Art Styles in Zelda

Over the years, the entire series has taken many different approaches to the art style in the games. From top down 2D to realistic 3D graphics, Zelda has adapted them all. A few of them worked really well and drew consumers in, but other graphical styles kept certain fans at bay. So why is that? I thought I would look into the different paths that the graphics of each game took and give my opinion on them.

Keep in mind while reading this: This is my opinion and is in no way meant to be factual. I have done research to further my knowledge, and I have spoken to many fans about their opinions on the different visual styles. Here, I will be pointing out what I’ve observed and giving my personal opinion on what the style contributes to the game.

And with that, let’s get into some of the biggest variations in graphics throughout the series.

I touch on all of the basic art styles I’ve noticed pop up around the series and give my thoughts on each. At the end of each section, I rate it out of 10 so you as the reader can get a better idea about how I feel about them.

2D Top-Down Realism

In this category, I’m grouping the following games together for convenience: The Legend of Zelda, Link’s Awakening, Oracle of Ages, and Oracle of Seasons. Not a lot of people touch these games. It takes a really dedicated Zelda fan to be able to effectively play these all the way through. I am unfortunately not one of them. It’s not that the game’s are terrible, it’s simply my gripe with the graphics. I don’t think two dimensions and realistic-based visuals work extremely well together. (Note: I am using the term realistic loosely). I’ve just never been able to get into any of these games. Many of you may believe the same. I just can’t bear the art style.

There are a few people I’ve talked to that seem to really enjoy these games, despite the graphics. Personally, I have to say 4/10.

2D Side-Scrolling

This has only been seen used at one point in the series: The Adventure of Link. (Keep in mind, I’m not counting any of the CDI games). This game is really unique in that it acts as a sort of platformer compared to its predecessor. It has been dubbed the hardest game in the Zelda series, and I will personally give out gold stars to whoever can play this 100% through without any deaths. Is that even possible?

When it comes down to it, I’m not very interested in the game. Not because of its art style, however. I actually have a fantastic love for 2D side-scrolling games. It’s just too difficult. Overall I give this style a 6/10.

2D Top-Down Cartoon

This style took flight after the development of the Oracle games, and I have noticed a definite preference for it in every 2D Zelda released to date. This includes: A Link to the Past, Four Swords, Four Swords Adventures, The Minish Cap, Phantom Hourglass, and Spirit Tracks. All of these games definitely put a cartoonish spin onto the Zelda series, and it seems to be extremely popular. A Link to the Past was the first to use it and it turned out to be a huge hit.

All of these games look fantastic. I think this is the way to go when you’re looking at a 2D Zelda game. I have completed a number of the games on this list and I enjoyed them all. 7/10.

3D Polygons

Ocarina of Time and my favorite game, Majora’s Mask, take up this section. Obviously, these two games have the exact same art style so it wasn’t too hard to group them together. For the time, these two games held top of the line graphics, MM a little higher than OoT. You could not get more graphically advanced on the Nintendo 64 than these two games. However, they are a little dated as of today.

I grew up on these two games. Majora’s Mask was the Zelda game I ever played when I got the Collector’s Edition with my Nintendo Gamecube. Looking at the graphics, they are still great, however it’s unwise to go back to that style today. Nintendo probably wouldn’t do well going back to polygons. Because of that, 7/10.

3D Cartoon

The Wind Waker takes the spot here. Some people may think to include Skyward Sword in this category, however I think it is better saved for another. A lot of people look at this game and shy away from it because of the graphics. In fact, during my recent play-though, my father mentioned that it didn’t even look like a Zelda game, as if to say the cartoon, cell-shaded style went a little too far.

Personally, I love this style. I’m excited how the HD edition will turn out. 8/10.

3D Realism

Twilight Princess‘s visual style blew me away when I first got my hands on this game. I love the mood it gives off, I love the textures. I’m fond of the steam-punk feeling of certain areas in the game.

This was a big step up from The Wind Waker, the last 3D Zelda game before this, that really showed off what the Gamecube was capable of as well as showing off some of the Wii’s most distinct features. To go from lovely, cute cartoon graphics to this realistic masterpiece was a shock, but was received extremely well by the massive fan-base.

A select few people have expressed their distaste with the character designs, here, as they weren’t exactly human-like, but I disagree. It gave the game character. 9/10.

Skyward Sword

Miyamoto himself noted that this game’s graphics were unlike any game made to date. I agree. This game is stunning. It’s graphics fit the entire mood perfectly. Even if the way our hero smiles looks a little goofy, they managed to do what seemed impossible. They kept a very serious atmosphere that still gives off a bit of comic relief. This added to the overall game tremendously.

Not to mention, they thought to include things in this game that weren’t included in any game previously. (Such as bathrooms, if you don’t count Majora’s Mask. A different team was involved in the creation of that game, anyway.)

I still have a few minor gripes with the visuals, but overall they are fantastic. 9.5/10.


Nintendo has taken a lot of steps to find the perfect art style that our hero should be portrayed in. I think they are almost there, and could very well have it by the time they finally release the long awaited Zelda Wii U. None of these styles are perfect in my eyes, though some come close. Remember, these are my opinions and are not at all factual. Feel free to leave a comment and let me know what you think! Until next time!

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