Posted on May 21 2019 by Rod Lloyd
The trading sequence side quest is one of the oldest traditions in the Zelda series. These optional quest lines ask Link to travel the vast game world, meet a diverse cast of characters, and make a series of bizarre trades until he finally gets his hands on something valuable. Our hero may start with something as mundane as a clock; but after a few trades and a bit of leg work, he may end up with a legendary blade.
From the first true trading sequence in Link’s Awakening to ones we’ve seen in more recent games, these side quests are by far some of my favorites. So, as Zelda Dungeon celebrates all things side quests over the next several days, I wanted to rank every trading sequence side quest seen in the Zelda series, from the worst to the best.
Now, to the team at ZD, the term “side quest” implies “optional”, meaning that our list only includes trading sequences that are not required to complete a game’s main quest. Some may argue that the process of recovering Ilia’s memories in Twilight Princess is a trading sequence, but the truth is that this quest isn’t a side quest.
But enough with the technicalities; let’s get to the list!
Title Deed Trading Sequence (Majora’s Mask)
We begin our list in the land of Termina, where the moon looms menacingly in the sky and where local business owners are never satisfied with their current work environments.
The first leg of what has come to be known as the Title Deed Trading Sequence is actually the set of required steps to obtain the Ocarina of Time and reverse Skull Kid’s curse at the start of the game. Link must obtain a Moon’s Tear by visiting the Astral Observatory (which in itself involves playing hide and seek with the Bombers) and then trade it to a stingy Business Scrub in South Clock Town. Doing so will earn Link ownership over the Scrub’s Deku Flower, by way of a Town Title Deed, and he can use that flower to proceed up the Clock Tower to confront Skull Kid.
While this initial trade is crucial to the game’s introduction, earning the Town Title Deed also opens up a rather mundane trading sequence with a group of other Business Scrubs. Whenever Link obtains the Town Deed, he can then trade it to a wistful Scrub in Southern Swamp for a Swamp Title Deed. Our hero becomes a real estate tycoon as the Swamp Deed becomes a Mountain Deed, the Mountain Deed becomes an Ocean Deed, and the Ocean Deed becomes a fat stack or rupees and a derelict Deku Flower. The entire process is very… bureaucratic; “You need to go through the proper channels first,” they say.
The Title Deed Trading Sequence is certainly not bad, but it does not offer the same variety and surprises that other trading quests do. Things start off strong with the Astral Observatory and the Moon’s Tear, but the quest quickly dissolves into trading otherwise useless legal documents to the same character model over and over again. There’s a reason the hand in the Stock Pot Inn’s toilet is so quick to flush down a title deed. I will agree though that this side quest is a fruitful one, as Link will net five pieces of heart and 500 rupees by the end of the endeavor. The returns of a land speculator are grand, but the job itself can be pretty bland.
Island Trading Sequence (The Wind Waker)
Among the hustle and bustle of Windfall Island lies Zunari’s Shop, an upstart establishment aiming to corner the market on curios. Zunari wants to stock his newly-opened stall with only the rarest of items, goods that the unsuspecting residents of Windfall would spend fortunes on. “It would be like taking candy from many rich babies,” he says. So, just like in the Title Deed Trading Sequence, Link puts on his proverbial business suit and becomes Zunari’s travelling partner. After Zunari gives Link a lowly Town Flower, his only merchandise, he dispatches his new partner to the far reaches of the Great Sea in search of new business contracts.
So, Link risks death travelling from island to island while Zunari stays cozy on Windfall; the ideal partnership, right?
In any case, Link can trade his Town Flower to one of three Wandering Merchants scattered across the Great Sea. Gorons might not be able to swim, but they sure can haggle! A successful trade will net our hero a new rare item and will secure a new contract for Zunari. You see, an honest trade on the Great Sea is just as good as any written contract, at least according to a contrived verbal agreement called the “Merchant’s Oath”. Link can continue to experiment with new trades and earn rarer items until Zunari is swimming in fantastical merchandise. The entire process can reward Link a few pieces of heart and, with Zunari fully stocked, sweet Magic Armor.
The Island Trading Sequence gets points for originality. The idea of conducting a variety of different trial-and-error trades is certainly a novel one. But the primary problem is that, like the Title Deed Trade Quest, the entire ordeal feels too mundane and, at times, tedious. The travel time between merchants definitely doesn’t help, as the player will, at least, need to make 12 trades to finish the quest. And without a guide or walkthrough, the number of trips from one island to another can be significantly higher. And, while I really enjoy the designs of the Wandering Merchants, this trading sequence suffers also from a lack of unique characters with which to trade.
