-I wanted to give credit to an excellent website, the Let's Play Archive, because as for now I'm unable to take my own screenshots, I'm currently using theirs, because they have a few games that are played through and commented in screenshots form (and it's often really funny). This site is a blast, and I owe them the illustrations in my blog, so let's give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar. (I'm not sure this expression works in english, but it does in french, so I use it anyway...)
-Secondly, I wanted to tell that, even if Zenic already did a playthrough of Zelda II (which I read in february when he wrote it) not so long ago, I chose not to read it again before going on my exploration of said game. The advantage for me is to keep away from any thing that I could have forgotten and go through my own path instead of following his steps. The problem is that, for people who already read his blog, it could mean a few repetitions during this game playthrough. I apologize in advance. It's a good read, though, and comes as heavily recommended (but read mine too ;)
So, back to Zelda II :
|Here, kids, learn a valuable life lesson.|
Time played : 1h30 -- "Return of Ganon" screens : 6 (yep, that's a lot)
I wasn't wrong when I told this game was hard! I died about four times trying to beat the second dungeon... Once again, I think I must be getting old. So far, I've done 2 dungeons and I still have a long way to go. You start in Hyrule's castle, near unconscious princess Zelda (I'm not sure it's the one I saved during my first quest, which is where the "Zelda timeline mess" starts) and have access to two towns (Rauru and Ruto, namely sages of Light and Water in Ocarina of Time)
|We're far from old creepy sword dealers in caves...|
The first impression is exhilarating. You have access to a huge overworld, you see in the first ten minutes more people than in the whole first game, and even are given your first subquest, which is to get a trophy in a cave north of Ruto. The first problem is that you can't see a darn thing in these caves and have to go get the first palace's treasure (namely a candle) in order to progress. So to the first palace we go. Thanks to one of the villagers (and the map in the manual), you know the first palace is in Parapa Desert, which is northeast of the castle. But first, you gain your first magic in the town of Rauru, which is Shield (and it... shields you... when you cast it... yup). Then, to go to the first palace, you have to cross one of these dark caves, where you're guaranteed to get hit by a sneaky beetle hiding in the darkness.
|When I was a kid, I thought it was a glitch of some kind...|
Then you go through the first palace, which is really simple (there even is a map of it in the manual, which is a nice touch) and serves as an introduction. For now, Link is a wimp. He has to hit each enemy numerous times and gets his arse kicked every now and then. The experience system is quite clever. You have three categories to upgrade : Attack, Magic and Life. Each category has 8 levels and each level is more expensive than the one before. As for now, nothing exceptional. What is clever is that each category has different prices. When you attain the required level of XP (let's say 100 for a life uprgrade, for example), the game prompts you with the choice to level up or not. If you don't, you can wait for the next required level (e.g. 200 for an attack upgrade) and change the way your Link evolves. In the end, you'll always have the same character, but the experience system adapts to the moment. Let's say you need a boost of life to kill a boss, you can skip the magic one and wait to have enough experience to buy the life upgrade. And if you lose your three lives (yes, Link has lives now...), you lose all the XP you haven't spend, so sometimes it's a question of taking a risk or playing it safe... It's a really clever system, especially for a 1988 game (this feature was notably absent from the Famicom Disk System version, which was the first one to get released in Japan, where all the levels have the same XP price. It was tweaked when the game was released in other territories).
|And there are still heart containers hidden around (and magic containers as well)|
The combat system is absolutely top notch too. It revolves around the idea of parrying the attacks of your foe, and attack when their guard is down. It too is pretty cutting edge for the time. The controls are really precise as well so even if it gets a while to get used to, you'll be killing huge guys in armor in no time. Which is a good thing, because nearly every enemy in this game is a deadly threat. Flail throwing monsters, knights in armor, jumping skeletons... even your basic everyday slime is a danger when it's dwelling near a lava pit, sending you to your death if you touch it (and it can happen a lot). Add to this a few monsters (usually the nimbler ones) that steal experience when they hit you, and you'll understand how a few places can turn into nightmares.
|These infinitely respawing jumping rats are getting on my nerves...|
But all of this comes to one of my major issues with the game so far, it's that aside from the battles, there is not much to do in the dungeons. You just wander around, occasionally getting lost (graph paper required, even if the first game had an automap, this one doesn't want to take you by the hand) and killing a whole lot of baddies. You won't see a lot of riddles or puzzles around these parts. The game is pleasant, but it's far from the usual Zelda experience... (Granted, when it came out, we didn't know yet what an "usual Zelda experience" was) The same complaint goes for the bosses, that you can usually beat by jumping and hitting them in the head a few times. We'll see if this changes later in the game, but I don't remember a lot of variety in this category...
The first dungeon was a cakewalk, and allowed me to get the candle. The boss, a horse head guy, fell down quite easily and now every cave is lit! Before going back to the towns, I explored a bit and found a heart container south of the first Palace. The otherworld is worth exploring, because you can find a lot of places with hidden secrets : fairies, XP bags, heart or magic containers, extra lives... which is always a good thing in my book.
|North : Hyrule castle. South : the swamp of Youllgetkilledalot.|
So back to the subquest. I mentioned earlier the fact that, in the village of Ruto, one of the villagers asked me to retrieve a stolen trophy. I got the thing back (easier to do when the cave is lit...) and gained another magic, Jump, which allows to... err... jump higher. It allows me to cross the cavern south of town and gain access to a whole new area, including the swamp (where movement is sloooooow) and Death Mountain (labyrinthine nightmare we'll explore next post). In this town, you'll also find a living legend among geeks of this era : a guy just tells you "I am Error". There are numerous theories about how this name came to be (typo from Errol or mistranslation that works in japanese?) but my favorite is this one.
It's time to explore the swamp. The second palace lies here and is a much more difficult place than the first one. Here, the graph paper starts to become mandatory and difficult battles are numerous. Like I said, I died a lot in this place. Each screen holds one or two harsh monsters, you have crumbling bridges, crumbling ceilings, and the boss is really much more difficult than the first one. Thanks to the experience system, though, every attempt of beating this place resulted in one level gained and my Link has become increasingly tougher, allowing me to finally beat it. Another huge difference with the other Zelda games is that, when you beat a boss, you don't gain a heart container, but a whole level of experience. It's another strategic point : you don't want to go kill the boss if you're close to getting a new level, because it would be wasting a lot of XP. I realize now that this game doesn't have a economic system, and it's the only game where rupees don't exist. I guess XP act as a replacement currency.
|This guy is the definition of an Internet meme.|
|Swamp Palace Boss : two flying helmets throw fire at you while you desperately try to hit him in the head.|
The Second Palace treasure is the Glove, which allows you to destroy blocks every now and then, once again gaining access to new areas (only in dungeons). So I'm two dungeons down now, and it's time to explore the southern area of Hyrule, which holds the ominous Death Mountain. But enough rambling around (it's been a long post already) and I'll tell you all about it in my next post.