The Legend of Zelda & Zelda II - Does It Hold Up?
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is but a few mere weeks away, and there are plenty of Nintendo Wii owners who are just ecstatic that the game is almost here. I've taken the liberty to dub November as "Skyward Sword month," and I'm going to dedicate most of my work here on GameZone to as much Zelda goodness as possible. I've already posted an editorial on why I refuse to watch and read Skyward Sword coverage. Now, I'm going to take you through a trip back in time. Welcome to the first of four Zelda-themed editions of Does It Hold Up? Today we'll take a look at The Legend of Zelda and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, two NES classics, and the first two games in Nintendo's famed fantasy action-adventure series.
The Legend of Zelda (NES)
North America was treated to The Legend of Zelda for the first time in 1987. The game launched to mass critical acclaim, and it was praised for offering a wonderful overworld and challenging dungeons. Unlike most other NES games, The Legend of Zelda also featured a save file system right on the cartridge that was pretty state-of-the-art stuff back then.
Gamers were introduced to Link, the green-clad hero who would have to claim the scattered pieces of the Triforce and rescue the Princess Zelda from the clutches of the evil Ganon. This was serious stuff, and for gamers in the '80s, the foundations for an epic were set. When you look at the game's presentation now, it may not seem like much, but back in 1987, the visual design in The Legend of Zelda was a true masterpiece. A massive world and deep dungeon design were all crammed into one NES cart, and gamers were expected to explore every inch of this world.
Of course, even though the graphics may not look all that amazing these days, there's certainly a lot to be said about the game's soundtrack. The Legend of Zelda introduced us to a number of wonderful themes, including the classic overworld song that so many gamers hold dear. The collection of music in The Legend of Zelda ranges from legendary to chilling, and thanks to its awesome NES sound, it carries a lot of nostalgic charm.
As far as the actual exploration goes, this game is super deep. Because of the huge overworld, it's very easy to get lost in the land of Hyrule without some sort of guide. I'm going to be honest, I've never been able to beat the game without a guide. Nintendo really delivered a devilishly challenging game with The Legend of Zelda, and the overall design and and navigation are two reasons why some gamers may not feel too comfortable playing the game these days. That's really a shame, too, because the dungeons in the game are fiendishly clever and incredibly enthralling, providing a satisfying challenge along the way.
The Legend of Zelda for the NES is a game that every Zelda fan should play. If you're into retro games, like tough titles, or just want a glimpse of a classic action-adventure game, I would highly recommend The Legend of Zelda if you haven't already played it. It's easy to get disoriented and ridiculously tough figuring out where to go next, but if you have a walkthrough handy, you'll still get a lot out of this adventure. The enemies are tough, and the game is focused heavily on combat, so even with a guide, you'll still have a tough fight ahead of you. And with a remixed (and much more challenging) second quest unlockable upon your first run through Hyrule, The Legend of Zelda is a wonderful NES game that's still a lot of fun today.
The verdict: The Legend of Zelda is the game that started it all, and it's still a total blast from start to finish. Just be sure to have a walkthrough handy.
Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (NES)
I don't think I'll ever understand why so many people hate Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Sure, it was a huge curveball for the series. And sure, it is completely unlike any other entry in the entire Zelda franchise, but ... Wait ... OK, now I get why so many people hate this game. It's a tired phrase by now, but for many gamers, Zelda II is the "black sheep" of the series. It was different in terms of presentation, and the gameplay was nothing like the original. Personally, I thought the game was pretty damn good for its time. But is it good today?
Graphically, Zelda II looks a lot different from its predecessor. That said, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. The game uses more color, and there's a fine level of detail for a NES game. The sound design is also stellar, featuring a rich collection of awesome themes. No, the legendary Koji Kondo didn't provide the game's music, but hell, it's still a solid soundtrack with memorable tracks such as the temple and town themes.
As far as the gameplay goes, Zelda II is more of an action-RPG than an action-adventure game. While traveling between towns and dungeons, you guide Link through an overworld sprawling with enemies. Upon encountering these baddies, you are thrust into a side-scrolling mini-stage where you can either fight or flee. Towns and dungeons follow this same 2D setup, though the former doesn't put you up against bad guys and instead allows you to talk to townsfolk, heal up, and learn new things about your quest.
Dungeons, however, do require you to battle, and the fights are tough. In some ways, Zelda II is a lot harder than the first game. Enemies are resilient and constantly on the assault, so you need to be quick and deliver punishing blows with your sword, which is ludicrously short. Defeating baddies earns you experience points, which you can use to level up your stats. It's an interesting direction for the series, and it's pretty rewarding. Individuals who like tough-as-nails games are sure to enjoy the challenge in Zelda II.
Like the original Zelda, you better be sure to have some sort of strategy guide at the ready, because you're going to need it. Navigating between areas is a bit confusing, but the dungeons themselves are crazy labyrinths that will show you no mercy. And since you only have three lives before you're required to make the long trek back to the dungeon, you're going to need a walkthrough to guide you along. Like the first Zelda game, this doesn't take away from the experience, because the combat is difficult and satisfying, leaving you with a big fight ahead of you regardless of your reliance on a guide.
Ah, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Some people like you, but others mostly hate you. Personally, I really dig Link's second adventure. Yes, it was a huge departure from the series. Yes, the music was much different from the first game's awesome soundtrack. And yes, combat was brutally difficult. But those are all things that made Zelda II stand out back in the day, and the package as a whole actually manages to offer a compelling gameplay experience that still plays great to this day.
Also, there's a guy named Error, and that's just freaking amazing.
The verdict: Zelda II is different, but is it good? Hell yes! Remember to pack a guide and some patience for your journey, and you'll be fine.