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The Legend of Zelda is the first video game franchise that I ever took an active interest in and played with the actual intention of getting to the credit screen. It was the franchise that got me into the world of video games and showed me how exciting the virtual world could be.
I'm well aware that Zelda Month is over, but even so, I felt that I needed to finish the plan that I set out with over the holidays and write the articles that I already made a commitment to. Over the course of November, I put up two Zelda related posts that talk about things within the games that I could rank in some capacity, and one post detailing reasons why one of the games is, in my opinion but also in the eyes of many others, the most unique game in the franchise. I deliberately avoided jumping into the topic of the top games in the franchise for one of the earlier posts, because I knew that I needed to put some serious thought into why I would rank the games in a particular order. However, the time has finally come for me to reveal my five personal favourite Zelda games. As was the case for the previous lists, the list will only consist of 3D Zelda titles and will not include Breath of the Wild (someday I will play that game). The parameters I'll be using to judge the games and rank them accordingly are:
- Gameplay (Ease of Accessibility and Control)
- Engagement Level (how much does the game keep you invested in it?)
- Personal Enjoyment
That being said, let's jump into it!
5. 'The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess'
Twilight Princess has always been a contradictory game in my eyes. This isn’t anything to do with the game, per se, its just my experience with it. I remember hearing that the "spiritual successor" to Ocarina of Time was coming out in 2006 and I was beyond excited. My excitement only grew when I heard it was coming out for both the GameCube and the Wi. Since I didn’t have a Wii at the time, I was stoked that it was coming to a system that I could actually play it on. Alas, as fate would have it, copies of the game sold out so fast that I wasn’t able to get my hands on it, and the combination of Pokémon fever that hit me with the release of Diamond and Pearl coupled with moving to India actually brought me out of the Zelda fever for quite a bit. I played Phantom Hourglass and liked it well enough, but I didn’t feel invested enough to finish the game, and in 2012, Skyward Sword came out, and naturally that became the Zelda game I wanted and Twilight Princess had been all but forgotten.
Then in 2014 while I was looking for something for my birthday, I was browsing Flipkart and I saw that the game was in stock. I recalled how I had never been able to play the game despite being super excited for it, and I made up my mind. Five days later, the game arrived in the mail and I immediately started working my way through it, only to find that it wasn’t really what I was expecting.
For starters, the game felt extremely dull right from the get go, which was a feeling I never got with previous Zelda games. The colours were extremely muted, leaving me a little bored at certain points in the game, and the slow start didn't do much to improve my first impression. Wolf Link was fun to control but it became exhausting at portions where I had to find those darn Tears of Light because that was the only way to progress. The world was huge, but it felt lifeless and empty, which meant that I had no incentive to deeply explore it. I think the best example of this is Hyrule Castle Town—bustling with NPC's doing their thing, but you can't interact with any of them. The story was engrossing, however, and I found Zant to be a dangerous and intriguing villain. I was a little disappointed that Ganondorf was introduced so late into the game for no apparent reason other than... well, being Ganondorf, but it wasn't a game breaking decision by any means.
The dungeons were spectacular as well, with some of them rivaling even Ocarina of Time and Skyward Sword, and the bosses along with the items used to defeat them were varied enough to keep me engaged. Overall, there is good to be found in Twilight Princess, but I didn't enjoy it as much as I did the other 3D titles in the series. For a more in depth look at my problems with Twilight Princess, I wrote an article for Zelda Month on TechQuila where I talked about my gripes in a more structured and organised fashion. Check it out!
4. 'The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword'
The Wii was one of Nintendo’s most successful video game systems, selling over 101 million copies as of 2017. It introduced motion gaming in a way that didn’t feel forced or constricting, and most importantly, it made them fun. With the console minting money left, right and center, it was a little surprising that there wasn’t an original Zelda game for it. Sure, Twilight Princess was technically there, but seeing as how it was developed as a GameCube title, not many counted it as an authentic title for the Wii. The world would have to wait until 2011, a full four years after the console’s release, to see the next Zelda come to life, and when Skyward Sword finally released, it was quickly marked out as one of a kind.
From the moment that the first footage of this game was released at E3 in 2010, fans knew that it was going to be in interesting experience. Nintendo was finally ready to take full advantage with what many people automatically assumed the Wii was going to be used for: one on one swordplay. The Wii Motion Plus offered some of the most intimate gameplay the series had ever seen, with players being able to copy Link’s sword movements down to the wire. Enemies, puzzles and bosses were designed to take full advantage of this, and new items were introduced to keep the player constantly interacting through different hand movements and angles. This gave rise to some of the most interesting puzzles in the Zelda series.
