Zelda Dungeon’s Best Zelda Ever: 2018 Edition List
Posted on November 02 2018 by Andy Spiteri
Hello everybody, and welcome to Zelda Dungeon’s Best Zelda Ever 2018! Although no new Zelda games were released in the time between our list last year and now, by no means has it been a quiet time for Zelda fans.
The biggest x-factor heading into our 2017 edition of the list was the recently released Breath of the Wild, and it would be fair to say that the latest Zelda adventure retains that x-factor title this year as well. As Breath of the Wild settled and as a little of the initial rush wore off, I was wondering if a sophomore slump would factor in at all. Of course, to offset that, Zelda introduced, for the first time, downloadable content in the form of The Champions’ Ballad. Factor in new writers coming, old writers leaving, and this list is looking quite different than last year’s.
As I said last year, putting together a definitive list like this is tough. There are tons of different personalities that have very different opinions about what the greatest Zelda game ever is, and even more differing opinions about what constitutes a great Zelda game in the first place. Is it the dungeons? Is it the story? Exploration? Music must be a factor. And then there’s nostalgia. Older Zelda fans that grew up in the NES era might look back more fondly on the 8-bit classics, while newer fans whose first exposure to the Zelda franchise came during the Wii days might not view Link’s early adventures as fondly.
Another obstacle to tackle is the ranking of the complete series. Sure, it’s easy enough to say what your favorite games are, but what about after that? Maybe it’s my inner fanboy talking, but there aren’t any bad Zelda games, so ranking one dead last makes you feel a little guilty. What about the ones that we never finished, or haven’t played in years and years? It was with great care that our editors made their lists — some of them taking several weeks to do so — and with even greater care that their picks were averaged out to give you this year’s ranking.
Head on over to our announcement post if you want a more detailed breakdown about how scoring works, but for now… WE ARE KICKING OFF Zelda Dungeon’s Best Zelda Ever 2018!
18. The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes
Highest Rank: 11 Lowest Rank: 18 Last Year’s Rank: 18 Last Place Finishes: 8
Our list may have changed quite a bit in the last year, but unfortunately, Tri Force Heroes finds itself in the exact same position it did last year: dead last. “WHAT A DISAPPOINTMENT. I went into this game ready for all the fun and adventure that a Zelda game can inspire, with the added bonus of the multiplayer feature, only to come out the other end wondering why I had spent my precious time on this game,” Zelda Dungeon Editor Judy Calder claimed.
“At first, it was fun. It was everything I expected from a multiplayer-purposed game. And that’s it. Multiplayer-purposed Zelda game,” echoed Editor Almog Rimmer. “The single-player mode was neglected. It feels like the only way to really play this game is in multiplayer mode, unless one considers stopping every couple of seconds to switch control over one of the Link’s as being fun. As a spin-off, it may be understandable to some, but for me it has been nothing more than a disappointment I didn’t want to experience.”
Although Tri Force Heroes finished in last place on no fewer than 8 of the 22 Editors polled, it still has its champions.
“Don’t listen to them! The trick to Tri Force Heroes is to judge it on what it was made to be. This was never going to be a Twilight Princess sequel, nor was it planning on inventing the open world wheel that the latest title provided,” cries Zelda Runners host Euan Crombie. “Come into this game expecting fun and joy, and that’s exactly what you’ll get.”
17. The Legend of Zelda: Adventure of Link
Highest Rank: 6 Lowest Rank: 18 Last Year’s Rank: 17
Continuing the theme of stagnancy, the 8-bit sequel to Link’s debut remains in second-to-last place. Although it appeared as if Adventure of Link might experience something of a renaissance after a strong performance in Hyrule Compendium’s Definitive Ranking of the Series, it just wasn’t meant to be.
“Adventure of Link has been called many times the ‘black sheep’ of the Zelda franchise, and I completely agree,” Editor Matt Pederberg says. “It doesn’t follow the formula of what we all came to know and love with its slow overworld, cheap enemies, and tedious grinding of the experience point system.”
“I would argue that Adventure of Link shares more DNA with the Souls games of today than with subsequent Zelda titles, and I think it would have been appreciated much more if it had been released in the modern gaming landscape,” Managing Editor Rod Lloyd says. “While the exploration and dungeon crawling remained, Link’s second adventure focused more on endurance-based gameplay, challenging the player to proceed further and further into the world with each playthrough.
“Adventure of Link was way ahead of its time.”
