Zelda II: Adventure of Link [Replaying the Past]
In Zelda II: Adventure of Link, you’re once again burdened with the tremendous task of freeing the kingdom of Hyrule from the malicious grip of Ganon. The game’s opening scroll describes the six crystals Link has to find to get the Triforce and wake Zelda, and the game’s plot is mainly just a repackaging of the first Legend of Zelda. The gameplay differs from the first in that it is a side-scroller as opposed to a bird’s-eye-view, and makes Zelda feel a bit more like Contra. And, like Contra, the difficulty curve in this game could be considered unreasonable: enemies require incredible dexterity to defeat, and a low-level character will be constantly finding their humble hero getting slashed to (8) bits.
The player gathers information by going into towns and talking with the kindly townsfolk, which is mildly helpful at best and completely useless at worst. The townsfolk speak incredibly cryptically (one townsfolk only says, “Hammer… Spectacle Rock… Death Mtn.”), and give you little to no direction as to where to go next. One humorous aspect of the game is that some of the female townsfolk heal you by inviting you into their house: a reminder of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas’ infamous “Hot Coffee” mod. The townsfolk who don’t attempt to give you any information or heal you say “Sorry, I know nothing,” and one townsman even says the infamous quote, “I am Error.” The text flows so slowly on the screen that talking to people feels like a waste of time, even though it’s absolutely essential to have any sense of what to do next. The townsfolk are all copies of the same few sprite characters, which makes differentiating between people you have and haven’t talked to nearly impossible. This is a particular problem when trying to find the rare townsfolk that lead you to the town’s “wise man,” who gives you magic to help you through the next area. These townsfolk have no distinguishing features other than that they exit out of building as opposed to just wandering the streets like the other (nearly identical) townsfolk.
Furthermore, these particular townsfolk often burden you with an arbitrary task before they’ll take you to the wise man: one woman told me that she “lost her mirror,” and after 30 minutes of jumping around like a possessed pogo-stick and fruitlessly asking around, I found it underneath a table. Why in the world would a mirror be under a table, and how did the game expect me to know that? I mean, I guess that’s why she lost it. If Link could talk in any way, shape or form, I would ask that woman how a mirror ended up under her desk. Then I would ask her why everyone on the planet buys their clothes at the same store, and then I’d ask her to “heal” me, if you know what I mean. Do you? I think you do.
The save system is one of the most infuriating I have ever come across. The only way to save legitimately in this game is to lose all of your lives and get a game over, which lets you save your progress and return to the opening castle at the cost of losing your current experience points. Forcing your players to die and lose experience points to save progress is a draconian law that adds meaningless travel time to the experience and only serves to anger the player. The game over screen features Ganon, although Ganon never actually appears in the game. Great.
Although there is a “secret” way to save by pausing the game with the first controller and pressing Up + A on the second controller, players shouldn’t have to “cheat” to save without dying. Even the second method tosses the player back to the starting area, however, saddling the player with tedious backtracking if he ever decides to turn his/her game off. This save system actively encourages players not to gain extra lives: after all, they’ll have to sacrifice them anyway to save! Perhaps the worst part is that, under your name on the file select screen, it tallies how many times you have gotten a “Game Over.” The number is a taunting reminder of how much this game has chewed you up and spit you back out, and adds to the increasing frustration. Of course, in the age of emulators and ROMs, you can sidestep these problems with save states, but that’s just cheap.
That said, there are a few things Adventure of Link does well. The music is 8-bit at its finest: I get the chills hearing the swell of the Legend of Zelda theme, and the dungeon music is particularly memorable and dramatic. The pseudo-random battle system on the world map is a great idea, and the graphics were pretty impressive for their time. However, none of Adventure of Link’s strong points make up for the fact its difficulty stems from annoying and inconveniencing the player as opposed to the player’s skill. Adventure of Link features some interesting concepts, but it is far and away one of the weakest links (get it? GET IT??) in the Zelda catalog.