Top 100 Retro Games List: Zelda II The Adventure of Link

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
Nintendo Entertainment System

On Retronauts a while back, someone argued that this game wastes your time a lot. I strongly agree. Given that The Legend of Zelda might be the best video game ever, obviously, it will be difficult to follow up with something as good. The time-wasting this game does frustrate me as a kid and in my most recent play through did as well.

In the realization that, as an adult, so many NES sequels went in different directions than their predecessors, some of the choices made for Zelda II make more sense. The game is a side-scroller, which really threw me off after getting used to the overhead view of the Legend of Zelda. I am pretty certain this was the first game I ever had to grind in, although I do not think I would have used that term for another year or two.

The hype on Zelda II was unbelievable. Due to the “chip shortage” at the time, the game got delayed a few times. Occasionally, I remember Nintendo Power running some screenshots and reassuring readers that the game would be coming soon. Finally, the game did come out I got it, I think, for my birthday. I think. My parents do not remember, but I definitely played Zelda II during the school year, as we will discuss in a few minutes.

While I ended up not, even back then, liking Zelda II, it did emphasize just how good Legend of Zelda really was! Zelda II certainly did not inspire me to run around in the woods pretending I was fighting alongside Link, that is for sure.

Sometime that spring, I got Zelda II. It was definitely during the school year for reasons I will explain in a minute. I struggled through the first few dungeons in the game. The first was not too bad, but the second was something I barely scraped by after many tries. The march through the mountains seemed needlessly difficult and having to go back to where Zelda, this other Zelda, not MY Zelda, slept caused my first-ever toss of a controller across a room. I could not believe what they had done to my beloved Legend of Zelda.

A few particularly insufferable issues with this game that I remember from back then come to mind: The run to get the hammer is so frustrating. Having to go back to the beginning of the game after losing all your lives killed any joy I had for the game quickly. The farther you got in the game, the more agonizing it was to have to go back to the beginning. I realize now that Zelda II is not a HUGE game, but it still seemed pretty big to me as a kid.

As Retronauts argued in their episode about Zelda II, this game wastes your time over and over again. The first Zelda game also made you go back to the beginning when you died, but the game play was so good that I was always fine to come back for more. I got sick of Zelda II rather quickly and was bummed to see it continually be highly ranked in Nintendo Power.

Hey, does anyone know if those Nintendo Power Top 30’s were based on real votes or “kayfabe only?”

That year, I had made two new friends in science class. I made another friend, but he mostly just stole baseball cards from me. Anyway….these two new friends were really, really, good at video games. They offered to get me to the final level of Zelda II and even said they would write up a brief guide to how to beat the final boss. I brought my game in the next day and we made a clandestine trade of games during class. Our teacher HATED video games. I think she was one of those PMRC types looking back. I wish I could remember what game I borrowed, but it might have been Dragon Power?

Around dinner time, I called their house. One of them picked up and said they had just finished getting me to the final area of the game. I honestly thought he was screwing with me, but when I got the game back the next day and went home, I was there and ready to go. With a bit of help from another friend, I beat Zelda II that weekend and did not think about it again for a really long time.

So the plot of Zelda II goes something like this: Link is a little older now. Another princess named Zelda must be saved, this time from eternal slumber. There is a third Triforce, the Triforce of Courage, and Link must travel to six palaces to set crystals into place.

I just realized that is kind of like having to find the pieces of Dracula in Simon’s Quest. Huh.

Anyway…Ganon’s followers are also attempting to revive him. Link’s blood sprinkled on his ashes will do the job.

Where is the first, er, most recent, I guess, Zelda during the events of this game?

Zelda II was also on the cover of issue #4 of Nintendo Power. The cartoon drawing of Link looked so cool to me back then. I loved the style of it and would not realize how influenced by 1980s anime it was until well into the next decade.

A 2010 feature in Retro Gamer Magazine also noted that “[Zelda II] may contrast nearly all the rest of the Zelda series in terms of looks and gameplay but that doesn’t make it a bad game…it is quite ahead of it’s time for an 8-bit game…”

Something Jeremy Parish notes in his excellent NES Works video about the game is that the top down overworld was probably inspired by Dragon Quest. I had never thought about it that way until his video came out.


For this play through of Zelda II, I went through the game on the 3DS. I find this system to be so ideal for retro games like this. I can sit on the couch, in bed, or waiting at the doctors office and advance through the game at my own pace. The save states on the 3DS were an added bonus because, as mentioned earlier, this game wastes your time a lot. Being able to quick save…um…saved me a lot of time that would have otherwise have been wasted backtracking through the game to get to where I was beforehand. Zelda II is not an especially huge game, but nevertheless I have no time for that nonsense.

My most recent play through of the game confirmed a lot of my previous views of it. The bottom line that this game is a huge time waster is so true. I did like, with the RPG knowledge of an adult, knowing I could hack the leveling system a bit to get the highest attack rating pretty early in the game, which makes so of the more obnoxiously hard battles in the game easier.

The way the game bounces between easy and breezy to brutally hard at random times doesn’t fit really well with a side scroller. Modern open world games often do this much more diplomatically than the arbitrary brutality of this game.

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