A Zelda Retrospective Addendum: The Series Ranked from Worst to Best

From the very beginning, I always had a vague idea of where I would place each installment in Nintendo’s long-running The Legend of Zelda franchise. Even so, I did change my mind a few times in the process of writing these reviews. Furthermore, when I wrote my review of The Legend of Zelda back in June of 2017, there were either three or four games I hadn’t yet cleared. Once I did, there were obviously many more aspects to consider. Regardless, I have completed and reviewed every single canonical entry, so as a postscript for the retrospective, here they are – ranked from worst to best.

NOTE: For the sake of this retrospective, I judged that Four Swords isn’t enough of a standalone game to warrant a separate review, lacking a single-player campaign in its initial release and coming across as a bonus feature for the Game Boy Advance port of A Link to the Past. As such, it is not represented on this list. It’s good for what it is, but difficult to judge using my metrics.


18. The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes

There was a time in which I could’ve said that every single game in Nintendo’s venerable franchise is worth playing. That period came to an end the exact second I finished Tri Force Heroes for the first time. Not only is it the worst game in the series, it’s the only canonical entry I can say is outright bad. Between its terrible, meme-laden writing and awkward gameplay, one would have to turn a blind eye to a lot of problems to unabashedly like it. The sound effects lifted from A Link to the Past only serve to mock you, reminding you that there are much better games you should be playing instead.  It really is the series’ answer to Yoshi’s Story: an insipid waste of time that doesn’t even begin to do its predecessor justice. As such, I feel it’s highly appropriate to dub Tri Force Heroes the bottom of the Zelda barrel.


17. The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass

Discounting the complicated circumstances that prevented me from making any significant progress in Zelda II, Phantom Hourglass was the first time a Zelda game well and truly failed to enrapture me. Historically, I had made slow progress on a Zelda installment a number of times, but I always set them aside with the intent to complete them one day. With Phantom Hourglass, I was wholly uninterested in seeing it through to the end – a sentiment I punctuated when I ended up getting rid of my copy. No other game in the series spurred me to do that. Even when I heard this game had a dedicated following, I was content with my decision.

What caused me to change my mind was when I began writing these reviews. Originally, I had no intent on completing, let alone reviewing, the Zelda games I missed. Ultimately, I decided around April of 2018 that because I had already completed a majority of the games in the series, I might as well go full-tilt and write a complete retrospective. For those curious, my marathon of unfinished business was with Phantom Hourglass, Spirit Tracks, and Tri Force Heroes.

Despite abandoning it back in 2007, I was revisiting Phantom Hourglass with a mostly positive attitude. I heard great things about its gameplay and that Link’s sidekick, Linebeck, would redeem himself by the end. Unfortunately, playing Phantom Hourglass only demonstrated that its problems were far worse than I originally thought. I am convinced that anyone who thinks the likes of Navi or Fi should win the title of “Worst Video-Game Sidekick” has never played Phantom Hourglass and had to put up with Linebeck. He forces Link to do everything, yells at him whenever he damages the boat’s equipment, and is an overall unlikable coward. By himself, he weighs the experience down to unbelievable degrees, but annoyance manifests in gameplay as well in the form of the Temple of the Ocean King. This dungeon displaced the Great Temple from Zelda II for the dubious distinction of the series’ worst dungeon. Though it doesn’t have a convoluted design, one has to go through it no fewer than six times. This wouldn’t be so bad except the dungeon has an arbitrary, barely justified time limit and is swarming with invincible Phantoms Link must avoid under penalty of losing progress if he is caught.

It’s a shame that it has as many problems as it does because when it works, it offers a completely unique experience. The touch-screen controls are excellent and the boss fights are as creative as ever. These aspects place it ahead of Tri Force Heroes, but I still find it a tough sell.


16. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link

For the longest time, I felt bad considering this game the worst in the series because I still think it gets more heat than it deserves. Sure, the switch from a top-down action-adventure to a side-scrolling hack-and-slash didn’t work in practice, but it was still a good effort – especially for its time. I no longer think it’s the worst the Zelda series has to offer, but it still has many glaring issues. Zelda II may not match Phantom Hourglass in terms of annoyance, but it makes up for its shortcomings by being needlessly obtuse. If you don’t have a guide, be prepared to wander aimlessly in the large, expansive world with no idea what to do or where to go next. You also have to game the system to get the ideal amount experience points if you’re to have any success. Finally, the endgame is a complete nightmare, turning Link loose in the worst designed dungeon in the series and forcing the player to go through it again if they can’t defeat its two bosses. It ultimately edges out Phantom Hourglass because, difficulty in completing these tasks notwithstanding, you only have to clear any of these dungeons once to proceed. A lack of filler goes a long way, after all.


