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The Zelda Awards

Ever since the release of the original The Legend of Zelda game, Nintendo has done a vast number of experiments with the franchise, often making precise tweaks in the attempt to deliver the ultimate Zelda experience. The result has been a collection of games of such consistently high quality that it becomes impossible to confidently point out the overall best installment, given that each game has shone particularly bright in one or more areas. In these Zelda Awards, ten distinct categories are selected and the finest game in each one of them gets its deserved accolades.

Storyline – Wind Waker

From the get go, it is clear The Wind Waker is out to tell one pretty epic plot. Its opening segment, backed by gorgeous music and beautiful panels, tells the legend of a kingdom that has been lost in time after war was waged between a hero and the servants of an evil beast. Then, it promptly cuts to a large ocean on which tales of that land are constantly whispered in the wind.

There are two keys to the game's storytelling: its constant development and its numerous twists. And although a few other Zelda titles have managed to combine those two qualities, not a single one has done it as well as the cartoonish Gamecube outing. As Link travels around the world, not only is he after key items, but he is also – sometimes unknowingly – always on the trail of some huge reveal that is related to the grand underlying plot of the lost kingdom and the ocean. Through over thirty hours of gameplay, it is a script shrouded in mystery that never stops moving; growing in scope and presenting wild turns with every passing segment.

Combat – Twilight Princess

Since the locking system from Ocarina of Time was first presented, battles on Zelda games went from 2-D simplicity to tenser battles between a swordsman and his foe. As new mechanics were added little by little with every new affair, Twilight Princess was certainly the peak of that curve, accurately capturing the essence of one-on-one duels.

Despite the general weakness of the enemies, which lead a lot of people to overlook how great the battle system was, it actually had a lot of depth. Across his journey, Link would learn a large array of techniques precisely activated through combinations of button presses and stick movements. With those, each enemy could be beaten in a different way, and battling became something more complex than simply waiting for a foe to be vulnerable in order to swing the character's sword.

Overworld – Wind Waker

Perhaps the most controversial overworld in the series, The Great Sea delivers an unparalleled sense of adventure. Although the attacks towards its emptiness are definitely valid, that happens to be a characteristic inherently present on any large body of water. With a whopping forty-nine islands waiting to be charted, numerous submarines and watchtowers ready to be plundered, and some intriguing mysteries to be solved, it is an overworld that rewards those who are drawn to it.

As the sun sets over the horizon and the morning is replaced by the silence of the night, it is impossible not to feel immersed and excited by the unknown looming out there. The Great Sea is the epitome of the game: it is huge, adventurous, and filled with content. Those who dare explore it discover the truth that every fisherman knows: every sea has a heart and soul, and The Great Sea is no different.

Character Development – Majora’s Mask

Inside the walls of Clock Town there lived the deepest and most amazing set of supporting characters the series has ever had. Each one of them, it doesn’t matter how insignificant they may have looked, had a story to tell and a problem for players to solve. It was easy to spend three days running around town just watching people do their daily routines and, consequently, unveiling the riddle that was their lives and the way they interacted with each other.

But it was not just in that tight little town that Majora's Mask showed its prowess in character development. Every corner of Termina presented personages with great depth that worked as the centerpieces of four minor, yet big, storylines that served as supports for the game's main plot. As Link toiled to clear the issues on each of the regions of the world, becoming deeply involved with the characters living there was a natural consequence of the game's masterful writing.

Boss Battles – Phantom Hourglass

Locate the dungeon's main item then find a way to use it to bring down the boss. From a minimalistic standpoint, such two-step recipe describes how to beat every big baddie that has ever appeared on a Zelda game, and Phantom Hourglass does not run away from the rule. However, thanks to the Nintendo DS' two calling cars – the two screens and the touch controls – the game is able to excel in that regard.

The pair of screens is used in conjunction to convey the enormous size of the beasts. Meanwhile, through creative use of the stylus and the items, the battles turn into fun touch mini-games on which players must figure out how to defeat the bosses. It is a simple yet challenging format that works wonderfully.

Sidequests – Wind Waker

While on most Zelda games the only interesting reward one could gain from doing a sidequest was a Heart Piece, Wind Waker successfully changed that annoying pattern. Not only did it introduce many collectible items that brought new motivation to those missions, it also had Tingle and his chart-reading skills serve as a tool to give meaning to the mountains of rupees Link would find by exploring the sea.

The importance given to the mission rewards ended up playing right into the hands of the quality of the sidequests and the utter charm of the game's world, creating a delightful cycle: finely written sidequests of varied structures lead to exploration, which paved the way to exciting rewards.

