Top 100 NES Review: #25 – Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (1988)

No Safe Spaces Allowed.

This game should be renamed to Zelda II: The Adventure of Microaggressions.

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Sydlexia’s Ranking: #25/100
My Rating:smooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-star

I just listened to a podcast with Joe Rogan and Jonathan Haidt. The topic was the culture of college campuses and the creation safe zones — places where you are free from discomfort. Haidt, a psychologist, thinks this is creating fragile personalities, ones that can not withstand the stresses of living in a functioning society when these students enter post-college life.

When looking at other reviews for this game, I saw people saying Zelda II is too hard, unfair, confusing, petty, cruel, and cheap. Was it this same sanctuary attitude churning out gamers unwilling to be challenged? I decided to play this game guide free* to see if the standards were truly unreasonable.**

* It didn’t happen.
**They were. 

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Soak up this scene — you’ll be seeing it every time you die.


A sequel to The Legend of Zelda, Zelda II takes place years after the original. Link’s hand begins to illuminate with the crest of Hyrule so he sees some old lady about it who mentions a door that has been locked for generations. Somehow, Link’s hand unlocks this door, and behind it is the sleeping Zelda (but not the same Zelda from the first game). He learns of the Legend of Zelda and the need to place six crystals in palaces to open up the way to obtain the Triforce of courage. Only this can awaken her from her slumber.

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The first attempt at artificial intelligence in the Zelda series.


People like to trash this game on two fronts: 1) For being different than every other Zelda, as it is a side-scroller with RPG elements; 2) For being a cruel, cruel adventure that is too opaque to enjoy.

The Format.

The side-scrolling aspects of this game are amazing. It is surprising how much exciting gameplay they were able to squeeze out of it. Every new enemy had a learning curve where over a trial-and-error time period you could have the gratification of obtaining mastery. There are new abilities and skills that you learn over time, and they too will be quickly incorporated into your strategy when having to clear dungeons.

The RPG elements were also a welcome addition; with every defeated enemy, experience points would accumulate that you could use on life, strength, or magic. While that format runs the risk of requiring grinding to continue the game, that never was a problem with Zelda II. The map has much to explore so you get the levels that you need if you are willing to go off the beaten path looking for treasure.

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While originally there was some strategy of which power up you chose or held out for, it eventually became good practice to just accept what you could due to losing all experience points upon death.

The Cruel World of Zelda II.

Things started out so well.

Everything about this game was quickly intuitive. Even though you were dropped off in this top-down map with no direction of where to go, after exploring some of your surroundings, talking to towns folks, and trying a few things, you get the hang of what you are supposed to do. The first half of the game is immensely joyful. I knew I needed to find that hammer to progress, and after a long, tortuous journey through the mountains, I came upon it with emphatic joy.

My experience had reinforced my view that every review of this game was done by a bunch of whiney, entitled gamers unable to problem solve for more than five minutes without getting frustrated. Wait for it. 

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My highpoint of Zelda II.

There is a theory of graded exposure in psychology. For example, if you have a fear of large social gatherings you start slowly by having coffee with a couple friends, and once the person can handle that interaction, you increase the task to include more people.  Zelda II does a good job of this for dungeons 1-4, but then decides to take the person afraid of social interactions and drops them in a football stadium.

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Hidden is an understatement.

Let me describe a cluster of middle-fingers that Zelda II gave to me consecutively: I was immediately killed upon entering a town by invisible creatures; I fell into the water for instant death multiple times traversing a bridge due to cheap enemy placement; the hint to save a child from the island fell on death ears as I was on the wrong island. I was lost, confused, and dying frequently; the game went from hard to dumb.

After meandering for an hour or so, I gave in. I was stumped on every front and dying in the cheapest of ways. I needed to find out where this town was in the forest to the east. I scoured every bit of land, and found every secret imaginable (experience points, a heart container, an extra life) but no town. Looking at the guide it came to my attention that you could cut the forest down…with your hammer? 

Now I was no longer able to obtain spells in towns, a crucial part of continuing the game. After another period of aimless attempts, I broke down and looked up the answer: you need to discover all the hidden magic containers to get all the spells. These could be hidden any where, and after learning that you could cut down trees WITH A HAMMER, what other inscrutable puzzle might make it impossible to continue?

The floodgates opened. If there was any hope of completing this game in a reasonable amount of time, I was going to have to use a guide.

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You might be able to walk on water like Jesus, but you’ll need his divine intervention if you hope to solve these puzzles on your own.


Zelda II is a character building exercise that I bailed on. What I thought would be a counter to those who said it was unjustly cruel ended up being bolstered by my experience. The sense of adventure and reward is strong for a good part of this game, and the side-scrolling/RPG elements make it worthwhile to play. Just realize those protesting it’s difficulty aren’t entitled millennials wanting to avoid discomfort — Zelda II is truly unfair.

Other People’s Takes:

  • Games That I Play: “While some people may have hated Zelda 2’s change in perspective, its still a gem of a game for the NES. If you give it a chance you will find it challenging, rewarding and fun. Give it a shot.”
  • Gaming History 101Despite this title having a save feature, any attempt on that final dungeon will surely be 1-2 hours, all of which will be lost upon the game over screen.  Until this point, the game is completely doable…”
  • Krysix Reviews Games and Such: “In the end, I can only recommend Zelda II: The Adventure of Link to the most masochistic of gamers, ultra die-hard Zelda fans, and people who want to prove something by beating one of the hardest games ever.”


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