Legend of Zelda
No matter which title of the "Zelda" franchise you prefer, the differences of each edition keep the franchise timeless and consistently popular. (Illustration by Dorie Timan, Indiana University)
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Legend of Zelda

Here are the top five games in the franchise to get you into the “Zelda” zone.

“The Legend of Zelda,” Nintendo’s flagship fantasy franchise, had an unpredicted 15 minutes of fame at the beginning of June. Twitter was abuzz with “Legend of Zelda” titles trending all over the world. From “Breath of the Wild” to “Ocarina of Time,” fans were asked by Twitter user ZeldaUniverse to name their top three Zelda games.

This sparked global conversations between fans of the franchise as they discussed their favorite titles in the series. The viral response was not surprising, as multiple “Legend of Zelda” games have received “Game of the Year” awards and are constantly best-sellers. In 2017, “Breath of the Wild” joined the list of best video games ever made according to critics, whereas “Ocarina of Time” has had a comfortable seat at number one since its release in 1998.

According to Twitter trends, the most revered “Legend of Zelda” titles are “Breath of the Wild,” “Wind Waker,” “Twilight Princess” and “Ocarina of Time.” While it was a worthy battle between many games in the series—because, let’s face it, even the okay games are still incredible titles—these were the four that fought to the top of the charts.

This new popularity from early June felt like foreshadowing for Nintendo’s big reveal at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) this month that a “Breath of the Wild” sequel is officially in development. The company dropped an eerie trailer for “Legend of Zelda’s” next installment at the end of the E3 conference. It features main protagonist Link and titular princess Zelda exploring an ancient ruin under Zelda’s home of Hyrule Castle. What the two find lying dormant beneath the castle comes to life in one of the creepiest moments of the franchise. No release date has been announced, but fans are already analyzing the short teaser for clues as to what the game will be about.

Between a glimpse of what’s to come, and the franchise’s viral Twitter moment, “Legend of Zelda” has had quite the month. While there are no speculations as to when we’ll hear more news about the upcoming game, we can still play other titles in the series as we wait to find out what comes out next.

If you’re looking for a “Legend of Zelda” game to play — whether you’re a veteran fan, or a newcomer to the series — here’s a list of the best games in the series to play whether you’re returning to Hyrule with a Master Sword above your bed, or you’re picking up a Nintendo controller for the first time.

5. “The Legend of Zelda” – 1986

This list wouldn’t be complete without the game that started it all. The ‘80s top-down adventure debuted in 1986 on Nintendo’s Famicom system, and was imported to America on the Nintendo Entertainment System a year later.

The original title brought us the iconic line “It’s dangerous to go alone, take this!” when a mysterious old man gives players their very first sword in “Legend of Zelda” history. It’s an iconic piece of gaming past that lives up to this day as a challenging top-down adventure for all ages. If you love retro games and a tough challenge, then playing the first ever “Legend of Zelda” will be the best option.

4. “Twilight Princess” – 2006

A gritty, dark entry to the franchise that hadn’t been seen since “Majora’s Mask” in 2000. It was a welcomed style change by fans and critics after the bright, cell-shaded “Wind Waker” dominated the GameCube era for “Zelda.” Being a launch title for the legendary Nintendo Wii gave “Twilight Princess” big shoes to fill, and the shoes fit perfectly.

The creepy locations, incredible battles and revolutionary — sometimes clunky — motion controls make for an iconic game. Of course, “Twilight Princess” introduced fans to Midna, one of Link’s most memorable companions to date. If you’re looking for a dark fantasy story with hints of horror that will keep you up at night, then you’ll love “Twilight Princess.”

3. “Wind Waker” – 2002

“Wind Waker” was the cheerful and cartoony middle child between “Majora’s Mask” and “Twilight Princess.” While “Legend of Zelda” always featured an open world, “Wind Waker” made players feel like they truly could go anywhere. The world of Hyrule — though flooded — felt so full of life as you sailed across the sea to unique islands full of quirky characters and dangerous challenges.

The art style was a major departure for the series as it leaned more towards cartoons and children’s anime, rather than towards more serious manga and traditional fantasy art. The original response to this change in style was polarizing, but as the years went by, “Wind Waker’s” “Toon Link” became just as iconic as any other rendition of the character. If you’re looking to spend hours traveling by sailboat in a colorful environment with gripping characters, then this is the “Zelda” game for you. (Also, there are pirates.)

2. “Breath of the Wild” – 2017

Named the best game of 2017, “Breath of the Wild” for the Nintendo Switch is a master class in world building. While other, darker titles in the franchise, like “Twilight Princess” and “Majora’s Mask,” use monstrous creatures and gruesome environments to scare players, “Breath of the Wild” employs a subtle type of horror. “Breath of the Wild” makes the apocalypse beautiful, similar to the survival game, “The Last of Us.”

You take Link on a journey a hundred years after the apocalypse has struck Hyrule, a world now rebuilding itself in fear of a dark presence being released again. Link must seal away this darkness that Princess Zelda has been keeping at bay to save Hyrule once and for all. It’s an epic quest in a decadent world full of beautiful landscapes and forgotten ruins.

There are so many unique places to discover in the game that one never tires of roaming the environment — although it can feel repetitive at times. “Breath of the Wild” boasts beautifully animated, cut scenes that show the characters of Link and Zelda like never before. If you’re looking for an open-world experience full of environmental storytelling and creative gameplay, then check out “Breath of the Wild.”

1. “Ocarina of Time” – 1998

It goes without saying that Nintendo created a masterpiece when they developed “Ocarina of Time.” Critics have hailed it the best video game of all time, and the game has had little competition since. The mechanics, the soundtrack, the battles, the story and the exploration set industry standards high.

If you were a game developer after “Ocarina of Time” released, and your game didn’t include rotating cameras and an easy-to-learn inventory system, then you were making adventure games completely wrong. Not only was the technology of “Ocarina of Time” a groundbreaking piece of gaming history, but its story brought forth a new normal of what’s expected in gaming.

There’s a reason why so many gamers who fell in love with “Ocarina of Time” in 1998 still love it today. The video game feels like you’re playing an actual legend. It plays like an ancient fairy tale passed down through generations. The game carries themes of coming of age, destiny, reincarnation and power in a way that’s easily understandable yet so complex.

The game has been resilient through the ages and it set a basis for subsequent titles, seeing as how almost every title that comes out now has some mechanical remnant of “Ocarina of Time.” It’s a classic video game and 100% deserves the acclaim it gets. It truly is the best video game ever made, but no one would be mad seeing another “Zelda” game in the top spot of the charts. If you’re a lover of classic stories of epic heroes on world-saving adventures, “Ocarina of Time” will scratch every itch you have.

With a new game in development, and many more games than just these five to choose from, “Legend of Zelda” holds strong as one of — if not THE — best video game series of all time. Fans can’t wait to see what Nintendo has in store for the legendary franchise.

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