Zelda II: The Adventure of Link nowadays is known as the “black sheep” entry and was considered to be one of the worst games in the series.
|Console||Nintendo Entertainment System, Game Boy Advance|
|Release Year||1987 – 1988|
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Well then. Where do I start with this review?
Okay, let’s start with the subtitle. Really, The Adventure of Link? Redundant much? Couldn’t it be a more relevant name like The Sleeping Princess or The Slumbering Princess? The Triforce of Courage? Or How the Hell Do I Get Past Death Mountain? Or maybe That One Game People Used To Like But Hate Now For Some Reason?
Yeah, it’s no secret that The Adventure of Link is one of the most reviled and underappreciated games in the Zelda series. The fans are split on this game. Some like it. Some say it’s a terrible piece of shit that should’ve never existed and it gave the franchise a bad name!
Whoa whoa whoa. Hold up there. Slow the fuck down. Terrible? This game? To anyone going that far with The Adventure of Link, have you people ever played a truly bad game in your life?
I have. Plenty of them. I played:
- Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on the NES
- Spyro: Enter the Dragonfly for the Gamecube
- Action 52 for the NES
- Superman for the Nintendo 64
- Bubsy 3D for the PlayStation
- Ride to Hell: Retribution on Steam
- Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) on the PlayStation 3
Oh yes, I touched plenty of these kinds of games. I didn’t complete all of them (because good god, how many people actually want to complete these trainwrecks?), but I’ve definitely seen how bad games could get. The Adventure of Link doesn’t even compare to these Terrible Titans of Gaming. Not even close.
I should probably note that this is the very first Zelda game I ever played and one of the first games I ever owned. Not any of the top-down adventure games. Or the 3D action-adventure games. I started with the side-scrolling platformer. Isn’t that a funny way to get introduced to a series? The one game that doesn’t even play like the rest! So I will be the first to admit that I do have some nostalgia for The Adventure of Link and my opinion on it is rather biased.
And before you get all dismissive because I’m biased and whatnot, guess what? The majority of opinions are biased, no matter how well-informed they are. And I dare say that people hating on The Adventure of Link are pretty biased themselves, considering that the game did make things work out.
I wouldn’t call it one of the best Zelda games, but… I personally enjoyed this one over the original The Legend of Zelda. Partially because side-scrollers are more my cup of tea. Ain’t that a peach?
Alright, to be fair, there are plenty of valid criticisms for The Adventure of Link. Out of the whole series, this game is different. Not necessarily a bad thing. Just different.
At the time, Nintendo published multiple sequels to games that have major gameplay differences to their predecessors, so much so that they’re considered the “black sheep” of their respective franchises. Games like Super Mario Bros. 2 in North America (which is really a different game with swapped sprites), Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest and Fire Emblem Gaiden all broke the established norms of their predecessors. There are also Donkey Kong Jr. and Donkey Kong 3, both sequels playing quite differently from the original arcade Donkey Kong. There’s also Final Fantasy II, which a lot of Final Fantasy fans hated. I can even think of a more obscure title that followed this trend: Solar Jetman: Hunt for the Golden Warpship on the NES.
But Zelda II: The Adventure of Link is probably the most drastic departure of them all. Because at the very least, those sequels share similar gameplay to their predecessors. The Adventure of Link is an entirely different genre of gaming, one that Nintendo never revisited for the series. Well, unless you count the Zelda CDi games, but no one likes talking about those.
According to Shigeru Miyamoto, a different team (different people from those who worked on the original The Legend of Zelda) made this one and that the change in gameplay was his idea. While he didn’t directly work on the game, he did express disappointment in it, believing that the game didn’t follow the design he was hoping for. He even called it a failed experiment, which explains why Nintendo never made more Zelda games in this style.
From a creator’s perspective, I can understand his point. You might have a project or two and you didn’t like the end products very much, so you wish you were more involved in their creation. Even if people like your creations, you weren’t satisfied by how they came out.
Keep in mind that Super Mario Bros. was meant to be the linear platformer series while The Legend of Zelda was meant to be the non-linear adventure series. And Zelda II: The Adventure of Link is quite linear with platforming segments. Sure, it kept its adventure elements, but it’s certainly different from its predecessor. Back to Hyrule we go!
But not exactly as we remember it.
The Hyrule Fantasy Revisited
So you know how The Legend of Zelda had a pretty basic plot in the manual, but you don’t really get much of it in the game itself? Well, The Adventure of Link did the same thing except it’s more confusing because a lot of backstory was left out from the game itself.
