The Legend of Zelda - A Series Analysis

Posted by MormonWarrior (2541 posts) -

I love The Legend of Zelda. It's one of my favorite game series, among others like Metroid and Super Mario just to name some Nintendo examples. Recently I decided in preparation to the release of Skyward Sword that I would finally go and beat the rest of the main-series Zelda games. Since I've beaten all of them (and started Skyward Sword) I feel like I want to write a bit and make a list of the order of my favorites and talk about my experience with them, so...here goes. Including Skyward Sword, there are 14 titles but I can't really discuss that game yet since I've only just beaten the first dungeon.

Please note remakes or ports or side products like Four Swords Adventures or Link's Crossbow Training will not be discussed here, even though I've played them. And most certainly I'm not even going to mention the garbage CDi games...

UPDATE: I have now beaten Skyward Sword. It's kinda dumb but whatever.

14. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

I'll admit I didn't have the highest hopes for Skyward Sword after the disappointment that was Twilight Princess...and in some ways it manages to be more interesting at least than that game. However, the game is simply LOADED with serious annoyances that made me hate the experience. Fi, for example, is a horrible character that the creators of the game made for the sheer purpose of informing you that yes, in fact, that switch you just pressed opened a gate and that there's an 80% chance you should go through it to proceed through the dungeon. You are literally incapable of skipping dialogue and the story takes a complete nosedive after a promising and charming (if a tad slow) beginning.

Also, the motion controls are kind of neat when they actually work, but making horizontal slashes is way too difficult and ultimately it isn't that big of a deal. I liked Wind Waker's combat a lot more. The game is full of backtracking, annoying NPCs, and a nonsense story. Also, the tone is crap. And Zelda and Link's playful, flirty relationship at the beginning literally goes nowhere when that alone could've salvaged this game's bullcrap story. Ugghhhh. This game sucks.

13. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link

I just beat this game for the first time a month ago on an emulator on my computer, though my earliest experiences with this game had to have been when I was no more than three or four years old at my friend's house. He had both Zelda games on the NES and we'd play them sometimes...but I got so lost and was too young to really figure out what to do. I always remember this game being really frustrating and overly hard, which I can confirm is the nature of the game in general. I later bought this game as a GBA port and on the Wii but never ended up beating it until recently.

In playing through it I found this guide immensely helpful. It assuaged the frustration inherent in the lack of communication in old games and how they would pad out game length with vague hints and brutal difficulty spikes. It's an interesting game, though, and I'm glad I played it. There are things that have carried over to other Zelda games - like the names of the sages in Ocarina of Time which come from the names of the towns in this game...and sword techniques, certain enemies, etc. In fact, the more-precise and demanding combat in Skyward Sword is reminiscent of Zelda II's tricky strategic combat. The closest modern analogue to this game would probably be the recent Castlevania DS/GBA games.

12. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

My first blog post on this site was about how I was really let down by Twilight Princess. I guess I should've seen it coming - I really loved the direction Wind Waker went in and a turn to a much more realistic Zelda game was not at all what I really wanted. It lacks spark and magic, and doesn't deliver on being particularly dark to justify its more realistic style...combat is weak, the wolf is uninteresting, but don't take all this complaining to mean it's a bad game. It's simply formulaic and kind of boring in a way the console Zelda games hadn't ever been. This may be the game I'm least compelled to go back to at this point, but it was polished in a lot of ways and had some great dungeons, so that's something.

11. The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages

Released side-by-side with Oracle of Seasons, Ages was focused on a time-travel mechanic within the new land of Labrynna. Like Chrono Trigger, the actions in the past affect the present time and throughout the game you obtain more free ways to travel between the past and future. Both Seasons and Ages borrow HEAVILY from Link's Awakening in music, graphical appearance (even though they were released on the Game Boy Color and had some Game Boy Advance features), and overall structure. Despite the gimmicks, this game is very much a formulaic portable Zelda game. Still, it has fun callbacks to previous games in the series and tons of side stuff to explore. Combined with Seasons, it's also the most expansive Zelda game.

10. The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons

I tend to prefer Oracle of Seasons because there's more immediacy to the season changes than to the time changes and made travel between them less time consuming. Also, it seemed a bit more action focused and less cerebral. This game is in the land of Holodrum and Link gains the ability to switch between all four seasons to solve certain puzzles. Again, it has the exact same structure of the other Game Boy Zelda games in its eight dungeons and grid-like world map. Overall fun, but both games get really tedious and drag on a lot and have little unique to offer beyond some gimmicky features. Both games were developed by Capcom-owned developer Flagship, who went on to also make Minish Cap, a much better game.

9. The Legend of Zelda

The NES original is an undisputed classic and blazed the trail for expansive fantasy adventure games to come. Its save feature was key, seeing as it was a huge quest that could hardly be expected to be completed in one sitting. Like other games of its time it is very vague in pointing any sort of direction to go and can be deviously difficult. It features puzzles and hidden entrances that bewildered and surprised players, leading to an increased focus on exploration.

All its historical significance aside, this game has not aged gracefully. It's very hard to play now due to rudimentary controls, the aforementioned frustrating lack of direction, and its cookie-cutter dungeon design. It's a really great history lesson for those who are interested in checking it out. (Remember to hold reset when turning off the game to not lose progress!)

8. The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks

I just recently played this on a DSi XL and it was a delightful, charming game that wasn't quite up to the high standards of Phantom Hourglass before it. Regardless, I enjoyed the characters and music, the dungeons were fun and the puzzles with Zelda were challenging and fun. The game drags a lot with the limitations of train travel, but I ultimately really enjoyed my time with Spirit Tracks.