Difficulty – A Link To The Past

A Link to the Past was the installment responsible for solidifying the archetypal structure of a Zelda game, and it is also the title where one finds the fine balance between the extremely brutal challenge of the first two Zelda titles and the benevolence of the latest 3-D entries. It is, from the get go, a daunting journey even to experienced gamers, but its challenges rarely feel cheap or impossible.

Enemies are a constant menace both inside and outside the dungeons, and every new area that is explored will most likely present gamers with the Game Over screen at least once before they can figure out a proper strategy to make their way through the challenges. It is a very fair test of skills, especially on its boss battles, but it almost never reaches the point of complete frustration.

Atmosphere – Majora’s Mask

The dark atmosphere of Majora’s Mask is often the deserving target of many compliments. However, its biggest feature, and the one that joins said darkness to take the game to legendary heights is its sense of urgency. On most RPGs or adventure games, the sentence “Hurry up! Or the world will be destroyed!” is frequently used. Unfortunately, it is nothing but an empty claim. Characters can take their time, visit the local shop, play with the village kids, drink some soda at the local bar, sleep three nights on their comfortable bed, travel to far away regions, and the world will still be there.

On Majora’s Mask things are different. Whenever someone tells Link to hurry up, they mean it. The looming moon, the sinister songs, and the despair found on every region around Termina do not let players forget that the world will truly end within seventy-two hours, and they had better step to it before their progress is lost. Though it does bother some people that time constraints limit the exploration, that is the defining trait of Majora's Mask. It always highlights that the end is coming fast, and it thrives on the bleakness of its very real threats.

Dungeons – Skyward Sword

While most Zelda games will use one of its dungeons as an introductory lesson, Skyward Sword – perhaps due to its limited number of seven mazes – goes all out from the very beginning. Absolutely none of its dungeons feel like half-baked temples. Their puzzles, heavily aided by the smart use of the Wii's motion capabilities, are mostly fully original and rather creative; while their settings are brilliantly designed beauties that do not let players forget that danger lurks on every corner.

Out of the seven, four are certainly among the greatest dungeons of all time: the Lanayru Mining Facility and the Sandship with their mind-blowing use of the time-shift stones, which transform the dungeons on the blink of an eye; the Ancient Cistern, where heavenly watery beauty clashes with menacing hell; and the Sky Keep, whose structure is a puzzle in itself. And that all goes without mentioning the Fire Sanctuary – possibly the best fire dungeon of the entire franchise – and the first two good temples. Its dungeons amaze from beginning to end, working as the greatest moments of a very good game.

Progression – A Link Between Worlds

A Link Between Worlds implemented a feature for which fans had been claiming ever since Nintendo stated they were looking for ways to change the franchise's traditional structure: it gave players the power to choose the order on which they would tackle the dungeons of its second half. Making a return after being absent since The Legend of Zelda, that freedom was better deployed here, for instead of bumping into dungeons randomly while exploring the map (which was the case on the map-less original game), they could knowingly choose what to do next.

That exciting way to progress into the adventure did have a cost: plot development was almost completely sacrificed since writers and developers had no control of where players would go. However, it opened the way for a more seamless and explorative gameplay on future titles, and also gave birth to an item-rental system that could have interesting ramifications if it is used again. It showed that Nintendo does occasionally listen to what its fans have to say, and it proved that they are always looking for ways to make the Zelda experience better.

19 comments
riou7
riou7 moderator moderator

Nice list! My favourites of them all would probably a tie between Twilight Princess and Link to the Past

hotdiddykong
hotdiddykong

Skyward Sword had a good emotion factor, it struck you right when the moments wanted you to.


And adding into Twilight Princess's combat was the fact that it had the most unique variety of weapons, especially the  Bomb Arrows and Double Hookshot. and lets not forget dat based as hell Ball n Chain


Like others said, its kind of split on Majora and Wind Waker with Side Quests, Majora revolved around them as the main point of the game so its hard to really say if they even count as Side quests.

dylan417
dylan417

Cool idea. Even though I agree with most of them, it's weird not to see Ocarina of Time. But thinking about it, where would it win? Nice choices.

turtlethetaffer
turtlethetaffer

Agreed with most of them, although you should have included "best soundtrack" and maybe a seperate one for the 2D games.

Although I'd say Majora's Mask is tops in atmosphere, character development AND story.

voljin1987
voljin1987

Agreed with most points. However personally I would give sidequests to majora's mask.. the kafei and anju sidequest immediately comes to mind

SloganYams
SloganYams

Wind Waker is so great, maybe my favorite Zelda. I really need to finish the HD version...


If I might add my own award, I'd add "Best Ganon," in which case Wind Waker wins again.

bruno_fmenedes
bruno_fmenedes

Overall, great blog! It was entertaining to read, thanks!

