I’ve played and finished the majority of Legend of Zelda games except the two NES ones, Four Swords GBA, Tri Force Heroes and Breath of the Wild, and decided to write a retrospective, before I reveal my favourite (and least favourite) Zelda games. These are the console titles.
The Legend of Zelda (NES): I played this on Virtual Console, but haven’t finished it yet. Elements seen in later games, such as the ‘beam sword at full health’, heart containers, the Triforce, etc are all there, but the story is practically non-existent and in retrospect this game adds virtually nothing to the lore and mythos of Zelda. Many of the dungeons can be completed in almost any order – an early prototype of ‘open world’ (maybe), but this doesn’t compensate for the lack of plot, character development, general lack of writing throughout the game, and lack of signature equipment not found in any other Zelda – apart from the Stepladder. If you’re curious about ‘seeing where it all began’, by all means get it on Virtual Console, but don’t expect the quality and originality seen in later games.
Zelda II: Adventure of Link: I played this on Virtual Console, and found the extremely high difficulty prevented me from making much progress. To add insult to injury, if you get a Game Over, you have to backtrack from the very earliest area of the game and often I’d get another Game Over before I’d even returned to where I died, let alone get further into the game (there was no way to teleport to areas). On the one hand, there were NPCs and a significant magic system, but on the other hand, the extreme difficulty level means you’d have to be a Zelda superfan to want to finish this. It was also side-scrolling for some odd reason. A very difficult to recommend Zelda game.
A Link To The Past: Probably tied with Ocarina of Time as being the earliest Zelda game I played. The things I remember most fondly are the music, switching back and forth between the two versions of Hyrule, the equipment, and the 16-bit graphics. In retrospect, this is as early in the franchise as I would want to play – better story, better gameplay, better graphics, better music, etc than the two NES Zeldas put together. A Link to the Past is where I would recommend anyone wanting to get into the franchise to start off – don’t bother with the two NES Zeldas: believe me, you’re not missing much.
Ocarina of Time: While Ocarina of Time has an unsurpassed 99 Metacrtic – giving the impression of it being the best video game of all time, I feel some aspects of it have aged poorly. For example, there are six ocarina tunes JUST for teleportation – compared to the Song of Soaring in Majora’s Mask, which was a much more efficient means of teleportation. I was amazed by OOT back in the day, but more recent Zeldas have seemed more ‘alive’, and revisiting the game with the 3DS version, it seemed like OOT felt like an early attempt at Open World (as in, ‘big’ but empty): the world and characters just seem ‘flat’ by modern standards. Many of the characters seem one or two dimensional and ‘Saturday Morning Cartoon-y’, and much of the dialogue seems ‘stiff’, and some things felt they had been recycled from Link to the Past (3 pendants – 3 gemstones; Master Sword obtained at around the same point in both games; two alternate versions of Hyrule.) Although OOT 3D is considered a ‘remake’, I found the 3DS version didn’t have enough new content or improvements to be called a proper remake – more of an enhanced re-release and was underwhelmed by the 3DS version.
Majora’s Mask: IMO the most underrated Zelda – it deliberately did things differently (in a good way) instead of trying to replicate Ocarina of Time. The three day cycle created a sense of urgency to the game and plot, and the 3DS version added more options for saving. The darker tone and plot gave a sense of genuine danger – the world wasn’t static while you were going about your quest – NPCs had schedules, certain sidequests would only occur at certain times, etc. The mask system was excellent – offering abilities such as: alternate forms with unique abilities; the ability to run faster, the ability to turn Link into a bomb by depleting his magic meter (useful if low on/or out of bombs), the ability to transform into a giant (third dungeon boss fight only). There were far fewer dungeons than OOT, but much more substantial and interesting side quests, and NPCs seemed more ‘alive’ and real. IMO the combination of the mask system and the ocarina have not been matched by any other Zelda before or since.
Wind Waker: Due to improvements and tweaks made in Wind Waker HD, I will base my retrospective on that version. The original version was frustrating due to having to collect enormous sums of rupees to complete 8 Triforce charts, and sailing in the boat was quite frustrating – any time you wanted to change direction while sailing, you had to use the Wind Waker so that the wind was behind your ship or sailing would be incredibly slow (luckily major tweaks were made to these two issues in Wind Waker HD). I found Wind Waker HD’s art style impressive, and the game was much more enjoyable than the original version due to the tweaks I mentioned (though the Triforce charts were still annoying, just not as much). Wind Waker has abilities such as being able to control a seagull and fly; a grappling hook;
Four Swords Adventures: I found this to be much better than Four Swords GBA due to having a proper single player. Its gameplay was quite different to most other Zeldas, and much less focus on solving complex dungeon puzzles and a much stronger focus on fast-paced action. If you have a Gamecube or Wii – check it out (or wait and see if it comes out on Nintendo Switch’s Virtual Console).
Twilight Princess: Probably one of the Zeldas which has aged the best I played the Wii version of the original and I replayed it in 2016 via the HD version, and the game felt like apart from the graphics, it hadn’t aged much, and most of the gameplay still held up very well. The equipment is some of the best in the series (the iron boots in particular had much better and more extensive use than in Ocarina), the music is some of the best in the series, Midna is one of the best companions in the series, the boss fights are some of the best in the series, signature equipment such as the Spinner and Dominion Rod, and the tweaks made in the HD version helped the game seem still relatively modern. The only major detractor is that there was no attempt to retain motion controls in the HD version like the Wii version had.
Skyward Sword: The motion controls in this game were great, intuitive and made the combat ‘come to life’ (the end boss was a particular highlight). I was also a fan of Skyward Sword’s art style (just imagine a Nintendo Switch HD remaster!), and found the plot helped to bring something new to the series. The game felt packed with content, and puzzles weren’t just limited to inside dungeons like previous games. This game also introduced ‘Hero Mode’ for the first time in the series, added to Twilight Princess HD. There were also elements of item crafting – a first for the series, and the game exuded personality and production values. If this is ever re-released in HD for Nintendo Switch, it’ll be a must-buy!
Breath of the Wild: (Haven’t played it enough yet – will comment when finished)