With the series still in its infancy, Nintendo was still daring enough to toy with precisely what could be expected from the newly birthed The Legend of Zelda. The new direction was undertaken for Zelda II: The Adventure of Link was perhaps a risk at the time, still remaining to be the only game to predominantly use a side-scrolling viewpoint, although had still led to commercial success.
This direct sequel picks up several years after Ganon’s defeat at the end of the first game. Now a teenager, Link is troubled by the appearance of a strange mark on the back of his hand. Having sought Impa’s wisdom, she takes him to a door that has remained sealed for generations, behind which lies a slumbering Princess Zelda who had become the target of a potent sleeping spell after she wouldn’t spill the beans about the Triforce. With the mark on Link’s hand showing that he is the hero chosen to awaken Zelda, it falls to our green tunic-clad hero to once again travel the land of Hyrule to conquer six palaces, aligning crystals that will lead him to recover the Triforce of Courage.
It’s a journey that quite literally takes him to the Valley of Death and back, yet is one that easily bears the least resemblance to the near-perfected formula used for the majority of his other quests. That Nintendo never returned to Zelda II: The Adventure of Link‘s style could perhaps be interpreted as their lack of faith in the continuation of the game’s concept, but their ambitious action RPG can still be relished for the ideas that it helped to establish.
Playfully described on the game’s title screen as Link’s “most adventuresome quest yet,” Zelda II: The Adventure of LinkI delivered a number of firsts – be that the NPCs that wander through the towns that are scattered across the overworld, a more complex combat system that was accompanied by a levelling system, and magic, which proved important not only to quell foes but also to progress through increasingly platforming-intensive environments. Dark Link similarly makes a menacing appearance towards the game’s conclusion, the doppelganger being a returning antagonist in later outings.
Whilst there’s a surprising level of depth on display, criticism can easily be placed with the game’s rather unintuitive progression – an issue that could no longer be said of the company’s output today. Players unfamiliar with the game will need to turn their attention to walkthroughs, otherwise risking wasting their time on a random jaunt around Hyrule’s meadows. It’s a wonder how anyone managed to get through it all those years ago.
Still, it’s a largely enjoyable foray into Nintendo’s fantasy realm, Akito Nakatsuka’s sweeping scores being an inspiring accompaniment to what is largely seen as the black sheep of the Zelda series. Unique that it is, the game remains representative of the company’s early steps into the industry, and bears much of the creativity that we still evidently see in spades today.