Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Zelda II - The Adventures of Link

Once again, I'm reviewing some classic Zelda in honor of the 25th Anniversary this year. (Hmm, I hear there's another classic game needing some reviewing for the same reason.) Yes, the wonderful fantasy RPG-style gaming had just begun back in 1985 and 1986 with The Legend of Zelda. It was released in Japan on the Famicom (Family Computer Disk System) on January 14th, 1987. Finally, in the U.S., we saw it hit stores converted into a Nintendo cartridge on December 1st, 1988. If I had been older than two and been playing these games yet, I'd have been upset about the delay, but--as you'll learn the more you read about games--Japan always seems to have the better end of the stick. Here in the U.S. we missed out on great games such as Godzilla - Kaijuu Daikessen, Super Back to the Future II, and many others. So I guess I can't be too surprised that Zelda II came out almost a full two years later.

Now that you understand the wait for the game for those that were a bit older and into gaming, you'll understand as well some of the unfortunate and immediate disappointment. First off: there's no Ganon. The main villain from the first one is only present on the Game Over screen. Additionally, the Overworld is even more built square upon square than the last game, and since we're from a higher vantage point, it comes off even more redundant. Finally, though there's an overhead view of Link for the Overworld, cliché blob villains run into you and the fight actually takes place as a side scroller. This is probably the biggest complaint: It's a side scroller. To be fair to all of these complaints: Ganon got turned into red dust in the last game. Yes, it's magic, but you think they'd want to be somewhat consistent with the previous game, especially as the only direct sequel. The Overworld may not look quite as nice, but there are safe places (the path), the introduction of towns (people giving you health and helping you find things), and it is much more expansive and flows more naturally rather than going from square screen to square screen over and over. Finally, though the cliché black blobs can get somewhat tedious or annoying, they're not that challenging once you get the hang of it, and you get easy experience points, and yes, it's one of the few Zelda side scrollers, but at the time this was only the second game. So one Zelda game was overhead, and one was (mostly, though not all) side scroller. So not only was it not "breaking the mold," it also found ways to improve upon obnoxious elements of the first.

First of all, Link's controls in the first one were stiff. I let little things slide now and then, going up or down a little as I go left and right, going left and right a little as I go up or down, but once or twice it got so bad I struggled simply to get through a doorway, and once I pressed down but went up up right into Gleeok. It's not my controller, it hasn't happened to me at all in Link to the Past. As a side scroller, Zelda II inherently fixes this problem. Secondly, it also fixes the stiffness of the fighting, where Link can only thrust but still often seems to miss an enemy, yet that enemy can still charge right into you and knock you back. Link even gets upthrust and downthrust! Not even Castlevania caught onto this until Super Nintendo, and then they took steps back on that with Symphony of the Night. The game always starts you with full health after a continue (which was extremely upsetting about the first), though now it does start you back at the beginning. To be fair, though, you actually have lives in this one. Finding and getting rupees is no longer a pain because you no longer need to buy anything. That's somewhat disappointing, but I honestly don't enjoy having to "find" shops under bushes and then have some horrible store clerk who doesn't understand a thing about customer service say "Buy Somethin' Will Ya!" or "Boy, This is Expensive!" Did you ever go to a store and have someone yell at you to buy something? Did a clerk ever tell you, "man, our stuff sure is expensive!" What is that? A bad translation or something? You think the game should be at least slightly nice to you, since you're struggling so hard as it is. Instead old men are making you pay for their bushes, an old lady asks for money only to say "that's not enough" for information, and all the store owners are jerks! In Zelda II, this is greatly improved with the introduction of towns. Some nitpickers may ask, "Why is Link so much bigger than the towns and palaces?" If you get to ask that, than allow me: "Why are Mario and Luigi so much bigger than those dots they stand on in the Map Screen? What happens? Do they shrink?" I'm just saying, be consistent in your nitpicks. Anyway, the towns are a great introduction that no Zelda game left out again. Let's get one obvious thing out of the way before we start talking about the towns.

I want to ask: Am I the only one who's played through this entire game? I am appalled that Error has gotten so popularized as some sort of mistake or freak thing. I'll admit, it's all over the internet in hilarious ways, such as "Existentialism," and there is something hilarious about walking into a guy's home and all they do is tell you who they are. You're wandering the entire Overworld, stopping in every town and in every home in those towns, and in the first one you find some guy who simply repeatedly introduces himself? It's definitely funny, but it's not a literal "error" and the guy does serve a purpose, albeit a menial one. Later in the game you find an individual who tells you about Error.

Then, if you feel like it--or need to continue--you can stop by the first town again and talk to Error. Still, all he says is something some fat lady already told you in a later town.

