You Probably Forgot About This Game: Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (NES)

Congratulations to Nintendo! As of last week, the Virtual Console service offers 100 games for download to the rabid Wii owners hungry for more retro gaming. Game #100 turned out to be Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, a peculiar choice when you think about it. Yes, it’s Zelda, and thus, it’s a classic Nintendo franchise, but is it really the most popular game they could have made available? Just in the Zelda series, the much-acclaimed Majora’s Mask has yet to show up, and when you take their other best-selling games into account, quite a lot titles could have had the honour of being number 100: Super Mario Bros. 3, Paper Mario, Metroid, Super Metroid and Super Mario RPG all come to mind. Sure, The Legend of Zelda could probably be considered Nintendo’s crown jewel along with Mario, but Zelda II isn’t exactly the most popular entry in the series. In fact, a lot of people consider it to be the red-headed stepchild of the family, while others openly despise the game. Not me.

I will admit that I used to be one of them. I looked at Zelda II with disgust, as I tried the game when I was young and unable to understand the English language. I deemed the game too boring and thought it was truly awful until I bought The Legend of Zelda: Collector’s Edition off e-bay. I got that game just for Majora’s Mask, which I couldn’t buy back when it was released since I was still in school and thus very poor. Majora’s Mask turned out to be the only buggy game on the disc, and I soon abandoned the idea of finishing it. However, I looked at the rest of the games on the collection and decided to give Zelda II one more chance. I was pleasantly surprised, as the gameplay was much better than what I remembered. Oh yeah, another big difference is the fact that I can now speak English and understand the non-playable characters.

So, is Zelda II: The Adventure of Link really a forgotten game, and thus worthy of this column? I will say yes, as it looks to me like a lot of people never mention it when speaking about the series as a whole, and it is rarely considered when discussing classic Nintendo games. This is probably the most popular game I will ever cover in this column (yes, the game still sold quite a lot as it was profiting from the first game’s popularity), but in a way, a lot of you probably did forget about this game.

The Game

Back in 1988, things were a lot simpler. There were no multiple timeline theories and multiple heroes. This was only the second entry in the Legend of Zelda series, and this game’s protagonist, Link, was still the same as in the first one. Things pick up slightly after the event of the original, as Link is nearing his 16th birthday. The old kingdom has been invaded by monsters, so people relocated north of Death Mountain and are still in the process of getting everything in order. Link is doing some dirty work, acting like all nice guys would, when he notices a strange Triforce mark on the back of his hand. He asks Impa about it, and she instantly recognizes it. She then brings him to the cleverly named “Door that does not open”. The sign on Link’s hand opens the door, thus forcing Impa to find another name for it. Behind that door, Link finds… Princess Zelda?

Apparently, this is the first Zelda, which was cursed and placed there a long, long time ago. The King at the time was about to die and passed a piece of the Triforce to his son, with the other piece going his daughter. However, the Prince was an asshole and really wanted both pieces. When his sister didn’t tell him where the other part was, he hired a wizard to question her, because you know, wizards are scary. The Princess didn’t answer the wizard either, which angered him, causing him to cast a sleeping spell on Zelda. The problem is that all that anger and stress also killed the wizard, who fell to the ground, cold and dead. The Prince realized his idea was a really stupid one which left him all alone. Grieving, he placed his sister in a room in North Castle, where he hoped she would one day awaken. To make sure that this would never be forgotten, he ordered that every female member of the royal family had to be named Zelda from now on.

As a side note, it looks like it didn’t really work, because Link didn’t even know about that story. I guess I should also question the fact that he placed the Princess in North Castle a long time ago when the story says that the kingdom just moved to that place just a little while ago because the old one was being overrun by monsters. However, back in 1988, correct translations were not Nintendo’s forte, so this could very well have been better explained in the Japanese version.

Anyway, the reason why the mark appeared on Link’s hand is because the King had put a spell on Hyrule that would reveal the real hero that could save Zelda and help the kingdom prosper when the time would be right. Because of it, Link was also able to decipher an old message written by the King himself, even though he was previously unable to read the ancient language. Impa then gave him six crystals, which her family had been guarding for generations. These crystals had to be placed in six palaces across Hyrule, which would then lead to the Great Palace where was hidden the Triforce of Courage, which would break the spell that was cast upon Zelda.

Adding to the suspense, Ganon’s followers are still trying to resuscitate their leader, which implies that the blood of his killer needs to be sprinkled on his ashes. Needless to say, they weren’t very happy when Link murdered their boss, and that makes the poor guy a constant target.

So yeah, eventually, Link does get the Triforce, defeat the bad guys and rescue the girl, but that’s the part where you actually need to play the game. Also, I hope I’m not the only one who noticed this, but with the Princess that Link rescued in the first game and the one he wakes up in this one, this could give place to a surreal threesome and some kinky Zelda-on-Zelda action.

When it comes to this game, the biggest concern has always been the gameplay. In the first Zelda, the adventure was seen from a top-down view, which fits the dungeon-conquering aspect quite well. For the sequel, Nintendo wanted to do something different, which means that while navigating the overworld is done in the same manner as in the first game, it suddenly becomes a side-scrolling affair when fighting enemies, or entering villages and palaces. Furthermore, you start with a very short health bar and low stats, which you must improve using a standard RPG experience points system. At the time, that facet of the game was criticized by gamers, and by looking at forums and critics of the GBA re-release, it’s easy to see that the feeling hasn’t changed.

