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Why every Zelda game is the best AND worst in the series

Why it’s the best Zelda ever: Like the idea and general structure of Zelda but wish it didn’t take itself and its story so seriously? Link’s Awakening (now on 3DS’ Virtual Console) takes the dungeons, items and core mechanics that made Link to the Past one of the greatest games of all time and spins them into an utterly bizarre adventure that exudes a sense of childlike wonder. It’s also the first to stray from the primary canon, offering no interaction with Zelda or Ganon, and going so far as to suggest the entire game is a dream (which explains the pervasive oddness and liberal mix of new and old ideas). There are even cross-Nintendo cameos – Mario, Yoshi and Chain Chomps all appear!

Why it’s the worst Zelda ever: Because it’s just so damn weird. The guts are all solid as ever, but where’s the sense of urgency, or the grand legend of a realm ravaged by an ongoing struggle for the Triforce? The stand-in story about the Wind Fish may float your boat, but in the grand scheme of things, it just ain’t Zelda enough to be the end-all be-all title.

Brett’s take: This is actually the first Zelda I didn’t finish right away. Took years to get to that point. It just never grabbed me, partly because the original Game Boy was a horrid system for a grand adventure, what with its Exorcist-vomit-green screen and blurry refresh rate. The Game Boy Color version alleviated those concerns for sure, but in the end it’s a fun side story – not the best in the series.


Why it’s the best Zelda ever: It brilliantly and boldly took everything that made Zelda work, from the vast overworld to the puzzle-heavy dungeons to the generations-spanning story, and converted it into a 3D world. Hyrule now more than ever felt like a true location, with multiple cultures and civilizations existing side by side, as well as a full day/night cycle that let you watch the sun set over the expansive Hyrule Field. All those misty eyed, nostalgic feelings we had for the original Zelda were fully realized in Ocarina, and that’s why it remains one of the most beloved titles of all time. Best Zelda ever? Extremely likely.

Why it’s the worst Zelda ever: There’s no good argument why this could be the worst, but it’s arguably no longer the best. Just as the original Zelda paved the way for A Link to the Past (and the series in general), Ocarina laid the groundwork for all 3D sequels. That means future games (Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, potentially Skyward Sword) expand and improve on the ideas that began here, like enemy combat, the size of the overworld and the scope of the story. Ocarina remains a historically important game, but advances in technology and design prevent it from retaining the lofty #1 spot it enjoyed for so many years. The new 3DS version cleans up the aging graphics and archaic inventory system though, so it helps keep Ocarina more relevant and suggestable than other ‘90s games.

Brett’s take: I’ve gone on record multiple times saying Ocarina is no longer the de-facto “best Zelda ever.” Yes it was flat-out amazing in 1998, and I, like the millions of others who played it, was dumbstruck by the sheer amount of content crammed into every corner. But nostalgia is just a prettier word for “rose colored glasses,” and while playing Ocarina with modern tastes in mind I can’t put it at the top spot. Again, the 3DS version addresses many of the age-related quirks, but not all.


Why it’s the best Zelda ever: No Zelda before or since has been as ambitiously weird as Majora’s Mask. Starting with off-putting villain Skull Kid and a visibly angry moon, MM has a shockingly dark edge to it, one we found strangely appealing. A shadowy, ill-fated air hangs over everything, and with the Groundhog Day-like repeating three day cycle, you must witness the destruction you’re trying to prevent over and over. With the set schedule of events repeating every trio of days, it makes the world of Termina one of the most densely designed and memorable settings in Zelda history. Additionally, the hook of Link wearing masks to take on the abilities of different mythic races gives this adventure a spirit all its own. The fact this peculiar title is the best looking N64 game to date (thanks to the required use of the Expansion Pack) is gravy on what makes Majora’s Mask incredibly unique and memorable.

