2021 Reflections: Part 2: On the Topic of Zeldas

Well, my friends, I’ve done it. Throughout the course of 2021, I played every “core” Legend of Zelda video game (and one spin-off). It was a fun “project”, and I finally played/finished the few titles that I’d never gotten around to before.

What everyone is dying to know, I’m sure, is where Breath of the Wild is going to fit on my ranking list. And I’m finding it incredibly difficult to place it! Honestly, BotW is such a radical departure from the typical Zelda formula that it feels like comparing a papaya to oranges. So I think that finding a place for it will require me to stop and really consider why I’ve placed each game as I have.

But because I’m not big on sitting down and really thinking about anything, I decided the best way to figure this out would be to re-evaluate every game. This time, rather than sorting them by gut feeing, I came up with three general categories and gave each game an arbitrary score from 1 to 5 in each. Then I sorted it by totals, and voila! Answers! My three categories are as follows:

Gameplay : Duh. How fun the game is. But it also takes into consideration things like controls, how successfully gimmicks are used, and how much content-padding exists.

Aesthetics : Visual design, music, story, and general vibe. I say “visual design” because I’m comparing games across every generation, and comparing objective graphical quality would likely result in a linear increase in score from the oldest title to the newest.

Fuzzies : How thinking about each game makes me feel, and how many pleasant memoires of it I have. This is more or less the same as my “gut feeling” as mentioned before, but now with numbers! Also factors in how likely I am to replay any given game.

Due to the lack of granularity in my rankings, there were a number of games that ended up with the same total score. So I added a secondary sorting criteria to the table, and the highest “fuzzies” scores get top billing. Because obviously.

Link’s Awakening54514
Breath of the Wild44513
Wind Waker45413
A Link Between Worlds54413
Majora’s Mask54413
Twilight Princess44412
The Minish Cap54312
Ocarina of Time43411
Skyward Sword35311
A Link to the Past54211
The Legend of Zelda3249
Four Swords Adventures3339
Spirit Tracks2327
Oracle of Seasons3317
Oracle of Ages3317
Zelda II: The Adventure of Link2226
Phantom Hourglass2226

I could be here all day explaining my rationale for each individual score assigned, but I’d rather not. Here are some highlights!

Link’s Awakening is no doubt at the top spot. Nice to see the “science” agrees with my original assessment. Note that the scoring is based on the Switch remake. If I was ranking the Game Boy original, I’d have given a 4 for gameplay and a five for aesthetics, so nothing changes. As it is, I only took off the aesthetic point because I don’t really care for the edge blurring effect, and the slowdown is really distracting.

There we have it, folks. Breath of the Wild is my second-favourite Zelda game! It gets the honours of being one of only two games that get the full-five fuzzies rank. And it’s well-deserved, because BotW is the only Zelda game that I can just melt into and be lost in for hours at a time. I took off a gameplay point because the rain is endlessly frustrating, there are a few shrines that I genuinely dislike, and the final boss is kinda meh. A point off of aesthetics because the story wants to be epic but doesn’t stick the landing.

Wind Waker retains its place at number three, because it’s my favourite Zelda to look at, and it’s the world I just like being in the most. Also, have you heard the soundtrack!? I absolutely want more Wind Waker, but not in the way that the DS sequels delivered.

Somehow A Link Between Worlds and Majora’s Mask score exactly the same. It’s not a robust scale, though, so I guess it’s not actually that unlikely. The fact of the matter is, I think they’re both excellent sequels that improved on their predecessors in pretty much every aspect. Majora’s Mask introduced a delightful horror theme and the transformation masks added a ton to the general gameplay, while A Link Between Worlds removed a lot of the traditional Zelda linearity and added the brilliant wall-merge mechanic.

Twilight Princess and Minish Cap tie at 12 point each. While TP gives me more warm fuzzies, I think that Minish Cap is objectively the better game of the two. It got a 5 in gameplay, after all.

Interesting that Skyward Sword, the most divisive Zelda game, sits right in between Ocarina of Time and A Link to the Past, the two most widely-beloved. I have few memories more vivid than those of playing through OoT for the first time, because it was easily the most mind-blowing generational shift. It still fills me with all the good nostalgia feels, whereas I really don’t have all that many for LttP. I only played bits and pieces of it growing up, and by the time I learned about emulation, it was more of a bucket list item than something I was truly excited to experience. As for SS? It’s fine. I like the game pretty well in general, but it suffers from way too much content padding that doesn’t add anything but time to the experience.

The Legend of Zelda is a classic, and I respect it. But it’s also hard as heck, which is not what I’m looking for in a Zelda game. I also lament that while the music is really good, there are like five songs total. Every dungeon uses the same tiles, but in a different colour. I’d really like to see a remake of this one with just a few aesthetic tweaks. Spruce up the dungeons with some unique visual themes, add a couple new music tracks, and remove the blue wizzrobes. Bam! Perfect remake. You can have that one for free, Nintendo.

I think it says a lot about the five games than ranked lower than Four Swords Adventures, that they got ranked lower than Four Swords Adventures. I would rather replay a four-player game alone than revisit any of them. Ouch. Of special note is that both Oracle games got a rock-bottom score on fuzzies, since I have exactly zero nostalgia for them, and those playthroughs didn’t do a lot to inspire me to appreciate them more.

And that about wraps it up! If you want in-depth thoughts on every aspect of every game, I have an ongoing video series on YouTube specifically for that. As of this writing, it’s a little more than halfway through Skyward Sword and updates twice a week. So at that rate, the series should come to a close… I don’t know. Probably before the sequel to Breath of the Wild is released, anyway.

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