Breath of the Wild
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The Legend of Zelda is one of the most successful video game series of all time. Here, I rank the series from the ‘worst’ (is there a bad Zelda game?) entry to the best entry.

I’m obviously excluding the dreadful Phillips CD-i Zelda releases, as the creation rights were licensed to Phillips by Nintendo as part of an agreement when Nintendo decided to ditch its SNES CD idea, which Phillips would have made.

So, read on! And make sure to let me know how you would have ranked them, in the comments.

10) The Legend of Zelda (Nintendo Entertainment System) 1986

legend of zelda 1 nes
A classic!

Overview:

The original Zelda game–it introduced battery saves and set the template that all other action RPGs would follow.  A smartly designed world, filled with enemies, and passages to explore made The Legend of Zelda one of the most epic adventures that could be played in the 1980s.

Why it deserves its ranking:

The simplistic visuals have aged horribly, but the game’s design remains brilliant to this day. While the story is bare bones, the game introduced Link, Zelda and Ganon–the three main characters that would shape the entire saga, a saga that would go onto thrive commercially and critically for more than three decades (and counting). The game introduced the Tri-Force lore, and is one of the greatest NES games ever made.

While the game remains a worthy play in modern times, I find the original Zelda to be less enthralling the rest of the games on this list. Still, when a series is known for 9.5 to 10 out 10 critical scores per game, being the #10 best game  in the series is nothing to be ashamed of.

Mont’s Take:

A great, fun game that really helped create the top-down, 2D, action RPG genre. If you’ve liked Zelda or action RPGs, it’s definitely worth playing. Obviously not as polished as an SNES game, it’s still a solid game. Just don’t expect a lot of story.

Never Ending Realm rated The Legend of Zelda a 7/10.

Metacritic rated The Legend of Zelda an 84.

9) Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (Nintendo Entertainment System) 1988

Zelda II
The only side-scroller entry in the series, apart from the first two Phillips CD-i games, Zelda 2 features a unique graphical style.

Overview:

The sequel to the original game, is the most jarring departure in terms of mechanical gameplay that the series has ever seen. The top down view is only utilized on the overworld map, dungeons and areas were presented from a side scrolling perspective. The puzzle solving centered gameplay (that eventually the entire series followed) was substituted by a focus on combat.

Instead of progressing by obtaining new items through the quests, Zelda II goes for a different approach altogether by allowing Link to gain experience levels from combat in order to increase his stats. Learning spells, and upping your experience levels are key to progressing in the game and defeating the game’s challenging bosses.

Why it deserves its ranking:

While not as groundbreaking as the original game, I enjoyed Zelda II much more than I did the first game. The game introduced lore into the series that would later have a more enduring presence in Ocarina of Time, and it also brought Dark Link into existence.

With 4.38 million units sold, Zelda II was a commercial success, even if revisionist history has underrated the game when compared to the rest of the games in the series. Zelda II did a better job in creating an atmospheric game than the first game ever could, and for that, it holds an even greater place in my heart than the original ‘The Legend of Zelda’ entry.

Mont Cessna’s Take:

While different than other Zelda games, the true RPG elements and decent sides-scroller action make this a must play for any true Zelda fan.

Metacritic rated Zelda II: The Adventure of Link a 73.

8) The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii) 2011

Skyward Sword
A definite graphic and gameplay leap from the N64.

Overview:

Near the end of the Wii’s lifespan we got a swan song Legend of Zelda that actually utilized the Wii’s motion controls to their full potential. Skyward Sword introduced us to the series origin story, and in terms of its narrative, it is the greatest of all Zelda entries.

Taking place on a floating island, SS like Wind Waker before it, gets rid of Epona and instead gives us a different tool to explore its world. Replacing horse travel this time is a giant bird that can be mounted in order to explore the vast, but somewhat empty skies.

