The Legend of Zelda is one of the most well known video game series of all time. Over the past 25 years it has continued to not only make its way into the hearts of countless fans, but certain entries have also been recognized by different people as games of the year and even the best games of all time. These games are the most popular, but when it comes to the core fans of the series, each title can find its way to the top of someone’s list.
When I hear the words “The Legend of Zelda”, I immediately think back to Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, and even A Link to the Past, because those are the games that I grew up playing. No matter which generation we grew up in, whether your first Zelda experience was with the original on the NES or your introduction to the series was with Skyward Sword, we all share the same passion and love for the Zelda series, so much so that we can easily take offense to a bad comment or negative review. In the same way, many of us spend hours every day coming up with new theories, working on fan websites, or just discussing our favorite and least favorite parts of each game with friends. So what exactly makes The Legend of Zelda series so great? Maybe sharing my experiences with the series will shed some light on that question and help you come up with your own answer.
It all started when I was just a little kid playing A Link to the Past with my mom and dad. I was barely old enough to actually understand and comprehend the story, but my parents were able to make their way through the entire game with ease. What developed my love for the Zelda series wasn’t so much the story, the gameplay, or even the fact that it was a Zelda game, but that I was spending time with my family doing something that I actually thought was fun. It wasn’t until several years later when I received Ocarina of Time and a Nintendo 64 for Christmas at age 7 or 8 that I started to gain an interest and understand how deep and complex a story for a video game could be. Little did I know that this game was going to change my life forever. That might sound a little out there, but it’s still the truth. After playing The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, I was pulled back into the world of Hyrule and was hooked on that Zelda magic we all have come to love. I couldn’t play another game without comparing it to Zelda and thinking what it could have borrowed from the Zelda series to make it a better game.
Finally, after I spent over a year wondering what came next, Majora’s Mask was released. To my surprise, it was a direct sequel to my favorite game and not just another “legend” being retold about a boy named Link defeating Ganondorf and saving Hyrule. For the first time I got the idea that maybe all of these games go in a certain order and share a consistent timeline. Majora’s Mask, with it’s unique focus on side quests and helping others, had a lot of great ideas to bring to the Zelda series. A few years later, with the release of The Wind Waker, my idea about a timeline was strengthened by its back story, which coincided with the events of Ocarina of Time. Not only did The Wind Waker hint to an overarching timeline, but with its focus on the sea and exploration, it had even more fresh ideas to bring to the series.
I wouldn’t have ever thought that a single story for a video game would continue for over 25 years. While a few other stories have lasted as long, it is a very exclusive club. Plenty of stories tend to see a reboot when they drag on, or fail to implement new ideas. This isn’t the case with Zelda, though. The Zelda series features some of the best story lines out of most video games, and with almost every release, it has something new to bring to the table.
While the franchise has had many entries over the past 25 years, all with their own unique stories, the story usually isn’t even the main priority for Nintendo. Gameplay mechanics are the first thing the developers focus on, then they build the story around what they think are fun ideas for the core gameplay. This is why, when we’re playing a Zelda game, we always have fun and why the controls seem to work perfectly. So if the story isn’t the most important part of creating a Zelda game, how does the story almost always turn out to be so great?
People look at the Zelda series and find their own personal connection with the game. They may connect to the games through the stories, the gameplay, or anything in between. As I said before, developers at Nintendo seem to think that the core gameplay is what makes a Zelda title and tend to build the game around it. For me, it’s the feeling I get from being lost in an incredible game where separate elements work together perfectly. Fun gameplay mechanics give you incentive to keep playing, the story keeps you wanting to know what happens next, and certain titles even seem to hit me on an emotional level. In Majora’s Mask, for example, you already knew most of the characters because they were reused from Ocarina of Time, but this time they were more interactive. You became emotionally attached to the characters and wanted to help them and learn all of their different stories. This became a feature in most Zelda games since, but wasn’t fully brought back until the release of Skyward Sword, which had elements of every previous Zelda game in it.
Music is also a huge part of the Zelda series. Instruments function as items in several Zelda titles, either as added extras or as central elements of gameplay, like in Ocarina of time or The Wind Waker. Not only are these songs catchy and memorable, they add to the emotional value of the games. This was expanded in a few of the later titles. For example, in Skyward Sword, the use of fully orchestrated songs provided an even greater emotional depth to the game, and when it was combined with the already emotional and very beautifully made cinematics, it actually brought a few tears to my eyes. Skyward Sword’s music connected emotionally with the player. Skyward Sword, as a whole, implemented ideas that fans of the Zelda franchise love, meshing them together into a single experience.
So what is it exactly that makes The Legend of Zelda such a great series? The truth is, it isn’t just one thing. It’s how well all of the different components come together to not only make for outstanding games, but also incredible experiences that last years after setting down the controller. The games wouldn’t be fun to play if the controls were messed up, and the controls wouldn’t matter if the puzzles were too hard or too easy. The games have a perfect difficulty that doesn’t make the story go by too fast. The creative characters and their stories create an even deeper emotional bond between you and the games. The music adds even more emotion to the overall story and is sometimes added into the gameplay which in turn makes the gameplay even better. The Zelda series has a perfect combination of all of these elements. Being able to create such a perfect game and then add onto the original concept over and over again so each release feels different while maintaining all the aspects of the series that you have come to love shows how talented the people at Nintendo are. Not only do they have the ability and craftsmanship to create such impressive games, but they actually spend a lot of effort and time on each game in order to create the perfect installment for their fans.
The Zelda series has something for everyone. If you enjoy retro 2D games, you have several different Zelda games to choose from. If you love comical cartoon style games, you can pick from The Wind Waker, Phantom Hourglass, and Spirit Tracks. If you love touch controls, you can pick any of the DS titles or even Ocarina of Time 3D. If you love realistic games, you can pick up Twilight Princess. If you love the idea of motion controls and being more active in a video game, you can pick up Skyward Sword. If you’re a fan of 3D, Ocarina of Time 3D is obviously the choice for you. If you love side quests, Majora’s Mask and Skyward Sword are great choices. It doesn’t matter what kind of gamer you are. The Legend of Zelda series has something for everyone. This is one something no other video game series offers and all of this is what I personally think makes it such a perfect series.