Why it’s the worst Zelda ever: That three day gimmick is also Majora’s greatest weakness. Having to battle the clock is antithetical to the spirit of exploration that Zelda is based upon, sometimes sucking all the fun out of the title. It’s at its worst in the dungeons, as anyone who raced to beat a boss before the moon crashed into the earth, forcing them to retrace their steps can attest. And if you’re not feeling the vibe of MM, then its strangeness will push you away, wishing for a more straightforward experience. Lastly, this game features the first appearance of Tingle. Nuff said.

Henry’s take: Majora’s Mask is weird to be sure, and even its strongest supporters will admit they were annoyed at least once by the time constraints placed on them. Still, you have to appreciate the Zelda team for trying something so bizarre after Ocarina, probably the most traditional Zelda game ever made. Majora’s Mask encapsulates the inventive spirit Zelda needs to stay fresh, even if its creativity got a little ahead of itself.


Why they’re the best Zelda ever: Individually, the Oracle games are great handheld Zelda adventures. Together, they’re a huge tale that spans two interconnected Game Boy carts, something few other games can boast. Imagine getting two brand new Zelda games on the same day – one (Seasons) focused on action and boss battles, the other (Ages) packed to the brim with mind-bending puzzles. No matter your taste, one of these games delivered. Then, when you finished one, you could use its end-of-game password to affect the companion game and continue the journey. Using the password effectively turned the second title into a true sequel, altering dialog and the final boss encounter so thoroughly that it really was worth playing through both. It also had the all the familiarity of a good “normal” Zelda yet many of the same quirks (off the wall characters, one of a kind abilities etc) that made Link’s Awakening so oddly alluring.

Why they’re the worst Zeldas ever: For all their cleverness, these are largely just two games cobbled together using existing Link’s Awakening assets. They reek of last-minute cash-ins, shoved out the door before the Game Boy Advance sucked the wind out the of Game Boy Color’s sails. And splitting content across two games? Why not spend that time making one really robust game instead of forcing us to buy two for the full experience? Or at least save them for GBA so they could look like new games, not some weird remix of Link’s Awakening?

Brett’s take: I preferred Seasons to Ages, but as with Awakening, I had a hard time committing to a handheld Zelda. And after the amazing Ocarina of Time and supremely creative Majora’s Mask, these felt comparatively weak. Still, they’re both worth playing (aren’t all Zelda games?), so I hope Nintendo has plans for them on the 3DS Virtual Console.


Why it's the best Zelda ever: All you jerks who hated on the "cartoony" visuals of Wind Waker can go eat your tunics now. The most hotly divisive aspect of Wind Waker, the cel-shaded graphics, are a big part of what makes it the best in the series – it's the first fully 3D game that truly has a timeless look. But even more important than its uniquely artistic appeal, Wind Waker's incredibly natural, intuitive controls absolutely perfected the system that Ocarina of Time introduced.

Why it's the worst Zelda ever: The first and most obvious complaint lies in the open sea – you’ll spend lots (lots!) of time sailing a big blue nothing, slowly floating from place to place. You can eventually teleport around the map, but even then, this isn’t an overworld in the usual Zelda style, and turned a lot of regular players away. Gutsy move on Nintendo’s part, but it didn’t entirely pay off. Furthermore, the fetch quest near the end is pretty insufferable, requiring even more piddling around when what we wanted was some damn adventure. And need we mention the Tingle Tuner?

Carolyn's take: Wind Waker is easily my favorite 3D Zelda. It's not just the timelessness of the graphics – I also love the actual artistic style, from stubby-legged Link to the billowy smoke clouds that poof out from defeated foes. My favorite character from the Zelda universe by far, Tetra, was also introduced in this game, so the story holds a special place in my heart too.

