How Legend of Zelda 2 broke my heart forever

Legend of Zelda II box graphic

Look at it, in all its shimmering glory.

You know what? Legend of Zelda II gets a lot of hate. Lots and lots, in fact. And you know what? It’s pretty stupid hate.

Two major complaints have been leveled against the series over the years; firstly, that it’s a side scroller, and secondly, that it bears little resemblance to its predecessor, with very few of the items or other factors making an appearance. It mostly appears to be an entirely different game, merely with Link and Zelda coincidentally happening to make appearances.

Okay, fair enough. It was a different game. And although it makes sense that you’d want a game to have enough in common with previous versions that it feels familiar, is this really the progressive outlook you’d want for a video game series?

I would argue that one of the critical weaknesses of the Legend of Zelda series is that after a while, they’re all the same. You get the boomerang, the bow, the hookshot, the Triforce, the fancy boots, and defeat Ganon. After repeating this pattern 20 times, each game is basically a copy of the previous edition, but with better graphics.

This is why I actually appreciate the fact that Nintendo has taken certain stylistic chances with the series. It followed up Ocarina of Time with Majora’s Mask, which was a much darker game that played itself out in far smaller world, rather than being the vast, expansive, swashbuckling adventure game we had all come to know and love.

Wind Waker, often the most derided in the series, is often criticized for being too childlike. But if they had made it more adult-oriented, you’d just get Ocarina of Time. Why bother making the same game all over again when the hardware wasn’t particularly revolutionary and wouldn’t have provided a significant difference to the experience? It would just be yet another Ocarina relatively soon after the previous one.

Twilight Princess, then, is more or less the spiritual successor to Ocarina of Time, in that it’s an adult-oriented, “normal” Legend of Zelda game that makes no attempts at distinctive visual style aside from embracing the most realistic graphics the hardware could handle. But I wouldn’t call it repetitive at this point, because the hardware had advanced enough to provide increased graphics capability sufficient to change the experience, and the tone was darker than previous editions, and thus was something of a departure. Sure, it was very adult, but that’s because the Wind Waker had been very kid-friendly. These moves allowed Zelda fans of all ages to enjoy the games, particularly in the specific cases of cross-platform compatibility. You could have your childish Zelda or your adult Zelda. Take your pick.

Legend of Zelda II screenshot

Way to give me NO EXPERIENCE, ya lil bastards!

As for Legend of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, it had to be a departure from the previous edition. On the original Nintendo system, there wasn’t much you could do besides overhead or side-scroller, and if they already did the overhead, well, there’s nothing left to do but a side-scroller. There was nowhere for them to go in terms of graphics improvements, so there was no point. They made a change that made a totally different game, and one that was a whole lot of goddamn fun.

And besides, is side-scrolling really the “wrong” way to play a Zelda game? Think about Ocarina of Time, and its 3D graphics. Are those 3D graphics closer to overhead 2D, or side-scrolling 2D? I would argue it’s equal. In either case, it’s just one step away. Overhead Zelda games were merely an attempt to make a playable game, and they cut out height to do so. The same is true of side-scrolling games, and they cut out depth to do so.

Nobody ever points to the NES and SNES Super Mario Brothers games and says “ugh, fuckin’ side-scrollers, that’s totally not in the spirit of what the game is about now!” But the fact that Mario games are now 3D makes them as far removed from any type of 2D, as is the case with 3D Zelda games having left 2D far behind, despite the fact that most fans still think of the overhead view as more “legitimate,” even though a fully 3D experience is no closer to overhead view than it is to a side-scroller.

But why all the defense? Well, I want my betrayal at the hands of Zelda II to be the most obvious. I loved this game. More than the overhead original, in fact. It was fun. I loved the more active combat, which felt far more fluid and visceral, and made me feel like I was participating far more closely than lesser games whose controls are so bad that you feel detached from the action. Playing Zelda II was a goddamn pleasure.

And I got all the way to the end of the game, right at the point you fight that big gigantic Phoenix thing.

Legend of Zelda II screenshot

I can hear the music now…

And I died.

About a million times.

But I persevered. I kept fighting that bastard as well as my 10 years of age could handle, trekking through the palace over and over again in an attempt to defeat the damn thing, never giving up in my task of setting out to complete what I started.

And then it erased my game.

And I died. On the inside.

It was painful…just downright excruciating…to start over from scratch. No downward sword strike? How was I expected to enjoy the game if I couldn’t bounce on the heads of enemies to get by them?!?!

I set the game aside for many years, too hurt from my trauma to try again.

But then, one day, when the tears had faded, I began anew. No longer were my previous torments present, destroying my ability to play the game. No longer did I get annoyed that I didn’t have whatever special ability, since I was starting from scratch and could accept the limitations as the trajectory of the game. It was all good. And I defeated each and every foe that dared cross my path, in a rocket-like burst up to the heavens of video game conquest, maxing out every stat like the glorious hero I knew myself to be.

I got all the way to the end.

And then it erased my game. Again.

I have never, ever tried seriously to play this game again. The hurt is too great. No ROM emulators for me. The memories are too painful. Never shall I be capable of playing this game again, nor enjoying its memory. My heart…nay, my spirit…has been permanently broken.

I may never love another Zelda game again.


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