Depending on where you are in the world, you’re either already playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild or are planning to drop by your local video game store later today to pick up a copy. I won’t, because I’m not ready for it yet. It’s a little sad for a fan such as me to not be there for what is probably the best Legend of Zelda game to come out since Ocarina of Time, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t celebrate the much-awaited release of this game. So to mark this occasion, I’ll talk about all the reasons why The Legend of Zelda is my favorite video game franchise of all time.
And despite the popularity of the franchise, Nintendo consoles haven’t been exactly popular since the days of the Super NES. I know a lot of people who play video games but have not played a single Legend of Zelda game. If you’re the same as these non-Zelda playing friends of mine, then read on and find out what you’ve been missing out on.
The Legend of Zelda’s Cyclical Storytelling
The story of the Legend of Zelda revolves around a powerful sacred relic known as the Triforce. Throughout the game’s fictional history, the Triforce frequently splits into three parts, with each piece manifesting in the franchise’s main characters: the Triforce of Power with series antagonist Ganondorf, the Triforce of Wisdom with Zelda, and the Triforce of Courage with Link. A majority of the Legend of Zelda games involve different versions of these three characters being reincarnated at different points in the game’s history, with Ganon always striving to obtain all of the Triforce pieces and uniting them to gain its power.
This cyclical storytelling allows Nintendo to keep the franchise focused on the same characters while at the same time, giving them a built-in reboot button that does not need any further justification. It’s not like the older Final Fantasy games or even Nintendo’s own Fire Emblem series which involve a new set of characters in each release (save for a few exemptions) – when I start a Legend of Zelda game, I know that I’ll be playing as Link and that both Zelda and Ganondorf is likely to be involved.
At the same time, the Legend of Zelda is not as bogged down in continuity issues as other franchises like Konami’s Metal Gear Solid, and Capcom’s Resident Evil. Any long running series risks reaching a point wherein it “jumps the shark”, and the Legend of Zelda is able to avoid this by simply telling the story of a new version of Link, Zelda, and Ganon. The original Legend of Zelda, A Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, The Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, Skyward Sword, and the upcoming Breath of the Wild are all different re-tellings of the same legend.
Re-telling the same legend isn’t a requisite, however; Nintendo also has the freedom to introduce sequels as well, which serve as great opportunities for keeping the brand fresh. These sequels don’t even involve Zelda and Ganondorf sometimes. Majora’s Mask, the sequel to Ocarina of Time, involves Ocarina’s Link and his quest to save the land of Termina from the plans of a possessed Skull Kid. Link’s Awakening sees a version of Link stranded on a strange island, and his quest is to discover its true secrets. Because of all these, I’m always playing as the “same” main character while continuing to have fresh experiences and never have to deal with convoluted continuity issues.
Progression is Based on Getting Experience, Not Experience Points
I love video game RPGs but they have mechanics that I don’t always enjoy, such as the reliance on Experience Point systems for leveling your characters up. The Legend of Zelda games feel a lot like RPGs (they were even classified as action RPGs back in the NES/SNES era) – you explore an overworld, interact with NPCs, find items and equipment, and battle bosses in dungeons. However, the Legend of Zelda games don’t rely on numbers as much as RPGs. Items don’t have stats, Link doesn’t have a numerical character level, and he doesn’t gain experience points.
In the Legend of Zelda games, you (as Link) become stronger by actual in-game experiences. Discover a hidden cave? You’ll probably get a new item or a power up that’ll help you with your quest. Exploring a dungeon? You’re likely to find one of Link’s classic tools that will grant you a new ability. Beat that dungeon’s boss? You get a Heart container, essentially making Link tougher.
I’d like to point out that Link’s Health is based on the number of Heart containers that you manage to obtain. You can’t max it out if you only stick to your main quest; only those who fully explore the worlds of these games and discover all its secrets can max Link’s health and get all the items/equipment available. Isn’t that a better mark of being a good player than by basing it on how much time a player spends on grinding?
Battles in the Legend of Zelda are Real Time and Action-Packed
Speaking of RPG mechanics that I don’t always like – while I see the entertainment value of turn-based combat, I don’t always like it. Sometimes, it can become tedious and boring for me. In comparison, the combat in The Legend of Zelda games are real-time and fast paced. In fact, the Legend of Zelda is known for it’s awesome boss battles.
This isn’t a knock against RPGs – again, I love video game RPGs. I just love the mechanics of The Legend of Zelda games more.
The Legend of Zelda Games are Known for their Quality
I enjoy playing The Legend of Zelda titles simply because they are excellent, well designed games. But don’t take my word for it – do a quick Google search for reviews or check out GameRankings or Metacritic. Critics love The Legend of Zelda games; here’s a quick snapshot of GameRanking’s ratings for this franchise:
If this isn’t enough, check out how many times a Legend of Zelda game received a “Game of the Year” award from different gaming publications here. Here’s a snapshot of GameSpot’s GOTY awardees:
When I pick up a Legend of Zelda title, I’m assured that it’s going to be a great game. How can I not be a fan of such a high quality franchise?
The Legend of Zelda Releases Are Big Events
Companies have a tendency to milk franchises and intellectual properties that make them a ton of money (see Capcom and Mega Man, Activision and Call of Duty, etc.). Nintendo can also be guilty of this, sometimes giving their properties like Donkey Kong Country a yearly release. But this never happens with the main The Legend of Zelda games – take a look at the release timeline for the franchise (remakes and spin-offs not included):
- The Legend of Zelda – NES, 1986
- The Adventure of Link – NES, 1987
- A Link to the Past – SNES, 1991
- Link’s Awakening – GameBoy, 1993
- Ocarina of Time – Nintendo 64, 1998
- Majora’s Mask – Nintendo 64, 2000
- Oracle of Seasons/Oracle of Ages – GameBoy Color, 2001
- The Wind Waker – Gamecube, 2002
- The Minish Cap – GameBoy Advance, 2004
- Twilight Princess – Gamecube/Wii, 2006
- Phantom Hourglass – Nintendo DS, 2007
- Spirit Tracks – Nintendo DS, 2009
- Skyward Sword – Wii, 2011
- A Link Between Worlds – Nintendo 3DS, 2013
- Breath of the Wild – Wii U/Switch, 2017
It may look like we’re seeing the Legend of Zelda games every two to three years, but this is a list of both console and handheld titles. If you just look at the titles in bold, you’ll see that a home console release of the Legend of Zelda only happens every four years. If you look at each system, you’ll see that the most number of Zelda titles that would come out on a console is two. This staggered plan helps make the release of a Legend of Zelda title a special event in itself – just imagine how hungry Zelda fans are for a full console Zelda experience now that their six year drought is about to end.
And there you have it, the reasons why I’m such a big fan of the Legend of Zelda franchise. It’s a little sad, because ever since Nintendo started losing the market share to Sony back during the Nintendo 64/PlayStation days, the Legend of Zelda games have become niche. I can’t help but shake my head whenever I’m talking to someone who enjoys playing video games but hasn’t had the chance to play a Legend of Zelda game – they’re missing out on some of the best video games to come out during their times!
Currently, the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild looks like it’s going to be another awesome game – reviews have started coming out and it’s currently at a 98% over at Metacritic. If you’re looking for a reason to buy the Nintendo Switch or any of the older Nintendo consoles, all you need to do is check out reviews of the Legend of Zelda games that came out for that console.
To continue celebrating the release of Breath of the Wild, I’ll talk about my favorite The Legend of Zelda games all month! Next week, I’ll talk about one of the strangest The Legend of Zelda titles to come out: The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening!