Archive for September, 2013

VR Zelda Month: Top 15 Non-Dungeon Music

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It took me a long, long time to decide on what pieces of Zelda music went into this list. Much harder to compile than the dungeon music list, and in fact probably the most difficult list of them all, putting together a collection of the best overall tracks in a series as musically rich as The Legend of Zelda is a truly daunting task. So it’s a good thing people have opinions.

Despite how amazing they tend to be (or, perhaps, because they tend to be so amazing) I have disqualified end credits themes from this list. They tend to just be medleys of tunes from whatever game they happen to hail from, anyway.

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VR ZELDA MONTH DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s scary. Respectful disagreement is welcome. Spoilers may follow.
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15. Outset Island – The Wind Waker


What better way to start this countdown than with the wonderful background track from the very first island in The Wind Waker, a Zelda game many people rank as the best in the series for music? The theme of Outset Island is just so fitting of Link’s initial naivete at the, well, the outset of his journey. The gentle flow of the melody is grounded by that persistent deep and inoffensive brass rhythm, yet matches so well to the ambient sounds of ocean swell against the beach. What’s more, it features a callback to the music of the opening area to Ocarina of Time, the Kokiri Forest, with a delightful flourish at 1:30 in the above video.
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VR Zelda Month: Top 10 Dungeon Music

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Whatever people might think of the games in general, the Legend of Zelda series is just about universally renowned for its excellent music. Famed Nintendo composer Koji Kondo and his cohorts are widely regarded as some of the best composers in the videogame business and it’s not hard to see why. In the first of two music-themed countdowns, I’ll be looking at the top ten pieces of Zelda dungeon music.

The Zelda dungeon track is somewhat of a unique beast. Dungeon music needs to function well on an endless loop and should ideally have elements of tension and danger evident within it. A coherent melody is therefore optional, while an audio tone that matches the unique visuals of any particular dungeon is preferable. These factors and more were what determined the order of this list.

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VR ZELDA MONTH DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s scary. Respectful disagreement is welcome.
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10. Light World Dungeon – A Link to the Past


A Link to the Past ties up its dungeons in two neat sections: pre-Dark World and post-Dark World. It does this through the story and a difficulty curve built into its dungeon design, but also through music. The first three dungeons of the game, also known as the pre-Dark World ones, make excellent use of the SNES’ amazing sound chip to create a sombre track that starts maliciously and then opens up into a piece that applies tinges of hope to the ongoing oppression of the classic dungeon slog. I’m a huge fan of the almost regal-sounding result.
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VR Zelda Month: Top 15 Dungeons

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This is it – the quintessential bread and butter of the Zelda series. Every Zelda game has them and every Zelda game is judged by them. No matter what aspect of the so-called Zelda formula that resonates with you the most – whether it be story, item selection, music, combat, enemy design, sidequests or the like – if you do not enjoy playing through Zelda dungeons then to be honest your gaming time is better spent elsewhere. Dungeons comprise at least 50% of the average playtime of most Zelda games and they very rarely fail to deliver on quality, satisfying puzzle solving and real immersion.

Distilling well over 100 Zelda dungeons into my top fifteen favourites was not easy in the slightest. To help me narrow it down I tried to keep the dungeon qualities that are most important to me at the top of the pile when it came to ordering the list. That means things like difficulty and length are largely inconsequential while factors like uniqueness and atmosphere are king. Bosses are completely out of the picture unless they appear throughout the dungeon before the fight at the end. They have their own list anyway.

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VR ZELDA MONTH DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s scary. Respectful disagreement is welcome.
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15. Skull Woods – A Link to the Past

Structurally speaking, Skull Woods stands out from its A Link to the Past dungeon brethren like a sore thumb. For one, it almost completely takes over what is normally the Lost Woods (in the Light World at least), making it quite possibly the biggest dungeon in the game in terms of pure surface area. Furthermore, the Skull Woods is laid out in such a way that traversing its mostly underground tunnels requires frequent visits to the wooded surface. Running through a ghastly off-colour representation of what is normally an overworld area as part of a dungeon adds a real alien freshness to proceedings.
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VR Zelda Month: Top 10 Pseudo-Dungeons

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The word “dungeon” means something quite different to a Zelda fan than it does to a player of most any other RPG/action adventure franchise. To the latter, a dungeon might consist of any decently sized enclosed area where enemies are fought and/or puzzles are solved. For a Zelda fan though, a “dungeon” is one of a handful of self-contained areas separate from the game overworld with an obtainable navigational device or two hidden within it, as well as an item that directly furthers the progress of whatever Link happens to be exploring it. It finishes with a boss and that boss relinquishes a heart container. Such is the Zelda dungeon equation.

Other decently sized enclosed areas where enemies are fought and/or puzzles are solved do exist in Zelda games as well, though. Some are entirely optional, others required to move along in the story. The word “mini-dungeon” is often thrown around to describe such places, but I’ve gone for the slightly less used “pseudo-dungeon” for the purposes of this list because some of these entries are actually larger/longer than the average regular dungeon. These are my ten most memorable.

