Hey! Listen! I had to, sorry. If you ask anyone with knowledge of gaming what the best Zelda title is, most will say Ocarina of Time without even thinking twice. It’s understandable. Ocarina of Time still sits atop virtually all cumulative ratings sites and has managed to stay relevant long after the console it was built for has faded.
That said (or typed, as it were), is Ocarina of Time actually the best Zelda title? Or has it just become something of a sacred cow among gamers? A situation where it’s so renowned that we proclaim it the best without actually giving the question of another Zelda game being better any consideration. This was raised on my Twitter feed recently:
If you aren’t following Spoony Spoonicus, do so now.
By my count, there are around 17 titles I’ve come up with in what I consider mainstream Zelda games. The less said about the CDi games, the better.
For the sake of this blog post, I’m only going to concentrate on the following three: A Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, and Twilight Princess. A few notes on omitted titles:
– The Legend of Zelda (NES): It is a classic, but is also the first. It’s an iconic game, but it’s hard to argue that it’s better than an Ocarina of Time or Skyward Sword. Mega Man is iconic as well, but Mega Man 2 & 3, surpass it easily. The same is true here.
– Majora’s Mask (N64): Great game, but it feels like an expansion to Ocarina of Time. It has never felt as revolutionary or had the same “Wow” factor that Ocarina of Time had.
– The Wind Waker (GCN): More than virtually any other Zelda title, it has divided fans since its release. I admire what Nintendo did with the title, but feel it just has too many faults (such as the mundane sailing sections).
You may disagree with the above, but this is totally subjective. I feel that if we are naming the top three Zelda titles, the three I’ve picked out would probably sit at the top of most people’s list.
The case for A Link to the Past:
Prior to this game being released, Zelda was a known franchise for Nintendo, but was considered no more important than a Metroid or Kid Icarus. With A Link to the Past, Nintendo delivered an adventure that would become timeless, and would define what The Legend of Zelda was for years to come. It’s influence can be felt in games as new as Skyward Sword. It has this legacy because, frankly, it’s just an extremely well developed game. The controls are spot on, the progression of the game is perfect, and the open world lets you explore, but never leaves you lost for very long. It lets you progress at your own pace, but doesn’t let you wonder into an area you aren’t prepared for, largely by using the Metroid tactic of requiring new power-ups to progress to new areas. A Link to the Past is the kind of game you play, and then wonder if you were going to make the perfect game, is there anything you would do differently from what Nintendo did with A Link to the Past.
The case for Ocarina of Time:
Did I mention influence above? If A Link to the Past was influential, then Ocarina of Time was genre-defining. For the first time, Hyrule became more than a flat map that you could explore up and down, left to right. Hyrule became alive with fields, towns, volcanoes, new races/species, and more secrets than I could ever list here. It’s battle system became a standard not just for future Zelda titles, but many other 3-D based adventure and action games. The lock-on targeting mechanic completely (well, almost completely) solved the issue of losing your foe in a 3-D world. Aside from the 3-D design and groundbreaking controls, Ocarina of Time delivered one of the most epic stories ever seen on any system. You would follow Link from childhood through a time warp that would see Hyrule devastated and Ganondorf all powerful. Familiar areas would be radically changed, and areas that were once bustling were now home to the slowly shuffling, yet terrifying, redeads. For me, this was the first Zelda title to pack an emotional punch, as characters you’d come to know from the first portion of the game, were suddenly missing or facing dire circumstances once you emerged from the time warp. A Link to the Past introduced a myriad of characters, but it wasn’t until Ocarina of Time that those characters actually had a life of their own.
The Case for Twilight Princess
While Twilight Princess launched for both the Wii and Gamecube, the only differences were a map flip and some aiming and waggle put into the Wii version. Twilight Princess feels very familiar, but at the same time, still manages to carve its own path. Taking a cue from Ocarina of Time, enemy targeting is present, as is the presence of two adventures (as in, you complete one set of temples, only to be sent on a second quest). Twilight includes many items we’ve seen before, but introduces a few we haven’t, or allows us to use familiar items in different ways. In many ways, Twilight Princess feels like a game that takes Ocarina of Time, updates the graphics, and then throws in a whole bag of new ideas, but then virtually all Zelda titles can make that claim, so this is nothing unique. What truly sets Twilight Princess apart is the sharper graphical style, which we haven’t seen in a Zelda title since, as well as dungeon design and more character development. More than once, I found myself working through a temple that I wasn’t even aware was a temple. A neat surprise to a Zelda veteran that is used to defined entrances and such. As for characters, Midna is one of the best characters to come out of a Zelda game since Sheik, and has remained quite popular, while Zant served as quite an interesting villain for the majority of the game. All of this, and I haven’t even mentioned the Wolf dynamic. Twilight Princess worked as both a swan song for the Gamecube, as well as a launch title for the Wii, and for both audiences, it delivered an amazing experience.
So, is Ocarina of Time the best Zelda title?
In my opinion, I don’t believe it is. I believe that that title has to be given to Twilight Princess, which is, frankly, a surprise to me. See, for years now, I’ve championed A Link to the Past as the top Zelda title, but as I was writing this blog, and truly started to compare the games, I realized that as amazing a game as A Link to the Past is, I believe that I actually enjoyed Twilight Princess more. I may not know the game world in and out as I did A Link to the Past or Ocarina of Time, but that shouldn’t be a knock against Twilight Princess. Twilight Princess, for me, has become the apex of what a Zelda title is capable of. It strikes a perfect balance of gameplay, design, and pacing, and although I’m not one to champion graphics, still looks incredibly good for a title that was designed for the Gamecube, two generations ago.
I think many people will disagree with this blog, which is fine, it’s all opinion anyway. Arguing over these titles is like arguing over winning $50 million in the lottery or $55 million. You really can’t lose. I do believe though, that the reason Ocarina of Time is still held up so highly is partly due to the fact that it was the first to do what Zelda titles have been doing since. We don’t want to diminish the title that came first, so we continue to champion it as the best, even though it’s perfectly fine to champion it, and then believe that a sequel did what it did a bit better, and is therefore a better game. Now, the other reason Ocarina of Time is still held in such high regard is just that it’s a damn good game and, whether you put in at the top of Zelda titles or behind a few, that’s not going to change.
Also, I reserve the right to switch back to A Link to the Past upon replaying it. Again.
Clever Links/Random Thoughts Title Here
– So I let this blog go stagnant for a few months. I really had few ideas to write about, and essentially no free time to write about the ideas I did have. Now that I’m moved and have adapted to being self-employed, I’m hopeful that my blog posts will pick back up.
– HeavyMachineGames has a great read regarding the length of games, and how shorter games aren’t a bad thing.
– SNES A Day has posted reviews to two of my favorite Super NES titles: Claymates and SimEarth (which I actually played on a PC).
– Speaking of Zelda titles, Nintenlo of And Then She Games took on A Link to the Past in her latest That’s a Wrapfeature.
– United We Game is asking for everyone to contribute their thoughts on what exactly a video game is. A question I’m not 100% sure I could even answer.
Brandon Nicholson is a blogger for TMRzoo.com and the founder of Just Another Video Game Blog and covers all gaming consoles and platforms including Sony Playstation 3 and PS4, Microsoft XBOX One and XBOX 360, Nintendo Wii, Sony PSP and computer games designed for Mac OS, Microsoft Windows and Linux operating systems. Brandon provides his readers with reviews, previews, release dates and up to date gaming industry news, trailers and rumors.