Screwing Over A Franchise: Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
by Scott

Back during the NES days, there weren't any real 'series' of games. No game developer was going to take an Atari game and go "why not make sequel that pile of horse shit!" Thus, game developers were a bit more, let's just say, 'experimental' or 'creative' with their games. Of course, we now call that 'risky', which must now be crushed. Coming fresh off of their ground-breaking successes of Legend of Zelda, Hiroshi Yamauchi and Shigeru Miyamoto decided (probably while drunk at a Japanese strip joint) that the best way to follow perhaps the greatest game ever made was a game completely different then what came before. It will also feature the additional bonus of being able to cause seizures.

A game so different that everyone, even Nintendo fanboys, will hate it. And that game will be the only game in the Zelda franchise to ever carry a number in the title, firmly placing itself in the non-existing Zelda timeline. That game is Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link.

Too Much Back Story

The story of Zelda 2 it described in a single paragraph if you wait long enough at the title screen, Zelda has fallen under a sleeping curse, and unlike in fairy tales, no amount of sexual molestation will wake her up. So Link sets out to recover the third and final Triforce to wake her up.

The Triforce isn't even named in-game. It's left to the manual to fully describe the back story, and what a back story it was. A long, boring back story that was an example of the first rule of Zelda sequels: never have anything to do with previous Zelda games (until Wind Waker messed that up). Zelda 2's back story stretched around 9 pages, which was a long back story for kids back then and even longer for kids today. Even Final Fantasy, which came with a mega-tome of an instruction booklet (weighing in at around 80 pages) didn't even have that much back story.

But let's get back to the point. The story picks up several years after Ganon has been slain, and, well, I'll let the instruction booklet explain how Ganon could return.

To go into another tangent, Nintendo's censorship was absurd in those days. When Maniac Mansion was being ported over to the NES, for example, they removed the SCUMM pennant from weird cousin Ed's room. Because SCUMM is apparently a really bad word (it was actually the engine that the game was made on). Actually, it's still there, go and see if you can find it. To allow the mention of a bloody ritual sacrifice to resurrect a dark lord of evil is well, pretty amazing. I'll be pointing out other times Nintendo apparently screws its own rules.

In fact, the Zelda in this game isn't even the Zelda from the first game. There's no mention of Zelda number 1, maybe she got eaten by a Gohma, or a Peahat, or maybe she ran off with that guy from Faxanadu. It doesn't matter, since Link gots a new women now! Oh, wait, the whole sleeping thing, right. Ahem, because of sleeping curse, Shigeru Miyamoto came up with a good excuse to never have to think up a new name of the princess that needs to be saved; since Zelda's brother decreed that every girl of the royal family would be named after her. It was the brother who ordered Zelda to be put to sleep; he was tricked by a magician to make Zelda tell where the third Triforce is. The prince, if the illustration from the instruction book is to be believed, was whipping an innocent townsperson to make Zelda talk (Nintendo screw over #2).

Also, the image of the old king bears a curious resemblance to the King of Red Lions (human form) from Wind Waker, just like to point that one out.

Now there's a throw-back for long-time Zelda fans.

Pissing Off the Fanbase for the Win!

So, now that we have an epic story line, what we need now is an awesome game to follow up on. So what if only half the programmers from the first game were available, this bird was gonna fly! They even had to bring in a new sound composer, Akito Nakatsuka. Now, Akito Nakatsuka isn't very well known in the video game business, even today. Some of his other works include ice climbers and...uh...that brain game that came out for the DS, and I think they asked him to improve some music for Super Smash Bros Melee. There can't be that much work for a video game music composer whose only experience is from the 8-bit era. Which is sad, since the music in Zelda 2 is some of the best and most varied music on the NES, stacking nicely alongside Castlevania 3 and Final Fantasy. The music of the palaces would be the aforementioned song put into Smash Bros, and they didn't even change or add to it. The only difference is that they used actual instruments to record it. The song itself lasts around a 1:30, which is pretty impressive since most NES songs only lasted around 30 seconds before repeating.

