Saturday, April 9, 2022

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link


Let me begin this review by saying that I do not like Nintendo’s fabled The Legend of Zelda franchise, to the point where I didn’t even think Ocarina of Time was all that great, and I would have been furious had Breath of the Wild been my first Switch game instead of Super Mario Odyssey, which I actually found a sizeable improvement over prior three-dimensional Mario games, and if you disagree, you might as well find another game reviewer whose tastes more align with yours. The original The Legend of Zelda on the NES did have a few things going for it, but in my opinion largely exemplified what was wrong with Japanese videogames at the time. Does its first sequel, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link fare any better?

The franchise’s first sequel occurs a year after the events of its predecessor, with Zelda’s servant Impa taking Link to the shrine of a sleeping maiden who turns out to be the Princess Zelda of long ago, fallen under a sleeping spell, with the Hyrulian hero needing to restore six crystals to their respective shrines and unite the Triforce in order to awaken her. Most of the story one could find in the instruction manual, should contemporary gamers have access to it, although the “present” of the plot is absolutely nothing to write home about, with poor plot direction and the constant need to reference the internet in order to make any significant progress.

Despite the sequel’s release outside Japan nearly two years after its original release, the translation wasn’t anything to write home about either, and definitely left the question of what exactly its English localization team was doing during that time. For one, the dialogue is in all-caps, with many howlers such as I AM ERROR and I CAN GIVE YOU MOST POWERFUL MAGIC, along with punctuation errors aplenty and other unnatural dialogue. Some of the spell descriptions received upon obtaining them, however, are actually comprehensible, as is the game dialogue in general, although videogame translation was scarcely a refined art at the time.

That leaves the gameplay to shoulder the burden, but lamentably Zelda II doesn’t fare any better than its precursor, despite its distinction from most other entries of the franchise. For one, there’s a combination of sidescrolling and top-down elements, among the latter being a traditional Japanese RPG overworld akin to other games of the time such as Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy. The sequel was actually somewhat ahead of its time in this respect since encounters weren’t random, with instead several moving black sprites indicating skirmishes appearing after Link wanders the overworld for some time, with contact sending him to a sidescrolling stage.

The actual environ of the sidescrolling encounter depends upon the overworld tile Link was on before the skirmish, for instance, with contact on a clear road usually not having any enemies, although encounters on tiles indicating grass, forest, or desert will more than likely have several foes. Link can jump (a magic spell allowing him to do so higher until he leaves the current screen or dies, and slash at enemies with his sword, being able to fire a beam from it for a brief distance at full health, although the actual range of attack of Link’s sword is simply horrendous, and contemporary players may find it nigh-impossible to engage in combat with the average enemy without sustaining significant damage.

Losing all health costs Link one of three lives the game gives by default, after which he restarts the current screen with full health and magic. All lost result in a Game Over and the opportunity to record progress or continue from the shrine where Zelda is sleeping, also the sole starting point when players reload the game. With Game Overs also comes the loss of all experience Link has acquired towards the next level, in which case he will acquire higher attack power, lower magic costs, or reduced damage. Defeating most foes nets Link some experience, and he may find special sacks that grant him more than usual, although given the frequency of death, these can go to waste.

Pretty much all enemies require some semblance of strategy to defeat, with one non-player character providing the strategy IF ALL ELSE FAILS USE FIRE, which is somewhat true as specific foes such as jumping spiders requires a magic spell Link ultimately receives allowing him to shoot fireballs when slashing his sword. Link also acquires the ability to stab his sword upward or downward whenever jumping, which can somewhat aid combat, although there are many cases in which he can get stuck in a downward stab sequence and unintentionally fall into a pit (which costs him a life) or other side of a strong enemy that can easily deplete his health.

The AI of enemies was surprisingly competent for a game originally released in 1987, with many enemies such as knights requiring Link to jump and stab their head before landing to damage them almost always moving backwards to prevent the hero from jumping past then whilst constantly raising and lowering their shields to defend his frontal attacks, counterattacking with their own stabs. Other than standard attacks, Link gradually acquires magic spells that cost a certain amount of his MP gauge (with additional life and magic point increases acquired at certain points across the game’s particular incarnation of Hyrule), with effects such as reduced damage and being able to reflect KKK-esque magicians’ attacks back at them.

Boss fights occur towards the end, and a few times in the middle of, the traversal of plot-centric palaces Link must visit to advance the game, also requiring some kind of special strategy to defeat, with the completion of these stages automatically advancing Link to the next experience level. The biggest issue with Zelda II’s mechanics is the absolutely punishing difficulty at times, with the trek to the final dungeon, for instance, littered with endless mandatory sidescrolling encounters that can very easily wear Link out, with plenty of cheap level designs that can quickly result in a Game Over, and make the game nigh-unplayable without cheating, even with the assistance of the internet.

The sequel isn’t user-friendly, either, given poor direction on how to advance the storyline, and the ease of getting lost that can quickly result in death and wasted attempts to accumulate experience. Granted, the absence of convoluted puzzles native to future series entries may entice those who don’t care much for such mind-games, and the temples don’t always feature sound design, the absence of in-game maps not really helping, and contemporary players may miss out on the sole alternate method of saving aside from getting a game over without, again, referencing the internet. Another nail in the coffin is the slow text speed, and generally, Zelda II doesn’t interact very well with players.

The audiovisual presentation is probably the sequel’s high point, though that really isn’t saying much. The soundtrack somewhat remixes the main overworld theme for the series, and there are some catchy tracks such as the flamenco-esque temple music, although the sound effects can be somewhat annoying and laser-esque, and both the near-death alarm and resurrected Ganon’s scoff with a Game Over will definitely trigger many players. Zelda II is also largely a period piece as far as the graphics go, with some okay aspects such as the decent anatomy for character and enemy sprites, although there are reskins aplenty as far as they and dungeons go, and the overworld visuals aren’t exactly remarkable.

Finally, while there is allegedly lasting appeal in the form of a replay mode that preserves Link’s heart, magic, and attack levels from a prior playthrough, the sequel, quite frankly, isn’t remotely enjoyable enough to warrant additional playtime.

On the whole, Zelda II is undoubtedly a relic of a bygone (sort of) era of videogames, especially regarding those that originated in Japan, with kusottare aplenty that then made said titles generally inaccessible to mainstream audiences. For one, the sequel is virtually unplayable, especially towards the end, even with the assistance of the internet, with frustrating combat and level design, an unengaging narrative with a poor English translation, and lackluster audiovisuals. The Japanese have a special term for videogames of low quality, kusogē, and while the first Zelda sequel among mainstream audiences allegedly wouldn’t be an example, given my experience, I very much think it does indeed apply, and absolutely cannot recommend it.

The Good:
+Gameplay has a few good ideas.
+Some of the music is catchy.
+Graphics are okay.

The Bad:
-Nearly impossible even with a guide.
-Lackluster narrative and localization.
-Painful to replay.

The Bottom Line:
One of the weakest entries of a franchise that would have its share of good, bad, and average games.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: NES
Game Mechanics: 0.5/10
Controls: 0.5/10
Story: 0.5/10
Localization: 0.5/10
Music/Sound: 1.5/10
Graphics: 1.0/10
Lasting Appeal: 0.0/10
Difficulty: Virtually Impossible
Playing Time: No in-game clock.

Overall: 0.5/10

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