15. The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures

With its threadbare plot and comparatively simplistic gameplay, Four Swords Adventures definitely has its place among the series’ weaker installments. Not helping its case is the amount of difficulty one would face attempting to play this game with friends in this day and age. Even with these factors against it, I can easily say that Four Swords Adventures offers the superior multiplayer experience to Tri Force Heroes.  This is because Four Swords Adventures is a solid game in single-player sessions; adding friends to the mix makes it that much more enjoyable. Tri Force Heroes, on the other hand, demands players play with friends. Should they fail to do so, they will be punished by having to play the worst the series has to offer. In other words, it uses multiplayer as a smokescreen to draw attention away from its myriad shortcomings. All in all, it’s better than Zelda II because it’s easy to pick up, but you shouldn’t go out of your way to play it if you lack the required materials.


14. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

I find discussing Link’s Awakening to be a fascinating subject because, even to this day, it’s considered one of the greatest games ever made. I have never understood why that is. I do have to admit I have something of a soft spot for Link’s Awakening, as it was the first Zelda title I ever completed on my own, but even back when there were only four games in the series, I didn’t think too highly of it. In the grand scheme of things, I liked both its predecessor and successor far more. One unequivocally positive outcome from this game’s wake is that served as a precedent for the often thought-provoking premises in the installments to follow. In doing so, Yoshiaki Koizumi played a major role in the series evolving with the times, constantly being able to tackle new ground effortlessly while rivals often failed to keep up.

Having said that, there were definitely a few growing pains involved. Though the premise of Link’s Awakening was certainly unique and not something one would expect from a Game Boy title at the time, it ultimately doesn’t suit the series’ identity. A gripping moral dilemma such as the one that runs throughout this game does not work with a silent protagonist. There is something to be said for using one’s imagination to extrapolate Link’s feelings in this scenario, but not giving him a voice at all means the weight of the moral turpitude isn’t fully realized. Between that and having to switch items constantly simply wandering down the road and I can say Link’s Awakening never really rises above the level of being merely “sort of neat”.


13. The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages

Oracle of Ages and its sister title, Oracle of Seasons, are interesting in that, having been made using the same assets as Link’s Awakening, they should logically all exist on the same tier. However, back when I played Oracle of Ages in 2001, I almost immediately recognized it as a superior game to Link’s Awakening. After the legacy of Link’s Awakening had a chance to fully embed itself in the public consciousness, I replayed it along with the Oracle duology to refresh my memory. Even after doing so, I can’t help but draw the same conclusion now as I did then. Oracle of Ages does share many of the weaknesses as Link’s Awakening and even introduces new problems, including its time-travelling mechanic not complementing the linear world design and swimming with the Mermaid Suit potentially leaving one’s thumb sore.

“How can you possibly consider Oracle of Ages a better game than Link’s Awakening?” you may ask. The answer is quite simple – there is far more effort put into its dungeon design, utilizing gimmicks never seen before or sense. Moreover, while Link’s Awakening was stifled by its initially greyscale presentation, Oracle of Ages extensively uses color in many of its puzzles. It also has a better villain in the form of Veran, whose effects on the world are made apparent the moment Link sets foot in it. Plus, the ring system adds a new layer of strategy to the proceedings, conferring helpful bonuses onto Link to fit the current situation.


12. The Legend of Zelda

The Legend of Zelda stands out from other 8-bit Nintendo debuts in that it does not come across as a prototype of its sequels, hence why it manages to rank this high on the list. While other series such as Mario, Fire Emblem, and Metroid needed a few more installments for them to truly shine, Shigeru Miyamoto and his team more or less got it right on their first try with The Legend of Zelda. Back in 1986, the idea that one could go so far off the rails and complete Level 2 before Level 1 was borderline inconceivable. For that matter, the simple concept of saving a game and coming back to finish it on a later day was as well. PC gaming enthusiasts had already been accustomed to this, but the general public was still warming up to the medium, having collectively turned their backs on the console industry in 1983. Even if it’s not always intuitive, The Legend of Zelda can claim to be better than Oracle of Ages simply for having fewer annoying mechanics. If you’re only going to play one of Nintendo’s 8-bit debuts, this is the one to pick.