The story too, was unlike anything we’d ever seen, using well animated cutscenes to tell a compelling story. This game is definitely the most cinematic Zelda of them all, with beautiful visuals that perfectly mixed the styles of Twilight Princess and Wind Waker to create a game that looked like a painting that had come to life. The plot of the game tells the origin story of Hyrule, including how the myth of the Triforce came to be and how the Master Sword was made. The story even edging out classics like Ocarina simply because of the depth of its characters and the way the story is told. Zelda as a character was someone you could relate to and one that you grew to care about, characters like Groose and Impa all have their moments to shine, and even Girahim is memorable for his eccentricity.
However, there are some issues with the game that prevent it from soaring to the heights that the other games in the series have. Firstly, the gameplay was a tad too linear, as you’re confined to only one area at any given time. While you’re granted freedom to explore that entire place, the fact that you can’t branch out into the surface world makes it feel very level based, which is not something a Zelda game should feel like. Secondly, Fi as a companion was annoying. I really don’t know how else to say it; from her constantly feeding you information that was obvious to the never ending reminders about the batteries in the Wii remote - it all became extremely repetitive to the point I kind of wished I could mute her like a TV. The only redeeming quality I can see in Fi is how important she is lore wise in that she is the spirit of the Master Sword, and we are led to believe that she resides in the sword every time we see it in the series from that point on. This adds an additional layer to the rest of the games, making the feeling of obtaining the Master Sword mean something more, but as far as this game goes, the character could have been integrated so much better. Skyward Sword is not a perfect game, but it just takes the edge over Twilight Princess thanks to its more compelling story, unique gameplay, and impressive visuals.
3. 'The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask'
After the release of Ocarina of Time in 1998, a sequel was always on the horizon. Fans were expecting another epic 3D adventure in the world of Hyrule, but what they got instead was something so strange and bizarre that its remembered for that very reason to this day. Majora’s Mask is far from the conventional Zelda game, but its exactly that fact that makes it so, so good. Majora’s Mask was the third Zelda game I played, and I remember being hopelessly stuck as a Deku Scrub and wandering aimlessly around Termina, wondering how the hell I could swing my sword again. It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I finally figured out what to do and how to turn back into Link’s Hylian form, and by that time, I was curious as to how the rest of the game would turn out, and I was not disappointed one bit.
Majora’s Mask is a brilliant game; not ‘brilliant’ in the same way that Ocarina of Time was, but brilliant in that its the perfect execution of what a video game should do: immersion. You’re given the seemingly impossible task to save a world that will be crushed by a giant moon in only three days. Obviously you can’t do it all in those three days, so the catch is that you can rewind time and go back to the first day as many times as you want. But every time you reset the clock, all the progress and all the good you’ve done for the people in the previous three days will be undone, and you have to start all over again. You have to start to wonder at one point what kind of effect this ruthless cycle will have on Link’s psyche and his mental state as he relives the same events over and over again. Because of this, you start to actually care about the people of Termina and you want to prevent them from dying. This isn’t a game where you save the land from some person who wants to take over the world: you literally have to fight off an insane monster who wants nothing less than the Apocalypse.
With such a dark premise, you’d expect there to be some macabre themes in the game, and as expected, they are present in abundance. Majora’s Mask is one of the most depressing games I’ve ever played. There is misery and death in every corner of Termina and you, as the player, have to experience the full force of it as you run around trying to help everyone you can. This is the main reason why I consider Majora’s Mask to be a brilliant game: it makes you actually invested in the lives of the town that you’re apart of. They’re not pixels on a screen anymore; they become real people who matter to you in some capacity. This is, without a doubt, the defining character of the game, and the reason why its one of the best games I've ever played.
When I first played this game, I was too young to understand all of this. But after replaying it again when I was a bit older, I realised that Majora’s Mask was a sobering experience which is criminally underrated, and because of how well the game plays (being identical to Ocarina of Time), and how well the story is told, themes and all, it gets the number 3 spot on my list.
2. 'The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time'
Of course, you knew that this game was going to be on the list. I mean, let’s be real; chances are that even if you’re not a Zelda fan you know of how universally well received this game was in the eyes of the gaming community, and how well regarded it is in the gaming world today, even after all these years. There isn’t too much that I can say about Ocarina of Time that hasn’t been said already, to be honest. It’s almost unanimously hailed as one of the best video games ever made, having received numerous perfect or near perfect scores from almost every major publication. Every minute aspect about the game has been praised to a great extent.
Starting with the story, it was something that, at the time of this game's release, was practically unheard of for video games up to that point, much less a Zelda game. It started out simple enough, with hints that there was a much larger picture involved, and as the player got deeper into the game, it transformed into a massive experience the likes of which had never been seen before. It paid attention to lore building, setting up actual meaningful side characters that the player could get attached to, and making sure that the world of Hyrule truly felt like another realm that the player could escape into. The 3D environment helped flesh everything out and it made the entire game much more immersive compared to other Zelda titles.