Ultimately, the difficulty of the game proved to be a sticking point among editors. “This game is brutally difficult. ‘Nintendo Hard’ is less of a meme and more of a universal truth. The gameplay is heavily weighted against players and, to this day, this was the one that took me the longest to complete,” recalls Editor Bobby Chichester
Matt summed up the general feeling towards Adventure of Link perfectly: “A fun game, if you’ve got the patience of a caterpillar waiting to emerge from its cocoon, but certainly not for the faint of heart.”
16. The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures
Highest Rank: 5 Lowest Rank: 18 Last Year’s Rank: 14
Four Swords Adventures is the first game of our list to take a tumble down the ranking. In the end, it was the same story for Four Swords Adventures: lack of opportunity to play hurt its cause.
“I truly believe that if this game was more readily available and easier to play at the time of its release, we would look at it in a different light,” Editor-In-Chief Andy Spiteri proclaims. “The ridiculous Game Boy Advance controller thing really hurt the playing experience from an immersion and practicality standpoint, but play this game with a bunch of friends, and it’s a blast! Granted, it’s a game best enjoyed in small bursts, but if Nintendo re-released it today with online support, I’d be stoked.”
On the flip side, Editor Savannah Gault wasn’t so enthralled. “I gotta say I was not the biggest fan of Four Swords Adventures. I guess I had expected something else and wasn’t really prepared by the graphics of it. Not only that, but it took awhile for me to get used to having four different Links, and I just wasn’t really a huge fan of the storyline. I felt it was a little lacking in various departments, and the game itself just didn’t have enough redeeming qualities for it to leave a lasting impression on me.”
The biggest champion for Four Swords Adventure has, and will likely always be for as long as she chooses to write for Zelda Dungeon, longtime Senior Editor Alexis Anderson.
“I’ve been hyping up Four Swords Adventures since I started writing here, it’s so underrated. There is a plot, albeit a thin one, but it includes both Ganon and Vaati. I am a huge fan of Shadow Link and the Shrine Maidens — also, the more Links, the better!
“Play this gem again, you won’t regret it.”
15. The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks
Highest Rank: 4 Lowest Rank: 18 Last Year’s Rank: 16
Spirit Tracks enjoyed a victory back in February when Zelda Dungeon ranked its Overworld theme the third best song in the Zelda series. Building off of that momentum, Spirit Tracks sees itself improve its position on our list, if even by 1 spot.
“I will proudly ride the Spirit Train as long as it takes to convince more people to give the game a chance,” Copy Editor Kat Vadam says. “I am going to take a moment to echo the masses here and say that, when I first picked up the game, the stylus controls honestly frustrated me. They were weird and awkward. But, at the same time, there was just something so charming and fun about the game that I hadn’t found in a Zelda title to that point. I just couldn’t give up on it.”
“With how controversial the DS games were, I found myself enjoying this game and its brother, Phantom Hourglass, even more than most of the higher-acclaimed games,” agreed Almog. “Starting with the awesome and catchy music that hits you right from the title screen, this game just sweeps you in without you noticing it. Zelda’s character stood out to me the most in this game, and with characters like Byrne and Cole as the antagonists, some of my fondest memories of the Zelda franchise rest with Spirit Tracks.”
Despite moving up, there still seems to be some work to do in regards to the reputation of the DS sequel as compared to some of the other Zelda‘s.
“I hate to always be that guy,” Andy says, “but I just have a hard time ranking Spirit Tracks, and by extension Phantom Hourglass, highly on any ‘Best Ever’ list. I’ve beat up on the controls before, and that’s a big reason why it’s not my favorite, but the thing that gets me about Spirit Tracks is its wasted potential.
“It could have been great. But in my opinion, it wasn’t.”
14. The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass
Highest Rank: 6 Lowest Rank: 18 Last Year’s Rank: 15
Where Four Swords Adventures fortunes took a downturn in this years list, it was advantageous to the DS Zelda‘s, as each found itself moving up one spot on our list. As is, and will forever likely always be, the case, it came down to the Editors and their stance on the stylus controls. This year, we had some editors who hated it, some who loved it, and some who were in the middle.
“I really wanted to like Phantom Hourglass,” writes Editor Michaela El-Ters. “Although the stylus controls are inventive, I would’ve much preferred a more traditional control scheme. Additionally, as someone whose favorite element of the series is its dungeons, I found Phantom’s to be comparatively uninspired. And I know this point has been criticized to death, but c’mon, guys — what’s the deal with the Temple of the Ocean King?”
