Zelda 30th Anniversary | Top 10 The Legend of Zelda Games

By Az Elias 17.05.2016 5

Image for Zelda 30th Anniversary | Top 10 The Legend of Zelda Games
No matter at which point in Nintendo's beloved Legend of Zelda franchise was jumped into, every single fan has found a series and individual titles with profound meaning, cherishment and joy. Whether you began your journey saving the various forms of Hyrule and other settings in the long-running franchise with the original 1986 game on the Nintendo Entertainment System, picked up with the renowned first 3D entry on the Nintendo 64, or was even introduced through the success of the Wii and its sword-swinging motion controls, we all share a common love and appreciation for Shigeru Miyamoto's Legend of Zelda.

Assuming the role of a green-clad elfin hero that defies all odds to defeat evil and restore peace to the world, we, as players, have been able to make friends and create memories along the way, both in-game and outside of it through the social discussion it naturally produces. Whilst we may all have differing opinions on what the "best" entries are, in celebration of the 30th anniversary of The Legend of Zelda, the Cubed3 team has come together and fairly voted for our personal favourites, delivering a top 10 list that we hope you will enjoy.

10. The Legend of Zelda

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What can be said about The Legend of Zelda that hasn't already been said? It's a masterpiece of gaming, fully deserving of the thirty years of accolades and honours that have been thrown onto it like a bomb into a Dodongo's mouth. It's cryptic by modern standards, for sure, but it's also considerably less cryptic than many games of the time, and the secrets were never meant to be discovered by a single person - The Legend of Zelda filled conversations all over playgrounds, with kids sharing their discoveries with one another. Together, every secret was found. Not having those enthusiastic conversations around the jungle gym to show the way in modern times, the game can be frustrating, but enough Internet sources have stepped up to fill the gap that it isn't a problem.

The Legend of Zelda is most remarkable because its predecessor, more or less, was Raiders of the Lost Ark on the Atari 2600, and the evolution that transpired in the industry is plainly visible in a comparison of these two games. This was not merely a step forward in video games; it was a monstrous step forward, introducing staples of the entire industry, not just a gaming genre, setting trends for decades to come, and establishing one of gaming's most recognisable franchises... even if many people do think that the boy in green is named Zelda.
- Aria


9. A Link Between Worlds

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It had never been done in the series before, but returning to the very same setting was exactly what A Link Between Worlds introduced, as a direct sequel to the 1991 Super NES classic, A Link to the Past. Hyrule's overworld remained as it did over two decades ago, with familiar locations in all the right places - the starting place of Link's home in the middle of the map, the Zora domain to the northeast, Lake Hylia southeast, the desert in the southwest, and the Lost Woods that held the sacred Master Sword in the northwest. Everything was as those that grew up playing the third Zelda entry remembered it.

It was a bit of a risk, in all fairness. After all, the argument could be made that it was somewhat lazy to take the map of one game and reuse it for another. Nintendo had more up its sleeves when making this, though. A unique ability was instilled into Link's repertoire - that of shapeshifting into a flat 2D drawing of himself, which was able to compress onto walls, shimmy along them, move around corners and slip through gaps with considerable ease, enabling passage to otherwise inaccessible areas. The overworld was remodelled into fully 3D imagery to take advantage of this, on top of allowing the stereoscopic functions of the 3DS to shine with some of its most impressive showcases of one of the system's core selling points.

A Link Between Worlds didn't so much follow in the footsteps of other 2D games in the series, such as the Oracle titles and The Minish Cap, in the sense of delivering a plot with a huge amount of depth. It made sure to stay true to its prequel as much as it could, by not forcing story heavily into as many situations as possible, creating a free-flowing adventure that allowed players to tackle dungeons in almost any way they wanted. It is this freedom that has been craved by fans of the series that found Zelda growing stale for too long, and it bodes well for the future.

It is far from the most challenging game in the franchise, and there may be too many reused elements for some people's likings, but it is a core 2D Zelda through and through, with no frustrating gimmicks or hand-holding, sticking to its roots to satisfy a crowd that waited quite some time for another proper top-down entry.
- Az


8. Oracle of Seasons / Oracle of Ages

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Capcom's Zelda partnership with Nintendo saw many scrapped ideas and cancelled projects do the rounds, and although the final goal was that of a three-part interlinked series, the ultimate result was a twin release of the action-based Oracle of Seasons and the puzzle-centric Oracle of Ages.