As far as gameplay goes, it set a template for other 3D games for years to come, and the Z targeting system completely revolutionized combat and made for some addictive gameplay. It was simple, intuitive, and easy to master; leave it to Nintendo to come up with such a masterful design. All the items in the game are unique and are used in a variety of ways, and you got use out of every single item once you obtained it - none of them simply took up space in your inventory. It was the perfect system, and it worked extremely well considering it was a transition from 2D to 3D. For me, Ocarina of Time is something I can never really get over. it was the game that got me curious about the Zelda franchise as a whole. I was enraptured with the game completely. It was among the first Zelda games I ever played, with some of my earliest memories with video games as a whole being running around Kokiri Forest trying to find the Kokiri Sword. The moment I first obtained the Master Sword is a moment I’ll always remember because I felt so accomplished for having obtained the legendary blade. The first time I saw the credits roll across my TV screen, I simply sat back in awe of the fact that this game was actually over and that I could never experience it with the same wonder and joy I did while first playing it.
There’s only one word that comes to mind when describing Ocarina of Time, and that is "iconic." No other video game that I know of has had this much of an impact on the gaming industry to formulate it in such a positive manner. For everything Ocarina does right, it gets the number two spot on my list, and as for number one, if you haven’t guessed it already……
1. 'The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker'
What other game could have taken the number 1 spot except for this one? The Wind Waker was my very first Zelda game and the game that got me into the virtual world as a whole. There’s so much that I can say about this game that its going to be hard to condense it into a couple of paragraphs, so I’ll try my best to be brief. My first exposure to this game was in the demo given in the Collector’s Edition game released in a bundle with the Gamecube. The first time I played it, I didn’t think much of it, but after seeing some footage of battles against Gohma and Kalle Demos, I knew I had to get it. A couple of weeks later, it was mine, and I fell in love with Zelda after I started playing it. Oddly enough, when this first released there was alot of backlash due to its graphics. People were clamouring for the next ‘realistic’ Zelda and when they saw the cartoony footage of this game, they were bitterly disappointed. However, upon release, the game surprised everyone with its charm, depth and sheer brilliance in gameplay and innovation. The previously criticised graphics are now regarded as timeless and the game doesn’t look like it was released in 2003 at all. Like its spiritual predecessor, it received perfect scores from various publications and was compared to it for its storytelling and overall experience.
Speaking of the story, one thing I actually found to be quite interesting with this game is that there is no epic quest that you can see right from the outset of Link’s journey. Unlike Ocarina, which made very clear that Link was destined to be the hero right from the beginning, this version of Link didn’t leave his island with the intention of defeating Ganondorf or restoring Hyrule back to its former glory. He wanted to save his sister that was wrongfully taken from him: that’s all. However, one thing led to another and he was thrust into the most arduous of trials in order to achieve his goal, becoming the Hero of Winds in the process. It's a story that never fails to make me feel warm and fuzzy inside because of its simplicity, which is a very welcome feeling in a video game story.
The game carries over most of the gameplay that made Ocarina such a success, such as the revolutionary Z-Targeting system that made combat both engrossing and easy to pick up. Wind Waker introduced the parry attacks, which were specially times counterattacks that could be done in response to particular enemies. The game also introduced a new mode of transport: sailing. Since the overworld was a giant ocean, navigating from one island to the other was a major part of the game. This received its fair share of criticism as well, with people claiming that the sailing was boring and that it took too much time. However, I never found the sailing tedious and have always enjoyed it greatly. In fact, if you want a detailed critique of claims as to the sailing being boring, I wrote a piece over on TechQuila.com that explains my point of view so check it out if you want.
The dungeons in the game, while rather short, were varied and fun to play through. It was a bit of a downer that there were only 6 in total, and I would have liked it if the Triforce Quest was replaced with another dungeon, but at the end of the day, it was still an enjoyable ride through and through. The final battle in this game is the absolute pinnacle of the Zelda franchise due to the minuscule tie-in it has with Ocarina and the emphasis on a more cinematic approach to a game that whole heartedly deserved it thanks to its visuals, and the end of the game is fitting to the overall message and the theme that the final battle tries to show the player.
Overall, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is not only everything a Zelda game should be, it has all the components for an all time classic game that can be enjoyed by anyone, Zelda fan or not. And that’s about the highest praise I can give it. I've had a blast writing these Zelda themed articles on vocal.com and I hope to revisit the franchise in depth next year! The Legend of Zelda is a very special series and its something I will love for as long as I live, so thank you Nintendo, for creating this masterpiece of a franchise that millions around the world have enjoyed.