Over the past nine months, I have played through every game in the Legend of Zelda series. Why did I do this? I dunno. Felt like it, I guess. I’ve been a big fan of the series since fourth grade, so it wasn’t like I was forcing myself to do it. It started back in November when I scored a cheap Nintendo eShop prepaid card on Black Friday. I used the code on my Wii U and ended up using it to buy the original Legend of Zelda and its sequel, The Adventure of Link. At that point, they were the only two games in the series I had never completed (or even come close to doing so) due to how challenging they are. It seemed like a waste of money at first (mainly because I already owned both games in other forms) but it worked out great, because using the restore points offered on Wii U Virtual Console games (basically, the system lets you quick save whenever you want) I was able to complete both games for the first time.
During my playthrough of Zelda II, I began thinking of just going through the whole series, and while the difficulty of that game made me question whether I could actually do this, after it was over I legitimately wanted to continue with the next game and so, hey, why not, I did. I was determined to buy and play through Majora’s Mask 3D (a rerelease of the series’ sixth game) when that came out in mid-February, so that put me on a bit of a time crunch to complete the next three games over the course of a few weeks. After that, though, it was smooth sailing, and my goal was to play about one or two games a month, leading up to the release of The Legend of Zelda for Wii U which was set to come out in November 2015.
Then, as they are wont to do, Nintendo delayed the release of the game to 2016 (Twilight Princess flashbacks). This threw my whole plan out of whack. What was I building to now? The new, big, epic latest game in the series was going to be my climax. But whatever, obviously a delay just means they’re making the game better, and as a result of the delay, I no longer had to pace myself; I would just play through the rest of the series at my own pace (i.e. much more rapidly). So from there on out I just had a (mostly) great time blasting through my favorite game series over the course of several months, taking a break for few days in between each game, most of which took me a couple weeks to complete (and by complete, I mean all the side quests/heart pieces/secrets as well).
A few days ago I finished the most recent game in the series, A Link Between Worlds. For something that took me so long, it may be surprising that my main thought when I beat that game was basically “Alright, that’s that I guess.” There’s actually another game coming out this fall, Triforce Heroes, but since it’s so multiplayer-focused, I don’t know if it really counts as a main-series Zelda game. But I’ll still probably end up buying/playing it. Other than that, though, what I was able to do with this playthrough is come up with a definitive ranking of every Zelda game from my least favorite to favorite. At first I thought it would be difficult to rank them all, especially with so many of them being neck and neck in terms of how much I enjoy them, but I was still able to come up with an order I feel good about. I’m going to list them below from worst to best, with an explanation as to why each one is where it is.
A couple things to keep in mind: this list is very much structured in tiers: the bottom (the games I absolutely think are the weakest and are probably not worth playing) the middle (games that are great, just aren’t quite my personal favorites for one reason or another) and the absolute best (some of my favorite video games of all time). The other thing to keep in mind: this list is so biased it’ll make your head spin. These are my personal feelings, inspired very much by how I have experienced the series over my life. This will become much clearer the further down the list you go. With that said, let’s friggin’ do this!
The Legend of Zelda series ranking:
17. Spirit Tracks
Choosing what I consider to be the weakest Zelda game wasn’t hard, although it is about tied with the second weakest, Phantom Hourglass. To anyone familiar with the Zelda series, the idea that the two games on the DS are the worst shouldn’t be too shocking. For a long time, I would have defended Spirit Tracks, but I had only played it once, when it first came out in 2009. Replaying it ended up being incredibly tedious with few redeeming values. What’s good about the game is the dungeons and bosses, which are reliably fun, just like in any other Zelda game. It also has some improvements over its predecessor, featuring better music and touch controls than Phantom Hourglass. The visuals of the landscape as you travel on your train are much more appealing than the bland ocean of the previous game.
Other than all that, though, Spirit Tracks is a draining experience. The train is the absolute worst mode of transportation in the series, and you have to travel back and forth between locations A LOT. It might have been okay with a better warping system (most Zelda games have a method of quickly teleporting to another area of the overworld), but nope, the game gives you warp gates you have to travel to, and each one links to just one other. Awful. Because of this, almost every sidequest is giant chore, and you feel very little encouragement to explore the world of the game. As mentioned, the game has some redeeming qualities, so it’s not terrible, but it’s really not worth playing at all unless you, like me, are playing through the entire series without exception. Otherwise, skip it.