Why it deserves its ranking:

100 million Wiis were installed in homes across the world and Skyward Sword only sold 3.9 million units. This makes SS one of the lowest selling Zelda games of all time, and there are a number of reasons that can be at fault for its lower than usual (in the series) commercial success.

Number one, the Wii in 2011 was ancient technology. Someone, somewhere, once said that the Wii was nothing more than an “Overclocked GameCube” and truer worlds have never been spoken. Skyward Sword while artistically pleasing, was the one of the more unimpressive looking Zelda games ever at the time of its release. Bethesda’s Skyrim (a visually stunning game) being a direct competitor didn’t help matters either.

SS was a very good game, but it really didn’t capture me, and in fact, I still find Twilight Princess to be the more impressive looking game in terms of visuals.

The second reason why I, and other players did not really feel SS, was simply its motion control scheme. Zelda has always been about precision; the precision was lost in the game’s controls translation to the Wii’s motion configuration. I would rather play TP on the GameCube with the smaller 4:3 screen ratio and lesser resolution, than the Wii’s motion-controlled version with its 16×9 wide screen mode and its 480p configuration. I am just not a fan of motion controls to be honest, in its current state Zelda is meant to be played with a controller pad.

Lastly, traversing Skyloft’s surrounding skies was not nearly as fun as traversing any version of Hyrule on Epona. SS seems to be the entry in which the Zelda formula pioneered by Ocarina of Time just quite simply ran into an unmovable wall.

That said, I did enjoy the story in SS, and I feel that as far as storytelling goes, it is the best Zelda game out there. Its origin story perfectly sets up the rest of the legendary gaming series.

Mont Cessna’s Take:

A solid Zelda title that firmly establishes the franchise into the 21st century. If you loved Ocarina of Time, you’ll love Skyward Sword.

Never Ending Realm rated The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword an 8.5/10.

Metacritic rated The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword a 93.

7) The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Game Boy, Game Boy Color) 1993

Links Awakening
Yes, games were in black and white on the original Game Boy.

Overview:

Despite the technical limitations of the Game Boy, A Link’s Awakening was every bit as good as A Link to the Past. In some areas, such as storytelling, it was the better 2-D Zelda. A direct sequel to the SNES classic (featuring the same Link), ALA introduced many innovations to the series.

First, and foremost it took Link out of Hyrule and into Koholint Island, thus marking the first time that the series left the legendary kingdom for another setting. Second, it introduced jumping as an ability for Link. Thus, the game would mix its overhead views with some side scrolling sections that added depth to the gameplay.

While many will point to A Link to the Past as being a more influential game (as far as the series goes), in many ways  A Link’s Awakening introduced certain gameplay elements that would later be expanded (and perfected) in Ocarina of Time five years later. Fishing, Flying around by holding a Cucco, and Playing songs in an Ocarina where all introduced here.

Why it deserves its ranking:

I find the DX version of the game, to be a better playthrough than ALttP. Most will disagree, but I find this to be true in my case. The game’s somewhat tragic love story, brilliant island design, easter eggs (cameos from other Nintendo characters), and polished 2-D Zelda gameplay, makes it my favorite Game Boy game of all time.

Mont Cessna’s Take:

A solid Game Boy title with all the fun of A Link to the Past. A must-play for fans of top-down 2D action-rpgs and Zelda.

Metacritic rated The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening an 87 (on Switch).

6) The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (GameCube) 2003

Wind Waker
The cartoony graphics put off a lot of players.

Overview:

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, released in 2003 on the Nintendo GameCube was a tale of two fan reactions. When it was first revealed, the game was panned in some circles as the super deformed cell shaded Link looked nothing like the hyper realistic Zelda tech demo that Nintendo had shown at Space World. The second reaction was  one of near universal love, as the game hit western shores and pretty much everyone from critics to gamers found it a worthy to successor to the The Legend of Zelda line on home consoles.