Mask Trading Sequence (Ocarina of Time)
I still find it interesting that a minor side quest from Ocarina of Time inspired the core gimmick of its follow-up. That’s right, before Majora’s Mask gave us the chance to collect a series of magical masks, its predecessor had us assume the role of a mask tradesman.
Early in Link’s adventure in Ocarina of Time, our hero can offer his services to the Happy Mask Salesman in Hyrule Castle Town. If we only knew what horrors that man was capable of at the time. Being that the Happy Mask Shop deals “in masks that bring happiness to everyone,” Link decides to find unsuspecting kingdom dwellers that might appreciate one of his masks. Luckily, we already know a person that would kill to have his hands on our first mask. The soldier guarding the trail to Death Mountain, a character we must talk to in order to continue the game anyway, agrees to buy the Keaton Mask as a gift for his son.
Here we see how “trading” works in this trading sequence. Rather than trade one item for another like we see in other trading quests, Link instead trades each mask for a sum of rupees. That basically makes each sale more of a transaction than a trade, which lessens the sequence overall in my opinion, but I do appreciate the uniqueness of the idea. In any case, Link can pay back the Happy Mask Salesman for each mask he’s sold — every mask has a set price that Link must pay back — and then pick up another one. The Skull Mask goes to a Skull Kid, the Spooky Mask goes to kid in the Graveyard, and the Bunny Hood goes to the Running Man in Hyrule Field.
I quite enjoyed searching the land of Hyrule for the right character that would buy each mask. The whole process gave the Child portion of Ocarina of Time a novel reason to explore the game world and seek out interesting minor characters. In fact, I probably would have never met the Running Man as a child if not for the Bunny Hood. However, in addition to the lackluster “trading” discussed above, this quest also suffers from a lackluster reward.
Securing four sales will let Link rent any mask he wants from a set of eight, including the Mask of Truth, which is the only one with any real use. For me, I wanted to like the Mask of Truth more than I actually did; I definitely didn’t use it all that much. The Gossip Stones do offer interesting glimpses into lore and provide a few worthwhile hints, but for the most part, the mask just sat in my inventory unused.
I actually think the silly responses from NPC’s that Link gets for wearing different masks is a stronger reward than the mysterious Sheikah mask.
Ocarina of Time‘s Mask Trading Quest is iconic, if a bit a limited. But that doesn’t change the fact that it laid the foundation for a full game in just two short years.
Noble Sword Trading Sequence (Oracle of Seasons)
Oracle of Seasons presents us with the first true trading sequence on our list. Rather than trade items between a set of strikingly similar NPC’s, this quest has Link trading with a cast of colorful characters scattered across the land of Holodrum… which is the way it should be.
The quest begins when Link lights a reading torch for the studious Dr. Left, who rewards our hero with an avian encyclopedia called the Cuccodex. Such a resource on Cuccos can only really be given to one person, so Link speeds off to see chicken breeder Malon. Our hero trades the book for a Lon Lon Egg (eggs and chickens are a common element in these trading sequences), and then hands that off to the feisty witch Maple. Lon Lon Eggs are all the rage with girls, apparently? Maple takes the egg and gives Link a Ghastly Doll in return.
The quirky trades continue as Link obtains an Iron Pot in Holodrum Plains, some Lava Soup in Subrosia, a Goron Vase on Goron Mountain, and a Fish in the Sunken City. Like any great trading quest, this one turns Link into a real globetrotter. Our hero uses the newly-acquired Fish to lure an Old Man’s cat out of a tree, thus receiving a Megaphone in return. He can then use the device to wake up a sleeping farmer named Talon (another trading sequence tradition) to receive a Mushroom, trade that Mushroom for a Wooden Bird, and trade that Wooden Bird for some Engine Grease. All these items are so adorably random!
To cap off the sequence, Link can give the grease to Guru-Guru in exchange for a Phonograph, which can be played for a random Business Scrub in an underground cave. But here is where the trading sequence goes from being enjoyable nonsense to a real letdown. Rather than give Link something in exchange for his Phonograph melody, the Scrub instead tells him directions through the Lost Woods, where the legendary Noble Sword lies in wait. Now, the developers definitely intended for players to only navigate through the Lost Woods after completing the rest of the trading quest, but the truth is that you can get the Noble Sword as early as you want if you know the directions ahead of time, or if you brute force your way to it through trial and error, or if you stumble across it by dumb luck.
