Is Ocarina of Time the Best Legend of Zelda Title?

Posted: February 9, 2015 in Current Gaming
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Ocarina of Time Title

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.

Good Lord...

Good Lord…

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).

And honestly, I've never been a fan of the art style.

And honestly, I’ve never been a fan of the art style.

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.

I don't know why, but this part always gets to me.

I don’t know why, but this part always gets to me.

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.

Hyrule Field seems bare now, but upon first playing it, it was simply amazing.

Hyrule Field seems bare now, but upon first playing it, it was simply amazing.

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.

That is one beautiful background.

That is one beautiful background.

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 Wrap feature.

– 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.

  1. Hatm0nster says:

    It really is difficult to pick a “best” Zelda game isn’t it? It’s not that they’re all great, it’s also that you have to answer the question of what it means to be a “Zelda” game. For me, a Zelda game is a game with puzzling dungeons, rewards exploration, has Link, has interesting gadgets to use, makes you care about the world you’re saving, and manages to have interesting characters in spite of itself.

    For me, the best Zelda game is Majora’s Mask. Partly due to the urgency the timer inspires, partly because it manages to make me care about the characters more than the other games, but mostly because of the dungeons it lets me explore and the items I get to use. Like yourself with Link to the Past, I could go on about it, but those are the basics. Is it objectively the best one? Probably not, as you mentioned it has its flaws. For me though, it doesn’t get any better. (And this is coming from a guy who loves OoT and thinks Twilight Princess has been unfairly criticized over the last few years.)

    Also, did you know that the Link to the Past comic is getting a paper back reprint this year? Go check it out on Amazon. As a Link to the Past fan, it’ll be well worth your time!

    • JAVGB says:

      Oh man, I remember those being in the old Nintendo Powers. Never got to read all of them though. Cool on Nintendo for bringing them back.

      I think your definition of a Zelda title is spot on. Funny how some of them manage to feel less “Zelda” than others.

      As for Majora’s Mask, I’m more excited about it getting a remake than Ocarina of Time. For me personally, I didn’t have the time to invest in Majora’s Mask when it first came out, so I’m hoping this time around, I can really absorb myself in the game.

  2. Although I’m a fan of all Zelda games, I was especially partial to Ocarina of Time. Coming in at a close second is Wind Waker. There was something just super appealing about sailing around on the former king of Hyrule.

    • JAVGB says:

      I really need to commit to the HD version of Wind Waker. I had a hard time getting into it on the GCN, mainly b/c, as I stated above, the sailing was so monotonous. I think it’s a good game that just had a few bad decisions that tripped it up (totally my opinion there).

  3. I’ve re-played several Zelda games recently with my partner. We played OoT, Majora’s Mask, Wind Waker and Twilight Princess. Of the bunch, Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask hold up the best. My partner, who hadn’t played any Zeldas before, was blown away by those two in particular, and less so by the other games. I can’t speak for her, but I know for me it all comes down to pacing and length. Ocarina of Time is near-perfect in that regard – there’s no filler. The story is minimal but effective – they took a lot from Link’s Awakening, which explains why it’s such an improvement over Link to the Past.

    I think the problem with the newer games is that they thought more is more. It shouldn’t take 30-40 hours for a game to get started.

  4. Mason says:

    I would say all 3 of those Zelda titles are fantastic. Hard to say which is #1. You’re spot on with Majora’s Mask, I often call it OoT Part 2. The best aspects of Majora’s Mask was the functionality of the masks, the time element, and the darker story line.

    I can tell you that the worst Zelda title has to be Hyrule Warriors. It’s so monotonous and boring! The CDi games don’t count as games! XD

    • JAVGB says:

      I exempt Hyrule Warriors because it was never meant to be a mainline game. But that’s just my opinion. Doesn’t make your point less valid.

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