The Zelda Project: The Adventure of Link

The Adventure of Link is the second of the two Zelda titles released for the NES and it’s fucking awful. It was released in North America in 1988, much to the dismay of people who liked good video games.

I mentioned in my last post a feeling of guilt over never having finished TAoL, but now I can finally put that to rest. After several weeks of work and what felt like a lifetime of misery, I will never have to play that abomination of a game again.

I don’t remember why I didn’t finish TAoL. I’ve been trying to. I think the core reason is probably that it was too damn hard but I think that may have been coupled with having rented it. I know I went through a period of my childhood where I rented games quite frequently, and then failed to return them for way too long, ending up paying as much in late fees as I would have to have bought the game. My financial acumen shined even in those days.

I always felt guilty for not finishing it because I feel like having finished the Zelda games is something I need in my pocket. I feel like these games were formative for me, but not being able to definitively say I’ve completed them all seems like cheating. That is a big part of the reason for this project, and finishing Zelda 2 was one of the major goals of this project.

Zelda 2, as I said is awful. It’s awful because it’s completely punishing and unforgiving. You get three lives and as many continues as you want. Chances to recharge your health bar are very few and far between and when your three lives are out you continue from the beginning of the game. That doesn’t sound so bad until you realize that this even happens in the dungeons. In Zelda 1, if you were in a dungeon when you died, when you continued you continued from the start of the dungeon. In Zelda 2, often times just getting to the dungeon is a life losing exercise. You might lose one or two lives getting there and then you have to fight all the way through the dungeon and kill the boss without losing the last of your lives or it’s all the way back to the beginning. It’s brutal.

Zelda 2 was also the first to introduce the overworld random attack system. I don’t know if it was the first game ever to do this, but it’s the same mechanic used in the early Final Fantasy games and other games like Pokemon. As you run around the overworld suddenly creatures will come running from three sides and they are very hard to avoid. If you don’t avoid them you go into a side scrolling battle scene and you have to fight your way back out.

Early on in the game, it behooves you to fight your way through Death Mountain and get the Hammer. You can actually go fairly far in the game before you get it, but the Hammer gives you shortcuts through the overworld. Without it you are forced to take the long way for everything past the first dungeon which means you end up losing more lives along the way. Getting the Hammer early on is the better of two very, very evil evils. Getting the Hammer caused me to throw a controller for the first time that I can remember. Part of my brain is still screaming about it.

Aside from that mess near the beginning, the majority of the rest of the game is just a grind. The graphics are awful, the controls are awful, the music is awful. You find as you go that no matter what you do you just can’t advance and that’s when it’s time to find a spot to fight and grind out a few levels to increase your powers. It doesn’t hurt to spend some time finding tactics for killing each type of enemy, too. For the longest time the red Ironknuckles were my nemesis, until I learned you can hit them every time by jumping towards them and swiping down with the sword.

Finally, when your boredom has reached it’s limit, you reach the final dungeon: The Great Palace. This hell hole is unique in that it is the only dungeon in the game where if you continue you start from the dungeon instead of the beginning of the game. Lucky, too, because while the dungeon itself actually isn’t that bad, getting to it is brutal. I died over and over until I finally decided to sit for a few hours grinding my skills up to max. Once I did, getting there was pretty straightforward although I usually died at least once getting there.

You’d think that I would have only had to get there once if I can continue from inside the dungeon, right? Nope! If you save and quit… back to the beginning.

Yesterday I finally had enough time to sit down and finish the Great Palace and I did it. It took me a few tries to learn the big flying head dude’s pattern and get him dead and then Shadow Link was easy, since he is stupid. Crouch on the left side and spam your sword. He’ll just run into it. I got the Triforce, saved Princess Zelda, got a picture, saved the game and then closed that thing down for all time.

Zelda 2
Never Again

So now we move on to A Link to the Past. Downloaded it, fired it up and it’s like a breath of fresh air. Not to mention I really remember a lot about this one. So far it’s going great and it’s a very enjoyable play. That’s for another post though.

