|ranking the the legend of zelda series
|as ranked by geozeldadude and nintendo power
||nintendo power’s list
the legend of zelda: majora’s mask (N64): the zelda series is full of standouts, but in the end i have to give majora’s mask the top spot. although the original entry, link to the past, and ocarina are all great and each did much to really define the series, majora’s mask was just so full of memorable moments. i found its off-kilter view of the zelda universe to be utterly compelling, and the 3-day limit, the expansion of the masks in ocarina (including getting to play as completely different characters), and the darker tone were all huge draws. however, the series of sidequests involving helping the NPCs in the central town were what really added a new dimension to feeling connected to the game. it’s a game whose drawbacks (namely, its time-rewind mechanic that often has you repeating whole sections) can hardly put a dent in the overall experience. a game that i’m really hoping gets remade for 3DS by the time i get around to replaying it!
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64): Whereas A Link to the Past perfected the series’s core mechanics and structure, Ocarina of Time added a sense of dramatic scale and cinematic sweep that wasn’t possible in the series’s 2D entries. A spectacularly innovative game, Ocarina of Time pioneered methods for dealing with the control and camera issues that had bedeviled developers of 3D software for years. What’s most impressive is that it managed to navigate the incredibly difficult transition from 2D to 3D while delivering the series’s finest story, most memorable dungeons and a main quest of then-unprecedented length. This is the quintessential entry in what has become gaming’s most critically beloved series.
||the legend of zelda: link’s awakening (GB): this was one of the first zelda games i played as an adult, and the amount they managed to pack into such a tiny cartridge astounded me. if i had played link to the past first i may have given that preference for my #2 spot, but looking back link’s awakening had not just the puzzles and action of the best of the series, but also a livelier cast, thanks in no small part to the required trading quest, a first for the series. the game also had some surprisingly emotional moments, including a bittersweet ending. it astounds me how much of an impact a handful of black and white pixels and some chiptunes can make.
||The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES): The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past introduced dozens of series mainstays (the Hookshot, the ocarina, heart pieces), but is perhaps more memorable for the degree to which it perfected the satisfying formula of the Zelda series. The game nailed the balance between open-world exploration and scripted storytelling, between familiarity and freshness, and between satisfying challenge and well-paced progression. Its innovative Light World/Dark World concept was one of the most imaginative hooks to a video game ever, and is still being imitated today.
||the legend of zelda: ocarina of time (N64): without a doubt ocarina is a classic game, and it’s only a testament to the quality of the series as a whole that it ends up third on my ranking. much as i enjoyed it, having played wind waker before it really skewed my experience. still, the expansion of the zelda universe was immense, including the introduction of the zoras, gorons, kokiri, sheikah, and gerudo, not to mention epona, and i appreciate the leap it made from 2D to 3D. i’ve been enjoying my experience with the 3DS version, and will hopefully find the time to finish it before too long.
||The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (GCN): The wonderful thing about The Legend of Zelda games is that they start small and unfold into something grand. The Wind Waker exemplifies this better than many of its siblings: what starts off as a seemingly young-gamer-skewing adventure (due to its cartoony cel-shaded visual style) concludes with one of the most shocking moments in the entire franchise. …
||the legend of zelda: a link to the past (SNES): like ocarina, my experience with a link to the past was another case where i had played it after a game that succeeded it, so my viewpoint is skewed. although i enjoyed the game and appreciate it for everything that it introduced, its relatively light story and lack of characters made it less memorable to me overall. a high-quality zelda game that holds up even years later, but for me it’s overshadowed by games that did more to tweak the now-classic formula this game established.
||The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii): Built from the ground up for Wii, Skyward Sword realized the potential of motion controls like few other titles and stood out as one of the console’s most beautiful games. It also boasts some of the best storytelling in the series, as well as our favorite take on the Zelda characters to date.
||the legend of zelda (NES): the game that started it all. i replayed this a couple of years ago (having played it a ton when i was a kid) and was somewhat relieved to find that for the most part it still held up, despite having aged more than the original mario or perhaps even metroid in terms of having any idea of where to go next. i honestly can’t be very objective about the game since i know it so well, but the gameplay, graphics, sound effects, and controls are all extremely polished and i think the game is still enjoyable today. a classic by every definition.
||The Legend of Zelda (NES): The Legend of Zelda was a rare NES title inspired not by a specific style of play or setting, but an attempt to capture the thrill of exploration and discovery. It succeeded with aplomb, ushering in a new style of gameplay built more on finding secrets and solving puzzles than on fast-reflex fighting. Beyond standing as a triumph in its own right, many of the creations inspired by the original Legend of Zelda rank among the greatest games ever made.