Ditching Hyrule for a scenario composed of islands surrounded by a vast sea, The Wind Waker, a lot like Majora’s Mask before it, plays differently from most Zelda games. Utilizing the Wind on your sail boat is key to controlling boat. The Wind can be manipulated by the ‘Wind Waker’ baton, the game’s instrument of choice.

Otherwise, Link controls much in the same way that Ocarina of Time pioneered 5 years earlier. Massive dungeons, a vast amount of secrets, and even a picture game, make WW one of the largest Zelda games ever made (even if pretty much most of the real state is composed of the sea). With 4.6 million units sold, Wind Waker is a successful entry in the series, but a step below Ocarina’s commercial success which would prompt Nintendo to ditch the visual style in their GC Zelda follow up.

Why it deserves its ranking:

I will admit, at first glance, the Wind Waker was not much of a looker in my eyes. I was in the disappointed camp when the game was first revealed, as I had  expected a dark, and mature continuation of Ocarina of Time (which I eventually got in Twilight Princess). What I got instead in Zelda’s GC debut, was a charming adventure, a wonderful gaming experience that didn’t quite live up to Ocarina’s greatness, and to MM’s otherworldly atmosphere, but one that played and felt as good as any Zelda game before it.

The Wind Waker did marginally improve the Zelda series storytelling by pulling off one of the greatest plot twists in its history.  The visual style while not my favorite, has undoubtedly aged better than the more ‘realistic’ looking Zelda games, after all, cartoon artwork seldom ages.

Mont Cessna’s Take:

This game actually kind of pushed me to Sony and Microsoft for consoles. After this and Paper Mario, I gravitated towards the “realistic” graphical looks Nintendo’s rivals were pushing for with their hardware.

Never Ending Realm rated The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker a 9/10.

Metacritic rated The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker a 96.

5) The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (Nintendo 64) 2000

Majoras Mask
Majora’s Mask built upon the Ocarina of Time engine with a new story.

Overview:

The fastest, full-fledged Zelda game that has ever been made (Took only two years to make), graced the N64 during the system’s own twilight, as the PS2 arrived to dawn over a new console generation. Majora’s Mask was a direct sequel to Ocarina of Time and thus, featured the most iconic Link of all as its protagonist. The Hero of Time’s last full-fledged quest before fading into obscurity was a weird one.

If Ocarina of Time took some inspiration from Peter Pan ( the children that  never grew up, and the fairies), then Majora’s Mask took inspiration from Alice in Wonder Land, as Link fell into a rabbit hole (Or tree hole) that took him to a weird parallel dimension threatened by a giant falling moon that would crash land in three days.

Stopping the Moon was the main goal, as the failure to do so would spell  an apocalyptic ending to the good (and strange) people of Termina. Nintendo Gambled big, shaking the essential time travel mechanic from the previous game into a ‘ground hog’ day scenario in which players had to repeat the 3 day cycle, over and over again in order to complete the storyline and all of the side quests.

The Masks, once used in a fun and engrossing mini game in Ocarina of Time, that served no real consequence to that game’s plot, and outcome, were now essential, and the shining gameplay mechanic in what eventually became the most refreshing Zelda game that has ever been made.

Link could transform into the main three races of Hyrule (other than Hylian), and each transformation gave him a set of new, and amazing skills that affected the gameplay in meaningful ways. A 95 Metacritic score , and 3.36 million units sold cemented the game’s place amongst Nintendo’s all time greats.

Why it deserves its ranking:

On personal preference alone, this is probably my 3rd favorite game in the series behind Ocarina and Twilight Princess.

Majora’s Mask had an impossible act to follow, after all, could Nintendo make a game that could live up to what was widely considered as the greatest game of all time in Ocarina of Time, only two years after it, and in the same hardware?

Nintendo was mindful of this, and thus set out to make a game that was as different, as it could be from Ocarina of Time, while utilizing the same engine and recycled assets for character models. The result? One of the greatest games, let alone Legend of Zelda games ever made.

