In Part 1, I described the motivations behind what would become a goal of completing every console-based title in the The Legend of Zelda series before the release of Skyward Sword the weekend before Thanksgiving. In this entry, I give a brief review of my experience playing each of these games.
The Legend of Zelda
Sitting down and playing the Legend of Zelda for the first time in 20 years was pure, concentrated joy. I was amazed at both how much I remembered and how little I remembered. I still remembered the location of every heart container, and the locations of all the hidden rupees. I had no trouble navigating inside the dungeons–the secret passageways and bomb-doors were all easily found without effort. However…what blew me away was how TERRIBLE I was at the game.
I got killed. Over and over and over.
I am willing to consider the possibility that playing the game using a WiiMote (instead of an original NES controller) contributed to the problem, but I really struggled to survive long in rooms full of Darknuts, Wizzrobes, or other stronger enemies. Maybe I’m just 31 years old and don’t have the reflexes I once did. In any case, the challenge of the game was refreshing for me–after realizing that I still knew where everything was, I was a bit disappointed and feared that I would just blow through the game with no effort at all.
Though 25 years have passed since it was released, the Legend of Zelda still held up as a fun game. The graphics are obviously horrible relative to what we see today, and Link’s inability to walk in diagonal lines would probably drive modern gamers crazy, but these aspects of the game just made me feel warm and cozy inside, like eating Thanksgiving at your grandmother’s house, despite a sneaking feeling that she’s kind of a crappy cook.
Trying to identify what is best about the original title in the Zelda series is tricky, because it’s really just describing the hallmarks of the entire series: wide-open terrain, non-linear plots, myriad different foes, items, and dungeons filled with puzzles and hidden secrets. Still, if I had to identify one single awesomeness–one that has never been duplicated in any title since–it is the Wand. I loved having the dual-threat of the Master Sword and the Wand–you could shoot from anywhere on the screen, and it made that awesome whooshing sound. epic.
It almost seems like sacrilege to criticize anything in the original, but in this game we find the beginning of something that has plagued all Zelda titles (jury still out on Skyward Sword): easy bosses. Doesn’t matter who the boss is, the strategy is the same: Run around and stab it/bomb it/shoot it three times, and it will die. A bit easy, a bit repetitive, and a bit anti-climactic, given the challenging nature of the dungeons themselves.
Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
Being able to play this game on the Wii’s VC was fantastic, because this game represented something of a sore spot for me: Other than the original Zelda, its sequel, the Adventure of Link, is the only title in the series that I played as a child. However, after a couple of weeks, the game cartridge inexplicably stopped working and no amount of blowing, tapping, or other oft-used fixes worked to restore its life. Worse still, the game stopped functioning while I was in the final dungeon in the game, meaning that Adventure remained one of those few titles I had failed to conquer, despite setting my mind to it (Castlevania being the best example of another such game).
Although many fans of the Zelda series vehemently disagree with me on this title, I am actually a huge fan of Adventure. The game departed significantly from the original, including the use of side-scrolling dungeons and fight scenes, separate forms of gameplay for the overworld and underworld, and Link’s ability to use magic and jump on demand. I enjoyed all of these things, while acknowledging that the two-dimensional side-scrolling was a little bit less “free” than the top-down view from its predecessor.
Neverthless, in my view the reason that Adventure stands out from all of the other titles in the series is that it is genuinely hard. Link dies–a lot. Some of the enemies and bosses remain the most challenging in the entire series (Blue Iron Knuckles, anyone?), and I have often lamented the fact that other titles’ difficulty lies solely in puzzle-solving and not in actual combat difficulty.
If for no other reason, I love Adventure because it introduced us to Dark Link–one of the raddest and baddest characters in the entire series. Having missed out on fighting Dark Link as a child due to a faulty game cartridge, I thoroughly enjoyed meeting him for the first time on the Wii’s VC, and was glad to put this title to bed after 20 years.