“Phantom Hourglass is one of those games that I dismissed as a kid, but have come to love as an adult,” Lead Copywriter Alasyn Eletha chimes in. “It’s not the most exciting, and the unpopular stylus controls leave a lot to be desired, but I find the most annoying elements of the game to others not to be so annoying at all.”
“Although typical joystick controls might have done well in the game, they went with stylus controls to better utilize the system they were using. Add in the microphone and Phantom Hourglass is an innovative game, even before you consider the great gameplay and the wonderfulness that is Linebeck,” Editor and Social Media Manager Katie Zezulka finishes.
“Phantom Hourglass was an amazing game in the series for many reasons, and a lot of that stems from how they created a control system that integrated the capabilities of the DS.”
13. The Legend of Zelda
Highest Rank: 6 Lowest Rank: 17 Last Year’s Rank: 12
Falling a spot in this year’s list is the game that started it all: Link’s original 8-bit adventure, The Legend of Zelda. The same criticisms from last year’s Editors were echoed by almost every new writer polled this year: while the game was monumental, the steep difficulty and obtuse overworld map prevented it from ranking higher than many more modern entries.
“I told the writing team when I started playing this game for the first time, and they basically said, ‘Good luck, pal. You’re going to need it.’ And boy, did I,” Alexis recalls. “First of all, there’s no running plot in this game, which is understandable, but not something I like. The dungeons were good, but I missed the stepladder and was so stuck that I had to turn to a walkthrough. That was basically the last straw for me; this game was not the sandbox style everyone lauded it for being — there was an order to things, but no indication (that I saw) of what that order was. So not only was I easy to kill, but constantly confused. I’m sure this was magical back in the day, but it’s just not for me.”
Artists of Legend host Adam Barham agreed. “The controls aren’t always the most responsive, and the enemies really hurt. The open exploration that the overworld offers is enjoyable, but the biggest downside to the game is this: the secrets of the game are just that — secrets. You are given no hints on what walls are bombable and which bushes are burnable. Worst of all, some of the secret areas actually punish you for discovering them by taking some of your rupees.”
“I think it’s an extremely important game, but it says a lot about how it’s aged that it’s basically unplayable without a guide,” Andy chimed in. “I think of the two NES games, this one has aged more gracefully, but it’s certainly not what I would call ‘timeless.’”
“The game is enjoyable if you like a challenge,” Adam sums up, “but it also just isn’t the most recommendable Zelda experience in my book.”
12. The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons
Highest Rank: 6 Lowest Rank: 15 Last Year’s Rank: 13
This year finds Oracle of Seasons moving up a spot, beating out the original Zelda by just a single point in our point tally ranking system, but trailing Oracle of Ages by a large margin. Even so, Seasons has its fans among Zelda Dungeon Editors.
“The power to change the flow of seasons is at the tip of your fingers, and what platform is better suited for this mechanic than the Gameboy Color, with its extravagant colorful display?” asks Almog. “This game presents quite a challenge with its emphasis on combat, but it’s all the more worth it and satisfying defeating the bosses in this game. Nonetheless, this game provides puzzles in its own unique way, mainly the aforementioned season-changing mechanic. The music in this game is also one of the more memorable ones for me, whether it’s Horon Village’s cheery music or one of the dungeons’ music that got me pumped up every time. Visiting Subrosia every now and then makes for a nice change of pace, allowing Link to explore yet another realm with the quirky and colorful characters that are the Subrosians.”
“Oracle of Seasons presents an exciting and fast-paced adventure,” agrees Rod. “The player spends less time scratching his or her head in elaborately constructed dungeons and more time kicking bad guy butt with the swing of a sword. The boss fights in Seasons are some of the most satisfying and memorable in the 2D Zelda library, and the game’s main quest is full of exciting set pieces that keep the player engaged.
“While Oracle of Ages may have the better story of the two sister titles, Seasons arguably presents the better world, with Goron Mountain, Moblin’s Keep, and Subrosia all on Link’s travel list. Not to mention, the Rod of Seasons mechanic allows for some really inventive environmental puzzles.”
11. The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages
Highest Rank: 3 Lowest Rank: 15 Last Year’s Rank: 11
After a great showing in Hyrule Compendium’s Definitive Zelda Ranking, it looked like big things would be on the horizon for Ages this year in our list, but it unfortunately finds itself stuck in neutral and staying in the 11th spot. That being said, Ages pulled away from its Oracle brother and finished comfortably ahead of it in our points tally.