16. Phantom Hourglass
Like I said, this game and Spirit Tracks are neck and neck for the title of weakest Zelda game, and while Spirit Tracks may have some advantages over this one, I was less fatigued by DS Zelda when I was playing Phantom Hourglass, so it gets the edge. It’s still incredibly tedious and not worth your time. Just like with Spirit Tracks, the dungeons and bosses are fun, while everything in between……eh, not so much. Something present in both games that I forgot to mention when discussing Spirit Tracks is the obnoxious central dungeon you have to revisit between each regular dungeon. In that game, you were climbing a tower, conquering one floor at a time, which was actually preferable to the Temple of the Ocean King from Phantom Hourglass, where you have to replay floors you already passed each time you return to the temple. Now, I like the idea of a Zelda dungeon so big and challenging that you have to gradually pick away at it over the course of the whole game, but I don’t feel that was executed very well here.
Overall, the game just feels like a limp follow-up to Wind Waker, to which this game was a direct sequel. While the touch controls work just fine (again, they were improved upon in Spirit Tracks) they feel shoehorned in, existing only because they wanted to make a Zelda game on the DS during the era when every Nintendo game had to have touch controls. So again, not a game you need to bother with, but not actually bad. The only thing that made me push it over Spirit Tracks is that the warp ability in the game (from anywhere on the open sea you can instantly travel to one of several warp points) is far more competent than the terrible one in Spirit Tracks.
15. Four Swords
This game’s ranking may seem a little unfair. Four Swords is one of two multiplayer focused Zelda games (a third coming out this fall), but I’m judging these games solely as single-player experiences. So maybe this game is super fun when connecting and playing it with/against friends, but since I played on my own, all I can say is that it’s not enjoyable to play it on your lonesome. To be fair, Nintendo didn’t initially intend for this to even have a one-player mode. When it first came out, it was just a side game included with a Game Boy Advance port of A Link to the Past, and there was no option to play it on your own. I had that rerelease and since neither I nor my friends had a Game Boy Advance link cable, we were never able to play Four Swords. It wasn’t until it was itself rereleased for download on DSiWare back in 2011 that I was able to finally play it.
The problem is, since a big focus of the game is collecting Rupees (the currency of the Zelda series) as a competitive element (collect more than your friends!), playing through it on your own means you’re opening a bunch of treasure chests containing Rupees that are completely useless. The level design is randomized and fairly uninspired, so it’s not very fun on that front either. The bosses are okay, I guess. The main thing, though, is that this game is really, really short. Just four areas that’ll take 30-60 minutes to complete each and it’s over. So while it may be a boring experience, at least it’s over with quickly, which is more than I can say for the DS games. Still, unless you’ve got friends to play it with, you can go ahead and skip this one too.
14. The Adventure of Link
Zelda II is the most challenging game I’ve ever completed. This is a game that gives the player no help whatsoever, starting out unforgiving and only getting worse from there. Before my playthrough of the series this year, I’d never gotten past the first dungeon, and even with the Wii U’s restore points this one is a struggle to get through. It’s also incredibly cryptic; at numerous points in the game there is some obscure solution needed to progress, and the game gives you absolutely no hints to direct you towards what to do. I never would have made it far without online guides, and I have no idea how long it would have taken kids in the ‘80s to beat the game without that luxury. Admittedly, that’s probably the point of why this game and the original Zelda are the way they are. They gave you a great big world to explore, and it was completely up to you to find your way. For my tastes, I prefer some direction, which is part of why this game is fairly low on this list.