11. The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons

Despite having many callbacks to the original game in the form of its dungeon designs and bosses, I wouldn’t go as far as declaring Oracle of Seasons a straight-up remake. Instead, I feel it’s more accurate to think of it as a reinterpretation of The Legend of Zelda – updated with the sensibilities the series had picked up by that point. Oracle of Seasons does share many of the same problems as Link’s Awakening and Oracle of Ages on top of featuring one of the blandest villains in the series, but it more than makes up for its shortcomings with its gameplay. While in Ocarina of Time, savvy players were waiting for the series’ standard arsenal to become available to them, Oracle of Seasons features several new items such as the Seed Satchel and the Magnetic Gloves. It even manages to find a new use for old items such as the Magical Boomerang, which Link can guide midflight. Then, of course, being able to change the seasons allows for a more organic method of overworld exploration than travelling through time in Oracle of Ages. The games work effectively as a combined duology, leading to a lot of replay value should you play them in the opposite order.


10. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

Though I feel Skyward Sword is an above-average game overall, there’s no getting around that in 2011 it was, by a significant margin, the worst 3D console installment. While many people complain about Fi as a sidekick, I feel her worst tendencies are more indicative of the game’s terrible design choices. This is a rather difficult quest, yet the developers insist on holding your hand all the while, telling you exactly where you need to go, discouraging exploration, and even outright spoiling a puzzle solution at one point. Then there’s the fact that Skyward Sword saw fit to introduce the worst villain in a Nintendo game since Porky from Earthbound: Ghirahim. He’s an interesting character in that he has the exact opposite problem as Fi. While Fi is tolerable when the narrative actually lets her be a character, I honestly admire Ghirahim’s role in gameplay. As the game’s first boss, he will completely destroy you if you haven’t adjusted to the control scheme. It’s when he opens his mouth or does anything that the goodwill vanishes instantly. Memetic villains may be popular to quote, but they rarely have much depth to them outside of their wacky antics, and Ghirahim is no exception.

These damning aspects are a real shame because when Skyward Sword is good, it’s incredible. The motion controls are well-implemented and the dungeon designs are brimming with creativity. Not only that, but the Timeshift Stones littering the Lanayru Desert are such an inventive idea, it’s almost a shame nobody decided to make an entire game out of them. Paradoxically, it is in my praise of Skyward Sword that its Achilles’ heel is uncovered: when it isn’t good, it’s actively bad. To be fair, even the best games have portions that aren’t good. However, there’s a big difference between being passively not good and actively bad. With Skyward Sword, you have to be willing to put up with a lot in order to appreciate what it does well. At its best, it can claim to be better than the Oracle duology and even some of the installments I placed on higher tiers. However, because its missteps are clearly not isolated incidents, this is where it ends up on the list.


9. The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap

Being the best handheld installment when it was released in 2004, The Minish Cap could be seen as a metaphor for the increasing quality of portable games. While Link’s Awakening certainly stood out from its competition in 1993, the Oracle duology was a marked improvement over it.  The Minish Cap then continued this trend by surpassing Capcom’s earlier efforts. Appropriately, from this point onward, the series’ portable installments would only get better with each entry – with Phantom Hourglass and Tri Force Heroes being outliers.

I feel a reason for this is because handheld gaming before 1996 didn’t have much of a purpose outside of being portable. As a result, many early Game Boy titles could be described as downscaled console experiences. Any noticeable drop in quality was forgivable as long as one could play any game in their travels. After the release of Super Mario 64 in 1996, however, handheld gaming suddenly had a niche to fill, providing quality 2D experiences when consoles weren’t. In fact, they arguably couldn’t if one takes into account the failure of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night; even a bearing a popular franchise didn’t save it from the 3D craze.

Either way, The Minish Cap is the result of inserting the sensibilities picked up from the series’ 3D installments and placing them in a 2D environment. This didn’t always translate well, though. The small number of dungeons reflects the 3D entries’ propensity to place quality over quantity, but it inadvertently showcased the limits of a 2D presentation. Though it doubtlessly has its flaws, The Minish Cap is what I consider the series’ first truly good handheld installment. It defeats the Oracle duology by virtue of being a better standalone entry and having a surprising amount of depth to its gameplay.


