Much to my surprise, this Anatomy of Zelda II series has been the most fun I’ve had with any of these in-depth game design dissections so far. I went into it expecting to have a miserable time with a cumbersome mess of a game, but instead I’m constantly finding new and interesting things to enjoy about it. Sure, it has some shortcomings to be certain; yet on the whole, it’s a much more cohesive work than I realized.
I can certainly chalk that up to the fact that the last time I played the game with any seriousness was… when it was first released in the U.S. I’ve learned a lot about games and RPGs in particular since 1988, and I understand the game’s mechanics and features far better than I did at the time of its debut. Going by the comments you guys have posted following each entry, I’m not alone in that. Nintendo really was staking out new territory for a lot of gamers at the time; the NES market was aimed at kids whose families couldn’t necessarily afford a computer back when even a low-end system cost thousands of dollars in today’s money (and didn’t offer all the essential benefits that today’s highly connected computers did). A $99 console made for a nice entry point into computer gaming, but prior to Zelda II American kids didn’t really have access to games with real RPG underpinnings. No wonder Zelda II baffled so many of us.
With the hindsight afforded by wide access to “real” RPGs and far more demanding/involved action games (if nowhere near as unforgiving), the formerly Herculean task of conquering Zelda II no longer seems so impossible. Scope and feature creep over the past 20 years recontextualize Zelda II as a far more modest adventure than it seemed at the time, and those blessed 3DS VC save states make the palaces a whole lot less brutal to conquer.
There aren’t a lot of games that would be such a different experience 20-plus years after the fact, but I’m really enjoying returning to Zelda II with the maturity to properly understand what Nintendo was trying to accomplish with it — and what, in many cases, they succeeded at achieving.