Copium Inbound

Prepared by Joe

The year is 1986, and the resounding success of Nintendo’s own Legend of Zelda left fans of the newly christened series going “Okay but if Zelda was so good where is Zelda II?”. 1987 answered that question in the form of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, and it left fans going “Haha nice, But seriously where is Zelda II?” And what would become parallel with Super Mario Bros (at least in the West) of Nintendo releasing a genre-defining game, producing a weird and rushed sequel, and then making an absolute banger of a third title. This one is the middle one.

Zelda II NES cartridge and Game Boy Advance SP

I bought this game over 4 times.

As we approach no milestones for Zelda II, I would like to indulge in what the game was, what it continues to be if it IS actually that difficult, and maybe if you should play it in modern times. But I can definitely tell you now with my hand on Hyrule Historia one fact: Zelda II deserved better.

Zelda II? Nah.

Zelda II Title Screen

Bum, da da da dum. Bum, du du du doom.

Zelda II was never a popular title. Actually, scratch that, it sold 4.38 million copies, won Game of the Year in 1988, and was subject to high praise upon release. Upon release. Tell ya h’what, when I pull out my old NES and seek out cartridges to blow on, I can’t name too many people who would stare Zelda II in the eye and say “would”. Even the YouTube community, which is somewhat forgiving with The Legend Zelda NES, totally glosses over Zelda II as a thing that exists.

But I didn’t forget you, Zelda II (Are you guys counting how often you read Zelda II?). I didn’t know better as a 7-year-old with access to NesterJ on a Windows 95 PC from my friend’s house. I fired that thing up and was enthralled for 5 minutes until I deemed it too hard and went back to Kirby’s Adventure.

Magazine covers that go hard

The game is a weird mix between a Metroidvania, a top-down Final Fantasy-esque RPG, and buffalo-wing-induced heartburn. You play as our protagonist: Zelda II and venture off from a castle housing our sleeping beauty, name unknown, into the fun overworld you might die in before reaching the first village. The top-down overworld teems with familiar-sounding villages, terrain-based random encounters, lethal battles, caves, creepy old men, and P A L A C E S.

ZomboMeme Zelda II

This guy, probably

The big shake-up with this title comes mostly from the fact that it’s mostly 2D side-scrolling in towns, palaces, and combat. And a pretty top-down overworld with (kind of) random encounters. Which is….interesting. But also note that this departure was made mainly without Shigeru Miyamoto’s magical tender love and care, and was instead directed by Tadashi Sugiyama. Currency is replaced with…nothing, but you get experience points to increase your health, magic, and spells. Yeah, that’s the gist.

Why Everyone Hates It.

Game Over in The Adventure of Link

New timeline unlocked

It’s just too hard, man. If Zelda One is like Dark Souls in terms of the isolationism and eerie setting, Zelda 2 is like Dark Souls and its easy-to-understand, difficult-to-be-semi-competent-at, combat consisting of short stabs (as well as an up-stab and a neat little DuckTales pogo) and deaths being super punishing and super permanent.

Combat with intermediate/hard enemies is pretty much a sequence of rapid stabbing and rapid blocking in hopes that the game’s RNG blesses you with a kill. This wouldn’t be SO bad if it wasn’t paired with the fact you get 4 lives and then a Game Over screen with a very spooky PNG of Ganon to punish you for even thinking about enjoying this game. Additional lives are also rarer than how I like my steak, which is medium well, but yeah lives are still rarer.

Zelda II Spells

Ah yes. The spell, spell. That spelly spell that’s spells…. Spelly.

Beyond imminent death, the game just has its quirks. The 2D aspect might turn you off if you’re used to…you know…every other title in the series. Plus, the magic system is a little annoying to navigate with the developers doing their darndest to create a way to streamline spell selection with gameplay in a way that feels slightly worse than withdrawing $20 from an ATM.

Link vs. Dark Link Concept Art

I don’t have an example so please enjoy some concept art.

Honestly, though, I believe these quirks are easy to get over and it’s really not that bad, But the fact that this difficult, open-world-ish game has a life system makes defending this game a never-ending copium cycle and flares up my mucus membranes whenever it’s brought up in YouTube comment sections.

Why Everyone Is Wrong

I am Error

Sorry, needed to put this somewhere

If you are the kind of person to go into something with an open mind, give something generally deemed as bad, and come out actually adoring it, congratulations, for you are a filthy contrarian, which is reasonable for this title. 

All the quirks are there. And what is bad is what is bad. I do want to point out that there’s a lot of the stuff that makes this title worth at least trying and maybe even legitimately enjoying. Do I acknowledge that it is a true sequel to the original Legend of Zelda? 

Gameplay: Yes it is hard. But at its core, it really carries the same ingredients from the original Legend of Zelda. You explore a vast open world looking for secrets and upgrades to help you in your playthrough, with varying degrees of difficulty. I would even argue that Zelda II’s secrets are easier to find and more engaging since they are in a generally obvious space on the overworld. And with every upgrade you get, every level you increase, and with every secret you find, the game gets a little easier. Progressively more enjoyable. 

