With the announcement of two new Zelda games, it’s about time to take a look back at which games were the greatest in the series. Since Zelda is known for its quality among adventure games, picking the games on this list was incredibly difficult. However, the final list is full of deserving games. Here are the top four Legend of Zelda games published to date.
4) Link’s Awakening
Originally a port of A Link to the Past, Link’s Awakening gradually became a unique game with its own plot and setting that isn’t replicated anywhere else in the series. This game is one of the most overlooked of the series, probably because of its location on handheld devices (the original Gameboy, as well as remakes for the GBC and 3DS). In the game, you are shipwrecked along the coast of Koholint Island, where you are taken in by a girl named Marin and quickly learn this world is nothing like the Hyrule you’re used to. It takes many of the defining features of Legend of Zelda—such as the title character herself, along with Ganon—and does away with them. The only time you hear about Zelda is in a passing mention by one of the characters. The game has a different character from the rest of the series, breaking the fourth wall at times and delivering what could be a parody of the main series. However, it still delivers all of the usual features: a huge world to explore, complex puzzles, and labyrinthian dungeons.
3) Link to the Past
A Link to the Past is the game which defined the series and found its niche in the gaming market. Although it’s true that Zelda games have always had an adventurous motive and huge over worlds, this game was the first to take that formula and perfect it. We can still see elements of this game in games as recent as Skyward Sword. You collect a huge amount of items, you travel and meet a huge amount of people, and you unite a group of people powerful in their own right against a common foe to save the world. The music of this game also features several of the series’ signature songs, so even newer gamers to the series can get nostalgic while playing it for the first time. The complex riddles, huge over world, ominous plot, and slew of collectible McGuffins defined the future of the series, so it deserves this slot on the list.
2) Wind Waker
Originally, I didn’t like Wind Waker. Its childish and cartoony graphics were not to my liking, to say the least, and certainly not what I expected as a follow up to the Nintendo entries. However, after someone convinced me to watch a play-through of the game, I can safely say it’s one of the greatest in the Zelda series, topping both older and newer games in the series. The Gamecube was lacking compared to other consoles of the generation, but this Zelda game managed to work in those confines by using simple graphics. The huge over world encouraged exploration and remains one of the most extensive areas in any of the games. The care that its development team put into this Zelda game shows in its character design, level design, color scheme, and animations. The plot is also unconventional for the Zelda series, and it has one of the most brutal scenes of all Zelda games. I imagine showing that sort of scene in a kids game was only possible by picking a childish style—so props to Nintendo for taking that risk.
1) Majora’s Mask
Normally Ocarina of Time takes this top spot, but I’ve omitted it from the list because it shares many of the same graphics and content as Majora’s Mask. However, Majora’s Mask innovated much more in terms of plot and gameplay, and ultimately was a better game. The clock system was a difficult mechanism to pitch, but they introduced it in a fashion that made it easy to learn. There were dozens of subplots and characters to follow, along with dozens of items to use on your quests. The land of Termina was barely scraped in the plot, and you had to pay close attention to learn the subtleties of the game. However, even stepping back from the plot, the twenty (and counting) different masks encouraged explorative gameplay and gave the game a huge amount of variety—which is the main perk to playing any legend of Zelda game.
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