So this is what Zelda fans had waited for after the 8-bit masterpiece that was the original "Legend of Zelda" for the NES. Instead of building on the game that had gained such critical acclaim as "Good game" and "Yeah, I'd buy that", Nintendo took a left turn into a seedy-looking dark alleyway and opted to create something completely different and unique from the things that made its predecessor so gamer-friendly. Gone is the general top-down point of view, gone is the searching for superior swords, and gone is everyone's favourite porcine villain. Instead, we get a completely different product that is, even today, seen as the black sheep of the series. But is it really bad? Let's take a look.
The story goes that soon after Link first defeated Ganon (or "Gannon", depending on which game you chose to consult), that strange Triforce mark has just randomly decided to appear on his hand. That's cheaper than a tattoo, but it would worry even the most soothed of minds. So he asks Impa, the great and utterly wise old woman, to tell him what the heck's going on with that strange marking. She kind of avoids that question by rambling on about a legend. Anyway, it turns out that a nasty ticked-off wizard had placed a spell on Princess Zelda, luring her into eternal slumber. So she'll be napping for a while, but alas! There is hope! Impa gives Link six crystals with some sort of magical power; if he inserts them into statues around Hyrule, he can open the path to the Triforce of Courage, an item which, besides being particularly nifty to gawk at, can help break the aforementioned spell. There's more to it, but that's pretty much all the average player needs to be concerned about while playing. Heck, they probably don't even need to know half of this.
If you've played the original, you know what it's like. But this isn't about the original Legend of Zelda game, oh no. It's about the complete twist that the series decided to take with this game. Instead of a similar game to the first (which would have still sold well), the great and legendary game designer Shigeru Miyamoto opted for a side-scrolling action-RPG style game that was certainly somewhat original for its time. Link will still have to go around the overworld (which now has its own map for Link to travel upon) in search of items, lost Heart Containers, and palaces within which to find items and to place the aforementioned six crystals. Cool enough. While the main map is also a top-down point of view similar to that of the original Legend of Zelda, any and all true action sequences take place on a 2D plane as a common side-scrolling view.
So here's the deal: if you follow the yellow paths in the game, you'll be safe to wander freely. However, wander off upon another terrain though, and you're asking for trouble -- little black enemy icons will come and chase you! If you're caught, you'll be forced into an action scene where you might fight your way out to the west or east until you make it out of that action area. Of course, the enemies will be after you. (Boy, doesn't this just sound so unique.) Defeating enemies gives you experience that can be cashed in for upgrades in magic ability, sword power, or health meter increases. That's the RPG aspect right there. Now, one particularly irksome aspect of the game is that Link's sword is this tiny little nub. You practically have to rub up against an enemy to hurt it. The sword should have been longer (or at least upgradable so that a longer one could be attained). At least they didn't exclude the firing sword ability when Link is at full health, but the projectiles don't travel very far, nor are they effective against more powerful enemies (basically any enemy that isn't small and round, pretty much). This is the battle system they chose; it's not absolutely dreadful, but sometimes I felt disadvantaged with my diminuitive sword against rough armoured evil spirits from the depths! Aiii! But fear not, for you can take refuge in various towns to refill your health and magic meters, as well as talk to the more dimwitted of characters who are simply there for your amusement. By the way, many of the town names are used as character names in Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for the Nintendo 64. How's that for a fun fact?
Another new feature in this game is the implementation of magic spells, something new to the series at this point (and not really used much thereafter). With a rather limited magic meter at the top of the screen (which seems to get used up far too quickly for my taste), Link can gain the ability to cast a variety of spells, which are learned from old men in towns. Such spells include "SHIELD" to cut down on the damage taken from enemy attacks, "FIRE" which lets you shoot fireballs, and "FAIRY" which transforms Link into a fairy so that he can fly around with ease and even slip through keyholes in locked doors in palaces! Unfortunately, once you go from one small area of a palace to the next (requiring a screen transition), the spell wears off. And that just stinks. It's wasteful, and magic decanters to help re-fill your meter are not exactly the most available item in the game.
The graphics are certainly a step up from the previous fare. Granted, the overworld map still is blocky, but that's to be expected on a machine such as the beloved NES. The side-scrolling views are details with more upclose, larger character sprites. The backgrounds in the game usually leave something to be desired, as they are often unicoloured and seem far too frugal. Most non-playable characters and enemies seem to have only two frames of animation, but at least Link can be in a variety of poses (although the pose he makes when he collects an important item and holds it in the air seems rather odd, as it is the only time we see a full frontal view of him, and he seems to have a strong Samus Aran shape to him... weird). Meanwhile, the music in the game is NOT particularly reminiscent of the first game. The overworld theme is different, and all BGM tunes are new. This isn't a bad thing, as some of them are nice and catchy, including the common town theme which gives a homestyle feel to the surroundings. And the palace theme song sounds just as evil as in the previous iteration in the series. The sound effects also serve their purpose (and some you simply cannot get out of your mind, such as the drudging sound Link makes as he walks through the gooey swamp water).
This definitely feels like the black sheep of the Zelda series -- it is the only game with experience points, the ability to learn and cast spells (as far as I know, although it's not the only game with a magic meter), and it's the only game that focuses so heavily on side-scrolling combat (occasionally, Link's Awakening for Game Boy delves into this territory, but only on specific occasions). I would also say that this is not a Zelda game for the faint-hearted or for those without decent hand-eye coordination. The difficulty level of this game is rather high, so with the exception of the prodigy child, children will likely be unable to complete this game. Leave it to the older crowd (me, the twenty-two year old who still has difficulty with even the most basic of controller functions) to finish this crazy adventure. Still, regardless of the stigma that this game has endured over the years, there is still much fun to be had with it. "Zelda II: Adventure of Link" has unfortunately been overshadowed by future Zelda titles which have boasted a much more positive overlook from fans, but it's still nothing that should be shoved into the oblivion of a gamer's library. Try it out for yourself!