myVoice: Why ‘The Legend of Zelda’ is the greatest video game series of all time

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I know, I know.  That headline up there must make you think I’m a maniac.  How can somebody take such a successful commercial enterprise as the video game industry, where nearly-perfect games are released constantly, and name the best of the best?

Well, I will.

Yes, you have the “Mario,” “Metroid Prime,” “Final Fantasy,” “Resident Evil,” and even “Call of Duty” series.  But, “The Legend of Zelda” series is leaps and bounds ahead of the others.

To make things easier, I broke down the five essentials needed to keep not only a franchise good, but to make “The Legend of Zelda” the greatest series of all time.

Story

What every game needs to keep it interesting is a compelling story.  “The Legend of Zelda” delivers on this by not only keeping its classic story structure in each title but also by giving each story an incredibly new feel in every game.

Dating back to its 8-bit days, The Legend of Zelda has had the gamer play as Link and rescue Princess Zelda.  He goes on a quest to gather the Triforce in order to become strong enough to defeat the evil Ganondorf, who is either trying to take Zelda’s power and rule the world, or just destroy the world.  This somewhat simple storyline has the player venturing from corner to corner of whatever land they are in, whether it is Hyrule or Termina.  Link must pass through temples, acquiring skills and weapons as he defeats each boss.  Furthermore, each part of the story has its own feel to it.  You have your Water Temple, Eldin, and Forest Temple in nearly every game, which makes the player adapt to new types of puzzles in each location.  Now, it may seem like this story may get mundane after 18 games and nearly 26 years.

But, it doesn’t.

The Legend of Zelda follows a loose timeline (Recently released in “Hyrule Historia”), which gives it breathing room for originality.

Let’s look at the 1998 classic, “Ocarina of Time,” for guidance.

In the series’ most profound game, Link must prevent the Gerudo King Ganondorf from collecting the pieces of the Triforce, which would give him remarkable power.  Link travels from youth to adulthood in order to gain the maturity which is required to defeat the Dark Lord.  The next game in the timeline, one of three sequels in the series, has Link trying to defeat a new villain, Majora’s Mask, in just three days.  This utterly original game has the player racing to collectvarious masks grow in his quest to defeat Majora before the moon crashes down on Clock Town.  A mix of fresh and intuitive storylines with the same Zelda feel is what makes the series the greatest, but I’ll get back to that in a while.

Gameplay

Something that so-called video game “experts” don’t understand is that shooters can’t be critically phenomenal without completely original overhauls.  Ever since “Call of Duty” hit shelves in 2003, the bulk of popular video games has been in the shooter genre.  With highly addictive multiplayer aspects and reality that takes the gamer out of everyday life, I can’t blame them.  But, it isn’t that good or even fresh anymore.

When “Battlefield 3” was released last fall, there were cries from fans that it was one of the greatest games ever.

If you think that, you’re wrong.

When I look at Battlefield and the latest Call of Duty, I see the same game with tinkered improved graphics and different storylines.  The player runs with a squad trying to achieve tasks in the single-player modes.  For online multiplayer, the gamer works cooperatively in different modes, tying to earn the most points and get the most upgrades.

Is it addictive? Sure.  Is it any good anymore? Not really.

The Legend of Zelda features gameplay like no series has ever had.  Instead of earning new perks and weapons, the player collects rupees to upgrade their gear and to refresh items.  Although Zelda’s gameplay stays consistent throughout the series, what makes the franchise truly remarkable is the variety of innovative additions to each game.

For example, in “Call of Duty,” the player travels by foot, in caravans, and by the occasional helicopter.  In Zelda, some games have Link traveling on his reliable horse Epona.  But in other games, the type of travel and style of game is completely different.  In “The Wind Waker,” the player can travel by boat from island to island.  In “Twilight Princess,” the player can warp from portal to portal, and even transform into a wolf to run from place to place.  In “Spirit Tracks,” the player rides a train from town to town.  In Zelda’s latest hit, “Skyward Sword,” the player has to dive off of islands in the sky and fly a Loftwing (Link’s trusty bird) from location to location.

Add originality to an ever-so expansive variety of items to choose from and you get gameplay that hasn’t faltered in a Zelda game yet.

Characters

Possibly the most important element required for a franchise to survive is not only its heroes, but its supporting cast.  That’s where Zelda really shines.

There are tons of different Links throughout the series, which brings a new, but familiar, feel to each game.  You have Zelda, the finest heroine in all of video games, as well as loads of different villains.  Not only do you have Ganondorf, but there is Ghirahim, Zant, Skull Kid, Vaati, Demise, and countless more causing treacheries in the series.

