It all started with a wooden shield
Header credit to Mei-Xing
[While not labeled for last month’s bloggers wanted, able to think’s massive Zelda retrospective might as well it. From the smallest details of something weird like Zelda II to how Breath of Wild is shaping up, including all the personal anecdotes in between, this is a huge personal journey from able to think on Zelda. Don’t forget, this month’s bloggers wanted prompt is about the places where you play games, special little places. ~Strider]
I’m back again with another Zelda article. Since I beat Tri Force Heroes (see my review here) and thereby completed every game in the Zelda timeline, I’ve decided to discuss my personal history with the series, why I love it so much and give a list of my favorite Zelda games. I’ll start with my history and what compelled me to play all of these games.
It all started one fateful evening when I was out shopping with my mother at Sears and she decided to buy me a game. I wanted Super Star Wars but she wanted to get me A Link to the Past. To my astonishment, we walked out of the store with both. Turns out my mom was right on this one. While Super Star Wars was good, Zelda was my favorite of the two. My mom is awesome.
A Link to the Past inspired so many of the adventures of my youth. When I was growing up, my family had a two-acre backyard. You would never have known given the area we were living in was in the city but we had a lot of land. So I would run around my backyard and play a lot as a child. I was incredibly lucky to be able to grow up with this much space to play.
With all that space I was able to have Zelda adventures in the backyard. I remember getting the Zora flippers in the game and deciding I had to have real-life flippers too. We ended up getting them from Old Navy but they were green and not blue like in the game. I had a toy sword and my dad even made me a shield like the one link held in the manual of A Link to the Past. I still have it but now it’s hanging on my wall. It’s something I’ll always treasure.
There was a break when I wasn’t as into video games and I kinda lost interest with Zelda. It’s not that I didn’t like them anymore but I was more interested in pretending to hunt dinosaurs, fightpretendLord of the Rings orcs, and play Star Wars in the backyard. I missed a lot of great games during this part of my childhood but I can’t say I regret it. Rediscovering them as an adult has been really fun.
I had a huge Zelda rebound when I was a teenager. I got Wind Waker and fell in love with it. Oddly enough I didn’t like it when I first played it. Sneaking through the Forsaken Fortress frustrated me and I couldn’t figure out where to find the sail on Windfall Island. After seeing it getting Game of the Year awards I ended up buying it and when I played it again it all clicked. It’s now my favorite game of all time.
My love of that game got me to go back and play older games in the series and eventually start collecting the games. I finally played Ocarina of Time with the Master Quest combo disc on the GameCube. That cost a fortune used at GameStop but it was worth it. I was so into the series that I used to draw the Triforce on the back of my hand in sharpie and planned on getting it tattooed there when I was an adult.
I remember how intense my hype for Twilight Princess was. It got me to wait in line for a Wii. I adored that game too and though I’m mortified to admit it, I was one of those morons freaking out about GameSpot’s 8.8score. Teenagers are idiots and I’m ashamed I was ever one of them.
Now that I’ve grown up, Zelda is still my favorite media franchise. I am incredibly passionate about these games. They’ve had such a huge impact on my life and shaped so much of my childhood that I don’t think I’d be the person I am today without them.
Wow, that got a lot more in depth and personal than I anticipated. This was originally supposed to just be a list of my favorite Zelda games.
Moving on to that; the structure of this list will be a bit different than most of the others out there. I’ve split the gamesintotwo categories based on gameplay style instead of grouping them all together. So you’re getting two lists of five games instead of a list of ten. The lists will be split into third-person Zelda games andtop-downZelda games. Let’s get started.
Top Five Third-Person Zelda games:
#1 The Wind Waker
As I said earlier, this is my favorite game of all time. I adore everything about it from the music to the art style but the thing I love most is how it feels like you’re on an adventure. The structure of this game is absolutely brilliant. First, it forces you along a linear path teaching you its mechanics and preparing you for when the game opens up. The early dungeons are fun and memorable, and the characters you meet and locations you visit ooze personality. It’s brilliant how the story accommodates this linearity by having Link’s goal be to rescue his sister. Link doesn’t want to stray from the path because the longer he takes, the longer Aryll will be locked in the Forsaken Fortress.
Once she’s rescued and Ganon is beaten back, the game opens up and you’re then given three tasks to complete with no direction as to which order to do them in. The game gives you credit enough to figure it out on your own. There are two marks on your map now but when you go to them, you find that you can’t pass. It then makes you jump through a bunch of hoops before you’re able to complete them. They intentionally make it convoluted to make you want to take a break and do some side quests. This is where the game truly starts by giving you the freedom to explore at your own pace.
I’ve heard people complain about finding the Triforce shards but I’ve never understood why they put them off until the very end. You can collect five of them before completing either dungeon which I always do because I love exploring so much. If anything, the dungeons are what I put off.
