Review: Zelda II: Amida’s Curse
For most of my life, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with Zelda II. I remember the incredible excitement of getting a new Zelda game as a wee lad, only to have that excitement viciously tempered by its strange side-scrolling structure and extreme difficulty. I never did come to grips with it until I beat it recently, and though I appreciate it much more now than ever before, it’s still a game with very clear, very prominent flaws. Leave it to the romhacking community to come up with answers to everything, though, as Amida’s Curse makes a very clear effort to provide a unique Zelda II experience with more reasonable expectations of its players. It doesn’t always hit that mark, but it does make for a game just as fun (if not moreso) than the one it’s constructed from.
Amida’s Curse is built around the simple premise that Link has been mysteriously transported into the world of Amida, and needs to find a way back to Hyrule. Doing so requires placing six stones in the six shrines around the world, and then descending into the ominous Abyss to find the portal home. You’ll learn a little bit about the world of Amida as you go, thanks to the clear dialogue bits and directions you get from town inhabitants here. Still, the story isn’t the focus and it doesn’t need to be, since the premise fits well into the mold of the original game. Find the six shrines, find the items and spells needed to get through them, done.
What will be different for those familiar with Zelda II is the structure of Amida’s Curse. The early sections of the game are far more linear and directed, while the later ones are more open and require more exploration and backtracking. It’s a solid progression that alleviates a lot of the wandering that affected folks in the first half of the original game. Items and spells naturally come to you in different orders, providing the game an unexpected new balance. You’ll face tougher monsters earlier in Amida’s Curse while the mainstay Life spell is found much later in the game. However, this still makes for an easier experience overall because you get the Shield and Reflect spells very early, allowing you more robust combat options than just healing through everything.
It really is a smoother experience overall, between the clear directions and rebalancing effect of getting tools in a new order. Exploration is still rewarded with health, magic, and experience, and less grinding is needed overall to get your stats to the necessary levels for the challenges presented. One change I really like is making the 1-up items rarely found throughout the world increase your max number of lives, instead of simply providing another one-off chance. The shrines and dungeons are also remixed in very interesting ways, with bosses moved around to spots that you won’t be expecting at all. The challenge remains sensible all the way through to the final two dungeons, which I found to be confusing in ways different from the original game. That infamous final boss is also still here, and if anything worse than in Zelda II, so don’t be afraid to cheese it if you remember the trick.
All of this is accompanied by new sprite work that honestly looks better than the original game, for the most part. Link has more contrast and a more defined sword, enemies show more texture and detail, and there are a few full replacements that I consider clear upgrades over the original monsters. The tiles used for the shrines, though, I found to have some questionable color choices and also blend background and foreground elements in some very confusing ways. Despite these missteps, though, Amida’s Curse is a remarkable work to be borne from Zelda II. It very much accomplishes its goal of creating a smoother, more balanced experience than the game that inspired it, and in my eyes, succeeds at making it just as fun an experience.