Flagship, one of Capcom's subsidiaries at the time, developed the titles with the intention of being able to play either game in any order, whilst incorporating a password linking system that expanded the plot to reveal the true storyline. With entirely separate scenarios, characters and locations, it was a true blessing that two original Zelda titles released on the same day, and provided you had a friend also into the franchise, borrowing each other's games to complete the full quest meant saving some cash in the process.

Aside from the linking feature to unlock new and stronger items on top of witnessing the full plot, the Oracle games were a huge progressive leap for traditional 2D Zelda. Breathing freshness into the games with Seasons' season changing and Ages' time period switching, worlds full of creativity and clever puzzles were at the forefront, resulting in exploration to find the next dungeon being fun and thought-provoking. Sheer personality shines through from the quirky NPCs that drive the games forward, and the many light-hearted tones balance the dark moments that are embedded in certain character arcs. As the Oracle series demonstrated, 2D Zelda is able to get away with some of the more whacky and entertaining ideas, so riding in the front of a kangaroo's pouch and having a boxing match are standard fare.

A fresh, light RPG element was reintroduced (if The Adventure of Link was the first instance) through Magic Rings - items that Link could equip up to five of for simple boosts to sword attacks and defence; handy tools, like extra Rupee drops from defeated enemies and faster swimming ability; and even peculiar stuff, such as being able to transform into a Moblin.

Combined with the diverse cast of wonderful and weird characters; large number of side-quests; imaginative season and time mechanics; and all-around excellent variety in dungeons, puzzles and environments; there has, quite possibly, never been a 2D Zelda as good as the Oracle series.
- Az


7. The Minish Cap

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The Zelda mythos largely focuses on the Triforce, the battle against Ganon, and the many reincarnations of Link and Zelda, but with Four Swords, the lore started to spin into uncharted territory with a new antagonist, Vaati, and a new legendary sword, the Four Sword. Four Swords was largely bare in terms of plot, however, and that's where The Minish Cap comes in.

Focusing on the origin of Vaati and the Four Sword, The Minish Cap marked the first real moment in the series where a major antagonist besides Ganondorf was fully fleshed out. The purple Link-like villain served as a great rival, and an empathetic angle only made the side-story stronger.

Thanks to a fresh plot with new faces, the introduction of the highly interactive kinstones, and the transition of The Wind Waker's art style into 2D, The Minish Cap stands as one of the finest games in the series, easily rivalling its big budget counterparts.
- Renan


6. Link's Awakening

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Link's Awakening marks a detour from the standard Legend of Zelda setup, with the game taking a break from the land of Hyrule, and Link setting sail for adventures afar. Typically, a storm starts to brew and the hero of A Link to the Past becomes struck by lightning and ends up washed ashore on the island of Koholint. After recovering thanks to the care of a young girl called Marin, Link sets out on an adventure to hunt out the eight Instruments of the Sirens to awaken a sleeping fish.

It may sound like a peculiar concept, but the Wind Fish holds the key for Link's escape, and also the mystery of an island that doesn't seem quite right…

The game is memorable for an eclectic cast of villagers to encounter, characters with some depth and emotional draw, plus clever and interesting dungeons that made good use of the Game Boy's small screen and technical limitations. Link's Awakening was also the first entry in the series to introduce quite a few now-staple features, including a fire-themed dungeon, unique music for each one, fishing and trading, as well as playable songs on the game's central instrument.
- Jorge


5. Twilight Princess

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As the successor to two critically acclaimed Zelda games, Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask, and the first on a new console with better tech, there was a mass weight of expectation for Twilight Princess. Even Link was busy training in the Hyrule Town gym to ensure he was ready for the tale. Pitched originally for the GameCube, and showcased for a good few years before release, the new, darker adventure was finally released on both Wii and GameCube a decade ago.

The game followed a similar setup to past Zelda titles, showcasing a young man on the brink of adventure, where something unexpected forces him into the battleground in a quest to protect the world from devastation and fend off the baddies from their sinister plans. This time round, what made Twilight Princess so memorable was a storyline that wasn't quite clear cut, where Link ends up being forced to morph into a wolf and partner with an impish creature who, herself, comes from the dark world. After managing to return to his human form, Link sets out to prevent the Twilight Realm from colliding with the world of Hyrule, sucking out the souls of both the inhabitants and the world itself.