The other reason is just how different this game is from any other Zelda game. Now, I’m all for innovation and experimentation in a game series, but Adventure of Link deviates so much from what was established in the previous game that it hardly feels like a proper Zelda game at all. Instead of collecting items and solving puzzles, this game is 100% focused on sword combat. The items you collect are just there to either unlock new areas or help you survive longer against the incredibly challenging enemies. Other than that, it’s all about how well you use your sword/shield to attack/defend, and I have to say, the game’s very responsive controls help a lot. I also don’t mind the mix between the top-down overworld and the side-scrolling areas you enter (enemy encounters, towns, or dungeons). Still, this game is pretty far off-base in terms of what I love and enjoy so much about the Zelda series, so despite being very well done for what they were trying to do, it’s still one of my least favorites of the series overall, and I’m glad they corrected their course for the next game in the series, A Link to the Past. Give it a shot if you don’t mind an incredible challenge, and you’ve got a strategy guide open next to you.
13. Four Swords Adventures
Here we are, the first Zelda game on this list I legitimately, fully enjoy. It’s also the first Zelda game, chronologically, that I got new right around when it came out. For my twelfth birthday, in the summer of 2004, I received this game, which came bundled with a Game Boy Advance to Gamecube link cable, a strategy guide, t-shirt, and a year subscription to Nintendo Power. Unfortunately, none of my friends had a link cable, so I had to play this Four Swords game solo as well. However, unlike its Game Boy Advance predecessor, Four Swords Adventures is actually still pretty fun when being played by yourself. But yeah, it is definitely more entertaining to play with others, as I learned a few years ago when I played through the whole game with a couple friends at college, each of us with our own Game Boy Advance and link cable. A word of warning, though: just like the New Super Mario Bros. games, you will grow to hate your cohorts, as this game that was designed for cooperation will quickly devolve into a bitter competition. For this year’s playthrough of the series, I went through the game on my own again, and like I said, it’s still very fun that way. It has a good variety of areas and dungeons to explore, and the four-Link gimmick is put to great use, leading to a lot of really creative puzzles.
On the negative side, graphically this game looks like it could have been achieved on the Nintendo 64, aside from a few fancy effects here and there. It borrows heavily from A Link to the Past, something a couple other games in the series have done, and it irks me every time. It’s not that A Link to the Past is bad (quite the opposite is true), but the best Zelda games have always been the ones that set themselves apart from the others. The major weakness with Four Swords Adventures, though, is that, just like Four Swords, it is made up of multiple solitary levels rather than an interconnected overworld. Now, that’s not a bad thing in itself, and it’s important given the game’s multiplayer focus, but one of the best elements of the Zelda series, for me, is having a great big open world to explore, and this game simply does not have that. Because of that, I have to put it on the lower end of the series’ spectrum, but it’s still a fun game you should check out, especially if you’ve got some friends to play through it with.
12. The Legend of Zelda
To be frank, I probably enjoy Four Swords Adventures more than this game overall, but the original, very first Zelda is such an important game, one of the most influential video games ever made, that I had to prop it up a bit. That said, since this is still a list about my own enjoyment of each game, it’s still fairly low on the list. For me, the biggest problem is how clunky and awkward the controls are. It’s hard to get Link to move just the way you want him to, resulting in a lot of frustrating deaths. This is the other Zelda (other than Adventure of Link) that I made liberal use of strategy guides and the Wii U’s restore points to get through. Using both of those tools, I made it through this game with relative ease, and it is actually a fairly enjoyable experience once you get the hang of it. It’s very archaic and cryptic, though, so while I appreciate it for everything it started, I feel that almost every game that followed it improved on it in some way. It’s the final game on this list that I am a bit hesitant to fully recommend.
If you’re looking for the complete Zelda experience, check it out since it’s an important part of the series’, and video gaming as a whole’s, history. But given how clunky and bare-bones the game is, skipping it would probably be okay. If I were to play through the series again, I’d probably still revisit this one, which is more than I can say for certain other games previously listed. From here on out, though, every game on this list is great and gets my full recommendation. There are just some I love more than others.
