“Never fear quarrels, but seek hazardous adventures.”
― Alexandre Dumas,
Let no one say that the Well-Red Mage doesn’t deliver on his promises. Here it is: The Legend of Zelda’s “Second Quest”. Back in March, I reviewed the “First Quest” of this classic NES adventure and we discovered together just how foundational that inaugural entry in the beloved Zelda franchise was. So many of the archetypal and gameplay elements were already present in Link’s first 8-bit outing: the hero in green himself, the princess, Gannon, the Triforce, Hyrule, the top-down perspective, the ability to save your game, etc, etc.
So what about this Second Quest? It’s not a dramatically different game than the First, so we shan’t expect a tremendously different score and rating at the end of this review. But here’s what is different about the Second Quest.The difficulty. “Retro” games are infamous for their difficulty in comparison to modern games. Some of the old school titles had hugely unfair challenges like a lack of save points before bosses or perfect memory of enemy attack patterns or platforming stages that required computer precision to pass. The Legend of Zelda is certainly no exception. The First Quest is pretty difficult and the game itself is still one of the hardest in the franchise. But the Second Quest is hellish. Die a lot on the First Quest? Prepare to dig your own grave and jump in it in the Second. If you aren’t used to the timing demanded by 80’s gaming, then you should start window shopping for coffins today. I’ll deliver your eulogy for you.
The enemies are more numerous, with rooms contain greater assortments of enemies, and tougher foes are encountered earlier in the game now. Expect to be pestered by fire-ball shooting Stone Statues, armored Darknuts, Blue Goriyas, and teleporting Wizzrobes even in the first couple of dungeons. Oh and there are plenty of those invincible Bubbles and more mini-bosses, too.
The locations of shops, items and dungeons are rearranged. Only the first dungeon is in the same location in both quests, but the others are all different. Dungeon 6 has been moved to the ghost-infested Graveyard, for instance. On the world map, the locations of heart pieces are different as well.
The nine dungeon layouts have also changed. Instead of the Eagle, Moon, Manji, Snake, Lizard, Dragon, Demon, Lion, and Skull, brave souls are treated to new dungeon maps, some of which are shaped like letters of the English alphabet. The new dungeons are the letters E, A, L, D, Z (anagram for ZELDA), dungeon 6 doesn’t resemble anything (a fern? If you know what it is tell me!), dungeon 7 is a rightward spiral, dungeon 8 a leftward spiral, and the dreaded dungeon 9 is Gannon’s head. So none of the dungeon-crawling and secret-door-finding from the First Quest will avail you in the Second. There are even secret passageways in dungeons that you can walk through without using bombs. Tough to find unless you test every wall. It’s a whole new ballgame.
The lack of farming. You can get a few choice items like the Blue Ring before facing the first boss but special items are pretty limited now and you’ll have to clear the first couple of deep dark dungeons on only a meager handful of hearts. You can’t abuse these special items early in the game like you could with the First Quest. This means that while the First Quest was pretty non-linear, meaning you could access nearly any dungeon or area of Hyrule whenever you wanted, the Second Quest is less conducive to such a privilege. You simply won’t be able to make it past the next couple of dungeons without the beloved heart containers found at the end of the ones that have come before.
There are two ways to access the Second Quest. You can play through the First and defeat Gannon and rescue the princess Zelda and then receive the prompt to begin the harder quest. Or, if you’re a Zelda vet itching for a challenge, then you can just start a new game and name your character ZELDA to immediately begin the Second Quest. If that’s you, and you haven’t played through the First Quest, well, first, then expect a much harder time. The Second Quest is best tackled with the first playthrough fresh in mind. A lot of the rearranged locations on the world map have been switched to places that were significant in the First Quest, meaning that a lot of your knowledge of Hyrule gained through an initial playthrough will come to be essential to finding everything in the Second Quest.
I’m just not sure what Link would think about naming your new game ZELDA…
The 8-Bit Review
The exact same graphics from the First Quest are present in the Second. A few things are rearranged but it’s essentially the same.
Same thing with audio. This is the same, very limited soundtrack. Still iconic, though.
Once you realize what The Legend of Zelda setup is capable of, you’ll forever feel like a pansy if you’ve beaten the First Quest but never the Second. I wouldn’t call the Second Quest the “real game” but it really pushes the possibilities of the game to extreme limits, forcing players to have split-second timing and precision and agility, as well as an intimate knowledge of the game and how it works… and a generous patience for trial and error. This sort of thing doesn’t really function in the same way it did when the game was in its prime. Today, we’ve got all sorts of walkthroughs, speedruns, playthroughs, and FAQs to help us through something like the Second Quest, and it simply ends up feeling more like a chore than anything else. But when the internet was scarce and the local library was the primary source of information, the Second Quest was an awe-inspiring and truly horrific thing. It could make any 8-bit gamer squeal in terror like a schoolgirl. I gave the Second Quest a higher score for gameplay than the First for this reason. It’s the best and hardest gameplay that the original golden cartridge had to offer.
The narrative is the same. Gannon is still the final boss. The only difference is that upon completing the Second Quest you get to view a black screen with white text that says “End of ‘The Legend of Zelda 1’”. Whee.
While significantly harder than the first playthrough, I’m not sure which is harder: The Legend of Zelda’s “Second Quest” or Zelda II.
It would take a special kind of masochist to do this to themselves and play through the Second Quest multiple times. I’ve met a lot of gaming braggarts but none so arrogant (or disingenuous) as to claim that they’ve beaten the Second Quest more than once… and enjoyed it.
Okay so they’re really the same game, both of these quests. And while the whole “Second Playthrough Hardmode” concept wasn’t invented by The Legend of Zelda, it was one of the first games to include whole new playable areas with entirely different map layouts, rather than just harder enemies or more enemies to represent the challenge. So it is innovative in that sense. Funny thing is, the Second Quest came about as an accident. In developing the game, the designers found they’d only used half the data space of the cartridge for the nine dungeons, so they decided to make nine more for another adventure. If you were to ask me, I’d say the game could’ve used more music instead, but I’m not Shigeru Miyamoto.
My Personal Grade: 9/10
Like the First Quest, I can respect The Legend of Zelda’s Second Quest. Completing it would be one of the highest triumphs and accolades of the NES era. But man, it’s difficult. At the risk of appearing like a novice, I’ll admit I haven’t played through and beaten the “Second Quest” for over a decade and a half. How I ever completed it all those years ago as a younger and clearly more determined version of myself, I’ll never know. Attempting it again in 2016 reminded me that I’ve accumulated many more skills through the years, but clearing The Legend of Zelda is evidently no longer one of them.
How about you? Have you beaten the “Second Quest”? Did Nintendo give you the free high-five they promised?
Aggregated Score: 6.4