Review by Kaas

Reviewed: 01/05/06

The controversial sequel makes it's jump to the GBA...

Zelda II: Link’s Adventure came out first in 1988, and has been a controversial game ever since. Players who are used to the Ocarina of Time, Wind Waker or Link to the Past gameplay will find it hard to believe this is even a Zelda game at all. It took the basic premises of the original Zelda on the NES and created a completely different game with it. Sure, it still features Link, it still deals with Ganon, there are still lots of people to talk with, but it’s definitely not the same as your average day Zelda game. But we all know change isn’t always a bad thing …

After the success of Legend of Zelda, Nintendo created this sequel. And, because the port of Legend of Zelda to the GBA was pretty successful, it made sense to port this game second. However, don’t expect better graphics, added gameplay or some bonus features: this is Zelda II, pure and simple, just how it came out back in the days. It’s a bit of a shame, really, because there were plenty of things they could’ve thrown in (perhaps as reward for beating the game).

Zelda II opens with Link in an almost empty castle, with only a sleeping Zelda to keep him company. It appears she has been cursed, and it’s up to him to save her from eternal sleep and to save Hyrule while he’s at it. He must collect the Triforce of Courage in order to complete this task, but it’s heavily guarded by Ganon’s evil minions, who wish Link’s destruction in order to resurrect their malicious leader. Link must locate six palaces, defeat their leaders and place a crystal in it to gain access to the final palace, in which the much needed part of the Triforce resides. Not an easy task, if you ask me…

As soon as you start playing, you will notice a few differences with other Zelda games. First of all, this is the only Zelda that’s part side-scroller. Yes, a side-scroller. Walking around Hyrule is done via an overhead map (like in the original Zelda on the NES), but battle- and townscenes are viewed from the side (like Final Fight and Mario). At first, it’s a bit confusing, but once you get used to it, it’s actually pretty nice and easy to fight in. Fights still require some skill and tactics, as different enemies require different fighting styles, so it never bothered me. Talking to people in towns (which were also new in that Zelda) is also handy in this sideview.

Another addition was the magic system. As you progress through the game, you will encounter some people who will give you the power to cast spells. Some of these spells are very useful (like the spell to replenish your health), while some of them are rather useless, and more of a one-time-use (but you’ll need it anyway to progress). Casting spells costs magic energy, so you can’t keep on using it forever (you can replenish your meter by collecting magic jars, which are often dropped by enemies).

The biggest difference is the leveling, as this is only Zelda game ever to feature it. As you defeat enemies, you will get experience for it. The tougher the enemy, the more experience you’ll get. As soon as you got a set amount of exp, you can level one of three abilities (life, magic and strength). It adds a new strategy to the game, as you’ll need to think about what you’ll upgrade next (which often depends on your way of playing). Once you’ve upgraded everything till it’s highest level, you get an extra life for every additional level up. I liked this system, but the leveling gets rather boring after a while, because at the end you will need to defeat a lot of enemies to level (and if you happen to die, you’ll need to start all over again).

As you travel around Hyrule, you will notice the graphics are pretty clear for a game of this age. Everything looks like it should, and I count this game among the top 10 of prettiest NES games. If you enter a sidescrolling part of the game, you’ll see the detail in the characters and buildings, while the topdown view looks clear enough and has some nice touches (like being able to chop down grass). Some of the spells look pretty impressive to, and the shadow effect you get when locking a palace, which is pretty rare among NES games, looks really good and definitely adds to the somewhat creepy atmosphere of the game. The bosses are looking very impressive too, especially the first one (I even had nightmares of him for a while when I was a kid…). Some of them really seem to radiate a violent and evil vibe, and you will be glad you defeated them, that is, if they don’t utterly destroy you…

…which brings me to another thing this game is famous for: it’s extreme difficulty. Some gamers might say it’s difficulty is overrated, but I can assure you it’s not. At some times, this game can even be frustrated because you just keep on dying. And having to start in the place you begin the game in makes it not easier, because you have travel back to where you were again (and sometimes loose a life in the progress). Bosses often require a lot of hits before succumbing to your might (that is, if you didn’t level up like a madman), and their attacks are often devastating. The normal enemies aren’t exactly push-overs either; as a lot of them can attack you with unblockable weapons, but can shield themselves from attacks made by you. They’re still beatable, of course, but in no way is this game as “easy” as the Zelda games of this era. Luckily, the control over Link is very good, and after some practice, you can steer his every movement while slashing away at the many enemies this games offer. Your magic is just one button away, and you use your shield automatically when not attacking. All this makes for a very challenging, yet absolutely beatable game. Just remember, if you die, it’s your own fault, for the controls are perfect…

Luckily, the excellent music this games features makes backtracking I mentioned before a bit more comfortable. All the tunes are a pleasure to the ear, and you’ll probably find yourself whistling some of the more well-known songs in a few days. The game features a few of the famous Zelda tunes, and has added some more pieces of art to the already big library of themes. While the tunes are in 8-bit, I still think they’re really well done, as it in no way bothered me during my playing this game. In fact, I think it even sounds a bit better here than on the NES earlier. I’m not sure if Nintendo polished the music a bit, or it’s just my imagination. In any way, the music is excellent.

Once finished, this game doesn’t really offer much anymore. The story (which is near non-existant) is not worth replaying the game for, and once you’ve seen all the villagers and their unintentional wrong speech, collected all the heart and magic containers and found every spell, there’s really nothing left to do. Sure, you might whip it out on a rainy Sunday afternoon, and it will remain a classic game, but there aren’t any sidequests or minigames in it (which isn’t really odd, because it’s an old NES game).

This game earns a 7 from me, because it’s fun to play, it looks great, the music is near perfect and it’s not easy to finish. I deducted some points for it’s extreme difficulty, it’s lack of story and replayability. Also, I took away a point for it being a straight port (nothing was added at all). Still, this game remains one of my favorite Zelda’s and should be played by everyone at least once, if they think of themselves as a Zelda (or adventure games) fan.

Rating:   3.5 - Good

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