The Legend of Zelda franchise celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, and it has already seen the release of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD on Wii U (which I'll be reviewing this weekend), will see the release of Hyrule Warriors Legends on the Nintendo 3DS, and we eagerly anticipate the release of the brand-new Legend of Zelda due out on the Wii U and perhaps the NX later this year.
Continuing this Zelda-themed weekend, let's get simple here. The Legend of Zelda is one of my favorite franchises of all time, and the series has seen a myriad of releases throughout its 30 year lifespan. This top ten list counts down the best of the best when it comes to the adventures involving Link, Zelda, Ganon, the Triforce, the Master Sword, and any other of the profusion of iconic Zelda imagery the series is known for.
10) The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (Wii U, GCN)
Even when I consider it to be my least favorite 3D Zelda, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker still surpasses a great deal of its competition out there. The Wind Waker is one of the most charming Zelda games out there, having Link at his most animated with his immense amount of facial animations. Sailing the land of Hyrule was great fun, even if the process was slow. However, the HD remaster on the Wii U solved this problem with the Speed Sail, allowing for faster sea travel. The dreaded Triforce quest was also updated to be less tedious. Still, The Wind Waker suffered from having only five main dungeons, and the majority of these don't do much to impress.
9) The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap (GBA)
Capcom worked on this portable Zelda, one that is often overlooked with most Zelda fans. That's a shame as The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap has so much to offer, whether it's the amazing shrinking mechanic that gives Link a new perspective on the land of Hyrule, the impressive six dungeons that Link must overcome, the tremendous boss battles, the fine collection of items, and the enjoyable Kinstone quest used to make bonds with various NPCs in Hyrule. All of this was coated with a beautiful sprite-based 2D art style that really delivered a sight to behold visual-wise. Plus, it was nice having a main villain that wasn't related to Ganon this time around.
8) The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii)
A game that is hotly contested within the Zelda fanbase, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, for me, possessed the best combat the series has yet to know. The motion controls worked next to flawlessly, aiding in adding some complexity to battle. Depending on the foe, you'd have to use a certain direction of slash to deal damage. The new items like the Whip and Beetle had some very clever and ingenious uses, and old standbys like the Bow and Arrow and Bombs felt fresher than even due to the motion controls. However, cool the motion controls, items, and bosses were, Skyward Sword suffered from severe pacing issues that stop it from being truly amazing. Oh heck, it IS amazing, but not as amazing as it could have been if some of the needless fat had been trimmed from the game.
7) The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, (Wii U, Wii, GCN)
Recently given a remaster on the Wii U (and will be reviewed later this weekend), The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess definitely admittedly starts off slow with an extended tutorial and amount of exposition. If you're one who wants all dungeons, all the time, then Twilight Princess probably isn't right for you. It does take a while for the game to get into its groove, but once it does, Twilight Princess makes for an excellent and quite memorable adventure. The dungeons are some of the best within the 3D Zelda games, with favorites of mine being the Goron Mines, Arbiter's Grounds, and Snowpeak Mountain. Though the overworld is quite bare and full of empty, unused space, it's a joy to explore and ride horseback through. With the Wii U remaster, many things that troubled fans like myself, such as not being able to keep rupees from chests if you didn't have room in your wallet for them, have been fixed, making for a less arduous and tedious Zelda adventure.
6) The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask (3DS, N64)
A Zelda adventure unlike any other, The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask takes place in the mysterious and dark world of Termina, which has a horrible fate thrust upon it. In three days' time, a savage moon will collide into the world, obliterating everything into dust. Enter Link, who in this adventure uses his ocarina to transport back into time and beginning the three day cycle again and again. By collecting new items, the need to redo specific actions in the world is lessened, and through collecting masks, new powers are bestowed unto Link, such as being able to transform into a Deku, a Goron, or a Zora. Although there are but four major dungeons in Majora's Mask, they are creatively and cleverly designed. However, the real star of Majora's Mask is the various interactions Link has with the daily lives of the people of Termina. Depending on the hour and the day, each denizen will be living out their own schedules. The 3DS version allows for a Bomber's Notebook to better manage Link's time and note where and when people will be. A unique Zelda, Majora's Mask is a fantastic experience.
