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REVIEW: The Legend of Zelda (Series) (3DS/WiiU)


To celebrate the, long overdue, release of Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D this week I thought I would dig-up and update a special article I wrote a long time ago for my personal blog. I wrote this originally around the time of Zelda’s 25th Anniversary, when Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword came out, and I arranged it somewhat in the order that I played these games. For this revisited article, I’m going to rewrite and reorder the entries into something more resembling their release pattern, and also throw in some numerical scores while I’m at it so that you get a better idea of how I rate each game in the series. As a small disclaimer, I’m not including some of the older entries like Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, because it’s simply too long ago that I played them (childhood) and can’t remember them objectively enough.

Over the last few years there have been many special (20th or 25th) anniversaries of treasured videogame franchises. Some, such as Metroid, went completely unnoticed while others such as Metal Gear and Kirby had a bit more fanfare. None more so though than the Legend of Zelda series, which despite celebrating its 25th birthday in 2011 is still going stronger than ever thanks to Nintendo’s decision to embrace new technology and frequently change the design. Zelda games have been some of the most influential throughout the history of videogames, and Nintendo's franchise commands a massive worldwide cult following, largely due to its appeal to both men and women of all ages.

My own history with Legend of Zelda began when I was just ten years old. I remember picking up an original Game Boy handheld console in 1993 specifically for Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, as I had played Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past on a friend's Super Nintendo and really wanted to take my time playing a Zelda game by myself - I was a Sega fan personally and owned a Mega Drive as my home console of choice (RIP Sega Consoles *sniff sniff*). Link's debut on the Game Boy was an *astounding* game at the time, and playing it was one of my childhood experiences that I still cherish and remember fondly to this day; especially those childhood holidays away camping and playing Zelda on the long car journeys down to the seaside. Because I was very young and used to playing platformers, racing games and beat-em-ups, I remember the difficulty of Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening being far too much for me, and I don't recall ever actually finishing the game despite playing it numerous times! As the years rolled on, and I stuck with Sega consoles before switching over to PlayStation, I missed many entries in the Zelda series until I got my hands on a Wii, which was actually the first Nintendo non-handheld console I had ever owned.

Playing Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess spurred me on to rediscover the Zelda games, and I quickly went about snapping-up any entry in the series that I could get my grubby hands on. Over the course of two years I’d played through and caught up with much of the series. Since then, I’ve been a die-hard fan and purchase every new game that’s released, usually alongside whatever new Zelda-themed hardware that’s out at the same time. I’ve currently got a Zelda- 3DS XL, a Zelda WiiU and a Zelda New 3DS XL along with lots of other paraphernalia like themed Wii-motes, amiibo, etc. But enough of this rambling into, let me discus the games themselves.

After an extended absence from the series, my first foray back to the mythical land of Hyrule was with the dark and epic Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, which was also my first hands-on experience playing a "3D" Legend of Zelda game. My first impressions were of an incredibly slow start and a slightly muddy graphical presentation. You see, Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess was designed to "give fans what they wanted" after the very divisive art style of Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, and to update Zelda with a more modern and realistic art style. Unfortunately this didn't quite suit the aging GameCube hardware, and the Wii only marginally better, with the game being released on both but really designed on the former and older console. However, after getting hooked by the well-written storyline and progressing past the first couple of hours of introductory gameplay, the game starts to come alive. The art style also eventually starts to become more in keeping with the core aesthetic of a Zelda title, albeit with its own brand of bloom-lighting-smothered atmosphere and mature design choices on characters and locations.

Essentially what Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is, although I didn't realise it at the time, is a sort of "grown up" version or retelling of Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time; a game widely considered by many critics and fans to not only be the best Zelda entry ever made, but also one of the most influential and well-designed games of all time. In some small ways Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess improves upon its predecessor, for instance swapping out the annoying fairy Navi with the titular Twilight Princess Midna, who is still my favourite of the "sidekick" characters aside from  Princess Zelda herself. Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess also made the fantastical world of Hyrule actually seem huge and epic in its proportions; the prior entry Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker had probably been slightly bigger, but was a vast empty ocean populated by islands, not an actual open world. This time around Hyrule was a vast open overworld with sweeping canyons and towering castles, with a day and night cycle that made good use out of the bloom-lighting and other newer graphical effects provided by the slight boost in hardware.

Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess grabbed me and dug its claws in like no other game had for a long time, which was not only down to the fantastic story, characterisation and atmosphere, but also the air-tight gameplay and level design. In my opinion, the temples in Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess are some of the best to ever grace a Zelda game; they're large, complicated and require a fair bit of puzzle solving to get through them. There are also a *lot* of them, and this constant variety really helps keep the game moving. In the latter half of the game there is a fair amount of backtracking in the over-world of Hyrule, as you go about completing various side-quests and errands, but the temples/dungeons sequentially only ever move the plot and gameplay devices forward driving you ever towards the game’s epic conclusion. The sheer scale and exquisite ever-changing design of the environments have never really been matched in a Zelda game since, and the addition of the twilight realm, with its Link-Wolf transformation, makes this entry stand out from its peers.

All this would already make it one of the best Zelda titles in the series, but the truth is what really makes this entry stand out for me is the conclusion to the story; I’ve never been so moved by a Zelda game before or since. Joining the ranks of games such as the superb and moving Final Fantasy X, I found the ending of Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess to be simultaneously uplifting and overwrought with sadness to the point where I felt genuine catharsis. This alone makes Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess very special indeed.

(A Classic)

This game hold a special place in my collection for being the game that kick-started my Zelda craze but also because I genuinely think it’s one of my favourite entries in the series. While some might argue that it’s a “poor-man’s Ocarina of Time” I feel like it’s a worthy sequel (going by the Hyrule Historia) and very fitting considering the core themes of the Zelda franchise regarding stories repeating themselves, and characters being trapped by fate/destiny.

Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword was the first Zelda title specially made for the Wii, and with the Wii U now out, this is likely to be the last. Whereas Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess was really designed around the hardware limitations of the GameCube, this newer entry was built from the ground up to not only take advantage of the increased processing power and graphical output of the Wii, but also its unique motion controlled interface. In the previous game you flicked the Wii remote back and forth to perform attacks but they didn't match your actions in real life and it was really more of a gimmick to sell the idea of the Wii-mote. Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword however tracks your motions 1:1 and the entire game is built around this use of precise and fluid motion control.

Obviously, this polarised gamers worldwide, as some people just weren't ready to ditch analogue sticks and buttons. In my personal opinion though the design of this game is incredible and completely changed my opinion regarding motion controls so much that I immediately went and bought a ‘move’ controller for my PS3 too. Combat in a Zelda game has never been better than when you actually have to strike your sword in certain directions to get around an opponent's shield, or chop the limbs off of bosses, or throw things, roll things or move things in precise directions. It’s great and along with the unique art-style the heavy use of motion gameplay is what makes Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword stand out so much from, not only other Zelda titles, but also pretty much every other game out there.

The unique control scheme extended to puzzles as well and the temples in Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword are designed to make good use out of the precise control that the Wii Motion Plus affords. Not only is the gameplay top notch, but the graphical presentation this time around is also designed precisely for the Wii hardware and its limitations; instead of the realistic and modern look that Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess tried to capture, this game utilises a faux-water colour semi-cell shaded art style that looks *beautiful*. Probably my vote for the best looking game of 2011, Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword worked with the standard definition visuals of the Wii and made that technological limitation seem completely unimportant. Whilst playing the previous game I always had the nagging feeling that it would have looked so much better in a higher definition and with larger textures, whereas this latest entry looked perfect. This was a triumph for Nintendo, and proved that artistic direction and good art design beats raw technological power every time, which is a philosophy they’re still following to this day, even since moving to a HD console with the WiiU (the only console to consistently keep hitting 1080p and 60fps and look damn good while doing it).

However, Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword was not without its faults, and if the previous game seemed like it took a while to get going in the plot department then this one is an absolute crawl. The story is a prequel to every other Zelda game that has come before (and after) it, and so it has a *lot* of set up and a slightly odd setting for the franchise. For instance, there's no Hyrule overworld because it doesn't exist yet, instead we have a massive expanse of sky and islands in Skyloft, which is accessed not by foot or on the back of a horse but by calling for your trusty ‘loftwing’ riding-bird. Once the story gets going though it’s actually very engaging and has some *fantastic* cut scenes for a Zelda game. The set-up for the main characters and world pay off in the end too and it creates a nice book-end tale right at the start of the series, which helps to put a lot of previous entries into more context. The major problem with Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword though is in its pacing and padding, as there are only really a few smallish areas and a few temples that you are asked to revisit several times over. Towards the end of the game it is not uncommon to feel fatigued as you are asked to fight the same boss for the third time and save the forest region again!

