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The Spirit of Zelda – The Adventure of Link Era

The Spirit of Zelda – The Adventure of Link Era

Last time, we talked about what Zelda is at its core, but that very core was shaken by the next game in the series: Adventure of Link. It is a black sheep, to say the least, and I’d imagine the least liked of them all, unless you count the reviled CD-i games. It is, admittedly, a bit clunky, but it’s the sort of clunky to which you can become accustomed. Aside from that, and an absolutely brutal – for Zelda, at least – difficulty, its biggest crime is being different. Perhaps most interesting, though, is that it is an Action-Adventure game from a different perspective: a side view.

As I’ve said in some other article you might’ve read, this is a lot more significant than you’d realize. A big, open world is easy to design in an overhead perspective, but when you’re viewing the world from the side, it becomes very difficult to design a world that is both interesting and smooth to traverse. The short version is that Adventure of Link cheats by making the overworld in an overhead perspective, even if you never fight anything there. For the purposes of this article, we run into another problem: which of these games imitate Adventure of Link, and which imitate Metroid – okay, so technically, the original Metroid doesn’t have a lot of the elements that make the Metroid series famous, and they’d be imitating Majou Densetsu 2: Daimashikyou Galious, or possibly Wonder Boy 3: Dragon’s Trap but you know what I mean – and that distinction has whittled down my list significantly.

They way that I distinguished between the two is by viewing two specific aspects of the games’ design. First and foremost, the game has to have a distinction between the overworld and the dungeons. Some take Adventure of Link’s example, while others maintain the side view, but have the dungeons locked up, or stand out on the overworld; what matters is not how, but that they are separate in some meaningful way. The second aspect is the presence of towns. Adventure of Link uses towns as a place to rest up, gather information, and acquire new upgrades, and they are essential to its design, especially in a game this unforgiving; they not only serve as a base of operations, but make you, the player, feel safe. I had to cut Adventure Island 4, Battle of Olympus, Cosmo Police Galivan, Jikuu Yuuden: Debias, Metroid, Wonder Boy 3: Dragon’s Trap, and Wonder Boy in Monster World for one or both of these reasons. I also cut The Lone Ranger, because it had too many overhead action sections, and Dr. Chaos, because its design is so all-over-the-place that I couldn’t really tell what, if anything, it was trying to imitate.

Legend of Zelda 2-T

I’ll be honest with you: Wind Waker may be my favorite Zelda game of all time, but Adventure of Link sits just below it. It starts out in a mysterious palace with the sleeping Princess Zelda, and the music fakes you out by starting with the same few notes as the overworld theme in Hyrule Fantasy, but then, it switches it up, catching you off guard just in time to punch you in the face with a few strong notes. You walk out of the Northern Palace and a whole new world unfolds before you, as if to say, “You like Zelda? Well, this is a whole new Zelda!” This was driven home even further by the fact that you eventually reach the area where the first game takes place, and it’s so small that you might not even notice it; the scope of this game was huge, and it was the most exciting thing that Zelda fans had ever seen! Yes, before the Internet, most regarded Adventure of Link to be a pretty good game, even if it wasn’t as popular or discussed as often as the first. The truth is that a lot of popular franchises on the NES had a different second entry: Mario, Zelda, Castlevania, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, just to name a few, and with the exception of Ninja Turtles, the others are more poorly regarded today at a level equivalent to that of how different they were from the original, because their third installment returned to the format of the first.

I’m not here to try to figure out why people hate it, though; I’m here to tell you why I love it! Hyrule Fantasy may be the game that started everything, but Adventure of Link is the game that built the world that fans love. This was the first game in the series to have a magic meter, towns (from which the sages in Ocarina of Time were named), the hammer, darkened caves, Lizalfos, reflective shields, Link’s shadow, the Triforce of Courage, and even a world filled with people that have pointed ears. This game took its predecessor and expanded it; not only is Western Hyrule now at least six times its original size, but there is now an Eastern Hyrule that is equally large. I can go on for hours and hours about how much bigger this is, and how many things it brought to Zelda and its lore, but what makes this important is that what you discover is interesting.