Oracle of Seasons is definitely a solid trading side quest when considering the places that Link visits, the characters that he meets, and the super weird items that acquires. But the entire thing ends up feeling empty after you realize that the ultimate prize can actually be earned without all that trading. Maybe a different Zelda game can make up for it by offering more satisfying trading quest for the Noble Sword…
Great Spin Attack Trading Sequence (Phantom Hourglass)
Say what you will about Phantom Hourglass, but I definitely believe that its game world feels more alive and engaging than that of The Wind Waker. Sailing across the World of the Ocean King is just so satisfying, as crossing paths with other ships and meeting fellow seafarers feels organic, exciting, and ultimately worthwhile. And Phantom Hourglass‘ trading sequence perfectly demonstrates the strengths of this game world and the surprises that it holds.
The sequence begins when Link happens upon the vessel owned by the enigmatic Man of Smiles. The smiling chap’s ship has become overrun with monsters, so Link flexes his hero muscles and dispatches of the baddies in a satisfying action scene. The Man of Smiles, grin unflinching, rewards us with the Hero’s New Clothes, a set of invisible garments that are no-doubt inappropriate for a child to wear. Link is certainly no man of smiles while staring at this tunic.
Anyway, realizing that he has no use for unseen trousers, Link gives the Hero’s New Clothes to another interesting character on a ship called the Prince of Red Lions. The rowdy hero-wannabe Nyeve takes the clothes off Link’s hands and gives him a telescope in return. The telescope can be traded to an empty-handed treasure hunter for a Guard Notebook, which can be — after another enemy encounter — traded to a bumbling soldier for a tasty Wood Heart.
The Great Spin Attack Trading Sequence also proves to be tied to another fun side quest in Phantom Hourglass. If Link has served as match-maker between an old wayfarer and a fake mermaid, he can trade the Wood Heart to the wayfarer for directions a new sword technique. And the quest doesn’t stop there! If Link follows the old wayfarer’s directions, he will encounter a menacing Giant Eye Plant on his way to the treasure.
That makes this trading sequence the only one with a mini-boss encounter!
The Great Spin Attack is a pretty good reward in itself, but the whole process of meeting so many interesting travelers in the Ocean King’s realm really helps this trading quest stand out. And the inclusion of occasional action set pieces and a mini-boss battle also adds to the experience. Now excuse me while I continue to imagine what a Wood Heart tastes like.
Koholint Island Trading Sequence (Link’s Awakening)
This is the one that started it all. On the mysterious yet charming island of Koholint, young Link is warmly welcomed by a cast of weird characters and their equally weird lives. He meets a Chain Chomp-loving spinster, a vengeful shop owner, and an old man that only speaks through the telephone. Everything is a little bit odd, but we quickly learn to love it. And, through a wholly original side quest, Link’s Awakening gives us a reason to meet even more odd characters and learn even more about their odd, odd lives.
To kick off this trading sequence, Link must first win a Yoshi Doll (a meta object that only makes the scenario stranger) from Mabe Village’s Trendy Game. Our resourceful hero quickly realizes that he can give the doll to a young mother for her baby and so receive a Ribbon in return. The Ribbon is traded to a talking dog-like creature for a can of Dog Food, which is traded to a talking alligator for a bundle of Bananas. Every trade escalates the strangeness, as the trade items get wilder and the trade partners get more eccentric.
The Bananas are then used to entice a monkey into building a bridge, with a Stick left behind after the construction is done. The Stick is used as a tool by a foolhardy old man to knock down a beehive, resulting in humorous scene, and Link picks up a Honeycomb for his troubles. And the Honeycomb is gifted to a chef bear named… Chef Bear, who gives Link a Pineapple and instructions for waking a slumbering walrus. Up until this point, the trade sequence is actually required to unlock later parts of the game, so it’s hard to say these trades are part of the side quest. But from here on out, everything is optional, so let’s go full side quest!
Link’s random Pineapple is traded for a Hibiscus flower, which is traded for a Letter, which is traded for a Broom, which traded for a Fishing Hook. Did I mention that this trading sequence features the most trades of any Zelda series trading sequence? After receiving the hook from our hero, a fisherman promises to give Link his very next catch. That catch is actually a Necklace (or a Pink Bra if you’re in Japan), and so our hero does what any chivalrous youth would do and gives it to a mermaid. Receiving a Scale for the Necklace marks the final trade of the sequence; Link just needs to use that Scale to open a secret cave and retrieve a Magnifying Lens within it.