 As I was reading I thought "well these awards make sense and I would probably give them to the same game if I did something like this", until I reached the dungeons category. I completely disagree with that award. For me Ocarina of Time still has the best collection of dungeons, by far. Both A Link to the Past, Twilight Princess, Majora's Mask and Minish Cap have cleverer and more creative dungeons than Skyward Sword, in my humble opinion. For me, the best part of Skyward Sword's dungeons were it's bosses, the rest before that never impressed or challenged me much.

Pierst179
Pierst179 moderator

@hotdiddykong You are right, Majora's focus on sidequests is one of the things that made it such a fantastic game!


And Skyward Sword had really great emotional moments. The relationship between Link and Zelda is nicely developed and it becomes sort of the entry-point of our immersion into the plot.

Pierst179
Pierst179 moderator

@dylan417 When I finished the list I thought about the same exact thing. I was kind of shocked I had not mentioned it.


Ocarina does all of those areas quite well, and it would rank near the top in nearly all of them, but recent Zelda games have outdone it in some areas even if none of them were able to be as consistent throughout. However, due to the overall package, I still say OOT is the best Zelda game.

Pierst179
Pierst179 moderator

@turtlethetaffer Fair enough! I thought about including soundtrack, but then I figured I would have to include graphics, controls and other more "technical" things. So I decided to keep it out.

Pierst179
Pierst179 moderator

@SloganYams I agree on the Best Ganon award.


The only thing stopping WW from being my favorite Zelda ever are its weak dungeons.

Pierst179
Pierst179 moderator

@bruno_fmenedes Well, so you did get pretty far without disagreeing with me!


Twilight Princess does have great dungeons, but I am not a big fan of the last two (Twilight Palace and Hyrule Castle) and City in the Sky, in spite of its originality, falls flat to me.


Majora's Mask and Minish Cap suffer a bit in terms of quantity, but in quality they are indeed great. I don't think Woodfall Temple qualifies as a great dungeon, though.


As for A Link to the Past, it is certainly the best 2-D Zelda in terms of dungeons.

bruno_fmenedes
bruno_fmenedes

@Pierst179 @bruno_fmenedes  Oh! And I also never played Phantom hourglass, so I can't agree or disagree with that one either. And sorry if I'm being annoying with all these comments.

I wish the best gaming!

bruno_fmenedes
bruno_fmenedes

@Pierst179 @bruno_fmenedes Thanks for reading my comment and for the time you spent replying to it! =)

Yes I did, it's really only the Dungeons award that I completely disagree with. I haven't played A Link Between Worlds so I can't agree or disagree with the Progression award. I prefer quality over quality any day so I don't think that's a valid flaw in either Major's Mask or Minish Cap. I thought the Dungeons award was only about the quality of the dungeons not quantity.

I noticed that you didn't mention Ocarina of Time on your reply, why? For me that's the game that most deserves that award.

Thanks again for your attention! Take care! =)

bruno_fmenedes
bruno_fmenedes

@Pierst179 @bruno_fmenedes  Really? Jabu Jabu's Belly is maybe your least favorite zelda dungeon? Yes it feels introductory and yes it is small, but also has great pacing, is very original and is full of personality, which for me it's a major factor for measuring a dungeon quality. I mean the freakin' walls were constantly moving and it really felt like we were inside a living giant creature! It's was an easy but surreal and absorbing dungeon in my humble opinion. And personality is one thing I think Skyward Swords dungeons lack, some more than others of course. But the 3 first dungeons of OOT, although they felt intructory, they were also much smaller than the 6 dungeon masterpieces (which I think are all better than any dungeon in Skyward Sword). So, I don't think it's fair to say that the temples are only half of the dungeons in OOT, since you'll probably only spent 10% of the total time spent inside dungeons in those first 3 dungeons. Not to mention that OOT has some of the best mini-dungeons of any zelda game, which are: the bottom of the well; the ice cavern; and the gerudo training ground (really challenging this last one).

Pierst179
Pierst179 moderator

@bruno_fmenedes @Pierst179Your comment are welcome!



Well, I guess it is about quality, but in the case of MM, for example I consider Woodfall Temple to be pretty average, a nice introductory dungeon. That means 25% of its dungeons are average, which kind of works against it getting the award.


So I guess quality is important, but so is quantity... =P


Anyway, as for OOT, all I have to say is that the first three dungeons don't really impress me, and Jabu Jabu's Belly might be my least favorite Zelda dungeon ever! And that's coming from someone who has played all of the games! =/


Still, the dungeons on the second half are all masterpieces! No doubt about it!


That's why I complimented Skyward Sword for kicking things off with dungeons that do not feel like they are merely introductory, which is what I feel OOT fails at. But OOT is undoubtedly a strong contender for that title!