Luckily, the outstanding quality of actually playing the game as well as the visual splendour on display in its painterly design override these faults to a large extent and Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is still an excellent video game. Special mention must also go to the soundtrack of this game as it is simply amazing, one of the best in my opinion, especially the iconic ‘Ballad of the Goddess’ from the trailers and used in many cutscenes. This game is the first time that a Zelda entry has had a full orchestral score and it really adds something to the feel and impact of the story.

(Great Game)

Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword was innovative, beautiful, and one of the best videogames released that year. It’s a strong entry in the Zelda series, and while it might not be the vest best, especially as you slog your way towards the end, it’s certainly worth paying and recommended to every Zelda fan.

When I picked up Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD I had already played both its sequels on the Nintendo DS but had never actually played the original game. I had toyed with the idea of buying the GameCube version to play on my Wii several times, only to be put off by the astronomical cost on eBay and Amazon. When Nintendo announced Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD on the Wii U I immediately pre-ordered it along with the limited Zelda edition console and was very much looking forward to playing what some people consider to be one of the best Zelda games ever made. Extremely divisive at the time of its release, Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker completely changed the art style of Zelda games into a 'cell-shaded' format meant to imitate Japanese anime, which was continued in the DS sequels but dropped completely on the home consoles. Remastered in glorious 1080p 60fps high definition for the Wii U, the HD rerelease looks absolutely *gorgeous*, and really shows that the 'cell-shaded' art style was a timeless one, and a great decision from Nintendo at the time.

Textures are sharp and the lighting engine has been improved over the original to create hot sunny days, atmospheric storms, and dank gloomy dungeons; the whole thing really does look like it was designed from the start for the Wii U and is one of the best HD remasters I've played. In a similar vein to Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D it really demonstrated that Nintendo knows what it's doing when it comes to rereleasing these Zelda games and still making them feel contemporary and fresh. The control scheme also feels like it has been designed from the ground up for the Wii U Gamepad, as switching effortlessly between different gadgets with the touch screen, and being able to flick between maps/sea-charts on the fly is great and also helps to modernise the game even more.

Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker not only provided a departure from the standard graphical style at the time of its release but it also experimented with a brand new structure and setting compared to the Zelda games that had come before it. Set several hundred years after the events of Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time the story concerns itself with a great flood, sent by the gods to seal away Ganon's resurrection, which has covered the land of Hyrule and created the Great Sea. The effect this has upon the gameplay is that there is no longer a 'Hyrule field' overworld to traverse by foot or horse, instead there is a vast ocean populated by lots of small (and occasionally large) islands, containing temples, dungeons, side-quests, etc.

There is a *LOT* to do in Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD and the game often has you sailing back and forth all over the place. Unlike some entries in the series that have you constantly revisiting temples/towns, the slow and ponderous traversal of the Great Sea is a welcome change of pace. However, that didn't stop people from complaining at the time, and so Nintendo have put in more shortcuts this time through. Now not only can you 'teleport' to certain locations using the’ Ballad of Gales’ (played on the eponymous 'Wind Waker' instrument that is key to much of the game) but through a purchase in the auction house you can acquire the 'swift sail', which makes your boat sail twice as fast.

I'd waited a long time to play Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD and it did not disappoint. The story is very compelling and I *loved* how it tied together some of the events in Ocarina of Time; specifically giving Ganon a bit more of a motivation/backstory for his nefarious deeds. The overworld with its sailing and discovering new islands was fantastic fun, and despite being largely empty ocean, it really felt like the world in Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD was a living breathing place. I also enjoyed my time spent with 'toon Link and the cell-shaded Zelda, and while I understand the desire for an epic looking fully realised Legend of Zelda game, I find the escapism of this art style to be very charming and utterly timeless.

This was the last home console Zelda game that I’ve played, and pretty much the sole reason that I originally picked up a WiiU, and will be for a while until the brand-new high definition and open-world entry comes out in late 2015. I very highly recommend Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD as it’s an utterly fantastic game, one of the best in this series, and the improvements made to the rerelease have patched many of the holes that may have been in the original.

I mentioned above that one of the most widely praised and influential Zelda games ever made was Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, well since I never owned an N64 I'd completely missed out on playing it. I toyed with the idea of picking the original up on the Wii's Virtual Console, but then the 25th anniversary of the franchise hit and with it Nintendo revealed Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D on the 3DS. This was not only a rereleased version of the original game with a 3D "gimmick", but instead a complete graphical and gameplay overhaul of a classic title. It was worth the wait. Booting up this game for the first time you would never in a million years think that it was an old remastered game, as it not only controls like it was designed for the 3DS but it looks like it too. The graphics have been completely redone, with improved textures, character models and animation as well as a new interface to streamline gameplay and make use of the added touchscreen. I used the word "gimmick" above, but the 3D genuinely adds depth and clarity to the overall presentation, as well as having gameplay functions when volleying magical energy at bosses, or avoiding projectiles, etc. I played with a combination of it switched on (at different levels of 3D) and off if my eyes got tired, but loved every minute of it.

