Sunday, May 31, 2009

VC Look: The Legend of Zelda 2: Adventures of Link

It's hard to say what prompted Adventures of Link to be developed. There were never any sequels in the same vein and most of the gameplay elements it introduced never saw another look in future Nintendo games. People typically refer to this game as the "black sheep" in the series but I see it more as the black sheep of Nintendo's entire library.

Princess Zelda is once again in trouble as she's been put under an eternal sleeping spell. Link takes up his trusty sword and shield to once again save the land from evil by taking six stones to ancient temples in order to reach the final area where the Triforce resides. That's probably not entirely accurate but story just wasn't important at all in the early Zelda games.

First thing you'll notice when you start this game is that it's a side-scroller. Link can jump, duck, strike with his sword, and moves left or right. However as soon as he leaves the initial starting area you discover that there's an overworld map. This is less Zelda and more Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy. Straying off the path of the yellow road monsters appear in sets of three(blobs represent weaker encounters, demons are harder, and fairies are rare). Running into one of them drops Link back in the side-view mode, where he has to make his way to either of the ends of the area while evading/destroying monsters.

If that wasn't enough every foe Link kills doles out experience points. By gaining enough points Link can increase the level of his sword, health, or magic levels. Wait there's magic too? Certainly. Over the course of the game Link visits many towns which all house a wise-man who can teach him a spell. Wait...towns? As in more than one? Sure Link can talk to people for hints as well as restore his health and magic. So needless to say it's definitely a different game from the rest of the series. Link also has stock of a lives and can find additional ones by finding secret areas or gaining enough exp...yep.

Combat is one of the strengths of this game. While it is simplistic in that Link only has his sword & shield(no dozens of sub-weapons to play around with) they are both essential tools for survival. His sword is self-explanatory and due to its lack of range knowing when and where to strike is very important. The shield blocks most any melee attack or projectile but only when Link isn't stabbing with his sword. Both tools are simple to figure out and that's important because they're pretty much all you've got for the entirety of the game.

Spells in Zelda 2 are quite unique. Shield and healing spells improve your chances of survival, jump and fairy(which literally turns Link into a fairy, allowing him to fly up cliffs or through keyholes) assist your progress, Reflect, Thunder, and Spell you'll use once, and Fire(which lets you shoot fireballs to destroy certain enemies) probably won't get any use at all. A better spell would have been one that reveals secret areas on the map but I guess there's no use crying about it. Spells drain magic and by finding potions or leveling up his magic skill he can replenish it.

This brings me to one of the more interesting aspects of Zelda 2. Whenever you level-up you have the option of leveling whatever is currently available, or skipping it and saving the exp for something else. Early on you'll want to focus on leveling your sword so that enemies are easier to take out. However if you're low on life you could always put your next level-up towards health and get a free healing. This might not seem like a big deal but since running out of lives kicks you back to the start of the game(with all of your abilities and items intact of course) it's a tool that shouldn't be ignored. 

The dungeons are an extension of what you've faced in the various random encounters, caves, and so on. Your main focus in each of them is finding the place to set the stone(which is typically right after the boss-battle) and finding the magic item. The magic items serve as little more than "keys" as they're useful only for reaching new areas(like boots that let Link walk on water, a flute that's good for a couple instances, etc). The dungeons are filled with creatures that you won't find out in the wild(like Darknuts that are quite a feat to destroy until you master the jumping attack) and definitely more traps like collapsing bridges, falling blocks, enemies that steal your exp & magic, and so on. After completing a dungeon it turns to stone when you leave, preventing future access. It certainly gives a sense of finality to the whole affair. 

This game is quite challenging. Aside from tough foes the game provides quite a bit of platforming with the requisite "nearby enemies to knock you off into the fire". Aside from that this game can throw some serious endurance tests at you. Early on you have to face Death Mountain which for once lives up to its name by creating a maze of tunnels filled with axe-wielding croc-jerks and fiery pits. Late in the game you have to trudge through a field of what looks like magma. Here your overworld movement speed is slowed down and thus become an easy target for random-encounters(which include more lava to fall in). At least the developers were kind enough to allow players to restart from the final dungeon if they run out of lives in there. Then again considering the final dungeon is quite a bit longer than all of the prior ones it's just as well. Regardless this further confirms the black sheep aspect as for once there's a Zelda that isn't easy to complete.

The greatest aspect of this game is the mechanics. All of the fights are convincing and the recoil when attacks are deflecting is quite well done and can be quite useful when turned to your advantage(like pushing back enemies that are getting too close to create an opening). Furthermore the game doles out a very useful tool early on in the form of the downstab. By pressing down while jumping Link can stab anything below him. This is great for grabbing items, moving quickly past weak foes, and is important when dealing with certain enemies. Also Link has mild-control of his jumping, which allows him some leeway if he accidentally makes a jump that'll land him in some trouble. It seems quite odd that Nintendo didn't even do similar games to this one let alone sequels because it's obvious everything was quite well-designed.

Zelda 2 is quite a popular game with the speedrunning community. For one learning how and when to level-up saves the player from having to grind for experience and by timing their movements on the world map they can avoid running into lots of encounters. Mastering when to level-up can exceptionally important since when you complete a dungeon you're always rewarded just enough exp to gain a level(so for best results you want to gain enough exp when you beat the boss to gain one level, then gain another level when you complete the dungeon). Manipulating this system can make for some interesting results. Also while the items that increase the player's health and magic are quite useful they also can be located a ways off the path. Interestingly enough the magic ones tend to be closer to where you need to go(which is important because you need magic to finish the game, health...well not really since you could just not get hit). Also while it is a risky move since you could potentially get stuck players can use the fairy spell to get through keyholes and thus skip entire sections of dungeons(since they wouldn't need to find a key). It's quite cool that Nintendo would know to implement such features in their games(even if some of them are not entirely intentional like the trick to skip straight to the final area in Metroid) for a small though very dedicated community. 

When I first bought a Wii and accessed the Virtual Console The Legend of Zelda was my first purchase. This game was my second and for good reason because I think it's a very unique and great title. If you ignored it the first time around because you thought all Zeldas should play out in the exact same fashion you would do well to consider rectifying that. 

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