Majora’s Mask wastes no time in introducing the player to its revolutionary 3 day cycle ( about 54 in game time minutes). The cycle that has to be repeated over, and over again in order to conquer the Skull Kid, and his stolen Majora’s Mask.

While Ocarina of Time is the one game utilizing the iconic ‘Ocarina’ name tag on its title, it is MM that has Link utilizing the instrument in consistent fashion all throughout the game. It is incredible how many of Ocarina’s features were expanded upon in the game.

Starting with the NPCs, if Ocarina created the perfect illusion of  living, breathing non player characters, then Majora’s gives said characters an eerie life like purpose. Of course, 20 years ago, NPC A.I. was typically non – existent. MM’s NPCs all had scripted routines, but the three-day limit set by Nintendo in the game world allowed them to carefully craft the daily routine of each NPC. Some of these NPCs even had different tasks scripted to their routine depending on the hour of the day.

Majora’s Mask is a dark game (Perhaps the darkest Zelda of all), and the implications for the characters that Link fails to save during each 3-day cycle repetition is disturbing indeed. Termina is a world approaching doomsday, but even without the Moon falling into the land, many NPCs have some serious issues that must be dealt with.

There is a sense of urgency in every playthrough, and there is sense of nostalgia that at times is unexplainable. Perhaps the reason for this, is the game’s uncanny resemblance to Ocarina of Time while taking place in a strange parallel dimension.

Majora’s also gave Link the ability to fly as a Deku Scrub, Swim with the dexterity of a dolphin, as a Zora, and move at supersonic speeds as a Goron warrior. The Masks are key to solving the 4 main dungeons, and the final 4 trials which are unlocked by collecting all the masks. Minor masks granted link several useful abilities, everything in the game seemed meticulously crafted and designed by Nintendo’s EAD.

While some will complain about the game’s shortage of dungeons (only 4), many fail to take into account that  getting to a dungeon itself took as long as a full sized Zelda dungeon, with all of the tasks that had to be accomplished in order to progress forwards. For argument’s sake, Majora’s Mask is a longer, more difficult game than Ocarina of Time.

Majora’s Mask shook the Zelda formula in ways that hasn’t been shaken since. The game is so unique, that it has aged better than any other Zelda game before it.

Mont Cessna’s Take:

I liked the N64 Ocarina of Time but couldn’t get into this one. Worth playing for Zelda fans.

Never Ending Realm rated The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask for Nintendo 64 and GameCube a 9.8/10.

Metacritic rated The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask for N64 a 95.

4) The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (GameCube, Wii) 2006

Twilight Princess
The greatly improved game engine made the world pop.

Overview:

After Wind Waker proved a bit divisive amongst Zelda fans, Nintendo heard its followers’ plight and crafted a true sequel to the ‘realistic’, and darker duet of N64 Zelda games, with the Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.

Series director Eiji Aonuma wanted a sequel to Wind Waker, and for a spell it seemed that we would get another cartoony, cel-shaded game for the GameCube, but Nintendo had other plans. Nintendo blamed Wind Waker’s pedestrian sales on its cartoony appearance ( it was probably true), and thus Twilight Princess was born.

The game was a success with critics everywhere even years before it hit store shelves. E3 2004 was legendary, as grown men cried while watching the trailer revealing the game. The positive reception and the feeling that this was the true Ocarina of Time sequel that the world had been awaiting, carried over to the game’s release date. With 8.85 million units sold Twilight Princess is the second most successful entry in the series, behind Breath of the Wild.

Twilight Princess benefitted hugely from being both the GameCube’s swan song, and the Wii’s launch killer app.

Why it deserves its ranking:

The only reason that Twilight Princess isn’t the greatest looking Zelda game at the time of its release is that it arrived at stores about 1 year, and half -late – into the GameCube’s lifecycle. By 2006 the Xbox 360 had been out for a year, and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion existed, so the games visual impact wasn’t nearly as huge as Ocarina’s had been in 1998, stil,l Twilight Princess remained a beautiful game to me, and to most critics.