The presentation makes the whole experience come together. It’s got one of the most gorgeouscel-shaded art styles I’ve seen in a game and one of gaming’s best soundtracks. It has a Celtic music vibe to it that I love. The Dragon Roost Island theme is my favorite piece of video game music ever.
I’d recommend the HD version if you’re going to play it for the first time. I slightly prefer the art style of the original release but the conveniences of the Wii U version are worth it and the upgraded soundtrack is sublime. There is one situation where I would recommend the GameCube version over the original. If you hook up a GBA and use the Tingle Tuner, Wind Waker becomes an amazing co-op game that anyonecan play. It’s a great way to spend time with a loved one who doesn’t play games. It’s a shame they got rid of that for the Wii U version but I doubt many people actually used it.
#2Ocarina of Time
There’s really not much I can say about this game that hasn’t been said. I could talk about what makes it great like how it’s masterfully paced, how clever the dungeon design is, how amazing the world is, how fun the characters are, how it worked within the limitations of the N64 to create an art style that still looks good today, or how it has my favorite soundtrack of any video game (I’ve had the Gerudo Valley theme on repeat the whole time I’ve been writing this.). But that’s all been said before. It’s a masterpiece and it revolutionized the way 3D adventure games were designed. If you haven’t played this game, you need to. It’s one of the best ever created.
#3 Majora’s Mask
Majora’s Mask is one of the darkest games I’ve ever played. Not the kind ofedgelorddark you get from something like Prince of Persia: Warrior Within but the kind of dark you get from knowing one day you’re going to die and nothing you did will have mattered. You relive the same three days over and over again while the specter of death is literally leering down at you, trying desperately to save the world fromitsimpending annihilation.
What makes this so impactful is its characters. Each character has their own life and problems. You get to see them going about their days and living their lives whichmake them feel like real people. You get to know these people and helping them with their problems is really satisfying. Some of these stories are heartwarming, some are funny, and some are tragic. But in theend, it’s all futile because you’ll inevitably have to rewind time and all the help you’ve rendered will be undone. The futility is oppressive and gives this game a vibe unlike any other.
You have to be in the right state of mind to enjoy this game but if you are it’s magical. I recommend you play the 3DS version because they fixed a lot of the annoying niggles the N64 original had.
On a side note, this was by far the most difficult one of these to write. I had to put it off until the end and actually had to switch from listening to the Gerudo Valley theme to the Song of Healing while I wrote it so I’d be in the right frame of mind.
#4 Twilight Princess
Twilight Princess is basically the sequel toOcarinaof Time. It does everything that game does but on a grander scale. That isn’t always a good thing because sometimes it feels abit toobig for its own good but it’s still a fantastic game. It went a lot darker with its tone and art direction and some of the monsters are truly grotesque. They almost look like they came straight out of Eternal Darkness.
If you plan on playing it, you basically have to go for the Wii U version. It doesn’t have as many upgrades as Wind Waker HD does but the others look like someone smeared dirty Vaseline over the screen. With the HD version, you can better appreciate the art direction. It’s impressive how much detail is there considering this was a GameCube game.
I also kinda want to marry Midna.
#5 Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
Zelda II is the criminally underrated black sheep of the family. It’s an action RPG as opposed to an action adventure like the other games. It has an overworld like a JRPG but most of the gameplay is sidescrolling which is why I’m putting it in the third-person category.
I really like the combat in this game. It’s all about keeping a solid defense while picking the best time to strike. I’m loath to make this comparison butit’skind of like a 2D Dark Souls. It’s also incredibly difficult. One of the hardest games I’ve ever played, in fact. I think that’s what turns people off more than anything. I had to practice the hell out of it using save states in order to beat it. If high difficulty turns you off, you may want to avoid it but if you’re looking for a tough-as-nails action RPG, this game is for you.
Top Five Top-Down Zelda Games:
#1 A Link Between Worlds
I was incredibly skeptical of this game when it was first announced. A sequel to A Link to the Past in 3D with the same overworld seemed like it could go wrong really easily. The changes they made to the formula by having you be able to play the dungeons in whatever order you wanted seemed like they could mix things up but I wasn’t sure it would be able to hold a candle to the original. Thankfully my fears were uncalled for. This game actually managed to top the A Link to the Past for me.
I play Zelda games to go on adventures and this game gave me the freedom to adventure how I wanted to. I spent so much time just running collecting Rupees to buy the items and finding maiamai babies to upgrade them because it was fun. I loved how the treasures in the dungeons upgraded Link’s core abilities by giving him armor and making his attacks more powerful. That you could complete the dungeons without finding these upgrades was a brilliant choice. It made it feel like a reward for fully exploring the dungeons. To top it all off, Hero Mode makes the game even better on your second playthrough. This is a must own if you have a 3DS.
