The Anatomy of Zelda II – VI. Pixie Dust

With the Hammer in hand, the road to the third palace is anything but straightforward. On the other hand, neither is it overwhelming. The Hammer effectively makes you lord and master of the western half of Zelda II‘s overworld; you can travel anywhere you like on the western continent with ease. However, reaching the next main quest objective is not as simple as strolling over to the palace, which it turns out sits isolated on an island south of Mido.


A helpful resident clues you into the importance of the Kings Tomb located in the center of the graveyard (which, if scale is to be believed, covers approximately the same real estate as the entirety of The Legend of Zelda‘s overworld; that’s a lot of dead people): It contains no intrinsic value but simply exists to point the way to a tunnel connecting the palace’s island to the mainland. But should you drop into the tunnel straight away, you’ll find that the way ahead is blocked by another cave wall, this one too high even for the Jump spell.

So, you’re left to explore, but hardly in an aimless way. Having covered almost the entirety of the western continent, the game holds very few unturned stones (and the designers weren’t cruel enough to make you backtrack through every dungeon and cave you’ve already completed — conquered dungeons collapse and can no longer even be entered again). By simple process of elimination, only a few boulder-blocked caves remain to be explored; and indeed, your solution sits in a cave not far from the tunnel to Ruto. Inside you’ll inexplicably find a vial of medicine, which you can then deliver to Mido’s purple-clad permanent resident. By now the game has established a certain rhythm and a set of reliable patterns, and a purple woman who patrols the door of a house while lamenting something she desperately needs invariably means that fulfilling her request will give you access to a sage and thus a new magic spell. Even if the side quest objective in this case defies explanation, it’s not too hard to figure out the path forward by simply paying attention to trends.


This latest spell, Fairy, might be the strangest in the game: It literally transforms Link into a fairy, allowing him to fly (and thus reach that high ledge in the tunnel to the palace) as well as slip through keyholes — a handy shortcut in palaces if you happen to miss a key and don’t feel like backtracking. Although backtracking means experience points, which is essential to powering up Link, so there’s no real downside to it.

This screenshot (courtesy as ever of VG Museum) confuses me, though. The Ironknuckle guarding the third palace’s treasure is actually a blue Ironknuckle, another sign of the constantly escalating difficulty present in Zelda II. Orange Ironknuckles are too tough, and by now you should have powered up your attack rating a few times so the red Ironknuckles don’t pose much threat, either. But those blue guys are bastards: Not only are they fast, sometimes attacking 10 times in rapid succession, they also fling sword beams exactly like Link’s. So you have to be on your guard constantly and can’t safely back off to give yourself some space — and amidst all that, you still have to land a number of hits through their defenses. I cannot state how much I hate those guys.

And yet, this is simply the midpoint of the adventure. It gets worse.

Despite the harsh challenge level of the game, though, it definitely rewards skill and cautious play. Aside from the Bagu thing, I haven’t seen a single moment that I would characterize as unfair or unbalanced so far. If memory serves that will change on the back nine of the quest, but to date it’s holding up to scrutiny far better than I expected.


This palace’s boss takes the form of another blue Ironknuckle, this one mounted on horseback. This represents a sort of meat gate to progress: If you haven’t acquired the downward thrust skill from Mido, you can’t win. The only way to dismount the Ironknuckle is to attack from above as he jousts past; once you take his steed down to critical health, he takes to foot and the balance of the battle plays out as a standard encounter with the blue Ironknuckle.

He’s actually not the first place in this palace in which you need the downward thrust skill; several of the keys are buried beneath blocks and have to be reached by digging through the stone. However, thanks to the fairy skill, you can bypass the corresponding locks if you really feel like it. At this point, however, you cannot possibly proceed any further without your swordsmanship upgrade.


OK, so I’m lying. As long as you collect the raft you can go wherever you like, setting sail to eastern lands from the dock near Mido. Of course, you’ll be woefully unprepared for what lies ahead, but Zelda II doesn’t judge. Skip your mission-critical tasks, it says. Blow off your vital skill improvements if you wish. Thumb ahead to the last page if you must. Eventually, though, realize that you’ll face a grim reckoning for your haste.

13 thoughts on “The Anatomy of Zelda II – VI. Pixie Dust

  1. Flying through locks as a fairy might actually be a glitch, as it’s not possible to do in the European version of the game. At least never been able to do it in my copy.
    It does seem like a clever design choice though.

  2. Great update to your Zelda 2 quest. Just curious: did you ever complete this game before (perhaps when you were a kid)? Thanks.

    • I beat it about a month after it came out, yeah. Haven’t played more than a couple of hours since then.

  3. Looks like I commented on yesterday’s in the nick of time.

    Anyway, note for the book version: You say the orange Ironknuckles “are” too hard. Going by context, I’m pretty sure you mean “aren’t,” right? =)

    I hate the boss Ironknuckles/Rebonacks for one reason and one reason only: Their behavior is based on regular Ironknuckles, which means they’ll back right off the screen to where you cannot reach them, but (if memory serves) they can still reach you. That’s just cheap.

    I also hate that unlike Link’s sword beams (against all but the weakest of foes, anyway), Ironknuckle’s actually work like they’re supposed to.

    Following from your last post, it might be worth noting that the medicine you get here is the exact same as those Link carried around in the first game.

    Finally, if I hadn’t made this clear before, loving this series: Zelda II so rarely gets the respect it deserves. It has some rough edges, sure, but if you know the game, it’s definitely a good experience. The new VC features on 3DS help shave off some of those rougher features, too.

  4. I’ve always liked this palace’s boss just for the fact that as a child I imagined his mount as a sort of mechanical hover-horse.

  5. Zelda 2 is my favorite in the series and I’ve finished half a dozen times, but I never had the slightest clue you could pass through locks as a fairy. Wow.

  6. Not brutal or unfair? Are you playing the same game I am? It’s controller-smashingly hard!

  7. This game is hard. No doubt about it. I was never able to beat it as a youngster. However, finally, in my 30’s I was able to finish it (and it was challenging).

  8. The gameplay, setting and difficulty of Demon/Dark Souls remind me of Zelda 2. I think I enjoy those titles so much perhaps because I was weaned on Zelda 2.

  9. Have you found your experience points naturally progressing at a rate equal to the challenge? The time when I finally beat Zelda 2 was the time when I started treating it like an early RPG spent an hour or two in the first temple stabbing those bouncing skull guys until I had powered up to my liking. I don’t know if that’s an integral part of the game, or just a cool way for players like me to compensate for a lack of skill and confidence in the game’s first half.

  10. When I was younger I don’t think I fully understood exactly how the experience mechanics worked and what areas were important to level up and when. As a result I struggled in the middle of the game, especially against tougher enemies. These days, through limited grinding and an understanding of the gems you place in statues, I’m usually maxed out by the fifth palace.

    I think what made the game much harder for me as a kid was a tendency to hoard magic. Now, knowing that enemies will only ever drop magic refills and not any healing items, I realize it makes much more sense to make liberal use of the life/shield spells and farm weak enemies for magic drops when you desperately need them.

  11. This is the point in the game (and as a game player in general) where I learned about grinding, although I didn’t call it that at the time.

    I would enter the island dungeon and hit the shield of the Iron Knuckle statue, sometimes getting a blue jar and other times getting an actual Iron Knuckle to pop out. I would then spend hours going in and out, leveling up all the while.

    It doesn’t break the game per se, but it made the challenge a little more surmountable.

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