lauantai 25. elokuuta 2012

REVIEW - Zelda II: The Adventure of Link | NES | 1987

GENRE(S): Action / Adventure / RPG
RELEASED: January 1987
AVAILABLE ON: GBA, NES, Wii Virtual Console
DEVELOPER(S): Nintendo
PUBLISHER(S): Nintendo

Fundamentally different - some would say completely unorthodox - sequels have been made throughout history, but for some reason, my mind always returns to the most shocking sequels of the 8-bit era. Castlevania II: Simon's Quest looked the same as its excellent predecessor, but it was a completely different game - not a platformer, but an adventure game, and not a good one. The game we non-Japanese folk learned to know as Super Mario Bros. 2 was a platformer like its predecessor, but a totally different one, and still a great game. What encouraged game developers to take such drastic risks that could go both ways? In 1987, Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka presented us the sequel to one of the most innovative video games in history - Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Miyamoto once again had a strict vision of what he wanted the game to be like - and it was something completely different from Link's previous journey. Although the game is a side-scroller for the most part, which alone makes it one of a kind in this franchise, it is closest to an RPG out of all Legend of Zelda games. Oh, and it is also the sort of game that will have your balls for breakfast, self-esteem for lunch and very soul for dinner. Those expecting a pleasant, relaxing journey and perhaps a little good old dungeon-crawling on the side can turn to any other game in the franchise. This is hell, little man, and Shigeru Miyamoto is the devil.

Zelda II: The Inferno of Dante

What this game will always be remembered for.
The now 16-year old Link notices a strange mark on his hand, which closely resembles Hyrule's royal crest. Startled by Link's discovery, Impa takes him to the North Palace, where Princess Zelda's namesake ancestor has been sleeping for centuries, under a powerful spell accidentally cast upon her by her brother. Impa tells Link that the mark on his hand is the mark of the hero chosen to awaken Zelda, and gives him six crystals that will open the path to the Triforce of Courage - when this part of the Triforce is combined with the Triforces of Power and Wisdom, the spell will break and Zelda will awaken. Link sets out to collect the missing piece of the Triforce with Ganon's remaining minions following his every step, aiming to resurrect their master using Link's blood.

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link is one of the most difficult games I've ever played. Battletoads, Ninja Gaiden, Ghosts 'n Goblins, Batman, Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse and every other 8-bit game I might've or might've not reviewed... it's right up there with 'em. This is not how I remember it! I remember a relaxing game that was different from the first Legend of Zelda game, yes, but still relaxing, more of an journey than a really demanding, sweaty hack. It was better than the first game, too, 'cause it was a side-scroller - I already mentioned this in the previous review. Well, I must've been more patient as a kid than I thought, 'cause Zelda II is far from a relaxing game, and far from being better than the first game. I also must've not made it very far in the game. My brother disliked the game due to the remarkable differences between it and the rest of the series, but I guess he felt somewhat obliged to push forward with it, since he was a Zelda fan; I remember him specifically cursing the third palace down to the sort of depths unvisited by the big evil himself. Two decades later, I myself must admit: I cannot do it. I cannot complete the third palace out of the total of seven in Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. I yield. Here are my balls. The game won.

Yeah, and I think he's a total douche, but if
knowing him's enough, then... lead the way!
But, is it a bad game? Some people downright hate this game for the black sheep that it is. Some consider it another innovative game on par with its predecessor when it comes to being a trendsetter, but not a very good game in itself. Some people just love Zelda, and can't bear to say anything harsh about any official game - these kind of people save all their criticism for the unofficial CD-i games. Hell, I think they even consider Link's Crossbow Training a masterpiece of its kind. Sorry, Zelda fans, it's just how it has looked to me since Ocarina of Time came out - it's nothing personal, and I don't mean to offend you. I'd also like to say that the person I've had the most quarrels with about Zelda games is my best friend.

Back to the subject: is Zelda II a bad game? I'd have to say no, it isn't, but it is a notably weaker and less enchanting game than its predecessor. It isn't just because it's so frustratingly difficult - from the very beginning, I might add - it simply isn't the genius mix of elements from different genres, or nearly as innovative as the best games in this decorated franchise. By first impression, it has a good and interesting concept, and basically I have nothing against it being totally different from The Legend of Zelda, but you don't need to play it for more than 20 to 25 minutes to see that the magic ain't all there. The proper word to describe the game? I would say "incomplete". As an RPG, it could be more diverse, more intricate, and more open-ended. As an action game, it could definitely use some better controls and even a small semblance of forgiveness. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link demands a lot more than the player can possibly offer - it's like the levels and enemy behaviour were designed by whole different people than the character of Link and his abilities.

Heeeeeere, fairyfairyfairy...
Zelda II has a huge Overworld map bigger than that of its predecessor, but no action takes place on it, it's literally just a world map. The many towns and palaces are replicas of each other; just the colours are different and the textures are switched around. There are many different settings for "random" encounters, many different sprites, and perfectly distinguishable items. I guess the game looks good for a side-scroller of its time, but honestly, I think the first game looked better, and less outlined. There's more different music than in the first game - perhaps it's not as legendary, but at least it changes every once in a while! The new, quite mediocre variation of the Overworld theme makes me miss the original, but I guess it's healthy to listen to this one after just having suffered such a long stretch with the original one.

