The Legend of Zelda is one of the most iconic video game franchises of all time, and it has been my personal favorite series for as long as I can remember. From NES to Wii U, Link’s adventures in Hyrule and beyond have always been some of my most memorable games on each console. Naturally, when I saw “#Top5ZeldaGames” lighting up Twitter, I had to get in on the fun. Narrowing the Zelda series down to just five entries is no easy task (the games number in the double digits if you include spin-off titles), but I’ve put together a list of five games that have a special place in my heart.
5: The Wind Waker
The Wind Waker‘s beautiful cell-shaded visuals (which have aged much better than many other games from the same era), entrancing music, and colorful cast of charming and bizarre characters make it a joy to experience. The GameCube title features clever dungeon design, fluid combat, and an interesting story with a surprisingly nuanced take on Ganondorf. Sailing the Great Sea can be a bit of a bore at times (thank the Goddesses for the Swift Sail in the game’s HD remake), but it was a bold change of pace from Hyrule Field, giving Wind Waker‘s world a unique place in the Zelda series.
4: A Link Between Worlds
I was initially disappointed when I learned that the first major 3DS
Zelda title seemed to lack in originality, but A Link Between Worlds managed to capitalize on my nostalgia in a major way while also adding some fresh elements into the formula. An increased focus on freedom of exploration (something that has been notably absent in recent Zelda releases) brought me back to some of my earliest memories of the series, exploring every inch of Hyrule to uncover its secrets.
A Link Between Worlds largely re-uses the same world as A Link to the Past, but its wall-merging mechanic adds new depth to it. Blending exploration and puzzle-solving together, A Link Between Worlds challenges you to think in both 2D and 3D, and the result is some of my favorite dungeon design in the whole series. It’s a little too easy and derivative, but it’s still an incredibly fun and rewarding experience.
3: Ocarina of Time
Heralded by many as the greatest video game of all time,
Ocarina of Time is almost inarguably the definitive 3D Zelda experience. Link’s journey through time to awaken the Sages, defeat Ganon, and return the land of Hyrule to peace is one of the most iconic tales in all of gaming. The introduction of new races like the Gorons and the Kokiri (as well as the expanded role of the Zoras) helped make Ocarina of Time‘s Hyrule feel more alive than any previous entry, and its characters and songs are some of the best in the series. Aside from A Link to the Past (sorry, spoilers), I’ve found myself returning to Ocarina of Time for another quest far more than any other game in the series.
2: Majora’s Mask
Majora’s Mask recycled the game engine and character models from Ocarina of Time, but that allowed the development team to focus their development efforts on creating a fresh and interesting new world… and let me tell you, they succeeded! The world of Termina is easily my favorite setting in the entire series, and it amazes me to this day that it can feel so unique despite borrowing most of its assets from the previous game. The game’s atmosphere is persistently mysterious and tragic, and the ever-increasing threat of the moon looming overhead is a constant reminder that this is not your typical Zelda game.
Character interactions are deeper than in any other
Zelda title, and nearly everyone in Termina has a story tell. Majora’s Mask may only feature four dungeons, but it by no means has to be a short experience. Thanks to the game’s time-traveling mechanic, you can see characters’ lives unfold in different ways based on the actions you take, encouraging you to dig deeper into the lives of Termina’s citizens and explore every possible outcome.
1: A Link to the Past
I’ve always believed that the four most important elements in the Zelda experience are exploration, combat, story-telling, and puzzle-solving. More than any other
Zelda title, I believe that A Link to the Past has these four elements in near-perfect balance.
With two world maps (Hyrule and the Dark World),
A Link to the Past offers players an expansive world to explore, and doing so is immensely rewarding. The Super Nintendo’s take on Hyrule is packed with secrets, including many completely optional items, weapons, and upgrades. Dungeons (which are generally well-designed) can be played in any order after the first three have been completed, giving players the freedom to create their own experience.
A Link to the Past built on the top-down 2D combat of the original Zelda, greatly expanding the variety of enemies and improving the AI. It features one of the largest and most diverse arsenals of weapons and items in the series, and plenty of bosses to test them out on. Of all the 2D Zelda titles, I feel it has the best level of difficulty.
A Link to the Past‘s story introduced some of the most important elements from the series, including the legendary Master Sword, the Sacred Realm/Dark World, the Seven Sages, and Ganon’s humanoid origins as Ganondorf. The story set the stage for many future games, and it did so without inhibiting gameplay.
A Link to the Past was the first Zelda game to utilize puzzles as a major mechanic, but it doesn’t rely nearly as heavy on them as later titles, such as Spirit Tracks. This makes puzzle-solving an excellent companion to combat in dungeons, rather than making them the focus, and it’s a wonderful blend. Puzzle-solving plays a role in exploring the overworld too, as players will need to use their heads to figure out pathways between Hyrule and the Dark World to uncover all of the game’s secrets.
That’s my list, but I’d love to see yours. Leave your top five Zelda games in the comments below!