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VR ZELDA MONTH DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s scary. Respectful disagreement is welcome.
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10. Cave of Ordeals – Twilight Princess

The Cave of Ordeals is the most regularly used defense against the well worn “Twilight Princess is too easy” argument among Zelda fans. Consisting of 50 floors of increasingly more difficult enemies, the desert-bound pit is certainly not for the faint of heart visually speaking and it isn’t exactly a cakewalk either. The grimy cave, found in the TP version of the Gerudo Desert, throws waves of already encountered enemies at you in groups. Even notoriously tough opponents such as Darknuts, who usually only appear by themselves elsewhere in the game, are allowed to gang up on you here. The cave only grants an opportunity for rest and recovery once every ten floors, so it isn’t a bad idea to bring a few potions with you when you attempt the challenge.
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VR Zelda Month: Top 10 Sidequests

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This is the stuff that makes a Zelda game for me. The setting of a Zelda world is little more than a string of dungeons without an overworld to link them all together in a meaningful way, and that overworld is little more than a lifeless husk without people to interact with and things to do within it. If some of those things are optional (and preferably fun), that adds immeasurably to the richness of the world. In my book, one of the worst things a Zelda game can do is make you dread finishing a dungeon because it will just mean heading back to a vacant overworld. Thankfully, not too many of them do.

No self-contained minigames or optional dungeons are eligible for this list, because I’ve given them each their own lists. Because it’s kind of difficult to find icons and official artwork that depict sidequests, I’ve turned to Deviantart for this article’s images. All artists are credited on their respective pictures.

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VR ZELDA MONTH DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s scary. Respectful disagreement is welcome.
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10. Tingle Island Statues – The Wind Waker

Credit to Aviarei

For all the positive changes that the upcoming Wii U remaster The Wind Waker HD is making to the game, which according to plenty of reviewers makes the experience better than it ever was, there is one small feature that has been cut out entirely: the Tingle Tuner. While this GBA connectivity-focused item was little more than an odd looking souvenir for most of the original Gamecube players of The Wind Waker, for me it was an integral and memorable part of gameplay.

This is because it essentially turned all five of the game’s dungeons (and some of its overworld islands) into co-op levels. If you had a friend (or, in my case, a sister) who was willing to hold a Game Boy Advance and play as Tingle to feed you hints, map information and overpriced items for use in a pinch, the game took on another layer of fun. What’s more, each dungeon hid an otherwise completely unattainable treasure chest containing a golden Tingle Statue, which only appeared when attacked with a GBA-spawned Tingle Bomb. Each statue would appear on Tingle Island with a hint leading to a hidden 100 Rupee treasure chest that could respawn. When I finally get to play The Wind Waker HD next month, I have no doubt that this is what I will miss most.
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VR Zelda Month: Top 10 Minigames

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Much like the Final Fantasy series, The Legend of Zelda has offered up some pretty memorable minigames over the years. Though there has never been anything quite approaching the scale of the Golden Saucer or Blitzball on offer, each of the titles provides a handful of ways to break up the regular pattern of dungeons and enemy slaying, and usually for some kind of worthwhile reward. These are my favourites, not counting enemy fighting trials.

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VR ZELDA MONTH DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s scary. Respectful disagreement is welcome.
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10. Trendy Game – Link’s Awakening

There is just nothing like a good old fashioned crane arm game, particularly if the grand prize is a Yoshi doll. When the game – and yes, that prize – shows up in a Zelda game no less, you best believe that game is gonna be played until those unforgiving pincers close around that doll’s soft green head. Best. Believe. I suppose the other prizes are cool too, but having that doll achieves much more than just the fulfilment of a weird cross-franchise Nintendo dream. It happens to be the key to one of the lengthiest and most memorable sidequests in Zelda history.
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VR Zelda Month: Top 10 Bosses

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One of the five most important pillars that are widely regarded to hold up a Zelda game (the other four being items, dungeons, music and sidequests), the noble boss fight is frequently a source of adrenaline-charged highlights throughout the Legend of Zelda series. It is very common to call to mind a particularly well executed encounter from a particular game almost immediately when the name of said game is mentioned, such is the potential impact of a boss.

This list of my personal favourite boss fights was a real headache to put together. I second guessed myself time after time as to what bosses deserved to get in and in what order I should put them. I went for atmosphere and fun factor above everything else, NOT difficulty. The list of course deals with events that happen at the end of dungeons, so spoilers are naturally very much afoot. It’s worth saying that I’ve taken final bosses out of the picture here, because that would just be unfair, right?

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VR ZELDA MONTH DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s scary. Respectful disagreement is welcome. Spoilers may follow.
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10. Barinade – Ocarina of Time

The boss of Jabu Jabu’s Belly isn’t exactly the most epic of battles – the room in which it takes place isn’t impressive by any means and Barinade itself hardly looks good – but by the time you reach the parasitic party pooper you’ve already seen plenty of its handiwork and even dispatched a few of its extremities, so there’s a noticeable sense of fulfilment to the meeting. But above all, the fight with the mutated electric anenome is just a lot of fun. It isn’t too easy, it isn’t over too quickly and the Boomerang is put to good use. Plus there’s plenty of electricity everywhere. A boss fight done right.
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