The Adventure of Link is often considered the black sheep of the Zelda family. Despite being one of the best-selling games in the entire series, many of today’s Zelda fans still haven’t played the title, while others have likely never completed the adventure. By today’s standards, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link is an extremely difficult game and lacks the mass appeal other adventures offer.

Yet, can the black sheep actually be the best offering in the series? While the aim of this article series isn’t to convince anyone one way or the other, I will admit going in that this is my favorite game in the series. While I will try to remove some of my personal bias and stick to the facts, I wanted to be upfront about this. The Adventure of Link may be the best Zelda in the series, so let’s explore how this could be possible.

Combat that Requires More Skill than Any Game in the Series

At the core of The Adventure of Link‘s gaming experience is its combat system. Unlike the traditional top-down experience or the full 3D world effect, this game focuses on side-scrolling. This may seem to somewhat limit your ability to attack enemies, but it actually opened an entirely new avenue of combat that has yet to be matched.

Anyone who has played the game can tell you how difficult beating the simplest of enemies can be and that they likely died many times. This is why when you see someone play through the game like this, it’s practically poetry in motion. An appreciation of the skill demanded to master the combat cannot be overstated. Blocking attacks matters. Timing jump attacks and low attacks matter. Mastering the down thrust attack matters. No skill set in combat goes unused in this title, whereas most other games in the series allow you to beat practically any enemy by simply mashing one button repeatedly. This is extremely impressive in a game that only uses two buttons and a directional pad, especially considering modern Zelda games have the ability to do so much more, but the combat is designed in a way that you never truly need to master any one skill.

If you like extremely challenging combat that requires a high level of skill to complete, this is probably one of the biggest draws this game has to sneak it to the top of the mountain. It may scare many away, but for the few out there… few other games are better combat-wise, let alone other Zelda titles.

Oh, did I mention Link can jump freely? It adds so much to the combat experience.

That RPG Feeling

When anyone considers placing a game at the top of any list, it’s always based on personal preference. That’s why the Role-Playing Game aspect of The Adventure of Link may be a reason that it climbs up the ladder. This is the only game in the entire series that can actually be called an RPG in addition to an action-adventure game. The game’s leveling system allows you to gain experience by killing enemies. You can upgrade your health meter or magic meter by leveling up instead of finding extra items laying around. Combat can often involve pausing at several intervals to cast a varying amount of spells, something more in common with RPGs than most other genres.

Yet through all of this it remains true to the core of what the Zelda experience is: an action-adventure game. The combat happens in real-time and is not turn-based, the exploration is still there, and thus this brings together the best of both worlds — something no other Zelda game does to this extent.

Massive, Sprawling World

While Zelda games haven’t always had massive worlds, The Adventure of Link certainly does.

Being big isn’t always good, but this world pulls it off in a way no other Zelda game does. In the original experience it was just neat not knowing what to expect and being able to go anywhere. Not only can you go anywhere yet again, but there is far more to discover. In fact, this world is so big, eight towns fit in it. To give you an idea, no other Zelda game comes close, even if you want to count places like Zora’s Domain or the Goron City in Death Mountain. When was the last time you remember visiting eight towns populated by Hylians in a Zelda game? That would be Zelda II, because it’s the only game to feature that many, on top of making them feel like a natural part of the world being inhabited.

Beyond the towns there were several secrets to discover and even a few scattered huts. In fact, this world feels more like a massive, wild beast where people are trying to create lives for themselves, and I hope future titles decide to follow suit. You can have a sprawling world that feels untamed while having inhabitants scattered throughout. There are only so many times one can visit Kakariko Village as the only village in the entire game.

Boss Fights That Have Unique Designs and Varied Combat

Earlier I mentioned that for some, the combat system may be a plus, but it shines brightest when facing off against a boss. Be it Horsehead, Thunderbird, or all the way to Dark Link, the combat really shines as each boss presents a massively unique combat experience. It’s not just about stunning an enemy and hitting them in the eye, it’s about skillful dodging, combat, and counter-attacks. Maybe a perfectly timed spell use or jumping at just the right time. I could go on for ages about the boss fights, but if you’re up for a difficult challenge and unique experiences, the boss fights here provide some of the best the series has to offer.

Closing Thoughts

The Adventure of Link certainly isn’t perfect, the story isn’t talked about since it mostly takes place in a game manual (yeah, those use to be relevant!) and many of the positive aspects of this game could be twisted into negatives depending on the player. The reality is that this game isn’t for everyone, not even every Zelda fan. But for those that really prefer the skill and challenge presented, you will find this among the best the series has to offer, if not the best.

As I stated earlier, this is my favorite game in the series so I have a natural affinity for it, but I hope I am coming across as sincere when I talk about each game in this series. I want everyone to understand that the nature of this isn’t to tell you that this game, or any other, are the best, but explain what aspects about them can really stand out to individuals who may feel they are the best.

There is no “single best game” in the series because we all play Zelda for different reasons. I merely hope I do a fair job explaining what those reasons may be for each game so we can gain a greater understanding of what makes each game special, and why it’s not wrong to prefer any game in the series over the rest. Here’s a list of the other games I have examined so far:

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