My brother and I recently decided to beat Zelda II on NES. When we finally reached the end screen, after nearly three months of zero-cheating torture, we had all the spells, all items, all magic containers, all heart containers, level 8 on everything, had fully beaten all temples (meaning they turn into mountains so you cannot re-enter them)... but still somehow four keys left.

Even after we had found the "Magic Key", which according to the cryptic manual "can open several of the locked doors" (in contrast to the original game where it just meant "unlimited keys"), the game kept giving us several normal keys in the last two temples, which never went anywhere. There were four nonexistent doors left for the keys to open. Just not present anywhere. And we made careful maps to really scan through each temple.

Isn't the Magic Key required to even get anywhere in the second-to-last temple? We had zero keys for the longest time until we found that key and could proceed into that temple's first (and only) locked door... only to get more keys inside. But no doors anywhere to actually use the keys. Not even ones that open with the Magic Key. No doors period.

Also worth to mention is that, unlike the first game, Zelda II has no way to purchase keys. They are always found or rewarded for beating a mini-boss, and appear to be presented as very important objects.

Also, a person in the game literally tells you to "use the keys in the same palace as where you find them". I wonder what that means since you appear to have no choice?

Am I fundamentally confused about what it means when a temple turns into a mountain tile (and prevent you from re-entering)? Does it perhaps only signify that you beat the boss and got out of the temple, but there are no guarantees that you found all items/secrets inside?

How could we have four keys left?

  • 3
    The temple turns to mountain when you have both placed the crystal in the pedestal (it's possible to beat the boss and then leave without doing this if you backtrack to the entrance, or game over), and have obtained the main dungeon item from that temple. There's no requirement to get everything you could have gotten, so you can easily miss some exp bags or keys, but you do have to do everything that is required to beat the game before it locks you out.
    – Hearth
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 15:45

3 Answers 3


Good question! Also, props to you. My brother and I beat Zelda 2 on the NES a few years ago using soley the manual as well.

How could we have four keys left?

The reason you can have four keys left in the game is because you collected the Magical Key from the town New Kasuto. The Magical Key allows Link to unlock any Locked Door. Unlike a normal Key, it is reusable, meaning that regular Keys are rendered useless once obtained.[1]

What? If the Magical Key unlocks every other door, and it is required to collect, why would there be any other keys hidden on the maps?

Unfortuantely, this is just another instance of wonky NES game design. It doesn't make sense. Just as the original LoZ will claim that there is a secret hidden on every screen of the map when there isn't, NES games are somewhat notorious for sometimes not having fully thought-out aspects of their game design. (In this case, that there is no reason to hide any more keys once you require players to collect the Magical Key.)

This is complete conjecture, but this could have resulted from the game designers later adding in the Magical Key's ability to unlock every door instead of just being a regular key, and then not going back and removing the other regular keys afterward.

Where did the extra keys come from?

After obtaining the Magical Key, every door you unlock expends no keys when you open them. Yet there are still keys hidden in the last two dungeons such as after the horse-mounted Blue Iron Knuckle ("Once you defeat him, a key will fall, but this key is useless since you already have the Magic Key."[2]) or after the temple's boss.

EDIT: All credit to @Hearth in the comments below on this answer. Go give him some Internet points by upvoting his comment or answer, but I am rephrasing his observation here for convenience:

He pointed out that Zelda II's system for opening the boss gates on the side of the screen is triggered by collecting a key, so that is a reason for the developers to keep including some of the keys in the last two dungeons: Not because you might "need" them to unlock a door, but because they were the trigger for indicating to the game that the boss room was ready to be exited.

  • 3
    If I recall correctly, I once collected the magical key in LoZ's 8th dungeon before even entering the first. Just pick up a candle, some bait, some bombs, a ring, a couple heart containers, the white sword, maybe a red potion. It definitely wasn't a speed run by any means, but it felt satisfying to defy the instruction manual's caution that death awaits those that go out of order.
    – phyrfox
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 0:20
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    @ShadowTheKidWizard not just 2 people, it has to be brothers specifically. Many other combinations have been attempted, but none have succeeded.
    – James T
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 9:52
  • 1
    @JamesT so twins can do it faster? Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 9:55
  • 2
    I love how in the world of Zelda, a regular key can only be used once and then disappears into the ether, but a Magic Key can be used over and over again and doesn't disappear. Just like in real life. Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 15:27
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    There is one case in which a key is required even if you have the magical key: Anywhere the screen locks for a boss or miniboss fight, the only way in the code to unlock the screen is for Link to pick up a key. This is why the blue iron knuckle and boss drop keys even though you're expected to have the magical key by then.
    – Hearth
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 15:41

There are two reasons for this: a game design one, and a technical one.

The game design reason is simple. There are doors in each dungeon that you don't have to open. Some doors only lead to minor rewards like a point bag or magic refill, neither of which is required to beat the dungeon. Once you do beat the dungeon, which consists of nothing more or less than obtaining the dungeon's main item and placing the crystal into the statue, the dungeon is replaced on the world map with a mountain tile and is no longer accessible, leaving any still-locked doors behind while Link takes the keys with him.

Additionally, one of the effects of the Fairy spell is that, in fairy form, Link can fly "through the keyhole" of locked doors, bypassing them entirely. If you have any keys when you try to do this, the door will still be opened (this might be considered a glitch, depending on who you ask), but if you have no keys and approach a door in fairy form, you can just fly right through.

The technical reason is that when Link encounters a boss or miniboss, the screen is locked so that you can't leave the boss arena. Every boss drops a key to unlock the door right behind their arena--likely both to give an in-universe reason for you to be fighting them instead of running past, and to give you a "you beat the boss and got a thing" sense of achievement similar to the orbs after every Castlevania boss.

Perhaps to ensure you can't miss it (as it would probably--but I can't say for sure--despawn if you left the room), the screen remains locked until you pick up the key. As a side effect of this decision, the only way in the code for the screen to unlock is for Link to pick up a key. Rather than complicate matters by making special cases for the handful of bosses you fight after getting the magic key, they just have those bosses still drop keys so that you can unlock the screen and move on.


As far as I recall, you could fly through keyholes with the Fairy spell ( I just looked it up and apparently this wasn't possible on European versions of the game, wild! ), so even before getting the Magic Key you have the potential to skip using some keys, magic power allowing.

If you're feeling really wild, with this feature you can end the game with a letter number of keys left over, but that takes some doing.

Edit to include clarification from @wizzwizz4 in regards to holding more than 9 keys: " It indexes into the tileset. If it's not got any base support, 10 will just use the next tile after 9."

Edit edit: Source: I played the living crap out of this game with my little brother. <3

  • "letter number" -- you mean, it uses Base 36 key counts?
    – Yakk
    Commented Nov 1, 2022 at 13:53
  • 2
    @Yakk It indexes into the tileset. If it's not got any base support, 10 will just use the next tile after 9.
    – wizzwizz4
    Commented Nov 1, 2022 at 17:24

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