“Oracle of Ages is, overall, an underrated Zelda game. There were definitely things that I didn’t like — the music, the backtracking, and the items. However, the good things about this game shouldn’t be ignored,” Adam chimed in. “The game is designed to make you think, and, as someone who enjoys mental challenges, I had fun with the game.”
Editor Simon Rayner credits Oracle of Ages as his first Zelda game, playing it at the ripe age of 7-years-old.
“It had some of the most fiendish puzzles in all the franchise, some awesome items like the Switch Hook, and had a much more interesting, nuanced story and characters. Queen Ambi possessed by Veran, who is right up there with Ghirahim in my eyes, was an awesome narrative thread. From losing items on Tokai Island to wacking out the seed shooter to best a boss that you could only attack through ricochets, Oracle of Ages is a gem I’d love to see get more love.”
10. The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap
Highest Rank: 3 Lowest Rank: 15 Last Year’s Rank: 9
Despite enjoying a high profile gimmick match at this year’s Zelda Dungeon Marathon, The Minish Cap sees itself fall back one spot in this year’s ranking. Offsetting that, however, was a handful of Editors ranking Minish Cap near the top of their lists, breaking the mold from the “middle of the pack” stigma Link’s Game Boy Advance adventure seems to enjoy.
“Minish Cap is slept on. Minish Cap is ignored. Minish Cap is one of the best Zelda titles in terms of narrative, gameplay gimmick, side quests and items. Why does no one agree?!” cries Simon.
Associate Editor Sean Gadus agrees, adding on, “The Minish Cap is a game that feels like it was ripped straight from the SNES era and dropped onto the Gameboy Advance. The comparisons to the golden age of 2D Zelda can be a gift and a curse, though. In terms of overworld design and world design, Minish Cap isn’t nearly at the level of A Link to The Past, often gating your progress to different areas and impeding exploration. On the other hand, it pushes beyond the laurels of its predecessors, taking risks in game design and presentation. The Palace of the Winds is a great example of how the game propels 2D Zelda to new heights in terms of dungeon design and scope.
“Vaati is the rare example of an antagonist who can rival Ganondorf for the title of best villain in the Zelda series,” Sean adds. “Overall, Minish Cap may seem like a small step in terms of Zelda innovations; but it would be a crime to miss out on such a great adventure!”
“From my rampant adoration of devolving Wind Mage Vaati, who we just don’t see enough of in the series, to the awesome, winding Kinstone side-quests that open up all kinds of tasty extras; the actuality of shrinking and meeting the Minish, solving puzzles and seeing enemies like Deku Scrubs or Chuchus that we know so well transform into colossal threats rendered the whole experience as something delightfully refreshing and special,” summarizes Simon. “To me, it stands as a Zelda game at its best, fraught with secrets for the keen, challenges for the bold and treasures for the completionist in all of us.”
9. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
Number of First Place Votes: 1 Lowest Rank: 15 Last Year’s Rank: 8
We reach the place on our list where each of the remaining 9 games on our list topped at least one Editor’s Best Zelda Ever submission. Starting us off at ninth place is the direct sequel to Link’s 16-bit adventure, A Link Between Worlds. Falling a spot this year and losing the title of Highest Ranked Handheld, A Link Between Worlds can still hold its head high as the race between 9th, 8th, and 7th place was ultimately decided by less than 5 points between them.
“A Link Between Worlds still stands as the most streamlined Zelda experience I’ve encountered,” Rod boldly proclaims. “The world has been opened up, hand-holding has been eliminated, and each gameplay segment has been flawlessly refined to emphasize pure gameplay.”
“When I first played A Link Between Worlds, I did not know about its predecessor, A Link to the Past. And you know what? I think I enjoyed the game more because of that, because I viewed it not as a sequel, but as a game of its own,” Almog states. “A game that is not afraid to break the usual consensus about order of items and dungeons, plus mixing top-down play style with the 3D effect of going in and out of walls. The dungeons were extremely fun, the story is fantastic, and when I found out about the existence of Lorule, my mind was blown!”
Still, there was a reason for A Link Between Worlds’ slide. “I enjoyed it as a fun little romp around Hyrule and Lorule. It had a decent story to it, and, while I was playing, I had a grand time… But, when I look back on the game, I can’t really pinpoint any one thing that stood out as a particularly amazing addition to the universe, least of all something I would like to see again,” Kat opines. “A Link Between Worlds was a good game. It was solid and enjoyable. But a great game? The ‘best’ Zelda game? Nope.”
Rod disagreed, ranking it as his favorite Zelda game for the second year in a row.