Storywise, this game is technically a continuation to its predecessor. But get this: there is a new Princess Zelda, who is a completely different person from the one we saw from the original game. Except this second Zelda is actually an ancient sleeping princess who is more like the great-great-great-great-great-aunt of the first Zelda.
…Yeah. This needs clarity.
So The Adventure of Link actually takes place a few years after The Legend of Zelda. Link finds a weird mark on his hand and talks to Impa (Zelda’s nurse) about it. The mark is connected to a legend about the Triforce of Courage, which was hidden long ago in the Great Palace.
In the distant past, the King of Hyrule died and the kingdom falls in the hands of his son, who desired the power of the Triforce. The Prince learned that his sister Zelda had been hiding the secret of the Triforce of Courage from him and entered a violent confrontation with her. This ended with the Magician, the mysterious servant to the Prince, casting a sleeping spell on Zelda. The spell took the Magician’s life and left Zelda in a seemingly permanent coma.
The Prince regretted this turn of events and placed his sister’s body in the North Castle, in hopes that one day that she would wake up. He also made a law that all female members of the royal family would be named Zelda, so that the tragedy would not be forgotten.
And apparently THAT is the actual legend of Princess Zelda, according to this game. She’s basically Sleeping Beauty. And yet another damsel to rescue.
So in the present, Impa gives Link a new quest: to find six palaces and place a crystal in each of them, which will open the way to the Great Palace and the Triforce of Courage. Alongside the Triforce of Power and the Triforce of Wisdom (both of which Link claimed during his previous journey), he can use the power of all three pieces to wake up the legendary sleeping princess.
But that’s not all. The remnants of Ganon’s forces from the last game are pissed and want Link DEAD. By spilling Link’s blood over Ganon’s ashes, the monsters can revive their master to terrorize Hyrule once more.
…You got all that? I’ll give credit to the development team for trying to add in a deeper backstory (especially considering how basic the last game was). But this story is also quite messy and most of it isn’t even present in the game itself, only in the manual. You get the bare minimum backstory in the in-game prologue:
After Ganon was destroyed, Impa told Link a sleeping spell was cast on Princess Zelda. She will wake only with the power of No. 3 Triforce sealed in a palace in Hyrule. To break the seal, crystals must be placed in statues in 6 well guarded palaces. Link set out on his most adventuresome quest yet…
So you wouldn’t know that this was a different Princess Zelda from the previous game and you wouldn’t know anything about where the sleeping spell came from. The journey seems to be a means to an end. Why does Link feel compelled to risk his life to wake up a sleeping princess? I dunno. I guess he’s either bored or he wants her hand in marriage or something. Yeah, forget the other Zelda! I gotta win the heart of this other one who is probably 200 years older than me!
But let’s face it. Most people don’t even know that The Adventure of Link had this kind of backstory and just immediately jumped into the game. So yeah, enough of the story. Let’s get to the real meat of the game.
Zelda II: Link’s Quest
Not gonna lie. I still get a sense of mystique from Zelda II’s title screen to this day.
So the game starts you off in the North Castle, where Link was next to the sleeping Zelda. Don’t question why. I think the Angry Video Game Nerd gave the best answer at 0:48 anyway.
The fact you start off in a side-scrolling map establishes what kind of game The Adventure of Link is. Definitely not the same as its predecessor, that’s for sure. For one thing, the top-down section is just you exploring the overworld. No combat involved. And in a few seconds, you see these black silhouettes of enemies pop up. And when you touch one of them, you enter a side-scrolling section.
So basically, The Adventure of Link‘s overworld is more like navigating the overworld of a typical turn-based RPG. Random enemy encounters all around! And unfortunately, you do need to get used to it because these random encounters will happen every few seconds.
The graphics at times didn’t age well, especially in the overworld. Nearly everything has a texture that’s not pleasant to the eyes and it’s all blocky. Anytime when you transition to new terrain, it doesn’t look natural at all. The mountains look like literal piles of poop. When next to each other, the tiles aren’t seamless.
It’s like attempting to create a seamless background for your website by making a small square image that endlessly loops, but you screw up and end up with something like this.
The game’s soundtrack is actually quite solid, as it was composed by Akito Nakatsuka (previously known for composing the music for Ice Climber). And not to rag on the great Koji Kondo, but I personally found the soundtrack of The Adventure of Link generally better than that of The Legend of Zelda. For one thing, there is a larger number of tracks this time around.