Patience will resolve all mysteries. At any rate, the towns are great. The old orange-ish lady who paces in front of her cottage refills your magic, and the sexy lady in red pacing in front of her cottage restores your health--and we all know how she does that. One of the most genuine complaints I've heard about the game is the difficulty. I won't deny: after you beat Midoro Palace, things get a lot harder. You have to find Bagu in the woods just so you can get across the river in town, which leads you to the aptly-named Death Mountain. Death Mountain is hard, and it's not easy to find your way through it. I died plenty, but I learned how to implement strategy with the spells I already have, and I usually leveled up once or twice before needing to continue. Then things get a little easier, and you're through in no time. It requires no more patience than any other Zelda game. And in an RPG such as this one, where it's Experience Points rather than items that level you up, this adds more strategy to the game play. "Do I level up my magic now, or try to get a thousand more points and level up my health, first?" It also refills your health or magic if you level them up, respectively. This can be extraordinarily helpful when in a pinch. It also makes you use your magic sparingly, strategically, unless you find a red magic container, then splurge before you take it! I must say, though, that your points disappear when you continue, and the platforming in Death Mountain takes some swift reaction time. But when beating palaces, they refill your health and magic and bring your points up to the next level up! The game knows its hard, and I think it makes up for it very well.

The Palaces get progressively harder and maze-like, which follows in line with the first one. In The Great Palace, the final one, the game lets you continue there, since the trek is long and arduous. That doesn't mean it's easy. Oh no, if you're not fully leveled up at least in sword, if not life, you're not likely going to win. I beat it with magic at seven, but life and sword were maxed. Even then, you need to know how and when to fight. Pick and choose your battles and find smarter ways than just going one on one with the blue Fokkers. Red ones can usually be handled. Charging Fokkels worked the best for me, but sometimes the fire makes it hard to get close and then follows you inward, too. The secrets are harder, too, but nothing you haven't seen in previous palaces. There are hidden walls, but that was introduced in The Ocean Palace, and a character in the nearby town tells you about it. So there's no excuse to complain it's a Nintendo Power game. The first Zelda: yes. Zelda II: No. The towns resolved this issue really well. Yes, many people don't know things, but if you go for the people who stand out, walk quickly, stand still, or are in homes, you'll find all the help you could possibly need. Anyway, in The Great Palace, it took me about three continues just to find my way through to Thunder Bird. Once you find the way, however, it's a matter of getting there with all your lives. Thunder Bird is hard, but with the spells Thunder (to make it vulnerable), Shield (to take less damage), and Jump (to make it easier to hit it), you should be able to beat it without significant struggle. I died once or twice, but made it through before needing to continue. Shadow Link, however, is a different story.

As you can see above, Shadow Link (or Dark Link), is extremely difficult. I've beaten him, but not without struggle, frustration, and utter despair. It's not impossible, and you don't need to cheat and crouch in the bottom corner, but no one would blame you if you did. At this point you're tired, and unless you collected all those lives before you went to The Great Palace, you're probably dwindling by now. Still, if you push it, you can do it, and at that point, you're a true master, and the sense of accomplishment rivals that feeling you got with the first. Especially if you pulled it off without Nintendo Power or some Walkthrough. I pulled it off without, but it's certainly harder and more painstaking. With the original Zelda, I was forced to eventually use a Walkthrough because finding every level is too tedious, too secretive, and there's not nearly enough people around who can really help you out.

Over all, Zelda II is a great game. It gets overlooked because its a side scroll platformer and its difficulty, but it's no more difficult than the first. Death Mountain is a pain, but the game needs to challenge you before you've completely leveled up, otherwise it would be a breeze. There's plenty of challenges and secrets, but this time you have people there to help you. And it's got high replay value, because you can start over but with all the spells and completely leveled up. The game rewards you for beating. It says, "Hey, that was really hard, but now go through as a god and kick the crap out of everyone!" You even get to keep upthrust and downthrust! There certainly are plenty of flaws to the game, nitpicks and such that are an extreme pain, but it's a great improvement and a lot of fun. I know I spent the last review being somewhat scathing with my nitpicks, but this game gets a bad reputation, and I felt it was important to defend it more than beat a dead horse. Really, I wanted to give it a fair shot, and for you to do so, too. It's at least equally as fun as its counterpart, and the sense of adventure is far from lost. Go. Play. Frustrate. Enjoy. The wonderful but standard NES experience.

Angry Video Game Nerd on Zelda II.
Strategy Wiki on Zelda II.
Zelda Wiki on Zelda II.
Game Faqs information on Zelda II.
Naturally Zelda II on Wikipedia.
An enormous picture of the entire Zelda II Overworld.

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