Archive for July, 2016

Zelda II

I recently reviewed Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, but I love the game so much that I felt compelled to expand on my thoughts.

As I stated in the review, Zelda II seems to have a magic that not many games have. There’s something enchanting about the game that pulls me in every single time I play the game. It never fails. At this point, I’ve probably played through Zelda II about a dozen times. Maybe more. Yet, it never gets old.

I will admit that at least some of that is nostalgia, but some of it is also the fact that Zelda II, more than most games, seems to take me back to being a kid and playing these games for the first time. I realize that that sounds like the same thing, but it goes deeper than simple nostalgia for me.

If you didn’t grow up in the NES era, then you have to understand that the natural limitations of the system almost required an active imagination. If you take a game like Zelda II at face value, then you’ll see an overworld with some paint by number villages, a few caves, and some temples to explore. But, if you can place it in that time period, it becomes something much more. That overworld was a vast, sprawling land that compelled you to check every nook and cranny. You just didn’t know where a hidden treasure bag may be lurking or a house may be hidden in a forest area. It offered up a ton of possibilities. The system couldn’t present a land that looked like Ocarina of Time, so the developers instead presented the idea of that land, and for me, it worked perfectly.

I think this more than anything made the game seem massive. When you’d finished the temples on the first continent, you ride a raft to the east only to find an entirely new continent. It’s almost impossible to explain how amazing that was as a kid unused to such massive surprises hiding in a game. It was such a joy to find that you’d only gone through about half of the game at that point, and had so much more to do. A good comp for how it made me feel is how surprised players where in Symphony of the Night when they get taken to the inverted castle and have an entirely new map, the same size as the map they’d been exploring, to fight their way through. That’s how it made me feel, and I still get a bit of that wonder today when I replay it.

Zelda II also serves as a reminder of when there were no internet spoilers, and no FAQ’s to help you out. You needed to explore the land fully, lest you miss something good. That wasn’t an annoying task though, it was part of the joy of the game. Also, as a bit of an open-world game, Zelda II almost challenged you to sequence break. Could I get to the second area without getting the candle first? [For the record, yes, I can.] Can I take on the fourth temple before the third? What happens if I just get the item in the temple, but don’t place the crystal? For a kid, the possibilities were almost limitless. I couldn’t look up the answers to these questions, so I had to test each one out, and I kept coming back to the game to see what it would let me do.

Zelda II isn’t the only game that had that affect on me, but it’s the one that stands out the most in my mind, and the one that I still revisit regularly today. For the most part, I’m not certain that I can fully explain the hold it has on me, but it really does make me happy, and reminds me of a simpler time in both my life and in video games. A time that I sometimes long for, but can’t recapture. Still, when I play Zelda II, I get at least a taste of that time again, and I’ll never be able to explain exactly how important that is to me.

Zelda II Lunch Box

I even had this lunch box. Would love to own it again.

Zelda II

Quite some time ago, when I was about 10 or 11, I put a borrowed gold cartridge bearing the name Zelda II into my NES system. There was no internet then, and gaming magazines were not exactly common. Therefore, I had no way of knowing that I was about to start playing a game that would still be among my favorites over 20 years later.

The Set-up:
You are Link. Some years after defeating Ganon and saving Hyrule in the original Legend of Zelda, you discover that you are marked for yet another quest, this one involving the original Princess Zelda, who is in a deep, cursed sleep, and has been for many, many years (and who is the source of the “Legend” in the title). Once again, you find yourself venturing into the land of Hyrule on a great adventure.

The Story:
The plot of this game is a bit secondary, which is the case with most NES games, but you can read the graphic at the title screen and/or check out the Instruction Booklet (remember when those were invaluable?). You are given six crystals by Impa to place in certain temples around the world of Hyrule. The temples are, of course, each guarded by a boss character that you must defeat before you’re able to place each crystal. Upon placing these, you may enter the Great Palace and claim the Triforce of Courage, which can awaken the sleeping Princess.

Zelda II Zelda Sleeping

A kiss just isn’t going to cut it.

