"Balls! Shit ass bitch fuck dick ass sshshhhhhhhhhiiiiiiiit!"
I'm kind of glad that my girlfriend wasn't around as I played through Zelda II: Adventure of Link, because I'm certain she would have thought I had I tourette's syndrome. Arguments that NES games were "too hard" are often made by the laziest of gamers, people who have never had to deal with any confusion, any adversity. But Zelda II made me sympathize.
Link has three lives. He sets out from a palace in the middle of a massive world map on a quest to awaken the sleep-poisoned Princess Zelda. Every single living creature has seemingly turned their attack settings to "kill," as Link is assaulted by any number of fauna in the surrounding areas. Arriving finally in a town where Link can take respite, he then has to set out for the Parapa (the Rappa! Just kidding) palace, where – you guessed it! – more enemies await him. Armed with only a sword and shield, Link has very few weapons at his disposal: basically, it's kill or be killed.
The action itself is intensely challenging – in fact, more challenging than any Zelda game before or since – as it requires the player to memorize attack patterns and a low/high blocking and hitting system that rivals Punch-Out!! for the most insane reflex-skill ratio on the NES. If a game like Demon's Souls has an historic counterpart, this is that game.
But even Demon's Souls doesn't combine that kind of dexterity challenge with this game's other notable difficulty feature: you have no idea where you're supposed to go or what you're supposed to do. Remember, this was an early NES game – non-player characters themselves weren't exactly a common occurrence, much less helpful NPCs, and so when someone says "Talk to Bagu," you might be scratching your head, wandering around a dangerous world-map, and getting the shit kicked out of you. And you have three lives. And you lose all your experience points (in the level you were working on).
So yes, it's a fucking hard game, but does it add up to more than that? Well, Adventure of Link has always been treated as an outlying curio, a bizarre stylistic shift from the original Legend of Zelda – but it's these changes, many of which were never seen again, that give the game its interesting character. For one, and this is a completely subjective and personal stance, Adventure of Link feels the most like a video game to me. Its mechanics and its new, mostly 2D side-on perspective, gave me nostalgia fits for the likes of Mega Man and Super Mario. It's as much a platformer as an action-RPG, and that makes it a blast for me to play now (not so much when I originally had the gold cartridge for my NES as a kid, but you know).
It's also quite interesting to chart this game's influence on later installments. It seems to me that games that see more of Shigeru Miyamoto's touch share some hallmarks – namely, that they seem to riff on the original source material much more faithfully, while changing up some crucial element of the gameplay. Think to Super Mario Bros. 1 compared to Super Mario Bros. 3, for instance; or for a more pertinent example, the original Legend of Zelda as compared to A Link to the Past. These are games that comfortably fit within the same vein.
But within all of Nintendo's major series, whenever the keys are handed off to someone else, it seems like a wild change-up is in order. Think to Majora's Mask, or to Super Mario Bros. 2, or to Star Fox Adventures. It seems like these games, where Miyamoto encourages other team members to switch up his formulas, have the effect of reinvigorating a series, or adding a dimension that previously wasn't seen before – and in Adventure of Link, that aspect is felt most keenly in the directly RPG-esque elements (which imply a steady progression of improvement), the massive and epic world map, and the hardcore action elements. Some of these aspects, such as the world map, have been transmuted in other Zelda entries, and others, like the action elements, will be brought out as "tributes" to a pioneering game, as in Skyward Sword. But every Zelda game (outside of the CD-i games) have their place, and Adventure of Link is no different.
Taking Link on his adventure is highly, highly rewarding, but it's also one of the most balls-out hardest games I've ever played. In the action category, that's not a problem necessarily – this is a clearly dangerous quest and the action simply reinforces that. However, the thing that keeps Adventure of Link from true greatness is its vague and confusing progression, which, without the aid of a guide, would be a hopeless game of trial and Error. Still, we live in the modern era, and we know the secrets of Adventure of Link. If you've ever once thought that Zelda was "too easy," shut your ball's shit fuck mouth, and go play this hell ass damned game.
Maybe I do have tourette's.