11. A Link Between Worlds
The most recent Zelda game is also one of the most forgettable. When this game first came out a year and a half ago, it was showered with praise, being called the best game in the series in several years. In some ways, I agree with that sentiment; it’s a much faster paced game, getting you into the action much more quickly and letting the player explore the open world with very few restrictions. Heck, once you reach the Dark World, you can tackle the dungeons in any order you want, as long as you have the right items. It also completely subverts a problem that had been plaguing the series for a while: handholding. The previous few games had gotten off to a slow start, explaining every facet of the gameplay in extreme detail, and continuing to help you along, whether you like it or not, through the whole adventure. Not so with A Link Between Worlds. After a quick opening sequence, the linear chain is removed and you’re very rarely stopped to have things explained to you. It really feels like the game respects your intelligence, and I hope the developers follow this mentality with future games. I also love how quickly Link runs around, the ability to turn into a drawing on the walls is a fantastic puzzle mechanic, and the lack of having to collect ammunition (instead, you have a power meter that applies to all items that gradually refills over time) make this a fast, fun game from beginning to end.
The problem, then, is how little of an impression it makes. The game is practically just a 3D remake of A Link to the Past, recycling the overworld’s layout, the look, the items, the music, the dungeon locations, and much more. That’s actually how the game started, as just a straight remake of the Super Nintendo classic, but it was decided to change just enough to justify calling it a new game. As a result, shortly after I beat the game for the first time, I had completely forgotten about the experience. It was in one ear, out the other. It doesn’t help that most of the dungeons can be completed in about 20-30 minutes. If Nintendo were to make a game in this style, but with a whole new world map and visual style, it would definitely be one of the best in the series. As it stands, it is far too derivative of A Link to the Past for me to rank it higher than other games in the series that, while more flawed, gave me a much more memorable, unique experience.
10. Link’s Awakening
The first handheld Zelda suffers from the same issue as the previous game on this list, but to a much lesser extent. Playing through the series in order, I could tell that Link’s Awakening was, in several ways, an attempt to put the A Link to the Past experience on the Game Boy. It’s subtle, but there are noticeable elements copied over. That said, Link’s Awakening still manages to have its own identity to make it a charming entry in the series.
It’s a much quirkier game than anything that came before; Koholint Island is a strange environment full of odd characters, and it’s a joy to explore. There are some clunky aspects that hold the game back a bit (I always get annoyed every time I bump into a heavy object without the Power Bracelet equipped and the game feels the need to remind me that I can’t lift the item at this time) but for an initial attempt at putting Zelda on a handheld system, Link’s Awakening pulls it off really well. Definitely check this one out, but be sure not to steal anything from the shop, or you’ll be killed and shunned from society. Seriously, that’s a thing that happens.
9. Skyward Sword
This is probably the most divisive Zelda game, with some people loving it and some absolutely hating it. When it first came out I loved it, but nowadays I have a lot of gripes with it, hence its position on this list. Skyward Sword has probably the highest highs and the lowest lows in the series. On one hand, it has some of the best dungeons and environments I’ve ever experienced in a video game; I really enjoy the way the areas outside the dungeons are also filled with puzzles; I like flying around and exploring the sky; Skyloft is a great central area, full of memorable characters; and, for me personally, the motion controls work incredibly well, utilizing the Wii remote more effectively than any other game on the system. To me, Link controls like a dream in this game, and I actually really like the use of the stamina meter. Also, I haven’t really discussed the story of any of the games before on this list (because I feel it never really matters all that much) but Skyward Sword’s story is really cool in the way it sets up the whole series, taking place before any of the others and explaining why Ganon, Link, and Zelda are reincarnated so often.
On the negative side, though, this game holds your hand tighter than maybe any other game I’ve ever played. It takes forever for the game to really get going, and it feels the need to explain every facet of the gameplay in excruciating detail, in some cases multiple times. You’re also constantly pointed in the direction you’re supposed to go, which can be nice occasionally, but in this game it feels like you’re always being lead around rather than being allowed to explore. The game really treats you like an idiot sometimes, like when you pick up an item you already have twenty of, and it pauses the game to explain to you what the item is, opens the menu, and shows the number you’ve collected go up by one. The version of the game everyone played should have been the “Baby’s First Zelda” version, since all the tutorials and handholding might be appropriate for a six year old, but any older and it just becomes tedious. The annoying this is, once you get past all of that nonsense, Skyward Sword is a really great, fun game. They just need an HD remake, like what Wind Waker got, to smooth things out and remove some of the tedious elements. If Nintendo ever does that, I would definitely have Skyward Sword a bit higher in my rankings.