Once again, I am distracted. The game-play itself seems to stem from what other game developers were also doing with their sequels at the time. That the game must be über-freaking hard. Granted, we aren't talking 'Ninja Gaiden bust your balls hard,' but it's still harder than the first game. Most of the game's difficulty comes from four things that many people complain about: the difficulty in refilling your life bar, the limited number of lives, Link's pathetically short sword, and the dreaded exp scale.

Hope You Like Killing Things: Refilling the Life Meter

Like other JRPGs, you could recover life and magic in towns. This was accomplished by talking to lonely housewives and then being invited into their homes for 'healing'. To recover magic, Link gets invited into to what appears old men's (but are actually old women's) houses. Trust me; any innuendo you just thought up about those last couple of sentences is all you.

The best method (and most used) is to use the 'LIFE' spell, which takes a whole lot of magic points and only recovers three boxes of life. At max magic, you can only cast it twice, and then one of the cheap spells, and then it's back to the creepy old men, I mean women. Good thing every sixth monster will drop a magic bottle, capable of refilling one (blue) or all (red) of Link's magic boxes. So to refill Link's life, you would find some place in the dungeon were there was an endless stream of monsters, like bits, or bots, or myus (those spiky things). And then you would kill them, kill them, and keep on killing them until you were maxed out. Of course, you wouldn't always get a bottle. Sometimes you would get a point bag that gave you lots of experience points. And leveling up your life level would refill all of the boxes, but to rely on that method would be suicide.

So, whatever happened to all of those fairies that enemies dropped in the first Zelda? They're still around, you can run into them randomly on the overworld, or in preset locations in both the overworld and dungeons.

However, fairies are far and few between, so most players are stuck, as I just said, killing the same monster over and over. While there are plenty of these 'refueling spots,' as I like to call them, most are boring to use. The picture below is an example of what people could consider to be a refueling spot, but only the blue acid drops from the red statue head turn into monsters, and that happens a little too random for my taste. Also, there's a limit of 3 bots per screen from these droppers, so you waste way too much time waiting for enemies to appear.

So, to compare Zelda 2 to Twilight Princess or any new Zelda game, which gives you 4 bottles that completely refill your massive life meter and (almost) free to fill up, it's easy to see why people used to the newer Zeldas complain this one is too hard. It's just very hard to die in newer Zeldas. It's not that Zelda 2 is very hard, it's just that many people don't want to sit around, killing the same monster 60 (this is not an exaggeration) times so they don't screw up, get wasted by the boss, and waste one of their few precious lives.

Take a good look at both of those pictures. That monster (myu) gives 5 points when killed. I gained 415 points while refilling my life and magic bars. Granted, I got one 50 points exp bag, but that's still 365 points, and remember, every sixth enemy leaves a bottle. Do the math. I killed that myu around 78 times. While this is actually nothing to some of the power leveling required by JRPGs, no one wants this from a Zelda game.

Why did I do it? Because this is what was waiting for me in the next room:

Yes, that's a boss.

At Least He Lives Longer Than That Guy From 'Spelunker'...: the Life System

It would seem odd that people complain about the life system in Zelda 2, since in every other Zelda game, you only had one life. True, you could put fairies into a bottle to resurrect Link when he died, but the fairies did not recover all of Link's life until Ocarina of Time, and you didn't get any bottles in Link's Awakening. The reason why Zelda 2's life system is screwed up is because Link can die so easily. Due to Zelda 2 being a mix of a platformer and a JRPG, the nasty combination of inexperienced players dieing easily and the heavy punishments for dieing (losing exp) is not handled very well, that is, not at all. And once you run out of lives and continue, start at the very first area of the game, instead of at the beginning of the dungeons (except for the Great Palace).

This is where you start every time you turn the game on, and the exp counter will reset back down to zero when you run out of lives. Nothing is more irritating than dieing on your last life with only 50 more points to next level. Adding to the irritation level, the monsters have been made seriously stronger. Many minor enemies can take off entire boxes of life, and since Link only has 8 maximum, he can die very fast. There's also the inconveniently placed bottomless pits that are common in all platformers, made more annoying by monsters placed in the right spot to knock you into them.

