Jonathan’s Top 10 Zelda Games

Friday, November 29th, 2013

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The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time Art

It’s not a secret to everybody. The Legend of Zelda is perhaps my most cherished gaming franchise of all time. Those who know me outside of the site have come to automatically associate me with Zelda; if there’s news, they know I’ve no doubt heard it first. Those who have been following the oprainfall staff for a long while probably readily associate me with Zelda, as well, but just in case this is the first time you’ve seen an article of mine—here are my Zelda credentials. I started the Operation Rainfall Origins series with a Zelda game, I took things a step further sometime later, and you can listen to us talk about Zelda for several hours in Episode 34 of the Downpour Podcast.

To celebrate the release of The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, I felt it appropriate to cover my list of the Top 10 Zelda games. Each game in the franchise has its strengths and weaknesses. I feel like being able to refer back to this list (when I inevitably review the newest Zelda game) will help curious readers understand my background (as well as what I look for in a Zelda game). Without ado, let’s get started on this ’venture.

The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Anniversary Edition

10) The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Anniversary Edition

I don’t think Nintendo has fully realized the potential regarding mixing multiplayer into the conventional Zelda formula. The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords (Adventures) definitely shows Nintendo’s willingness to experiment a little bit, but I feel as though the Anniversary Edition (which was free to DSi owners for a limited time; I hope most of you took advantage of that) put the game’s best foot forward. It features the levels introduced in the game that came with A Link to the Past on Game Boy Advance, but…playing through the game on your own versus with a friend is wholly possible, and the mechanic doesn’t feel nerfed. Also to the game’s credit: The Retro Zone (which features levels celebrating Link’s Awakening, the original Legend of Zelda and A Link to the Past) and the Hero’s Trial.

The reason I’m choosing to start off my list with this game versus other experimental takes on the Zelda formula is because I feel like Four Swords: Anniversary Edition was a successful experiment that only offered a few weaknesses (no online play is chief among them). This is a game that shows potential for Nintendo to build upon an introduction into multiplayer and celebrates the franchise’s roots all in one go. Not bad…not bad at all. Will Nintendo ever attempt multiplayer in Zelda again? I truly hope so.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

9) The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

I know a handful of other longtime Zelda fans who will have fire in their eyes as soon as they see where Twilight Princess falls on my list of the greatest games in the franchise. The entry that would be number one on others’ list is a little lower on mine. But I hope you can understand why. Yes, the graphics are amazing and the story had its shining moments. And we can all agree that Midna was one of the stronger companions that Link’s ever had. But at its core—Twilight Princess offered nothing remarkable. What was revolutionary to some fell by the wayside with me. Here’s why (in fewer words than you might imagine):

Twilight Princess is a weaker entry in the grand scheme of things because it tried entirely too hard to be both Ocarina of Time and A Link to the Past. While the gameplay (as Link) was grand in its own right and naturally evolved combat from The Wind Waker, it ultimately couldn’t decide which game it wanted to be more. The Twilight Realm, various levels, and other things that made the game “unique” were just shadows of dungeons already done better in other games in the franchise. Twilight Princess was never its own game because it tried entirely too hard to copy two of the strongest games to come before it. Plus, Wolf Link just doesn’t sit well with me. A good Zelda game, in my opinion, features Link + sword + shield consistently. I don’t need Nintendo’s take on Okami.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s a very, very good game. But it could have been so much more.

The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap

8) The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap

The Minish Cap is an example of what Twilight Princess should have been. Instead of attempting to copy the success of other top-down entries in the franchise (most notably Link’s Awakening and the two Oracle games, which helped to establish precedence in handheld Zelda), this game offered something more original. Twilight Princess offered a unique graphical style and plot, but fell short in other areas. This game offered a unique graphical style and attempted to throw a kink in the formula (a tiny Link is a versatile Link) without needing to morph the hero into something he wasn’t.

But, beyond all that, the reason I feel The Minish Cap offers slightly more than Twilight Princess (enough to push it above the game in terms of my personal rankings) is due to Vaati’s story offering much more to the player than Zant. The player was given more of a chance to get to know Vaati (and his ambitions) due to the game offering the villain’s perspective directly versus indirectly. Most of the infamy surrounding Zant was due to Midna and Zelda’s perspectives of him—Link rarely interacted with Zant directly until the time came to dispose of him.

So there you have it. For those of you still speaking to me, feel free to continue on towards the middle of my list.

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  • RagunaXL

    I love this article! awesome job! I would put these games in a totally different order but I appreciate the argument you’ve made for each of them. this is the best oprainfall read in awhile!