8. The Minish Cap
One significant note on Minish Cap for me is the fact that it was the first Zelda game that I deliberately went out to buy on the day it came out, over ten years ago. Other than that, there’s not a whole lot to note about this one; it’s a really good edition to the series, but there’s not much about it to elevate it over any of the other games. I have a hard time imagining any Zelda fans would dislike this game, but I’d also be surprised if anyone listed it as their favorite (unless that was due to nostalgia).
The shrinking mechanic is a really good hook for the game and is used effectively through the whole experience, and I like how the game provides an introduction to Link’s floppy green hat by making it a character (although Skyward Sword kind of ruined that, since it takes place before and Link has a floppy hat in that one too. Whoops). The story serves as a prequel to the Four Swords games, showing how Link first created the Four Sword, which is funny considering those games weren’t really asking for a detailed backstory, but whatever. It’s short (just five dungeons) and rarely puts up much of a challenge, but it’s consistently fun and has a good overworld to explore, so it’s absolutely worth playing for any Zelda fan.
7. Majora’s Mask
Now were getting into the section of the list where the games are truly fantastic, although for a couple key reasons Majora’s Mask isn’t quite one of my all-time favorites. That said, it’s still an awesome game that I really love through and through. I just adore how this game took the Link from Ocarina of Time and brought him into the much more twisted, dark world of Termina. So much of this game is just so weird and bizarre, which is a great change of pace for the series. Anyone who has played the game knows about the game’s biggest blessing/curse: the time limit. Majora’s Mask takes place over the course of three days (each day lasts around a half hour of real time) that you have to continually start over, or else the moon crashes onto the planet and kills everyone. This mechanic makes Termina feel like the most living and breathing world in the history of the series. Every character has a schedule they follow, aside from Link who is repeating these days over and over, Groundhog Day style. This leads to a wealth of fantastic side quests that take place over the course of multiple days. In any other video game, NPC characters just wander aimlessly in circles. In Majora’s Mask, everyone is going somewhere, and keeping track of where people are going to be is a big part of the game.
The only drawback to this is that a time limit may prove to be too stressful for some players, especially in cases where you’re part way through a dungeon and it’s already the third day. For me personally it rarely became an issue, but I can see how some people might be turned off by it. There is a song that slows the passage of time in the game, but you have to discover it for yourself rather than the game giving it to you, which is odd considering how useful it is. The 3DS version of the game made the time limit a bit less stressful, but I feel that kind of removed some of the bite the original game had. The only other downside I’d throw at the game is how short it is: just four dungeons. That’s ultimately what drags it down to this position in my rankings. Outside of that, though, I have nothing but love for this game. I love the overworld, the dungeons, and the bosses. I love the use of masks in the game; especially the ones that allow you to play as a Goron, Zora, or Deku Scrub, the only time in the series players have been able to do that. But maybe most of all, I love the tone of the game, and I really admire how bizarre Nintendo was willing to let things get (at one point you get sucked into the moon, in which there is a peaceful open field with a tree in the middle, which then leads to the final boss. Weird, right?). It’s simply one of the best games in the series, despite the somewhat short length, and is one everyone should play.
6. The Wind Waker (HD)
Right off the bat I have to make note that I am referring to the HD version of Wind Waker for the Wii U when I place the game this high on the list. If we’re talking about the Gamecube version, it would probably be around the same spot as Skyward Sword, and for similar reasons: there’s a great game in there, it’s just surrounded by tedious nonsense. Thus, we have the HD version, which dramatically cut down on the tedious elements and updated the visuals to make the game look gorgeous, resulting in a much better experience. The original Wind Waker was great in many ways, but the time it took to sail anywhere in the game, and having to change the wind’s direction constantly, made it frustrating as well. With the addition of the fast sail (which, like the song that slows down time in Majora’s Mask, is super useful but has to be discovered in an obscure place), sailing around the open ocean turns from a chore to something actually really enjoyable. It feels so liberating to set the sail to fast speed and just cruise around between islands, jumping when you reach the top of a wave and crashing down to the water below. Being able to move your inventory to the Gamepad screen is also a relief, and something I hope future Zelda games make use of, as well as the ability to tilt the controller to aim projectile items.
