Anatomy of a Game: Zelda XIV


Finish the Legend of Zelda and press Start and you begin the Second Quest. This goes back to a long arcade tradition of “flipping” the game and playing through a second cycle of stages in which everything is a little faster and a little more dangerous. It goes back to Space Invaders, I guess. But of course, Zelda the action RPG is considerably different from something like Space Invaders the simple shooter. And so the Second Quest has much more structure to it than most second rounds.

Nintendo could have just gone the simple route of making enemies twice as strong or something, but instead the Second Quest effectively offers a second game altogether. It reuses the same assets and tool set as the main quest, but shuffles them around in new and antagonistic ways. Everything works the same, but the way it all shakes out is wildly different than you might expect from the first quest.


The Second Quest doesn’t waste any time kicking your butt: You walk into the first dungeon and a few screens later the wimpy, harmless Stalfos starts chucking swords at you, like a Lynel. And then you die and sob. And that’s before you discover that Bubbles have been cleft in twain, with one color permanently removing your ability to wield your sword and the other restoring it.

The Second Quest also doesn’t waste any time training you up the way the main quest does. It operates under the assumption you know all of Zelda‘s tricks and don’t need any hints or hand-holding… so beginning with the second dungeon, all the entrances to the underground are switched around into innocuous places. Hope you like bombing every single surface in the game! Even the ones you think you can’t reach….


Some entrances can’t even be accessed with bombs. Randomly tooting the flute in the desert will reveal a door where you can grab a Heart Container. On the other hand, bombing and burning entrances is a much riskier proposition than in the first quest: You’re a lot more likely to find a cranky old man than a solicitous Moblin this time around.


And the guys who get angry about you bombing their doors aren’t even the worst of it! The Second Quest also includes this old coot:


You… you bastard.


The difficulty doesn’t need long to ramp up. These guys, who debut in the third dungeon of the first quest, show up in the Second Quest’s second dungeon. It doesn’t get any easier from there. And where dungeons in the first quest tend to alternate between tough and not-so-tough, the only time the Second Quest offers you any slack is to give you enough rope to hang yourself with.


It also does really horrible things like this: Invisible passages that you can’t find unless you press against the wall for a few seconds. Oh, and some of them are one-way only, so if you think you’re all clever in finding your way forward you may actually find yourself back at the beginning of the dungeon with a long trek ahead to get back to where you were.

The Second Quest offers no quarter. It exists to torment you and make you hate life, and possibly hate Zelda, too. I love that it exists. The basic quest is really well-designed and generally fair to the player; the Second Quest is what you get when normally responsible game designers have the chance to take the gloves off and let their inner malice shine through. If this were the entirety of Zelda, it would likely be remembered as another one of those clumsy, unfair 8-bit games that treated the player like crap. Instead, it’s simply a look into Zelda without a sense of fair play — a devious challenge for experienced players, and an interesting counterpoint to the true game. Would that more games did this, including Zelda! But the only time the series has ever offered a true remix (not just a New Game + where you can make Link’s sister wear a pirate shirt the whole time) was Ocarina of Time‘s Master Quest (aka Ura-Zelda), which was one part insanely hard and one part simply insane.

And with this, our look at The Legend of Zelda comes to an end. Join us next year (you know, a day from now) as we move on to new endeavors. Thanks for reading, and if you’d like to catch up, the full index of the Anatomy of a Game series remains here as ever. Aaand thanks to Octopus Prime for creating a convenient Second Quest Let’s Play for me to farm images from, because I am a lazy bastard busy man.

9 thoughts on “Anatomy of a Game: Zelda XIV

  1. When Super Mario Bros. had a second quest, it replaced all the Goombas with Buzzy Beetles and used the hard versions of the few recycled stages. Castlevania has a second quest, it leaves the damage you take at four hits and constantly sics Medusa Heads and Asshole Bats on you. The Legend of Zelda has a second quest, it makes a new set of dungeons, rearranges all the secret locations, and brings some nasty new tricks to the table. One of these games is not like the others…

    When you think about it, it’s actually pretty simple. Classic Zelda used a set pool of room layouts that mainly differed in connections and enemies, and what passed for dungeon puzzles was stuff like “Push block” and “Use bomb on wall.” You just wouldn’t see a modern Zelda (or really most games) do this kinda thing because of how much more work it would be.

    The first quest is already difficult in its own right, but the second quest really takes the kids gloves off and tells whatever balance there was to go piss off.

  2. I have never found a more perfect description of a game: “Ocarina of Time‘s Master Quest (aka Ura-Zelda), which was one part insanely hard and one part simply insane.” Never had a game before or after actually make me cry. . .

  3. I recently tried playing through a fan patch of BS-Zelda — the “Fourth Quest”, as I’d played through the “Third” some years back.

    The patch I had used before removed the game’s time limit. This patch did not. The clock ran out before I even found Level 8.

    If you think the Second Quest is unbalanced, think what it would be like if you couldn’t get the White Sword until you’d finished the first six dungeons, and if you took too long looking around the game could become unwinnable.

    I really should cross it off my list of games I haven’t finished, because I’m pretty sure I am in fact finished with it.

  4. I have never finished the Second Quest, though I did play Zelda Classic’s ‘Official Third Quest’.

    I hope Zelda II is the next part of this series!

  5. I’m with you in the “this quest will make you sorry, but I’m glad it’s there” camp. I’ve never beaten the Second Quest, though my parents have, and it just makes the game seem… I don’t know, like it has a greater value for your money, for those who wish to partake in it.

    Your screencap of the old man who takes a heart or money led Nadia to ask, “can you actually go below three hearts?”

    I’m curious to know myself.

  6. @LBD “Nytetrayn”: I think Prime tried that in the LP. If memory serves me right, trying to give the old man a heart when you only have the default three hearts either leaves you almost dead or flat out kills you. Either way, you can’t lose your initial three hearts.

    Speaking of Heart Containers, as an early game the original Zelda was weird with its permanent upgrades. Besides the old man making it possible to permanently lose hearts in trap rooms in the second quest unless you pay him Rupees/stab him and get killed by fireballs/use the Go to Continue~Save~Retry screen trick, the first quest features what I like to call the Idiot Test.

    Out of the five heart containers in the overworld, four of them are held by an old man who offers them alongside a 2nd Potion, telling you to “Pick any one you like.” Smart players will go for the container; newbie gamers or stupid players will go for the disposable health refill you could buy from stores after giving the letter to the old lady and lose the container forever.

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