The truth is that the whole levelling-up mechanic makes the game much more tedious than any other in the series. However, while the side-scrolling parts can look boring if you are simply looking for a Zelda game, it becomes fun when you look at it for what it really is: a well-executed battle system with challenging fights. The spells are also a fun addition, although in the long run, they only serve the same purpose as items do in other games from the series. No matter how you look at it, the shield spell and the red ring are practically the same thing.

The battle system surprised me because its complexity was unexpected. When I say “complexity”, you have to take it with a grain of salt. It’s not that the game is very complicated; it’s just that I sucked very much at first. The first few times I fought enemies, I expected to be able to run over to them and simple slash away with my sword. Ha! Of course, I ended up getting my ass kicked as some baddies were either too short or too high, meaning that to kill them, I had to either use the ultra cool downward stab or jump and swing the sword at the same time. I got it right after a while, and felt invincible until I encountered my first Iron Knuckle. A creature that can stab both high and low? It can also block my attacks! After numerous attempts, I finally slew the beast, but the thing got away with my dignity and pride.

In my opinion, the game does have a bit of a learning curve, but once again, it might just be my questionable abilities. After the first palace, I started feeling a bit more comfortable, but I still saw the game over screen too often for my liking. Zelda 2 is indeed more difficult than many, if not all, other games in the series, but I wouldn’t dare to hold it against the game. Because of the challenge, the game ends up being fairly long for a NES title, thus giving you more value for your money. That’s always a plus.

Finally, I would like to mention the music, which to my surprise, wasn’t composed by Koji Kondo as I always assumed. The composer this time was Akito Nakatsuka, and I must say that the man did an awesome job, especially for the dungeon music. I wasn’t all that familiar with the theme until it was extensively used in Super Smash Bros. Melee, but once you hear the orchestrated version, you can’t help but place it at the same level as any other classic themes from the series. The overworld theme does sound quite a bit like the original, but is different enough to stand out on its own.

All in all, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link is much better than what most people give it credit for. Sure, it’s no A Link to the Past, but it’s good enough to surpass the majority of adventure games that were available for the NES, and it’s certainly a part of my recommendations list for the Virtual Console.

Points of Interests

The incredibly cool downward and upward stabs!: The Legend of Zelda might be a fun game, but all you can do is slash your sword directly in front of your character. Not too exciting. However, Zelda II had the perfect remedy with the inclusion of these brand-new attack techniques. Not only were they feeling fresh at the time, leading to many players executing them in unnecessary moments (which in turn led to many untimely game overs), but they left a lasting impression on gamers. The downward stab is included in the Smash Bros games as a part of Link’s arsenal, as well as a finishing blow in Twilight Princess, leading to another generation of gamers uselessly practicing the move in inappropriate times.

I AM ERROR: This line is now a part of gaming folklore, in the same way as “All your base are belong to us”. What was at first supposed to be an in-joke for the Japanese programmers ended up being a perfect example of how badly translations used to be handled in video games. Error’s red-clothed look-alike, Bagu, is nothing more than a mistranslation of the Japanese word for “bug”. Therefore, instead of getting Error & Bug, we got Error and Bagu, which left the poor Error looking like an idiot all by himself. I guess it’s his entire fault anyway. If he wants to look like an intelligent man, maybe he should be a little bit more articulate than “I AM ERROR”.

Introducing Dark Link: When playing through Zelda II, one must go through the Great Palace as the game’s final dungeon. After such a long quest and with the intense battles along the way, it is normal to expect some kind of ferocious beast, something huge that will strike fear in your heart. Instead, what you get here is a bird. Sure, it is a Thunderbird, and the battle does require a small bit of thinking when you first encounter it, but it still is nothing but a bird. How could they let a Zelda game end with such… SWERVE! That’s right, you were all swerved. You thought your adventure ended with a whimper, but you were wrong. Instead, the boss you face is the ultimate enemy: yourself. At the time, this was a very original idea for a video game, and the idea was so popular that it ended up being reused in Ocarina of Time, with Dark Link returning as the mid-boss of the Water Temple. While Dark Link was a fierce and difficult enemy to beat in this game, it looks like he forgot to update his techniques for OoT. Apparently, he didn’t count on the fact that Link could now wield a hammer, and thus had no counter to that weapon. Now eat steel, sucker.

Night of the Living Dead?: Also worth noting would be the alarming number of cemeteries in the land as well as the surface occupied by one of them. If I was the ruler of Hyrule and my people were dieing at that rate, I might be asking myself some questions. Or I would be anxious at the possibilities of a zombie invasion.

In Closing

This is a simple article, but somehow, I hope that it will help Zelda II: The Adventure of Link gain a better reputation. It truly is an underestimated game, and it deserves a better fate than being forever known as the black sheep of the series. Yes, it’s different and you might be expecting something else from a Zelda game, but if you simply take the game for what it is, you will find an interesting adventure with some first-class gameplay, as well as a title that will keep you occupied for quite longer than your average NES game. This game is highly recommended and is a great choice if you’re wondering what game to get next for your Virtual Console.

Look at its puppy dog eyes. It’s only asking for a second chance.