Hyrule Fantasy had some trees and bushes, some mountains, a graveyard, some beaches, and not much else. Adventure of Link has all of that, along with swamps, lava fields, and even walking on the ocean, but what really makes it special is the level of detail. While most of Hyrule Fantasy has the same beige color beneath your feet, Adventure of Link zooms out to show a beautiful world filled with color, but when you enter a random encounter, it zooms in to show the landscape in greater detail, so you get the best of both worlds. Not only are the enemies intricate and beautifully crafted, but the plantlife is, as well, even in the deserts. Since Eastern Hyrule is across a large body of water, the flora and fauna are completely different there, and it is sad that future Zelda games chose to have their world stop with Death Mountain as its northern barrier, rather than to explore this fresh, mysterious new part of Hyrule. There are eight different towns, and while each uses the same basic tileset, each has its own distinct palette, and many of the them even have a different architectural style, whether it be the big cathedral and pale bluish sands of Mido, the purple skies and stout chimneys of Darunia, or the broken buildings and outright desolation of Old Kasuto. The populated towns are brilliant, because not only do all of the innocent people show you how high the stakes really are, but some are agents of Ganon, who turn into enemies and attack when you talk to them. You’re somewhere that you can easily refill your life, and the bat forms that they take are hardly dangerous, but the point is that you don’t feel safe. Even the dungeons have their own distinct color, and varying architecture; beautiful columns adorn each of them.

Another place that Adventure of Link really shines is how it guides you. Hyrule Fantasy often stumbles, because so many of the solutions to its quandaries are obtuse. Adventure of Link has its hidden secrets, but often has ways of making them stand out just a little, in order to draw your attention to them. You will also learn very early on not only that on the overworld, blobs lead to easier battles than do human shadows, but also that you will not be attacked on the roads; it only takes a few experiences for the player to figure this out for him or herself. You gain experience in order to become stronger, and there are P-bags that give you a bonus; one of these is in a conspicuous patch of forest not far from the first town. The game is never really easy, but during the time that it is least brutal, it succeeds in teaching you the basics without treating you like an idiot. Somewhere along the line, games – and this is hardly exclusive to Zelda – forgot how to do that.

Beyond all of that, Adventure of Link is exciting. The action is pretty steady, especially in dungeons, and you have to think on your feet if you want to survive against the dreaded Iron Knuckle, who moves his sword and shield to block your attacks. Iron Knuckles make for a challenging fight; not only are they hard to hit, but they have a lot of vitality, and they always seem to show up when you’re already on the ropes. A lot of the items are exciting, too, whether it’s the raft that takes you to a whole new world, boots that let you walk on water, or a glove that lets you break bricks in dungeons. Even the hammer works well with the world; it won’t open many new avenues, but you’ll be able to get back to most anywhere you’ve been much more quickly. The challenge of getting where you’re going is good design; the ability to unlock shortcuts to bypass challenges that you’ve already mastered is great design.

The ending isn’t handed to you on a platter, either; you have to earn it. Getting to Eastern Hyrule is no big deal once you’re all decked out, but once you arrive, you have to battle through the plains, fight past three fences packed with enemies hurling rocks down at you, through the always-deadly graveyards, through the lava fields with no fewer than five fixed encounters, and you still have the final dungeon ahead of you. Not only is the Great Palace enormous, and filled with tons of secret passages, but it has new enemies that make everything you’ve faced thus far look like an army of Dragon Warrior slimes. Likely, the worst of these are the Dreadhawks; they’re faster Iron Knuckles that leap at you. Even if you survive all of this, you still have to fight two bosses back to back, one of which is your own shadow, and don’t expect to cheap him out with magic or your hammer, like in Ocarina of Time; he’s fast, smart, and the hit detection against him is terrible. Seriously, does Ganon even need to be revived with such a sadistic enemy at the helm? It makes him seem pretty incompetent when the greatest challenge that Link ever faced was when he was dead. Should you find yourself victorious, you will see all three pieces of the Triforce together for the very first time, and you’ll feel like a total badass once your heart stops beating out of your chest.