While Nintendo never quite matched the visual quality of their Zelda trailer in 2000’s Space World, Twilight Princess came close enough to it, so I didn’t feel cheated by the company even if it took them 5 years to deliver on their original “realistic” Legend of Zelda promise.

Apart from feeling like a true sequel to Ocarina of Time visually, and pushing the GC hardware to the limit, Twilight Princess returned Link to the land of Hyrule and Hyrule had never been bigger. The game took place 100 years after the events of Ocarina of Time (the Child timeline) and while some of  Hyrule’s geographical locations made absolutely no sense when compared to the N64 title,  the discrepancies were forgiven as Twilight Princess expanded upon every single aspect that had made OoT the greatest game of all time.

A bigger world, a deeper set of horseback combat, more minigames, bigger and more elaborate dungeons, and amazing boss battles, rounded out this colossal sequel to Ocarina of Time.  I can also say that without a doubt in terms of story, TP was better than its predecessors. The Hero’s Shade tragically connected TP’s Link to its legendary ancestor, hinting at a darker end to the most beloved incarnation of Link than anything that we could have ever imagined.

Midna provides Link with what perhaps is the most iconic and important companion of any Zelda game apart from Navi, though unlike Navi, Midna is essential to TP’s plot. Perhaps more importantly, TP’s features the most epic battle that any Link has fought against Ganondorf/Ganon throughout the Zelda series.

Holding a 96 Metacritic score (GC), and universal critical acclaim at release, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess could easily be the number one game on this list. True story: I had just gotten a copy of Oblivion during the same week that I bought TP for my GameCube. Oblivion gorgeous as it was, and as sharp as it looked on my new 2006 HDTV at the time…sat on my shelf for months collecting dust, as Twilight Princess entranced me with its magical world in ways that no game had been able to enchant me since Ocarina of Time.

Mont Cessna’s Take:

A solid game marred by the Wii and GameCube releases. It promised a lot for the Wii-mote that ultimately wasn’t delivered and felt gimmicky. I personally hate the Wii controllers and feel like Nintendo sold out to have it run on GC as well, when it could have normalized motion controls. RIP Wii-mote, Sony Wands and Microsoft Kinect.

Never Ending Realm rated The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess for Nintendo GameCube a 10/10.

Metacritic rated The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess for GameCube a 96.

3) The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Wii U, Switch) 2017

Breath of the Wild
This game revitalized the series and showed Nintendo wasn’t completely unaware of RPG development in the West.

Overview:

Perhaps the biggest shake up in the Zelda series since Ocarina of Time broke into the 3rd dimension nearly two decades earlier. Breath of the Wild brought the series in to the modern open-world gaming scene with spectacular results. With nearly 18 million units sold, and a 97 Metacritic rating, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the highest selling game of the series and its second-best ranked game of all time.

Why it deserves its ranking:

Breath of the Wild is really a Wii U game that was released in 2017 as a cross platform game between Nintendo systems. The amazing thing about this, is that the game was released with in a week of Sony’s Horizon Zero Dawn, and a few years after The Witcher 3, and still managed to get better scores than those two games on vastly inferior hardware. BotW once again proved that Nintendo EAD, and The Legend of Zelda series remained king as far as design and gameplay were concerned in the action RPG genre.

Nintendo’s artwork in the game is fantastic, and the decision to go with a cel-shaded look for the characters was the right one, as the Wii U Hardware couldn’t really deliver the realistic visuals that were becoming prevalent within open world games. Nintendo instead focused on delivering an extremely large world, with verticality not seen since The Elder Scrolls V:  Skyrim.

