Following on from my little look into the brand new piece of Zelda merch -the Hyrule Historia- and after the announcement of the up coming remake of Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker in HD for the Wii U, I though creating a list of my top 5 TLOZ games seemed fitting. This was no easy task, though. Nintendo have created countless classics veering off into a range of different directions, so if you were to scroll through my top five The Legend of Zelda games and lift your arms to the heavens and exclaim that I got it all wrong, well I’d probably agree with you. But the titles I have chosen are all very special, and I’ll explain why.
5.) The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess 2006
Spaceworld 2000 unveiled a brief scene with a revamped, Ocarina of Time-style Link engaging in an epic battle with Ganondorf. Little fanlings could hardly contain their excitement at the prospect of a Zelda offering them everything the N64 had and more. But of course this demo never saw completion, as the GameCube instead introduced the first cel shaded Zelda, The Wind Waker. Despite Wind Waker being a huge success, fans never quite got over that epic little snap shot of Zelda’s hyper-real future. Nintendo seemed to make the right move by leaving this concept alone for a while however, as Twilight Princess surpassed all expectations.
What makes this a fantastic Zelda is its winning combination of nostalgia, respect for its past and successful new material. The game is teeming with references to past Zeldas such as with the return of Link’s faithful steed Epona. The dark world theme that worked so well in A Link to The Past was re explored and Link’s wolf form mirrored the theme of transformation that defined Majora’s Mask. The intro also pays tribute to the epic, tear-jerking introduction of Ocarina of Time, with Link wistfully galloping through the fields of Hyrule at dawn. Players may have also noticed a picture of the Pond Owner from Ocarina of Time in the Fishing Pond. Touches like these made the player feel as if Nintendo really was on their side with this game- mindful even, of what fans had treasured from past Zelda hits.
Visually, this Zelda was near faultless. I feel that Twilight Princess fulfilled the hopes and dreams Nintendo had for Ocarina of time, but couldn’t
quite achieve because of technological limitations; the temples are ornatej and Hyrule field is luscious, expansive and teeming with rocky out crops, trees and cliffs. Nintendo succeeded in making a significantly more interesting “dark world” than games like Metroid Prime Echoes, which felt dull and lifeless. Twilight Princess’s dark world has a pixelated, digital theme which makes it feel mysterious and out of place. This creates a distinct atmosphere that divides the two worlds, making each feel like very different places, as a pose to one boring mess.
The story line ran far deeper than that of Ocarina’s, with far more interesting characterization. Zant for example, is an excellent villain. Midna is also one of the best companions to date, with the biggest personality and back-story, which inter-twined with the main plot- as a pose to companions like Navi, who may be considered the “classic” Link companion by many, but had very little was done with her character; there could have been an exploration of her life before the Great Deku Tree assigned her to care for Link for example.
The temples were also a great deal of fun- utilizing some quirky new items to make each one a fresh new experience. However, boss battles took a nosedive of sorts and many were significantly less engaging than those in previous titles. The game is also lacking in character driven side quests, which had always been a fun part of the previous releases, providing masses of replay-ability and emersion. Nintendo released Twilight Princess at the very end of the GameCube’s life, so they decided rustle up a quick Wii version. Using the remote made it easier to aim in some circumstances, but the hasty nature of its production meant the Wii’s technology was not fully utilized. This is by no means a perfect game, but it’s certainly an excellent Zelda.
4.) A Link To The Past 1991
After the success of the first Zelda, Nintendo went in a new direction of sorts with the second, The Adventure of Link. A side-scrolling format was adopted and RPG elements such as a leveling system were introduced. These were somewhat needless moves though, and a great deal of Zelda’s fans missed the bird’s eye view of the first game. Nintendo spent three to four years working on A Link to The Past as a pose to the 12 months spent on The Adventure of Link to make sure they won back their fans and got it right, re introducing the bird’s eye view with a huge step up in visuals. This is the oldest of the Zelda games on this list. Despite this, it shows off a huge amount of great design work, making the most of what technology had to offer in the early 90s. The Dark Palace for example, is full of depth, atmosphere and texturing.
A Link to The Past also has some of the series’ most definitive music too- from the intro tune to the Under World Theme, the over world music and a heart-wrenching Zelda’s lullaby.
