What's the Deal?: The first Zelda was a hit, so Nintendo made another one, which also sold a lot of copies. As a kid I loved it, my friends loved it, and it was generally acknowledged as the harder game. Nowadays, the internet has seen fit to curse it as the worst game in the Zelda franchise.

Why Everyone Hates it: Because the gameplay does not resemble the original Zelda, or any other 2d incarnation of the Zelda franchise. Rather than using the top-down perspective, it's actually a side-scrolling game, with a top-down overworld map used only to walk to locations, not for any real gameplay, much like an RPG. It also features a number of additional RPG-elements, such as possible random encounters on certain world map areas, towns with people you can converse with, and experience points for gaining levels in attack, life, and magic. Oh, yeah, magic. It has magic. You learn spells which do stuff, and replaces the use of items as your primary support base. Not to say there aren't items, because there's still an item in every dungeon you need to get, but their functions are generally passive, not unlike the raft in the original Legend of Zelda.

It's also probably the most difficult entry in the franchise.

Why it Totally Doesn't Suck: I've noticed a reoccurring trend with this game: If you grew up with playing it, you seem to think well of it. If you didn't, well, you despise it. I think the flaw is in the second group. The reason most people hate this game has absolutely nothing to do with its quality; it's a seriously well made game that's a huge leap technologically over the first. It's also a lot of fun, when you aren't being totally destroyed by it while trying to get that hammer. No, the reason people hate this game is because it doesn't really resemble what they think a Zelda game should be. They get upset because the game they think they should be playing isn't the game in front of them.

That's a dangerous mindset, in my opinion, and it still happens a lot today. A sequel isn't beholden to being an updated port of the previous game. I think it's fun to see changes, and when a franchise is willing to really shake things up, you can get some interesting results, something Zelda games have done a few times. In other words, you can't worship at the feet of Ocarina of Time, which changed a lot of things about the franchise, and then in the same breath curse Zelda II for going completely off the rails.

As a kid, I preferred the original, but I didn't really think less of this one. I thought it had some really awesome qualities. Hyrule seemed absolutely huge for the first time. I loved that the endless combat actually meant something, that my Link was getting stronger because of it. Some of the magic spells, like Fairy, were really nifty, and let me do some unique things I had never seen in a game before. It also had multiple lives, which I greatly appreciated since I was often times in dire need of them. When I play it now, I still enjoy it just as much (if not more), simply because it's a quality game, and for all the same reasons I enjoyed it as a kid. As a child, you're a lot more accepting of changes, as long as the game is fun. That's an attitude I try to emulate as much as possible today, and I'm much better for it.

I should also mention that I'm sure the difficulty is a big turn-off for most players. That comment about the hammer earlier wasn't in jest - for better or worse it's an item you have to go after fairly early in the game, and it can be devastating. I spent a good year mapping out a course to get it when I was a kid. Nowadays I'm actually a lot better at this game then I used to be, but it's still a challenge. Unfortunately, no one has patience for that sort of learning curve (myself included) nowadays, which means this game doesn't age as well as the original. Then again, I'd argue that going after that hammer was no more frustrating then burning hundreds and hundreds of trees with a blue candle in order to find the 7th dungeon in the original Zelda. Nowadays a quick FAQ will fix you right up, making the frustration level for replaying the original game fairly low, while the challenge in this game remains fairly intact.

Conclusion: The things I loved most about Zelda games was the exploration and the action-adventure trappings. Both of those games had those same qualities in spades, merely differing in execution. Zelda II is a great game and captures the right spirit. It deserves to be considered a proud, although different, entry in the franchise. Believe me, if you want to see some things that shouldn't be considered Zelda games, they're out there. Got a whole system dedicated to them, actually.

Posted by Kevin on 6:29 AM


Unknown said...

Jump spell + Downward Stab FTW. The best part about this game is that the new game plus lets you keep all your spells and upgrades. Beating the tar out of Horsehead with the sweet combo above is one of the most satisfying things you can do, especially given how much grief he causes you the first time around.

Colure said...

Honestly? I think I might actually PREFER this game to the original, based on the side-scrolling and the graphics. But you know, I'm not your average gamer ;)

Kevin said...

God I love the Jump+Downward Stab. I will go out of my way to get the Downward Stab ahead of getting the hammer just because of how much easier my life is for it. And you're totally right about the new game+, kind of hitting myself for forgetting to mention that. Zelda 2 has to be one of the first games to offer that mode, and it was a ton of fun to abuse.

It's a really nifty style. I kind of wish they'd do another spin on it, but that's pretty doubtful.

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