||the legend of zelda: spirit tracks (DS): i can’t see why this game gets ignored, even amongst zelda fans. the game improved on phantom hourglass in every way. although it includes the same easy-to-use controls, it also focuses on an underused dual-character mechanic (link and his “phantom” buddy), a train-travelling mechanic that was much more fun than the sailing mechanics of phantom hourglass, and some new items and new baddies. even though it sits at #6 in my list, it’s still one of the best zelda games, and is on my list of greatest games of all time.
||The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX (GBC): Imaginative, emotional, and packed with quirky humor, Link’s Awakening proved that a handheld Zelda could be just as epic as its console counterparts. The DX version for Game Boy Color even managed to improve upon the black-and-white original.
||the legend of zelda: a link between worlds (3DS): the most recent game in the series, and a sign that the series is still going strong. a game that cribs so closely to its predecessor (in this case, a link to the past) shouldn’t have drawn my attention nearly so much, but the game’s new 3D-to-2D mechanic, freer structure, and silky smooth gameplay were compelling. not to mention new characters including a new villain, hidden tokens (in this case maimais), a first for a handheld zelda title, streetpass battles, and the classic zelda mix of action and puzzles. a game that by its simple description shouldn’t have ranked so high on my list, but as a whole is a great experience, despite being on the easy side.
||The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Wii): Gamers around the world exploded with delight when Twilight Princess was unveiled in 2004, and when the game was released as a Wii launch title more than two years later, it lived up to the hype. Once players made it into the meat of the game, they found a huge and stunningly beautiful world to explore, powerfully cinematic event scenes to marvel at, and plenty of well-designed dungeons to take on.
||the legend of zelda: skyward sword (wii): i’m not quite sure why, but although i generally enjoyed playing skyward sword, looking back there’s not a lot i found really memorable about it. at the time i was struck by how many of the mechanics seemed taken directly from wii sports resort, and the game felt heavily padded. revisiting the same locations with different objectives felt tedious, and there were whole sections that i found much more annoying that fun. in my notes i have this ranked higher than twilight, probably due to being more colorful and being a bit more original, but i’ll have to see which one holds up better on my second playthrough.
||The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (N64): An attempt to cash in on the success of Ocarina of Time by banging out a sequel in just over a year shouldn’t have produced a masterpiece of a game. Although Majora’s Mask has less content than most Zelda entries, it features a mind-bendingly brilliant structure that has players repeating the same days over and over to make incremental progress toward averting an apocalypse. It may be the most effective implementation of time travel in gaming.
||the legend of zelda: twilight princess (wii): the problem with twilight princess isn’t just that it felt like a retread of ocarina, but that it just didn’t seem as flat-out fun as other titles in the series. at the time i played it i had said the game didn’t have “much charm, humor, or surprise”, with the exception of midna who provides the game’s best moments, even more so than zelda herself. despite feeling overly padded in a similar way as skyward sword, the game’s formula of overworld exploration plus tricky dungeons was still a winner, and still puts this above the majority of other games. that said, overall it felt like an average zelda experience to me.
||The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap (GBA): Although Link’s Awakening started things off right, the Legend of Zelda series’s portable installments have rarely been as satisfying as their console brethren. The Minish Cap beat the odds by copying everything that made A Link to the Past great: a colorful 2D world, an exploration-focused structure, cool items, and strong dungeon design. It wasn’t the most innovative Zelda entry, but it was easily one of the most entertaining portable ones.
||the legend of zelda: oracle of seasons (GBC): the rest of the list is generally ranked by how much the games follow the standard formula. the season-changing mechanics of oracle of seasons were entertaining although not that much of a hook, but the animal helpers and the reworking of elements from the original NES title along with a very polished zelda experience overall made this a more worthwhile entry than some of the others in the series, and distinctly superior to oracle of ages.
||Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (NES): … With side-scrolling combat and an RPG-style world map, Zelda II is a radical departure from the series that some fans call a refreshing change of pace and others consider an outcast. The game cuts down on puzzle solving to focus heavily on action, and it’s the most difficult Zelda game by far. Even the most basic enemies are tough, and once you’re out of lives and have to continue, Link is sent all the way back to where the game starts! Urg! Frustration aside, Zelda II debuted Link’s iconic downward-thrust attack, introduced magic to the series, and remains the only title where Link can earn experience and level up.
