Is that a child in your pocket?
Zelda II is a pretty big departure from the first Zelda in the series. So, kudos to Nintendo for trying to do something different. Unfortunately, “different” isn't synonymous with “good” or even “adequate”.
I'll give the game that had an interesting combat system. Fighting the shielded foes by attacking high and low was a neat idea. Unfortunately it isn't really possible to tell where they will block, so you’ll often find yourself flailing at them.
The leveling system was also not a bad idea. You still had to find heart containers, but you also gained experience and leveled up to gain new spells. The spell system was also decently implemented, but really it just replaced the (superior) item system.
There is decent exploration. Some characters in the towns will give you hints on the locations of special items. There are some side-quests, but they’re usually little more than fetching.
My favourite moment in this game is when you had to find someone’s child. When Link picks the kid up, he does it in classic above-the-head-Zelda-style. “You got someone’s child!”
I’d never have finished Zelda II if it hadn't been for my goal to play though every Zelda game, in their original format, in order of their release. This game is also the reason I’m never going to try that again.
First off, this game has an extremely inconsistent difficulty. Most of the time, the game is far too difficult. It isn't challenging, it’s cheap. Inversely, the boss battles are extremely easy. It appears to me that the difficulty was used to artificially lengthen the adventure. Without the extremely frustrating cheapness, the game would be over and done with rather quickly.
As mentioned earlier, the item collection from the first game has been replaced by learning new spells. This is not only unoriginal; it is also far inferior to the old system. The new random battles are also extremely annoying, as usually they include pester enemies, such as birds.
The Bottom Line
I know there are people who believe this game doesn’t deserve its bad reputation, but it does. Praising it for deviating from the Zelda formula is a little cheap, as there had only been one in the series before it. Guess which style of gameplay they decided to stick with. As it stands, Zelda II is not only a poor Zelda game, but it’s also a BAD game.