8. The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks

Taking the critics’ words at face value, it’s easy to get the impression that Spirit Tracks is a step down from Phantom Hourglass. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth. By allowing Link and Zelda to team up for the first time outside of the occasional final boss encounter, Spirit Tracks already has a material advantage over Phantom Hourglass. With a much more endearing sidekick, it’s easier to appreciate what Spirit Tracks does well. The touch-screen gameplay, while somewhat awkward at times, is quite novel, and with more effort spent coming up with new dungeon items, Spirit Tracks is clearly superior to its direct predecessor. I also feel it wins out over The Minish Cap because though navigation is made more tedious due to potential instant deaths, the 2D/3D compromise allows the dungeon designs to shine when they had difficulties before. I passed this game up, thinking that if Phantom Hourglass wasn’t good, Spirit Tracks wouldn’t fare any better. I’m glad I eventually gave this game a chance because there’s quite a bit more to it than critics gave it credit for.


7. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

In the midst of one of gaming’s most dismal years, A Link Between Worlds was a breath of fresh air. Ironically, despite being part of a famous franchise, it stuck out like a sore thumb compared to its contemporaries. While the Western AAA industry continued taking cues from Hollywood and pockets of the indie scene introduced the walking simulator to a wider audience, deciding games should do away with gameplay, A Link Between Worlds came barging onto the scene. It was an unapologetic game with a terse story, meaning that it well and truly earned every single one of its accolades.

Despite its critical success, certain independent holdouts at the time dismissed A Link Between Worlds as a transparent attempt on Nintendo’s part to cash on the legacy of A Link to the Past. This only convinced me that they didn’t actually play the game and see what it had to offer. Though cynics may have scoffed at its short length, I have to say it is better than Spirit Tracks by virtue of offering the same amount of meaningful content in a smaller amount of time. Not only that, but the rental system was a brilliant masterstroke, turning the second half of the game into a non-linear affair – the likes of which hadn’t been seen since the original. Nintendo may have modeled A Link Between Worlds after the fan-favorite A Link to the Past, but they clearly used the older installment as a springboard to explore new ideas. Unlike Tri Force Heroes, it was not used as an opportunity to revel around in past accomplishments.


6. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

After the success of A Link to the Past, Nintendo would go on to create many more 2D installments. Not a single one of them were successful in dethroning A Link to the Past for the title of the series’ premier 2D entry. Maybe it was its abundance of dungeons. Perhaps the atmospheric Dark World left such an enduring impression on the enthusiasts who played it in 1991. Players may even enjoy how it compromises the linear style that would define later entries and the exploratory nature of the series’ debut. Whatever the case may be, later 2D games couldn’t quite capture what made A Link to the Past so good. A Link Between Worlds may be a worthy follow-up to what is rightly considered a monumental game, but in this comparison, the original is still the best.


5. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

It’s difficult to imagine a time in which The Wind Waker was mocked because in the grand scheme of things, the preemptive backlash ended before it began. Though the original posts and the websites on which they were adorned are long gone, I can attest to the displeased fans’ reactions to those first E3 trailers – it was not a pretty sight. To be completely honest, I myself wasn’t impressed with the art style; I had a difficult time believing Nintendo would follow up a game as dark as Majora’s Mask with what amounted to an interactive cartoon. It should be noted that my reservations didn’t stop me from getting it on launch day; I knew even then I was betting against the house by not giving it a chance.

As its placement on this list can attest, I’m glad I didn’t let the fans cloud my judgement because The Wind Waker is a wonderfully crafted game whose art style belies a surprisingly dark story. Yes, it does have its share of flaws. It gets off to a slow start, ends with a fetch quest that could have been abridged or cut out entirely, and makes players sail for longer than necessary. Even so, they ultimately don’t detract from what is a solid experience. The dungeon design is top-notch as always, and being able to control the camera is a vast improvement by itself. Whether those fans are willing to acknowledge it or not, hindsight has made them look rather foolish. Though I may not like this game quite as much as its staunchest fans, there’s no denying it’s a classic, and I’m glad it was vindicated in the end.


4. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

For the oldest of the old-school fans of the franchise, Ocarina of Time is the bane of their existence. It was the entry with which the series made the leap into the third dimension. Even worse, its status as what is possibly the single most universally admired game in existence ensured that any subsequent console installments would continue to be in 3D. Sure, the handheld market would provide those fans with more 2D experiences, but as I’ve established by now, none of them were quite in the same league as A Link to the Past.