#2 Minish Cap
My love for Minish Cap and A Link Between Worlds is so close that they might as well be interchangeable. What I love about this game is how fresh it feels. New items like the Gust Jar, Mole Mits, and Cane of Paci, and the ability to shrink down to Minish size as well as create duplicate Links made it so they could create elements that had never been seen before. The fact that it’s shorter than most Zelda games actually works in its favor because it never feels padded out or like it’s recycling ideas. It doesn’t have a single bit of fat. That makes it a joy to blast through.
It helps that it has the Wind Waker art style in pixel art form. It looks stunningly beautiful and the music, as usual, is top notch. The game is available on the Wii U Virtual Console and it’s worth getting there to see the sprites on the big screen. There are so many little details you miss when you’re playing this on the GBA.
#3 Link’s Awakening
Link’s Awakening has avibe unlike any other Zelda game. I love how the characters all feeloff like there’s something wrong with them. There are even characters from other Nintendo games. Forexample, there’s a Yoshi doll in the crane minigame and Chain Chomp puts in an appearance. It almost feels like you’re in a dream. It can be really sad too, especially the parts with Marin coming to terms with the what the result of your quest will mean for her.
Despite being on the Game Boy, this game is still as deep as any other Zelda. It’s a fairly long game too and it has my favorite sidequest of any Zelda game, with a reward that I found mind-blowing. You can get it on the 3DS Virtual Console. I’d recommend it if you’re looking for a Zelda game with a different vibe.
#4 A Link to the Past
I’d have expected this game to land higher on this list but whenever I think about it I can’t help but compare it to A Link Between Worlds, and I enjoyed that more. This is still a fantastic game and it shaped a huge part of my childhood. It’s just that as I grew older I found I enjoyed other games in the series more. It’s still pretty high on mylist, though.
On a slightly tangential note, Link has pink hair in it which I find weird.
#5 Four Swords Adventures
Probably the most overlooked game in the franchise, Four Swords Adventures takes the Link multiplication mechanic from Minish Cap and multiplayer that Four Swords pioneered and perfects it. Don’t let the multiplayer focus fool you, though; unlike Tri Force Heroes, this game has a great single-player. The way the formations are mapped to the c-stick is really clever and adds a new twist to the puzzle solving. I like how the multiplayer has a competitive element to it when it comes to collecting the most rupees. It also has multiplayer minigames which remind me of the ones in the underappreciated Wii U launch title Nintendo Land. It’s a shame that Navi Trackers was left out in the US release, though. I had to import a Japanese copy to play that.
Unfortunately, the game is rather expensive now. The GameCube version is the only way to play it and it didn’t sell very well. If you want the multiplayer experience you’re going to need four GBAs and four GameCube link cables, not to mention four friends to play it with. It’s still well worth seeking out as a single-playergame.
That brings us to the end of the list section. The Zelda series gets criticism for being the same game over and over again but in ranking all those games I realized how different they all are. Sure the have the same bones but they’re all unique in their own way. I imagine that’s why most people’s lists will be completely different from mine. What I value most the adventuring elements and the freedom to explore. You can learn a lot about what kind of person someone is and what their priorities are by seeing what things they like. That’s probably why I like top ten lists so much.
I’ll wrap this up by talking about my thoughts on the series now and in the future. After playing Skyward Sword, I was worried about the direction the mainline series would take. Skyward Sword is the only Zelda game I don’t like. I don’t like how linear it is. I don’t like that there’s barely any exploration. I don’t like that apart from the sword fighting, the motion controls feel forced in where traditional controls would have been superior. I absolutely revile Fi and how she constantly tells you exactly what to do and where to go as if you’re so stupid you might get confused and try to eat the controller. I don’t like how much-repeated content there is and how the game feels incredibly padded as a result.
I hate Skyward Sword.
So I was naturally concerned about the direction they would take the series in the future. My dream Zelda game is one where exploration is front and center. Where there’s a huge open world with secrets to find and things to discover. Where I’m given the freedom and tools to experiment and find my own solutions to problems. Where I’m just dropped in and told to go about things my own way. I want to go on an adventure like I did in my backyard as a kid.
And that’s exactly what they’re doing with Breath of the Wild. It’s almost as if they went into my brain and scooped out everything I wanted in a Zelda game. I can hardly believe it’s real. My hype for it is off the charts beyond anything I’ve felt for any other game. It’s a good thing I’ve learned how to compartmentalize excitement in my head. It’s currently chained in a box, that’s locked in a room, that’s on a desert island, that’s on another planet in my metaphorical mind. If it wasn’t, I think I’d go insane from the wait.
Breath of the Wild looks AWESOME!!!
It seems appropriate to end with thoughts of the bright future of the Zelda series. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this article as much as I enjoyed writing it. I’d love it if you shared your thoughts and experiences with the Zelda series in the comments. The guys and gals of Dtoid community are fantastic people and I love hearing your opinions. See you in the comments section.
Now about that Triforce tattoo…