As for the game itself, Wind Waker represents one of the biggest risks Nintendo has ever taken (a cartoony Zelda when everyone was expecting something much grittier) as well as one of the best payoffs. Everything about the experience (aside from sailing in the original) is so unique and charming, I can’t imagine even the most stone-hearted Zelda fan couldn’t get some enjoyment out of it. It has one of the best stories, soundtracks, visual styles, side quests, and more, and it’s a game I can keep going back to years later and still be enthralled by. I have a little beef with the length of the game; having to power up the Master Sword just twice after getting it feels a bit lame. I would have preferred at least one more dungeon to make it an even three (a la the Triforce). If you can’t tell by now, I definitely prefer the lengthier Zelda games, where it feels like you have truly gone on an epic quest by the end of it. Aside from that one nitpick, though, Wind Waker is one of the absolute best in the series, and I totally understand why some people consider it their favorite.
5. A Link to the Past
At this point in the list, the games are pretty much interchangeable, since they are five of my all-time favorite video games. A Link to the Past has to be the most universally beloved Zelda game, seeing as how well it set the series off after the original Legend of Zelda laid the foundation. A Link to the Past took what that game started and expanded and improved on it in every possible way. It strikes a perfect balance in difficulty (the game is no walk in the park, but you’ll never throw your controller in anger either), exploration (you’re given freedom to wander the vast overworld, but you’re also constantly aware of where you need to go), pacing (within a few minutes of starting the game you’re off on your adventure, and very little ever gets in your way), and story (just enough plot to get you invested in the conflict, but the cutscenes are never very long). The controls are tight and accurate, the items are all fun to collect and use, and the dungeons and bosses are consistently great. The overworld is fantastic, filled with hundreds of nooks and crannies to discover and explore, and while I wasn’t very happy with how A Link Between Worlds decided to recycle it, it’s easy to see why they did so.
I love how it introduced the mid-game plot twist, wherein Link gets the Master Sword and it feels like it might be the end of the game, and then BAM, seven more dungeons just opened up. I love the long, difficult tower you need to make your way through at the end of the game that wears you down before your penultimate fight with Aghanhim. I love the final climactic fight against Ganon on the pyramid. I love the way the game wraps up and shows you every character you just saved having a happy ending, and how you really do feel like you just went on an incredible journey. It’s just a perfectly classic Zelda game, and I would be legitimately flabbergasted if someone said they love the Zelda series but not this game. It’s one of the best video games I’ve ever played, and the only reason it’s not number one on this list is that I love the following games ever so slightly more.
4. Ocarina of Time
The greatness just keeps on coming with this next game. Ocarina of Time was for many years considered to be the best video game ever. In recent years there’s been a bit of a backlash against it, claiming it was good for the time but hasn’t aged well. Codswallop. Ocarina of Time is every bit as enthralling and amazing as it was back in the ‘90s, it’s really just the visuals that are dated (and were upgraded quite well in the 3DS version). Everything else about the adventure this game takes you on is stellar.
I really just want to gush about every facet of it…so I think I just might: I love how it starts off small, keeping Link confined to the forest for the first dungeon. I love how well it adapted the world of Zelda into 3D, when at the time many game series were struggling to do so. I love how when you first enter Hyrule Field, you can see Death Mountain off in the distance, and then YOU CAN ACTUALLY GO THERE AND CLIMB IT. I love how alive Castle Town feels, and having to sneak around the guards outside Hyrule Castle. I love meeting up with the Gorons and Zoras in their respective villages. I love the dark twist of being frozen in time for seven years after getting the Master Sword, and seeing how terrible the world has gotten since Ganondorf took over, with Castle Town now filled with horrible zombies (or Redeads, I guess). I love going to Lon Lon Ranch and reclaiming your trusty stead, Epona, and how much fun it is to gallop around the open world at a much faster speed. I love having to travel through time to fully explore the Spirit Temple as both a kid and an adult. I love how grim the Shadow Temple is. I love how they developed Zelda as a character, establishing her as this badass ninja called Sheik, rather than her just being the typical damsel in distress. I love the ending of the game, climbing Ganon’s Tower while Ganondorf plays his organ in the distance, slaying multiple challenging enemies. I love how almost every boss has a subtitle above their name explaining what the boss is (i.e. Subterranean Lava Dragon: Volvagia), except for the final boss, a giant shadowy figure who stands upright as lightning goes off in the distance and has just one descriptor: GANON. That’s when you know the final fight is really on, and the entire finale of the game is as perfectly epic as it should be.