Twilight Princess is woven in adventure, with epic horseback battles, lengthy and puzzle-driven dungeons, and even a trip into the skies to discover a world from the past. With memorable characters and challenging boss battles, Twilight Princess managed to step out from the shadows of Ocarina of Time and cement itself as one of the top adventures in the series' 30-year history.
- Jorge


4. A Link to the Past

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After a lukewarm reception to The Adventure of Link, there was some work to do for Nintendo to mould together an adventure for a new console, and a new generation of 90s kids that were surrounded by all sorts of toys and adventure games. The industry had, thanks in part to the first Legend of Zelda entry, progressed into adventure and role-playing titles that a new Zelda game had to take things that bit further in order to be a true sequel, rather than a spruced up tale that stayed too close to the original.

The SNES game, A Link to the Past, drew from both the first and second Zelda titles, combining the sense of open-world adventure with dialogue and character development. Enter a new and bustling Hyrule, where dungeons aren't confined to hidden caves and relegated to the outskirts, with a deeper storyline and purpose. A wizard decides that juggling balls and making rabbits appear from hats isn't that satisfying anymore, and decides to approach a mid-life crisis by capturing dames from around the world and helping an evil force satisfy his cravings. Link isn't quite the hero just yet, and it's his uncle that comes to the Princess' rescue initially. His nephew hears the cries, picks up the sword and sets out to stop Ganon's plans for conquering the world.

The game started many series conventions, including the Master Sword, Kakariko Village, Lake Hylia and even the first time a flock of Cuccos attacks Link like bunch of rampant bunnies. With tight gameplay, memorable dungeon designs, and side quests to complete, A Link to the Past certainly is up there with the best.
- Jorge


3. The Wind Waker

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Ahh, The Wind Waker. The initial negative reception to "Celda" has been discussed ad infinum, but ultimately it's irrelevant. All that really matters is the finished product and how it holds up over time, and I think it's clear to everyone that The Wind Waker was, and is, an excellent game. The controls are tight, the puzzles are as good as any other Zelda game, and the graphics are the icing on the cake. Honestly, it's still the best looking Zelda game, even without the HD rerelease.

Another high point is the music. From the relaxing intro theme to the bombastic Great Sea or the flamenco beats of Dragon Roost Island, each piece has been carefully worked upon and chosen to fit its surroundings. Along with this, it's the first Zelda to really consider a Zelda chronology and embrace chronological links to other Zelda games - something that all major fans can appreciate.

There are legitimate complaints to be made, of course. The couple of dungeons being cut from the initial release is a shame, and everyone knows about the merits (or lack of) of the Triforce Quest. Some may also regret the absence of difficulty, or that the vast ocean is mostly empty. I don't see it that way. The difficulty fits the graphical style, and the ocean gives the game a sense of relaxed exploration. It's not a perfect game, but it's one that perfected the formula set by Ocarina of Time, whilst mixing up the art style and adding a new key element (wind control) that was consistently utilised.

Ultimately, the lack of sales in North America caused Nintendo to switch focus and insist that Zelda games be more "mature," which I can only lament. Whilst the risk may not have paid off financially with The Wind Waker, gamers were left with a timeless classic that felt very much like Zelda, but looked totally unique.
- Andrew


2. Majora's Mask

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For all its fame, the Zelda series also has a fair amount of criticism thrown its way. Many fans take issue with the large gaps between games, as well as the formulaic nature of the final products. Majora's Mask is one of a few titles to completely shatter this mould. Released shortly after Ocarina of Time, the game reuses many graphical, audio, and gameplay elements, which could have easily led to a repetitive, boring experience. Instead, it did the opposite.

Link takes a tumble into an alternate reality version of Hyrule called Termina, and quickly learns that the world is about to end. In three days, the moon will come crashing down, erasing all life. Three days is not long enough to save Termina, but using the Ocarina of Time, Link can turn back the clock, saving his progress, but giving him a new window in which to operate.

The time travel mechanic of other games is scaled up to a repeating three-day frame, and while there are only four dungeons, they're much larger and more involved, often taking a journey in itself just to gain access to them. Termina also features more prominent NPCs than past games, with an entire journal devoted to people, their behaviour and relationships, and how to help them. This makes for some of the best side quests in the franchise, such as fighting off an invasion of aliens, the three-day saga to reunite Kafei and Anju, and even a Goron race on the path to forging the Gilded Sword. Meanwhile, a whole inventory page is allocated to masks of varying effects, and most of them are entirely optional, although the game will be much easier - and better - if all are found, as Link gains the ability to transform into the Fierce Deity.