I also mentioned that the gameplay has been given an overhaul, well this is still the same Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time that graced the orignal 64-bit system all those years ago, but the interface and control scheme have been tweaked to make use of the 3DS's hardware. Aiming, for instance, has built-in motion control like Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword using the 3DS's gyroscope, and this works wonderfully throughout but especially in some of the arrow-shooting mini-games. Accessing the menus and switching items is also effortless using the bottom touchscreen. At the time of its release, Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time really defined what a modern "3D" Zelda game would be like for years to come, as well as influencing countless other videogames such as God of War and Okami. So, you would think that after all these years of advancements and modern successors that it would show its age, but it really doesn't! A true timeless classic, Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D is as outstanding now as it ever was.

The story that it tells, as it bounces back and forth through time and over many varied locations, is still absolutely riveting and the pace of the game is perfect. Even when you're going back and forth to the ‘Temple of Time’ and revisiting certain locations, you never get that "backtracking" feeling that you do in later instalments. This is also helped considerably by the game providing fast travel via the titular ocarina itself, which is easy to play on the 3DS either via the face buttons or touch screen interface. Obviously, Nintendo has made some improvements over time to things like temple design, and the ones in Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D do feel quite brief in comparison to those in Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. As modern three dimensional gaming was still finding its feet, some of the bosses are also a little on the quick-and-easy side, however both of these points don't detract from the game at all. Sure, temples could be bigger and bosses could be harder, but then that's what the included Master Quest version is for, which is unlocked after beating the game. 

In summary, Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time has a reputation for being one of the best games ever created, and Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D reinforces this fact. An absolutely stellar update of an already solid title, this is the *definitive* Legend of Zelda game and probably still the best entry point for anyone looking to get into the series. It may have been Link's 25th birthday, but Nintendo have given all of us the best present you could possibly ask for.

After the superb Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, I gave the Zelda games a bit of a rest while I played through some other things, but eventually returned to play Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, a Nintendo DS game like that is actually a direct sequel to Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker. One of the reasons that I had put off playing this title was because of playing them out of order meant Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks (which I actually played first) allegedly fixed loads of "problems" with Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass and I didn't want that affecting my judgement of the first game. However, I really should have ignored internet hearsay because this is a fantastic game and I enjoyed it even more than its successor is almost every way. This entry, being a direct sequel to Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, takes place on the Great Sea - a vast overworld of water with lots of tiny islands popping out all over the place - and is split into four large regions that you explore to find the usual assortment of temples and dungeons.

To get about in the great sea you hook up with one of the best Zelda characters outside of the main recurring cast, Captain Linebeck and his tramp-steamer, which you steer chugging through the vast oceans, shooting baddies and jumping over obstacles. It really is a *LOT* of fun piloting that ship, and while I loved the train in Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks (I have no problem with trains in a Zelda game unlike most people) the boat is a much better method of transportation in my opinion, mostly because you're not constrained by the rails and can pretty much explore where you want. Once you get the hook arm and cannons sorted it really feels open to exploration in a way that its successor simply wasn't.

While we're on the subject of gameplay, it's worth mentioning that this is an overhead-view 3D Zelda, which is controlled completely with the stylus. I thought that after playing Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D with its full 3D environment and complex controls that jumping back into a stylus-only Nintendo DS game would feel awkward and basic - not so! The control scheme in Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass is a work of genius, and really shows that with expert game design you don't need a zillion buttons assigned to everything in order to make a great game. The only time this falls a little flat is during some of the tougher boss battles where you need to be switching items and using them rather quickly, but it just about holds up and the rest of the game outside these brief encounters is perfect.

The story of Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass concerns itself with the hunt for the legendary ghost ship, as Tetra (Zelda) and her loyal pirates, whom Link seems to have joined, are hunting for it with the intention of finding and plundering its legendary booty. Of course, this all goes wrong and Tetra ends up trapped aboard the spectral vessel, leaving Link in charge of chasing her down and rescuing her. In order to find the ghost ship, Link calls on the help of the Ocean King, the lord of all waters, however his temple is occupied by an ancient and powerful evil that has sealed away his power - so it's down to the 'Hero of Winds' to once again go chasing through temples, finding different holy items in order to restore the Ocean King to his former glory. This also introduces one of the most divisive aspects of Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass - the temple of the Ocean King himself - a timed temple that you have to revisit in-between each of the other dungeons in the game.