- Marginalized items. There are several really cool items/spells in this game that are totally underused because they are obtained so late in the game and/or only used for 1-2 tasks in the entire game. While this is true to some degree with items in all of the titles (Gold Gauntlets in Ocarina, for example), it seems like the game could have been much richer if additional uses for the Spell magic, the flute, and other items were more relevant.
- (Dis?)Honorable Mention for Worst would go to the player-control in the side-scrolling sections of the game. Link had limited jumping ability, and it was extremely difficult to control him when enemies were flying around the room (a frequent occurrence). I can’t even imagine how many times I died simply because Link is automatically knocked backwards a set distance (usually into lava) every time he touches a foe. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that it’s the only title (other than the original) where Link has no ability to swim, so he instantly dies in water pits. Lame.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
I have to confess here that I actually played Link to the Past after having completed the other titles in the series. Somehow, I just kind of forgot about it. This is a bit unfortunate because, while it wasn’t too difficult start with the original Zelda and Adventure, since I hadn’t played other titles yet, it was pretty difficult to go back to the fuzzy pixel-graphics and top-down view of Past immediately after having experienced Twilight Princess. That said, while the gameplay itself isn’t all that big of a jump from the original Zelda, but that hardly seems like a complaint, as it’s clear that there groundwork for Ocarina was being laid in this title. This is most evident in the use of multiple dimensions–Ocarina, Majora, and Twilight Princess simply couldn’t exist without the development of alternate, parallel universes that were pioneered in Past. So, kudos to that.
The use of magic, the ability to jump, and multi-floor dungeons are retained from Adventure. That said, even these elements don’t look or feel much like Adventure, as the game returns to the top-down view from the original Zelda and jumping is reduced to “autojumping.” As such, I think the game is best seen as a sequel to the original Zelda and not to Adventure.
Although it’s not as cool in Past as it is in later titles, the Hookshot makes its first appearance here. Since this is generally my favorite tool in the whole series, I have to call this the “Best” part of the game.
You mean other than Link having pink hair? There’s not much to hate about Past, to be honest. The enemies in the game are a bit stupid and seem to lack some of the variety of earlier titles, and it seems to me that Past hasn’t aged quite as well as Ocarina has, but even this complaint seems like it is more a function of playing it out of order than anything else, and that hardly constitutes like a fair criticism.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Describing the experience of playing Ocarina is genuinely difficult. It lives up to the hype in every way, and fully deserves every ounce of praise it gets as the greatest video game of all-time. Even though I had played other games that incorporated the technology that Ocarina pioneered (Z-targeting, context-sensitive buttons), it was easy to see how revolutionary this was at the time, and how seamlessly Ocarina made it all feel.
Everything about Ocarina is just enormous, from the distances to travel from place to place to the actual size of the bosses Link faces during his quest. The jump in gameplay, storytelling, music, and….everything, from Past to Ocarina is staggering, to say the least. The multitude of musical scores to accompany different areas of the game, the vast expanse of Hyrule, the SideQuests–which became a hallmark of Zelda titles afterward, particularly in Majora’s Mask–and the host of new and interesting races of people in the game (Goron, Zora, Gerudo, etc…) all combined to create a gaming experience that simply left me in awe, even 13 years after the game was released.
Too many things to list, really, but here are a few.
- The Hyrule Field musical score. Entering the field for the first time and hearing that music play–after enduring the happy-happy joy-joy music of the Kokiri Forest–is pure awesome.
- Waking up in the Temple of Time and discovering that Link has aged seven years, maturing from a scrappy little child into a muscular adult.
- Jabu-Jabu’s Belly. This “dungeon” is just hilarious to me, and remains one of the most surreal and clever dungeons in the whole series. It’s not particularly difficult–just unique both visually and in terms of…being inside a giant fish.
- The encounter with Dark Link in the Water Temple. You just have to see it to understand how magical the room and Dark Link’s manifestation are–all as a payoff for finding your way through the seemingly impossible Water Temple.
- Navi. HEY! LISTEN! HEY!!!!! I DON’T CARE IF I ALREADY TOLD YOU FOURTEEN TIMES! LISTEN ANYWAY! HEY! LISTEN!
