The Legend of Zelda hasn’t traditionally been known as a game series defined by its difficulty. While a few titles jump out as being notably harder than others, based whether on a game’s release date or on the inclusion of Hero / Master Modes, most Zelda games are designed in such a way as to avoid punishing difficulty spikes. But that hasn’t stopped a few specific titles from kicking players into the dirt with their off-the-charts hardness. In this debate, we want to take a look at the Zelda games that are widely considered to be hard, cruel, and downright sadistic when it comes to difficulty.

The original NES Zelda titles have certainly gained a reputation for difficulty, especially The Adventure of Link. These early adventures were light on instruction, stingy on Heart Containers, and unforgiving with their enemy placements. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to throw my controller when met with a string of Darknuts or Iron Knuckles in these old games.

Then there are the more recent titles that have introduced harder difficulties beyond the main quest, such as the oft-used Hero Mode or the Master Mode in Breath of the Wild. I found the latter especially punishing, as I had enough trouble surviving enemy attacks in the main game. My body definitely wasn’t ready for the horrors of Master Mode.

But for me, the most sadistic Zelda game has to be Four Swords Anniversary Edition, specifically its Hero’s Trial challenge levels. These hard-as-nails stages dare the player to take on waves of tough enemies, solve a few devilish puzzles, and perhaps even partake in some clunky platforming. To put it into perspective, the final fight in the second Hero’s Trial level involves a Ball and Chain soldier, four Fire Wizzrobes, and a few Spiny Beetles for good measure, all in a tiny arena with a bottomless pit on all sides. Every enemy intends to knock you off that platform, chipping away at your precious hearts with each hit and each fall. Zelda games should never be this hard, and the developers were just plain mean to ask us to complete such a test.

Based on your experience, which Zelda game is the most sadistic with its difficulty? Is it one of the older installments? Is it a more recent title because of Hero / Master Mode? Is there some other game that made you want to break the controller? Join the debate in the comments below.

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