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SummaryDifferent. And excellent
The GoodZelda II enraged many fans by being different from its famed predecessor. I seem to be in a minority that loves the original game as well as its controversial sequel. While the experimental Zelda II may lack the sheer perfection of the first game, it makes up for it in wealth and finesse of gameplay.
Unlike the previous game, Zelda II is a true RPG. It has experience points and player-controlled character growth. In many games (especially modern ones) RPG elements are reduced to a mere fashionable gimmick. Not so in Zelda II. The RPG system is an integral part of the gameplay, and character growth is particularly important to prevent the player from falling victim to the game's relentless difficulty. Furthermore, unlike most other Japanese RPGs, you can actually choose which stat to increase when you level up, gaining even more control and flexibility as you advance through the game.
RPG elements go beyond the simple, yet very effective manual attribute-increasing. The world of Zelda II is noticeably more varied than the giant overhead dungeon that the first game was comprised of. There is a top-down overworld, semi-random battles, side-scrolling dungeons, places of interest, and towns. The inclusion of populated areas adds a lot of depth to the game, making it the first Zelda set in a coherent world where people existed for reasons other than killing you or selling you equipment.
The dungeons are extremely challenging, but the satisfaction that sweeps you after you have completed one is immense. Each dungeon has new enemies, bosses, and unique items needed to uncover more of the game's vast world. Just like the first Zelda, the game evokes your curiosity by presenting clearly visible areas that you nevertheless cannot access, and then makes it your task to find out how and where you might be able to acquire the items necessary to open them.
Combat system is much more detailed and elaborate than the simple hack-and-slash of the previous game. Combat in the first Zelda was probably as good as it got at the time, but the limitations of the overhead perspective did not allow that much variation. Zelda II has, hands down, one of the most interesting, varied, and challenging combat systems of its time. The enemies are surprisingly intelligent and require actual thought to defeat. You won't get anywhere just by mashing the attack button. Learning and perfecting combinations of stabbing, retreating, blocking, and jumping is essential if you want to emerge victorious from those fast and furious skirmishes. In addition, there is also an array of magic spells that will make your life significantly easier when applied properly.
Zelda II may look and feel different from its predecessor in many ways, but in its core, it is rooted in the same design principles that made the entire series so popular. Balance of exploration, combat, and problem-solving is present here as much as in other installments, and the addition of RPG elements adds even more depth to the already successful mixture. Zelda II is expertly designed and sustains the player's interest at all times thanks to its rich and rewarding gameplay.
The BadWhether being a side-scrolling RPG rather than a top-down action game is a flaw or not is highly debatable. However, the game's transition to a full-fledged role-playing game was not flawless. A RPG could have certainly used a heavier weapon and armor management, and some of the system's quirks are hard to understand. Why would anyone conceive enemies that detract from your character's experience points? Who came up with that vile, incomprehensible idea?
Those weirdos are not the only thing that will make you pull your hair out in frustration more often than not. Zelda II is in every aspect much tougher than the original game. The difficulty level is high to the point of being nearly unfair. Some of the dungeons are complex and populated by maddening enemies that will decimate you if you make a wrong step. Force-leveling almost becomes a requirement if you are willing to make it through the game.
The difficulty is further emphasized by the fact that you lose your experience points upon dying and can only retain them if you save the game. Basically, this requires you to commit suicide and restart from the initial location if you want to save your progress. This wouldn't be so bad if the game's dungeons weren't so far apart and separated by pesky overworld enemies that gang up on you when all you want is just pass through. It does get better after you acquire the hammer; unfortunately, one of the hardest dungeons must be completed before you get it.