There are other minor, very minor, side plots in the game. One involves the followers of Ganon attempting to kill Link, as sprinkling Link’s blood on Ganon’s ashes will revive him. Others are simply mechanisms used to obtain items or spells in the villages scattered around Hyrule, such as finding a lost child or returning a trophy. These are required, and involve no real expansion of the main quest, but do offer up a motivation for villagers helping you out.

The Gameplay:
Immediately upon playing this game, it is very obvious that this is not simply an expansion of the original Legend of Zelda. Link still moves on an overhead map, but anything involving combat or exploration of a particular area is played out via a side-scrolling level. These range from minor battles that occur when you are touched by a shadow on the overhead map that appears when you stray from the main road (agents of Ganon), to the temples where you are to place each of the six crystals. The overworld functions much the same way it does in the NES and Super NES Final Fantasy games. It allows you to travel “vast” distances quickly, but offers very little else in regards of combat.

All that said, it is a very large overworld, consisting of two continents, numerous villages and caves and such, and the aforementioned temples. There are also hidden “tiles” that contain heart or magic containers, or are levels that you’ll need to navigate to continue on. As mentioned above, there is a road you can follow, but you’ll have to move off that into other terrain as you journey through the game. This consists of forested areas, swamps, and deserts (and some kind of volcanic looking area much later in the game). The overworld in Zelda II has always given me the feeling of a vast land, filled with secrets and dangers. In the current gaming landscape, it’s probably not much to look at, but in that day and age, it was filled with possibilities, and seemed almost magical.

Zelda II Map

This helped make the game seem that much bigger.

Combat in Zelda II is very simplistic at first. You stab stuff. That’s it. There are no items such as a bow or bombs, although you do acquire items in each of the temples that will help you out. These consist of items such as the candle which allows you to see in caverns (which are in darkness up until this point), the winged boots allowing you to walk on water, and the whistle which removes a river devil blocking your progress. These items are all non-combat items and can only be used on the overworld map. However, as you progress in the game, you will learn the down-thrust and up-thrust techniques which complement your fighting abilities. These sound simplistic, but are actually extremely helpful in the game, and aren’t simply one and done techniques. There are also Spells that Link will learn, ranging from Shield and Jump to the powerful Thunder spell. You will need to monitor your Magic Meter however, as a spell like Thunder will just about drain it. I will admit that magic can be mostly ignored in this game, but if you’re willing to keep it in mind and use it, it can be helpful and enrich your experience. Especially a spell such as Life which will refill part of your life meter.

Zelda II Red Woman

No comment on what she does to fill your life up.

Speaking of, this game does have Heart Containers to find, but only four of them, and they are found in the overworld, not given at the end of each temple. The same is true of your magic meter and Magic Containers. These meters/containers are supplemented by Link having the ability to level up. An ability that has not been seen in a Zelda title since. Upon obtaining enough experience points (given in treasure bags and by defeating enemies), you are given the option to upgrade your life, magic, or weapon levels. Upgrading life and magic will let you take more damage or use less magic per spell respectively. Upgrading your weapon allows you to deal more damage. Each can be upgraded to a level of 8, and it is possible to ignore upgrading one aspect in favor of leveling up another, providing some minor strategy to the game (especially when used in conjunction with the automatic level up you get at the end of each temple). This RPG element of Zelda II is definitely not close to something you would find in a Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest, but does spice the game up somewhat and further differentiates it from its predecessor.

Conclusions:
Even though Zelda II is the black sheep of the Zelda series and it is almost blasphemous to say this in video game circles, I far prefer Zelda II to the original Legend of Zelda. It just feels so much fuller than the original game, which is odd as I imagine that the original game is probably the bigger game. Somehow, Zelda II just seems to have a larger scope to it, and as you travel from the beginning across two continents to the Great Temple, it just seems like more of an adventure. I suspect that this is helped by the addition of villages and NPC characters going about their lives, making the world feel like a populated place that exists outside of the game. These towns and citizens were not present in the original game outside of people hiding in caves. Also, the difficulty of Zelda II is ramped up quite a bit, which helps further the feeling of an adventure that is escalating in difficulty and danger. By today’s standards, this game probably doesn’t stand up as anything special, but in the era in which it was released, a world full of 8-bit games, this game was bursting with a special kind of magic that only a few games are ever able to capture.

Zelda II Magic Map

Even at 34, this map still seems special to me every time I play it.