The game starts from the North Palace, this game's "Screen H-8"; the nominal place to begin your journey. The problem is the game ALWAYS starts from the North Palace. You see, you have three lives to spend. Each time you lose a life, you start from the last checkpoint, which is the beginning of an encounter on the world map, or the last exit in the palace dungeons. When you lose all of your three lives, you are no longer taken to the beginning of the dungeon, you're taken back to the North Palace, and you have to fight your way back to wherever you died in. You might not sweat at first, since like in The Legend of Zelda, you get to keep all your items, including the items you managed to get from the dungeon before your ultimate demise. You will start to sweat when you figure out you've lost all the experience points you've accumulated since the last full level. Even if you had 1,499 out of 1,500 collected, the game simply doesn't give a shit. It's basically saying "try not to die next time, asshole". You'll sweat even more when you realize that even though you certainly don't have to replay the whole dungeon and break your neck trying to get every item again, the roads to bosses are LONG and filled with the nastiest sons of bitches you could possibly imagine - ones that respawn EVERY TIME.

The bosses aren't that bad. Getting to 'em is.
There are extremely annoying enemies, I can't even put my frustration into words. Remember Darknuts? They're called Ironknuckles this time, and since no enemy ever turns his back on you, the previous strategy you had for killing these fuckers doesn't work anymore. This is something much worse, double that if you're dealing with a blue one. They use their shields to randomly cover up the upper and lower parts of their bodies, what you need to do is to somewhat figure out their pattern and stab them in the current weak spot, and repeat this about a million times, all the while trying to cope with the fact that if they manage to stab you (which they will) they take a whole tick of your maximum health with just one single pinch. Dealing with one Ironknuckle in a wide open area is nothing - it's just that you won't see many of those advantaged situations. In fact, usually you fight the most annoying and persistent enemies in narrow hallways where you simply cannot jump or dodge out of harm's way. All you have on your side is luck, and luck is known to be fragile. Imagine a situation where you're faced with two of these guys in a narrow hallway, getting sandwiched between them, drained out of all your mana and forced to fight them with a sword that has ridiculously short range. Can't happen, you say? It certainly can. The range of your attacks is PATHETIC, and if you try to escape from an enemy 'cause you have low health and/or mana, you'll most likely lure another enemy to the mix to brew up some more trouble. Often, the game teases you with the thought that you have an option whether or not to fight some bastard of an enemy, but 99% of the time, you have none.

Shit, must've taken a wrong turn! Simon?!
I mentioned mana, so I might as well explain the whole HUD. From the left to the right, there's the attack meter, mana meter, health meter and EXP meter. Every time you manage to farm up the indicated amount of EXP - which grows by hundreds with each new level - you are presented with "a choice"; that choice being whether to upgrade an attribute the game tells you to, or not upgrade at all. Yeah, what a choice, huh? A true role-playing game, yeah. Anyway, the EXP is used to upgrade your attack power, and lower mana and health costs. You'll gain the most EXP while wandering around in the dungeons - that's why it pisses you off so much each time you die down there - but I guess you can gather up a nice amount of EXP just walking around off-road areas on the world map and kicking every ugly piece of ass you see. Just takes a lot of precious time, though.

There comes a time for us all when we have
to just sit back and say "Fuck it."
There are many towns in Zelda II where you can roam around and talk to people, go heal your wounds at some young girl's place - yeah, it's a bit suspicious, I know - and fill out your mana meter at an old woman's shack, which is even more suspicious. The dialogue in the game looks pretty whacked, but most of it makes sense to some degree, and there are even genuine clues in there, unlike in Simon's Quest in which most of the dialogue was cryptic gibberish that could not even be perceived as clues. There are no shops, which also means there's no money to be collected in this game. Every key item, and every heart and magic container, has to be fought for. As for the abilities, they're taught to you by town sages, who are always in need of a personal favour, so it all goes back to fighting your way through some cave to get some seemingly mundane relic. All for learning a spell you might or might not need beyond one specific use. Or a clumsy downward thrust that doesn't work on most enemies. Neither does throwing your sword, by the way. It's a fancy trick, sure, but not much more than a special effect in this unforgiving drivel. Why in the hell would we even need a fully functional projectile weapon in this game? ...Sense the sarcasm here? Oh yeah, and since we went back to our pathetic range of attack, let it be known that the only weapon is that pathetic sword of yours, from the beginning - which I've seen LOTS of times - to the end - which I will never see.

I can be a pretty persistent guy. I have beaten many difficult games - in the years I've written these reviews, I've actually beaten a few games I never thought I'd be able to beat. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link is a game I really wanted to beat, and I thought I could do it with sheer persistence and nothing else - I thought enough level farming would do the trick. It wouldn't. I can't imagine what would. I've got to give a hand to a worthy opponent, but at the same time, I must criticize Zelda II for its actual flaws which unfortunately add to its difficulty, making it difficult for a lot of wrong reasons. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link isn't a bad game, but I'm a long way from considering it a classic.

+ An intriguing game in its remarkable difference from the rest of the series
+ I'm still finding myself a fan of side-scrolling action on the 8-bit...

- ...I just wish it would play out a little better, as the level design and combat situations don't mesh at all, resulting in regular battles that are nearly impossible to ace without a stroke of extremely good luck, the controls are a bit clumsy and the range of Link's attacks is pathetic, and doesn't match that of the enemies' at all
- The game isn't a fully functional RPG, nor it is a fully functional action game; the game is not nearly as well synchronized as the first one
- It would be great to have at least some practice before descending into hell
- The loss of EXP after death is disheartening, to say the least; always starting from the same spot is OK once you've cleared a shortcut

< 6.9 >

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