I have incredibly fond memories of playing this game at a friend’s house during a sleepover, then actually getting to play the whole thing myself a couple years later in sixth grade. I have beaten the game several times since then and I never grow tired of it. While it may not be quite as perfectly well rounded as A Link to the Past (mainly due to Navi, who’s a bit of a pain), it’s filled to the brim with wonderful, memorable moments and features one of the best stories, soundtracks, and overworlds in the history of the series. It’s an absolute classic that everyone should experience at some point.
3. Twilight Princess
It’s pretty easy for me to explain why this one is so high on this list: it takes everything that Ocarina of Time did and makes it much, much bigger and ever so slightly better in every way. I first heard about Twilight Princess back in mid-2004 when I was almost twelve years old. I was excited beyond belief; I had just gotten into Zelda a couple years prior, and here it was, a grand scale, epic-looking Zelda game, which was everything I wanted from the series. Granted, like everyone else I ended up having to wait two and a half years before I was able to actually get my hands on it, but I have to say, I don’t think anything I’ve ever been hyped up for has ever lived up to its promise as well as Twilight Princess did. It truly is the biggest, most epic Zelda game, following the conventions laid down by previous games in the series, and fleshing them out to their fullest. Yes, the game takes a while to get going, but I actually appreciate the long, slow build up in this one, and once the game does get going, it’s completely fantastic the whole way through. Put simply, it’s everything I ever wanted from a Zelda game rolled into one.
The game is certainly very easy, but I’ve never been bothered by that with this one; I can play the game and get wrapped up in the world and atmosphere without being stressed out. It’s more puzzle-oriented, so it’ll give your brain a workout rather than your reflexes. Many Zelda games have Link transforming into something other than his regular human form, and I consider wolf Link to be one of the best. Another great aspect of the game is the side-character, with Midna being actually likeable and compelling in the face of the obnoxious Fi and Navi (King of the Red Lions is okay, though). Mainly, though, it’s just that Twilight has the biggest overworld, the most secrets, the longest dungeons, and the best sense of scope to the whole adventure. Riding on horseback into an army of enemies, riding on weird boar creatures, and taking them all out with brute force is thrilling, but at the same time you could just hang back and pick them all off from a distance with the bow and arrow (using the Hawkeye item, essentially a sniper scope). I love how the game manages to have quirky, weird traits to it, despite being considered the “grim and gritty” Zelda game. The overworld, dungeons, bosses, and just about everything else is an improvement upon the already excellent Ocarina of Time, so of course I have to rank this game higher. But more than that, aside from a few nitpicks, this game is everything I ever wanted from a Zelda game: a grand-scale, epic adventure with a ton to explore and do, in the biggest open world Nintendo has ever given us. A short time before the game came out, one of the developers of Twilight Princess said that after this game the series was going to start heading in very different directions (and it certainly did), and so they wanted to make this one the ultimate Zelda experience. I’d say they accomplished that goal wonderfully. The Zelda series has yet to top itself since this game came out, but here’s hoping the Wii U version will pull it off.