Yeah, yeah, Alice Kojiro loves Adventure of Link, but is it a true Zelda? Well, that all depends upon how you look at it. The world isn’t totally open from the beginning; at best you can only explore all of Western Hyrule without setting foot in a dungeon, but good luck getting the Jump spell without the candle. It has a suggested order, but so does Hyrule Fantasy, which goes so far as to plaster it across the top of the screen, and also has a few insurmountable road blocks until you complete X dungeon to get Y item, as well as a progression of difficulty across that suggested path. There’s just a little more of it here, but I don’t think that’s quite enough to disqualify it, and more importantly, you’re using your brain to discover secrets. The progression between the two games is executed very differently, but I think that they share the same spirit. You did still have to experiment in Adventure of Link, even if the puzzles you were solving were often of a different nature; they’re less about pushing this block, and more about following clues to discover a hidden area with that one thing that you need. The passive tools remain, and the active tools are replaced by spells, but they serve the same basic purpose. Now, with the intense action and the fact that all of the bosses are different, it doesn’t share that same dreamlike quality that Hyrule Fantasy had – you are wide awake – but that’s not the entirety of what makes Zelda what it is. As different as they seem on the surface, Adventure of Link still uses that same core of exploration and discovery that made Hyrule Fantasy so incredible in its day.

Ax Battler - A Legend of Golden Axe-T

You may or may not have heard of Ax Battler, but you’re likely familiar with its franchise, Golden Axe. Someone took the well-known Brawler franchise and made a Zelda 2 knockoff with it. You have an overhead view in the overworld map, random encounters in side view, and sidescrolling action sequences that act as dungeons. You visit towns, and while you’re there, you can learn new techniques from the men that you meet in the dojo. Aside from the presence of money, this looks like as shameless a ripoff of Adventure of Link as Neutopia does of Hyrule Fantasy.

The comparison is about as apt, too; this game is totally on rails, and just about every new town marks a point of no return. The sideview battles are fairly unengaging, because one hit knocks you out of them, whether or not it kills you. After each battle, you collect a small number of vials, which are used as currency, though you need comparatively many of them to buy anything. Vials also act as your magic; press start during a battle, and you’ll hit everything on the screen with any of the three spells. Oh, I’m sorry; did you want a pause button at the one time that’ you’d actually need one?

The only places that a single hit won’t force you to be driven back to the world map are the action sequences, and to call them lacking is being generous. The level design isn’t too bad, but the actual combat is so awkward that winning those fights in the dojo to learn new techniques is practically mandatory. The techniques seem like they might be what will fix this game, since the upward swing must be executed while ducking; it is a very useful technique, but having to crouch means that you can’t spam it. Not much later, though, you get the Super Swing, which totally breaks the entire combat system; you almost had it, Ax Battler. The biggest flaw of the dungeons, though, is that they’re far too short to be satisfying. Overworld combat is unsatisfying, because you get only one chance, and the encounter rate is sky-high, so getting anywhere is a total chore, and the action sequences are your only reprieve, making their short length all the more egregious a flaw.

The difficulty is all over the map, too. You can generally tell by the way an enemy looks, what it is, and how much life it has, how tough it’s supposed to be, but all that you really need to know is that the only challenges you’ll face after getting used to the controls are enemies that can jump. Even Death Adders – yes, plural; the ultimate enemy of Golden Axe is now just a random encounter – aren’t that tough, because they’re slow and earthbound. The action sequences are all over the map, too; some are really intense, whereas others are a total breeze. The game gets into a pretty good rhythm in the final dungeon, which has spikes that go in and out of the ceilings and floors. You really have to think about how you’re going to progress, and have quick reflexes, since you can’t see your goal from the get-go. My blood was pumping, and all I could think was, “Sweet Cosmic Body of Brahman, I hope the final boss can’t jump!” Then, I get to the final boss, and it’s just a black screen with some text that tells me that I slashed the evil big-bad to pieces; I never even got to see him or find out who he was, but he and the hero acted like they knew each other. It was even more low budget than the great eagle, which just looks like a mountain with an eagle’s head slapped onto it or the snowy mountain’s music, which has a sound channel that seems like it’s having a seizure.

