Friday, May 27, 2011

Something about Zelda II

I'm running this blog for three years now and I've pretty much talked about every single Zelda game (and even spinoffs) so far. All except one: Zelda II - The Adventure of Link. I didn't even avoid this game on purpose. It's not like I don't like this game, though it fairly is the black sheep of the series. It just never happened to pop up. Usually when I talk about some new developments I can use older Zelda games as a reference. For example the new item menu in Ocarina of Time 3D was inspired by Link's Awakening. But Zelda II is just so different from everything else in the series, that I can hardly use it as an example. So, I want to change the impression that I'm avoiding this game by talking about it a little bit. So, let's talk about Zelda II.

Calling this game the "black sheep" is actually quite unfair. Because back in its time, when the game was released, it certainly wasn't the black sheep. The Legend of Zelda basically established the Action Adventure genre, it was the first game to combine elements like free exploration, mazes, leveling up without experience points, adventure style inventory and fighting enemies. And Zelda II tried to establish a new formula as well by combining RPG-elements with platforming and more advanced sword fighting. And it was a popular game back then. It only became the "black sheep", because starting with A Link to the Past all the later Zelda games would follow the formula of the first Zelda game and not the one from Zelda II. The later games made Zelda II the black sheep.

Actually this was my second Zelda game. I started with Link's Awakening in 1997 and in 1999 I was about to get a Nintendo 64 together with Ocarina of Time for Christmas. To prepare for this big event I wanted to play the older three Zelda games. I couldn't get a Super Nintendo, but one schoolmate got a NES and a copy of Zelda II, so I borrowed both from him (another schoolmate also got a copy of The Legend of Zelda and I played this game afterwards). With Ocarina of Time on the horizon and because Link's Awakening quickly became my favorite game I was hugely motivated to play and beat every other game in the Zelda series. Including Zelda II. And I'm still absolutely impressed that I managed to somehow beat this game as a kid. The only other time I've beaten this game was on emulator using cheats. :D And I tried to replay this game many times, because I got so many copies of it. I got my first own copy for GameBoy Advance, as part of the NES Classics series. Then I got the game via the Collector's Edition for the GameCube. And I also downloaded it for the Virtual Console on my Wii. I started to play each of those copies, but I lost motivation shortly... usually at Death Mountain.

The game is really hard and gets frustrating easily. The game is so hard, you even get to have lives. It's the only Zelda game to do that. You start with three lives and if you die, you start in the room where you died. You lose all lives, you start at Northern Palace and you have to backtrack all the way to where you died. Ugghh... well, the most important milestone for me is getting the Hammer at Death Mountain. That's the point where I usually couldn't get past in my failed attempts. As soon as you get the Hammer, there are many shortcuts and the game gets much more enjoyable. But those evil, axe throwing Daira enemies at Death Mountain can be such assholes! I know, I'm such a hypocrite... I usually complain about the lack of difficulty in modern Zelda games, but then I turn tail when it gets too hard. But for me a good difficulty level should always be challenging, but never frustrating. And Zelda II fails hard in terms of being not frustrating. Also, a Zelda game needs a good mix of combat, puzzles, hidden secrets and exploration. Zelda II is only strong on the combat side, but lacks all other factors.

Okay, all of this still really sounds like I totally don't like this game, avoiding it all the time. So, let's mention some good things. Like that it introduced some neat concepts to the series. Like magic spells or villages. And it's even still the Zelda game with the most magic spells and villages, both eight in total. And do I have to bring up the GTA reference, where Link hooks up with women to refill his health? (Or grannies to refill his magic.) What I also like about the game is the unique music, which wasn't composed by Koji Kondo, but by Akito Nakatsuka (at least according to my Winamp playlist). It got quite some different themes, but they still fit Zelda very well and produce a nice atmosphere fitting the game perfectly. Probably the best known track is the Temple theme, which got used in the Super Smash Bros. series.

So, I talked a little bit about Zelda II. I guess, this counts.

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