2. Oracle of Seasons
My two all-time favorite Zelda games are the Oracle games from the Game Boy Color (sorry for spoiling number one). This might seem like an odd choice to most people, since these are two Zelda games that are rarely brought up and are mostly forgotten. I won’t beat around the bush at all, then: the reason these are my two favorite Zelda games is simply because they were the first I ever played. I don’t know if there’s anything I’m more nostalgic about than these two games, as they were a huge part of my childhood and really helped me define who I am. Every little aspect of these games is memorable to me, although I have to give special mention to the music, as it essentially became the soundtrack to my childhood. Before the two Oracle games, I just had silly time-wasting games on my Game Boy. Once I got into these games, though, it was like there was a quest in my pocket that I needed to keep powering through, and while nowadays I can plow through either one in a few days, when I was ten, these games took me months, if not years to get through. I explored every little detail and tried to do everything, and since I was so bad at video games I either constantly died, or needed to get help from friends on the playground to beat certain portions. It may be a cliché, but playing these games now really does make me feel like a kid again.
As for the actual quality of Oracle of Seasons, it’s still a truly great Zelda game, but I doubt anyone who didn’t grow up with it would love it as much as I do. It’s really solid the whole way through, with no tedious elements, a lot of really fun puzzles, dungeons, and bosses, and the whole gimmick of being able to control the seasons is a great motif for the game. It adds a great layer to exploring the overworld, as during spring you might not be able to get to that area up there, but in the winter there are lots of piles of snow that you can use to get there. I also love the interconnectivity between the two games, which came out on the same day. Beat one game, and you can transfer your character’s name and other aspects into your playthrough of the other. It makes the whole experience feel so full and alive, and switching between both games to unlock certain things is really satisfying. Outside of those traits, it’s just a really well-rounded Zelda experience, with great dungeons and bosses, and a cool central villain, Onox. It may not mean as much to you as it clearly does to me, but there’s still no reason any Zelda fan should miss out on this one, although I’m sure many have.
1. Oracle of Ages
And of course, finally, my favorite Zelda game of all time, which I may also say is my favorite video game in general, is Oracle of Ages, the first Zelda game I ever experienced. Yes, it’s an incredibly biased choice, and no, I don’t expect anyone else would feel the same way, but whenever I think of which game in the series is my favorite, my mind instantly goes to Oracle of Ages no matter what. I remember a friend of mine showing it to me on his Game Boy after school one day, and it blew my mind. At the time I was really into Pokémon, and this game looked really similar, except instead of having to stop for a battle every few seconds when you’re in tall grass, you just slash at enemies to kill them with your sword. It was enthralling, and I soon convinced my mom to take me to Game Crazy (remember that store?!?) so I could trade in the Tony Hawk game I had so I could buy a used cartridge of Oracle of Ages. I couldn’t afford both games, so Seasons had to wait for a while later. If I had chosen that game instead, it would probably have ended up being number one on this list instead of Ages. I love both games just about evenly, and for pretty much the same reasons, but I played Ages first, which gives it the slight edge.
As far as what sets Ages apart from Seasons, the gimmick in this one is time travel, similar to Ocarina of Time, except in this one, you’re traveling back in time four hundred years rather than moving forward just seven. It’s cool to see how the game’s world changes over that time period, but as far as gameplay gimmicks go, it’s fairly basic for a Zelda game. That’s not a bad thing, though, and in some spots it’s used brilliantly, like with the dungeon you have to play through in both time periods, appearing new like it had just been built, and then looking like ancient ruins in the present. Little touches like that go a long way, and so while obviously my view of the game is very much overshadowed by nostalgia, I can see that it’s still a great Zelda experience on its own merits. I would highly recommend seeking both Oracle games out and playing them if you never have. Together they’d be about ten bucks on the eShop if you have a 3DS, so get to it. They’re just pure fun from start to finish. I’ll definitely be playing them for years to come.
And with that, I conclude my run down of the Legend of Zelda series from best to worst. This was actually really easy to write, as it was all just a total stream of consciousness. I probably made a few typos as a result, but oh well. It was very therapeutic to get my thoughts on my favorite video game series out of my brain, and while I have no idea if anyone else will ever discover and read this, if you’re reading this and you’re not me, thank you so much, and I hope my ramblings made some coherent sense. The fun doesn’t end here, though; with Triforce Heroes this fall and the Wii U game next year, there’ll be plenty of Zelda good times in the future. See y’all then!