5) The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages/Oracle of Seasons (GBC)
A duo of related adventures that I'm calling one game, The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages and The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons was a pair of Game Boy Color games that had Link arrive in two different worlds. Oracle of Ages was much more puzzle-focused and relied on time travel to move from the present to the past and vice versa. Oracle of Seasons relied more combat and had Link changing the seasons to progress through the game's world. Each adventure possessed eight main dungeons each, and these were masterfully made. You could tell the developers at Capcom really researched or knew Zelda well and knew what made the series so beloved. Through multiple digit codes, you could transfer data across either game, so when you beat the second (it didn't matter which you played first and beat second), you'd have a final scenario where you'd take on the true villains behind the evil across both games.
4) The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening (GB, GBC)
Starting off as a project to see if Zelda could be transported to the Game Boy, The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening became a full adventure. Link shipwrecked on Koholint Island, needing to find the eight instruments from eight different dungeons to awaken to Wind Fish. Along the way, Link would need to journey across the island, facing enemies, solving puzzles in the game's well crafted dungeons in both top-down and side-scrolling fashion, and collecting items to aid in his quest. Link's Awakening brought many facets of the preceding Zelda games with it, as well as adding brand-new content like the aforementioned side-scrolling areas to the fold. While Link's first handheld adventure set the bar for his future portable outings, it actually isn't my favorite handheld Zelda game surprisingly enough. A much more recent game usurped it from the top of the list.
3) The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS)
Yes, this Legend of Zelda game surprised me and bowled me over with its astonishing amount of quality. Giving players much more freedom than had been seen in a long time in a Zelda game, A Link Between Worlds allowed players to choose which dungeons they wanted to tackle and in which order once they reached the game's version of the Dark World, Lorule. The item rental system might not have put a lot on the line (having Link lose all rented items upon death, which wasn't too much fo a danger in the normal mode, but did so in the game's Hero Mode), but it was an interesting take on receiving new items. The wall merging mechanic, where Link enters a 2D phase and moves along walls, opened up the exploration and variety of venturing through the world immensely. A Link Between Worlds gave players an amazing adventure full of crafty dungeons with smartly devised puzzles, fierce enemies, lovely treasure, and behemoths of bosses to defeat. It is without a doubt my favorite top-down handheld Zelda.
2) The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES, GBA)
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past was such an important game to me personally. It bolstered my love for level, world, and dungeon design; it made me want to play it over 20 times now; and it helped shape my love for The Legend of Zelda series in general. Although the original Legend of Zelda (which is notably not on this list) paved the way for games like A Link to the Past, which felt like a much evolved version of what Shigeru Miyamoto's team accomplished with the NES original, this SNES classic simply beat it in every regard. The world was more interesting to explore, the dungeons felt different from one another and much more complicated, the bosses and enemies were fun to defeat, the secrets were myriad and didn't require a guide or walkthrough to uncover for the most part, and the story was more complex, giving some mystique and mythos to the franchise. I play this magnificent Zelda game on a yearly basis, and still I'm finding new things to appreciate about it.
1) The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (3DS, N64)
While not the most creative pick for a favorite Legend of Zelda game, Ocarina of Time continues to delight me long after its initial release in 1998. The world was full of interesting characters, exquisite sights and breathtaking vistas to behold, astonishing secrets, dangerous foes both enemy and boss, puzzle-filled dungeons with some of the best design in the series, and so much more. I was in middle school when this game came out, and I was immensely engrossed in this incarnation's land of Hyrule. The moment where Link turns from a boy to a full fledged man, stepping out from the Temple of Time to see a destroyed and demented version of Hyrule was a moment that sticks with me. Or how about jumping over Lon Lon Ranch's fence with Link's new trusty companion Epona? The memories of these moments still run through my mind. The 3DS remake not only improved the visuals and frame-rate, but made item choosing a much more streamlined process, making Water Temple memories of pausing the game, equipping and then unequipping the Iron Boots, and then unpausing the game a thing of the past. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is still one of the most impressive Zelda games of all time, and one of the most important games of all time as well.