I could not consider myself one of those fans because I firmly believe that Ocarina of Time allowed the creators to grasp a certain something they needed to transform their canon, which previously formed a mostly solid series of games, to one of the greatest franchises any medium has to offer. Admittedly, despite writing about these games at length, I can’t say for certain what that something is. Maybe the 3D presentation allows for better immersion. Perhaps, like Metal Gear, it was always a 3D series at heart and the technology merely allowed it to assume its true form. It might be that by thinking in three dimensions, the developers were compelled to place quality before quantity when designing dungeons. Whatever the case may be, putting Ocarina of Time this high on the list is the video-game equivalent of considering Citizen Kane one of your all-time favorite films. Depending on what circle you’re in, you will either be admired for having such good taste or you will be declared tired and predictable. It’s appropriate because I feel in both cases, actually giving those works the time of day reveals their warm receptions are not exaggerations.


3. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

The reception of Twilight Princess makes for an interesting conversation piece. In a lot of ways, it took the exact opposite journey as The Wind Waker. This game featured the art style fans wanted, and upon release, it was highly admired. Years down the line, fans became harsher in their assessments, believing they had been caught up in the hype. Though many of its characters, Midna especially, remain fan-favorites, many fans complained about the absurd amount of filler present in the game. In all honesty, I never really understood these complaints. While I could’ve sympathized with these points back in 2006, when Skyward Sword came along, many of these grievances were comparatively negligible.

Yes, many of the items are useless outside of their respective dungeons and there are indeed multiple sequences that could’ve been cut, but it doesn’t matter in the end because the payoff always ends up being worth it. Twilight Princess could be seen as an attempt to pander to fans of Ocarina of Time. If this is true, Twilight Princess makes the case that Nintendo’s idea of pandering involves giving us what is perhaps the strongest set of dungeons in the series, some of the most creative boss fights in any game, and an excellent sidekick. Any other developer would attempt to give fans more of the same in such a situation. Eiji Aonuma and company give their fans something completely new by disguising it as something familiar. With all of these great aspects, Twilight Princess has a rightful claim as one of the franchise’s hallmarks, effectively beating Ocarina of Time at its own game.


2. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

I maintain that few franchises can claim to be as consistently great as The Legend of Zelda, but when I began writing these reviews, I noticed something peculiar. Despite what old-school enthusiasts claim, The Legend of Zelda was at its best in the 2000s with highlights such as Majora’s Mask, The Wind Waker, and Twilight Princess. The 2010s, on the other hand, managed to somehow slow down the juggernaut franchise. Though Skyward Sword received universal praise, I consider it the first 3D console installment that missed the mark of being good. Furthermore, Tri Force Heroes managed to give the franchise its first unequivocally bad canonical entry. A Link Between Worlds was the exception to this rule, but modelling itself after A Link to the Past gave independent voices an easy reason to dismiss it. In fact, it wasn’t until I examined the grades I awarded each game that I realized the series didn’t have a truly spectacular installment since Twilight Princess for a majority of the decade. I was excited for Breath of the Wild, but I had no idea how badly Nintendo needed for it to be a masterpiece in order to remain relevant in the 2010s. Fortunately, they exceeded expectations, giving us a game that stands out as one of the decade’s finest efforts.

For the longest time, I considered placing this third on my list, trailing behind Twilight Princess. This situation is what makes writing these reviews so interesting because spelling out my thoughts on paper occasionally allows me to draw conclusions different from my original ones. It was after going over Breath of the Wild with a fine-toothed comb that I realized it edges out Twilight Princess by the slimmest of margins. Twilight Princess may have better dungeons, but the freedom to explore Hyrule in Breath of the Wild offers something even greater. By 2017, open-world games had been commonplace to the extent that its benefits and trappings were common knowledge. Because open-world games were usually not popular in Japan, I believe the reason Breath of the Wild turned out as well as it did was because it benefited from an outsider’s perspective. They were able to address or downplay the style’s trappings while introducing elements Western developers had long since abandoned such as boss fights and complex puzzles. Coupled with its beautiful, succinct cutscenes and good voice acting, Breath of the Wild showed the series had grown up while also staying true to itself.