“A Link Between Worlds might just be the culmination of what I’ve always wanted out of Zelda: impeccably designed dungeons, a world jam packed with worthwhile things to find, a satisfying balance between structure and freedom, and an unswerving emphasis on fun, uninterrupted gameplay.”
8. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
Number of First Place Votes: 2 Lowest Rank: 18 Last Year’s Rank: 6
Arguably, the most surprising setback for this year was The Wind Waker, as it not only fell 2 spots down our list, but was 3 points away from a 9th place finish.
“While admittedly, The Wind Waker is a very charming game, its flaws unfortunately stick out like a sore thumb to me. The world is pretty big, which is unfortunate as most of it is filled with, well… water,” noted Taylor, who controversially ranked The Wind Waker last. “Add to this a long and ultimately boring Triforce quest, and it can be quite the slog to get through. Apart from the Earth Temple, I also found much of the dungeon content to be a bit lackluster. Maybe next time, Nintendo!”
Still, while The Wind Waker may have fallen a few spots, it still has its legions of adorers among the Zelda Dungeon Editors. “For me, The Wind Waker is a game that gets even better with time,” Michaela wrote. “There are plenty of games that, between a rose-tinted lens or advancements, don’t always age well for players. I first played The Wind Waker without trying to progress the story in a meaningful way — I would play my brother’s save files for the sole purpose of exploration and admiring the bright, vivid colors of the cell shaded graphics, and, with some convincing, I ended up starting a file of my own. Since then, replaying the game has enhanced the experience and everything that The Wind Waker does incredibly well.”
Katie agreed, adding, “The art style featured was unique and beautiful. There was a great mixture of islands around the sea for both side quests and main quests that allowed you to explore as much, or as little, as you wanted. Great characters such as Beedle were presented to the series, sticking around to give us plenty of appearances throughout the years. Adding to that the amazing facial expressions that this version of Link features, and you have a great game.”
Despite dropping down, Michaela offered up some loving final thoughts on The Wind Waker.
“I still adore this game, and the more time passes, the more I love and appreciate it. I think a game’s true worth can often be defined by the passage of time, and how a game holds up in people’s memories years after its release. Even the game’s flaws, while few in my mind — the somewhat convoluted Triforce quest is a source of contention for many, although I didn’t hate it — don’t change all of the fond, wonderful memories I have with The Wind Waker.”
7. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
Number of First Place Votes: 1 Lowest Rank: 16 Last Year’s Rank: 10
The Wind Waker’s loss was Link’s Awakening’s gain, as Link’s first portable adventure made the biggest jump of any game this year, jumping up 3 spots on our list. Link’s Awakening was a game that, last year, no Editor ranked atop their list. That changed this with the addition to the team of Editor Matt Pederberg.
“Link’s Awakening is one of those Zelda games that kind of gets swept under the rug, but I’m not really sure why. It’s an incredible adventure that takes a huge leap away from the tone of any other Zelda game. The plot is weird, the characters are all odd, and the music is sometimes flat-out strange!” he states.
“Its plot is beautifully executed, subtle and mysterious, but instilling a sense of urgency and giving weight to the player’s actions. At the same time, there are light and fun moments,” adds on Alexis. “Marin is one of the most compelling Zelda characters, the gameplay is engaging, the music is fabulous, and the art in its German player’s guide is amazing.”
Link’s Awakening’s ascent into the upper echelon of Zelda games was a long time coming for fans of the game, and it now carries the title of Best Handheld Zelda with it for at least the next year.
“It’s simply, in a word, silly. This doesn’t stop it from delivering an action-packed experience that demands a good deal of critical thinking, and makes you fall in love with the quirky game that is Link’s Awakening.”
6. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Number of First Place Votes: 1 Lowest Rank: 16 Last Year’s Rank: 7
Moving up a notch this year is Skyward Sword, the famously controversial Wii-Motion-centric Zelda adventure. The race between 4th, 5th, and 6th place was fierce, as more Editors seemed to appreciate Skyward Sword than in years past, allowing it to fight for a top spot and still having it beat last year’s placement.
“Skyward Sword holds a special place in my heart,” Euan reminisces. “While its story may have raised more questions than it answered, there’s no arguing that it has the best character development, and over-arching storyline in the series. Whenever I hear or see Skyward Sword, it feels like I’ve come home. No other games makes me feel quite the same.”
“It has the most compelling story, sets the stage for a lot of the lore we see throughout the series, has intricate dungeons that I never get tired of conquering, and some of the most captivating characters that make you want to get through three Imprisoned battles just to spend more time with them,” Alasyn adds.