I think it goes without saying that this isn’t Zelda. Despite the big overworld, you’ll never find more than two or three things in an area, and at least one of them is a town. The action sequences have even less to explore than the original Super Mario Bros. There isn’t a strong focus on exploration or combat, so I’m not sure what this game really has to offer, aside from seeing Golden Axe in a new context, and it doesn’t do that very well. What do you expect, though, in a game so lazy that the protagonist’s name – not his title – is Ax Battler? He doesn’t even have an axe!

Castlevania 2-T

Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest already parallels Adventure of Link by bearing the same burden of being a hated entry of a beloved franchise. Yes, it’s a huge departure from Castlevania, but so was Symphony of the Night, and most everyone loved it. Simon’s Quest still has the same clunky controls as its predecessor, but here, the action isn’t as intense, so it’s a lot more forgiving, and no, I’m not intimidated by the original Castlevania’s difficulty; I can consistently beat the infamous hallway before Death without taking more than 2 hits, and I never use the stopwatch. I’m just not that big a fan of the original Castlevania, though it does make for some excellent Rock covers. I did hate Simon’s Quest when it first came out, but I’ve grown to appreciate it, despite its numerous flaws; I suppose that I just have a thing for black sheep.

You start out in a town with 50 hearts, which are now used as currency, and this is exactly enough to buy the item that you will need to enter the first dungeon, so if you’re smart, you won’t have to grind right out of the gate, but buying the most useful subweapon in the game and an upgrade for your whip isn’t a dumb idea, anyway. You also have experience levels, which are gained by picking up hearts; they decrease the amount of damage that you take, and every so often, they will extend your life bar. What’s smart here is that once you level up, one more echelon of enemies will no longer give experience, so you can’t over-level at any point. Progress is fun to make, and there are numerous whip upgrades, most of which are cool to see; it’s neat to see the whips power up in a different context like this. The actual world is beautiful, both in detail and in color. It might sound like a cop-out, but there’s something that I really like about the game that I can’t quite identify or describe; it just feels satisfying.

I think that what really throws people about Simon’s Quest is how bizarre it is. The game is built around the day/night cycle, which is a great concept; knowing that the night brings enemies twice as strong means that you need a plan, if you want to survive. The problem is that towns are unsafe at night, and that would be your usual base of operations, so the safest place to grind, counter-intuitively, is in the dungeons, where time completely stops. In most towns, the houses have their inhabitants hiding in long, tedious secret passages, which makes sense – they’re afraid of what’s out there, and don’t want to be found – but from a gameplay standpoint, all it does is waste your time. Each of the parts of Dracula does something different, but only the rib is of any real use; the heart just makes the ferryman take you somewhere different, the eye only lets you see hidden things (not breakable blocks or false floors), the nail is a less useful version of the holy water, and I have yet to figure out if the ring does anything at all by itself. There are also those weird rocks in Bodley Mansion; they’re out of the way, so you have to actively seek them, and it’s somewhat difficult to get them to hit you, so I have no idea why they even exist. The endings also seem to be backwards; the one that’s the hardest to get has Dracula climbing out of his grave at the end, while taking as long as possible to beat the game completely destroys both Dracula and his curse.

I have to admit, though, that there are also some design elements that are outright bad. As beautiful as it is, the world’s actual layout is terrible; while most sidescrolling Action-Adventures are designed in a way that lets you get around quickly – whether that be through gimmicks, fast travel, or using a hub structure – Simon’s Quest is one flat drag from one end to the other, so the large amounts of backtracking you have to endure are a total slog. Having to buy an oak stake to get each Dracula part is completely stupid, especially because you’ll probably waste at least one of them, thinking that it’s a weapon, because, you know: they’re used in vampire lore to kill vampires. Though the dungeons are actually designed in a way that’s convenient to traverse, some of them have jumps that are absolutely frustrating, due to the occasionally poor layout. Let us not forget the completely obtuse stunts that you have to pull for one reason or another, and I’m not talking about kneeling with the crystals; one of the game’s few useful hints tells you how to use the Blue Crystal, and the Red Crystal is used in the exact same way. I mean things like having to drop garlic to make an otherwise invisible robed figure appear to give you an item.