It was also a great moment of triumph for Hidemaro Fujibayashi. His first experience with the series was the Oracle duology. From there, he moved on to The Minish Cap, and he would finally oversee the creation of his first console game in 2011: Skyward Sword. He was always a capable director, but it wasn’t until Breath of the Wild that he cemented himself as one of the medium’s greats. It’s highly fitting; with its numerous callbacks to The Legend of Zelda, Oracle of Seasons foreshadowed Breath of the Wild successfully passing the spirit of the original onto to a new generation of enthusiasts.


1. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

Once it was clear that video games had their place as a cornerstone of culture, enthusiasts garnered something of a bad reputation. At the best of times, they were considered immature, disillusioned shut-ins with no ambition to improve themselves. At worst, they were condemned by the mainstream media as anti-intellectual delinquents, shunning legitimate discourse in favor of yelling at their television sets.

Why do I choose to bring this up now? It’s because the reception of Majora’s Mask is one of the greatest defenses one could ever mount for the medium’s enthusiasts. Majora’s Mask is a sequel to what was considered at the time the greatest game ever made. It’s a fantasy story about a hero who finds himself in a parallel dimension that faces destruction in three days. Therefore, he has to relive those same three days many times in his quest. If a film came out with such a high concept, one of two things would happen. The first scenario would involve it being adored by critics while being dismissed by the average moviegoer. Alternatively, the critics themselves would fail to realize what a masterstroke it was, content to let it fall by the wayside until the all-seeing, all-knowing power of hindsight proved they were several steps behind all along. Regardless, this hypothetical work would only receive its deserved praise long after the fact.

Anyone who is a fan of the film I’m thinking of knows it and the story behind its reception are anything but hypothetical; it is none other than Harold Ramis’s Groundhog Day. It may seem unfathomable these days, but back in 1993, it was a modest success and critical reviews, though mostly positive, weren’t overly enthusiastic about it. One critic writing for the Washington Post even felt that while it was good, it would “never be designated a national treasure by the Library of Congress”. Groundhog Day is now considered one of the best films of the nineties. For good measure, the universe showed off its very real sense of irony when Mr. Ramis’s work was added to the United States National Film Registry in 2006.

Having established that it took several years for Groundhog Day to receive its dues, how did the gaming sphere react when given Majora’s Mask? It immediately received a universally positive reception from critics and fans alike. While it’s true that a few holdouts felt Ocarina of Time provided the superior experience, the game was, by and large, admired as soon as it came out. To me, this demonstrates that, even in 2000, gamers were far more accepting of these high concepts than their film-loving counterparts. Alongside Planescape: Torment, which was released the previous year, Majora’s Mask showcased a hitherto untapped potential dormant in the medium. Gamers then managed to prove their mettle by embracing it rather than let it gather dust in the coming years. Operating on such an avant-garde premise rife with many hard-hitting, personal touches, I couldn’t think of a better installment to round out this list.


Final Scores:

31 thoughts on “A Zelda Retrospective Addendum: The Series Ranked from Worst to Best

  1. I’ve debated doing this very thing on my own blog, albeit only making a top ten due to missing some entries entirely and having no desire to try them 😛 But I do love rambling about Zelda, so it will still probably happen at some point! Thanks for the fun read!

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    • Thanks! Yeah, it’s not easy to play the entirety of a long-running series let alone review every single installment from it – this retrospective took me a little over a year to complete. I was lucky because I had kept up with the series well enough that by the time I started writing these reviews, I only had three/four I hadn’t completed – and none of them were particularly long. I would like to see what you consider your top ten favorite Zelda games!

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      • Yes, doing what you did is quite the accomplishment! Well done! I admire your tenacity. My own Top 10 Zelda list is certainly on my to-do list, but it will take a while to internally debate, discuss with friends, and put all my thoughts together. It will not be a short blog post! haha

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  2. With the exception of Tri-Force heroes, I own the whole series. Haven’t played them all yet, though, with the way I’ve been managing my play for the last long while. Should be in a position to remedy that in the near future, however, and I’m looking forward to it. Even when the games are bad, they do usually maintain a certain level of quality.

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    • I don’t own every single game in the series anymore (for example, I jettisoned Tri Force Heroes almost immediately after completing it), but most of them remain in my collection. Even so, I will admit even the worst games in the series have flashes of brilliance. Hope you enjoy getting around to revisiting these games! Which ones do you still have yet to clear?

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  3. Wow!! Awesome list and congrats on reviewing all those Zelda games. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on rankings. At the time of this comment the only Zelda games I haven’t finished are: Triforce Heroes (probably should avoid, haha), Link’s Awakening (got to the last dungeon many years ago and forgot about it), A Link Between Worlds, Zelda II, and Breath of the Wild (didn’t click with me at launch since I was suffering from open world burnout). I definitely want to finish all of them someday!