Of course, you can’t talk about Skyward Sword without talking about its motion controls. “I’ll be the first to admit that they are not perfect,” Alasyn concedes. “However, if you allow yourself to get past the initial frustrations, this game sets the standard for that wonderful ‘Zelda formula’ we all seem to love.”
Adds Bobby: “A lot of people have issues with it, but I don’t see them. Aiming the bow has never felt so smooth, nor has swordplay. It felt like I was in total control of the duels, and what duels they were! The first boss in the game is perhaps the most memorable first boss in the franchise for me!”
Sean puts Skyward Sword into perspective.
“Skyward Sword’s majesty is often overshadowed by its controversies and limitations. It’s a game that painfully holds the player’s hands, punishing you with elongated tutorials. The majestic sky is an overworld full of unfulfilled potential. Despite these glaring flaws, Skyward Sword’s dungeons are immaculately well-crafted, with the final dungeons being truly innovative in every regard. The epic, no-holds-barred battles with Ghirahim and Demise left me fist pumping and cheering long after the credits rolled.”
“Most importantly, the game created a version of Zelda that I would have followed to the depths of hell, if only to see her smile one more time.”
5. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
Number of First Place Votes: 4 Lowest Rank: 15 Last Year’s Rank: 4
The curious case of Twilight Princess continues, as the GameCube/Wii adventure falls one spot on this year’s list into 5th place. Easily the most divisive game among Zelda Dungeon writers, Twilight Princess was ranked either at or close to the top of our individual lists, or in the bottom five — there was almost no in-between.
“The more I play Twilight Princess — and I’ve played it a lot this year — the more I find I don’t like it as much,” Andy admits. “I know a lot of people love the aesthetic, but to me, it just seems like it’s trying too hard to be this dark, edgy game, when, in reality, it turned the colorful, unique Zelda series into a bleak, lifeless canvas. I would never call this a bad game, but everything it did just didn’t really appeal to me. Also, unpopular opinion, but I’m gonna say it: I can’t stand Midna!”
“Aside from being one of the less visually appealing games in the series, Twilight Princess features one of the most overlong introductions of any Zelda game,” Hyrule Compendium Host Gooey Fame adds. “The drab visuals of the Twilight Realm match the underwhelming gameplay of collecting the Tears of Light as Wolf Link. Repeating this for hours until the player can freely explore the world delivers one of the most claustrophobic Zelda titles in the series.”
Still, the divide was evident, as Twilight Princess once again had (in this year’s case, tied) the most number of first place votes among our Editors.
“This is it. For me, Twilight Princess represents the pinnacle of not only the Zelda series, but also gaming as an artistic medium. Having replayed this game on an annual basis throughout the past decade, I appreciate it more and more each time,” Editor Brandon Schmitz raves.
“I remember playing Twilight Princess for the first time and just being so thrilled with it,” Savannah recalls. “I loved the storyline, as well as the newest companion, Midna — I personally loved her sassiness and overall character. I also felt that the storyline was a little dark and ominous, which I thought was really refreshing, coming from the comparatively light-hearted past games.”
Time will tell if Twilight Princess can bridge the gap between those who love it and those who don’t, but for now, it finds itself a spot lower on our list.
4. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
Number of First Place Votes: 2 Lowest Rank: 12 Last Year’s Rank: 5
Moving up a rank and just missing out on third place by a mere two points is what many consider to be the the pinnacle of the Golden Era of gaming: A Link to the Past. A common theme among our Editors polled this year was how they played it after playing some of the newer, 3D titles, and came away just as impressed as those who played it in the early 90’s.
“As a kid who grew up playing 3D Zelda games, playing A Link to The Past for the first time was my personal moment of ‘get good’,” jokes Sean. “The game was tough as nails, and I’ve never died so much in a Zelda game before or after. The game made me angry, made me frustrated, and it took me forever to beat it. But at the end of it all, I will freely admit it is an incredible achievement in video game design.”
Adds Bobby: “I’ve played all of the Zelda games, but A Link to the Past holds my fondest memories. I was a very young child during the NES era, but A Link to the Past is when memories of gaming become the clearest, and what a time it was.”
Brandon agreed, adding, “As someone who grew up playing 3D Zelda games such as Ocarina of Time and The Wind Waker, I was initially caught off guard by A Link to the Past’s comparatively less linear structure… A Link to the Past boasts almost everything I could want from a Zelda game.”