Unlike every other 3-D Zelda before it, Breath of the Wild is “open” in the truest sense of the word. Once I left the starting area, I was able to tackle the game in any order that I wanted. There are no barriers hindering Link’s progress, I could even go straight towards Ganon from the get-go (though that would have been madness).

Not since Twilight Princess, had I been that impressed by a Zelda’s game visuals, and world. The lack of direction and handholding makes BotW the toughest Zelda game since A Link to the Past. The game eliminated the “themed” dungeon system for a shrine system consisting of a 120 shrines scattered all over the world (some hidden incredibly well), the completion of these shrines is necessary for heart and stamina upgrades, though the completion of all 120 shrines is not necessary to finish the game.

The Shrine system allowed Nintendo to craft some of the toughest, most brilliantly designed puzzles that the entire series has ever seen, as failure to complete said puzzles would not keep the player from completing the game.

What separates Breath of the Wild from other modern open world games is the amazing physics-based system which encourages players to experiment with different elements in the environment, in order to accomplish certain goals. Your creativity is the limit in this game in terms of tackling certain tasks.

Complete with the DLC,  I spent about 125 hours in the game, which the most that I have ever spent in a game not named Skyrim or Ocarina of Time. I enjoyed every hour of it.

Breath of the Wild does have some flaws…mainly in its storytelling. While the game is the first voice acted entry in the series, it is also the one with thinnest plot. Thinner still, if you don’t go out of your way to seek out all of Link’s lost memories. I feel that an opportunity was missed here, but Nintendo has always stressed gameplay over storytelling in this series, and the lore present in the game is rich (if you know where to look).

Breath of the Wild offered the most polished modern open world experience that I have ever played, and while it is not perfect, and some 3-D mainstays of the series were removed (no first person shooting, and underwater exploration) it is the bravest and boldest that Zelda has been made since Ocarina of Time, and it is perhaps Nintendo’s most ambitious game ever.

Mont Cessna’s Take:

I haven’t played it yet, so I can’t give an opinion. But… I also don’t want to buy a Nintendo Switch yet because of the Joy-Con drift issue.

Never Ending Realm rated The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for Nintendo Switch a 10/10.

Metacritic rated The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for Nintendo Switch a 97.

2) The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past ( Super Nintendo Entertainment System) 1991

A Link to the Past
A masterpiece of 2D, action RPGs.

Overview:

With over 4 million copies sold worldwide, A Link to the Past found much deserved commercial success upon its arrival in 1991. With a 92 Gamerankings rating (Metacritic did not track that far back) it was also a well-received game (critically speaking) by magazine reviewers everywhere. The game marked a return to the top down view, puzzle driven style of play that was first pioneered by the original game in the series.

A Link to the Past has been regarded in an even better light retroactively. Like Ocarina of Time, the game is prominently featured at the top of lists ranking the best games of all time.

Why it deserves its ranking:

While A Link to the Past wasn’t as revolutionary as the original NES game, it did flesh out its story better, and did polish the mechanics introduced in the first game to near perfection while adding many Action RPG staples that would inspire a series of clones. Even Ocarina of Time, at times really feels like a reimagining of ALttP in 3-D.

The Dark World concept was new, and refreshing at the time. Having to constantly switch between worlds in order to solve puzzles was a brilliant design idea that was executed to perfection. A Link to the Past offered a bit more freedom in terms of how you wanted to accomplish the tackling of Dungeons than Ocarina of Time ( in which you had to follow a linear approach), as the latter game required certain items that you had to get in a certain pre established order,  to unlock the path ways to subsequent dungeons.

In terms of 2-D design, there is not another action RPG apart from A Link’s Awakening, and 1997’s Alundra that has come close to the game’s brilliance. As stated before, ALttP introduced a deeper lore and story to the series than previous entries, it even had two villains, and some memorable NPCs, even if technology didn’t allow them to have the endearing personalities of Ocarina of Time’s set of non-playable characters.