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    • Thank you very much!

      If you’re going to skip one game in the Zelda franchise, Tri Force Heroes is the one to pick. I appreciate Link’s Awakening more for the impact it had on the series than I do actually playing it – not that it’s bad, mind you. Zelda II is difficult, but if you can get into it, it’s pretty good. I’m just going to tell you right now that I formed my opinion of Breath of the Wild while I was in the middle of open-world burnout… and I still thought it was one of the greatest games I’d ever played. Stick with it if you can; it’s a lot like Dark Souls – you need to truly give it a chance before it reveals its true worth. I should know; I wasn’t convinced the game was all that good at first, and then I began figuring things out, and when it did, it was incredible.

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      • I have the NES Classic so I’ll be playing that version of Zelda II (yay for save states and rewind features, haha) with a guide. Good to know about BoTW! Part of the problem for me was I was captivated by Horizon Zero Dawn at the time, and probably didn’t give this game the serious dedication it needs. I will go back to it in the future!

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  4. So many entries in this series have different strengths, I could certainly see the argument for a few of them at the top. Twilight Princess is my personal favorite mostly because dungeons are my favorite part of Zelda, but it is easy to see why some would prefer BotW or MM. Nice to see the ranking her all in one place even having read the reviews.

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    • I can see why you’d say that. Sure, Twilight Princess only ranks third on my list, but we’re talking about a series where I awarded the third-best installment a 9/10. This is to say, I could see it making my personal top twenty. I can certainly agree that it has the best set of dungeons in the series, but I lean a little bit more towards Majora’s Mask and Breath of the Wild for providing slightly better overall experiences. For what it’s worth, these are very slim margins we’re talking about.

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  5. Incredible work! This was a special type of article that brought a smile to my face, mainly because it shows just how much time went into the creation of this – not only having to play every single title in the series, but also having to provide a detailed, insightful description and analysis of each, plus very persuasive and strong arguments for the choices in the list. Zelda being my favourite series, or at least joint second alongside Fire Emblem, it was really enjoyable just reading your thoughts on all the games.

    For me, Wind Waker is a little higher and Breath of the Wild takes the top spot, but nonetheless I feel this article highlighted the fact that most entries in this series are marginally different in terms of quality and that the rankings are so difficult to call.

    I seriously think this article hit new, unprecedented levels of awesome. Brilliant as per usual.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you like this article that much. It was somewhat easy because I have been keeping up with the series for my entire gaming career, but otherwise, you’re right; there was a big push within the last few months to clear the rest of the series. I would say Zelda is my personal favorite franchise in gaming simply going by the numbers. I can’t think of another franchise whose sixth-best installment utterly eclipses the efforts of rival developers at the top of their game. I’m actually a little behind on Fire Emblem, having not completed many of the early ones, so it’ll be awhile before I can write a full retrospective. I’ll just say right now that Fire Emblem: Awakening is one of my favorite games of the decade. Though it was technically made in 2012, it arriving in the West in 2013 (along with the release of A Link Between Worlds and Papers, Please) ensured that year wasn’t a total lost cause.

      I get why you’d think Breath of the Wild deserves the top spot; it really is one of the greatest games of the decade. If I were to make a list of my top ten favorite games, there is a very good chance Breath of the Wild would make the cut (and Twilight Princess would as well if we’re talking about my top twenty).

      I’m truly honored you feel that way.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve got so many Zelda games to play, but this list has helped me decide which ones I want to go through next. I really enjoyed Twilight Princess and it was the first Zelda game I ever played, so it was nice to see it ranked so high.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a great one to start with. I don’t think Twilight Princess gets enough credit; between having what is possibly the best dungeon design in the series and one of the best sidekicks, it has a lot to offer – even to this day. Its villain may not be as good as that of Majora’s Mask, but I feel it’s a flaw that’s easy to overlook – especially given the sheer amount of things it does well.

      I myself began with the one that started it all, though it was my brother who cleared it. The first one I completed on my own was Link’s Awakening. I may have nostalgic feelings for it, but I do acknowledge that it has been surpassed many times over by later installments in terms of storytelling (hence why it ranks 14th).