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75 comments

  • ProChuga - January 5, 2013 8:20 p.m.

    i have to say Ocarina of time holds its place firmly at #1, it was the first game that i ever played, and captivated me every day of me playing me...All i wonder is how it took me 6 years to beat it..(water temple), but now i can beat it in 2 days. 2nd place would have to be Majora's mask. that game.that game..it was difficult, but it was so freakin awesome. The only problem i have with the game is the water temple(always the hardest), but other than that, the game has so many side quests and possibilities it really puts those thinking muscles to work. Keeping track of time, collecting masks, fighting, and solving problems... very exciting. 3rd place would have to be the wind waker, so huge of an environment for its time, especially for a Zelda game, although not as many side quests as i would prefer the storyline of this game were amazing, i couldn't of asked for a game like it to be any better. Twilight princess was a huge let down to me and many other zelda fans, first problem was when it first came out i beat it in the first 2 days of arrival in stores, it just didn't feel like a classic zelda game for me, the older the better is normally the case for zelda games. Don't get me wrong, there were classic zelda features to the game...but...a bazooka!? really now, this guy saves your but with a rocket launcher... and i thought for a second that Ganon wasn't the main villain in this game, i thought it was the twilight lord, but boy was i wrong. The DS games were a let down, they just don't have the feel of even being a Zelda game, and for me, the phantom hourglass was so hard to beat on the whole phantom temple or whatever that place was, in fact i had to buy a strategy guide to get me through it half the time. Over all i think the Zelda games will always be my favorite series, even outranking the Fallout series and Elder Scrolls series. FYI, only zelda game that i never beat was minish cap, the last boss, i'm just not that good with her moves, even with the gameboy gamecube adapter.
  • christopher-gardiner - July 8, 2012 7:19 p.m.

    Wind Waker was and still is the best Zelda game in existance, because it was the one that got me into the series, and was the first one that i have played, with Ocarina of Time at close second.
  • navi-the-fairy - February 11, 2012 3:36 p.m.

    You're very biased, you know. If you can blame Zelda 1 for aspects of it that are primitive and only there because it was first, then you should probably point out that A Link to the Past has very little character development at all and is relatively uninteresting to many people who've not had experience with any games prior to the 3D shift. Take off the nostalgia goggles, being amazing for the time doesn't always mean amazing now. And for Ocarina of Time, where do I start. The field is bland, the characters are a clear step backwards from Link's Awakening, the only half of the inventory is usable at any point and the time traveling forces you to be unable to use items you've already obtained, the owl and the fairy hold your hand constantly, the first three dungeons are a chore and the game only gets good part-way through, and the game's biggest hook is "wow it's in 3D." I adore A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time, I adore all of these games, but none of them are perfect and if you really want to make a list of what makes these games good and bad you should try a little harder :P
  • nomis - December 10, 2011 7:34 p.m.

    wow...Minish Cap is easy?! guess I got a lot to learn about Zelda games haha
  • TJF588 - October 4, 2011 4:31 a.m.

    I lament a lack of even commenting on the GBA version of ALttP (and perhaps the GCN versions of the NES and N64 games, but IIRC, only OoT's Master Quest was worth noting, and that's in the 3DS version). Why? Four Swords. How about the recent DSiWare Four Swords Anniversary Edition?
  • Ravenbom - July 9, 2011 7:46 a.m.

    I had fun with Link's Crossbow Training. For an hour. Also because I didn't use the stupid zapper.
  • egregious - July 6, 2011 2:40 p.m.

    A Link to the Past is my favorite game of all time. Still. I've had those discussion about top ten, five, hundred games, and ALTTP always comes out number one. The perfect game. Wind Waker is my number two Zelda game, to be honest. I loved the look and it just felt so lighthearted and fun.
  • Imgema - July 4, 2011 4:47 p.m.

    You know, technology and gameplay advances can improve graphics and um, gameplay, but they can't improve one the one thing that is the most important for me: Atmosphere. Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask are STILL the best Zeldas for me, not because of the nostalgia (i grew up with 8 and 16 bit zeldas actually) but because of their atmosphere. Ocarina of time also has the most content and secrets compared to any other Zelda and there are even little things that you may never see, unless you try them, like, have you ever played the Zelda lullaby near a destroyed sign? Did you ever let a butterfly land on your Deku stick? And dozens of other things like that. Oh and both games have the best soundtrack of any Zelda game. You can't improve music compositions with newer technology now, can you?
  • randomroy - July 4, 2011 7:26 a.m.