There were very few 1-ups in this game as well, leaving many people to invent new swear words, like 'dogaroughagh' (don't ask me how to pronounce that) when they died.

Insert Witty "Crocodile" DunDee Joke: Link's Sword

Link's sword, which was actually the magical sword from the first game (wow, a game that carries items over from previous games!), is often described as an overly large knife. Strike that, just a knife, a short one at that.

Take a look at that picture, that is the maximum range of Link's sword, roughly one block length away from his body. The sword also has a poor vertical range, but I'm still hitting that bubble. As long as it collides with one pixel of an enemy, it still registers a hit. The main problem with Link's sword is that when Shigeru Miyamoto designed it, he only took Link's width into consideration, not his height. In Zelda 1, Link's sword was as big as he was. This was because Link was only as big as one block, so when Link got bigger in Zelda 2, people naturally assumed that his sword would get bigger as well.

This was not the case. On a side note, this somewhat explains why the Master Sword is so large in both Wind Waker and Twilight Princess.

Mixing Side-Scroller and JRPG: Towns, the Exp Scale, and Really Tough Monsters

Not all of the things taken from the JRPG side of the game was bad, such as the towns Link could explore. One interesting thing about these towns was that, unlike other JRPGs, there were people constantly walking through the area. These people all said about three lines, all along the lines of "I can not help you." Still, it was nice to see towns filled with people instead of just seven people you see in new games. There were also monsters in two of the towns, just to freak players out. I think it would be hilarious if in the next Final Fantasy, if you talked to a random townsperson, they would transform into a monster and attack. That would all be the moment 50% of players would turn the game off and never touch it again, claiming the game was stupid and unfair.

Also, my brother came up with the idea that the monsters could not walk past the signs into the town. Explaining why there was a sign at the end of the town as well. Nabooru (ask a 6 year old to pronounce that, I dare you) deeply confused us, since there was two houses past the sign, and the townspeople had different lines. What can I say, we were easily amused.

One more thing, that house in the left picture along the right side of the screen has no roof.

There's no reason for this picture being here.

Sadly, the most poorly implemented JRPG idea put into this game was the exp scale. It also draws most of the complaints, since the highest levels (which you need to reach if hope to beat this game) require mountains of exp, and the overland monsters, even in the last area, don't give much. The 'weaker' encounter gives a max of 320, while the 'stronger' gives 220. Once you hit the 4000 exp level, the levels increase by 1000 each time.

Once you level up, the counter resets back down to zero, except you do have the choice to skip a level, raise up something else, and come back to lower one at a later date. The best place to raise levels is palace 5, the palace on the sea, but once you beat it (and everyone races to beat the temples), you can never enter again. If you are not at attack 7, magic 7, life 8 before you beat palace 5, just reset your game. Seriously. You could get back to that point in the game and reach those levels before someone raises one level in area 6 overland. Plus, there are monsters that take away exp, because the game developers hate you. The worst of the lot is tied between two very frequently found monsters. The first is these slow moving floating statue heads that shoot magic beams at you. And they attack in packs of 3 or 4.

It's hard to convey on paper how much these things suck.

The other monster is these bone fish things that would jump out of lava and peg you as they flew through the air.

If they missed you and landed on the ground, they would chase after you shooting stones.

The programmers even stuck those things in the Great Palace, but Shigeru Miyamoto must have just looked at them and said, "Not good enough, make them shoot fire."

Still, you have to admire how much Zelda 2 ups the ante every time you think you've got things figured out. First, you fight Stalfos, which can be easily slain by just kneeling and slashing.

Then, the game throws Inonknuckles at you (yes, they are a different enemy than Darknuts).

I don't really know what these next things are; they're called 'Goblins.' And they're also really annoying.

Doesn't it look like it's hiding its genitals from view? Ahem! Then you run into Stalfos that can jump and downward thrust you.

Then you meet even stronger variants of both Ironknuckles and Stalfos.