The overworld theme is pretty damn decent (though it doesn’t beat Kondo’s Hyrule Field theme), but Nakatsuka’s palace theme completely blows away Kondo’s dungeon theme.
Sorry, but I just came to HATE the repetitive and droning dungeon of The Legend of Zelda.
Now let’s talk about the game’s combat mechanics. Whenever an enemy in the overworld runs into you or if you enter a specific scripted tile in the overworld, you’re taken to a side-scrolling action screen. Compared to the overworld, these maps generally look better in terms of graphics, especially concerning enemy designs.
All you have is your sword and shield to defeat the enemies. The sword can either hit the enemy at face level or at the legs, as if it’s a fighting game. And just like in the original Zelda, the sword is capable of shooting Sword Beams when Link is at full health. Unfortunately, it only works on weaker enemies, so don’t rely on it too much.
The shield only works if you’re NOT attacking, and it works against certain melee weapons and projectiles (fireballs and rocks). This is especially important to remember, because the game doesn’t hold your hand and you’d have to figure out how it works by yourself. Otherwise, you’re in for a punishing gaming session.
It’s helpful to know that certain enemies, usually about Link’s height, experience knockback after you hit them. Enemies like the Moblins, Iron Knuckles, Dairas, and Gerus are vulnerable to this. You can use this to your advantage to time your strikes and shield blocks.
For some people, this gameplay is tough. One of the biggest complaints about The Adventure of Link is that it’s really hard, even one of the hardest games they ever played. And to be fair, this game isn’t kind to newcomers (even at the beginning) and you need to excel at the swordplay to be able to make progress. If not, you’re going to keep seeing THIS accursed screen.
Complete with flashing, seizure-inducing lights and Ganon’s Soda Popinski laugh.
And the worst part about getting a Game Over in The Adventure of Link is the fact that you have to START OVER FROM THE NORTH CASTLE! Never mind that you were already punished by losing all of your current EXP. If you died someplace like in Death Mountain, that’s a pretty long walk back. This penalty is wholly unnecessary and it’s just there to pad out the game. Coming from someone who actually likes this game, I’ll take the loss of EXP for not playing carefully, but restarting from North Castle is rubbing salt in the wound.
The 2D sword gameplay is somewhat reminiscent of the Castlevania series, except you have a shorter weapon and you have an actual shield to block attacks. Oddly enough, the best comparison by far is Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, even though that game came after this one.
And this is the ONLY main series Zelda game that features this type of gameplay too, which is where some of the criticism towards this game comes from. It’s not like the later games. But you have to remember: this is back when the gaming industry was in its infancy and companies like Nintendo were experimenting with different gameplay styles. It’s a valid excuse.
Whenever Link kills enemies, he will earn Experience Points, just like in an RPG. And whenever you earn enough EXP, you get to level up either one of your three stats: LIFE, MAGIC and ATTACK.
One important, but easily missable, thing about leveling up is that you have the option to cancel the process. At first, this seems like a useless feature that serves no real purpose, but it can actually make your playthroughs easier if you understand how leveling up works.
Whenever you reach the minimum EXP to level up a stat, you will be given the option to level up the stat that requires the least amount of EXP. But if you cancel this process, you will maintain your EXP and your EXP cap will increase to the next stat that requires the least amount of EXP.
In that above screenshot, think of it this way:
- When you earn 2500 EXP, you will be given the option to level up LIFE. You can spend that 2500 EXP now if you like.
- But if you decide to cancel, you will keep your 2500 EXP and see this menu again when you reach 3000 EXP. This time, you will be able to level up your ATTACK stat instead.
- But if you’re still not satisfied and prefer to level up MAGIC, you can keep the 3000 EXP and you will need to earn 3500 EXP to level up MAGIC.
This is great to know, seeing as how LIFE is the cheapest stat and ATTACK is the most expensive. If you really want to make certain enemies easier, then you’d want to keep leveling up ATTACK.
Part of the reason for that is because you can find hidden Heart Containers and Magic Containers in scripted tiles in the overworld to make your LIFE and MAGIC stronger without the need to level up. There are four of each to find and they add a new square to your meters. ATTACK is the only stat that doesn’t have an upgrade like this, so use it wisely.
