Will last you a long time
The world is a lot smaller compared to the first Zelda game and I appreciated that. The world is a lot smaller, but also has more detail. The original had an impressive size, but everything just looked the same with only a few changes per screen. Here the screens have been removed and you just walk around Hyrule's areas, There are; swamps, forests, mountain and of course water. I'd say that sacrificing size for detail is a good thing, especially if the world is still quite huge afterwards.
The gameplay is a lot faster compared to the original Zelda, not only do you walk faster, but the fights are also a lot faster and harder. You have to duck, jump and stab in order to kill your opponent. Later on you also discover magic spells and new moves that make the fights even bigger and of course you run into new enemies with different tactics. Nearing the end of the game, each screen I left without taking damage felt just like beating the final boss.
The game has a nice balance between puzzles and fighting, for me at least, which means barely any puzzles and a lot of fighting. The only "puzzles" you do encounter are the temples which are very hard to navigate through and some areas like Death Mountain. This is the NES, so you can't really demand anything else. There are still a lot of secrets to find though and some are mandatory if you want to progress through the story.
The fact that Hyrule is at war is emphasized more in this game, in the original Zelda there weren't any villages or soldiers or anything else to give you the impression you were really saving something. The people in Zelda II beg for help when you talk to them and the soldiers try to help you by teaching you new moves. It's sad that Nintendo didn't keep using this because it's really nice to have the feeling you are doing something worth doing, Zelda games are still pretty awesome, but why say no to even more atmosphere?
The overall story is a little bit more original than in the first Zelda. In the first Zelda game all you had to do was save the princess from her captor, which wasn't really the best story ever written. Here you are trying to find the Triforce in order to wake up a Princess from a very long time ago. It's still not the most amazing story, but certainly an upgrade. Also nice is that you no longer play as a kid, but as an older Link, this way the evil that threatens to take over the kingdom seems just a little bit more threatening.
The difficulty curve is all over the place, you start of pretty easy, aside from having to go through a tunnel which requires you to have the item you'll find in the temple on the other side, but after that there is a giant peak in the middle. After that peak (Death Mountain) it becomes easier again. The final boss is very hard, but it doesn't beat Death Mountain. A lot of people may not even make it to Death Mountain, so if you are planning to play through this, I wish you good luck.
It's you against an army of enemies and if you die three times, you are sent back to the start of the game. This is very annoying because it doesn't make the game harder at all, you just go back to what you were doing with fresh health. In the original Zelda you would just respawn at the start of the dungeon if you died, that was a good way to punish me for dying, this however is way too cruel. It's also a problem that the extra lives you find do not return after you picked them up, so if you die, that live is lost forever.
The Bottom Line
Zelda 2 is (one of) my favorite Zelda game(s) out there and for good reasons; the action is fast, the story is better and the puzzles are do-able. Aside from an unreasonably difficulty curve and some weird choices regarding lives, this is a very good game.
However the difficulty is still too much to ignore, so I have to warn people that unless they truly want to play this and know it is very hard, they might want to stay away from it. It's never fun to buy a game and feel like it wants to punish you for playing it, so if you don't want to put up with that, you might want to stick to the (not as hard) Legend of Zelda.