Zelda II bears little resemblance to the first game, or for that matter, any other game ever released in the series. Rather than the top-down view of the previous title, Zelda II features side-scrolling areas within a larger world map. The game also incorporates a strategic combat system and more RPG elements, including an experience points (EXP) system, magic spells, and more interaction with non-player characters (NPCs). Another notable difference is that Link has (and can pick up additional) extra lives; no other game in the series to date includes this feature.
In this installment, Link gains experience points to upgrade his attack, magic, and life (Defense) by defeating enemies; each of which awards him a certain amount of EXP. He can raise each of these attributes a maximum of eight levels. Raising a life level will decrease the damage Link receives when hit; raising a magic level will decrease the MP cost of spells; and raising an attack level will strengthen his offensive power.
Link can also acquire up to four Heart Containers and up to four Magic Containers that permanently increase his life points and magic points. Most other games in the Zelda series only allow Link to increase his strength through new weapons, items, and Heart Containers.
Certain enemies drain Link's experience when they attack, though he will never lose a level once raised. Without fighting enemies and leveling up, the already challenging game may prove too difficult to complete.
Overworld map and side-scrolling
The second Zelda plays out in a two-mode dynamic. The overworld, which was previously where the majority of the action occurred, is still from a top-down perspective, but now serves mainly as a hub to the other areas. Whenever Link enters an area (town, cave, palace, etc.) the game switches to a side-scrolling view. This mode is where most of the action takes place, and is the only mode in which Link can take damage and be killed.
Link also enters this mode when attacked by wandering monsters. Whenever the player traverses the various environments of Hyrule (fields, forests, swamps, etc.), black enemy silhouettes appear and pursue him. Of the three random creatures that appear, there are two types, which correspond to the ensuing battle: a smaller, weaker blob; and a larger, stronger biped. This separate method of travel and combat is one of many aspects adapted from the role-playing genre.
Zelda II makes use of relatively simple controls and mechanics for Link's battles. He must alternate between standing and crouching positions in order to attack enemies and defend himself; for example, the Iron Knuckle changes the height of its attack and its shield depending on Link's current stance, forcing Link to change stances until he has a chance to attack safely. Link also has the ability to jump, which can be used for attacking tall or airborne enemies, and for evasion. Eventually, he can also learn techniques for downward and upward stabs in midair.
In place of actively-used items, The Adventure of Link features spells for Link to use during action scenes. Each spell is learned from a wise man, each one in a different town. Before they teach Link their spells, he often has to complete side-quests such as retrieving lost items.