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Zelda Series 35th Anniversary Retrospective

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Whether you're rushing to save the world or exploring a new dungeon, there is always an exciting new adventure found in every Zelda title. This year marks the 35th anniversary of the first Zelda game's 1986 release, and although Nintendo hasn't celebrated this anniversary too much (especially when compared to what Mario got last year), it is something definitely worth celebrating. With that said, we decided to look back on the long running Nintendo series so we could talk about both the past and the future.

Similar to the Mario 35th Anniversary article we did last year, we asked several staff members of SmashBoards two things: what their favorite Zelda game is, and what they would like to see in the Zelda series in the future. Although deciding on a single favorite Zelda game is no easy task, everyone was able to explain their answers in great depth.

Let's take a look at what everyone had to say:

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Sari Sari

Favorite Zelda Game:
Wind Waker


One of my favorite aspects of the Zelda series is exploring a new area. There is a sense of excitement that arises whenever you have to explore a new area in pretty much any Zelda game. No Zelda game gives off this feeling better than Wind Waker.

The entire world of Wind Waker is split into 49 areas. Each of these areas contains an island filled with their own unique secrets as well as other things to discover like pirate hideouts, sunken treasure, or even giant sea creatures. When you’re playing through Wind Waker for the first time, you pretty much never know what you’re going to run into during your sailing. It’s this anxious yet exhilarating feeling you get when visiting a new island that makes Wind Waker one of the most adventurous Zelda titles.

Wind Waker also benefits greatly from its visuals and presentation. Despite being controversial when it was first revealed, the cel-shaded graphics for Wind Waker make for a very colorful and memorable experience. The more cartoony look of the original version is one major advantage I think it has over the otherwise better HD remake, but regardless the entire world of Wind Waker is one of the most memorable in the entire series. The visual style fits perfectly for the world of Wind Waker while the graphics can be seen as a precursor to later Zelda games that would employ cel-shading such as Breath of the Wild.

The presentation of the game is made even better through the really enjoyable cutscenes and story. Past Zelda games have had great cutscenes but I think Wind Waker was where they started to become more cinematic, which is made all the more noticeable thanks to the widely varying facial expressions introduced in Wind Waker. Additionally, most Zelda games have Link as a lone person who just acts to save Zelda/Hyrule. So seeing Link have a grandma and spend half of the game trying to save his sister felt like a nice refresher on the usual Zelda formula.

Oh and if all of this wasn’t enough, you have the Second Quest as well as a ton of collectible figurines to (painstakingly) obtain. There is just so much to do and see in the vast world of flooded Hyrule.


Hope to see in the future:
More Zelda & Less Ganon



I’m counting this as one new thing I’d like to see since I’m mainly looking for a change of pace in terms of characters. I’ll try to keep this section as brief as possible:

More Zelda: She is one of the main stars of the series and yet has never been truly playable in a mainline Zelda title (the Tower of Spirits from Spirit Tracks is the closest we’ve gotten so far). Meanwhile, Peach from the Mario series has even gotten her own playable roles in the past such as in Super Mario Bros. 2 and Super Mario 3D World. As the titular character of the franchise and one of its major heroic players, Zelda being an actual controllable character is something that I feel is worth seeing at this point.

Even if Zelda can’t ever be playable, I would at the very least like to see her have more active roles in the games rather than be the damsel in distress for the entire adventure. Tetra in Wind Waker and Ghost Zelda in Spirit Tracks were steps in the right direction. More roles like these, as well as ones with even greater story significance, would be a delight to see.

Less Ganon: Would a new Zelda villain ever be able to top Ganon? Probably not. However I would really like to see Nintendo at the very least try and do so. Many other story-based series bring in new villains all of the time, so seeing Link defeat different iterations of Ganon in what feels like every game has become very tiresome. It can be an old villain like Vaati or even a completely new one (which I would much prefer), just as long as Ganon gets some well needed break time from the series.



@Scribe

Favorite Zelda Game:
Link’s Awakening


This one was actually a toss-up between Link’s Awakening and Minish Cap, but I think Link’s Awakening strikes a really interesting balance between the more exploration-driven feel of the original Legend of Zelda and the more straightforward story of A Link to the Past, while arguably surpassing them both in some regards. Now, I’m going to preface this by saying that I have yet to actually play the Nintendo Switch remake. My experience with this game is based entirely on the original Game Boy version, as well as Link’s Awakening DX, an updated re-release for Game Boy Color.

