A debate that really has an endless amount of discussion going around it would be which is the best Zelda game of all time. When this question gets asked, I’m always a little nervous to answer it at the risk of forgetting which games I truly enjoyed the most. Well, I finally sat down and put a lot of thought into how I would rank the five 3D Zelda games. Don’t worry, I’ll tell you why I’ve placed each game where I did. Keep in mind it’s been awhile since I’ve played skyward sword, so my memory on it is a little fuzzy.
The Legend of Zelda : Skyward Sword
This isn’t a very controversial opinion, but I honestly had a really hard time putting this game at the bottom of the list. I loved skyward sword to death when I played through it, and I can’t wait to give it another go on stream really soon. The art style was a strange compromise between wind waker and twilight princess, almost as if Nintendo was saying “Please don’t be mad at this”. That being said,I loved the way gentle and interesting way the art style portrayed much of the world, and seeing the world at the start of the timeline was an amazing experience.
Skyward Sword did a lot more right than people give it credit for. Let’s start with pure gameplay, as that’s where many people’s complaints will stem from. I’ll say it; the motion controls were clunky at times. Sword fighting could be uncooperative with the Wii motion plus controls. We all know it, so we won’t waste time talking about it. The one thing I do have to say is that while the motion controls were poorly executed for sword fighting, the concept was excellent. Slicing enemies from the correct directions was a great interactive concept and added a new level of depth to the Zelda swordplay we all know and love. Nintendo is all about trying new things, they just didn’t hit the nail quite on the head with this one.
That being said, Skyward Sword was still and great game. The reason it lands in spot #5 is because it had the potential to be so much better than it was. We were given a vast world in the sky to explore, but almost nothing to do inside of it. Wind Waker at least had interesting islands around the vast ocean you had to explore. The side-questing in Skyward Sword was very lackluster, and left almost nothing to do for the Zelda fan who takes the most enjoyment from the little things in the game, like selling masks to people or mapping out the ocean. Throw that in with the constant handholding, and you have a 95% chance that I’m going to be placing skyward sword at the bottom of my list.
The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker
It’s hard to place Wind Waker this low in the list, it really is. I won’t lie to you, when wind waker was announced and I got that tech demo disc with a little bit of the dragon roost island dungeon on it, I was livid. “Where is my cool adult link!”. “Why is he so cartoony!”. “WHY IS THERE A GIGANTIC OCEAN!”. I blame my closed mindedness at my young age at the time, as I think I was about 10 to 13 years old when it was originally released. The art style is charming, and the emotion you can see through links face has us relating to link in ways we never really could before. It made him much more human. You weren’t a legendary hero yet. Just a little boy who wore some green clothes because it made his grandma happy.
But boy, Wind Waker ended up being an amazing adventure. If you’re a fan of exploration and a huge, yet connected world, Wind Waker is going to be a great time for you. It offers so much to do, whether you decide that you want to go collect charms for the school teacher, sail the seas growing the deku tree saplings, or finding the scattered fairy fountains. There’s more to do in that ocean than you could ever expect, and it makes it amazing.
The music in Wind Waker is some of the best music in the series. The whole soundtrack captures the spirit of the game and the mood of the islands and ocean perfectly. If the exciting yet calming music when sailing the seas and the happy-go-lucky tune of windfall island don’t have you tapping your foot, you have to be an emotionless robot. Not to mention how good of a job they did with the HD remake, improving not only visuals but slightly reworking the music too.
The thing that makes me place Wind Waker at 4th on this list is the fact that Wind Waker was incomplete. The sailing could get tedious when you were trying to simply get to your objectives. Placing pearls at the 3 islands was a headache, but nothing compared to the fetch quest that was thrown in instead of the extra two dungeons that were originally intended. The game definitely concludes with an amazing final fight, a lot of great twists and story elements, and fresh and exciting combat mechanics, but the lull in the middle has been disheartening enough to stop even the most loyal of Zelda fans from finishing the game.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
I’m sure this is a big surprise to many people, but unfortunately, it’s the cold hard truth. As fantastic of a game as Ocarina of Time is, it’s going to be taking third place in this list.
If you’re anything like me (and like, 99% of the gaming population) you cherish OOT as your most beloved video game adventure. For this list I wanted to do the best I could to make sure I kept my nostalgia glasses out of the equation. So let’s talk about Ocarina of Time.
There are so many iconic moments in this game that you could talk about it for ages, so I’ll try and go over some bigger points. First of all, the world. Yes, the first 3D Zelda world we got to explore. I won’t go as far as to say that they nailed it, because I feel there was a lot of unused potential on the map. Hyrule Field was enormous, yet there was very little to actually see and do inside of it. Lake Hylia had a lot of unexplored potential, as it was mostly empty with very little reason to ever go back there. For every bit of unused exploration potential however, the game definitely made up with in story, gameplay, and flavor.
Story wise, we got everything you could want for the flagship 3D adventure game that OOT was. There were so many characters with rich pasts, where the game gave you just enough information on them to be able to understand them and begin forming your own back story. For example, the mysterious shiekah people remain one of the most interesting concepts introduced in OOT, and even to this day we still don’t know much about them other than their mission to protect the royal family. Yet, the shadow temple and the events leading up to it involving shiek give us enough to work with to start wondering about the mysterious people. It’s flavorful world development like this that makes the story in OOT great.
Gameplay wise, It’s the foundation for 3D Zelda games. As it is with most things, newer iterations of a system are typically going to be better than older ones, and that holds true with Zelda. Ocarina of time introduced us to the wonderful world of Z-targeting and timing oriented combat, but as the games go on they continue to progress on and improve this system. Majora’s mask gave us our transformations, WW gave us our counter moves, Twilight Princess gave us hidden moves, and Skyward Sword went and tried something brand new with 1 to 1 motion combat.