I don't have that much to say about Doomknockers, except that I freaking hate them.

Dairas suck too, reason number 1 to never, ever fight in a graveyard.

Getting back to the subject at hand, that's when the game gets mean and sends the blue Ironknuckles that can throw their swords at you.

And Just as you think you've seen everything, the Lizalfos (in their first Zelda appearance!) start showing up, and red and blue ones attack with maces you can't block without the 'REFLECT' spell and you're left thinking "what the hell are these things?"

Yes, that's my only picture, and no, I'm not taking any more.

Finally, in the Great Palace, you run into what can only be described as a night of free-basing gone bad, the combination of the jumping Stalfos and blue Ironknuckles, the Eagle Knights. They exist for one purpose: kicking your ass.

And they do that very well.

The Great Palace is something else, you see. In newer Zelda games, they take a megaman-like approach, except for Twilight Princess which finally gives us a unique final dungeon: "Just stick in rooms that use the exact same puzzles from earlier dungeons or bring back all the bosses." With the Great Palace, it more than lives up to its name. Shigeru Miyamoto even lets you continue from the start of it, because the road to get there is freaking tough, and you're not going to have any lives left the first time you get there. Then, they remix regular monsters to have more hit points, do massive damage with every hit, and shoot fire that can only be blocked with the 'REFLECT' spell.

The bots in the picture to left take two hits to kill, with strength level 8.

There's even giant bubbles, that if you hit them and don't kill them, they break into two fast moving small bubbles that you aren't ever going to hit. The place is also freaking huge, it's got lots fairies, false walls up the wazoo, a rare 1-up doll, and not one, not two, but four curtain rooms, just to fake you out and think you reached the boss room. Plus it has perhaps one of the best musical pieces ever for the NES.

Believe it or not, the official name of the enemy on the right, directly from the Legend of Zelda Collector's Edition guide is 'Soprano.' Further proof that no one in Japan should ever name anything ever again.

You thought I was going to forget about the giant bots, didn't you?

And Now for Something Completely Worthless: the Items

Unlike the every other Zelda game, the items that were found in the palaces were used automatically, similar to how the raft worked in Zelda 1. For the sake of convenience, I'm not going to mention heart containers, magic containers, 1-up dolls, or the story items like the water of life or the kidnapped kid, because those don't appear in you inventory at the bottom of the sub-screen.

The Candle

Works kinda like the magic candle in Zelda 1. It allowed to see not where the pits were, but where the enemies were. Which, now that I think about it, is the reverse of the candle from Zelda 1. While not necessary to beat the game, I've never heard of anyone not getting it and going the whole way. Because they would have to be fucking stupid.

The Handy Glove (Yes, that's what it's called)

It gives Link the power to break the blocks that often fall from the ceiling. There are also platforms over lava made from those same blocks, with enemies killed best with downward thrust sitting on them, just to taunt you.

It is needed to beat the game, and it's so damn fun to use.


The Hammer

Making its first Zelda appearance, the hammer does the same job here as has done in every Zelda game since. Breaking large rocks in your way. One of the two items that is not used automatically. It was also found in death mountain, not a palace. And if you wander around that small area, you'll notice it is a nearly exact replica of the Zelda 1's overworld. Proving just how huge Zelda 2 is.

The Raft

It allows Link to journey to Eastern Hyrule. That's about it. Removed from later games because Link could freaking swim. Or you could say replaced by Zora's flippers, and comes back as the boat in Wind Waker, so I guess it wasn't removed at all. On a side note, it looks like a bunch of matches.

The Boots

These snazzy boots give Link the power to walk over water. Prompting me to jump into the first water pit I came across, dieing instantly.



The boots really only gave Link ability to walk on water in a few places. Namely, getting the hell off Maze Island, getting a heart container, and reaching palace 5. Later retconned by Nintendo to be the hover boots from Ocarina of Time. This is just Nintendo pulling a 'Square-Enix' by trying to make all the Zelda games relate to their biggest success.

The Flute

Once again, Shigeru Miyamoto proves he likes playing musical instruments, and wants everyone else to play them as well. The other item not used automatically, and used exactly twice. More if you want to piss off anyone watching you play this game.