This actually doesn’t do half bad as a Zelda. On a surface level, it’s structured like Adventure of Link, since it’s a sidescrolling Action-Adventure containing towns and dungeons with similar layouts, limited lives, and instant death pits. Deeper than that, though, is that even though it’s a totally flat world, you can explore; you can overstep your bounds into an area with terrifying new creatures, and doing so at night really makes it feel like a dark, mysterious world. The game has incredible atmosphere, too; I know people think that the broken down version of Dracula’s castle at the end is stupid, but you did just watch it crumble into nothing at the end of the first game, and I feel like it builds up of tension before the final battle, even if the stunlock does make it pathetically easy. In any case, you have that weirdness and mystery that Hyrule Fantasy has, and a general freedom to explore, even if it is a pain to do so. Attach Simon’s whip to his head, speed him up, and make the dungeons more engaging, and you almost have Shantae, and that’s really not such a bad thing.

Faxanadu-T

Faxanadu has an interesting history behind it; unbeknownst to many, it is a spin-off of Xanadu, the second game in the Dragon Slayer series. Most of the games in the series, including another favorite of mine, Legacy of the Wizard, have nothing to do with each other, even in terms of gameplay. In true Dragon Slayer fashion, Faxanadu plays almost nothing like Xanadu, opting for a more focused sidescrolling experience. Unlike Simon’s Quest, it does address the issue of making the world convenient to traverse, and it does so mostly by minimizing backtracking; there are four main areas, and it is quite unlikely that you will have to return to any of them, unless you don’t bring enough keys to Branch. Even then, the world expands both horizontally and vertically, without the long, tedious shafts you’d see so often in Metroid.

There’s a lot that I love about Faxanadu, but I think that what tops the list is how the entire game takes place in a single setting, yet still manages to be visually intriguing. You’re exploring the World Tree, on a quest to make things right again; a meteorite had hit the tree, and now, the dwarves that live there have started worshiping it. Not only is it dissolving and poisoning the water supply, but it’s also mutating them into the horrific creatures that you have to fight, which look like a cross between Medieval Fantasy beasts and twisted extraterrestrials; it’s a pretty unique artstyle, almost like if the strangest denizens of Adventure Island were to be drawn by Boris Vallejo. The monsters aren’t the only threat to the elves, either; the magic poison space rock has also set the tree on fire – as a flaming meteorite is wont to do – and when you leave Trunk to go inside, you’re stuck in a dark area filled with smoke and death. The creatures in here are twisted enough on their own, but the mists obscuring them leaves much of the horror to your imagination. This area is roughly the same size as the others, but it feels very long, because it’s such a depressing, horrifying place.

Next up is Branch, which is exactly where its name suggests: the very branches of the World Tree. I’ve always loved this area, because it’s so high up, and even a little cozy. The visual design, even down to the way objects are placed makes it one of my favorite video game worlds of all time. The last area is nestled in a little alcove of Branch, and looks strange, but not terrifying, which makes sense, since it used to be just another place where people lived. That said, the enemy placement makes it quite formidable, which drives home the message of what occultism can do to a society.

The gameplay has a lot of great aspects, too, solving a lot of problems that games of this nature tend to have. For one, like with Simon’s Quest, every single enemy that you kill will drop money, which is good, because some of the better equipment is quite pricey. It is sometimes hard to hit an enemy with your sword, but it can hit several times, dealing much more damage than magic. So, while magic is easier to use, the multiple hits that you score with your sword makes a great balance between the two. Some enemies are also immune to magic, just to keep you from relying on it too much. Perhaps best of all is that the townspeople actually give useful hints! If you follow their advice, you can find some really great items along the way.

