VR Zelda Month: Top 10 Zelda Games

VR_Zelda_Month

Here we are at the end of a tiring but very exciting (almost) 30 days of Zelda retrospectives. It has long been a dream of mine to be able to write so many Zelda countdowns and put them all in one place, but this list is the big one. Until last month I would not have considered myself qualified to compile a proper top ten list of my personal favourite Zelda games of all time. But now, at long last, as I have completed ten out of the sixteen currently released titles in the series (with at least every possible heart container in each, I might add), I can finally put my long-dormant thoughts to my keyboard and reach those sweet, sweet double digits. Without further ado, here we go: My top ten favourite videogames in the Legend of Zelda series.

Oh yeah, one quick condition: I am judging each game on this list by what I consider to be the best version of that game (that I have played), even if it isn’t the originally released version.

.
-◊-◊-◊-◊-
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.
-◊-◊-◊-◊-

.

10. Four Swords (GBA, DSi)

A dream package.

Ah yes, the most forgotten one (or should I say the second most forgotten one? See the next entry on this list). Four Swords may bring up the rear of this list, and by the end of this year if I were to rewrite the list it may not even make it on, but that doesn’t mean I did not enjoy playing it. The game may have had the least amount of mentions these past 30 days out of any Zelda game I have finished, but that’s because it either used Zelda traditions that had already been better established elsewhere or introduced new things that were improved upon in later releases. I didn’t play through the bonus levels featured in the 2011 DSi port of the game, but I did play the original in conjunction with my first ever experience of A Link to the Past on the Game Boy Advance, when the two games were linked together in a very cool way.

There is no avoiding that Four Swords is a multiplayer game at heart, and though the aforementioned DSi release did patch in a single player mode, a lot of the game’s best moments are taken right out of the picture without friends to crawl through the unpredictable dungeons with. Having said that, I only ever played the GBA original with one other person, which doesn’t compare all that well to my four player experience with the next game on the list. Yet some of the really cool puzzles in Four Swords have not been seen since, the semi-random layout of each dungeon every time you re-enter it makes for some nice replay value and the competitive-cooperative slant Nintendo is so good at pulling off is on full show in this title. Thanks to that downloadable DSi port, it is by far the most accessible way to enjoy the surprising joys of multiplayer Zelda nowadays, which cannot be a bad thing.

Oh yeah, and if I were to do a “Top Ten Zelda Title Screens” list, Four Swords would easily run away with the number one spot. I must have watched that first cutscene twenty times back in the day.
.

9. Four Swords Adventures (GCN)

Oh so much chaos.

Statistically speaking, Four Swords Adventures is the least commercially successful title in the Zelda series. It was released for Nintendo’s least successful home console to date, the Gamecube (that’s not counting the abysmal flop that was the Virtual Boy, of course) and the barrier of entry to play the game as it was meant to be played was exorbitantly high. Sure, you could play FSA with only one player using nothing but a single Gamecube controller, but the game was principally designed for four people, each holding a Gameboy Advance connected to the host Gamecube via special link cables (no puns please). This is one of the main reasons why the Zelda fan community tends to hold the game in such low esteem. I have yet to meet a single person outside my family who has admitted to experiencing this game in its full four-player glory. And that’s a real shame.

Having said this, I was lucky enough to do just that. Ever since the company first wooed me as a kid with the Nintendo 64, I was always ready to buy into whatever the latest Nintendo hype happened to be (and hey, that’s still true – I did buy a Wii U after all), so by the time Four Swords Adventures came around I had already invested in a couple of GCN-to-GBA cables. My three siblings and I already had Gameboy Advances and so at the time of release all I had to do was pick up the game and one additional cable and we were ready to go. FSA took the four of us around a year to complete, as schedules rarely lined up for long enough to put in a good session. There never was a dull moment though, whether we were solving puzzles, bombing/throwing each other for Force Gems, playing the competitive Tingle minigames, taking on the game’s gigantic co-op bosses, making up a synchronised dance routine to match the dungeon music (What? I mean no we didn’t) or rounding up an uncooperative member to push her through the next door. An absolute blast.
.

8. A Link to the Past (SNES, GBA)

Ooh, this again!

