Welcome to a new edition of 5 Games I’ve Beat, this time tackling another beloved Nintendo franchise: The Legend of Zelda.  Yes, I could still go on about Mario games, but whereas Mario symbolizes how fun games can and should be, Zelda emphasizes how epic a videogame experience can and should be.  I can’t find another word to describe it.  The moment you start a game you know you are in for a great adventure in a wondrous fantasy world with diverse creatures and a menacing evil that looms over your quest.  This ain’t just about saving the princess.  It’s about saving the world (does that more or less sound like a Heroes sound tag?)!

Zelda I Link

Link in the original The Legend of Zelda

For the uninitiated, The Legend of Zelda is about a boy in green with a sword and a shield, who must gather items and clear dungeons in order to open up the path to the final boss.  That’s oversimplifying the whole thing, but it pretty much sums it up.  The very first Zelda and all its sequels are unique in that the games are not divided by stages, but rather it’s one huge overworld, with all the dungeons hidden in the landscape.  You must find their entrances.  Once there, generally you gotta solve field puzzles to progress.  You hack and slash the enemies that oppose you with a variety of weapons.

Now to be honest, I’ve never been able to finish the first two NES Zelda games.  I don’t know if they are harder than the rest in the series or I just stink at this.  I know I haven’t spent as much time with them as with the other games.  I did manage to finish 5 so far, so without further ado (well, you gotta hit the jump first):

1.  The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past/Four Swords (Game Boy Advance)

While the original The Legend of Zelda introduced the formula that would define the series, this third installment originally released for the Super NES perfected it.  Also known as the Triforce of the Gods in Japan, A Link to the Past, for the first time, introduced us to a different Link and that oh-so-wacky chronology that is cause for lively debate all over the Internet.  The Link and Zelda featured in this game are the ancestors of the ones from the original NES game, so this is really a prequel to that game.  The evil pig monster Ganon had been banished to the Dark World, and his servant Agahnim began to kidnap the descendants of the seven oracles who had done so.  Using their power, he tries to break the seal and free his master.  Link, the nephew of the town smith, begins to have dreams that Princess Zelda is beckoning him.  He is drawn to the castle, where he finds that his uncle was dying.  He is bestowed with a sword and shield, and he embarks to save Zelda and the land of Hyrule.  In order to defeat Agahnim, he must first find the legendary Master Sword, the sword of evil’s bane, but in the process he is thrusted into the Dark World as well, where he eventually faces Ganon after saving the seven descendants of the oracles.

Gameplay in the Light World (top) and the Dark World (bottom).

The original Zelda gameplay (before the jump to 3-D) has you looking at the action from a top-down overhead view.  Link is initially armed with just a sword and shield, but throughout his quest he finds new weapons such as the boomerang, the hookshot (kinda like a grapple weapon), the bombs, magical rods, and the bow and arrow.  There are several dungeons scattered throughout Hyrule, each with puzzles that require you to stop and think.  These usually involve you having to move blocks or jump from a higher floor to land to a previously inaccessible area.  There are tons of secrets to find, such as the pieces of the heart, which increase your health bar.

One of the key items in the game is a mirror which allows you to cross betwen the Light World and the Dark World.  The two Hyrules have a significantly different layout, and getting some of the coolest stuff requires you to make good use of it and remember everything is positioned.  Trust me.  In this game, that is no easy task.

A Link to the Past was one of the greatest games for the Super NES and one of the better Zelda games, even after so many others have been released.  It presents a good and fair challenge, although, I gotta admit, I struggled to beat this game because I would constantly get lost as I traversed both Light and Dark worlds.  The version I put on this list is, once again, the GBA remake.  The main adventure remains unchanged for the most part.  The programmers added Link’s grunts from Ocarina of Time, much like how they added Mario’s voice to remakes of his earlier adventures, and there is one extra dungeon only accessible after beating Four Swords.

Four Swords is the first Zelda game with multiplayer.

Four Swords is The Legend of Zelda’s first multiplayer mode.  Up to four players can control a different-colored Link, and you play a brand-new quest featuring for the first time what would become a recurring villain, the Wind Mage Vatti.  This side-quest would become so popular that Nintendo released a sequel and a prequel: The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures for the GameCube, and The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap for the GBA, respectively.

2.  The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Nintendo 64, version from Collector’s Edition for GameCube) and Ocarina of Time: Master Quest (GameCube)

Widely regarded as the best game of all time, Ocarina of Time introduced us to the world of Hyrule in 3-D.  The transition between the two styles of gameplay is still one of the greatest feats of gaming history.  The world is so vast, the music is overwhelming in its catchiness and its grandiosity, the cutscnes always manage to convey a sense of whimsy, or peril, or somberness.  Even after 10 years and several sequels later, it’s still the definitive 3-D Zelda adventure.

