It's Time for a New Adventure of Link
Posted by Kris Randazzo on May 17th 2023
A Link to Link's Past
Tears of the Kingdom is out in the world, and the popularity of the Legend of Zelda series is at an all time high. In the decades since the series debuted, the games have followed a fairly similar set of guidelines. While comparing The Legend of Zelda for NES to Breath of the Wild shows a pair of vastly different games, it’s not hard to see the connective tissue in place. Zelda games, while varied, are still at their core Zelda games. Well, except one.
Zelda II: The Adventure of Link is a very different game from the vast majority of the rest of the series. It’s primarily a side-scrolling affair that’s heavily focused on combat and platforming. It uses experience points, doesn’t have any in-game currency, and it doesn’t use hearts to display how much health you have. It’s hard to argue that it isn't just as much of a Zelda game as its brethren since as its core it’s chock full of elements that were later appropriated into future releases. Still, it’s always been the odd man out, and its specific gameplay elements have never been properly followed up on. The closest there’s ever been were the CD-i games, and those didn’t exactly scratch the itch.
Zelda II gets a lot of hate these days, but it absolutely still has its fans, and those fans are long overdue for a new Zelda adventure in the style of Zelda II, especially one that’s upgraded with 30+ years of gaming evolution.
A Whole New World
First, let’s talk about Zelda II’s unique approach to an overworld. If there’s one area of Zelda II that’s always felt a little underbaked it’s the overworld map. Not in its scale, but more its implementation. It was clearly meant to be more of a map than an interactive environment, considering its features were hardly set to scale, but there’s so much room for improvement here, especially in terms of what traditional turn-based RPGs have been doing over the years. Ways to change the difficulty within enemy encounters would be neat, like running into them from behind or maybe pressing some sort of attack button, but more than anything it just needs to look more impressive. The advantage of utilizing an overworld like this is that you can show so much more of a vast world in a short period of time. The NES was only capable of so much, and seeing what modern tech could provide in terms of an amazingly detailed overworld map would be fantastic.
I’d also love to see an expansion of how the game’s palaces play out. An in-game map would be a must, but taking it a step further to have each palace function as sort of its own mini Metroid-vania game would be incredible. And really, that’s sort of what the Palaces in Zelda II were like anyway. Let’s just make them a bit more complex, and maybe make them a bit more alive too. The original palaces had occasional fairy rooms, but maybe create more areas with NPCs that could help Link on his quest? A traveling shopkeeper or something. It’s got so much untapped potential!
Magic could also be greatly expanded on. The original game’s spells were all useful in their own ways, but it would be cool to approach magic more like the spells in Castlevania games. A certain set of spells integral to advancing the story would be unavoidable, but how cool would it be to have a ton of randomly acquirable spells with all manner of different effects? This could be extended to equipment as well. Since RPG mechanics are already built into the Zelda II formula, let’s just go the distance and allow for different armor, weapons, shoes, hats, accessories, whatever, and all of them can either be replaced by stronger items or leveled up bit by bit.
The Adventure of Zelda
Turning our attention to the CD-i games, let’s talk about Zelda herself. Those two games came out on the same day, and one of them starred Link while the other starred Zelda. This is a feature I’d love to see taken much further, but I’m thinking more like Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin. Both Link and Zelda should be playable and swappable at all times, and each should have different abilities. Zelda can be more magic focused (and maybe wear something that isn’t a dress), and Link can be more physical with the sword attacks and such. This could be so much fun, especially in terms of combat. Heck, wouldn’t it be swell if there was some sort of multiplayer mode where both characters get to work together at the same time? Speaking of which, let’s talk about items.
Zelda II had items, but they were very situational. The boots let you walk on water… on the map. The flute could destroy giant monsters… on the map. The hammer let you break rocks… on the map. Other Zelda games have cool new items like the hookshot, fire rod, bow, bombs, etc. and they let you use them wherever the heck you want, regardless of how useful or useless they might be in a particular situation. You want to use your bug catching net in combat? Live the dream! But those water walking magic boots? They only work on certain water, and not any of the instant water pits you encounter in the side scrolling action stages in Zelda II. So let’s do that better! How awesome would it be to have access to bombs and arrows in a Zelda II style game? What’s more, with two characters working together, cool combo moves would be possible! Link and Zelda work great together, especially when Zelda is shooting arrows, as seen in several previous Zelda games.
How is This Not a Thing?
It’s really quite astonishing how much potential is just sitting there untapped, especially for a game series that’s more than happy to change things up from time to time. Hyrule Warriors took Zelda and made it into a Musou game. And it did so well they re-released the original three times and made a full-on Breath of the Wild sequel out of it! Zelda became a rhythm action game in Cadence of Hyrule. Link was an amazing playable character in Soul Calibur II. This franchise is malleable! Link’s Crossbow Training exists! Nintendo has a history of letting other companies play in the Zelda sandbox too, even for big mainline entries like Minish Cap. So letting someone else who has an affinity for this kind of game take a swing at making a proper sequel to The Adventure of Link just makes much sense.
Will it ever happen? Who can say? I sincerely doubt it, but you can’t predict Nintendo. I’m going to remain hopeful though. We live in a world where Metroid Dread and Kid Icarus: Uprising exist. Anything is possible.