Still, A Link to the Past did have its detractors.
“I actually just finished this game for the first time in eighteen years a few days ago. A Link to the Past is usually pretty high on my list of best Zelda games as it was my first, and what introduced me to the series all those years ago. I always seemed to have a lot of nostalgia and love for it,” Alasyn recalls. “However, I’ve realized now that I’m actually pretty terrible at it. I think, after this year, it might slide a few spots down my list. I know there are people that breeze through this game in less than two hours, but for me, it was so unnecessarily hard, I don’t even understand how I beat it as a kid. I know this game is a huge fan favorite, but I think others should consider if they love it because it’s one of the best Zelda games, or because of the nostalgia of having played it within the last 26 years.”
Still, it resonated enough with our Editors to move up a spot on this year’s list.
“It’s a game that has set dozens of precedents for the series, including story structure, musical themes, dungeon design, and technical innovation,” Sean concludes. “It’s a genre-defining game that even twenty-five years later still leaves players awestruck.”
3. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Number of First Place Votes: 1 Lowest Rank: 9 Last Year’s Rank: 3
In perhaps the biggest surprise of the year, Breath of the Wild avoided a sophomore slump on our list and retained the 3rd overall position. Although it only finished atop a single Editor’s list, it consistently ranked high in the lists, placing in the top 5 of 11 Editors’ lists.
“I know Breath of the Wild is not without its flaws. I will even be one of the first to talk about them. The characterization and character development could have been better. The story did have a secondary sort of feel to it, not even necessary to complete the game. And Calamity Ganon/Dark Beast Ganon — the boss battle to end the game — was a massive letdown,” Kat says.
“But… I love it.”
Savannah agreed. “When I first started playing the game, I remember that one beginning scene that I think is the most memorable for just about anyone that’s played it. You make your way out of the Shrine of Resurrection and run up to the end of the precipice and look over Hyrule, the music rising to a crescendo, and I’m not exaggerating when I say it took my breath away.”
After more than a year to gestate on the latest Zelda entry however, some Editors took more of a hard stance on the game.
“It focuses so hard on getting the art style and gameplay perfect that it forgets something very important; the story,” Taylor argues. “While many argue that it tells a very deep story by allowing the player to fill in the blanks, there’s a fine line between doing what Dark Souls does and just having lazy writing. The most interesting piece of story is a small journal you find in Zelda’s room, and that’s just not enough.”
Simon was of the same frame of mind, adding, “Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Breath of the Wild, I just sadly don’t adore it as much as I do every other Zelda title. I loved my personal discoveries, I loved getting new armour, new weapons, taming horses, I even got creative cooking with different ingredients. Yet somehow, my joy in the game was ephemeral at best, despite the fact I feel Breath of the Wild captures a sense of Zelda so much better than any title before it. I just wanted dungeons back, I missed items, where was the enemy variety?”
Ultimately, Breath of the Wild proved it could stand the test of time, and truly be called one of the great Zelda titles among our Editors.
“This game is so full of material just waiting to be found, if one only takes the time,” said Kat. “I have played Breath of the Wild over 400 hours, and no shine has been lost. I can still pick it up and sink several hours into it, roaming around, seeing what I missed. It’s frustrating, and exhilarating, and challenging, and just plain exciting in ways no other Zelda game has been.”
2. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
Number of First Place Votes: 1 Lowest Rank: 11 Last Year’s Rank: 1
Despite another incredibly strong showing, Majora’s Mask wasn’t able to repeat the Best Zelda Ever on our list and falls into the second spot. A number of Editors who ranked Majora’s Mask first overall last year had moved on, leaving room for others who weren’t as enamored with the game to weigh in.
“While Majora’s Mask is what many consider to be such a great game, it really isn’t for me,” says Copy Editor Kristen Rosario. “My least favorite aspect of an action/adventure game is when there’s an overall clock, wherein you have to be running everywhere to get stuff done. I don’t think Majora’s Mask is a bad game, I think it was given a gameplay mechanic gimmick that I’m just not a fan of.”
Nevertheless, Link’s Terminian adventure boasted incredible numbers, finishing in the top three 6 times, and the top-five 12 times.
“It appealed to me so much because it came as a direct sequel to a game that I adored. I enjoyed witnessing characters that I already knew visually as different personas with new problems and side-quests to present to Link. In fact, I really loved the side-quests altogether, especially the reunion of Anju and Kafei!” recounts Judy. “It was especially great to play as members of different races and tribes, and to witness the different reactions when certain masks were used. This is definitely one game that I still appreciate after all this time!”