Ocarina of Time, for the longest time, was considered to be the earliest game in regards to the timeline.  In A Link to the Past, Link had to rescue 7 damsels who were the descendants of the oracles.  In this game, the Link featured here (once again, an ancestor called by the same name) meets the oracles.  The game first introduces the legend of the creation of Hyrule.  We meet Ganon before he became a pig monster, here called Ganondorf.  Ganondorf seeks control of Hyrule, and only Link and Princess Zelda (another ancestor by the same name) know his true intentions.  Their early attempt to thwart him fail, and she’s forced to flee from him, not without first entrusting Link with the fabled Ocarina of Time.

Link inadvertently breaks the seal to the Triforce (I can’t believe I haven’t explained the Trifoce this late into the article.  It’s a great power said to grant a wish to whoever touches it, left behind by the goddesses who created Hyrule) when he takes the Master Sword from its pedestal.  He is also thrusted seven years into the future by this action.  Ganon tries to steal the Triforce but splits it into three parts accidently, gaining only the Trifoce of Power.  Zelda is in possession of the Triforce of Wisdom (the same one from the original NES game) and Link ends up with the Triforce of Courage.

As Link rescues the oracles and gains entrance to Ganondorf’s Tower, he is aided by the enigmatic Sheik.  This androgynous character turns out to be none other than Zelda herself, in disguise to keep Ganondorf off her trial.  Of course, he sees through this and kidnaps her, leading to the final confrontation between Link and Ganon, where, after Link severely slashes him with the Master Sword, Ganon is sent to the Dark World (as mentioned in the prologue to A Link to the Past).

When the player uses Z-targeting, the view shifts to a letterbox format and arrows indicate the targeted enemy. The player can then circle strafe around the enemy to keep their sight on them.

Much like with the Light World and Dark World game mechanic, OoT has its own gimmick: young Link and adult Link.  You play as 10-year-old Link initially until you obtain the Master Sword.  Seven years pass in the game’s timeline, and now you are able to play as 17-year-old Link.  You are able to travel back and forth in time as you please, and you’ll see noticeable changes to the world as Ganon rules Hyrule with an iron fist in the future.  Link is able to access his usual array of weapons and magical abilities.  Several collectibles await you in hidden areas of the game or through trade sequences.

I never regarded Ocarina of Time as the hardest of Zeldas, but it’s an incredibly fun ride.  Now, if you want a harder game, try Ocarina of Time: Master Quest (originally offered when you pre-ordered Wind Waker).  It’s essentially the same game, but the dungeons are re-designed to provide a harder challenge.  Difficult? Yes.  Impossible? Nah.

3.  The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (Nintendo 64, version from Collector’s Edition for GameCube)

Not long after the release of Ocarina of Time, Nintendo announced a follow-up to the adventures of young Link for the Nintendo 64.  Majora’s Mask worked with the same “engine” as Ocarina of Time (meaning they reused the gameplay and character models from that game), but it was a decidedly different story.  After Link returned to his timeline and youthful state (Zelda wanted him to experience his childhood proper), he is on a trip on his horse, Epona, when his horse is scared and stolen by a Skull Kid.  Goaded into chasing after him, Link soon ends up in another dimension, transformed into a plant-like creature called a Deku Scrub.  In this dimension, Termina, he meets a mask salesman, who promises to turn him back to normal after doing a favor for him.

Once he returns to normal, Link is able to transform into different creatures through the use of masks.  Besides the Deku mask that turns him into that plant-like thing, he can also transform into a heavy-hitting Goron or a graceful swimming Zora.  The land of Termina has only 3 days left before a menacing moon comes crashing down and destroys everything.  Link can’t possibly get everything done in that short amount of time, but since he still has the Ocarina of Time, he is now able to rewind the clock and start over 3 days earlier.  This is important because they are several events that only happen at certain days or even certain times.

Link fights a Dodongo in his Goron form. Masks allow Link to transform into a Deku Scrub, a Goron and a Zora.

There are only four major dungeons as opposed to the traditional eight plus the final dungeon, but there is that added time constraint bugging you at all times.  Link is seeking to awaken four giants at these dungeons, who come to Termina’s rescue and stop the moon, while Link goes into battle with that Skull Kid, who is possessed by the evil eponymous Majora’s Mask.  Once he triumphs over evil, he is free to continue on his trip.

While it was great to get another Zelda game with a relatively short gap in between games, many people were put off by Majora’s Mask.  The game is creepy, for sure.  There is a weird atmosphere permeating many elements in the game, but I just can’t quite describe it.  I liked the game, however, and it’s fun to try to obtain all the masks available in it.

4.  The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

Wind Waker was controversial long before it was released.  While many fans clamored an adult, darker Link (which we eventually got in Twilight Princess), instead we got a bright-colored cartoony young Link.  This cel-shaded look turned a lot of people off, but, boy, once it came out… it shut a lot of people up.  Boasting great level design, a compelling story, and amazing visuals, Wind Waker has become a fan favorite.