Not only that, but Zelda has the deepest cast of side characters in any series I have seen.  This was stressed in “Skyward Sword,” as Link’s fate relies on the actions of his goofy acquaintances at the Knight Academy.  Each game has various past characters with cameos in the next, such as the appearance of the Postman in “Twilight Princess.”

The deep and creative character development is yet another essential aspect of franchises that keeps Zelda going.

Graphics

Another reason why Zelda is so great is its ridiculously unique graphics.  Now if you’re one of those dull-brained gamers who thinks that High-Definition is necessary to make a game good, then stop playing videos and skip over this section.

“Ocarina of Time” brought a revolution in graphics in 3-D on the Nintendo 64.  “Majora’s Mask” recycled OOT’s engine, but it brought its own distinctive look with it.  The game used vibrant settings which set apart the different locations in the game and made it look completely different while also adding a dark feel to match the game’s plot.

The next pair of giants released in the series also brought their own looks.  “The Wind Waker” used beautiful cel-shaded graphics to give the water-based installment in the series an incredibly vibrant look.  After that, the 2006 release “Twilight Princess” brought a drastically different look to the series, putting a dark spin on things.  To get a look at what I’m talking about, check out this ridiculously creepy, mind-blowing cutscene.

Let’s fast-forward to the latest release in the Zelda series, “Skyward Sword,” which was released last November.  It’s been said that “Skyward Sword” is the perfect combination of the graphics of “The Wind Waker” and “Twilight Princess,” which it really is.  Skyward Sword has been yet another original title in the series, expressing the franchise’s vibrant elements and emotive features like no other game has.  When the camera is focused on the player, the backgrounds change from detailed characteristics to vibrant settings which look like astonishingly beautiful watercolor portraits.

Now, I’m not trying to say that games such as “Skyrim” have bad graphics, because they don’t.  But, they won’t have an impact a decade from now.  Sure, they may look as realistic as possible, but with improving technology and processors that’ll make today’s realistic games look like a Madden game from the ‘90s, what’s important is impact.  Although it’s handicapped with the technology of the Wii and won’t get HD until the Wii U is released, “Skyward Sword” still looks more original and beautiful than any other game out in the market right now.  That originality will keep the game memorable 10, even 50 years from now.  And that’s why “The Legend of Zelda” is such a great series.

I’m sorry to break it to you, but “Skyrim” sucks.

Music

Not only is The Legend of Zelda easy on the eyes, but it’s easy on the ears as well.  Something distinctive about the franchise is its familiar music, which is the greatest of any video game series.

In addition to having distinctive music with different regions and moments in the game, “The Legend of Zelda” allows the Hero of Time to create and play his own music.  In “Ocarina of Time’ and ‘Majora’s Mask,” Link is equipped with the mighty Ocarina of Time, where his songs can do things such as turn back time.  In “The Wind Waker,” Link takes control of the Wind Waker to transport to various locations and change time of day.  In “Skyward Sword,” Link takes control of the Goddess’s Harp to advance his journey by unlocking entrances into the Silent Realm.

The stunning music from this franchise makes it legendary on its own.  It’s catchier than “Tetris” music and more moving than any other game soundtrack ever created.

Overall

First things first, if you still disagree, tell me why I’m wrong in the comments below.

What makes “The Legend of Zelda” great is that each game is more than a video game; it’s an experience.  When I finish a Zelda game, I feel like I just got back from an adventure.  When I think of my childhood, I reminisce about defeating Ganon in ‘Ocarina of Time” and being creeped out by the Spooky Mask Man in “Majora’s Mask.”  I finished “Skyward Sword” and wanted to rejoice.  The games will make you laugh,and yes, as lame as it is, they’ll even make you cry.

“The Legend of Zelda” has been such a great series that some critics have put it on a completely different level than other video games.  It has some of the most highly-rated games of all time.  Rather than toying around the addictive worlds in “World of Warcraft,” enlightened fans argue which Zelda game is greatest.  They appreciate the experience that “The Legend of Zelda” is.

And I hope you will too.

22 COMMENTS

  1. You sounded like an IGN reviewer, extremely optimistic and not willing to criticize. But you are 100% right, Zelda is the greatest game series of all time. By far? No. But it still wins. For the record, Skyrim does not suck. You are not entitled to say any game sucks unless you’ve actually played the game or, preferably, completed the game. Spirit Tracks’s railway system was the most tedious thing ever even if Spirit Tracks was an awesome game. You should play Wind Waker, the Minish Cap, Phantom Hourglass, and Spirit Tracks because they will complete your love for the series. Zelda’s music is phenomenal. I agree with your graphics section except for the fact that Skyrim has good graphics. It really doesn’t. Playing a Zelda game is definitely an experience. The story is never anything too special, although it certainly isn’t bad. But I don’t expect the story to be amazing because it’s a Zelda game. Leave the stories to Square Enix. Finally, I’ve never heard that anyone ever thought that Battlefield 3 was the best game ever. Although I have no entitlement to say that game sucks or is bad, I am highly skeptical of that statement. And the last sentence of your Graphics section needs to be cut out. Now. That’s all.

