In every town, Link meets a woman of the oldest profession eager to invite him inside...
...and leaves with his life refilled.
Players who give Zelda 2 an honest playthrough without enjoying it are most often exhibiting a distaste for the platform battle genre in which it holds a place. While the overhead view and item-based gameplay of the original Legend of Zelda would reappear in later titles, Zelda 2’s stand-and-crouch swordfighting battle system is more easily relegated alongside 8-bit staples like Contra, Castlevania, and Journey to Silius. Zelda 2 is meant for those desiring this kind of action experience that relies heavily on skill, though I rank it above these other games for its complexity and focus on exploration. These skill-based action-adventures haven’t fared well in the 3-D era, and players are often shocked to find this style of gameplay counted as canon with Link’s Awakening and Ocarina of Time, whose gameplay has had more longevity for present-day players.
|Too bad you can't throw some holy water at him.|
The idea of a sequel radically transforming the original game was prevalent in other early NES franchises before they became franchises. Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest notoriously took its side-scrolling predecessor and added an enormous world-map, weapon selection, non-player characters, and infuriatingly obscure puzzles, transforming a linear action game into an open-ended adventure. Super Mario Bros. 2 (originally released as the non-Mario Doki Doki Panic in Japan) eschewed Goombas and fire flowers in favor of Shyguys and vegetables, while the original Super Mario 2 (The Lost Levels on the SNES) was condemned in Japan for using the same graphics and being too similar to its predecessor. In both cases, the third game retained the formula of the original and helped cement that formula in the gaming consciousness, but no one could have predicted this at the time. How different would our view of Mario be if Nintendo had continued to produce games where POWs clear a screen of enemies, potions create doors to shadow worlds, and jumping on enemies produces no effect? These principles would have become associated with the Mario series, making the original Super Mario Bros. the anomaly.
|Imagine if Super Mario World looked more like this.|
Instead of viewing Zelda 2 as a series mismatch or an outdated curiosity, players should enjoy it for what it does well. The leveling system is neither too easy, nor does it require a lot of farming, and it encourages players to master the battle system in preparation for later challenges. Link’s spells are fun, useful in battle, and take the place of the item-based challenges found in later games. Completing the dungeons requires solving puzzles unique to the game’s design (for example, falling into a pit and transforming into a fairy to reach a higher path). Maze Island and Death Mountain push the limits of the overhead scenes by making it difficult simply to get from one place to another. And that last boss is still damned hard.
Don’t judge Zelda 2 for being different than what you expect; judge it as its own unique experience. Those who don’t will miss out on something that can't be counted as spectacular, but is still very good.
Or you can be like this reviewer, who calls it the best Zelda game ever.