One thing I think I failed to mention in the first post is that I will be playing only the single player console Zeldas. I know there are half a dozen or more Gameboy ones, and there’s things like Four Swords. I won’t be playing those.

The Zelda Project: The Legend of Zelda

A few weeks ago I kind of randomly decided that I wanted to play all of the Zelda games from start to finish. I don’t remember exactly why. Some of it has to do with a feeling of guilt over never finishing Zelda 2. I don’t remember why I never finished, but I have some ideas. That’s getting ahead of myself though.

So a few weeks ago I decided to start playing. I had originally intended to buy one of those NES / Super NES combo systems and buy the games and start there. Then Courtney pointed out that I was being stupid. The Wii, which we have, has basically every Zelda game ever in it’s Virtual Console. I did a little reading to make sure that people felt that they were good and authentic feeling ports and then dug in.

The Legend of Zelda is the first Zelda game. It’s a NES game and was released in the US in the summer of 1987. I am pretty sure I got the game for Christmas that year, along with a badass GT Performer BMX bike. Baby blue with white mags! I was 10 that year. I think I got my NES for Christmas the year before along with Super Mario Brothers and, for some reason, Top Gun. I spent endless hours trying to land that stupid plane on the carrier deck.

I say “pretty sure” because I don’t actually remember. As part of this Zelda vision quest I decided to sit down and try to nail down some dates from my childhood. Harder than it seems! My parents have passed, I have very few pictures from that time and my memory just sucks. So I took what I had and started putting it all out on a timeline and those are the dates I came up with.

Anyway, back to Zelda. I fired it up and started playing. I was shocked at how much I had forgotten. I mean, I knew where to find the sword and that was about it. I racked my brain for the location of the first dungeon but it wouldn’t come to me. This was somewhat distressing! As a kid I had played Zelda competitively with other kids from around my town. I was one of two kids (that I knew of) that could play the game from start to finish with no Continues. And now, just… 25 short years later I couldn’t even remember how to get started.

I decided that I would try to play the game as I played it as a kid. I didn’t immediately run to the nearest walkthrough and list of cheats. Instead, I downloaded a copy of the original instruction manual. It’s funny how big those manuals were back then. There wasn’t enough space in the ROM on the cartridge to include a bunch of tutorials and text, so it all went into the manual. There’s a bunch of tips and tricks, a few little maps, hints at maps of the later dungeons (including that scary, misunderstood swastika!) and a tutorial on getting to the first dungeon!

That was enough to get things rolling. After I knocked out the dungeon I did some wandering and I had a revelation. I used to draw maps! I noticed as I ran around that I was finding entrances to other dungeons, so I started writing down approximately where they were, still avoiding using the web to look it up. I realized that as a kid we used to draw maps of the world and the dungeons on graph paper. It was the only way to keep it all straight.

I quickly had another revelation as I started working through more of the dungeons. My game playing reflexes were gone. I used to be *good* at this stuff but now I was slow. I felt like the signals were taking too long to get from my eyes to my fingers. I would see something starting to happen on the screen but I felt like I couldn’t respond to it fast enough. Happily, this has started to come back. Practice, I guess.

The final revelation I had, while playing that game, is that I missed having a partner. When I played these games as a kid I almost always played with a buddy. Even though these were single player games, we would take turns. When you died it passed on to the other player. In the mean time, the person not holding the controller could map, research (Nintendo Power!), keep an eye out for incoming enemies or provide vocal assistance and suggestions during tough fights. This was important. I was never the most skilled twitch player. I had other skills. Like being able to grind for 24 hours straight and not getting frustrated. The benefit of having a parter was that when you had been killed for the 50th time by 10 blue Darknuts in a room you could hand off the controller and for some reason your buddy would do it in one try. That’s how it worked.

All that withstanding, I did eventually finish the game. I played a few hours during the week after work and quite a bit over the course of two weekends. I won’t bother to give a rundown of the whole game. There’s walkthroughs for that. But I finished it, and it felt great. It stirred up a lot of lost memories and got me to the point where I needed to be. Ready to take on Zelda 2 and my childhood guilt. As I write this post, I am almost finished with The Adventure of Link, but that will have to wait for the next post.