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Zelda. That’s a thing. Here are my top 4 favourite 3D Zelda games. Why top 4 when there are 5 games? Well, I’ve never actually finished Majora’s Mask, speaking of which…


Honourable Mention) Majora’s Mask:

majora's maskLike I said, I’ve never actually beaten this game, or even gotten all that far
despite having played both the Wii Virtual Console and 3DS versions. But I have always had a fascination with it. Thanks to numerous LPs and speed runs, I like to think I know the game at least a bit, and its tragic and complex story mechanics definitely make it unique within the franchise.

In Majora’s Mask, a slightly grown up version of the child Link from Ocarina of Time is out looking for a lost friend, when an odd Deku Kid with a mask takes his horse and may or may not kill him (speaking of which, how come none of the “Link is Dead” theories address the Skull Kid being around both before and after Link’s supposed death? Like, what does that Deku get up to in the world of the living?). Once Epona is taken away, Link finds himself in Clock Town, in the land of Termina, where he learns that the Skull Kid is planning to crash the moon into the earth. He has three days to free four giants to stop it, with nothing but the omnipotent power of time control to help him. Seriously, once Link gets the ability to just turn the clock back whenever he wants, Skull Kid is kinda the underdog here.

What really sets Majora’s Mask apart from other Zelda titles, at least in my totally under informed opinion, is a combination of the mask system and the pacing. I don’t mean those two are individually distinct about MM, I mean together they are one thing that makes MM different. MM, more than any other Zelda, is about the side quests. The mostly fruitless struggle against three days of trouble. It’s the side quests that make the pacing of MM, they break up and fill in the otherwise pretty short story with much of the gameplay you’d usually expect in the required part of a game. But you can only complete so many of these in a normal three day cycle; for everything else, the masks become the only proof you ever did it. It’s why I haven’t beaten it; I feel like I can’t play it without doing the side quests and collecting the masks, but getting them all right would mean I’d need a walkthrough, which cheapens the experience I feel.

Anyway, from the oddly (though not uniquely) dark atmosphere of Termina, to the game’s central mechanic in the masks and side quests, to the depth of unspoken lore this title has given Zelda fans, Majora’s Mask has been a game I’ve been intensely interested in for years. Just not one that I’m inclined to actually play.


#4) Ocarina of Time:

That’s right, OoT is the worst 3D Zelda, and a few years ago, I’d follow that with a “come at me bro,” but is this really controversial these days? I think the internet and better Zelda games have worn the nostalgia away, and taught us that significant steps in gaming aren’t the same as high quality. OoT wasn’t great, but it was impressive.


When Shigeru Miyamoto started running a gaming division at Nintendo, he proposed two completely different styles of games he wanted to make, which eventually became Super Mario Bros., and The Legend of Zelda. Both of these made the transfer to 3D on the Nintendo 64 in different ways as well, and yet, just like the original games became the subjects of game design 101 in totally different genres, Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time are the roots from which most modern games still grow. They stood out not because they mastered the new medium, but because they were some of the first to handle it. Ocarina of Time worked, which is more than can be said for a lot of early 3D era games, but it had flaws, including one big flaw that still hampers every game on this list at least a little; it’s slow, and often unrewarding.

Hyrule Field. A revolution in hub worlds, right? Try saying that while walking from Death Mountain to Lake Hylia. Even once you get Epona and the warp songs, it’s still tedious running around doing everyone’s errands. No Pegasus Boots or fun enemy mechanics to mess around with along the way; just a whole lot of side-hopping. It’s big and vast, and pointless and dull.

How about the early game as child Link. Thematically, it’s part of what makes even this worst Zelda game pretty good. It sets the player up for the feeling of power, but also responsibility, when they become adult Link and see the terror wrought by Ganon because they were too weak to stop him before. That also means you have to feel powerless. You have to see all the tasks that you can’t do right away, like all of those damn Gold Skulltulas, and it gets frustrating. Not just frustrating because you can’t do them now, but also frustrating because you have to remember them for later. And the feeling of powerlessness is for nothing once you realize that young Link actually is important, and you do need to play as him again to do things adult Link can’t.

But then that brings up another problem, finding Gold Skulltulas, but never having the right equipment to get them. Having to run back to the temple of time, time travel, maybe grind rupees to get a magic bean sprout, and go back to the Skulltula. Or even worse, just having to ignore it, and hope you remember it again once you’ve upgraded to the longshot.

And of course Chest opening. I’m a gamer who likes gameplay, and doesn’t like when there’s no gameplay- when control over the game is taken away from me and I just have to wait for a cut-scene to finish or a dialogue box to close. Every time I open a chest, and have to wait so-and-so amount of seconds just to see that I got more bombs for my already overflowing bag, three things happen. First, I get disconnected from the game. Then I start thinking of something other than the game. Then I get annoyed at the game. None of these benefits my relation with the game.

All of this isn’t my way of saying what OoC is a bad game, it’s my way of saying why this good game is still worse than the others on this list (though, the chest opening thing is still a problem).


#3) Skyward Sword:

I never understood the flack this game got. The imprisoned fights were repetitive and kinda dull, the 100% struggle felt kinda hollow especially the Hylian Shield, and the motions controls are kinda annoying when trying to react quickly, but all in all, it’s a solid adventure. The story and world are charming, the locations are actually really well used, and Fi’s awesome and Zelda is adorable.