The Magnifying Lens serves as the reward for the Koholint Island Trading Sequence, and it actually has a few important functions. Firstly, this key item allows Link to see and interact with a character named the Item Trader, who will give Link a Boomerang in exchange for another item in his inventory. In this way, the Boomerang is basically another prize of the trading side quest. However, the lens can also be used to read a book in the Mabe Village library listing the directions through the Wind Fish’s Egg (the last area of the game). Players are highly encouraged to complete the trading sequence and obtain the Magnifying Lens; but persistent players can actually navigate the egg without directions through trial and error. This fact, and the optional Boomerang trade, undoubtedly keeps the trading sequence a side quest and not a part of the game’s main quest.
Taking the open-world exploration and item collection of its home console predecessors, Link’s Awakening gave birth to one of the most interesting types of side quests in Zelda series. Made more endearing by the game’s quirky setting and characters, this trading sequence and its ultimate success essentially guaranteed that future trading sequences could exist and innovate.
Noble Sword Trading Sequence (Oracle of Ages)
Wait a minute; didn’t we have a Noble Sword Trading Sequence already? Yes, it seems that both Oracle games feature a trading sequence that rewards the player with the legendary Noble Sword. Oracle of Ages‘ trading sequence functions quite similarly to that of its sister game. Link trades a series of weird and silly items to unique NPC’s all across the land of Labrynna, giving him a fun reason to engage with the entire game world.
From just the first trade, though, we see how Ages‘ trading sequence is superior to that of Seasons. Rather than simply light a torch for a man in a house, Link must help a wayward ghost by moving a stone that has been obstructing its path to the afterlife. Ghosts are obviously more interesting than humans! Assisting the spirit will earn our hero a Poe Clock, which he can then trade to Lynna Village’s Post Man in exchange for some Stationary.
And here is where Oracle of Ages shows how wonderfully odd it can be. The stationary is traded to a mysterious hand in a village outhouse (Link should have just given it a Title Deed), and in return he’s handed a… Stink Bag. Let’s… not dwell too much on what’s within the bag or why it stinks so badly. Anyway, proving that one man’s stink is another man’s treasure, Link can use the Stink Bag to open the sinuses of a stuffy Tokay on Crescent Island. The resulting scene hilarious! The Tokay decides to keep the bag and gifts Link some Tasty Meat, which our hero then trades to a hangry Mask Shop owner (not him again!).
Oracle of Ages is turning out to be a greatest hits collection of all the series trading sequences, as Link receives a Doggie Mask from the Happy Mask Salesman. He gives the mask to Mammau Yan, because her dog is weirdly shy without it, and so receives a Dumbbell. And before we can even consider the implication of a small dog using a Dumbbell, we’re already trading the free weight for a Cheesy Mustache. We’ve devolved into pure absurdity now. The mustache is given to a comedian in exchange for a Funny Joke, which can be told to a forlorn boy in exchange for a Touching Book.
The book becomes a Magic Oar (after another encounter with Maple the witch), the oar becomes a Sea Ukulele, and the ukulele becomes, alas, a broken sword. You see where this is going, right? Like another great trading sequence, this broken sword can be repaired by the kooky old man Patch at the top of Restoration Wall. After a “ceremony” (a combat sequence), the broken sword is patched up to become the legendary Noble Sword! Unlike the trade quest in Oracle of Seasons, the sequence in Ages actually ends in a trade, making the entire quest feel essential and complete.
Oracle of Ages‘ trading sequence draws inspiration from so many Zelda trading sequences and effectively weaves them together into a memorable experience. The trades are silly and fun, and the ultimate reward is well-earned and strong. It’s hard to top this trading sequence.
Biggoron’s Sword Trading Sequence (Ocarina of Time)
It could only be one.
Link’s Awakening may have introduced the trading sequence side quest, but Ocarina of Time brought it into the mainstream. The Nintendo 64’s first Zelda title is home to a surplus of memorable side content, but its trading sequence is frequently remembered as one of the most exciting.
Acting as a semi follow-up to the Mask Trading Sequence from earlier in the game (with trade items from both quests situated next to each other in the inventory screen), this side quest begins after Link wakes up from his seven-years sleep. Adult Link travels to Kakariko Village and speaks to the Cucco Lady, who is eager to share about her new breed of chicken known as a Pocket Cucco. You see, these little guys are small enough to fit in one’s pocket and don’t cause allergic reactions. They make the perfect pets. And so our hero agrees to incubate a Pocket Egg and make the resulting chicken happy by using it to wake a heavy sleeper.