||the legend of zelda: phantom hourglass (DS): while in many ways it improved on wind waker, phantom hourglass really lacked originality. aside from the new touchscreen controls, which worked great, the game felt like a dumbing down of the zelda experience in a way that spirit tracks didn’t. the game didn’t introduce any new items and dungeons felt uninspired. still, the game was enjoyable overall, even if it’s not among the best in the series.
||The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons (GBC) and The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages (GBC): Although Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages are each full, distinct games, they were released as a set and certain items can be traded between them via a password feature. These Game Boy Color standouts are classic Zelda adventures, but contain totally unique elements. For instance, you can equip different rings to customize Link’s abilities… and you can use animals to help Link in different ways… We give a slight nod to Oracle of Seasons over its brother because of its titular hook — being able to switch between spring, summer, winter, and fall — is like having four versions of the world to explore and makes for cooler puzzles. The ability to travel between past and present in Oracle of Ages is fun, but A Link to the Past did this kind of thing first — and best — with its Light World/Dark World setup.
||zelda ii: the adventure of link (NES): even aside from its old-school difficulty and one-off game mechanics, the adventure of link felt limited in its scope. temples felt very same-y, and the overall experience felt fairly short rather than epic. not a bad game by any measure and it’s fun to see where the series could have gone, but not among the best in the series.
||The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks (DS): [No text available]
||the legend of zelda: the minish cap (GBA): the minish cap was a cute game and looked great on the GBA, but it was short and pretty easy. despite a potentially interesting dual world mechanic (in this case, link can shrink down to the size of a bug), the game itself follows the standard formula without much variation. not one of the more memorable games in the series.
||The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures (GCN): Four Swords Adventures isn’t a typical Zelda game; the adventure is split into various stages and works best with multiple players. Despite those differences, however, the onscreen action is classic Zelda. The game is also noteworthy for being the last 2-D console entry in the series, and it enhances the visual style establish in A Link to the Past with the extra power of the GameCube… Up to four players can help or hinder each other during the quest… The game really loses something when played solo, however.
||the legend of zelda: oracle of ages (GBC): although a lot of people seem to consider oracle of ages about on par with oracle of seasons, i much preferred the latter which had a more interesting hook. as NP mentioned, the dark world/light world mechanic of oracle of ages just felt tired, and coming near the end of my zelda saga there just wasn’t anything about this game that really grabbed me. we’ll have to see how my opinion changes on the second time through.
||The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (DS): This [game] proves why the Nintendo DS is a great home for The Legend of Zelda. Stylus controls make the familiar Zelda action feel fresh again by adding fun interactions and abilities to traditional weapons like the boomerang and bow. It’s a drag, however, that Link’s inventory is smaller than usual. The game’s biggest drawback is its central feature: that you have to return to the Temple of the Ocean King over and over, exploring its depths a little more each time. Too much backtracking is required, and if you put the game down for a few days, it’s hard to remember the paths you’ve already discovered. Sailing isn’t as tedious as it is in The Wind Waker, however, and exploring new areas of the ocean adds to the game’s fun sense of adventure.
||the legend of zelda: wind waker (GCN): although i liked the visual style, i just found the game to be a big snooze-fest overall. odd, seeing as how it was my first of the 3D zelda games. rather than giving a sense of wonder and adventure, sailing just felt slow and tedious, and the dungeons didn’t seem to have a lot of the “wow” factor. it will definitely be interesting to see how my opinion changes after playing the wii u remake.
||the legend of zelda: four swords (GBA): most people don’t count this as a separate game as it was the multi-player game included with the GBA remake of a link to the past. still, i enjoyed it despite its limited scope, and much more than four swords adventures which took the concept, acceptable as a short diversion, and stretched it out into a slogfest of a console game.
||the legend of zelda: four swords adventures (GCN): one of the very few zelda games that i actively disliked. it took me ages to finish it, and i hated the stage-based setup and the lack of any feeling of progression whatsoever. the game really felt like a watered-down zelda experience, and although i played it single player i can’t imagine playing with other people is anything other than a big waste of time. there were some moments later in the game that were more puzzle-oriented that were more worthwhile, but even that wasn’t enough to save this game from earning last place on my list.
well, there it is. the zelda series stands as a titan among video game series, and i’m def. looking forward to revisiting old favorites and, of course, hoping to hear about new entries in the future. huge kudos for all the game developers who have been involved with the series over the years, and here’s to many more!