The stakes are high, the gameplay is remixed, and things get weird, funny, or heart-breaking along the way. "Save the world from Ganon" is out, and the name of the game here is simply to help as many people as Link can, with stopping that moon almost seeming like a side quest in itself. All of this culminates in a trip to the moon's surface, resulting in one of the most breath-taking changes of scenery in series history. As a result, the game's underlying themes and tones are among the most talked-about to this day.
- David


1. Ocarina of Time

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Ocarina of Time is still regarded as one of the best titles in the series to date, embracing the sense of adventure that had grown since 1986, and the new potential for puzzling and swordplay that 3D polygons served up with the Nintendo 64. Being the first Zelda in a number of years, and the first title to make the jump to 3D, there was certainly a lot of pressure to get it just right, to ensure the mechanics would work and resonate well with those who had been used to the top-down style.

After a fair few experiments in the beta versions, Nintendo delivered one the peaks of the series to date, building mechanics and 3D adventure styles that have been carried into more recent entries and third-person 3D games from other developers. Ocarina of Time set the story for the series' different branching paths, where a young boy is summoned to grow into the chosen one, the Hero of Time, who can stop the devious Ganondorf's quest to control the world by force. Upon helping Princess Zelda unravel the Dark Lord's plans, Link unwittingly opens the door to the Temple of Time and allows the evil chap to acquire the ultimate power, paving the way to the final battle.

Ocarina of Time is brimming with memorable moments, from solid dungeon design, quirky characters, emotionally-charged cut-scenes, and precise, enjoyable gameplay. Become Link in a tale that transcends time itself. When that's done and dusted, the Master Quest edition remixes dungeons to a point where it virtually becomes a whole new game in its own right; a harder, slightly more bonkers approach that's an ideal second quest.
- Jorge

What do you think to our top 10 Legend of Zelda games list? Predictable? Surprising? Does Ocarina of Time still deserve its accolades all these years on? Should Skyward Sword or The Adventure of Link be in there? What about the two DS adventures or multiplayer-focused Four Swords titles? Share your thoughts and submit your personal top 10 rankings in the comments below.

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It's great to see the Oracles and Minish Cap games make the list. Having originally been introduced to the series in 3D, those games made the 2D backlog a lot more appealing.

Wind Waker will always my favourite out of all the Zelda's released so far. Though I do think the new one has a lot of potential and from what we've seen so far, it's been the most excited I've been for a new Zelda since Twilight Princess.

The Wind Waker took all the great gameplay mechanics from Ocarina of Time and expanded and improved on them. Then on top of that the visuals were beautiful and timeless, and the soundtrack is also amazing. For me, it always felt like Wind Waker was a game that had a lot of passion put into its overall design. I know all Zelda's get this kind treatment, but this one really excelled in all areas.

It's a masterpiece, simple as.

( Edited 18.05.2016 22:41 by Marzy )

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You missed the greates Zelda Ever On the Nes Adventure of LINK.....Heard Ocarina of Time was inspired by this title. Ive always preferd the adult side view of Link over the top down. I have to admit the top down games you listed for Zelda are amazing though. Well worth being on the list    

( Edited 19.05.2016 19:38 by curtiscdragon )

I think we did well to come out with a pretty accurately ordered list, especially considering this is pretty much all based on votes from the team. Replaying OoT 3D not too long ago reemphasised to me how great it really is, still to this day. It doesn't force story down our throats, it's paced incredibly well, and has some great dungeon designs.

I think you can easily switch the top 3 around, and your mood or whatever you played last could determine that order, but I generally feel OoT is consistent in what it sets out to achieve and still deserves its place at the top. Our top 3, regardless of order, is solid tho, and I wouldn't argue with the top 4, either. It's after that that it gets difficult to place. Do love the Oracles, it has to be said.

You missed the greates Zelda Ever On the Nes Adventure of LINK.
You know, I really would like to see if this style could be emulated again for Zelda. But on the other hand, I'm not so sure there is much need if we have the 2D Metroid series...which is just as dead as Zelda 2, ironically. For me, it's far too challenging to be fun. Definitely not something I have the patience for today, unless using a little save state help.

I,d personally have The Wind Waker lower on the list. My top five would probably be:

Ocarina of Time
Twilight Princess
A Link to the Past
Links Awakening
Skyward Sword

... in that order. I've never been a fan of Majora's Mask and I find the bland open expanse of The Wind Waker boring. I've also never been a fan of The Wind Waker's cartoony cell shading.

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