- Kaepora Gaebora. The big owl that makes you listen to ridiculously long speeches, then messes with the Yes/No ordering on the menu to have him repeat the message, so you accidentally hit “Yes” over and over. I hate that stupid bird.
(Incidentally, I made a ringtone of Navi saying “Hey! Listen!” and use it for text messages. Let me know if you want it, and I’ll send the file to you.)
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
After I finished Ocarina of Time, I immediately started working on Majora’s Mask. More or less a direct sequel to Ocarina, Majora looks and feels exactly the same, has many of the same (or closely similar) characters, tools, and objectives. The most notable difference is that the game takes place outside of the standard Hylian dimension, which means that Ganondorf has no role whatsoever in Majora–instead, you fight a big giant mask. Yeah. It’s a thing.
Majora is, in certain ways, the hardest Zelda title in existence. While the actual gameplay is identical to Ocarina, and none of the bosses or dungeons are especially difficult, the elevation of Ocarina’s SideQuests from “optional bonuses” to “forced requirements” made the game extremely difficult. When combined with the underlying plot of the game–repeating a 3-day cycle over and over in order to prevent the Moon from crashing into the town–the objectives were at times so confusing and so frustrating that I nearly gave up a few times. Indeed, Majora is the only Zeldatitle to bring me to my knees in terms of using a Walkthrough/Strategy Guide.
If I had one complaint about Ocarina, it was that it wasn’t particularly difficult. In Majora, that problem is rectified, but in all the wrong ways. It seems complex for complexity’s sake–as if the creators simply sat around a table and conjured the most tedious and obscure tasks for Link to have to accomplish in seemingly random fashion.
I completed Majora mostly out of duty–by the time I reached the end, I was tired of it and honestly wasn’t really enjoying playing Zelda anymore. The SideQuests and 3-day time limit structure just wore me out and I was glad to done with the game.
Two things I loved about Majora’s Mask:
- Getting to know all of the various races in the Zelda mythos was a joy–Goron Link and Deku Scrub Link in particular were a ton of fun. Having to play as these different “Links” really enriched the experience of the game and alleviated some of the tedious timing-based elements of the game. Unfortunately, they also made the game more complicated, as it meant that every townsperson and SideQuest character had to be explored using each character, as they often gave different responses to each mask.
- The ability to go back and re-fight bosses over and over as much as you like. I wish other Zelda titles incorporated this benefit–some of the boss battles are so much fun and require so much effort to reach that it hardly seems fair that you only get to do it once.
I discussed the complexity above, which is really the biggest downside to the game. A couple of other things I hated.
- The game-save restrictions. Only way to save is to find the stupid owls or reset the game. Losing all of your money, items, and accomplishments each time you play the Song of Time was a clever and strategic innovation, but also frustrating beyond measure after a while.
- The Bondage-Fairy from Ocarina returns, but somehow she’s even more bondagey. Pro or Con? You decide, I guess.
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
Having finished the slugfest of Majora’s Mask, I was about ready to call it quits, and doing would have been very easy, since the next title, Wind Waker, was not available on the VC, meaning that I would have to actually obtain the Game Cube disc from someone. Fortunately, Supergenius had a copy laying around and sent it to me, and after lollygagging around for a day or two, I finally popped it into the Wii and gave it chance. At first glance, this game, with its beautiful cel-shading, looks like a very different game than its two predecessors–Majora and Ocarina. However, the gameplay is virtually the same, albeit adapted to a Game Cube controller instead of the N64. I thoroughly enjoyed Wind Waker, primarily because it has great music, a great story, and is cute beyond belief. (As an aside, while my son loved watching me play Ocarina and Majora, my daughter showed no interest in Zelda until seeing Wind Waker–the cartoon animation won her over immediately, as did the joyful whimsy of the musical score.)
It’s my understanding that some Zelda fans were disappointed in the cel-shading of the game, as they had hoped for a return to the adult-looking Link of Ocarina after Majora, and I get that–it’s quite child-like in appearance and tone.
