Since its introduction all the way back in 1986, The Legend of Zelda series has captivated audiences for a whopping 36 years. From the original top-down NES release The Legend of Zelda to the still-in-development Breath Of The Wild 2, it can be daunting for new players trying to make a dent in the imposing backlog of historic titles. And so, we here at 9to5gamers set out on a task just as heroic as Link’s exploits in the land of Hyrule, that being creating a guide to ease in potential fans of the fantastic fantasy series.
The Casual Gamer
Let’s say that you’re a curious casual who wishes to step foot in Hyrule for the first time. Which title is the best fit, providing the best first taste of the franchise? As it turns out, there a few suitable options. The recent 2019 remake of A Link to The Past is a great candidate, being easily and readily available on Nintendo’s most recent device, with an impressive facelift by the means of a beautifully cartoon-esque art style. Offering a top-down perspective, it serves as a simpler game than8564 the later 3-D titles as well as being one of the few Zelda titles not to include the land of Hyrule as its backdrop. Another solid introduction to the franchise would be that of its twin title Link’s Awakening from the SNES, which despite lacking a remake or remaster is still a fantastic adventure in its own right, complete with a quirky time travel mechanic and considered by many devout fans to be the greatest in the franchise.
If a canonical story is what you’re interested in (as incredibly convoluted as it is in the Zelda series) then Skyward Sword would be your best bet, depicting Link at the beginning of the timelines in the time before the formation of Hyrule, complete with a beautiful signature impressionist painting art style. Often treated like the overlooked step-child of the series, the title served as a fantastic combination of the graphical power of Twilight Princess mixed with Wind Waker/Phantom Hourglass/Spirit Track’s delightful stylings, and paved the way for the gargantuan success of Breath of the Wild, so credit where credit is due. It’s also readily available on the Switch due to a recent remake in 2021.
If neither of them takes your fancy, then it’s time for the big guns. What kind of Zelda article would be complete without celebrating the achievement that is Ocarina of Time? It has sat comfortably atop Metacritic’s user score list with an eye-watering score of 99 since its release in 1997 where it has remained ever since, unchallenged for an unprecedented 25 years. Perhaps the greatest overall title in the franchise, at the time of its release it completely blew the doors of the industry with its fully 3D presentation and story telling, with perhaps the homeliest depiction of Hyrule to date. With nostalgia goggles removed, it is still a monumental achievement in the industry, and the 3DS remake in 2011 is widely considered to be the best method of playing the title still to this day. Until the announcement of a PC version complete ray-tracing mods, that is.
The Hardcore Purist
Let’s say you’re made of hardier stuff than your average fan. Where to begin, I hear you ask? If you can handle it, it might be best to begin with the very first title which cemented the series place in the annals of history, The Legend of Zelda. From the iconic “It’s Dangerous to Go Alone! Take This” to the introduction of Link, Ganondorf, The Triforce, Hyrule and Princess Zelda, the title established many series trademarks which have remained to this day.
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A top-down presentation that generates each field as you pass through, combined with obtuse secrets, basic controls, unforgiving enemies (and dungeons) with very little instruction, the title can be viewed as an ancient precursor to the Dark Souls series. The second title and direct sequel, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link would be the logical next step, often considered the most difficult in the series due to its confusing nature and platforming tendencies. Enter at your own peril.
Another possibility would be the 2002 soft reboot of Wind Waker, swapping the fields and plains typical of Zelda titles for a vast and seemingly endless ocean of deep blue. With a cartoon-esque art style, it turned away many fans upon release but has since come to be viewed as a classic adventure within the cannon with it’s swash-buckling exploration and is considered a favourite by many fans. Perhaps the most daunting option would be diving into the most recent adventure Breath Of The Wild with it’s massive open-world complete with more modern crafting mechanics. While some long-time fans struggled to adjust to the gameplay changes, the title has succeeded in winning over an entire new generation with Link’s escapades, and that is always a win.
The Treasure Hunter
Let’s say that you’re looking to dig into the deepest, darkest corners of the franchise with an off-kilter choice. Luckily there are many strange oddities in the backlog ripe for the picking, such as Majora’s Mask, seen by many as the dark twin of Ocarina of Time. The palette is far darker, swapping verdant greens for unsettling purples and darkened hues of brown playing host to strange yet delightful NPC’s. The title is fondly remembered for its experimental 72 hour in-game cycle repeating throughout the adventure and it’s more cynical tone when compared to most Zelda adventures.
The Nintendo DS titles Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks serve as excellent sequels to Wind Waker yet on handheld, with the delightful cartoon-esque art style returning in both games. Some of the greatest puzzles and dungeons in the franchise can be found here, and fans would be doing themselves a disservice to ignore them as well as the massively underappreciated Minish Cap on the GBA. Despite complaints that the story takes too long to get going, or that the wolf sections can be irritating, Twilight Princess may just be the best title out of the whole bunch, with a more mature story and colour palette. Similarities to Ocarina may be a valid criticism, yet don’t let it prevent you from taking an adventure it perhaps the most fully realised version of Hyrule to date. Still no Switch version to be seen or heard though, get on it Nintendo!