    • If you’ve never seen people who think that Battlefield 3 or any other not especially amazing game is good, then you’ve definitely never read any Internet discussions of those games.

  2. i beat the legend of zelda: ocarina of time over this last weekend for the first time and what did i do afterwards? start the masterquest! these games are by far the best! you summed it up perfectly marek!

  3. I don’t agree with everything you said but Zelda has always been my #1 Action/puzzle/adventure whatever game. Can’t say role playing because that belongs to Dragon Quest.

  4. The series has incredible depth. It can be analysed and it’s various game cultures are always fascinating. While you remained broad on how the games have innovated visually and game play wise, you hit the right points. Kind of bad comparing it with FPS’s but hey I get where you’re coming from. FPS’s are just a another genre though, it’s like comparing Zelda with Mortal Kombat, It’s a tough sell. But again I agree wholeheartedly with you. 

  5. So why is a sports writer writing about video games?

    In any case, while I agree with the overall message of the article, it is not well written. There were several errors about the features of different games and there were some rather vague statements. This sounds like the writer read encyclopedia articles on the games but never actually played them. It’s also full of opinions without facts to back them up.

  6.      While there were many grammatical flaws that severely lessened the impact of the article, I agree wholeheartedly with the main point of the article and really liked your descriptions and reasoning. There were just a couple points I thought you missed. 
         For one, you missed how innovative Zelda games have been. The original Legend of Zelda for the NES was the first game EVER that introduced the ability to save your game. LOZ: Ocarina of Time INVENTED most of the control conventions for three-dimensional games, such as the targeting system, the switch from third-person to first-person view to use items or crawl through holes, and the expanded use of context-sensitive buttons. The newest entry, Skyward Sword, is the first action-adventure game that uses motion controls in a practical, one-to-one matter for the entire game.
         Also, while your criticism of Skyrim was poorly defended and came from nowhere, I agree with the statement that it has no lasting power. I have played Skyrim, and it is very fun and interesting, but at the end of the day it does NOTHING original and is merely a re-skinning of the less interesting parts of the previous games in the series with a whiter aesthetic. Its “story” is laughable and forgettable, the majority of the missions which it offers are repetitive and formulaic, and its world and lore have been done before with a much better quality (in previous Elder Scrolls games, such as Morrowind, and in countless other western RPGs.) Don’t misinterpret these statements to mean that Skyrim is bad; Skyrim is a very high-quality and immersive game, and its visuals are fantastic. However, much like the way that Skyrim’s predecessor Oblivion has been forgotten since Skyrim was released, no one will care about Skyrim when the inevitable Elder Scrolls VI comes out. (And because of this, it cannot even begin to stand up to any of the many memorable games in the LOZ series.)
         I liked your article very much, Marek; my comment is more of a nitpick than a criticism. Keep up the great work!

  7. I’m sorry but I can’t agree with mostly what you said. Each of the games have some sort of gimmick that makes them a little different, but that’s about it. You only get the important items through dungeons, and those items are mostly just for solving puzzles. You don’t get to upgrade or buy new and important items (there’s the potions, though). Look at skyrim 5 the elder scrolls. You can buy all sorts of weapons. Legend of zelda? Nope. and I’m sorry, but each of the stories seem really familiar. A supposedly normal boy is told out of nowhere he’s the chosen one, etc, and then immedietly believing what he’s told gets triforce stuff. And each game functions WAY to similar. Going through dungeons and solving puzzles. Most of the sonic game’s storylines REALLY differ from each other. Each mario game has the basic jump thing, but the level designs and gimmicks make them completely different from every other mario game. I guess what I’m trying to point out is, in an adventure game you need to be able to buy all sorts of stuff: not just normal items, but weapons, and upgrade them (thank God Skyward Sword did this).

  8. I just need to say, that the main character, Link, is downright pathetic. I mean he’s close to being BLAND. Come on, even in fictional stories when someone’s told about being the chosen one and ordered to go save the world they don’t just accept it like that. Link is brave in the start for no particular reason, believes everything he’s told, most of the time doesn’t even have a backstory, starts off in every game EXACTLY THE SAME (lazy, etc). And why has there been no zelda game with voice acting yet? Sure, the zelda games require for the player to make the decisions, but can’t it make cutscenes where Link really shows emotion a lot? Like anger, tears, patting someone’s shoulder, and so on. Okay he does show emotion, but I’m talking about giving him much more emotion to make him feel more believable.

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