There's lots of things to be said about Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, and many opinions to be held. For reasons I can't explain, Nintendo decided not to make another Legend of Zelda game, and rather rethink the formula that made the first Zelda title one of the most beloved of all time. I can't think of any other example where Nintendo (or any video game company) had a hit on their hands, decided to crank out a sequel 2 years later, but completely re-wrote the wheel to get there.
Zelda II is basically two games - the overworld, and the combat. First, the overworld. Zelda II puts you on a giant map (noticably larger than the first Zelda game, although it's hard to compare the two due to the differences in gameplay) and has you exploring the countryside in a style that matches up very well with the RPGs of the day. If you stray too far from the safety of the road, monsters appear and it's up to you to avoid them. It's not "random" encounters, since you can usually avoid them if you try hard enough. There's no combat (or action to speak of at all) on the overworld, merely exploration. Does it work? Most of the time, I'd say no. The overworld feels like a chore, and having to chop down every tree, step on every tile, and hit the whistle button every few steps can get really tiring after awhile.
Every so often you come across a town, and the towns are baffling in their design. Every town has one healer, one magic-refiller, and one magic spell you can get, usually involving a fetch quest of some sort. However, for reasons unknown, in the towns later in the game, random villagers begin TURNING INTO BATS. This does not seem conducive to keeping the peace if you ask me. For the most part, the advice that the villagers give you is nonsense, and I don't remember ever relying on it one bit when I was trying to beat this game for the first time. What are you supposed to do when a villager says to you "I am Error" exactly?
The other major part of Zelda II is the combat, and to me this is where the game excels. The swordplay in Zelda II is more fun than in any of the other 2D Zelda games that come to mind. Sidescrolling lends itself well to swordplay. The up-thrust and down-thrust techniques you get later in the game make it even more fun. Fighting the knights and skeletons (I'm sure they have proper Zelda names, sorry I don't know them) who have shields is a fun exercise in give-and-take, and when they drop 200 XP on you, it feels like it was worth the effort.
One of the notable things about Zelda II is it's difficulty. This game is hard, almost exclusively because there are almost no items in this game that heal you. Sometimes you'll find a fairy, and maybe a magic-refill (even so, you are forced to go through the first 25% of the game without a healing spell) but there are no heart pickups in this Zelda game. Combat can be quite fierce later in the games, but the introduction of magic into the game does a lot to even the odds.
There's many other things I can talk about in this game (the leveling system, the lack of items, the incredibly confusing final palace) but instead, I'll focus on my opinion of the game.
Having just recently replayed Zelda 1 and Zelda II, I am surprised to say that I actually enjoyed Zelda II more. I don't think it's a better game, but the swordplay in Zelda II is so much more intense that I'm not sure there's anything in Zelda 1 that quite matches it. There's less "burn down this random bush" type of secrets in Zelda II, so you spend more time looking around and less time trying to uncover every little secret.
In the end, Zelda 1 is the better title, but Zelda II is sorely underrated, and if it didn't have the world Zelda at the front, it would be remembered as one of the best games of it's era.
RANK THE GAMES: (Adding Zelda II to the pile doesn't change things much):