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Zelda II – The Adventure of Link through the Lens of Truth

 
Behold the second entry in the “Lens of Truth” series, where I critically analyze the franchise to determine if there is objectively a “greatest Zelda game.” Today we will look at the second title in the series, also for the Nintendo Entertainment System, The Adventure of Link. This is perhaps the furthest from traditional Zelda games, however it did bring some unique features to the table. As usual the game will be scored one to ten for graphics, sound, gameplay, and story. Will this be the one to beat out the rest? It will not be long before you discover my opinion on the matter, so I do not mind spoiling the fact that it does not even come close.

Graphics

This game deviated drastically from the original in many ways, and the graphical style is the most obvious. Because this game swapped gameplay elements from top-down to sidescrolling, a major change occurred though I question its necessity. I think simply copying Link’s sprite from the original would have worked, as it did in brief sidescrolling segments of the original, or even those used in future games with similar sprites such as Link’s Awakening and the Oracle games. In Zelda II, Link looked ludicrously and unnaturally elongated while his sword, being nearly identical in length to the first game, in terms of pixel count, appeared to be a small dagger. With Link being twice the height I think an equivalent change to his blade length would have made the style (and gameplay) more approachable, but I would still have trouble getting past how awkward Link looks.

Beyond the hero himself, most of the sprite work was adequate, but enemies were often oddly configured and it became unclear what you were fighting. I suppose the largest disappointment is that nothing stood out about the graphics. It was comparable with other games at the time, but the style got stale quickly and I was not a fan of it to begin with. Overall score is four out of ten, just below average.

Sound

The music to me was the sole redeeming quality of this game. Akito Nakatsuka took up Kondo’s mantle as the composer and supplied a stellar soundtrack that could even compare to the original. The dungeon theme is to this day among my favorite tunes from a video game, and that should be considered high praise considering I despise almost every other element of the game.

The sound effects were also on par with the greatest games at the time. As I stated in the first “Lens of Truth,” it was easy to make nonsensical noises which could convey only confusion. The most memorable sound was Ganon’s bad guy guffaw which played upon Link’s (inevitable and numerous) deaths. Every game over screen reminded you of the consequences of failure; that the evil you had finally put to rest in the last game returned. Without his cacophonous cackle, however, this effect would be lost. I cannot think of anything bad to say about the sound quality of this game, so a perfect ten is in order.

Gameplay

Whenever I decry this game, I am quickly queried whether or not I simply “don’t like it because it’s hard.” I enjoy a challenge, and consider many games from the NES and SNES eras to be better because of their difficulty. The problem I have with Adventure of Link is that the difficulty derives from bad gameplay rather than good design. The easiest example of a well crafted but difficult game will rewind us two years to the original Legend of Zelda; a game made difficult by precise placement of foes with puzzles behind defeating them, complimented by adroit dungeon design. To this, defenders of the Adventure of Link cite the fact that gameplay styles are as different as any two games were at the time. I would reference Ninja Gaiden to settle this argument. When comparing these, you will see both are sidescrolling action games featuring sword-bearing heroes and platforming elements. In the latter, you find a variety of enemies wielding guns, swords, throwing weapons, and moving in a variety of patterns. Zelda II falls short of both titles, as foes had very little variation, dungeons were simple and combat was clunky.

With Link’s shrunken sword came the world’s smallest hitbox, forcing players to come within about two pixels of a monster in order to attack. In addition to this preposterous proximity, it was tremendously tedious to strike around shields and other defenses, which almost every enemy in the game had a better version of than the player. Within the first palace, for example, Link meets a Stalfos for the first time. This classic enemy does not seem like much, but it is a gateway enemy leading to more alarming antagonists later on. His concept is simple; a sword fighter with the same abilities as Link. The only major difference is that Stalfos can attack and block up and down independently whereas Link’s sword and shield move together. Right from the beginning of the game you are fighting enemies that are better versions of you. The lackluster AI ensures that the first dungeon is relatively easy, but monsters from here only continue to grow in power. Within the next few stages Link meets enemies with ranged attacks, unblockable attacks, enemies that fly, and enemies with various combinations of these abilities. There is no creativity in these designs, they are simply the same three villains reused repeatedly and gave them more hit points as you progress.

Combat being no fun whatsoever, there could be something found in the world design that made up for it. To my chagrin I cannot find such. Towns and NPCs were a welcome addition, however the world overall felt narrow and pigeon-holed compared to the unparalleled freedom of the original. This world first presented “railroading” to the series, and it established the method several subsequent games used. You would see a roadblock of some sort, you would find an item in the dungeon nearby, and use it to pass. Forcing players onto this select pathway would later be used as a clever storytelling method, but in Adventure of Link, the story was hardly detailed through gameplay so this felt unnecessary and inhibited exploration.

This is the first time in this series that I have libeled linearity but only two articles in I can safely say the topic will arise again. Zelda II is the worst, though, since it integrates this into the core of its world and rubs off on titles going forward as far as Skyward Sword. This will grow to become my single complaint in a handful of titles, and each time I discover such it harkens back to this title, and to taint so many games as it has brings it to a point of damnation in my eyes. Bereft of necessary requirements, (like fun) Zelda II’s gameplay receives a whopping zero points.

Story

After a whirlwind of negativity, I can concede a few points in favor of Zelda II’s story, at least compared to the first. While the original kept to the standard of presenting a story merely for the sake of giving context to gameplay, here is where the series began to touch on some possibilities of video games being an innovative storytelling medium. It was the first game in the series with NPCs Link could directly interact with beyond old men and women hiding in caves distributing swords and advice to bold young folk. Many had names and simple backgrounds, or even a joke behind their name such as the infamous Error. They added a small yet helpful change to the world that made it a little more believable.

A grievance with Zelda II’s story is that like many NES games the story was largely explained through an instruction manual. For players like me, born a few years too late, it is likely that you have never seen an original instruction manual, game box, or even cartridge of this, or any specific NES game. Playing it as an afterthought is almost a burden to bear. With no idea what your goal is besides “Get candle in Parapa Palace, go West,” the in-game story left much to be desired.

Overall

All things considered, this is my least favorite title in the series, and I cannot understand what supporters see in it. Furthermore, it disheartens me dreadfully to so dislike an entry in my favorite game series with such fiery passion that I do. It has its good points, but they only add up to a nineteen out of forty. Simply put, this is the most underwhelming Zelda game to date, and yeah, I have played Wand of Gamelon.

Current Rankings

The Legend of Zelda: 30/40
The Adventure of Link: 19/40