Koholint Island has tons of secrets to discover, and plenty of incentive to seek them out in the form of seashells and the trading sequence sidequest—the latter of which would go on to become a series staple. It’s certainly a more guided experience than Zelda 1, but the game still just points you in the general vicinity of where you need to go. Unlike ALttP, the challenge is not in merely the obstacles you face in traveling from Point A to Point B, it’s in figuring out where exactly point B is.

The dungeons are also some of my favorites in the series. Link’s Awakening is the game that really established the formula that Zelda dungeons would follow for pretty much every game going forward, and it’s impressive how well-designed they are for their first real attempt at making dungeons in this style. Every dungeon is designed in a way where the item you get from the miniboss completely changes the way you get around it.

On top of that, the story, while simple, is still one of the most evocative in the series. Where ALttP is largely a more elaborate retelling of the plot of Zelda 1, Link’s Awakening is the first real break away from that story and from the world of Hyrule. It starts off as a simple castaway story, with Link washed up on the unfamiliar shores of Koholint Island, but the more you explore, the more surreal things get.

Eventually it turns out that your only means of escape—waking the Wind Fish from its slumber—will erase Koholint island from existence, including the inhabitants you’ve gotten to know. The world you’re in is a dream, and like all dreams, it will come to an end when the dreamer wakes from their slumber.


And, just… I can’t think of any other game in the series that has the panache to have you spend your first half hour or so of gameplay using a mushroom to save a Mario lookalike who’s been transformed into a tanuki, then end on by forcing you to erase an entire world and everyone in it from existence. It’s one of the few pieces of media I can think of that uses the “it was all just a dream” reveal to add some real weight to everything that comes afterward, rather than feeling like a cop-out for everything that came before.

The soundtrack is also one of my favorites on the Game Boy, with the overworld theme in particular being my favorite in the entire series. I love the juxtaposition of the original overworld theme’s main melody with a new counter-melody, and the dreamlike vibe that counter-melody conveys. It perfectly ties into the game’s overall juxtaposition of the familiar with the surreal.

And outside of the game itself, I just love how later games—even ones that I’m not that into—have turned this game’s motifs into a symbol of the otherworldly. The Ballad of the Wind Fish lends its name to an otherwise-unrelated track in Majora’s Mask, another game that transports Link to another world that mixes the familiar with the surreal. Phantom Hourglass bears a similar plot about Link being trapped in a dream world whose existence is perpetuated by the slumber of a whale-like ocean god.

And then there’s my personal favorite nod: Breath of the Wild’s Hyrule Castle theme. Rather than the traditional musical motifs associated with Hyrule Castle, this one repurposes The Ballad of the Wind Fish, as if to say “This is not the world you once knew.” It’s such a striking use of one of Link’s Awakening’s key motifs that I have to wonder if there’s some added significance that will come up in the upcoming sequel to Breath of the Wild.

Hope to see in the future:
More (and better) remakes


While I admittedly still have yet to play the Link’s Awakening remake, it has me thinking that there are honestly a lot of past Zelda games that could benefit from a remake, or even a total reimagining. Imagine A Link to the Past or Oracle of Ages & Oracle of Seasons remade in the same style, or the Four Swords games but you don’t have to jump through hoops just to play them as intended (and with good netcode for online play).

That said there are certainly some pitfalls that past remakes fell into that I could see happening again—such as Majora’s Mask 3D making tweak’s to Link’s movement without adjusting the level design to compensate. While there’s a lot of potential in some of the more underrated hidden gems of the series getting a second chance, or beloved classics getting completely reimagined, some of the enhanced ports over the past 10 years have had somewhat mixed results.

That said, as far as those ports go, everything I’ve heard about Skyward Sword HD sounds like a step in the right direction, featuring quite a few quality of life improvements over the original Wii title. That said, one of them is locked behind the Zelda & Loftwing amiibo, which is rather unfortunate, and considering how mired in baffling UI/UX design decisions many other first-party Switch titles tend to be, I wouldn’t be surprised if future ports have similar issues. On top of that, an HD port of an older game doesn’t seem entirely worth the $60 price point, even with the quality of life improvements.

As someone who has always had a weird soft spot for remakes of older games, I don’t want to be cynical about this. I think re-releasing older games on newer hardware can be a huge boon to accessibility (in more ways than one, in the case of Skyward Sword HD) and for game preservation, and a fresh new reimagining of an older game is basically the closest you can get to reliving the experience of playing that game for the first time. Skyward Sword HD also shows how even just a few key improvements can significantly change how well a game is received.

At the same time… Nintendo doesn’t have much incentive to do better than what they’re already doing. Full-price remasters that take two steps forward and one step back in terms of quality of life features evidently sell well, and even if they stop selling well, I worry that Nintendo will just stop making them entirely rather than start selling them at a more budget price point.