Zelda II: The Adventure of Link is the first game in the series to include towns and a magic system. For the most part, towns are the places where you can rest up and gather information. And yes, while there are some NPCs that don’t say anything important or something cryptic, there are at least some very helpful people that can help you reach your next destination.
For those wondering about the NPC specifically named Error, yes, he was intentionally named that. There’s another NPC called Bagu (meant to sound like “bug”). So yeah, their names are puns. And for those wondering if Error had a point at all, he does give you useful information later in the game when you come back to talk to him.
That’s a lot more to be said than how Simon’s Quest handled passing on information, with its bad translation and unhelpful hints.
That’s right, kiddies! The next time you look at the Death Star from Star Wars…
YOU’RE GONNA FUCKING DIE.
The magic spells can either be super useful or very situational. The Shield, Jump and Life spells are the most likely spells you’ll use often. Others like Fire and Spell are pretty worthless for the most part.
In order to learn new spells, you need to visit a wise man in each town. Similarly, there are two knights in the game that can teach you new sword techniques. But sometimes, you are required to complete a side quest in order to do so. And this is where The Adventure of Link can occasionally wander off into Cryptic Bullshit territory.
For example, there is a lady who lost her mirror. She didn’t say where exactly, but you were supposed to assume that the mirror is in town, not as a separate item that you’d have to collect in some distant place. You’d have to interact with a table in one of the houses to find it, then this lady will let you see the wise man.
There’s a similar situation about a lady complaining about being thirsty. So you’d have to get water FROM THE TOWN FOUNTAIN and take it to her to see the wise man in that town.
There are hiccups like these every now and then in Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, including whenever you need to move forward. The town of Saria is particularly infamous for this. In order to reach Death Mountain from this point, you need to:
- Talk to a purple slime in one of Saria’s houses a few times until it tells you where to find its master. How would you even know to do this?
- Track down the slime’s master, Bagu, in a nearby forest. This can take a while if you don’t know which scripted grid tile he is at.
- Speak to Bagu to get special permission to cross the bridge in Saria.
- Return to Saria and speak to the river guard, and he’ll let you cross the river.
In my personal opinion though, this isn’t as bad as the cryptic bullshit in The Legend of Zelda. In that game, you wouldn’t get ANY HINTS on which trees to burn down with your Blue Candle or which walls to bomb to access a dungeon (while having a limited number of bombs). It’s entirely trial-and-error and it wastes a lot of time for nothing.
The Six Palaces
As mentioned earlier, your main objective in Zelda II: The Adventure of Link is to conquer the six palaces (which are basically this game’s dungeons). Every palace has a treasure that you need in order to complete the rest of the game, as well as an ending boss guarding the area where you need to place a crystal.
Unfortunately, these treasures aren’t terribly interesting. They’re all passive items like a candle that lights up dark areas or a raft that lets you cross a large body of water in the overworld. You don’t get any new weapons like a bow, a boomerang or bombs. You only have your sword and your magic spells for the whole game.
The palaces are where the game takes a significant step up in difficulty, as you’ll be navigating through a labyrinth filled with tough enemies that you normally don’t fight in random encounters.
These enemies include the Wosu, Stalfos, Iron Knuckle, Guma, Bubble and Doomknocker. The Iron Knuckle is basically this game’s version of the Darknut enemies from The Legend of Zelda, so good luck fighting them over and over. You’re also going to fight similar, tougher enemies too.
Okay, so here are actual tips.
- You can jump and attack to try to bypass the Iron Knuckle’s shield, though there’s a good chance you’ll get hit. One useful technique I know of is ducking while jumping, then attacking the enemy’s face.
- Fight a fair one-on-one battle with the Iron Knuckle by constantly alternating between attacking the head or the legs. Be careful, and block the Iron Knuckle’s sword with your shield.
- If you’re REALLY worried, use the Shield spell to reduce damage.
The palaces in The Adventure of Link differ from the dungeons in The Legend of Zelda, in the sense that puzzle-solving is hardly present here. There are no blocks to push to activate hidden switches or obtaining items from killing all enemies in a room. Instead, there’s more of an emphasis on difficult combat and key-collecting. Once you collect a key, you can access new passages in the palace, usually leading to the palace’s treasure or the boss.
The bosses themselves aren’t bad and you might be confused on how to even damage them at first. For most of them, just keep attacking their heads. That’s usually their weak point.
