Hello all! Last week, I wrote about a fantastic 3DS sequel to an NES classic.

This week, I’m writing about an entry in my favorite series. An entry that’s usually singled out as the worst, or at least, the most different.

You know, they’re not really kidding around with that “ultimate challenge” bit.

So. Zelda II is the only other NES game in the entire Zelda franchise and, made obvious by the title, only the second game in the series. Once again, you play as Link, and once again, you must rescue Zelda, who this time around has been put to sleep due to a spell. So Link sets out to place six crystals in six palaces in order to get the Triforce of Courage to wake up Zelda.

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Easier said than done, because Zelda II is known for being difficult. I myself could never finish the game as a kid. I didn’t actually beat the entire thing until a couple years ago (although I did a playthrough today as well).

These guys still suck, though.

Zelda II is considered, like I said earlier, the “black sheep” of the Zelda series because of it’s general shedding of what would later be considered traditional Zelda elements. Keep in mind, again, at this point in time, there were only two Zelda games, so “breaking tradition” makes little sense here.

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Nevertheless, the game’s differences become apparent as soon as you press start. Most of your time is spent playing a weird side-scrolling Zelda. Gone is the overhead view from the first game. Oh, and you can jump. Jump! Blasphemy! There’s also the RPG elements, which would appear here and never again. The game keeps it simple; kill enemies, get experience points, and spend them leveling either your health, attack power, or magic. It’s simple even for its time, and you won’t spend time making a unique build or anything like that.

Speaking of magic: magic spells are a giant part of the game. Through wizards found in various towns, Link gains a variety of spells, allowing him to raise his defense, jump stupidly high, heal, turn into a fairy, etc. You also gain new attacks in the form of upward and downward stabs, which are useful here as much as they are in Smash Bros.

So, just from reading all that, it’s clear Zelda II is different. Probably too different, according to some fans. And yet, future Zelda games would be inspired more by this title than the first game.

There’s still overhead bits, but they’re just for travel.

First things first: Link gains new abilities throughout the game. It seems like that’s not a big deal, but remember that Link didn’t really evolve in the first game, save for a couple of stronger swords and better armor. Here, though, you learn new techniques and abilities, which would later become a mainstay of the series (Ocarina’s spells and spin attack, learning moves from the Hero’s Shade in Twilight Princess, etc.). Link gaining power became part of that tradition I mentioned earlier, and it started here.

Next, the towns. Zelda II was the first to incorporate towns and NPC’s in the world. Not the first game to do this, of course, but the first Zelda game. As an aside, what’s great about the towns here is the names: they all have the same names as the sages in Ocarina of Time. Which is awesome for fans that pay attention, and even better for people who read the timeline and found this game takes place in the “Link dies” timeline after Ocarina. I also enjoy the idea of multiple towns dotting the map, which is something Zelda games sometimes don’t do.

Plus, Zelda II has this guy, and that’s just great.

There’s also the story, which was a little muddled due to the limitations of the NES, but I still found it interesting that the plot doesn’t focus on Ganon...not exactly, anyway. The enemies of the game are trying to resurrect Ganon, but he never makes a real appearance in the game. The “enemy” here, aside from Ganon’s forces, is more or less Hyrule itself. The last boss is Dark Link, in fact. (And the first appearance of Dark Link, too!)

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Finally, there’s the steep challenge of Zelda II. Most Zelda games, this being one of the most well-crafted series ever (yes, I am biased, but prove me wrong), usually have a “just right” level of difficulty, with some games leaning just a bit further towards easy than tough. Zelda II is notorious for being brutal. But when I beat it for the first time...well, I’m not gonna tell you the game is easy. Far from it. But, aside from a few cheeky parts, the game is generally fair, if tough. Zelda II does have a difficulty curve, but it increases quite rapidly, much more so than the first game; I touched on the unique difficulty curve of the first game here.

There are some uneven, frustrating moments, like the Iron Knuckle enemies from the first screenshot up there, or the boss battles, which require more strategy than the first game (and hey, would go on to inspire the strategic boss battles of later Zelda games), but they can be annoying. Dark Link in particular is a frustrating end to the game. But generally speaking, although the game is tough, it’s nothing you can’t handle if you just play carefully. Take full advantage of Link’s shield and moveset, and you’ll be fine.

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I guess I like Zelda II because of its differences. Because it’s so influential on the rest of the series, when you think about it. Because it’s not the worst Zelda game, and even if it were, the series is so awesome that even the worst game is still good. Go replay this, and you’ll see what I’m getting at here. Or replay any Zelda, because all these games are damn-near perfect.

Oh, also: the Temple Theme is fantastic.

Thanks for reading my stuff! As always, leave comments, suggest future games to be featured as Game of the Week, and find me on Twitter! Also, catch up with my (currently on hiatus) other article series here!

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Next week, Star Wars Day hits (the day before these articles drop...) so let’s look at a Star Wars title. I haven’t quite decided which one, so vote for one in the comments, and I’ll see what I can do :)