Just as Majora’s gameplay revolves around concepts and actions developed in Ocarina–playing songs to accomplish various tasks, riding Epona, and so on–so Wind Waker‘s best moments are directly tied to Ocarina. The peak moment in the game, which stands head and shoulders above all other plot points, takes place when Link plunges below the surface of the ocean to the Hyrule from Ocarina and discovers the legend of the Hero of Time. Entering the Temple of Time, young Link sees the statue of another incarnation of himself as all the enemies are frozen in time. As Link draws out the Master Sword, the black and white world transforms–color is restored and all the enemies spring into action, attacking Link en masse.
For me, this sequence is eclipsed only by the appearance of Dark Link in the mirror room of the Water Temple in Ocarina, and surely belongs in the Pantheon of great Zelda moments.
(Excluding the Temple of Time sequence, of course)
- The storytelling. It was all you could do to not get teary-eyed when an emotional Link waves goodbye to his family as he sets out to rescue his little sister from Ganondorf, or when Link’s Grandmother describes her only desire being the safety and well-being of her grandchildren as she fills up your bottle with soup.
- The musical score–particularly that which accompanies Link while sailing across the seas–is nothing short of inspiring. As an aside, I was very pleased to see this particular track among those included on the 25th Anniversary Album that was shipped with Skyward Sword–it’s (in my view) the single best song in the entire series.
- Just. Too. Easy. I don’t think that I died a single time in the entire game–maybe(?) once or twice early on before I had fully mastered the gameplay, but certainly never again. This title, more than any of the others, allows Link to defeat every enemy and boss in the game with little more than button-mashing. Even the Darknuts were easy in Wind Waker. For shame!
- The nature of the SideQuests. Here, I feel like the Zelda creators nailed SideQuests perfectly with Ocarina and have struggled since to find the proper balance between difficulty and ease and between mandatory and optional. In Majora, they were mandatory and too difficult. In Wind Waker, the pendulum swung in the opposite direction, with many of the SideQuests being not only optional, but even easy to completely miss out on. In fact, it wasn’t until after I had finished the game that I realized (through reading online) that there were several gigantic SideQuests involving taking pictures of all the characters in the game and trading various flowers and products with merchants around the Island chains. Somehow, I missed out on this. Oh well.
The Legenda of Zelda: Twilight Princess
It took me a couple of months, but I was finally “caught up” after completing Wind Waker. I purchased a used copy of Twilight Princess and, after 10-15 minutes of the game, was completely in love with it. The game is much more mature–Link is older, the scenery and color schemes are darker, the enemies are more frightening in appearance, the plot itself is quite ominous. To date, it’s the only title in the series to earn a Teen-Rating.
(My wife gave me more than a few disapproving glances as my son continued to sit by my side…)
While Twilight Princess was released for both the GC and the Wii, at Supergenius’ suggestion, I purchased the Wii version and was not disappointed. It doesn’t incorporate the Motion+ technology that Skyward Sword has, which means that button-mashing and WiiMote waving are still viable options for destroying hordes of enemy foes. However, that is pretty much the only negative I can think of.
I found the characters in the game–the children, the townsfolk, and Link’s friends–to be completely charming and convincing, and especially in the case of Malon (a snotty, business-minded child), quite hilarious. The way the game teaches you to control Link’s swordplay by having Link respond to the kids’ requests for cool moves (“Link! Do the one where you shout HEEE-YAH! while holding the A-button!”) still makes me laugh.
Twilight Princess is similar to Ocarina in that the game is simply huge–the massive landscape and multiple regions allow for endless exploration, hidden items galore–but eclipses the grandeur of Ocarina through improved graphics and the “Twilight Realm” where Link is forced (initially) into roaming the lands as a wolf. In Past, Link enters an alternate dimension as a rabbit, but has virtually no fighting capability. In Twilight Princess, Wolf-Link has his own actions, skills, and objectives. The use of scent-tracking and “sensing” in the game just added additional layers of richness on top of an already deep game.