      Like

  7. I’m ridiculously tickled that you chose Majora’s Mask as your number one entry, but it makes me sad that I haven’t actually gotten through it yet. Actually, this list makes me realize just how many Zelda games I haven’t played through entirely.

    Per the usual posts on these kinds of things, I would obviously shift a few around, but that’s probably due to lack of exposure more than anything, I’d guess. I definitely appreciate having learned so much about these games from your posts, though, and I’m pretty excited to check a few more Zelda titles out soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad that was something you can get behind. Though it was a very slim margin, I couldn’t come up with a better installment to crown the best in the series. Get through it when you can; I can assure you that you will be very impressed.

      Thank you for reading! By the way, which ones do you still have yet to clear?

      Liked by 1 person

      • I… um… that’s a pretty long list.

        What I’ve actually cleared are the NES titles, Link to the Past and Link Between Worlds, and Ocarina of Time. Oh, and Link’s Awakening. I played through the Four Swords Adventures with some friends, which I don’t feel like counts but since it’s in the countdown, I guess it does?

        I own a bunch of them, though, so I should really get on trying some more out. Twilight Princess and Majora’s Mask always struck me just due to the dark tones and art styles, so I’ll have to see how they go maybe.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Is that so? Well, it certainly sounds like you have an interesting journey ahead of you. You have played a lot of good installments, but I’d say between The Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, and Breath of the Wild, the best has yet to come. And I would say Four Swords Adventures counts; it is definitely a standalone experience unlike Four Swords. Hope you enjoy what you haven’t played yet!

          Liked by 1 person

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  9. I fully agree with the Top 5, but I would naturally make some changes in relation to how the titles are ordered.

    Based on this list and on your reviews, I guess I can say I like Spirit Tracks a lot less than you do. I replayed it recently and overall it left me as cold as Phantom Hourglass. Sure, it makes a lot of visible improvements over its prequel, but the game’s focus on the dull train segments just kills any joy I have when going through it.

    I also like Tri Force Heroes, actually. It certainly pales in comparison to other installments of the saga, save for – I would say – Zelda II and the pair of DS games, but as a multiplayer-focused Zelda I can forgive its stupid plot and other quirks because when it came down to it I truly had some laughs and fun when going through its dungeons online (despite the occasional frustrations), which makes me think that doing it alongside two friends locally must be even more satisfying. Four Swords Adventures is certainly more polished, though, and does multiplayer Zelda better, even if the requirements to play it with other folks are sort of absurd.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you agree with my top five, at least. It says something about the Zelda franchise that even the fifth best installment can utterly dominate other franchises at the top of their game.

      Be that as it may, even if I didn’t particularly care for Spirit Tracks, I still feel it would’ve won out over Phantom Hourglass if for no other reason than not having to put up with Linebeck. I consider avoiding the instant-kill trains an acceptable trade-off.

      I could understand Tri Force Heroes for having a weaker plot due to being a primarily multiplayer experience, if it wasn’t for the existence of Portal 2. That game stood out in how its multiplayer campaign, while not quite as good as its single-player one, still had many interesting story beats to it. It just makes the writing in Tri Force Heroes look particularly lazy. And the reason I didn’t call out Four Swords Adventures for it as much is because the plot was bland rather than actively bad. If Tri Force Heroes was intended to be a self-parody, then it failed where Spirit Tracks succeeded. In fact, anyone wishing to do a self-parody should study Spirit Tracks and comprehend why it works.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’d say that everything in the Top 10 can put up a fight.

        Well, since Linebeck does not really bother me that much I am not sure if I would take the abundance of train-related missions over his presence. =P

        You make a great point about Portal 2. I hadn’t thought about it that way. Yeah, Four Swords Adventures has a bland plot, while the one from Tri Force Heroes is downright terrible.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. I am sad to see Link’s Awakening place so low on the list. That’s probably my fave game in the series. At the very least I expected it to perform better than the Oracle titles. It’s impressive how Nintendo crammed such a big Zelda adventure into the humble Gameboy. My opinion is however based on nostalgia. If I played the game now the constant item switching you mention, due to lack of buttons, would drive me barmy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sorry, I can appreciate Link’s Awakening and its undeniably positive impact on the series, but at the end of the day, I feel the Oracle games provide the better gameplay experience. True, one needs to play both games to get the most out of them (hence why I didn’t rank them that much higher), but that’s not a tall order, I find. That said, the reason they didn’t place higher was indeed due to the excessive item switching one must do.

      Liked by 1 person

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