“Majora’s Mask was the first Zelda game I sat down and really played,” Katie recalls. “It took the series for a much darker spin than we had felt at any point previously. The ominous feel was helped along by the constantly ticking clock, the ever-descending moon, and the pain witnessed in the three characters that died to give Link his transforming abilities.”
“The feel wasn’t the only unique thing about the game,” she continues. “The Bomber’s Notebook gave you a glimpse into the lives of many NPCs that you could never get without spending so much time following them each through their day. It changed Clock Town from a city full of people you knew of vaguely, to a town of people whose stories you knew and had followed.”
Taylor finished off with these thoughts: “For me, there’s not much this game does wrong, and it remains one of my favorite games to this day.”
1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Number of First Place Votes: 4 Lowest Rank: 14 Last Year’s Rank: 2
It’s with great pleasure and pride that Zelda Dungeon crowns The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time as its Best Zelda Ever for 2018! Ocarina of Time moved up from second place to take the crown this year on the strength of two extra 1st place votes compared to last year, and a staggering 10 top three finishes.
“Ocarina of Time was such a revolutionary game for the industry, and not only did it influence all of the Zelda games to come after it, as well as other video game staples, but on a more simplistic level, it influenced gamers,” Michaela states. “In a time where 3D games were a brand new and exciting concept, it challenged how players approached the games they played, myself included. Ocarina of Time’s perfect story structure and emphasis on exploration and collecting new items in an open world influenced my approach to playing video games, enjoying the story, characters, and world, and immersing myself into it.”
Judy agreed, adding, “What a beautiful game in all of its perfection! As my first introduction to the Zelda universe, this game pushed all of the right buttons for me. I was enchanted by the world of Hyrule and all of the wonderful characters within it. The game inspired terror in me with its enemies and music in battle. The quests challenged me in all of the right ways, at all of the right times. What more could I ask for? I played this game over and over again, for years, and even now, I still go running joyously back to it!”
As a game that defined a generation of gamers, it only seems fitting that Ocarina of Time has ascended to the top.
“This game means a lot to me,” concludes Andy. “Forget the actual gameplay, and structure, and music, and all of that — everyone already knows how great all of that is. This game will always be the pinnacle of gaming in my eyes for how it made me feel. I realized what video games could be after completing Ocarina of Time; as I grew up, playing it again and again over the years, I felt Link grow up with me. This world was an escape, a future I could shape, and a calming reminder that even when everything felt like it was falling apart, sometimes, all you need is courage to overcome the evils of the world.
“Ocarina of Time was my first Zelda. Ocarina of Time is my favorite Zelda. Ocarina of Time sent me down a path that led me to here, writing this list with all of my amazing companions and friends at this website. Ocarina of Time was one of the most important things that ever happened to me.
“For that, I’ll always love it.”
And so, there it is! That brings to a close this year’s edition of the Best Zelda Ever competition. Thank you to everyone for reading. We’d also like to congratulate Zelda Dungeon user dark.isatari on winning the corresponding competition we ran in conjunction with this list! We’ll be reaching out shortly to contact you about shipping details!
Putting together this list was exhaustive, but immensely rewarding. As new games come out, new editors come on board, and Zelda continues to evolve, it’ll be interesting to again see where this legendary series takes us, and how that reflects the other games’ legacies. From everyone at Zelda Dungeon, thank you for reading!
All quotes obtained firsthand. Make sure to follow the various Editors that helped shape this list. If you’re nice, maybe they’ll even tell you what their own list looked like!
Andy Spiteri – @Spiteri316
Rod Lloyd – @RODtheMaster
Alasyn Eletha – @alasyneletha
Kristen Rosario – SuperReactionBros
Kat Vadam – @Esganikan
Gooey Fame – @gooeyfame
Alexis Anderson – triforce3
Taylor Wells – @GIF_Bluehawk
Bobby Chichester – RPGMaker
Adam Barham – @Lunar_Eagle403
Michaela El-Ters – ObjectionNetwork
Almog Rimer – @almog_rimer
Zion Grassl – @ZionDood
Simon Rayner – @star_rayner
Savannah Gault – @xFaelwyn
Judy Calder – @BlondieeBrat
Euan Crombie – @euan707
Mases Hagopian – @MasesTheGreat
Andy Spiteri is the Editor-in-Chief of Zelda Dungeon, Host of The Zelda Cast podcast, and Owner of Omega Metroid. Probably drinking a Tim Horton’s Double Double as you read this.