Zelda 2 was one of the first games I had for NES, so it has a special place in my heart and I know every nook and corner of it inside out. That said I understand some of the critics of it, but most of them I don't. Especially anything about combat which is just brilliant in about every way.
'Random' encounter system on overworld instead of direct enemy confrontations, I really hate that.
It's an RPG, obviously inspired by DQ which was released with great success the year before Zelda 2, and uses the same basic formula but with an action-based battle system. I think the random encounter system with visible enemies is great, and I always thought more RPGs should use this system, but they seldom do. The only problem I have with it is that enemies are moving in real-time. I would prefer that they only move when the player moves. That would make exploration less stressful, as you could stay still and look at the map without interruption that way.
Overworld graphics are way more boxy than Zelda 1, you never lose track of that 16x16 grid.
It's a scaled map screen unlike in Zelda 1, so things needs to be simplified and benefits of being a bit blocky. Tiles are rather boxy compared to later RPGs though, especially forest tiles.
Nothing special about underworld entrances. They are so cool and creepy face-shaped in Zelda 1.
There are no underworld entrances, the dungeons are in temples in this game, but yeah they all use the same Roman pillar arcade type of temple entrance tile. Cave entrances are pretty much the same as in Zelda 1, just a black tile.
General blandness of underworlds, easy to get lost because everything look exactly the same, reminds me of jumping over the flagpole in SMB1 and the background just loops forever and you're stuck and not having any fun anymore.
Dungeons are much simpler in Zelda 2 than in Zelda 1, and you can easily get past all of them without a map, with the final temple being the only exception as it's very large and complicated (the Death Mountain maze might also qualify though as it's a very long series of connected caves). So I don't understand what you mean by them being easy to get lost in. I could understand it if you said that dungeons are less interesting because of the lack of puzzles and being less complicated than in Zelda 1 like Fiskbit said. Not MORE complicated, which I don't think they are. You basically just pick up keys, fights enemies and do some platform jumping over lava pits, so yeah kind of like small gauntlets. You occasionally need a certain item or spell to advance though, like the glove or the fairy spell. This makes it a bit more Zelda IMHO, but it's definitely the Zelda game with the least puzzles in the series.
I don't agree that dungeons are bland. Most rooms looks different enough for you to know about where you are, even though it's not a grid system. This is not Metroid which do have tons of identical looking corridors and shafts. The manual suggests you to draw a map of dungeons, but I've never needed to do that in Zelda 2, as they are mostly small enough to keep everything in your memory.
Elevators in underworld -- it just doesn't make any sense, why is there an elevator. It should look ancient and crumbling, no electricity, etc.
I could never understand why some people complain when modern technique is mixed with medieval in fantasy. I always thought it was a great idea, though it should maybe be done in moderation. It is anyhow a very common thing in fantasy.
the single thing I liked the less about Zelda 2 : The very, very short sword range.
It isn't shorter than the enemies' weapons in general, even with those using spears. You need to stand in range of the enemy's weapon for your attacks to connect. Make good use of the shield. If the enemy is a good shield user you can use a special technique that I developed myself. I call it the "Double Stab". First retreat a bit to create some room between you and the enemy, then do a short jump forward to within sword range of the enemy by running, ducking then jumping while keep ducking (Link should be in the ducking position through the whole jump). Then press B while in the air on the way down. If your sword hits the enemy with the right timing it should hit both the top part and bottom part on the way down. Almost no enemy can defend against this, but it's a bit hard to do, especially if the enemy has projectile attacks as well (like the blue Iron Knuckle).
Here are some things that I like and that Zelda 2 really improves on:
- Entertaining fighting system. This is something that Zelda 1 is seriously missing. The fighting in Zelda 1 is very crude because of the tile-based movement, lack of diagonal movement (except for enemy beams which can move in any direction towards Link) and the requirement to turn/walk towards the enemy before attacking. Enemies' attacks are basically limited to touching you or shooting you with projectiles. Fights with a Darknut (about the only worthy opponent among slimes, bats and other small-fry) feels like some kind of clumsy dogfight where you need to get on the side of them to attack.
In Zelda II battles are much more sophisticated and requires good use of shield and sword fencing techniques. Enemies have a large number of possible moves and some can even run away. You still need to turn towards the enemy for your attacks to connect, but this is much less of a problem in a side-view action game with pixel-based movement, as you can easily turn without taking a full tile-step, and there are only two facing directions. Battling an Iron Knuckle really feels like you battle a worthy opponent as it can use both the sword and shield properly, and no more dogfights.
Ocarina of Time was developed with Zelda 2 as inspiration to make battles entertaining, and that was a good choice as it basically defined action-based combat in 3D games with Z-targeting and all that.
Now I understand that Zelda 1 was heavily inspired by Hydlide, and they took that game idea, threw out the RPG-style auto battles and added a more pure action-based battle system to it, and thus basically established the action-RPG genre. So I give it some slack as it was one of the first games in that genre.
Zelda II (which wasn't even a Zelda from the beginning) takes an entirely different route and instead adds a fencing system to the athletic platform genre, and puts it in an RPG after finally slapping the Zelda label on it.
- Experience point system, Zelda II is much more of an RPG than any other Zelda game. For some reason it's the only game that is missing rupees though, which is another common RPG element.
- Spells, Zelda 1 had some magic artifacts like the rod, but you couldn't really learn spells and there was no MP system. Aonuma seems to have removed the MP system in favor for a stamina system in modern Zelda games though. Alhough I don't dislike the stamina system, I'm don't see the reason to remove MP.