And a fun little thing: on the 25th anniversary CD that comes with Skyward Sword, the first song starts out with the train theme from this game. It made me smile.

7. The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask

I'll say it here: I think Majora's Mask would have been better were it not a Zelda game. It would have had more freedom to just be crazy and build on the side elements and do more unique stuff. Regardless, this game is weird and twisted and utterly unlike anything else in the series. It borrows assets and core gameplay style from Ocarina of Time, but ultimately it's more about the three-day time constraint, scheduled NPC movements and questlines, and the unique transformations with the masks. There are some four or five traditional Zelda dungeons, but they're just a means to move the story along. The world of Termina is a bizarre, living, breathing world, and the sheer amount of things to do and people to help is crazy, and it's incredibly rewarding to explore and check things out. It's far from flawless, but it's very ambitious and I'd love to see Nintendo make a spiritual successor to Majora with a new IP. There's just piles of great ideas in the game, many of which are successfully executed but many more that are just hinted at.

6. The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap

I heard this game compared to Link to the Past a lot around its release, but that's not an adequate comparison. Minish Cap is very much a successor to the Game Boy/Game Boy Color games in its style of gameplay. You can equip any weapon or item combo to the A and B buttons just like before, and there's tons of very inventive new items. The Roc's Cape makes a triumphant return from the previous games and I wish it'd show up in the 3D games...

Whatever the case, this game is charming, fun, and hard to put down. It's disappointing then that the side quests are all tied to the lame kinstone fusing system and aren't very rewarding. The main quest is a ton of fun regardless and tells a pretty compelling story that is completely Ganon-free. In fact, it ties closely to the Four Swords games, which is weird...

5. The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass

I loved this game from beginning to end. Being a big fan of Wind Waker, I was thrilled by the idea of a portable sequel to it but although it follows the same characters and has a similar visual style, Phantom Hourglass is very different. It's best described as a halfway point between the 2D Zelda games and the 3D games with a bird's eye view but with more complicated puzzles than the 2D games tend to have. The stylus controls were great, the items were fun, sailing was just as joyful as it was in Wind Waker, and there was a lot of fun in exploring. The dungeons were fun too. I was glued to my DS the entire time I was playing this game.

4. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

If anything, Link to the Past may be the influential hallmark of the series. It established key story points still in use today, dungeon and enemy designs we still see variants of, and much more sense of place than the previous two games had done. It was an oft-copied formula during the 16-bit era, but nobody ever really got it right. There's a lengthy main quest, hidden side things, a great light/dark world mechanic where actions in one affect the other, and some really devious dungeons. It's a SNES classic and while I don't love it as much as other games in the series, it deserves a lot of recognition for what it established.

3. The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening

This may be the game I've played the most obsessively in my lifetime. It's possibly because it was one of the few games I had for my Game Boy (and one of only two or three actually worth playing) so whenever we were on trips I would seek out every nook and cranny and try to find every possible secret and beat the game again and again. I got incredibly sick of this game as a kid and will probably never play a game the way I did this game. Anyway, this is an incredibly fun adventure with a unique tone and lots of weird references and borrowed characters/enemies from Mario. The design they went with for the portable device was like a mix of the NES games and Link to the Past, and it works wonderfully.

2. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

This game is so close to perfection for me and misses the mark on a few small accounts that keep me from claiming this game is the best one ever made. It had a few dungeons cut from it before release to meet deadline, which shows with the fairly lame late-game fetch quest, the combat is entirely too easy even though it's incredible otherwise, and the sailing should have some sort of augment halfway through to boost the speed. It's a joy anyway, but it can get tedious.

I could go on and on about how I love the music, sights and sounds of Wind Waker; how I love its art direction, its fluid combat system, its quirky inhabitants and great dungeons. I truly have a hard time saying whether this or Ocarina is my favorite Zelda game because stylistically, I just love this game so much. It's funny, it's touching, it hits the nostalgia bone at key points throughout and has some fairly shocking events (see: the ending). It's truly great and deserves an HD remake with added dungeons, a boosted difficulty with more-aggressive enemies, and some tweaks to the world in general. Also, a true sequel to this would be AMAZING.

1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

This is one of the only games, or perhaps the only game, that I consider completely timeless and perfect in every way. I've replayed at least once a year on average since its release and it still manages to astound me in some way or another. It's a work of art, a genius masterpiece that has a perfect balance of difficulty, great sidequests, a fantastic story, wonderful characters, and a fully realized world. What more can be said than has already been said about this mindbogglingly great piece of history?

And that's it. I love the time I've spent with Zelda and look forward to future releases. Feel free to leave your comments below. I want to hear your opinions!

#2 Posted by ArbitraryWater (11474 posts) -

An interesting overview for sure. I will freely admit to not finishing most of the Zelda titles I have played (i.e. most of the portable ones) but your top ones are pretty much the same as mine. I'm more of a LttP guy than a Link's Awakening guy personally, but otherwise we're 1:1. Man Wind Waker is a great game. It's a pity there's all that sailing and that stupid triforce hunt at the end.

This edit will also create new pages on Giant Bomb for:

Beware, you are proposing to add brand new pages to the wiki along with your edits. Make sure this is what you intended. This will likely increase the time it takes for your changes to go live.

Comment and Save

Until you earn 1000 points all your submissions need to be vetted by other Giant Bomb users. This process takes no more than a few hours and we'll send you an email once approved.