Sailing is the main method of travel in The Wind Waker.

Wind Waker’s position in the “Zelda chronology” is kinda iffy, but it directly references many events that took place in Ocarina of Time.  The Link in this game is being raised by his grandmother together with his sister, Aryll.  Aryll is kidnapped by a large bird known as the Helmaroc King, and Link wants to rescue her.  He teams up with a group of pirates, led by the plucky Terra, in order to rescue her.  He fails initially, but he meets up with a talking sailboat, the King of Red Lions, and begins his quest across the Great Sea to save her.  In his second try, the larger plot is revealed: Ganondorf has escaped from the Dark World, and he has been kidnapping blond elf-eared girls in hopes of finding Zelda and the Triforce of Wisdom.  Here is where Terra is revealed as Zelda in disguise (again! although she herself was not aware this time around).  The Great Sea holds a secret deep underneath, and that is the original land of Hyrule is perfectly preserved there.  Before Link can try to stop Ganondorf, he searches the sea for the 8 pieces of his own Triforce (Courage) and the Master Sword (the sword of evil’s bane… we’ve been through this already).  In the end, Ganondorf loses his chance at getting his wish when the King of Hyrule (the sailboat) uses the Triforce to sink Hyrule forever.  Link and Zelda fight together against Ganondorf, Link with his sword and Zelda with the Light Arrows.  Link delivers the final blow (a cool sequence that I absolutely love) and turns Ganon to stone.  In the finale, Link and Zelda with the pirates begin to sail off to find new uncharted lands.

Details such as explosions are rendered using 2D sprites in a 3D environment, making the game feel stylistically similar to a cartoon.

The visuals in Wind Waker are the most animated in any Zelda game ever.  Link’s face shows several expressions throughout the game.  It does indeed look like a cartoon, one that you can play.  While in other Zelda’s you were a musician with your Ocarina, this time you were a conductor: the eponymous Wind Waker is a baton that lets you control the direction of the winds.  At first, you are only able to sail some places BECAUSE the wind currents wouldn’t let you get far otherwise, but with the Wind Waker the whole sea is at your command.  Wind plays a very important role in this game, much like the element of time did with previous games.

Wind Waker is one of the finest Zeldas ever released.  The look it introduced has been used for other installments, such as the portable or 2-D Zeldas.  The story would be followed up by two DS games: Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks.

5.  The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap (Game Boy Advance)

Developer Capcom has been behind some of the 2-D Zelda games released in the last decade.  The Minish Cap is no exception.  The only original game released for the Game Boy Advance, The Minish Cap is a fun game.  It featured the same style of graphics as those seen in Wind Waker.  Here, you are once again a different Link, perhaps the earliest in the chronology (way before Ocarina of Time, but that is up for debate).  At the behest of Zelda, Link attends the town festival, whose main event is a swordsmanship contest.  One of the competitors is a man named Vatti (here he looks the most human).  Vatti, of course, steals a magic sword embedded in a chest, turns Zelda into stone, and begins looking for an ancient power that will allow him control over Hyrule.

Link is seen at first without his trademark green cap.  Along the way, he encounters a talking hat named Ezlo, who is in reality a powerful sorcerer betrayed by his apprentice, Vatti.  Both Vatti and Ezlo were once Minish, a race of little mouse-like creatures who offer to help Link in his adventure to stop Vatti.  Link is only able to see them because his annoying talking cap is able to change his size from big to small and viceversa (and herein is this game’s gimmick).  There are several places that can only be accessed by a tiny creature in order to progress through the game.

A screenshot of the top-down view used in the Minish Cap

Once Vatti realizes that the ancient power IS within Zelda, he kidnaps her in her statue form and transforms Hyrule Castle into his fortress.  Before Link can stand a chance at defeating him, he must first find the legendary Four Sword (the same sword from Four Swords and Four Swords Adventures).  As you did in the latter game, you can control four Links at the same time to solve difficult puzzles and defeat hordes of enemies.  Link defeats Vatti (I can’t remember if he’s sealed in the sword, tying into the original GBA game) and saves Zelda and Hyrule.  Ezlo is returned to normal and rewards Link with his own green cap.

There are only four dungeons in this game plus the final boss, so Minish Cap ends up being kinda short, but the game introduces Kingstones, pieces of medallion-looking things.  When you put two together that fit correctly, you usually unlock some cool thing in Hyrule.  I guess that kinda adds some replay value to the game.  That, and collecting those annoying figurines.

I really enjoyed The Minish Cap.  It’s not terribly difficult like earlier Zeldas, but I was stumped in some of the areas.  It’s short enough so it doesn’t get boring after a while, and I like how the developers expanded the story of what began as a simple add-on to A Link to the Past for GBA.

So there you have it.  I’m trying to finish the other Zelda games I have, but that may take a good long while.  Be sure to leave your comments in the section below and share this article with others!

~My Two Cents