I wince just seeing this amazing game at number 8 on this list, but that just goes to show how tight the list is. A Link to the Past was an amazing achievement when it was first released on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in the early 1990s, packing some amazing visuals, music that has stood the test of time, challenging dungeons, memorable bosses, not one but two ambitious and effective story twists and some fresh design choices that just worked so well that they became a recurring tradition throughout the series over the next couple of decades. The idea of exploring two versions of the same world, for example, has reappeared in many of the Zelda games that have come since.

I played the Game Boy Advance port of the game, alongside the initial release of Four Swords, which meant I was divorced from a lot of the impact the game initially had on Nintendo’s highly celebrated home console. I had already played both of the N64 Zeldas, for instance, which had the advantage of using three dimensions (and several expanded ideas from LttP, mind you) to capture my imagination as a kid. On the plus side, I got to experience the game on the go and with an entire extra dungeon, the Palace of the Four Sword, which has already appeared on my top Zelda dungeons list and for good reason. I absolutely intend to replay the game in all its full screen glory some time after it is inevitably released on the Wii U eShop, no doubt packing the standard restore point functionality, customisable controls and option for off-TV play. No more endlessly climbing torment, Moldorm! No more!
.

7. Twilight Princess (GCN, Wii)

Colourful wolf is not in game.

Every Zelda top ten list has its controversies, because personal opinions differ so wildly and take in so many different factors that it’s just bound to happen. Here is what may turn out to be this list’s biggest. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess has contributed 21 entries to this month’s countdowns, behind only the two N64 games in terms of pure numbers, yet here it sits at number seven.

Twilight Princess has some of the Zelda series’ absolute finest dungeon and enemy designs, as many of the lists of the past month have shown, as well as at least one breakout character for the ages in the shape of Midna. It also has some standout individual sequences and music that I will remember as long as I have my sanity. The major problem I have with the 2006 Wii launch title is the spaces between these moments. The game takes place in a world that feels big just for the sake of being big, punctuated by too many empty spaces both geographically and narrative-wise. The consecutive run of truly impeccable dungeons in the game’s second half containing the Snowpeak Ruins, the Temple of Time and then the Castle in the Sky should have been a slice of gaming nirvana, but instead feels needlessly padded out. Twilight Princess is also arguably the series’ slowest-starting game, most of the early story beats are well and truly abandoned by the end and hardly any of its sidequests stand out at all to me.

The fact that I prefer this game to the excellent Link to the Past should speak volumes about its value to me, but that says just as much about the six games above it on this list.
.

6. Spirit Tracks (DS)

*sigh* I like trains.

Spirit Tracks is the latest Zelda game I have had the pleasure of completing, and until the day I die I will defend its merits against all the unjustified hate it receives. By being the successor to the highly experimental and poorly received (by series fans at least) Phantom Hourglass, both in real life release timing and in-universe chronology, Spirit Tracks was disadvantaged from the start and never quite had the chance to recover in the minds of most Zelda fans. “PH on a train” is just one of the grossly unjust but all too common descriptive phrases thrown at the game, but touch-only controls are just about the only direct similarity the two games share.

Spirit Tracks is certainly a flawed game (Its top-down perspective limits aesthetic variety and if you thought The Wind Waker suffered from slow travel, you ain’t seen nothing yet) but it repeatedly amazes with its ability to transcend the limitations of its very restrictive hardware. The game improves upon its predecessor in every, read every, possible way if you ask me, knowing what to throw out and what was originally a good idea in want of better execution. Yet perhaps its greatest success is that it really, truly feels like a Zelda game worth standing alongside the series’ greats. A cinematic story with one of the best endings in the entire franchise, a world that teems with life and activity despite its sheer size and literal on-rails structure, incredible dungeon puzzles, world class music and, crucially, sidequests with actual worthwhile rewards all meld together to create a game every Zelda fan needs to play.
.

5. Link’s Awakening (GB, GBC)

Nice logo recycling, Nintendo.

From this point onward in the countdown it becomes considerably more difficult for me to pick out any flaws that bring down the games you see represented in any significant way, in my opinion of course. Link’s Awakening is a Zelda game that epitomises the constant ability of the franchise to get the most out of its hardware, as I cannot think of any way that it could have been made better considering it was made for the brick-like Game Boy. At first glance it plays like a portable, worse-looking version of A Link to the Past, which in itself is a kind of compliment, but it does so much more than merely emulate the SNES classic in an on-the-go format. The game’s developers certainly weren’t content with that and as a result it has a legacy all its own.

