I remember the first time I ever played Zelda 2. I was borrowing it from a friend of my brother who had come extremely close to beating it, failed, and then said he’d come back to it later. In the mean time, he said I could borrow it as long as I didn’t play his record. Being the malicious punk I am… er, was, I did anyway, found the game vastly beyond my skills, and turned it off without holding the Reset button in. Needless to say, his game was erased, and likewise, I almost wound up rubbed out when he discovered my actions. Ah, youth… All these years later, I finally rediscovered the game, played it, and found that it was a fine little cartridge if there ever was one, even if it did seem a little out of place in the Zelda series. Here’s my review.
After recovering the Triforce, slaying the foul Gannon, and rescuing princess Zelda (see The Legend of Zelda review for more details), our hero Link found himself out of a job. Being the kind soul he was, he decided to help the princess rebuild the land of Hyrule, bringing peace, prosperity, and a booming tourist industry to all. Sadly, these plans were ruined. Just moments after ordering 700 “I Met the Guy Who Killed Gannon, and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt” t-shirts, Link was informed that Zelda was now comatose, suffering from a spell an ancient wizard had cast on the Hyrule family line!
Adding to the misfortune was the fact that the few remaining forces of Gannon had discovered a way to resuscitate their fallen leader, and all they needed was the blood of Link. With the amassed forces of darkness against him and the kingdom about to plummet into ruin, Link’s only hope was to fulfill an ancient legend by placing six crystals in six statues located around the world. Doing this would unlock the path to the Triforce of Courage, an item that just might be able to turn the tides. And so, sword in hand, our favorite little pointy-ears marches out into Hyrule and the story begins.
The Legend of Zelda 2 holds a rare honor – it is considered by many to be the absolute worst game in the series. Departing completely from the game design of the original, Zelda 2 is more along the lines of a side scrolling Action RPG than the overhead classic that preceded it. You must travel throughout Hyrule, searching for treasures, towns, and Labyrinths on the world map while fighting off random enemies. Enemies appear every once in a while and chase you around the map until they hit you, resulting in a shift to the battle section of the game. Depending on the shape of the enemy and what terrain you are on (Road, Plains, Forest, etc…), the battles will differ. Various enemies will attack, different obstacles will get in your way, and the layout of the land will be different in each random encounter.
Like the original, finding key places often proves to be a pain in the arse of unparalleled proportions. Some require walking through hidden passages, combing every inch of a forest, or finding a key item in some earlier area, but no matter how they hide it, I promise you that you’ll have trouble at some point in the game. Fortunately, the game now contains towns that provide for healing up, learning new spells, and finding barely legible hints to help you out. Of course, it’s not that easy sometimes.
Even in towns, important people and items are hidden. Getting to them requires some tricky maneuvering in the side scrolling towns, but the Labyrinths also pose a problem. Although the puzzles are usually easier, the enemies tend to be far harder. Speaking of combat, the battle system is surprisingly good. If you’ve played Battle of Olympus before, you’ve seen it. Link can attack normally, while crouched, or with a variety of aerial assaults. The enemies you take on can use the same maneuvers back on you, and some of the duels you have with shielded enemies prove to be more than challenging. I don’t know anyone who has beaten the game and not developed a lasting grudge against any form of Iron Knuckle enemy.
As you tear your way through opponents, you gain experience. After collecting enough, you get the chance to improve your defense, offense, or magical capabilities. Leveling up your stats as well as collecting Life and Magic containers are almost necessary to finishing the game, but shouldn’t require too much endless training. Although much, much different than its ancestor, Zelda 2 still provides an enjoyable gameplay experience.
Similarly, the graphics are superb (for a relatively young NES title). On the world map, there is really nothing special, but in combat or towns, it’s a whole different story. Enemies and characters alike are well drawn and contain surprising levels of detail, and although spell effects are a bit lacking, they should be good enough to not bug you. The bosses tend to lack some of the finesse of the smaller enemies, but still provide quite a bit of detail in their somewhat buggy sort of way. The backgrounds in each of the Labyrinths differs a bit, as do the different terrains, and while not outstanding, it’s easy to tell just where you are. As long as you remember that this is the NES, the graphics shall do nicely.
As for the music, Zelda didn’t rely as heavily on remakes from the original as you would expect. Aside from perhaps one or two points with familiar songs, you also find some nice new originals that easily outdo those of Zelda 1. There is a comparatively huge variety, and none of them get on your nerves too quickly. Sounds were about average, consisting of the usual grunts and blips and such that the NES can produce. Strangely enough, no enemies ever make noise. They do have a small one for death, but that’s it. Weird.
The weakest link (pardon the pun) in the game would be the story though, consisting of your standard save-the-princess tale mixed with a nearly unused escape-the-forces-of-darkness element that could have made the game much more interesting. Even with a poor story like that, the game only makes it worse. You never meet a single character that mentions anything related to the plot. If it weren’t for the manual, I would have no idea why Zelda was unconscious. Perhaps she had eaten some bad clams or tripped while doing her princess chores, but no matter. You’ll have enough fun trying to figure out what these townsfolk are talking about. Seriously, the guys who translated this probably just threw random English words together and hoped for the best, while the quality inspection people must have had a kindergartener’s education.
Fortunately, the game’s intricate battles more than made up for the story’s pathetic performance, and the controls didn’t hurt it a bit. The biggest show of performance would be the game’s dueling battles, which excel by far those of the more recent Zelda titles. Even movement on the world map did well, even though diagonal movement would have been nice. Let me suffice to say that the controls won’t be a major complaint for you.
I think Zelda 2 was pushed aside simply because it was something that no one expected. In actuality, it was a great game that gave you a nasty challenge while still proving to be entertaining. If you feel like brushing the dust off your old NES and have the game lying around, pop it in and prepare to get killed a few dozen times. It might not be worth buying (well, at today’s prices for NES games, maybe it is), but if you want a good dose of nostalgia, here’s your game.