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Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Editorial: Home Console Legend of Zelda Games, Ranked Worst to Best.

Editorial: Home Console Legend of Zelda Games
Ranked Worst to Best.

It's time to court some delicious controversy, because if there's one topic that makes gamers irrationally angry, it's differences in opinion over the quality of Zelda games.

For this editorial's remit, the clue is in the title: The ten Legend of Zelda home console games, ranked from worst to best. For the purposes of this editorial, I'm not counting side games (like Link's Crossbow Training), because, honestly, why would I.

Remember, this is just my opinion, but equally, my opinion is always objectively correct always. So there is that.

8. The Legend of Zelda & Zelda II: The Adventure of Link.

Honestly, these two are bottom of the list on a technicality. As the earliest games in the series, they are automatically disadvantaged by being, in fact, older than I -- a reviewer with limited regard for nostalgia or old classics -- am.

Born of the very early days of gaming, they're (for blisteringly obvious reasons) less technically impressive than the games that came after them, and with far less detailed and interesting stories to boot. They're the foundation of the rest of the franchise, but ultimately that means in a straight up head-to-head with their peers, they don't have the benefits of the technological and storytelling improvements the franchise accrued over time.

So at number eight, the first two games in the franchise: Good for their time, but not up to snuff today.

7. The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures.

I know people who say they really love this game, and for that they shall go to Hell for the sin of lying.

Okay, maybe that's a little harsh. Four Swords Adventures is a good game, with an interesting villain in the form of wind mage Vaati (which certainly makes a nice change from Ganondorf), and an at least somewhat interesting four-person schtick. Ironically, it's in that last departure from form that all of my problems with the game begin.

Look, I don't know three other people who enjoy The Legend of Zelda. I don't even know three other people who don't enjoy The Legend of Zelda! I am dreadfully, relentlessly alone, which means that if I want to play Four Swords Adventures, I must do so with its awkward, afterthought single player interface, as Link's multitude of clone friends taunt me with their very presence.

Not cool, man. Not cool.

6. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.

Skyward Sword is not a bad game, if taken in the context of the wider games industry. Against other games that came out in the same year, it holds up remarkably well, boasting an interesting graphical style, usually good gameplay, and a fairly well-written story.

It just doesn't hold up well against other Legend of Zelda games.

Coming after Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask, The Wind Waker, and Twilight Princess, Skyward Sword combines an unremarkable and unrefined take on key gameplay features from its predecessors, with awkwardly implemented new gameplay features (like the mandatory Wiimote usage that fails to register your movement until approximately four days after the fact), and actual steps backwards in a few cases (like taking the semi-open worlds of all its predecessors and instead making Hyrule extremely modular).

Also, Fi gets on my nerves. Yes, I know there's an 89% chance that I'm being attacked by Mokoblins, Fi, one of them just gored Link while I was waiting for him to swing his sword. Also, who thought the Imprisoned was a good recurring boss? Evidently the people who made Hyrule Warriors since he shows up in that as well.

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

People talk a lot about how Ocarina of Time is the game where the franchise became what it is today -- and it is, that's true, but many of the features that marked Ocarina of Time out began their lives in A Link to the Past.

A prequel to the first two games, A Link to the Past would pioneer the more in-depth and detailed storytelling that would become a hallmark of the series, the mode-switching mechanic that would later give rise to Ocarina of Time's time travel mechanic, and even introduces lore ideas like the Seven Sages.

Much moreso than the two games that preceded it, A Link to the Past sets the tone for the entire franchise -- and on top of that, it's actually a really good game, a stellar example of 2D hack-and-slashers that revolutionised the genre.

4. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

Okay, I'm just going to say it: Ocarina of Time is not that interesting.

Is it well put together from a technical standpoint? Sure. Does it have a story that, while it doesn't interest me much, certainly captured the imaginations of not only fans but later writers for the series? Also certainly true. Did it kick off a whole era of games that have been innovative and enjoyable? Definitely.

Does it interest me even slightly when I play it? No. No, it does not do that thing.

3. The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask & The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.

It is difficult to decide which one of these is better than the other, because a lot of it comes down to very subjective taste.

Majora's Mask is, on a technical level, a more competently put together game, with more satisfying pacing, more evenly distributed (if also fewer, I think) dungeons, and a more complete feel. It's also stunning on a conceptual level, earning its place as the darkest Zelda game with a storyline and tone that brims with oppressive menace.

Wind Waker, however, is gorgeous to look at, usually well-balanced, a truly original reinvention of the franchise into what is essentially a pirate epic, and executes its big gameplay feature -- sailing about the expansive semi-open world -- with aplomb.

So it comes down largely to personal preference, and on that, I'd say Wind Waker edges out Majora's Mask -- but there are plenty of people who wouldn't agree.

2. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

I wasn't sure about this one. Truth be told, while I do think Breath of the Wild is better than Wind Waker or Majora's Mask, I hold that it's better only by the tiniest of margins, and that most of the advantages it has over those two are, in essence, cribbed from Twilight Princess.

Nevertheless -- and even taking into account some of the game's glaring flaws -- I do hold it to be the second best home console game in the franchise, with a sharp and colourful art style, an intriguing storyline that plays well against Skyward Sword by contrasting 'the distant past' with 'the distant future,' and which re-contextualises several key elements of the franchise, and with gameplay that is usually pretty strong.

Breath of the Wild takes a lot of risks by veering away from established formula, and while not all of those risks pay off, I would rather the franchise take risks than always play it safe.

Also, I just really love Link's design in this one.

1. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. 

This was always going to take the top spot.

Twilight Princess blows all of its competitors out of the water, as a very nearly perfect Legend of Zelda game on both a technical and storytelling level, but what really gets me about it is that it feels epic. From start to finish, its story and gameplay are pitched so that you feel like you're on an epic fantasy adventure, to the point where I'd call it a model of what a high fantasy epic should be like.

But perhaps key to its success is that it takes ideas from earlier games and remodels them into something new and better. Its general tone, aesthetic, and story beats are reworked versions of Ocarina of Time's; its gameplay takes the best of Ocarina of Time's and The Wind Waker's; and the oppressive air of the Twilight Realm and the escalating stakes as the story goes on take tonal cues from Majora's Mask.

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