Link’s Awakening was the first instance in the Zelda series of unique backing tracks for each individual dungeon, minibosses in said dungeons to break up their rhythm nicely, the fabled “trade sequence” style of sidequest (in my opinion it still has the best one) and multiple learnable songs on an instrument, each with different effects. Yet it is surely most famous for being the first Zelda game to be set completely outside Hyrule, a decision that not only allowed its creators to go crazy with a hefty amount of Mario series references that would otherwise seem way out of place, but also opened the door for one of the most affecting stories ever seen on the Game Boy console and, indeed, in the entire Zelda series. That its unique narrative tone affected me so much despite my first playthrough of the game taking place on the 3DS in 2011 is testament to the portable masterstroke that is Link’s Awakening.
.

4. The Wind Waker (GCN)

I can hear the title music now…

In a matter of hours I will be diving back into the impossibly beautiful and near-ageless world of The Wind Waker in the form of its HD remaster on the Wii U. I have to say that such a prospect makes me feel incredibly lucky to be a Zelda fan.

The Wind Waker is a joy to experience, not least because of its amazing art style that reaches beyond the conventional limitations of cel-shading to embody a living, breathing cartoon. Vivid colour bleeds out of every pore of this visual feast, breathing extra life into the unparallelled expressiveness of each one of its characters and enemies. The game’s arguably series-topping soundtrack frequently exhibits a Celtic flavour and runs the gamut from wonderfully relaxing to powerfully emotive to relentlessly heart-pounding to magnificently grand in scope. But above all, The Wind Waker plays like a dream made in Nintendo heaven. Control as fluid as the motion of the Great Sea, multi-avenue combat that never grows dull, inventive and immersive dungeons, items that don’t have a use-by date and the closest thing to a truly open world that the Zelda franchise has ever seen all make the criminally underplayed Gamecube title a bona fide masterpiece.

Plenty of reviews are calling this new Wii U version the definitive way to experience the amazing classic, as it supposedly fixes the two main problems from which the game originally suffered (slow sailing and a needlessly padded sequence at the end). While this may affect where I place The Wind Waker if I were to revisit this list, say, next year, I am a little bit doubtful about that, because there is no Tingle Tuner whatsoever to be found in the remake. Of course I am more than happy to be proved wrong. Bring it on.
.

3. Ocarina of Time (N64, 3DS)

I never did buy that Rumble Pak.

Despite the powerful wave of nostalgia that comes with Ocarina of Time being the first Zelda game I ever played, before the Zelda series’ 25th anniversary year I may well have put this game below The Wind Waker on my all-time list. But 2011 brought with it the magnificent Ocarina of Time 3D portable remaster, a version of the undisputed classic that in my opinion added just enough tiny improvements to lift OoT above the cel-shaded gem. That’s how close I consider this ranking to be.

What can I say about this game that hasn’t already been said a hundred times? Ocarina of Time is that one Zelda game that few series fans can ever bring themselves to argue with should they see it on top of a fellow fan’s all-time favourites list. Its story is legendary, its gameplay balance almost timeless, its soundtrack some of Koji Kondo’s absolute best work. It features memorable characters, both friendly and hostile, that have inspired tributes both inside and outside the franchise ever since. Its blocky polygons and muddy textures still manage to extract adrenaline, horror, wonder and jubilation in equal measure. It is the highest selling Zelda game in history and the veritable centrepoint of Nintendo’s official Legend of Zelda timeline for a reason. Its immeasurable influence on the videogame industry is legendary.

So why isn’t it number one on this list? Well, to many, OoT is the “neutral Zelda”, or the one benchmark every other game in the franchise is measured against and compared with. That gives it a slightly overexposed tint if you ask me. Unfair? Maybe, but that’s how I feel. Meeting a Zelda fan who has played through the full game half a dozen times or more is not uncommon, but hey, that just shows how damn good it is.
.

2. Skyward Sword (Wii)

“But I don’t play my Wii.”