A marvelous ending, and amazing score complemented the game, making it one of the more epic experiences that one could have enjoyed during the SNES era. A Link to the Past is certainly deserving of a top 3 spot on any top Legend of Zelda list. It wasn’t as revolutionary as Ocarina of Time, but it was a more challenging experience which would be enough for some people to place it ahead of the N64’s masterpiece.

Mont Cessna’s Take:

It’s the best Zelda. I played on SNES and Game Boy. A pure classic that inspired countless imitations and created the 2D, top-down action RPG genre.

Metacritic rated The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past for Nintendo Game Boy Advanced a 95.

1) The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Nintendo 64) 1998

Link Plays Ocarina
True Zelda fans get a chill down their spine from this picture.

Overview:

The Legend of Zelda series made its jump into 3-D gaming with The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.  In a near-flawless effort that set the bases that all future action adventure games would follow, Ocarina of Time arrived at store shelves to near universal critical acclaim. The game’s 99 Rating has held the Metacritic record for 22 years.

Ocarina of Time pushed console hardware in ways that it hadn’t before, offering a seamless “open” (at least the illusion of it) world at the time, and a varied amount of extracurricular activities for gamers to partake in, while they were not engaged in the main – story –  quest.

Nintendo’s EAD masterpiece sold 7.6 million units, an impressive number in a console generation in which Nintendo struggled to compete with newcomer Sony in terms of home console sales.

Why it deserves its ranking:

Did I mention its 99 Metacritic Rating? The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time does not only deserve recognition as the greatest Zelda game of all time, but perhaps, it also deserves recognition as the greatest video game of all-time bar none.

Other Zelda games have been made after Ocarina of Time, and they have expanded upon what the initial 3-D entry did. However, no Zelda game has ever done as much to push the series forwards, and perhaps video gaming in general as Ocarina of Time did at the time of its release.

In 1998, Ocarina of Time, was the holy grail of gaming. There are three other contenders for its spot on this list: A Link to the Past, Breath of the Wild, and Twilight Princess. Neither of those titles was as impressive at the time of their release as Ocarina of Time was in 1998.

Ocarina of Time was a graphical revelation during its heyday. The day and night cycle, real light sources, gigantic 3-D world, its character modeling and animation, and the list can go on and on, are things that Ocarina did graphically that were either new, at the time, or were unique to the game itself.

By contrast, Breath of the Wild in 2017, while a terrific showcase of the Wii U’s hardware, and an artistically beautiful game, did not break any new ground in terms of visuals and was surpassed in visual fidelity ( by a large margin) by contemporary games within its own genre like The Witcher 3 and Horizon Zero Dawn. So, there has never been a more impressive Zelda game in terms of visuals at the time of its release than The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

Truth be told, part of the reason why Ocarina was such as stunning game came as a byproduct of the fact that the N64 was the most powerful console of its era (a distinction that the Wii U and the Switch do not share), and that 3-D was relatively a new, and unexplored arena during the mid-nineties, thus allowing Ocarina of Time to pioneer an experience unlike any other at release.

Which brings us to a Link to the Past, as some feel this is the superior Zelda, yet in 1991 while A Link to the Past was considered a great game, it was not necessarily a revolutionary one. A Link to the Past has some of the best design in the series in terms of dungeons, and it is the greatest 2-D Zelda ever made. If you want to talk about a challenge, yes, ALttP is a more difficult game than Ocarina of Time ( which was  plagued by  tutorial after tutorial, as Nintendo apparently didn’t trust its fan base to get the gist of a 3-D Zelda on their own).

Still, one could say that the dungeon design in Ocarina was as masterful, and as such, the difference between Ocarina and ALttP in this list came down to my personal preference to 3-D gaming, and Ocarina of Time presenting a magical world in 1998 that hasn’t been captured before or since by any other video game in existence.

Other game play innovations included the ability to shoot arrows and Deku seeds in first person mode, an ability that was lost in Breath of the Wild. The ability to explore a diverse number of underwater environments, something that wasn’t possible on ALttP, and an ability that was missing in Breath of the Wild.