  • Shinguyi

    I’m curious (as you mentioned by the end of the article) why no Majora’s Mask. I personally thought that game was amazing. Of course in its core was a Zelda game, but in terms of ambiance and how the game flowed was completely different from what we were used to. Is that the reason why or is there more behind it?

  • Jesse

    I too was a fan of OOT for the longest time, but I believe Skyward sword should be number 1. Some of those dungeons are mind blowing, and the visual effects are qutie stunning.

  • multibottler0cket

    Nice to see Link’s Awakening in second <3

    It's my all time favourite. It contributed so much to the series, and it's just so sentimental and awesome at the same time!

  • Xx_Kares_xX

    I thought there were only three zelda games, The Top Down one, the 3D one and the sidescrolling one… oh wait x.x sorry they are all so similar I got confused.

    Joking aside I highly enjoyed the read. I’m pretty upset that I couldn’t get 4 Swords Anniversary when it was free… I didn’t have a DSI at the time @.@

  • Zemog Ramo

    Your #1 was predictable. I usually expect Zelda fans to mention either Majora’s Mask or Ocarina of Time as their greatest Zelda game of all time. It’s happened so many times. Oh well, it justifies how great both games are so I won’t bash you for being predictable. I am convinced to playing Wind Waker again on the Wii-U when I get the console at least. I don’t know if I’ll pick up Skyward Sword though. Maybe a rental?

    • It’s worth at least a rental to see how you like the motion controls. Make sure you’ve got Wii Motion Plus if you do. 🙂

    • Thom

      Can’t recommend WWHD enough. It’s a strange sensation, but it really does feel like a new game. Controlling it is a joy.

  • John Ellis

    Nice list but the absent of Majora’s Mask is disappointing, you could of swapped it for Skyward Sword.

  • Iyamtebist

    Ughh, sorry but I just could not agree with this list even in the slightest. First of all , why is 4 Swords even here? The game was just a four hour long, bland side game. Putting Twilight Princess at such a low spot for lack of originality is just stupid. There was absolutely nothing revolutionary about Wind Waker or Skyward Sword. And if originality is such a major element, then why did Oracles make it when they are essentially carbon copies of Link’s Awakening. The original Zelda shouldn’t even be here as it is mediocre by today’s standards and suffers from a wide variety of poor design flaws that would be unacceptable in games nowadays. Skyward Sword was mediocre at best with an painfully slow paced plot, a bland musical score and artstyle, tacked on motion controls, lack of variety in enemies, and an overworld that makes the sailing in WInd Waker look tolerable.

    Ocarina of Time, Wind Waker, Link to the Past, and possibly Link’s Awakening.And with the supposed emphasis on originality, why were Majora’s Mask and Zelda 2 not anywhere to be found? Zelda 2, unlike the first game, is still fun by today’s standards and still has the best combat in the entire series, and was ahead of its time in doing the whole open world game combined with RPG elements way before Symphony of the Night popularized it. And Majora’s Mask was easily the most emotional and atmospheric game in the series, and was easily the most original out of any of the games.

    Before people start slamming the dislike button let me just say one thing. If it is okay for John to post an article about his opinions on the games in the series then why am I not allowed to post my dissatisfaction with the list. Yes he is entitled to hi opinion and I have nothing against that, but it needs to be backed up in terms of logic to really be valid. I mean nothing mean spirited towards John himself but certain things like originality are not based on opinions only and it makes sense to expect things to be consistent, which I did not feel this article was.

    Besieds we all know that Faces of Evil should have been number 1 🙂

    • I respect your opinion(s) and wholly encourage debate. However, I feel as though you’ve missed a lot of major points I was trying to make about each game I placed on the list (and why).

      Twilight Princess wasn’t placed low JUST because it “lacked originality”. Each game’s originality (and whether or not they were revolutionary) had very little to do with their placement on my list. I outlined a variety of reasons that span over 2,000 words in total, and (I assume) plenty of others thought my points were well-argued.

      I’ll respond to each of your points in much greater detail later on if I have time (and assuming you’re interested), but suffice to say–you’ve every right to completely disagree with me (and make that known). But… I assure you, there is a sound logic consistent throughout my list. Originality and “revolutions” within the franchise have nothing to do with said logic, though.

    • Iyamtebist

      I will ignore the things about games I either did not care for or that were not on the list as I do not think there would really be too much to discuss with those, though the main thing that bothered me about the article was the Twilight Princess part. Saying that the game does not try to be itself does kind of sound a bit too much like criticizing it for unoriginality, which is something I disagree with wholeheartedly and it did not feel like it was something that was backed up well.