Overall, OOT trailblazed the road for the other Zelda games, and honestly it did so much right that we could talk about it for ages. It was Links first adventure in a 3D world, and having to rethink how all of his trusty items would work was a daunting task that Nintendo nailed right on the head. For being such an amazing experience from beginning to end OOT lands a spot at 3rd place, leaving 1st and 2nd for the games that take what OOT did and build onto it in the best ways
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
Twilight Princess is what I and so many others consider the sequel to OOT. It builds off the same world, has throwbacks for days, and again, it takes and only improves on what OOT did. Twilight Princess had some of the most entertaining gameplay mechanics, including doge link and the plethora of combat moves you could learn. But the reason twilight princess shines so bright among the other Zelda games lies in 3 things. The captivating story, the amazingly well done environments, and Midna.
Twilight Princess had a story that always left me wanting to keep pushing forward. I’m someone who likes to stop and smell the roses. I want to go break pots, gather heart pieces, and do dumb stuff in the field. But not in Twilight Princess. In Twilight Princess, we have too much to do! Right from the start, you’re left chasing your friends into the woods to protect them from danger. From that point on there are very few moments where I felt I had the luxury of taking a break and exploring. As bad as that sounds, it’s intended as a praise of the game. I cared so much about the characters and the world, and I wanted to watch them both grow and unfold before me. I didn’t have time to catch bugs, I was too captivated by what Zant was going to do next!
The urgency I felt playing through TP did not stop the exploration fully, however. I feel like TP took all of the interesting characters and races from OOT, and gave them so much more character. The goron on death mountain enjoying their hot springs and sumo matches with their warrior lifestyle really gave a stronger identity to the rock eating rolling bros. You can say the same thing about the Zora, with their new design and colony at the top of a waterfall. I felt like I was able to identify with the races a lot better and understand more of what they’re about, rather than just playing diving games with them for some scales. The new race design, complemented by the rich environments they were placed in satisfied my hunger for exploring without having me actually stray from the main quest.
The reason TP gets a spot as high as second is mostly due to the sassy goodness that is Midna. Midna has an extremely playful charm to her. Right from the get go, she’s teasing and taunting you. It’s aggravating, but you find yourself wanting more. As you go on with this character, she becomes much more than a helper companion that simply tells you where your next objective is. You watch her change from a spunky brat who’s just out to get what she wants to a desperate ally looking out for the best interest of her, her people, and you (because link and Midna are totally meant for eachother). Not to mention the heart wrenching ending scene. The gameplay, story and atmosphere made this game a great one, but Midna pushed it from great to legendary. That’s why twilight princess deserves such a high spot on this list.
The legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
If you’ve watched me stream or even know the slightest bit about me, you saw this #1 spot coming a mile away. I love this game so much it hurts. I stood up in front of my university speech class in my third year and talked for 7 minutes about this game. I’ve played through it countless times, and each time it’s just as amazing as the last. Not only does this game have one of the most unique feels that any Zelda game has offered us, but it also has some of the most entertaining gameplay the series has to offer.
Let’s start off purely talking about the game mechanics. Majora’s Mask, as silly as this might sound considering virtually every asset in the game is recycled, is the ultimate presentation of how the right creative approach can make a game legendary. Think about it. OOT gave us the foundation for Majora’s Mask. It’s as close as a game could be to an expansion of OOT (excluding master quest). The developers realized that if they’re going to be reusing the same visuals and engine, they needed to make the game special in its own way. What was their solution? Adding 24 masks that modify change how you interact with the world.
These masks have ranging effects like leading dogs and birds, staying up all night, or transforming into a fish man. Put 24 of these badboys in the game and now you have yourself enough to throw an interesting twist onto an already amazingly crafted game. The masks opened up so many new possibilities for puzzles for us to solve, and each one interacts in a very special and unique way with at least one aspect of the world. There were interactions I didn’t even learn about until my 5th playthrough, which is the kind of detail I love to see in a game.
A solid foundation of game mechanics makes a game really good, but what really makes Majora’s Mask the best 3D Zelda game is literally every other part of it. The music, the visuals, the mood, the story, and the impending doom make Majora’s Mask the masterpiece it is. I could go in depth on so much of this game to talk about what makes it so great, so I’ll do my best to keep it short. The reason this game is so great is because it leaves so much up to you.
Majora’s Mask forces you to care about the world. People are gonna die in 3 days, man. You wander around clock town and the other regions watching these people panic and struggle through hardships. You explore and make connections with so many different characters and people, and try your absolute hardest to make their lives better. Once you finally do, you’re forced to undo all of that good will and put them back into their shitty situations when you restart time. There are so many people that need saving, and there is such a small amount of time. It’s overwhelming, and that’s awesome. We should feel overwhelmed. The moon is literally falling. You’re forced to choose between who you want to save for a lot of the game, and that kind of decision hits hard even when the characters are fictional.
Majora’s Mask is a masterpiece of storytelling through gaming, and that’s what gives it its number one spot. It’s all about letting you piece the story together through your exploration. You get a richer experience by spending more time talking to people, learning about them, and solving their problems. The fact that you know everything about these people after you restart time leaves you with a weird sense of hopelessness. Every emotion I feel when I play this game feels like it’s the product of my own sense of adventure rather than a game putting me on tracks to experience a story. The world truly felt like it was changing around me based on my every move, and getting that feeling from a game that was almost an afterthought is an incredible achievement. So because of the sheer depth there is to Majora’s Mask (and a little bit of personal bias), it’s going to creep up and take the crown for best 3d Zelda game yet.
I’d love to see what your lists are like, so tell me a little bit about your order in the comment section!