a key for you to pass (It’s funny seeing locked doors from a side-view btw). This key will obviously have to be found somewhere else in the dungeon before you can get into that area that it’s blocking. Also hidden deep inside each dungeon is a brand new item, and a boss for you to battle at the end. Red Boxes on the left side of the screen will show the boss’s energy.
The bosses in Zelda 2 resemble that of your typical action game and they all require a different tactic to defeat, and they range in difficulty from easy to very hard. When a boss is defeated you will receive a bonus round of experience points that will take you all the way to the next level, allowing you to level-up even if you didn’t have any experience points. Or the points can be saved. Link will then proceed to place his crystal in the statue, destroying one more section of the “binding force”, edging ever close to opening the way to the Great Palace to face Ganon. The Palace will then be destroyed and will no longer be enter able, so make sure you find everything in the dungeon before beating the boss.
Dungeons, as mentioned earlier, are great places to level up. The enemies in Zelda 2 really shine here in the dungeons and likewise in the rest of the game. The dungeons include some great and easy ones like the skull Bubbles, that will give you lots of experience (but take a mad amount of hits to destroy). You will run across some of these enemies very often, so make sure to destroy them as much as possible to gain more experience.
To give you a better example of the enemies you will be facing, their picture and a brief description will be provided below. There are more enemies than displayed here however. (coming soon)
Graphically Zelda 2 is a big improvement over the original. Everything is bigger and bolder. Since the game is viewed from the side you will also see enemies and characters closer-up, so they themselves contain more detail. And the game as a whole is overall more detailed, with less completely solid colors than in the first game, and the diversity in the environments and enemies is pretty good for such an early NES game. It’s also great to see a more detailed Link model and some of the new stuff, such as the inside of caves and the inside of houses, are unique in this Zelda. The animation is great overall and you really get a tense sword-fighting feeling in this game.
Music-wise the game contains some memorable tunes, including the Zelda theme that was remixed in Super Smash Bros. Melee and the dungeons have an equally fitting tune.
Overall, Zelda 2 improves on the formula in Zelda one in a lot of ways, and takes the whole series in a startling direction. The game is unlike any other Zelda game and thus begs to be played for that simple reason. Controlling Link from a side-view was an ingenious idea and it gives the game a completely different feeling from the first one, or any other one, and the game world is larger and more detailed. While there are still no treasure chests, a few of the items and aspects of Zelda that would be regulars in the other games pop up here, including towns with houses and residents, and items like the boots (which serve different functions in other games). Other items make a welcome return here, but many items don’t return and that is very unwelcome. I think the game would’ve benefitted from some more weapons outside your sword. Magic is cool and interesting but the game is hard enough that you will wish you had some more attack power, especially to hit enemies that are further away, without having to drain your precious magic.
And if you thought the first Zelda was hard, your in for another ride of pain and frustration, as this game contains just as much insane old-school difficulty as the first game, especially in the latter portions. What cripples Zelda 2 for gamers who aren’t patient enough to make significant progress is the fact of death in the game.
Having to start out from the beginning with no experience is very rough during the early portions (and end portions), especially if you don’t know where you are supposed to be going or what to do. If you stick it out however you will find that it’s not much of a hassle as the world is easy to navigate and obstacles that block your path initially won’t for very long as you gain more items. Thankfully the developers also include a safe road you can walk on for those times when you don’t feel like fighting useless, easy enemies, and the land of Hyrule is put together better overall, as it’s harder for you to get lost in Zelda 2. Actually, you will never really get lost, the game is that distinct in it’s areas that it’s easy to tell where you are, despite the absence of any form of map. Although places can still elude you when you are looking for them, and a map definitely would’ve helped.
I have to mention too that this game contains one of the coolest end-boss battles, although like much of the game it’s insanely cheap. The ending though is extremely disappointing, although I guess you shouldn’t be expecting much when you’re playing an 8-bit game, eh.
In the end, Zelda 2 is a very unique game. The game is far from perfect and the frustration factor is quite high for your average player, but if you can get past that, and know when to use a strategy guide if you are stuck (as I was. I commend whoever can clear the game without a guide at some point. Though not to gloat [heh] but I was able to beat the last dungeon without using any guide whatsoever!), then you will get a lot of enjoyment out of this game, and it’ll be great seeing Zelda in a whole new unique light, for those players that have never played the game before. Like all Nintendo games, Zelda 2 stands the test of time and is just as fun and difficult now, as it was then. A timeless classic.
Should I Buy Zelda 2 for Wii?
Definitely. Zelda 2 is a unique game that’s every bit old-school, yet it plays like nothing else. Certainly like no other Zelda games, and that in itself should be reason enough to give the game a look, especially if you don’t have another version of the game.
Zelda 2, like the original Zelda, gives gamers a good history lesson. It proves how much gameplay developers could dish out on such limited hardware, and still have a fun, challenging, large game. You definitely can’t be Zelda 2 in one sitting (unless you are amazingly skilled and know exactly where to go) and thus it’s more ideal for console play than portable play.
There may never be another Zelda game like number II, so I would suggest any gamer who has never played the game to purchase it on Wii’s Virtual Console and give it a go. If anything it’ll give you a laugh to see yourself being defeated by such a “simplistic” game. Zelda 2 will definitely give you more respect for the classics. And you do not have to have played the original to enjoy Zelda 2, the game stands on it’s own. Buy it!
FUN FACTOR: 8.0
The side-scrolling battles keep the enemy-slaying fresh, and new monsters appear all the time up until the last dungeon, keeping you on your toes. The game can be cheap and frustrating however, and it isn’t for the faint of heart.
Bigger and bolder than the original, Zelda 2 still looks pretty good over 18 years later, which is definitely saying something. Granted, this is “good for 8-bit”. But really, how can you argue with it? 2D ages well and Zelda 2 proves it, despite the somewhat simple graphics & colors and simple animation, it still gets it’s point across.
Music & Sound: 7.0
There really isn’t anything special to the music or sound, although the main theme is somewhat memorial, but not as much as the first.
Being an NES game, there isn’t much presentation to speak of. What’s there isn’t so great. There is no map and no inventory, and battles just start without any kind of intro (like you’d find in a typical RPG).
Side-scrolling action game? Was definitely done before Zelda. Side-scrolling action adventure game which include overhead perspectives? Not so much. Side-scrolling ZELDA game? Now we are talking. Zelda is Zelda, and having a side-scrolling version with typical RPG-style leveling up elements really changes the equation. It’s definitely one of the most original games in the Zelda saga.
Replay Value: 7.0
Zelda 2 doesn’t have a whole lot of replay value. There is no second quest, and it is actually required to find all the Magic Containers to beat the game. I also found all the Heart Containers easily by the end . . . so once the game is beaten, it is doubtful you’ll pick it up again. And as it’s a Zelda game, there is no multiplayer, extra modes or even unlockables. What you see is what you get. Fun while it lasts.