Sunday, October 31, 2010

NES Month: Zelda II: The Adventure of Link

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Developer: Nintendo
  • Platforms/Release:
    • NES: December 1988
    • Wii: June 2007
  • Genre: 2D Action-adventure
  • Rarity/Cost:
    • NES: Moderate (US$5-20)
    • Wii: DLC (US $5)
Well, I only have time for one more review for NES month, and since I believe in making a lasting... last impression, it has to be something climactic. And here I was, trying to choose between Paperboy and Jack Nicklaus Golf, two games that I've known for along time but no one really cares about. So I took a different route, and tried to think of something controversial. Something that I've played, that I have a lot of opinions about... which are pretty much the only requirements for something to show here on on the SDP. Hmmm... ZELDA II!

The apparent trend in NES games in 1988 was sequels that differed radically from their predecessors. I am of course thinking about the American Super Mario Bros. 2, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, and Castlevania II: Simon's Quest. These games have split the fanbase due to how radical of departures they were, and series fans either have to love them or hate them. (Less so for Mario 2; that one seems to have gone over pretty well.) The main, if not only, reason for all this decisiveness is because the original games were such masterpieces, even to this very day. True, I never played anything in the Legend of Zelda franchise until Ocarina of Time, but I got to the first game eventually, and I still love it despite its quirks. I don't care that it doesn't follow all the rules set by the original and by everything that came after it; I love it for what it is.

This is one of the few direct sequels in the Zelda franchise. After the events of the first game (I think it's safe to go without spoilers), Ganon is dead and Princess Zelda is safe and ruling Hyrule again. ...Until she is stricken with a sleeping spell. The only way to wake her up involves traveling to six temples to place a gemstone in each, then going to one final temple to find the wizard who can reverse the curse. All the while, the enemy forces are trying to revive Ganon by using the blood of Link. Obviously, Ganon's not the villain of this game, but he does show up on the Game Over screen, something you'll be very familiar with by the time you're done.
Not everything from the first game is gone. [1]
The action takes place in a side-scrolling perspective this time around, taking breaks in an overhead-view map to get from place to place. It's true that there are some things carried over from the first Zelda, such as items you collect to access future areas, and containers to increase your maximum health and magic. This was the first Zelda game to feature magic, which you use to cast a number of useful spells. When most of your time with this is spent in something non-gamers would confuse with Super Mario, you know this isn't an ordinary Zelda title. On the contrary, there are more similarities to role-playing games, like Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy, both of which were released in Japan beforehand. By defeating enemies in the side-scrolling areas, you get experience points. When you reach certain point targets, you can spend them on stat upgrades. Attack strengthens the damage you deal out, Magic reduces the magic you need to cast spells, and Life increases your defense. Upgrading your Magic or Life stats will also refill their respective meters, so use your upgrades strategically.

As in the first Zelda, there is a battery-backed save function, and it's a good thing; this game is massive, whether for its time or otherwise. There are a total of seven dungeon levels you'll have to explore, and each one is bigger even than any given dungeon from the first Zelda. In order to get through one of them, you'll have to do plenty of level grinding on your own time. Given the low experience returns from random battles, it's easier to do so in caves or temples instead. Wherever you choose to spend your time leveling up, you'll need it; this game is not only big in length, but in challenge. Your sword has a short range, even though you can, once again, fire sword beams only when your health is full. You get three lives, but when they're gone, you have to continue from the starting point, Zelda's palace, even if you were in a dungeon. There are 1-ups to be found here and there, but in one more classic screw-you, they never reappear if you save your game after picking up one of them. Save them for the final level, or just buy one for 9,000 experience points once you've upgraded one of your stats fully. Plus, there are some enemies whose attacks can't be blocked by your shield, and don't get me started with the Darknut knights you'll have to duel with. Spare yourself the trouble of trying to get past their defenses, and jump and attack to hit their heads above their shields.
Sparring with armoured enemies can be frustrating... or trivially easy. [1]
Don't be daunted by all the trivial things that make this rougher to newer gamers; it all plays and looks as good as the best of everything that's out there on the NES. The music, although not composed by Koji Kondo, evokes the same spirit of the original music while being more fully featured. What this means is the dungeon music is no longer so repetitive and minimal. The graphics are well-done, if nothing special, and it's nice to see how your favorite (or not) monsters from the top-down Legend of Zelda are re-imagined for a side-scrolling view. And that's this game in a nutshell: a new way to experience a new adventure just as epic as the last one. Just like the nearly everything else in the Legend of Zelda series, this is nothing short of engaging. There's been nothing like it in the franchise ever since, and it makes you wonder what it would be like if they had done another entry in this style. Forget the controversy it has garnered over the years -- the results would be EPIC. So for now, I encourage you to enjoy what we've got.

Control: 4 Triforce pieces out of 5
Design: 4 Triforce pieces out of 5
Graphics: 4 Triforce pieces out of 5
Audio: 5 Triforce pieces out of 5
Value: 5 Triforce pieces out of 5
The Call: 90% (A-)

Thank you all for joining me in this month-long journey through some of the best and worst the NES has to offer. This is by no means the last time I'll cover games for this great system, since given its library of almost 800 titles (for North America and the PAL region), there's so, so much I haven't played. All the same, since I've done only NES games this whole month, it would be nice to stretch my non-literal legs. I thought I'd be a little daring, and go from Nintendo to... Sega? Look forward to that, vague as it may be, and happy Halloween!

[1] "Zelda II: The Adventure of Link NES Screenshots". MobyGames.

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