Top 5 Zelda games
Detailed below are what I consider to be the best 5 games in the Legend of Zelda franchise.
It’s a series very dear to my heart, and I can say that I’ve played and enjoyed every installment, albeit to varying degrees. At its best, a Zelda game can inspire a sense of adventure unlike any other; enveloping the player in a fantasy world full of mystery, danger and wonder. A good Zelda game ticks all the boxes of what makes a great game – technically excellent, tight controls, longevity, replayability, and like all truly great games; a certain unquantifiable je-ne-sais-quoi that makes it somehow more than the sum of its parts.
Context inevitably plays a key part in this list – a game’s greatness is inherently tied to the context of when it was released, as well as the subjective state of the player (me) at the time it was played. A game released in 1998 may have been considered stellar at the time, but not held up as well by today’s standards. A game played by a 10-year-old will be experienced differently than the same game being played by a 28-year-old.
With this in mind I’ve tried as much as possible to make a conscious effort to balance the context and cultural impact of the game (which is still important), with its objective qualities in terms of whether it still holds up in my eyes. Similarly nostalgia is inescapable, and though is valid when forming a subjective opinion like this, I’ve made a conscious effort to remove it from my judgment. In my experience, few things are less relatable than someone else’s nostalgia.
So here it is:
5. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
My very first Zelda game, and still one that holds up extremely well – unsurprising as it is arguably the most influential in terms of structure and design. Like a lot of Nintendo’s SNES efforts, it really is a beautiful sight to behold; The 16-bit sprites and bold colours oozing a timeless charm, building a wonderful tapestry of Hyrule. The combat can be tricky to get used to and the dungeons perhaps aren’t as memorable as the fantastic overworld, but these minor quibbles are dwarfed by the quality of the gameplay, the length of the game, and the superb atmosphere.
You can get A Link to the Past on the 3DS for from Amazon here.
4. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
This stands alongside the original Pokémon games in showing what can be done with limited tech. The world-building on show in LA embarrasses the often-soulless open world adventure games of today’s super-powered consoles. What started out as a re-make of Alttp, Link’s Awakening grew into something even better – the game is overflowing with secrets, charm and mystery.
But my favourite thing about this game is that it’s the best in the franchise for respecting the player’s intelligence – something the latter games are guilty of definitely not doing. Like the very first Zelda it doesn’t force any hints on you as to what to do next, but if you get really stuck you have the option to go into little phone houses and ask for a hint. This is a great example of giving the player a choice as to how much help they get and not adding them with a guide the whole way through.
Link’s Awakening for the 3DS is available from Amazon here.
3. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Heralded by many as the best of the series, and the best game of all time by many people, OoT was a staggering epic of extremely high quality when it was released. I remember playing it and thinking that games could not get any better.
Although the freedom you felt you had as a player was one-of-a-kind at the time (spot of fishing? Horseback racing? Maybe I’ll go check out that castle in the distance…) what I really love about this game, and what still holds up to this day, is that sense of grandeur – no game before or since has elicited that fantasy-medieval-epic atmosphere quite like OoT. The unbelievably good score for the game is probably the main player in this regard – every Ocarina song has been written with such care and skill by Koji Kondo. Every tune from the Lost Woods to Death Mountain is just perfect.
The excellent remaster for the 3DS is availavle here from Amazon.
2. The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker
Wind Waker does two things better than any other Zelda game: the sense of freedom and the graphics. In no other Zelda game do you get the same feeling that comes from spotting an island in the distance, sailing up to it and discovering it’s secrets. The best thing about it is most of these islands could be skipped entirely, but each are uniquely crafted by the designer. It’s a shame more games don’t have more entirely optional discoverables like this, and it’s a shame later Zelda’s seemed to have diminished the amount available.
Graphically it’s like watching a Pixar film, particularly in the HD remake, or even better being played on a Dolphin emulator. YouTube critic Matthewmatosis does an excellent comparison of the HD remake and the original, and has some excellent points on what went wrong with the HD remake’s graphics – if you’re interested I highly recommend a watch. The graphics in WW are probably my favourite of any game, ever.
For these reasons Wind Waker is my most revisited Zelda game.
Wind Waker HD for the Wii U is available from Amazon.
1. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
OoT may be more epic, WW may be better looking, but in terms of atmosphere, originality, design, challenge, narrative and depth – Majora’s Mask takes the cake. There hasn’t been a game in any series before or since that trumps MM in these crucial areas. The Groundhog Day structure is a genius piece of design that really just needs to be experienced to be really appreciated.
Discovering the masks and by proxy the plight of the inhabitants of Termina invokes what I believe to be a truly unique feeling for the player. I can only hope Nintendo revisit this formula in a subsequent title.
The excellent remaster for the 3DS is available from Amazon.