Sometimes I have to use the internet to piece together my own gaming history. Years easily blur together when you're thinking back to childhood. I vividly remember receiving Zelda II along with the Nintendo Player's Guide for my birthday one year - and going by release it would appear that this was actually the spring of 1989. So I must have gotten my NES for Christmas '88 then. Prior to then, I had played NES games plenty at friends' houses, and I'm sure I borrowed games from them once I got my own console. But Zelda II stands out in my mind as one of the first NEW games that I got for the system. I can't understate how regal that gold cartridge looked. The guy at the store had told my dad that I'd need the Player's Guide if I wanted to make any progress in the game. How right he was.
I never made much progress in the game, really. Although I did play it a lot. It's a pretty weird Zelda game to wrap your head around. Especially when you're eight years old. I mean it looks like an action game. And there's some pretty heavy combat. But the concept of leveling up and grinding and all those very clearly RPG elements made no sense to the mind of a kid who hadn't been properly introduced to RPG's yet. Again, some Googling tells me that it was sometimes later in 1990 before I'd actually play my first real RPG thanks to Nintendo Power's insanely awesome Dragon Quest promotion.
But it's fair to say that Zelda II made an impression on me. It was my first Zelda afterall. I didn't actually go back and play the first game until after I had played this one. And to my delight, the first game connected with me much better. It was easier by comparison. And I was able to actually see a whole hell of a lot more of the game. But Zelda II stood out as being a more advanced game. It felt like a more, I don't know... grown-up game, somehow? And the music was incredible. And as the years went on and the Zelda series grew, there was something I can of liked about rooting for the black sheep entry as well. Being a sidescrolling sore thumb somehow gave the game a little extra charm. What can I say? I am error.
I've gone back and taken a couple of runs at Zelda II again over the years. I've attempted it on the Gamecube Zelda collection as well as via the GBA re-release of the NES game. Each time I had varying levels of success. But I've never come close to beating the game. I thought this time could be different. This time I'm playing on the Switch Online service, which offers up save states on the NES games. I figured that'd make it easier. I mean it made it more convenient since I wouldn't have to necessarily return to the first palace everytime I got a game over. But still.
I made it through Death Mountain this time, which is still quite early in the game. I've grinding my Attack up to 4 and my Life and Magic up to 5. To put that in perspective, the cap on each is 8. And yet it doesn't feel like the game is getting any easier. I don't feel much advantage here. Being older and wiser it occurs to me that I could just grind up to max levels now, but think of how time consuming (and boring) that would be. And what if it doesn't even really help?
The truth is I can totally admire a game like Zelda II and not actually enjoy playing it right now. That's okay. I can look back on it fondly. I can be happy that it brought me such extreme joy as a kid, but I don't have to want to play it as an adult. This might be a perfect game for Nintendo to release one of their "SP" version ROM hacks for on Switch Online. Maybe start the player out with levels maxed, thus removing the overt RPG elements and turning the game into a more stereotypical Zelda adventure? I don't know.
Legacy-wise, there is something interesting about Zelda II's place in the history of the series. I feel like Breath Of The Wild draws more from any other game in the franchise. Both games are more RPG than pure action adventure games. Both games rely on combat perfection. Both are brutal games that introduce enemies to you very early in the game that will completely wreck you. It's interesting anyway.