3.) Ocarina of Time 1998
Zora © Nintendo
It would have been too easy to just plonk this right at number one, as many fans remember this release fondly from their childhood- a much loved piece of nostalgia from back in the day. It was the first 3D Zelda, and the first Zelda to come out for five years making it hotly anticipated. This can sometimes be a game’s downfall; fans expect so much that the game can never possibly live up to the imaginings of its players, who have had more than enough time to think through their perfect version of the final product. However, Ocarina of Time took gaming by storm, getting near flawless reviews across the board and settling down as one of the most cherished games, well, ever. So what exactly made this game so successful? I think this may be down to its distinct identity; Nintendo didn’t seem worried about making Ocarina as Zelda-ish as possible. They didn’t even feel the need to include the classic Hyrule field theme, choosing instead to create an entirely new theme that worked brilliantly. They also decided to make Ganon green and ginger as a pose to a hog-humanoid (he does that later, though) which could have been a disaster, but this formula has stuck ever since. Fans may have scorned at the introduction of the Deku, Zora and Goron races but they too became much loved new additions that have been reintroduced time and time again.
Goron © Nintendo
Each temple was satisfying to plow through, and nearly every boss was memorable- a unique tactic needing to be employed for each to be brought down. This could be considered a minor detail by some, but I really loved the death sequence for each boss; in other games when the battle is becoming tense and I don’t know whether I’m going to make it or not, having the foe suddenly keel over without so much as a cut scene has always been a joy kill. In Ocarina of Time however, the bosses writhed around, crashed into their surroundings, melted into floors and crumbled away as a sobering, respectful tune drummed away in the back ground. It made victory sweet.
The game is full of celebrated characters such as Sheik, the Biggoron, Saria, Guru-Guru and Darunia, who will bring a nostalgic tear to many an eye.
However, this title has aged a great deal. Ocarina of Time explored what classic Zelda themes such as exploration, progression through items and side quests would be like in a 3D environment, but technological limitations meant they were relatively simple compared to the masses of exploration in Wind Waker, inventive items in Twilight Princess and heart felt side quests in Majora’s Mask. Some of the areas that once felt magical also look a little shabby now. Zora’s Domain for example looks more like a dank grey space than a watery heaven and the Lost Woods is a collection of block spaces as a pose to trees. Perhaps the reason interest in Ocarina has never waned is because the music softens its dated edges; no matter how gloomy Zora’s Domain looked, its exotic, chilled out music made me feel like I was in a spectacular tropical lagoon every time. The Lost Woods felt like a forest teeming with life and excitement because of the up-beat theme that Saria loved so much. So ultimately, this Legend of Zelda set the standards, ensuring the series’ switch from 2D to 3D was triumphant and that Zelda would not be forgotten.
2.) Majora’s Mask 2000
Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is probably the most mysterious of all the Zelda games. Instead of focusing on a reincarnation of Link battling against Ganondorf and his evil forces somewhere along the Hyrule timeline, this follows the personal adventure of Link from Ocarina of Time. He knows that his future self is going to instill peace in the temples of Hyrule and lock Ganon away from the Triforce… But having discovered he will not live forever as a child with his friends in the Lost Woods and that his Hylian parents are long dead, he is alone. Navi seemed to be the only one he had left, but she was swept up in the “rivers of time” and vanished. This story is therefore a product of Link searching for this faithful companion as he stumbles into a strange alternate reality full of familiar faces.
As fans eagerly whacked their brand new Majora’s Mask cartridges into their N64s, they may have been expecting another epic title screen showing a noble Link gallantly striding through a landscape of some description… But they were instead given an ominous dark void, with a mask filled with foreboding and madness looming into the distance, followed by the echoing laughter of the mask merchant. This was proof enough of the unparalleled atmosphere in Majora’s Mask- a distinct feeling of dread and confusion that mimics Link’s inner turmoil as his lost adolescence begins. But enough of that mushy deep stuff!
Ocarina of Time is (of course) one of the most revered games of all time, so its sequel had an obscene amount to live up to. More than virtually any other game in history, in fact. Offering more of the same could have made the series seem like a brain dead bear stumbling around in circles, but a whole new direction could have had the series seeming like a sad, attention seeking clown. I think the alternate world concept that Nintendo settled for was a great move, as it allowed them to expand on what worked well previously, whilst moving the game into visual movement that distanced itself from the traditional “town-of-old” style of Ocarina of Time.
Majora’s Mask had some of the most affecting side quests, for example. Side quests such as that of the Biggoron’s Sword In Ocarina were a lot of fun and gave the player the opportunity to revisit characters involved in the plot thread, but there was far less emotional investment; I wasn’t particularly phased when it become clear that Grog had been cursed to walk the lands as a stalfos… But discovering the fate of Kafei and Anju reduced me to a clump of bedraggled tears and feels. Characters involved in the main plotline are also more memorable in this sequel; King Zora in Ocarina for example, feels more like a sluggish sea monkey than a noble ruler. Explaining the absence of a mother for his daughter could have made players far more interested in him and his fate. However characters in Majora’s Mask go through sequences that make them forever memorable; I found myself paying respects to Mikau each time I used the Zora Mask for instance.