    How could you forget the Game and watch Zelda game?!!! My family couldn't afford a game boy so it was my pride and joy. It was my first ZELDA and holds a special place in my heart. I think I played it for 8 hours straight in the car from London to Edinburgh when I was young.
  • jackthemenace - July 3, 2011 4:03 p.m.

    Well, I enjoyed Phantom Hourglass and Spirit tracks, and, since I played Link to the past on GBA and Twilight Princess on the Wii, I've never really had the chance to play a LoZ game with a real controller, which I find disappointing, now I realised that 10 seconds ago.
  • Bobishungry - July 3, 2011 1:13 a.m.

    i've heard of each of these games before, even the link's crossbow training. But i had always thought the faces of evil intro video was a fake intro made by some random guy on youtube. I wish i was right!
  • AlbVega - July 3, 2011 12:33 a.m.

    Twilight princess for me. I was never really a Zelda fan until I played this and Ocarina back to back. Midna it's a great character, the towns and overworld feel incredibly alive and everything just screams EPIC. Plus the armors were cool. It's the Zelda I have completed the most, and that's in one sitting only. These articles are amazing, please do now Castlevania, Resident Evil and the sacred Mario games.
  • HowdyCowboyCheesesBurger0911 - July 2, 2011 3:51 p.m.

    I enjoyed the the Zelda faps but this is to much, no more Zelda.
  • The_Tingler - July 2, 2011 3:46 p.m.

    Oh, and Wind Waker is the only one in the series with f***ing camera control. Sigh.
  • The_Tingler - July 2, 2011 3:46 p.m.

    Nothing wrong with A Link To The Past? How about this: the story's tacked-on and there are no interesting characters in it, plus it doesn't do very well in guiding you to your objectives. These are the reasons I got bored with it. I completed it, but I had GameFAQs open for a great deal of time. Wind Waker is my absolutely favourite, mostly because of the superb story and characterization. Oh, and absolutely everything else. It's the only game barring Batman Arkham Asylum that I've got 100% everything on.
  • KingArchie55 - July 2, 2011 2:35 p.m.

    I loved LttP. I got it for GBA, and I played that game for like 3 years. Then I lost it. But man, that game is fantastic. It's gotta be my favorite game.
  • Tenfey - July 2, 2011 12:30 p.m.

    Your description for Link to the Past was actually dead on for me. It was the first Zelda I had ever seen, and I played it non-stop for weeks. When I went back to try the previous NES entries after borrowing them from friends, I could see how they had led up to LttP, but I could never really get into them. Don't worry though, I eventually sat down and played through both of them, albeit about 10 years later and with a FAQ.
  • AuthorityFigure - July 2, 2011 6:47 a.m.

    The DS games are inferior to the GBC games to my mind. Twilight Princess may have tried too hard to be like OoT, but I have a clear concious on that - I wasn't one of the ignoramous' yearning for a 'dark' (read: 'dull') Zelda game.
  • 510BrotherPanda - July 2, 2011 5:19 a.m.

    Since I live in San Francisco... THE NEXT TIME I SEE YOU GUYS AROUND THE CITY, I WOULD GREATLY APPRECIATE A DISCUSSION ON THIS ARTICLE, PARTICULARLY YOUR OPINIONS OF THE HANDHELD ZELDA GAMES. Sure, I'm not "the guy with all the Zelda tattoos", and I'm not nearly as old or game-experienced as all of you, but I think my perspective on this is at least...worth...a little bit...
  • Limbo - July 2, 2011 4:22 a.m.

    Excuse me, the Faces Of Evil is one of my favorite games of all time. I find this article highly offensive. Jokes aside, my favorites would have to be Ocarina Of Time, Majora's Mask, and Wind Waker, in that order. Ocarina of Time because it encompasses everything Zelda games are about and is just fantastic, Majora's Mask because it is the most unique, memorable, and has dozens of side quests (ALIEN ATTAAACK), and Wind Waker because it was my first Zelda game and I have a nostalgia boner for it.

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