That’s not to say that the game doesn’t have its flaws; it’s clunky, for one. There’s this weird momentum that builds up when you walk, which varies depending upon your title, so it keeps changing, making it hard to get accustomed to it. The biggest problem with this is trying to make jumps, and while you do have Wing Boots available for purchase, they only act as a sort of duct tape over the problem, like using the invincibility caused by laurels to get past the damaging marshes in Simon’s Quest. Speaking of the titles, you get them by racking up experience, but you have to go to the guru to actually get them, and it’s not entirely clear what they do just from playing the game; I’ve been playing this quite a bit since it was new, and only recently did I find out by looking it up: higher ranks will shorten the amount of time it takes to get up to full speed, increase the amount of gold with which you begin when you enter a password, and decrease the amount of time that your Wing Boots will work. You can also only sell items back to a shop if it’s something that they carry; your weapons and armor aren’t going to get cluttered, but if you rely heavily upon items, you might have some trouble with inventory space. Perhaps most frustrating are these banjo-playing zombies (or whatever they are; it’s hard to tell, since they’re inside the tree) that periodically let out a flash that hits you wherever you are on the screen; it’s very easy for these things to kill you in seconds, and some are completely out of reach.

Some of the design choices are just weird, like how every single person’s portrait blinks compulsively when you talk to them. There are several different types of keys, all of which are named after playing cards, like the Queen Key, the Joker Key, and the Ace Key; they don’t look like playing cards, but the handle is shaped like the first letter of the word, or “JO” for the Joker Key. It is also impossible to equip only one of the legendary items; you must have all three, and when you equip one, it automatically equips the others. I imagine that since every piece of equipment in the game looks different on your character, that this was a technical issue having to do with memory limitations, but what a strange way to go about solving it. I can come up with possible explanations for all of these oddities, but one that always leaves me scratching my head is the fake shop. There are several shops that have no shopkeeper, but an enemy instead. This wouldn’t be so strange were it not for the fact that you cannot use weapons inside of a shop or house, so these oddly-colored creatures must be escaped or defeated with magic, but since you start at the exit, there’s no real danger.

As much as I love this game, it’s not quite Zelda. There are many parts that allow you to branch out and complete things in different orders, as well as several optional dungeons that you might explore just for the joy of it, but the actual path along which it all lies is pretty linear. Yes, it has its twists and turns, and is anything but a straight line, but you rarely ever go backwards, and outside of the dungeons, there’s not much room for deviation. Think of it as a monorail: you’re absolutely on a track, and although there are plenty of stops to visit, each one concludes with boarding again to ride to your next destination along that track, and you’re always traveling in the same direction. Were it not for how incredibly immersive the world is, it’d be curious for this not to have been made a map-based Platformer with light RPG elements.

Gargoyle's Quest 2-T

The Gargoyle’s Quest games are a beautiful revenge for anyone who’s ever played a Makaimura game, such as Ghosts & Goblins or Ghouls & Ghosts. We all know that the most infuriatingly difficult enemy is the Red Arremer, and here, you’re playing as one named Firebrand. I am a huge fan of the final installment, Demon’s Crest on the SNES – and you’d better believe that I was totally stoked to have Firebrand as a playable character in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 – but it’s not exactly a contemporary of Adventure of Link, so I’ll be talking about the second game, The Demon Darkness, instead. Perhaps not many would really think of this as a Zelda 2 imitator, but the only major difference in overall structure is that the towns are in an overhead perspective; you still have an overworld map in overhead, and dungeons in sideview. I suppose that it doesn’t help to have had the first game released on Game Boy, the second on the NES after the SNES had already become a total powerhouse, and the third rake in sales so low that it was legendary; the series isn’t exactly known or received all that well.

I didn’t get a Game Boy until the Super Game Boy came out, so this was my first Gargoyle’s Quest, and it was like a dream to finally play this series. I wasn’t really even into the Makaimura games – I’d played Ghosts & Goblins at my uncle’s house, and hadn’t even tried the others – but the idea of playing as not only a monster, but a cool, flame-colored monster that could fly by beating his draconic wings and unleash breath attacks was too awesome to pass up. Your flight is limited – this must be a Capcom thing; Little Nemo: The Dream Master had this, too, with the bee form, and so did Mega Man X5’s Falcon Armor – but levels are designed around it, so instead of straight platforming, you’re also gliding and sticking to walls in between. They’re perhaps not as fast-paced and exciting as your Ninja Gaidens, but Gargoyle’s Quest 2 provides a unique and thoughtful experience; a puzzle in motion. The variety of breath attacks and their various functions add to this, as well, causing you to really think about and understand your environment as you progress, but the presence of flight makes the level design a bit looser, so it doesn’t feel as contrived, and is more conducive to letting you figure out how to progress on your own terms. The mechanics are quite foreign if you haven’t played the first game, and so the first area is brilliantly devoid of enemies, giving you the opportunity to acclimate yourself to it before putting yourself in any real danger. If you can’t reach the goal, then you’re not good enough, but if you already know what you’re doing, it only takes a few seconds to achieve; this, my friends, is how you design a tutorial level.