A major highlight of the game for me was Epona. In Ocarina and Majora, Epona served no real purpose beyond accelerated travel, and this always seemed a bit unfortunate. In Twilight Princess, however, Link fights several battles on horseback–some are restricted to jousting, but most of them take place in wide open spaces where Link must chase down similarly saddled foes and swing his sword while avoiding arrows and ground attacks. Just a blast to play.
Like with Ocarina, there are so many things I loved about Twilight Princess that it’s difficult to create a concise list.
- Dark Link making an appearance as a Twilii in Link’s vision. Scary stuff.
- Cool new items. The Spinner had limited use–mostly just in the dungeon where it is obtained, but man that is a cool item, as it allows you to surf around on the walls throughout Hyrule. The Double Clawshot was similarly epic, and a great addition to the already-awesome Hookshot from earlier titles. The Ball & Chain turns Link into a straight-up brute, allowing you to knock over huge pillars and smack Darknuts around. Good times.
- Midna. At last, the Zelda creators nailed the concept of a traveling companion. After enduring the horribly obnoxious Navi in Ocarina, the useless and pointless Tatl in Majora, and the useful-but-boring King of Red Lions in Wind Waker, Link finally has a relevant companion. This is accomplished by developing Midna as a major player in the story–she has a vested interest in Link’s quest–and giving her actual functionality through the Charge attack when Link is a wolf. Midna has depth of character–she starts out selfish, witty, rude, sarcastic, and critical of Link, before evolving into into a humble and courageous battle partner, and eventually into Mega-Babe, Queen of the Twilight Realm.
- The final battle. You finally get what every Zelda-lover has always wanted–a legit sword fight with Ganondorf. The Dorf takes damage like a boss and dishes it out like a beast, making it one of the more challenging final battles in the series (unless you cheat–apparently you can beat him easily with the fishing pole.)
To be honest, I loved this game so much that my only complaints about it are pretty nit-picky.
- As in Wind Waker, the SideQuests were kind of irrelevant. The SideQuests in Twilight Princess were fun and engaging (especially the fishing) but they simply didn’t have any payoff. Your reward for catching all of the fish in Hyrule? Another fishing lure. Wow.
- The irrelevance of money. In every other title in the series, there are objects that you absolutely must have, and purchasing them is the only way to get them. In Twilight Princess, however, outside of an early slingshot, you really don’t need to buy anything. You can bottle your chu-jelly for potions, score your own oil in dungeons, and you steal your first shield from an unsuspecting neighbor. Later in the game, I paid out the nose for the super-duper armor and, upon discovering that it used up all of my rupees to equip it, never used it–not once.
- The Topless Great Fairy. Wind Waker departed from the Bondage Fairy of Ocarina and Majora in favor a doll-like, kind of androgynous fairy. Twilight Princess went the other direction and decided that it would get all the mileage it could out of its Teen-Rating. Pro or Con? Again, you decide.
I wanted to provide a personal list here–a ranking of Best-to-Least-Best–but have decided that doing so is pointless. Twilight Princess is without question my favorite title to play. However, I fully recognize that it would not exist without Ocarina of Time, which in turn couldn’t exist without Link to the Past, which depends entirely on the original Legend of Zelda. With such dependencies, saying that one is “better” than the other is just impossible and ignores far too much nuance.
Fans of different series will certainly disagree, and I readily acknowledge that I have not played any of them. However, I am confident in declaring that just as the original Legend of Zelda once stood alone in my heart as the king of video games, so the Legend of Zelda series stands alone in the world of video games, across all platforms and consoles. You can keep your Halo, your Mario Brothers, your Half-Life, your World of Warcraft, your Call of Duty, or your Elder Scrolls–I’ll take Link.
Next: My Legend of Zelda Master Quest, Part 3: Review of Skyward Sword.
 I skipped Four Swords Adventure, largely due to a mistake I made in my research. I didn’t initially realize that Four Swords Adventure was a separate game from “Four Swords” which was only available for Nintendo’s GameBoy Advance. I didn’t discover that it was a Game Cube game until a couple of weeks ago. As soon as I locate a copy of this title, I’ll add it to the review.