The Magical Key

Just like in the first game, the final levels had no keys to be found, but plenty of locked doors. So there are lots of clues where to finds this item. No, really, they went way overboard giving clues where to find it. I'm still finding them. Due to the placement of it, if you downward thrust on it, you can make Link float. When asked why the spell 'SPELL' should be used to find it by one of the staff, Shigeru Miyamoto responded, "Because it's mysterious!" in a creepy voice while flicking the lights on and off.

The Cross

Used to see invisible enemies. You might be able to beat the game without it, but see the candle above for my view on the matter. It's kind of funny that Nintendo jumped all over Konami for their 'boomerang' weapon. When this looks way more like a cross then the Konami's version ever did. Oh, and Nintendo's do as I say, not as I do moment #3. Also, for more cross fun, there's one on the church in Mido town. So I guess this bumps Nintendo's 'we're hypocritical bastards' count to 4.

Getting Their Own Theme Music: the Bosses

One of the more interesting things to think about is that in Zelda 2, it introduced the whole idea of bosses to the Zelda franchise. Yes, there were large, boss type monsters in Zelda 1. However, these large monsters were fought several times throughout the dungeons. It was the inclusion of the side-scroller aspect which allowed the bosses to take precedence over the dungeons themselves. In Zelda 1, the hardest part of the dungeons were not the boss monsters, but surviving past room after maze-like room filled with darknuts, wizzrobes, and like-likes. In Zelda 2, the focus was more on the bosses, which thankfully, has been rebalanced to focus on both the dungeons and the bosses in later Zelda games.


The guardian of the first palace, Horshead is giant wimp. A wimp that can kill you in 4 or 5 hits if you aren't smart enough to cast 'Shield' on yourself. All you have to do is jump and swing your sword and force him back so you don't get hit by his mace. It advisable to never do two things: force him back against the right side of the screen, since he can still hit you and you can't hit back. And never cast 'JUMP' on yourself, since that majorly screws up your timing. Unless you went far forward into the game and got downward thrust. Then you can just use that on him. Also, my dad once power-leveled his attack strength to 4 and killed him in two hits. Worth 50 points.


Helmethead starts off similar to Horsehead, but after the first two hits, his helmet flies off and continues to attack you, similar to Gleeok from Zelda 1. Also a huge wimp, especially if you have downward thrust. Shigeru Miyamoto would go on to perfect the Gleeok type boss with Blind the Thief in 'A Link to the Past'. Who would be one of the coolest bosses ever. Still waiting for a Gleeok type boss in a 3D Zelda, because you know it will kick your ass. Worth 200 points.


Now we're talking. After two wimpy bosses, Zelda 2 shifts into high gear by taking the hardest normal enemy you've met so far, the blue Ironknuckle, and putting him on a freaking floating horse. He then proceeds to grind you into Link paste before dismounting, refilling his life bar, and fighting you on foot. Not only there are no walls to pin him against, but pulls the same trick that horshead pulls: get him to close to the edge of the screen, and you can't hurt him, but he can hurt you. Comes back to fight you twice in the sixth palace, because he hates you that much. His reappearance shocked my father, since he didn't want to beat the boss without getting the item, leaving my brother to reassure him that the real boss was a "huge dragon thing". Worth 300 points.


After the intense Ironknuckle boss, not to mention the nightmarish 4th palace, the fourth boss is a nice breather. All you have to do is cast 'REFLECT' and kneel until he dies. Of course, he likes to teleport right on top of you, so it's just a question of outlasting him. Carock can be considered the prototype of the 'Agahim' type boss, where you have to send his attacks back at him. Seen here as the only real 'trick' boss similar to other Zelda games, i.e., hard until you figure out how to beat him. Personally, I really wish Miyamoto would stop using this 'reflect enemy attack' boss type, since it appears in almost every Zelda since then, and I'm getting really tired of it. The first time we got up to him, my father tried to stab him with the sword. My dad is like that. Also worth 300 points.