      I honestly do not even see where the Link to the Past comparison comes in. Yeah both have a dark world but the atmosphere is completely different which is what matters more overall,

      Also I do not see how one could say Vaati is a better villain then Zant. Zant was an interesting an imposing figure ever since you are first introduced to him, and he has multiple different depths to him. Vaati quite literally has no personality to speak of.

      And as for the Ocarina of Time Comparisons, I never understood them seeing as how you could easily say that Wind Waker was just Ocarina of Time with boats, in terms of gameplay. Yeah it is similar in terms of gameplay but that is what it was supposed to do.

      Yeah I mainly think people do not give Twilight Princess enough credit. Aside from difficulty and a few annoying light tear collecting segments, Twilight Princess basically improved upon every aspect of Ocarina of Time, which is what people were asking have a bigger overworld to explore yet looks much more interesting than the ones in Wind Waker and Skyward Sword, you have an epic, bosses look incredibly menacing and each one has their own unique music. The art-style fit the tone of the game and was not like Skyward Sword that just tried to combine the art styles of Wind Waker and Twilight Princess and end up with something that looks less interesting then either of the. And there are just way too many epic plot moments for me to consider this similar to Ocarina of Time or Link to the Past which were not nearly as plot heavy.

    • zeezee

      I agree with you in some respects. I think that Ocarina of Time is one of the most overrated games I’ve ever played; Generally only enjoyed by kids that grew up on the N64 before experiencing the legacy Zelda games. Personally, I thought it was a muddy and barely playable mess that barely managed to make the transition to 3D. The music sounded like it was straight off of a SEGA Genesis. If it weren’t called “Zelda”, it might not be nearly as revered as it is. As far as games hold up to the test of time, even the first two Zelda games fare better. Seems like web site reviewers always stick it at number one for some reason. It’s aged so poorly with time and people stick with solely due to nostalgia. It might have been innovative back in 1998, but now it’s an eyesore.

      We’ve all got our favorites though. It sounds like you prefer Zelda 2. I enjoyed the game when it was released and beat the game a few times. But I honestly couldn’t tell you a whole lot about it because I’ve forgotten it over the past 25 years.

      I personally prefer A Link to the Past. The game just implements all that I expect in a Zelda game; Great gameplay, graphics, sound, and the entire package is so well put together. It’s basically the epitome of a perfect 16-bit game (just like Super Metroid) before the 32-bit / 64-bit consoles came along and mangled games in crummy pseudo-3D (before it got better). I remember so much of it so vividly. The vivid and colorful overworld and mysterious forests, the gloomy but fascinating dark world, the sound of the rain, the muted rain and storm noise when you are inside of a building, the amazing reverb in the caverns, the splash when Link walks in the puddles, the run of the guards that chase you, the explosions of the ether and other weapons, the OUTSTANDING soundtrack that trumped just about anything on the Playstation. And not that it matters, but I believe that GameFAQs reader review averages place it higher than any Zelda game. In general, it seems to be the fan favorite.

      At least Wind Waker wasn’t number one. Guh. That game is a disaster. It looked good but it was a snooze-fest… Should have been called “The Legend of the Yacht Captain”, where you simulate piloting a fishing boat for hundreds hours upon endless hours. I’d rather be stranded on an island.

    • That’s the initial reaction I had to The Wind Waker, which (as I said) was changed for the better upon the release of The Wind Waker HD. Level design was a deciding factor when it came to placing a lot of these games. I’m curious what you think about some of The Wind Waker’s dungeons, and what some of your favorite levels of the franchise are.

    • zeezee

      I’ve honestly forgotten about the Wind Waker dungeons. I think that by the time I got to the Savage Labyrinth and got to the lowest floor to be rewarded with a container heart, I’d sworn off the game completely and wanted to put it out of my mind. It wasn’t that it was difficult, but rather was just tedious. The only thing I remember about the dungeons is that I was often rewarded with MORE WATER to swim through, even after entering the dungeons. Everything in the game was just artificially inflated and drawn-out to make it all longer; From the overworld travel, to the dungeons. It’s an example of poor game design where corners are cut in an effort to make the game longer. Lots of backtracking and travel, and lots of things that are intended to slow you down rather than progress the game.

      It’s been known that several dungeons were cut from the game and reused elsewhere. Maybe Miyamoto really cut them because he know that the game already had a poor progression.

    • Iyamtebist

      Actually Ocarina of Time was one of the few things I agreed with him on. I actually played the game for the first time on the Zelda Collectors Edition for Gamecube around 2006/2007 and I was really impressed. It was probably the first time I ever became very passionate about a game and is likely why I became a gamer. Nowadays there have been several other games that I have grown passionate about but my main reasoning for thinking it is the best game is quite simple. It is the base formula the 3D games are based off of without any over complications.

