The Adventure of Link is many things. Some consider it to be the worst game in the franchise - the black sheep. Certainly it is the most different one. Many of the tropes of later games are gone and you could consider this one to be a real rpg. It also in my opinion is one of the hardest to go back to. But is it really that bad? Or are their interesting features that make it worth going back to this one?
Also this Zelda managed to arrive just one year after The Legend of Zelda on 14th January 1987 on store shelves in Japan, and therefore even before Zelda I got released in North America or Europe. Two years after the original release and one after that of The Legend of Zelda Adventure of Link finally came to Europe first and some months later to North America. Just like the first Zelda, this one was released on the Famicom Disk System in Japan, which allowed for better music. There are some other differences between the Japanese version and the Western release. While dungeons were just grey they featured colours in the western release. Also some of the leveling worked differente. The game only saved the lowest level of the three attributes (more on them later). The Adventure of Link was previously slated to arrive earlier in the West but due to a shortage in ROM chips, had to be pushed back.
The initial reception of Adventure of Link was quite good. Famitsu for example gave it a 36 out of 40 (90%) and Play 91%. Nintendo Power even gave it a Game of the Year Award in 1988. Since then the perception of the game has somewhat shifted.
Obviously it was later ported to every other Nintendo console. It was on the GBA, Gamecube, the Virtual Console and Switch Online, because this is Zelda and it is popular. So there are many ways to play this game today. Today many people do consider it to be one of the poorer Zelda Games. But why is that?
At the beginning of development the set goal was clear. The game was to be as different from the original as possible. For that reason Miyamoto assembled a new team. And Adventure of Link changed as much as Botw did later. Gameplay is split up in two sections perspective wise. The overworld is traversed in a 2d top down view, while dungeons, towns and enemy encounters are in a side scrolling perspective. The overworld is reminiscent of a lot of rpgs of the time, with random encounters. Although the enemies can be seen and it is possible to avoid them. Upon contact with them Link and the player are transferred to a little side scrolling segment on with the fight acourse. It is possible to avoid the enemies here, and just flee left from where you came. At some points you need to go through with it to get to a secret or progress in the story.
Other than that, the overworld is not that different from The Legend of Zelda. Towns are new, and they allow Link to find new magic spells and be healed. (Yes that means there is a red clothed woman that takes Link into her house to do whatever she does. We will come to Crazy Tracy later when it is time for Link’s Awakening.)
Dungeons in this game then are also viewed from the side. That makes them the most unique in the franchise. They are way more labyrinthian with a lot of backtracking, and dead ends. Without a map or a guide I found myself lost in them often.
But before we come to my personal experience with the game, let’s talk about the rpg mechanics of the game. Other than the random encounters Adventure of Link features magic spells and an experience point system.
Every enemy drops a certain amount of exp. that can be used to level up Link’s life, power and magic. These are very self explanatory, so let us focus on magic and spells. Magic can be in many Zelda games a real lifesaver. (We will see that in A Link to the Past.) Keeping a close look on the magic level is really important. In Adventure that is no different. There are spells you need to cast to progress such as the Jump spell, that allows Link to jump higher. Others help with higher resistance or attacks that may kill otherwise undefeatable enemies. To obtain these spells there are often sidequests for the player to complete, before Link can learn them.
The combat system also changed considerably and got more complex. Not only are there two stances with Link being able to crouch down. He can also use an upwards and downwards attack. Enemies attack themself either high or low with the stances being able to protect only against one of these. This combat system gives Adventure of Link a way deeper tactical element than its predecessor. This game is also the source for Link’s down air attack in the Smash Bros series, something that is quite famous with some of my friends.
Accessibility and opinion
Truly I didn’t know what to do while playing this Zelda title for most of the time. The overworld manages to be more confusing than the one from the original. Also the dungeons were a maze I did not at all solve on myself. But I have to admit that I could have tried harder. There are dolls instead of heart containers that can be found in the overworld, but without a guide it comes down to luck if you find them. The same can also be said about some of the not so optional magic spells, or just where to go. This is in my opinion the biggest downfall of this Zelda title. Other than the previous game the manual does not feature much information to grant you an easy start. It maybe because the team felt like the players were able to do it all themself after the great reception of The Legend of Zelda. But sadly I am myself too accustomed to the features of a bit newer games. We will hopefully be able to come to The Legend of Zelda - A Link to the Past in a short while.
More than in the original game I felt like the hit boxes were a bit off. But overall I really enjoyed the combat and the experience system. They are the stand out elements in this game (of course after the downward thrust).