@NonSpecificGuy

Favorite Zelda Game:
Majora’s Mask


It’s hard for me to really decide my favorite Zelda. I know my top 3 are Ocarina of Time, Skyward Sword, and Majora’s Mask, and my top 5 fluctuate even more. However, Majora’s Mask is without a doubt the one that’s stuck with me the most. The very unique, dark, and melancholy atmosphere of the game always brings me back to it. It balances its main plot and dungeons with engrossing and extensive side quests that are often lacking from other Zelda games, giving Majora’s Mask its own personality and feel.

It’s a game that just lingers. It keeps you asking questions. Questions you’ll likely never get answers to. Was Termina ever real? Did Link helping everyone really make a difference? Who is the tribe that created Majora’s Mask? Who even is Majora? I feel like these questions, this uncertainty, to the outcome and world of Majora’s Mask defines how ahead of its time it was. The complexity present within its characters' stories and subsequent consequences also greatly builds to the mystery of the game. It’s for these reasons that Majora’s Mask is absolutely my favorite Zelda.

Hope to see in the future
3 Pillars of Diverse Gameplay


It’s become even more clear to me recently as I play through Skyward Sword HD that I really miss the dungeon focused exploration of the previous Zelda games. While I love the absolute freedom that Breath of the Wild delivers, it's apparent to me that I’m longing for something that will scratch that itch of dynamic puzzle solving through giant and complex dungeons. Something that is nearly completely missing from BotW with only a little credit going to the larger shrines and Divine Beasts. However, those are simply pin points on your journey. You may not even remember most of them as they’re by all intents and purposes not the focus of BotW. I want 3D Zelda to indulge in both the open world formula as well as its predecessors incredibly complex and immersive dungeon hopping experiences.

You’ll notice that my final sentence in the previous paragraph specifically highlighted “3D Zelda,'' and that’s for good reason. Just as Skyward Sword HD reminded me of my love for that formula, Link’s Awakening on Switch reminded me of just how important the 2D games are to the franchise. Link’s Awakening is often a game that fluctuates in my top 5 but the majority of the time it’s there. The remake forgoes what would be typically seen as a modern remake of games these days and chooses to instead adhere to the source material, something I think it is all the better for. It gave me a longing for other games like A Link to the Past and A Link Between Worlds that I often forget I have. It makes me wish that we had another even more original 2D Zelda to indulge in. I think it’s important to acknowledge and preserve the gameplay of the past and that’s why I hope Nintendo keeps the old, new, and makes the 3 individual formulas of Zelda into the 3 pillars of the franchise.



@---

Favorite Zelda Game:
Zelda II: The Adventure of Link


I recognize that I’m probably going to be the odd one out here. In retrospect, however, the Zelda game I’ve probably enjoyed the most within my time with the series has probably been Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. I’ve always been more of an action genre fan so much of the series has been hit or miss when it comes to appealing to me specifically.

Basic at its core, the combat in the game has always been the main drawing point for me. Learning how to actively attack and defend against enemies requires a fair amount of experimentation with both spacing and testing the reactions of the AI to your movements. It’s certainly something that takes time, of which there is plenty given the experience point system, but when it finally clicks it feels immensely rewarding. There are certainly cheap hits here and there, but by the end of my first play-through I found myself breezing through many of the final areas.

Hyrule is certainly not as deep as the prior or subsequent entries in the series in terms of hidden secrets, it still feels rich and lively in its own unique way. As opposed to being screen by screen, the over world is continuous with Ganon’s minions always on the prowl. Towns (a first for the series) gave us our first encounters of the average denizens of the kingdom going about their daily lives as opposed to living in random caves giving out free swords.

While not as opaque with its in-game progression as some other games at the time like Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, Zelda II is still probably a game that’s best played with a guide. Being a much more reflect based game, for many it may now be best played through the Nintendo Switch NES Online service so you can take advantage of the save states and replay feature it offers. There is a special save state that was added that gives you maxed out stats at the start of the game so grinding is no longer required.

As a minor side note, I'm still surprised to this day that we haven't gotten more remixes of themes from this game in the Smash Bros. series just yet. The over world and battle themes feel like natural inclusions and I feel would work great on stages like Skyloft.