      In Majora’s Mask I did like the 3 day mechanic myself and it really gave a good atmosphere to the game, yet it still felt rather tedious trying to get everything to occur at the right time or having to wait a certain amount of time. Also tit cuts down on the content in the main game to only 4 dungeons. Granted I do love the game but for separate reasons then the other entries.

      Seems the two of us agree about the sailing in Wind Waker. Between that, the constant use of Wind’s Requiem, and the tri-force charts, the padding in the original release of WInd Waker was abysmal. Thankfully we now have the HD version which fixes those things but even then the overworld is a bit too big and everything looks the same with all the water.. I can see he appeal of something like that where you have all these hidden secrets you can find but i think they went a bit overboard with it (no pun intended). I still liked Wind Waker but it is my second to least favorite of the 3D games beating out Skyward Sword

      Twilight Princess is actually my second favorite entry in the series and would be my favorite if it were not for a few things, hence why I was rather disappointed to see it at such a low spot. I do think it has a much better soundtrack, overworld, Story, and design then the other 3D Zelda games. The only reason It does not beat out Occarina of Time is because there was still some padding with the tears of light segments, and the game was too easy.

      SKyward Sword I would not say is sub-par at best. I played about 30 hours of it and the story failed to engage me in any way and has not progressed beyond the hide and seek game between Zelda and Link. The game is just very poorly paced. Also the overworld was even worse than WInd Waker’s

      In Ocarina of Time, you get to the game’s first dungeon in 10 minutes, in Skyward Sword, it takes about 3 hours to get to the first dungeon. Heck same thing applies with the other 3D Zelda games.

      I basically prefer Ocarina of Time because it gets straight to the point and does not try to be too overly extravagant, and is a lot easier to jump into then the other 3D games IMO.

      As for Link to the Past, it technically does not have much of a story or even the best gameplay of the series (There is really not that much to the combat and the puzzles were not as intricate as they were in later games), but it still had a really good atmosphere to it, which is something the other 2D games seem to lack. I would technically say I thought of Minish Cap as a more fun game, but as an overall experience I preferred Link to the past.

    • zeezee

      Twilight Princess would be my top pick for a 3D Zelda game, though I’ve not played Skyward Sword. I’ve nearly completed Twilight Princess and put it down for several other games back in 2007. I think that I just had way too many games in my backlog, and even though it is a Zelda game it really wasn’t quite as entertaining as several other titles that were released at the time. It was the end of the PS2 era and the peak of the last gen, so there were a lot of great games to be played on all consoles. For me, Twilight Princess was the first Zelda game that made a proper transition to 3D.

  • Nicool

    Had no idea Link’s Awakening would be #2. O_o

  • Richard Gill

    I also Loved Skyward Sword im glad you put it up so high, its in my top 3 Zelda games too

    and Twilight Princess also left me cold and would be at 9 or 10

  • Mohammad Jafri

    Majoras MAsk’s World was imo, better than Koholint. Another problem Koholint had was that you only were attached to Marin, no one else. The game tried to make you like other characters, but that truly was it.

    • That’s kind of why I want Link’s Awakening remade in the stylings of A Link Between Worlds. If we were to visit Koholint again without the limitations of the Gameboy (Color), I feel like we’d get to know other denizens of the island better.

  • Thanatos2k

    “Top ten Zelda games” is like “Top 5 Metal Gear Solid games.”

    There really aren’t enough in the series for this to matter.

    • My review for LBW will go live on Monday. While I do love it for everything it does well, I think I’d put it at #4, pushing Skyward Sword down (and knocking Four Swords off the list of ten).

      I’m still debating whether it surpasses A Link to the Past or not, so I may consider #3, but… Link’s Awakening and Ocarina are my childhood. You’d have to be Xenoblade Chronicles to conquer my childhood nostalgia..

  • Jonny Paul Larkin

    I’m not a fan of Skyward Sword in the slightest. The repetition, bland overworld, and the lackluster controls on top of easy dungeons make the game kind of insulting for the franchise. It did have some neat ideas for dungeons and areas, such as the time changing orbs in the desert, but it didn’t really use them all that much. It’s not in my top 5, and I could barely count it in the top 10.

  • Joey Williamson

    Having put in a good bit of time now in Link Between Worlds, I would genuinely consider it as my #1 or #2, coming in pretty evenly with Ocarina of Time, and with Ages/Seasons and Link to the Past filling the rest of my top 4.