If someone asked you about a particular series, but only had time to deal with one installment in it, what recommendation would you give them? This time, we look at the definitive Legend of Zelda game.
Daniel Dockery – A Link Between Worlds
A Link Between Worlds may be the most “pick up and play” Legend of Zelda game ever invented. Heck, it might be the most “pick up and play” game ever invented that didn’t involve hitting tin cans with sticks. Regardless of your familiarity with the franchise, video games as a whole, or your own thumbs, A Link Between Worlds has an absolutely perfect learning curve. A big problem with a few Zelda games for me is that they are split into two very distinct parts: the part before you get all the cool items where the hardest thing you’ll have to do is light a torch, and the part after you get all the cool items where every mission involves scanning a room until you find the right eye statue to shoot an arrow into. A Link Between Worlds eases you into its gameplay so well that the line between those two parts is almost nonexistent. Let me put it to you in the simplest way that I know how: If I traveled back in time with a copy of Link Between Worlds, and I handed it to a townsperson in Dark Ages-era Europe, I’m nearly certain that I wouldn’t be burned to death for being a warlock. Nearly certain. It’s that easy and engaging to play.
Luis Prada – A Link to the Past
When everyone else had an SNES, I had a Sega Genesis. I loathed every second I had to play the only two games I owned for it: Math Blasters and Sonic Spinball, a pinball video game starring Sonic the Hedgehog. According its Wikipedia entry, Gamepro magazine said Spinball was “a mediocre example of a pinball game.” Harsh. Especially considering that pinball is a mediocre example of a game. I say all that to give some backstory as to why I think The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is the best Zelda game ever made. While everyone else my age played it as a child, I was crying because I couldn’t get passed the third level in Mathblasters because I didn’t know the answer to 42 divided by 7. (I think it’s 12). I didn’t play A Link To The Past until I was 29. I don’t look back on it with rose-tinted glasses. That shit was, like, 4 months ago. I played it on my Android-powered smartphone. I know it as it is today, informed by the thousands of hours of games I’ve played in my life, a lot of which are Zelda games. By the time I played it, it was 25-years old – and it felt like it could have been released today. A Link To The Past is a pure Zelda experience. Everything the series had been up to that point and everything it was going to be in the years to come is in there. Time travel, the Dark World, complex and beautifully designed dungeons, a gripping story. It was and continues to be THE Zelda game. Every entry in the series, including Ocarina of Time, has been trying to recapture the lightening in a bottle (or fairy in a bottle) that made A Link To The Past so good. And what is that thing they’re all grasping at? A sense of discovery and adventure set in a sprawling, busy world that never made me lose focus of what I was here for: killing bosses and saving princesses. Like I said, it was pure Zelda.
Will McGee – Ocarina of Time
If you’re only going to experience one game from the Legend of Zelda series, that’s somewhat like only experiencing one Francis Ford Coppola film. People could surely argue the merits of a few different choices, but there is one obvious choice whose reputation precedes it – for Coppola, that’s The Godfather, and for Zelda, that’s The Godfather of video games, that benchmark that games are still compared to on GameFAQs Top 10 lists to this day: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Ocarina of Time came just two games after the Zelda series had already offered a masterpiece in the form of A Link to the Past, but if A Link to the Past is the Old Testament, Ocarina of Time is the New Testament. Various parts of this game have entered gaming legend and slang; you can talk to anyone all over the world who played video games in the 90s and they’ll have some opinion about the Water Temple. They’ll remember the rumors about finding ways to obtain the Triforce, to beat the Marathon Man, to thaw out Zora’s Domain. There are creepypastas about Ocarina of Time, remakes, remixes of the music – it’s omnipresent in ‘gamer’ culture. So while there might be games from that series that people could argue are better (not to be a contrarian hipster, but Ocarina of Time is only my third or fourth favorite in the series), no other game is as vital to an understanding of not just of the Zelda series alone, but of video gaming in general.
Jonathan Dantzler – A Link to the Past
If I had to explain Zelda to someone who had never played it – perhaps my mother – I’d boot up my SNES and show them A Link to the Past. It’s a greatest hits album from Zelda surprisingly early in its career. It’s got all the series’ singles: challenging dungeons, unique items, time travel, and a sprawling overworld. But most importantly, its minimal storytelling set a precedent for the entire series. We got more narrative than the NES games, but not enough to turn it into a fully fledged RPG. YOU are Link, and this is YOUR story. That’s what Zelda is: an adventure for the player, not an adventure for characters. And LttP was the first to nail it.
Paul Rasumussen – The Minish Cap
The Minish Cap is magnificent. A handheld Zelda game with incredibly charming graphics and music, there’s no Ganon, no hat, no… well, Link does get a hat, but it’s also a wizard! Who got turned into a green duck thing and can… make Link tiny when he sits on Link’s head. But really, there’s some really great puzzles and dungeons in this game. Bosses that are regular-size classic Zelda enemies suddenly become a hundred times Link’s size. Some of the dungeons are only accessible through becoming tiny, making normally small insects the main enemies. Thick clumps of grass become impenetrable walls. The main game isn’t very long, but they made up for it by adding in a bunch of neat sidequests which really extend the game. Check it out!
Tony McMillan – A Link to the Past
The gateway drug to the Zelda series, as well as hands down the most fun and best encapsulation of the qualities that bind this fairly diverse family of games, has got to be Zelda: A Link to the Past for the SNES. Gotta be. The title fits that sweet spot between the original two entries which are rightfully hailed as landmark games with innovative and addictive gameplay but have admittedly dated in the realm of storytelling (I love the old graphics personally so that’s not a factor) and the later Zelda games which have storytelling and worldbuilding up the whazoo but have lost some of that early Nintendo simplicity and charm. This game is the Revolver of the Zelda catalogue as opposed to the series’ overhyped Sgt. Pepper (The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time) because while A Link to the Past might not be as innovative or as massive a leap forward as Ocarina, damn it, the content is better. As the old man in the cave from the first Zelda game put it: It’s dangerous to go alone! Take this.
Ted Kendrick – Link’s Awakening
The first adventure in “The Legend of Zelda” series for the Nintendo Game Boy, “Link’s Awakening” was originally released in 1993 and reissued in 1998 with an update for the Game Boy Color. Instead of the familiar domain of Hyrule, Link found himself as a stranded castaway on Koholint Island, eventually revealed in the most nihilistic manner as a dream in the mind of a floating white wizard whale called the Wind Fish. In addition to questioning the notion of reality, “Link’s Awakening” broke the fourth wall with self-referential aspects such as the little kid in Mabe Village who tells Link how to save the game: “Hey, man! When you want to save, just push all the buttons at once! Uhh…don’t ask me what that means, I’m just a kid!” Since Link’s quest was one of self-discovery, there was no princess to save this time, just a beloved singer named Marin who actually encountered very little trouble aside from getting kidnapped by monsters and left on a swinging bridge. Her father Tarin proved to be much more problematic, first transformed into a raccoon after eating a magic toadstool, and later attacked by an angry swarm of bees. As a modern interpretation of the Taoist parable of Zhuangzi’s Butterfly Dream, “Link’s Awakening” serves as a ballad to everything great about “The Legend of Zelda” series, and is held in high regard as a Nintendo classic.