Ah, Skyward Sword. The Zelda game that came along at the end of 2011 and achieved so very much in my eyes. It proved to me that Zelda’s creators still had fresh ideas to offer the franchise half a decade after the somewhat derivative Twilight Princess, in the process emphatically knocking over my fear that no new series entry would ever come along to dislodge either of the two N64 Zelda games from their lofty pedestal in my mind. As with anything that shakes up the formula of a beloved videogame series, Skyward Sword divided the fanbase when it was first released and continues to do so now. But while it arguably tries so many fresh ideas that some of them are bound to fall short, almost none of the common arguments against this game’s highly polished quality hold enough weight to counterbalance everything it just gets so euphorically right. At least if you ask me.

Rumours abound as to the nature of the game’s turbulent development, which reportedly included a near-complete restart from scratch about halfway through the already long process. But necessity is the mother of invention. The time-strapped developers took the resource conservation brilliance of The Wind Waker‘s Forsaken Fortress and made a whole game out of it. Skyward Sword is just jaw-droppingly efficient in the way it uses, transforms and then reuses its three main explorable areas, making them as exciting to explore as if they were entirely new. Game design experience and ingenuity overflows from this game’s bountiful goblet at every gameplay turn, led by the long-awaited delivery of the most elusive part of the Wii’s initial marketing pitch: truly immersive motion controlled swordplay. Then there are the additions I never want to play a Zelda game without ever again – the stamina meter, the ability to upgrade most every item in your arsenal, the risk-and-reward equipment system, the collectable bugs with an actual purpose, the increased emphasis on character-centric story.

Throw on top of that a satisfying sidequest structure that keeps on giving, some incredible bosses and those sweet, sweet dungeons and you have a Zelda game so good it is only topped by one other in my esteem.
.

1. Majora’s Mask (N64)

How did this box constitute a “Collector’s Edition”? How?

If you’ve read my nostalgic top ten N64 games list that I wrote last year then you probably saw this coming. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is a game that elicits an emotional response from me by the mere mention of its illustrious name. After the success of Link’s Awakening, many of the team behind that intimate Zelda adventure expanded on the possibilities it touched upon with a graphics intensive follow-up to the even more successful N64 hit Ocarina of Time. Though it recycled a huge percentage of OoT‘s visual assets in the name of saving development time, Majora’s Mask managed to flip the heroic, grand scale of its predecessor on its head and put the character models to use in a scarier, more urgent and, in my opinion, more memorable context that still feels unique not only to the Zelda series, but to all of gaming.

Unrelenting unease pervades MM thanks to the restrictive three day cycle governing nearly all its gameplay, which is inextricably tied to its tragic narrative. Yet no stone is left unturned to ensure that the observant player need never repeat the same cycle twice. Despite having one of the smallest explorable worlds in the Zelda franchise, no other setting feels more alive, more teeming with activity than Termina. It is simply impossible to see everything going on at any given moment in the game’s timeline as the land’s inhabitants go about their busy interlinking schedules, unknowingly awaiting Link’s intervention in their affairs. All in the name of completion of the Bomber’s Notebook, of course, the greatest gift the Zelda series has ever bequeathed upon sidequest aficionados the world over. Each one of the game’s NPCs has far more written dialogue and contextual animation than is normally afforded to non-playable characters throughout the franchise, resulting in a level of depth that just isn’t available elsewhere. The way each personality deals with the incoming apocalypse driving the game’s plot shines a disturbing light on human nature that boggles the mind.

Majora’s Mask also includes some truly challenging and exemplary dungeon designs, several bosses likely to stick in your head, a plethora of fun minigames, a brilliant soundtrack and an amazing suite of masks, which both provide extra motivation for the game’s already unmatched sidequests and house the major gameplay-defining hook of the whole adventure: the ability to transform into three of the most iconic races in Zelda history. Oh, and a god. That is Majora’s Mask, my favourite Legend of Zelda game of all time. I eagerly await the inevitable 3DS remake, which will probably fix that horrendous quicksave system and make the game perfect.

.
-◊-◊-◊-◊-

Honorable Mentions
.

N/A (These are the only ten Zelda games that I have finished)

For a brief run-through of my experience with the other six Zelda games, click right here.

One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Adam on October 8, 2013 at 2:03 am

    This list is god damn retarded. Majora’s Mask and SS above OoT…?? Have you even played these games? OoT is number 1, that’s a fucking fact and every Zelda fan knows it.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: