Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Zelda II Versus Faxanadu

Alright. I finished up Faxanadu. I'd played it a little on the original nes (back when I used to have a nes game collection the size of most closets), but I hadn't really thought about playing it the whole way through until I came to appreciate the gameplay of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. In fact, I downloaded Faxanadu onto my Wii purely for playing a game like Zelda II. I was not disappointed. The gameplay in these two sidescrolling action rpgs are pretty similar. There are a lot of similarities, but there are also a lot of differences. Due to those, I thought I'd compare the games here and try to decide which one I like better.

The Story: In some alternate universe, Faxanadu is part of the Zelda canon. Had it taken place in some realm outside of a tree, you could almost mistake it for a Zelda game. It's very much the same as the more beloved titles in Zelda. The elven hero runs from town to town, finding problems and helping resolve them. He battles forces of darkness, and everyone is counting on him. In the end, he vanquishes the evil one, and his world can begin to rebuild. And just like in Ocarina of Time, our hero leaves his home world after the journey is over.

Amazingly, however, Zelda II isn't one of those common, almost recycled, Zelda plots. It's the only Zelda game that takes place in a world where Ganon recently died. Rather, this time, the Triforce storyline really begins to develop, and Link goes on his quest to find the lost Triforce of Courage. He needs to awaken a sleeping princess of astounding beauty. And in the end, his greatest enemy is himself. Although it's just making parallels with Peter Pan and Sleeping Beauty, the whole thing comes together as rather "deep". Link has to battle his physically defeat his dark side in order to touch the all powerful Triforce.

I'm obviously partial to Zelda stories, but I think that AoL story wins by a hair. Faxanadu gets lots of points for the unique idea of being inside a tree, but nah, I still like AoL's story more.

Graphics: There is no comparison. Faxanadu wins here. Zelda II's graphics are pretty terrible, in my opinion, even by nes standards. Faxanadu, on the other hand, has some of the best graphics I've ever seen on the nes. Granted, now, the mist areas of Faxanadu suffered from gridlike pixellation, but that's just one area. By far and large, Faxanadu presents beautiful buildings, detailed character closeups, and pretty well drawn enemies (even though most of the enemies look a little meh).

Sound: It's close. There are some good tracks in Faxanadu (Fortress theme, Last Level theme, Mist Area theme), but some are pretty annoying to the ears (game over theme). The same could be said of Zelda II (overworld theme). I haven't listened to them side by side, but there are songs within Zelda II that would be almost radio worthy. (dungeon theme, great palace theme). I'll call it a tie to avoid Zelda bias.

Overall Gameplay: The graphics of Faxanadu make the realm more interesting to walk around. Everything from the towns to the font is nicer. Again, Zelda II looks pretty bland in comparison. The secrets in Faxanadu are also more of a challenge to find.

Just like the original Legend of Zelda, Zelda II has some BS in it that makes no sense. As candles burned trees in LoZ, so too do hammers chop down trees in AoL. Fortunately, Faxanadu features no such secret, nonsensical, confounding mechanic.

Faxanadu has an astonishing series of towns. The pricing schemes actually make the player have to do some shopping around. There are little untold stories given via character placement (e.g. The absent nurse at the hospital went to a neighboring town to buy food at the food shop.) Zelda II, while it has very similar towns to those within Faxanadu, seems to have used them far less artfully.

You have a lot more control over Link than you do Faxanadu's Hero. His sword skills make your job much easier. Faxanadu's on the other hand, seems rather crippled in comparison. Ganon could send his AoL minions into the world tree and conquer the place in a day. Why? Because No one can crouch to stab the darknuts! I suppose they omitted a crouching stab to try and get you to use the magic system more (which is a very good system), but it often makes things needlessly difficult. A little spiked crawly thing shouldn't be able to sneak up and kill you because your character can't reach down with a sword!

The boss fights in Zelda II are among the most exhilarating in the series. Dark Link makes his first appearance, as does the Ball and Chain warrior that later appeared in Twilight Princess. Thunderbird is a formidable opponent if one ever existed. Even the easier bosses in Zelda II such as Barba (aka Volvagia) and Helmethead have a gimmick that makes the fight enjoyable. Faxanadu, however, uses the same tactics to fight bosses over and over again. There are so moments with Castlevania style platforming, but for the most part, it's either walk forward and stab or jump up and stab. Even the final boss of Faxanadu can be defeated by standing in place, jumping up, spamming B, and using potions as necessary.

So, in the end, I guess I'm far more likely to play Zelda II because I think it's just a better video game in terms of controls. But Faxanadu is a beautiful journey, has good projectiles, and is definitely worthy of at least one or two plays.

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