GSQ6: Fill up your hearts

I don’t care what you, personally, think of Zelda II. It is not a game without its issues, but as I was assembling the screenshots for this article, I glanced at the shot of the town scene and immediately the game’s town music burst unbidden into my mind and I was forced to hum it. I only hope that some day I can create something memorable enough that, 20-plus years later, some random stranger glances at an image and finds it all come rushing back to him. Or her.

14 thoughts on “GSQ6: Fill up your hearts

  1. Best Zelda 2 article ever. I dislike the game in general, yet it still appeals to me in ways and gets my playtime once or twice a decade-an example of “cool concepts, handled badly/prematurely”. It was bold.

  2. Great article.

    True story: Zelda II was the first NES game I ever owned. Got it for Christmas back in 1990 with an NES, and while it took my brother and I years to beat the game (oh, the dark days before the Internet), it still is one of the best side-scrollers on the system.

    Yes, there are some rather obtuse moments. But if the game weren’t called “Zelda”, and was allowed to stand on its own merits, most would praise it, at the very least, as one of the better NES games. Funny what expectations can do.

    By the way, I checked about a month ago, and my cart still maintains my old save games. So much for five years, eh? Still makes me want to get that save game dumper, though…

  3. I remember being vaguely disappointed with Zelda III (christ, I’m old enough that I still think of it as that more than I do “A Link to the Past”) precisely because of the things mentioned in the article above – between this and Mario 3, it was a bummer to see Nintendo scrap everything that made the sequels to their two flagship games so great in favor of “just” polishing the formulas for the original games to a gleaming spit-shine.

    Anyway, it’s cool to hate on Zelda II these days, but then again, the Clue movie looks terrible at first glance and that movie is actually pretty great. So I guess what I am saying (at 2am after a very long day) is that Zelda II is the Clue of Zelda games.

    THE END.

    • Oh – and as Signor mentioned – without Zelda II, we wouldn’t have had Battle of Olympus, which was a great little game in it’s own right. (In retrospect it was probably better than Zelda II, all things considered.)

  4. I didn’t get an NES until well into the Super Nintendo era, and I didn’t get my own copies of the first two Zelda games until later, still. I think that’s why, at the time, I liked Zelda II better than the first.

    I only got to play Zelda – most video games, really – when I visited friends. Without the time to really sit down and figure it out on my own, The Legend of Zelda was a seriously weird game. Structurally, it was so different than anything else I’d played. My friends had made some sense of it, presumably because they’d had to the time to start from the beginning and explore.

    I, on the other hand, jumped in and out at random, and it left me confused. I picked up on assorted tidbits. I understood that if I went to the fairy, I could shoot my sword at Octorocks, but that was about it. For years, I thought of Zelda as that one game where you can burn a bush with a candle, but I didn’t know where the bush was, or why I should care.

    Zelda II on the other hand – it was a sidescroller. And yeah, it’s as structurally obtuse as any game in the series, but I knew that if I walked into a black blob, it would lead to stabbing dudes and jumping. It didn’t appeal to me as much as Mario or Mega Man, but at least I could wrap my head around it. Plus, I’ve always loved that downward stab.

    Now that I’ve played through both games, it’s harder for me to pick one over the other. I can understand the Zelda II backlash, and I’m actually still surprised that the first Zelda is as widely beloved as it is. They’re weird games, and I love both of them equally.

    Thanks a million.

  5. Great article, and some well-done justifications for some of the design choices, even if a couple can still be considered oversights. And of course, I too would have loved for a branch sub-series in the same vein. Wouldn’ve been great.

    Funny thing about the whole “It’s not Zelda!” business is that Dragon Age II has received seemingly less flack for its changes, but that could be because nobody has deemed it inaccessible. Or, that people now think Donkey Kong Country when they hear Donkey Kong. But yeah, whatever, I guess accessibility and appeal have more to do with it.

    Another great Metroidvania that had the downstab and upstab was Monster World IV, which I consider a bit of an evolution of Zelda II, if unfortunately without the crouching. Here’s hoping that OFLC classification wasn’t a fluke!

    • And don’t forget about Super Adventure Island II! There were so many moments in that game that just screamed “Zelda II ripoff!” Not that there’s anything wrong with that, right? :)

      • Ehhhhh…I guess if you count the world map, but it was more of a hub than a map, whereas Zelda II’s was extremely in the tradition of Dragon Quest’s world map. Also, Super Adventure Island II’s side-scrolling portions were most of the game and also interconnected.

        Actually, you know what? This would make a good subject for an article. I should just write one for a future issue about this exact subject.

      • You’re kind of right. And with the island thing going on, it feels more like a combination of Zelda II and StarTropics.

        It would be a fun topic to explore, to be sure. :)

  6. Zelda II is still my personal favorite Zelda game (I can fully admit it’s not the *best* Zelda game, but I love it anyways). It was the first Zelda I owned, chosen because there was a screenshot on the back of the box with Link talking to someone, and them responding “Hello.” At the time, this seemed like the coolest thing ever to me – a video game where you could interact with other characters!

    In any case, I think the game doesn’t often get a fair shake for a number of reasons. In Japan, because it was terrible. Somehow they actually managed to make tremendous improvements to the thing in the process of bringing it over here.

    But in the US, I think the hate comes from the lop-sided difficulty curve. The game starts out really damn hard (and gets even harder once you try to go to Death Mountain), and as you level up and acquire new items, it gets much better. I think that might turn some people off in many cases, even despite it being the “black sheep” in terms of format (and to be honest, the format isn’t even *that* different from the 3D Zeldas).

    Personally though, I love it. It’s a really unique and fun game. And as the article mentioned, it was the genesis for a lot of common elements of the series (even Shadow Link!).

    P.S. – One game in this style not mentioned, but worth checking out – Zeliard by Game Arts (yes, *that* Game Arts). It’s a DOS game (well, technically I think it was designed for one of those crazy Japanese computers and ported to DOS by Sierra), and plays a lot like Zelda 2, minus the overworld bits. Although it’s slightly more RPG-ish in that it features equipment, money (and banks!), potions and soforth. It also has a bit of a Metroidvania flare to it with various items helping you access new areas (ex: boots that let you walk on ice, or jump higher, or survive in fire-filled areas, etc).

  7. Parish once mentioned that Shiren the Wanderer’s progress, aside from the persistent world, was like a Mario game’s. You may lose physical progress, but you gain the knowledge necessary to progress further. That statement has forever changed the way I view losing in games, especially games like Zelda II. That’s why I wanted to explore the lose state for this game and found a novel mechanism that I’ve never heard anyone describe. The game still requires NES-era patience, but it was a lot more forward-thinking in places than people realize.

    Thanks for the kind comments. I’m glad you all enjoyed the article!

  8. A big selling point for Zelda II — and one of its least discussed qualities — is its setting. The game appears to take place in a fantastical version of Greece, especially at the temple entrances and in the towns. This in itself is compelling, but add the more frightening design of the enemies (not to mention the game over screen) and you get a game that’s straight out of an ancient epic poem. In short, the game still feels far more of a grand and mysterious adventure in my memory than any other Zelda to date.

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