And once you place the crystal in the statue, you’ll automatically gain all the EXP you need to level up. USE THIS TO YOUR ADVANTAGE. IT WILL SAVE YOU SO MUCH TIME.
You need 4000 EXP to go to the next level? Just finish a palace and you’ll get it all from just one simple action. You can even defeat the palace’s boss and go back to do a bit of level-grinding. And after you reached the next level, go back to the end of the palace and get another level!
For the most part, I really enjoyed playing through The Adventure of Link but there are definitely moments when the game just stops and takes a shit on you.
Death Mountains – enemies get knockback
Probably a Zelda game in name only, but a great game nonetheless
Game starts off pretty hard but overall not that hard, except for the Great Palace
Fake difficulty – the 1-up dolls never come back, knockbac, tedious grinding???
I know people complain Dark Link is a tough final boss. To me, this fight is one of the most suspenseful in the series.
Unlike the previous bosses, you fight in an alternate version of the world
By the end of the day, you just got to look at Zelda II: The Adventure of Link for what it is: a competent side-scrolling action RPG of the NES era. One that came long before Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, which featured similar gameplay.
- FLAW – every time you die, you restart at Zelda’s palace; this game would’ve benefitted without a lives system; the Great Palace is the only place where dying doesn’t start you from the beginning
- Death Mountain is infamous for its tough Daira enemies and labyrinthine areas
- To find the Hidden Palace, you need to decipher some cryptic hints from NPCs that don’t really make much sense
- FLAW – it turns out the Hammer has a hidden function; it can knock down trees, which you NEED in order to find the Hidden Town of Kasuto in some random trees
- You’re only told that there’s a “secret” at the edge of Hidden Kasuto; you didn’t know to use the Spell magic, which has a secondary function of revealing a specific door
- “Call for help at the Three Eye Rocks”. meaning use the Flute at the center of the rocks to reveal the palace
- FATAL FLAW – Sometimes if you have no magic in a Palace, you can’t jump out of a hole and you’re completely screwed; one option is to kill yourself. But if you have no enemies to kill you, then you have to reset.
- TIP – if you want the best chance possible to take on the Great Palace, do NOT collect any of the Link Dolls scattered across Hyrule; instead, make a note of them. There are four in the field and two in the palaces (one of them inside Great Palaces). When you’re ready to take on the Great Palace, find the five lives at full lives and then go.
- FATAL FLAW – the Great Palace is probably the most brutally difficult and punishing challenge in the Zelda series, which is saying a lot. It blows the final dungeon of the original game (both versions) completely out of the water. The OoT Water Temple has nothing on this. Neither does OoT Spirit Temple Master Quest and MM Stone Temple
- Getting to the Great Palace itself is a challenge. You’d have to go through a gauntlet of some of the toughest enemies in the game before you could even access the Temple.
- The barrier will only go down when you complete ALL Palaces.
- The labyrinthine design is so out of proportion with the rest of the game that it feels unfair.
- Invisible floors. How the hell can anyone know about these?
- Dead ends. DEAD ENDS EVERYWHERE.
- Plenty of lava pits to go around.
- Some of the hardest and most aggressive enemies in the game.
- Thunderbird is a tough boss and you are REQUIRED to use the Thunder spell on him to make him vulnerable. NOWHERE WAS IT EVER STATED IN-GAME THAT YOU NEED TO DO THIS.
- Dark Link is the final boss and basically fights like a buffed version of an Iron Knuckle who can jump around and block nearly every one of your attacks. If you defeated Thunderbird and have full health, you have a good chance in defeating him.
- Generally better than LoZ 1, though still limited
- The music will change a lot due to the random encounters
- The Palace music is so awesome that it got remixed in Melee
- The Great Palace music is an awesome finishing song, with Dark Link’s theme being a sinister remix of the boss theme
Zelda II: The Adventure of LinkPrice Varies
- The sword gameplay is satisfying to master.
- The inclusion of towns and villagers, which breathes more life into Hyrule than the original game did.
- The introduction of the magic system, which became a series staple since this game.
- If you're not a fan of action-RPG side-scrollers, this game may not be for you, even if you're a Zelda fan.
- The random enemy encounters are tedious.
- The overworld graphics lack visual appeal.
- Similar to the original The Legend of Zelda, there are certain moments in the game that you only received vague hints about and you will probably need to consult a walkthrough.
- Getting a Game Over results in you restarting at North Castle, on top of losing all of your accumulated EXP.