The game does need a little work, though, as certain elements are either out of place or poorly implemented. The overworld is overhead, just like in Adventure of Link, but aside from level entrances, there is almost nothing there; you will never encounter a battle unless you walk up to one of the hooded figures often tucked away in a corner and talk to them. The game is also fairly heavy on story, which would be fine, but the story isn’t very easy to get into. For one thing, it’s monsters versus monsters, so it’s not clear who is on whose side or why. There are also moments that seem like they’re supposed to have an impact, but don’t, like when the big reveal happens and… Goza was behind it all along! Effervescent screaming pancakes, not Goza! Hey, who’s Goza again? Goza hasn’t been mentioned thus far, but the game acts like we’re supposed to be shocked at his… betrayal? Maybe I need to replay the first game. The translation has a few odd moments, too, but most of Capcom’s translation experience involves _________ Man; it’s not entirely unexpected. I get that they had to censor a few things, too – that’s how Lucifer became Rushifell and Samael became Samuel – but did dragon really need to become Dagon?

A lot of the lacking design elements are more thoughtless than anything. In the beginning, you get upgrades in the form of armor, wings, and a fingernail, but it isn’t long before the game just forgets about these, so you don’t get many more until the very end. The breath attacks and their utilities create a neat sort of learn-as-you-go design philosophy, but these tricks that you pick up are largely forgotten for the rest of the game, and don’t come back until the very end. There’s even a breath attack that you don’t get until right before the very last dungeon, and though it is used creatively, this is the only time you see it, and you get a more powerful one for the final boss, so its usage is extremely limited. The mirror maze sucks, too, because nobody likes teleporter mazes; I’ve definitely seen worse, though, and the boss at the end is very clever. Even the level design has its problems; the diagonally-shooting enemies are always in the worst possible places, and some jumps are absolutely abhorrent. Speaking of obnoxious enemies, they have these lantern ghosts that cause the room to go completely dark if you kill them; you can tell that Capcom thought this to be a brilliant idea, because you see the same thing in Bright Man’s stage in Mega Man 4.

Perhaps you’ll be glad to hear that this game’s issues were fixed and then some in Demon’s Crest, but how does this stand up as a Zelda? At first, it might seem like it fits pretty well; there aren’t many puzzle elements, but there is a sense of growth through upgrades and tools, just like in Zelda. Beyond that, though, for how little exploration there is, Capcom might as well have just had an occasional level select menu for the few non-linear parts, as they did with the early Mega Man Zero games. Don’t get me wrong: the overworld is a great representation of how a demon realm might look, but there’s little-to-nothing to explore within it. It’s a great game and definitely worth your time, but don’t let the screenshots fool you: this is an Action game and little more.

Conclusion

Adventure of Link is a neglected member of the Zelda family, despite how closely it resembles the original in spirit. It should come as almost no surprise, then, that its imitators are instead described as “Metroidvania”, even though not only were Metroid and Castlevania doing almost nothing of the sort at the time, but there is also the oft-ignored fact that Castlevania contributed nothing to the formula crafted by Super Metroid. That’s a fight for another day, though. For as many things as Adventure of Link did differently, it wasn’t the explosive phenomenon that Hyrule Fantasy had been, and had a proportionately small number of imitators as a result. Would it have been as successful had it stuck to the overhead perspective of the first game? Most assuredly, and it did, but not until the Super Nintendo. I would have loved to see more games like Adventure of Link, but maybe that’s just because they are so rare; had it taken off, I might be singing a different tune. Regardless, the experiences that it has brought have been unforgettable, and I suppose that I can’t ask for more than that.

Adventure of Link

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