While Horse Riding has become a standard feature in games today (especially in games that take place in fantasy and old historical settings); the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time did it first. It didn’t just introduce the gameplay mechanic to video games, but it did it in style.  Nintendo pioneering certain gameplay innovations in Ocarina of Time, and nailing said mechanics on the first try is a recurring theme throughout the game.

Riding Epona felt magical, but so did walking around Hyrule field on foot. There isn’t a single thing that I can think of that Ocarina of Time could have done better in 1998 in terms of controls, and overall gameplay.

There were certain mini games added to the franchise too. Games like the beloved fishing game. The Fishing mini game in Ocarina of Time was so good, that it probably would have sold a few million copies as a stand-alone game had Nintendo decided to release it separately.  The fact that such a deep game is included within the overall experience that was Ocarina’s Hyrule, just shows the level of dedication and attention to detail present in the game. Nothing in 1998 came close.

I could write a 10,000 word article on Ocarina of Time’s innovations to gameplay as a 3-D action adventure/RPG, but for the article’s sake I will move on to the one area often neglected when discussing the game’s importance within the Zelda franchise.

Ocarina of Time was the first Zelda to have a properly fleshed out story, with many interesting NPC characters that felt alive in its game world. I never quite felt that ALttP  for example, had a functioning society in it, granted that the game was a major leap from the first Zelda in terms story, it just didn’t grip me in the same ways that Ocarina would eventually mesmerize my imagination.

Ocarina had a functioning world, and while its NPCs were all scripted, the nature of the game made them feel like they were alive, and it was always pleasant to go to each NPC at different points in the game to see what they had to say. It felt good to help them out, whether it was collecting chickens, or breaking a Skulltula curse on a family, I was always immersed in the game’s world.

Important NPCs and Side questing is a common staple of gaming today, and in the 90s JRPGS, and action RPGs did feature a collection of NPCs, but none captured my imagination in the way that Saria, Malon, Talon, Ingo, Big Goron, Princess Ruto, etc. did.

Ocarina of Time had a fully 3-D functional world, and no other console game before it did, that in itself made Ocarina a special game. I can keep rambling about how amazing the Ocarina – the instrument itself – was in terms of both a gameplay device and an actual virtual musical instrument. About the jaw dropping transformation that both; Hyrule and Link himself endure when transitioning from child to adult. About the vast collection of minigames that yielded heart pieces and other important items. About how Nintendo perfected 3-D combat with their innovative ‘Z Targeting’ system on its first try. But perhaps I will leave the readers with this quote by the man behind the most successful video gaming series (behind Nintendo’s Mario) in Grand Theft Auto:

“Anyone who makes 3-D games who says they’ve not borrowed something from Mario or Zelda [on the Nintendo 64] is lying.”-Dan Houser (2012)

Yeah, Ocarina of Time is the father of the modern open world genre, games these days don’t play any differently than Ocarina did back in 1998, and no game will ever have the same impact until we transition into the “4th Dimension” of gaming, which might happen when someone finally gets Virtual Reality right.

Mont Cessna’s Take:

I still remember playing for the first time at Toys ‘R Us as a kid. My mom had to drag me away from the N64 when it was time to leave. It’s a classic and helped make 3rd person games a thing. Play it, if you haven’t already.

Never Ending Realm rated The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for Nintendo 64 and GameCube a 10/10.

Metacritic rated The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for N64 a 99.

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We rank The Legend of Zelda games from worst to best. Agree with the analysis? Disagree? Let us know why! The list order might surprise you.

Posted by Never Ending Realm on Tuesday, July 28, 2020

 


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By Samuel Rivera

Avid Video Game player, and Book Reader. Samuel has been playing video games for the last 31 years. He has played nearly every PS1 JRPG known to man, and loves Ocarina of Time more than any other game.