Zelda II Gameplay

Credit to Retro Pixel Lizard for this nice shot.

Kind of like any other Zelda title or Metroidvania. The life system is bollocks. I would personally replace it with something more akin to Dark Souls where you lose a bit of your experience. But this game was made in the ’80s when they didn’t have the power of hindsight. Plus, I’m pretty sure Dark Souls was inspired by the original Legend of Zelda and the comparison here is kind of moot, But this is my article so it’s my rules. It’s all Dark Souls baby, the bonfire has been lit and you best have gotten gud.

The soundtrack: I will die on the hill that this game’s OST is the most underrated soundtrack in the series. It wasn’t blessed by our beloved composer Koji Kondo and was instead composed by Akito Nakatsuka. It contains a relatively short, consistent quality of tracks that stimulate my eardrums and make me jump with rage and scream with joy. I can go into the driving, adventurous mood of the overworld theme or the catchy and peaceful sounds of the town, but where the OST really gets my guts going is the Palace theme, also known as the iconic theme for the Temple stage in Super Smash Bros Melee. This track slaps. And it slaps even harder in its original 8-bit style, complete with counter melodies over arpeggios, strong chord transitions, and weird but catchy Megadeth-esque sequences that leave you going “F*** this palace, I’m going to make it my B****” [Note to editor: there really isn’t any other way to describe this piece of musical keno]. It is seriously so good and I can only find one guitar cover that actually takes on the arpeggios in the chorus section. 

Adventure of Link NES USA Manual Page 13


Story: For a game from the 1980s that focuses primarily on one protagonist who explores a dangerous world alone, it’s actually more Legend of Zelda than the first. At least, in terms of the premise and personal journey. I’m not about to give the entire synopsis of the story, but you are pretty much in a post-apocalyptic Hyrule trying to rebuild after the defeat of Ganon. Our boy in green, Zelda II, is thrust back into the wilderness to uncover the triforce of courage and revive our sleeping beauty, Zelda I.

Not to be confused with Princess Zelda of the first game or our protagonist Zelda II, also known as Link.

In a journey that tells exactly as much as it needs to while also maintaining the absolute poetry of one’s coming of age in finding their courage and conquering amongst others, themselves. Strangely enough, this plot beat is sort of mimicked in Zelda’s newest release: Tears of the Kingdom. Given the difficulty of the game, this sort of resolve in the overarching story is pretty cute and makes completing the game fulfilling.

Why Zelda II Deserved Better

Zelda II meme

By now, you have read everything and we’re thoroughly invested in the article up to this point. You probably even booted up Zelda 2 thinking that it was actually going to be good this time around and that I claimed this to be some of the best Zelda content that you can engage with, a nice cozy title to relax in bed with on a Friday night with your dog. But that was just a giant gaslight. Well, not quite but there’s more to it. That’s because I left out one crucial detail: The game just simply isn’t fair. 

Wait! Before I lose you when I talked about the RNG behind the enemy stabbing and the life system. It’s really that random and there’s no real way to telegraph the move-set behind characters who ultimately have a longer reach than your tiny little knife goes. Skirmishes between enemies are just a cycle of block, stab, block, block, die. And that’s with only one enemy on screen. I’ve spent longer on screen dealing with this slippery harpoon guy than the actual first boss. 

Does this make this game bad? Well… no. You can easily mitigate a lot of this with save states and rewinding, but that’s not exactly fixing the core problems here and really just makes the game serviceable. Want a life system and punishing combat? Go for it. Just rebalance some of those combat. Cuz when this game hits, it really hits, dare I say slaps. There are moments in the game where you defeat the enemy after blocking every attack. The moment of triumph you feel as 8-bit heavy metal flares over your head and others where he finally makes it to the end of the cave and learns how to jump stab from a creepy middle-aged fat man.

Hollow Knight banner

Seriously how is this game only $15?

Moments like those to me make tolerating the harsh aspects of the title all the more worth it. That is why I can’t really deem this title good or bad, just that it vastly deserved much more love and playtesting, Because honestly, I think that’s all it would have taken to, at worst, make it a cult classic that could stand amongst the other difficult 2D titles released nowadays.

Should You Play This in 2024?

Legend of Zelda Game & Watch

Aye, that’s a nice D-Pad. Credits: TechCrunch

For the love of God, just don’t bother with the original version. I still recommend playing it and getting a good 7 hours of heartburn from it. It’s a truly unique title that is extremely ambitious and deserves your time and angst. I would honestly recommend you play this on any device that has a rewind for the save state function.

Honestly, there is a perfect device that just went on pre-sale called the RG35XXSP which provides the perfect amount of power to use internal run ahead for smaller input lag. It has dome switch controls to get precise D-Pad directions, and a cute little hinge so you could open and shut the device aggressively after playing for 10 minutes. You can find it at AliExpress, eBay, or directly from Anbernic. But if you’re on the fence, check out our RG35XXSP hands-on, along with videos from Stubbs and Zu.

Other notable ways to play it are through Nintendo Switch Online for a low lag, corpo experience, and through the Zelda Game and Watch.

I love this game dearly and I can’t wait to play it for the first time.

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