Pocket Cuccos love to wake up lazy people!
Anyway, Link does the obvious by waking up shamed ranch owner Talon with the Pocket Cucco. Sure, Talon is now forced to confront his miserable existence in the waking world, but at least the Cucco is happy. Proving that he can raise a Cucco effectively, Link is next given a blue chicken named Cojiro to look after. Cojiro is very quiet and very lonely; you could say he’s two kinds of blue. Only reuniting him with his long-lost owner will cure him of sadness, so Link decides to search the kingdom for Cojiro’s previous owner, the Cucco’s Lady brother.
This section of the side quest asks the player to take note of Cojiro’s crows, as the sound indicates that you are close to his owner. Though brief, this section does make use of the Nintendo 64’s more robust library of sound effects. Link will notice Cojiro’s crows when he enters the Lost Woods, and so find the despondent character Grog sitting beside a stump. Grog comes to the conclusion that Link is “a nice guy” — an occurrence that, by his logic, is rare in these troubled times — so he asks for a very odd favor. Our hero must deliver an Odd Mushroom to the Potion Shop in Kakariko Village before it spoils (more on the time limit in a moment) and then return to Grog with a batch of Odd Potion.
Another intriguing element of this side quest — as first revealed through the undefined relationship between Grog and the Old Hag in the Potion Shop — is that it involves a mysterious family drama that exists beneath the surface of Ocarina‘s generally uplifting narrative. We know that Grog and the Cucco Lady are siblings, but the Old Hag, it seems, is tied up in the familial knot too. The hag does little to hide her disdain for Grog, calling him a “bum” and a “fool,” indicating some intense history between them.
The situation only gets more confusing when Link returns to Grog’s stump only to find a creepy Kokiri girl standing alone. She explains that poor Grog has become a Stalfos and then warns of the same fate for our hero (she’s not wrong considering Twilight Princess‘ Hero’s Shade). Link gets his hands on a Poacher’s Saw, which Grog left behind, and eventually returns it to Mutoh the carpenter, its rightful owner and the next character in this confusing family portrait. Mutoh says that he left the saw with his “old lady,” perhaps implying that he’s related to Grog, the Cucco Lady, and the Old Hag. This entire sequence of trades has fueled countless fan theories over the years, and I really do appreciate that the game’s writers included such an ambiguous set of circumstances.
But you don’t care about familial strife; you care about swords! After returning the saw to Mutoh, our hero receives a Broken Goron Sword for his trouble. A quick visit to Biggoron at the top of Death Mountain will patch it up, but the trade sequence throws one last curve ball by giving the giant blacksmith an eye infection. Biggoron can’t fix a blade with sore eyes, so Link agrees to fulfill his prescription for eye drops. The prescription must be shown to King Zora, who will give Link a fresh Eyeball Frog, the key ingredient in eye drops. Link suppresses the image of squeezing a small frog’s eyeballs for medicine and races the glass-eyed amphibian to the Lake Scientist.
Just like the race from the Lost Woods to the Potion Shop, Link’s trip to the Lake Scientist and his return trip to Biggoron feature a time limit. The inclusion of timed element adds much-needed challenge and tension to the last legs of the trading sequence. Completing the trades in time creates a sense of accomplishment for the player, and the added difficulty makes the reward that much more significant. And if the player has completed the Epona side quest by this point, the timed challenges also give us a chance make use of Link’s horse companion in a truly meaningful way.
So, with the eye drops administered and Biggoron ready to work, the trading sequence is brought to a close. A few days pass, and our hero is rewarded for all his hard work. Biggoron’s Sword, the strongest sword in the game and a useful tool in the game’s final battle, is his prize.
With Ocarina of Time leading the revolution in 3D gaming — with its inter-connected world, its realistic (for the time) characters, and overall sense of scale — the Biggoron Sword’s Trading Sequence seems like the perfect way to sell everything the game is capable of in one tightly constructed side quest. The experience alone is epic, but the reward for completing it is not to be overlooked. Biggoron’s Sword was the stuff of legends out on the schoolyard, and to this day, all sword upgrades in Zelda games have that single blade to be compared to.
Even after 20 years, this trading sequence still stands as the best.
And there ends our ranking of the Zelda series’ trading sequence side quests. Do you disagree with our ranking? Would you have placed a different trading sequence at Number One? Let us know in the comments below!