Despite these excellent side quests, the temples in this Zelda were few and somewhat lacking. An interesting direction was made with the water temple, as it flipped from a typically regal and ornate temple to a strange industrial complex. This made it no more enjoyable though –cough- no change there –cough-. In contrast to this the final (Stone Tower) temple is one of the best in the series. The gravity switch concept was a totally new innovation that set it apart from the three before it, which were full of fairly standard puzzles and mini boss battles.
1.): The Wind Waker 2002
Nintendo took one giant, precarious leap of faith with Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. Cel Shaded Zeldas are a common, welcomed occurrence these days- with the DS housing Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks… But 10 years ago this was totally alien territory for The Legend of Zelda. Gargantuan theme changes can sometimes be a sign of inner turmoil or weakness in a series; it implies the developers may have felt interest waning and desperately glued bits of ideas together to make something they deem “fresh”, “racy” and “new”, such as the Pokemon Franchise or Crash Bandicoot. However, The Wind Waker succeeded. It nailed it, in fact. This is probably one of the most balanced games ever to hit the shelves, despite the bright colours and cartoon-like characters.
Link is renowned for being a mute hero. Some would call this a blessing as a number of games tend to spend their budgets on slightly more pressing features of their product (go play any House of The Dead Game, just do it) than good voice actors. But Nintendo succeeded in giving Link a bigger character than ever before. In one of the very first scenes Link watches his little sister get snatched up by a giant bird. In a rash attempt to save her he draws his sword and makes a (don’t worry, someone catches him) dive off the cliff. Never before have our hearts gone out for our hero quite as much as in that moment. It’s great to see Link go through trials of his own; in the past the emotions of other characters were used to colour Link’s, such as when Zelda clasps her hands around Link’s as they plan to part ways in Ocarina of Time. The poor old princess looks like she might start weeping at any moment, and all Link can offer her is his “meaningful” blank stare. I bet they edited out the moment where he pokes one of her eyes out with his beak nose.
Anyway! The story line is fantastic. Some of the Zelda games could have been anywhere in the Hyrule timeline, but Wind Waker makes its place very late on in the timeline known, adding a number of fascinating plot twists and ties in with the evolution of the Zelda lore. This helps to accentuate the idea of the Hyrule universe moving forward and changing, rather than being a platform for new stories to be placed on top of. I’m reluctant to spoil any of it for you, though. I suppose that in itself is the mark of a good game; when a fan knows just how much you’re going to squeal with shock and delight when the plot unfolds.
Control wise, The Wind Waker plays very much like Ocarina of Time. However, combat did receive a welcome dose of innovation. Link has some cool new moves to take down enemies with that are simple yet satisfying, such as the parry attack. Like Majora’s Mask and Twilight Princess, Wind Waker also introduced some great new items to Link’s inventory that the temples and dungeons could be structured around, such as the deku leaf and the introduction of the boomerang as a permanent weapon.
Speaking of temples and dungeons, Wind Waker’s were far stronger than those in Majora’s Mask. The whole “elemental temple” concept had started to wear thin, but Wind Waker worked around this with ease, creating memorable dungeons such as the Tower of the Gods, which featured puzzles revolving around lasers and the possessing of statues. For those that are all too aware of the woes of the water temple however, the water leveling system was not missed and did not need to be brought back. *shudders*.
The visual controversy I discussed earlier does not hinder this game what so ever. Those of you who read my review of the Hyrule Historia will note that I have generalized the Zelda formula as being serious in all the right places, but comical and laid back in the others. The balance is spot on in The Wind Waker and should be kept in mind by any other developer aiming for similar foundations. You may think the cel shaded graphics would make everything too darn cute and cartoony to be evocative… But Wind Waker’s zombies are a prime example of how they can be manipulated. Their heads are long and rectangular with grotesque, elongated teeth. Their eyes are rounded and blacked out save two red pupils, making them look completely insane. In any other style this might have ended up looking a little stupid, but I found myself adequately disturbed by them.
Exploration is an important feature of any Zelda game, and I feel like removing Hyrule field and sitting Link in a boat with an ocean to sail around in should have been done long, long ago. This is the epitome adventure. On land, exploration has still been very successful in the Zelda franchise, but everywhere felt very close to home and easy to track down. I feel that having to set out into the ocean had a disorientating effect that meant islands could be stumbled upon then never found again. This made an island’s discovery feel like a real achievement. The game also left many of the island’s stories untold, meaning players could only speculate as to what had taken place on each one. It felt epic.
Who knows, maybe over time The Wind Waker won’t look quite so magical, but like Ocarina it has a timeless sound track that will help keep players enthralled for decades.