Personally, I thought it was great! I love the push-your-luck aspect of the temple, as you see if you can get just a little further and get to a "warp spot" in good time, so that you can skip huge parts of the dungeon on your next visit. Also, the unkillable phantoms that lurk the darkened halls are great for keeping you on your toes and add to the puzzle-based nature of the Ocean King's domain. In fact, Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass has a lot of well-designed temples and it seems like a lot of are and effort has gone into the structure of the game. As you can hopefully see from the screenshots, this is also a really good looking game for the Nintendo DS. It's the same graphics engine and assets that they used to create its successor and so a lot of it looks very similar, in fact I had a hard time finding screens for this article as lots that came up in Google's image search were from Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks.  

(A Classic)

The game also makes really good use of the functions and features of the Nintendo DS, such as using the touchscreen to make notes on maps/sea-charts, blowing or having to talk into the microphone, and sometimes having to "stamp" information from the top screen to the bottom by closing the lid!!It's all very clever and really makes the experience feel right at home on the platform. I had a lot of fun with Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass and really enjoyed it.

Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks is the second of the two sequels to the GameCube's Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, a controversial entry in the Zelda franchise that switched the graphics to an anime inspired cell-shaded art style and dropped Hyrule for a flooded diluvian overworld. Like Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks has been tailored perfectly to utilise the hardware that it runs on, namely that the entire game is controlled almost exclusively through the touchscreen and stylus, which actually provides a very precise level of control. Because the game was designed this way from the ground up, it feels very intuitive and comfortable moving, fighting and puzzle solving without ever touching the d-pad or a face button. In fact, many of the standard gadgets used in Zelda games, such as the boomerang, are at their *very best* here as you can quickly use the stylus to trace a path across the screen and around objects.

Also like the previous game, Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks has graphics that seem very much at home on its native console. The cell-shaded graphics, simple textures and overhead perspective suit the game well and in my opinion is looks great, especially for the Nintendo DS, which is a console not famed for its power. I think a special mention must also be made of the train riding sections, which replace the usual open world Hyrule (or Skyloft, or ocean, etc.), they are just so much fun and intuitive to control. I really think that people who dismissed the idea as being crazy and not-very-Zelda never really gave it a go, or opened their mind to new things - especially from a franchise constantly innovating and experimenting with its own formula. The soundtrack in these sections also has one of the catchiest tunes *ever* in a video game.

Overall, I really enjoyed Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, as I found the story incredibly engaging, the new concepts that it introduces are fun and help it stand out, and the temples were really challenging to solve. There is a little backtracking in the main quest, but never to temples/dungeons (always just in the overworld - like Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess), and the variety in the game is excellent.

(Great Game)

Also, for Zelda geeks, it’s worth mentioning that this is the only game were Zelda herself is your "sidekick" character, and the interaction between her and Link is what drives the charming and affecting story along. One of the most fun and charming Zelda games, Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks is just a fantastic game.

Well, that’s all the Zelda games that I have played through and completed so far. I’m currently in the middle of Legend of Zelda: Link Between Worlds (a direct sequel to Legend of Zelda: a Link to the Past) and then have Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D (another direct sequel, this time to Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D) to play before the latest full home console release hits later this year on the Wii U. I’ll end this article with an image taken from this upcoming and much anticipated release in such a long-running and classic game series, one that is constantly evolving and changing along with its parent hardware and to meet the needs/expectations of modern gamers. Always a safe bet, you can almost guarantee that the next Zelda game will be an instant classic, and there aren’t many other videogame franchises that can claim that accolade.

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About n0signalone of us since 2:01 AM on 10.06.2014

Videogames have come a long way since the 8-bit and 16-bit days of old, and it is now one of the most interesting and constantly-evolving storytelling mediums. I started blogging about videogames a few years ago because I am very passionate about certain experiences I've had, which I don't think could have existed outside of our unique hobby, and I wanted to share this with other like-minded people on the internet.

I'm based in the UK and my favourite videogame of all time is probably still Shadow of the Colossus, but other more recent games such as the impeccable Dark Souls and Journey have given it a run for its money. My other interests, and things I have blogged extensively about, are board games and Japanese anime. I've got a degree in Media Communications and Film, and I'm currently a Teacher of ICT.

I post fairly regularly on my personal blog at https://n0timportant.blogspot.co.uk/, so please visit there for legacy videogame reviews and articles on anime, boardgames, etc.