Opinion: Top 5 The Legend of Zelda games
What are the Hero of Hyrule's best adventures?
I’m really scared to write this article. In celebration of industry legend Shigeru Miyamoto’s 64th birthday, we decided to try and tackle a top five list regarding his beloved game series The Legend of Zelda. Due to the sheer breadth and diversity of this franchise, it’s impossible to come up with a definitive list. Everyone has their favorite entry and most people I talk to about this are ready to die on that hill. Zelda means so much to gamers that I’m certain this editorial is going to rub some people the wrong way. As such I want to put forth a disclaimer that this is my personal list and does not reflect the general consensus of the team at GameZone. I have consulted with some close friends who are what I would consider some of the biggest fans of The Legend of Zelda and after presenting them with my top five choices and defending those selections, I was awarded their blessing. So here goes nothing.
5. A Link Between Worlds
The Legend of Zelda series has enjoyed a long life on both Nintendo’s portable and console platforms. However, I think most would agree that the console games tend to outshine those on the handhelds. Arguably the best portable Zelda entry is A Link Between Worlds, the only unique Zelda game made for the 3DS (sorry, Triforce Heroes does not count). A sequel to the Super Nintendo’s A Link to the Past, this entry in the franchise features incredible dungeon designs and unconventional gameplay. In most Zelda games, there is a linear pattern of acquiring an item and then tackling a dungeon that requires said item to complete. A few games mix it up a little, like how the Shadow and Spirit temples of Ocarina of Time can be interchanged. But not since the original Zelda have gamers had the choice to face any dungeon in any order they like.
In A Link Between Worlds, instead of acquiring new items, the entire catalog of tools is available to gamers from the onset via a rental system. It helps the game return to that quasi-open world feel lacking in the more linear Zelda entries. Between that and traversing both Hyrule and Lorule (a dark mirror of the former location), the developers are able to make the most out of limited resources. The puzzles found in the dungeons stand among some of the best in the franchise, and the story proves to be a worthy successor to A Link to the Past whilst also standing on its own. It’s is required reading for anyone that owns a 3DS.
4. Ocarina of Time
For many, Ocarina of Time was their first introduction to Princess Zelda, the Hero of Time Link and the kingdom of Hyrule. If someone came up to me and said “I’ve never played a Zelda game. Where do I start?” I’d answer with this entry. Whilst it may not impress newcomers the way it did upon its initial release, it certainly holds up with the remaster for the 3DS handheld. It’s linear to a fault, but it gets the point across of why this series is special and provides enough gameplay hooks without overwhelming the gamer.
For me, Ocarina succeeds with its narrative and gameplay twist that occurs around halfway through the game. After failing to prevent Ganondorf from obtaining the Triforce, Link awakens after seven years when he is finally old enough to wield the master sword and save the kingdom of Hyrule. The game from there has the player switching back and forth between the two timelines in order to complete certain puzzles. It serves as one of the most memorable stories in the series, as well as successfully transitioning the games into a 3D format.
3. A Link to the Past
A Link to the Past was a quantum leap in terms of design over the original The Legend of Zelda and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. It’s where the series really found its footing and became the template for almost all of the handheld entries that were in the future of the franchise. Narratively it became the skeleton for almost every Zelda game, and its map of Hyrule is instantly recognizable. If Ocarina of Time is the staple for 3D Zelda entries, A Link to the Past is the standard for the top down games. It also introduced the notion of parallel worlds, which if you’ve been following, is a hallmark of many of the Zelda games. It’s a testament to the game that it stands as one of the best titles for the Super Nintendo, which objectively is considered to have the strongest gaming catalog of any console.
2. The Wind Waker
In 2003, The Legend of Zelda was in need of a refresh. Ocarina of Time had in some ways reinvented the wheel, but in others was formulaic for the series. And whilst Majora’s Mask had the unique time manipulation gameplay, it was almost indistinguishable in look to its predecessor. That’s why The Wind Waker was exactly the game we needed when Nintendo was looking to make a Zelda for Gamecube. The against the grain design of The Wind Waker initially did not sit well with a lot of gamers, but looking back many now praise the cel-shaded look. The story was more personal and felt carefully carved out, boldly shedding a lot of the tropes players were accustomed to with a Zelda game. Personally, it’s the one game in the series I enjoy returning to the most after all these years.
1. Twilight Princess
Here we go. The most divisive of all Zelda games sitting on top of my list. I’m sure some readers are going to be outraged at this choice, but after much deliberation, I firmly stand by it, and here’s why. Link in a lot of games has a companion: Navi in Ocarina, Fi in Skyward Sword, King of Red Lions in The Wind Waker. I feel like there was never a stronger pairing than the Hero of Hyrule and Midna. For a substantial amount of the game she is at odds with Link, defining her as more of her own character than previous companions whom for the most part only serve to help Link achieve his goals. Midna has a substantial amount at stake in the battle against Ganondorf, and the ending of the game is a bittersweet moment that hit me harder than any other instance in the series.
The game I feel has the best pacing of any Zelda game, rivaled only by The Wind Waker. You truly feel like you’ve earned your title as Hero of Hyrule. The increased power of the Wii allowed characters to be more expressive, which helped significantly with our silent protagonist. Link more than ever felt like he had a personality and served than more than just an analog for the gamer. I also enjoyed the darker tone the game took, with the consequences of a world under Ganondorf’s rule feeling more dire than ever before. I understand a lot of the complaints people have against the game: a large but mostly empty feeling open world and substandard dungeon design. But the story, for me, was able to overcome those shortcomings and when I think back to “What is my favorite Zelda game?” the answer is immediately always Twilight Princess.
I want to reiterate: this is a personal list. I’m sure your own likely differs, but after talks with other Zelda fans, I found that I may not be too far off from the norm. Except that last one. I feel like I’m going to get a lot of hate for that one. Regardless, we are lucky to have this extraordinary franchise in our lives, the brainchild of Shigeru Miyamoto. Happy 64th birthday Miyamoto-san!