Hope to see in the future:
More remakes and Zelda Maker



In terms of the future of the series, at the moment I think I’d prefer if some of the older titles are continued to be revisited. After the remake of Link’s Awakening, the Oracle duology seems right for the picking as a continuation both in terms of style and narrative. The biggest game I’m surprised hasn’t been revisited is Four Swords Adventures. Of the many GameCube titles gamers have been begging to be re-released, I feel this one would probably benefit the most from the physical Switch hardware; no more complicated set ups or purchasing multiple GBAs. Zelda II is naturally a game I'd also like to see be revisited with modern quality of life enhancements but I recognize that it would be a steep contrast to what the series has now become.

Naturally as well, it’s surprising that Nintendo hasn’t capitalized on the success of the Mario Maker titles and released a Zelda Maker. It most likely wouldn’t be able to encompass all the eras of top-down Zelda but a renewed focus on the ability to create your own game like the World Maker mode in Super Mario Maker 2 would be huge. Creating your own Zelda game, your own overworld and dungeons, I’m sure is something that could take the gaming industry by storm and help the series reach new audiences.



@Thirdkoopa

Favorite Zelda Game:
Wind Waker


It was a while before I’d ever got to play the game myself, but I first sat down and tried out Wind Waker at a friend’s house during a sleepover. I was hooked. The setting, the art, the music, and the story – Something about the combination of them had me excited. A few months later, I got to borrow the game from a friend, and I ended up playing through the whole game in about a week. While I’ve enjoyed many of the Zelda entries, Wind Waker’s art direction and exploration really grasped me.

One musical moment that stays stuck into my head is the track The Legendary Hero. I have appreciated this opening sequence more and more over the years. It is a very early game moment, but the song, with the opening sequence combined, reminds me of a fairy tale intro. How Zelda themes only take place once Link shows up is an incredible touch.


Hope to see in the future:
More morally gray characters


Something I wish to see is more gray areas in Zelda, instead of the story being very black and white. If I remember correctly, the Zelda team had attempted a sympathetic Ganon before, only to be shot down. I want to see more of that – more about the world of Hyrule and more characters getting to interact with each other.

When I say more characters interacting with each other, I am mainly talking about NPC’s. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was a nice step with adding voice acting, but I would like to see more performances that allow more investment into future Zelda games.


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We hope you all enjoyed this collaborative piece on the Zelda series. Let us hope that this franchise continue to give us enjoyment that's been as good as these last 35 years.



Credits:
Editing:
Sari Sari
Graphics: @Zerp
Social Media: @Zerp
Special Thanks: Zeldadungeon.net and wiizelda.net for a few of the pictures


Author's Note: What is YOUR favorite Zelda game? Also, what would YOU like to see in the Zelda series in the future? Let us know in the comments below!
 
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Sari

Comments

Can't wait to see the next trailer of BOTW2!
This series is my literal childhood game series and will forever be my main thing to play. Started with OoT, then MM, Oracles, WW, TP, then I played everything else and finally got to play SS with the new port. MM remains my top favorite in the series, hopefully BOTW2 can match it.
 
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I’ll play.

Favorite Zelda Game: Four Sword Adventures (GCN)

Is this the best zelda game ever made? No. But my previous favorite before this came out was Link to the Past and I preferred top down zeldas. So this gave me that gameplay. And being a spoiled brat I was able to make it so I could provide the game copy, four gba connector cables, and two gbas for my group of friends that were playing that game with me in college, and they had the other two gbas.

So getting to play with the full four people, where the votes on “who helped/who hurt” feel like they mattered, playing through all 8 worlds, everyone acting dangerous with a different item that specifically brought out the worst in them (for some, boomerang into pits.. for others, hookshotting the guy who kept boomeranging him into pits into pits… for me… giant bombs. Planted them everywhere for no reason… and for another, the roc’s cape. He didn’t do anything wrong, but all of us lost an item and he liked the roc’s cape). Getting the last hit on ganon with red link (and him subsequently being the one to get the ending cinematic as a reward for that) was great.

What I’d like to see in the future:

More top down, more players, more characters.

So I liked Four Sword Adventures. I also really liked Cadence of Hyrule. I like the idea of different characters playing a little differently (like Zelda stabbing and moving forward with a rapier, Link swinging wide with a broadsword, Impa keeping straight distance with a spear).

I like Hyrule Warriors: AoC giving everyone the same magic with different execution.

And while I admit aspects of triforce heroes were lacking… the online communication system worked shockingly well, can be emulated easily on switch (look at pokemon unite), and there’s just so much to expand upon.
 
My favorite Zelda (as well as my favorite game of all time), is The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Besides the fact that it's the first Zelda game I ever played, I loved the general exploration, music playing, time-traveling aspects, and the story overall. I really hope to see Zelda become more playable in future mainline games.
 
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