I didn't even know this guy's name until a couple of years ago. I used to call him 'mace guy' or something along those lines. His one attack is swinging a huge chain hammer at you. So you cast 'SHIELD' and 'JUMP' on yourself and start jumping in, striking him, and jumping out. In fact, with the 'JUMP' spell, you can jump over his weapon. Perhaps the most enjoyable boss to fight. It also fits the level as well. Palace 5 is like Level 8 from Zelda 1 or Level 7 from the Second Quest. While big, every room is completely filled with monsters, usually Ironknuckles. A total bloodbath from beginning to end. Still waiting for that type of level in the new Zeldas, but I guess I'll just have to settle for the Savage Labyrinth from Wind Waker or the Cave of Ordeals from Twilight Princess. Worth 500 points.

Barba (I refuse to ever call him Volvagia)

A giant freaking dragon. That's right, it was so huge, he doesn't even come all the way on screen. The best spells to use are 'SHEILD', 'JUMP' (wait until after you reach the second platform, or else you fall into the lava), and 'REFLECT'. Arguably the hardest boss so far, since there are three lava pits in the room that you can die in, and Barba shoots a stream of fire that will hit you past your shield if you just stand there, knocking back into said lava pits. You can try downward thrusting him, but there's a good chance you'll fall into the lava. If you do manage to kill him and die, as long as you have an additional life, he'll still be dead. Worth 700 points.


Okay, another boss I didn't know the name of until a few years ago. Like most NES bosses, the name seems more like random words mixed together than actually planed out. This boss required the most magic of all: 'SHIELD', 'JUMP', 'REFLECT', and 'THUNDER'. Reducing your magic meter to just 1-and-a-half boxes. He just floats around, throwing fire at Link. His weak point is his face, revealed by the 'THUNDER' spell. He is mostly known for giving the most points (1000) and giving you a completely worthless key.

Link's Shadow

The final boss of the game, and held as the hardest of the all. He is so hard, that most people prefer just to exploit his A.I. by realizing he can't move and block low attacks at the same time. Personally, I will never exploit that weakness; he is too much of a worthy opponent to use cheap attacks on. He will kick your ass, repeatedly, and I do mean repeatedly until you defeat him. And defeating him is one of the greatest achievements ever. You might have noticed that I mentioned my father several times so far. That is because he is the greatest Zelda 2 player ever. He is the one who defeated the shadow first between him, my brother, and me. I could go though the entire game without getting hit and still not measure up to that.

Thanks a Million: the Ending

In an age where you would only get a 'thanks for playing' message, Zelda 2 tried to give a little more. It's still not much, but I personally thought it was the greatest ending ever at the time, because Nintendo threw in a hidden joke for die-hard Zelda fans. After the first Zelda game proved to be a success, there were cartoons and even comic books made. In them, Link was always trying to kiss Zelda. And in the ending of Zelda 2, he finally did. I must have laughed for 5 minutes.

I might have complained lots during this look back at Zelda 2. That doesn't change the fact that I love this game. I could have gone on about the smooth play control, or the way that Miyamoto manages to move an over-head game to side-scroller and still keep the monsters that we loved, like moblins, octoroks, and goriyas recognizable. The Zelda franchise still didn't have the puzzles during this game that made it famous, just maze-like dungeons. It was a risk, taking a beloved game and doing something completely different with it, and that just doesn't happen anymore. While the game was a huge success when it came out, now it is barely regarded as a Zelda game. I think that's why game developers don't mess with winning formulas too often, because fans are way too finicky, if a sequel doesn't exactly play like an earlier game, it is regarded as a failure.

Still, it is very hard to tell people that they should go out and play this game. Almost everyone who defends this game points out how much this game gave to Zelda franchise. It doesn't change the fact that other Zelda games include these features better, like the magic meter. In fact, Twilight Princess throws out the magic meter, and I realized how much I hate that freaking thing. So what it was the first game to feature the hammer? You couldn't use it to smash enemies. So, maybe it's just me being a Zelda fanboy at heart to never really give up on this game.

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