Skyward Sword

The biggest complaint I can understand people having about Skyward Sword is that it feels very repetitive. I’ve already mentioned the three imprisoned fights. The amount of honestly unwanted time spent flying around the sky, and running around Skyloft isn’t appreciated. But the major issue seems to be the locations. As I understand it, the complaint is that there are only three areas, Faron Woods, Lanayru Desert, and Eldin Volvano (also the Sky, but that actually is boring). And somehow this means there isn’t enough content, or that the game repeats itself or something- I don’t really get the argument it, because that’s just not true.

Each of these area have three sections which you visit at different points, and two dungeons/temples. There’s a lava dungeon, fire dungeon, two completely different water dungeons, and two completely different earth dungeons (plus the Sky Keep). Each time you go back to an area it’s got something completely new for you, with a different aesthetic, different mechanics, and different story events and lore.

But there is one way in which returning to these areas over and over affects the game; it makes it so you never need to backtrack. Couldn’t get a goddess cube your first time through Faron Woods? No worries; you’ll pass it again. Finally got the Clawshot, and curious what all those secrets you had to pass by earlier were? Well there’s no need to go out of your way for them. Need some more Eldin Ore to upgrade your Beetle? Yeah, that’s still a pain, but at least you might find some while getting story progess!

My biggest complaint with Zelda games is going back to find Gold Skulltulas, or Big Poes, or whatever else, and I never had to do that in Skyward Sword.


Honourable Mention) Okami:

Great story and characters. Beautiful art direction and environments. And an arsenal of scaling power-ups that all remain useful in both battles and puzzles right up to the very end. This would absolutely make number one on this list if it weren’t for teensy tiny technical detail; it’s not a Zelda game. At least not in name and license, but Clover Studio didn’t exactly cover up their inspiration; this plays like a Zelda from start to finish, and feels a lot like one too. It just don’t look like one.


You’re Amaterasu, a wolf/god, reincarnation of the mighty Shiranui, and you must slay the great demon Orochi, and restore piece to the land. For weapons, you have four different types. Reflectors are heavy but slow, Glaives can be charged and have special effects, and Rosaries have a very long range and can hit multiple times. Each of these can be equipped as either primary or secondary weapons, but you true primary weapon is the Celestial Brush, which gives you the almighty power of painting! Throughout the game you learn and upgrade different brush techniques, ranging from vine and fog (which are primarily ways to get around), to flame burst and whirlwind (offensive techniques), to the ever reliable Power Slash!

It’s just a great game through and through, and if it got a sequel- err, a good sequel, it could actually rival the Zelda franchise.


#2) Twilight Princess:

My Haruhi, playing this game was painful at times, but damn brilliant at other times. Zelda stories have never impressed me before. Princess gets kidnapped, hero runs through temples trying to save her, eventually learns of his greater destiny and vanquishes evil. It’s always a play on that basic concept, and that’s true for Twilight Princess as well. But just because you’re following a recipe, doesn’t mean you can’t change up the side dishes.


Twilight Princess has character, partially in its unique (among Zelda games) aesthetic and genuinely different world map, but mostly in the characters themselves. In a review of this game I never published, I talked at length about how Twilight Princess’s Link has the most character of all his silent incarnations. He was a farm hand, and it shows in his playstyle throughout the game. Even his Goron wrestling is reminiscent of his Ordon Goat handling, and his dexterity handling Epona, better than any other Hero, comes from the time he spent herding.

Then there’s Midna, who, well, you don’t need me to go on about how great she is. She’s the best character in the franchise, and the internet seems to already know that. Also, I can’t really say much without going into spoilers, but from the very beginning she’s just a joy to see, and her interactions with Link develop both of them into the franchise’s greatest characters. She well makes up for the dull Zelda.

And I only skimmed over the graphics earlier, but they deserve a bit more than that. I won’t harp about bringing the art style back; I know that’s not how 3D Zelda’s work, and the only time two games have looked similar has been because they ran on same engine, but it really was the best looking Zelda- err, Zelda (Skyward Sword had the best looking princess). The air of darkness didn’t feel tonally disconnected; in fact, it felt more in tone than and of the other titles. The shades and shapes of twilight breathed a life into the world that I haven’t felt in any other Nintendo game since.

Every second spent with the Iron Boots, and bad Wii port motion controls, and buggy mini-games, and terrible side-quests was bad. But that first scene between Midna and Zant struck me in a way no other Zelda game has ever come close to, and is one of the highpoints in my gaming life. It’s that that makes up for all this game’s flaws. Just don’t go for 100%, the magic armour ain’t worth it.


#1) Windwaker (HD):

Windwaker was my first Zelda game, and at the time I thought it was the best. Years of sharpened critique eventually made me realize that the last third of the game was essentially unfinished, and the sailing, while adventurous feeling, was just too slow to really encourage any adventuring. That’s why this spot specifically goes to the HD remake for the WiiU. If I were judging just by the original release, this would be second, or even third; that’s how much of a difference the remake made, and how close all of these games are to one another.


I don’t even have that much to say on this one. It doesn’t excel in any particular way, or have any significant short comings; the only thing really unique about it is the graphical style, which is only unique among 3D Zelda titles. It’s just a really good game. Solidly built, making good use of classic Zelda mechanics while integrating some new ones, with rewarding side quests and mini dungeons, but a complete enough main game that you don’t feel obligated to do them. The humour’s funny, Tetra is pretty cool despite not being Midna, and the swordplay is varied enough. That’s really about it.

It’s a little sad that the best game on this list has the least to be said about it. It’s so often the flaws that make a game interesting.

Don’t Lose Your Way