1. Wind Waker – Open world Zelda done correctly. Proper story, dungeons, and lots of extra, optional locations to explore that yield proper rewards. Lots of Epic moments, but Molgera is probably my favorite memory playing any Zelda game.
2. Skyward Sword – Arguably the best dungeons in the entire series. Absolutely the most personal and immersive story the series has ever done, with lots of great lore. The motion controls work great for anyone that cares enough to actually try. Yeah, it’s not “wiggle your wrist Twilight Princess”.
3. A Link Between Worlds – An improvement on A Link to the Past in terms of dungeon design and the item distribution makes the world feel open from the get go. Great characters too.
4. Twilight Princess – The terrible first few hours lead into a game that is magnificent in every other way. Beautiful art, great dungeons, characters, and story elements. Weird that Nintendolife talks about playing dungeons multiple times? That doesn’t happen, unless you’re trying to say that switching from wolf Link to regular link at the midpoint in Arbiter Grounds is “playing it multiple times”.
5. Minish Cap – Just fun, not that long, emphasis on exploring as regular Link or minish Link, which is fun and rewarding. Kinda obtuse design in story progression sometimes though. Great environments and art, especially for a GBA game.
6. Ocarina of Time – I’d say it just hasn’t aged well with all the improvements in dungeon design that series has made over the years. I hate all of the young Link dungeons, there’s some obtuse design, but there’s also really good dungeons and story sequences too. Lots of memorable moments and great lore for the entire series. Atmosphere overall is amazing.
7. Phantom Hourglass – Mixed feelings about the stealth dungeon that you revisit the entire game, but the rest of the game is basically pocket sized Wind Waker. Dungeons are short but good enough and boss fights are great.
8. A Link to the Past – Feels the most magical and definitely the most raw “Zelda experience”. The start of the tried and true collect 3 items, get story, get mastersword, get story, do the rest of the dungeons, get story, fight Ganon formula. A lot of Nostalgia for this one but the dungeon designs devolve into mazes late in the game.
Those are the ones I care most about.
And Breath of the Wild is an open world game that is so barren and empty I legitimately can’t understand how anyone finds it rewarding to play at all. 4 main dungeons that pretty much suck, lame bosses, and a story told in broken collectable cutscenes that the game doesn’t even list in chronological order in the menu. The entire progression of the game is grinding until you think you’re ready to take on Ganon, and once you succeed, there’s no reason to keep playing, because you’ve completed the sole objective. All rewards in the game are intrinsically tied to the ultimate goal, which if you can already accomplish, makes the rewards meaningless. Even as a sandbox game, it’s mechanics are not fun. Climbing is slow and limited to stamina. Rain and thunder is stupid. Cooking is supposedly balanced by being absurdly strong but a chore to actually do?
I’m so glad to see Minish Cap in the top 10!!
Now, I will always consider OoT to be the best, it forever changed video games to me, so I’m definitely biased on that.
BotW however is a game that I find overrated, as a Zelda game. The series definitely needed a shakeup because it had grown stale, but not at the cost of the incredible music and more engrossing storylines. BotW is a great game, but I wouldn’t give it a 10/10, nor would I give OoT a 10/10.
BotW was utterly lacking in story, what was there had so much potential to be better, and I hope the inevitable sequel brings back the emphasis on story while retaining the go anywhere and do anything style of gameplay. The shrines were cool in theory, but they were nothing compared to the vast and numerous dungeons the series is known for. I’d like the sequel to return to the vast dungeons but also keep the shrines mechanic as a nice bonus.
My next issue is highly contentious among BotW fans and critics, but I believe the sequel can appease both. BotW had two incredibly annoying mechanics that in theory were cool, but in execution were highly annoying. Those of course being the weapon durability being far too brittle & incessant rain hampering the amazing feat of climbing anything and everything.
In the sequel, if Nintendo made the Master Sword and Hylian shield unbreakable and not reliant on a charge mechanic then I feel both fans and critics of the feature would be happy. Fans can still choose to use the myriad amount of breakable weapons while those who are annoyed by the feature can rely on the trusty Master Sword and Hylian Shield as unbreakable. It hurts no one and doesn’t break the game, it lets players choose their preferred style of play.
As for the climbing mechanic, I think it’s one of the best if not the best features of BotW. I love games like Assassin’s Creed because of the climbing feature, and BotW took it to the next level. Being able to climb practically anything while getting rid of the tired telegraphed climbable ledge trope is great. But then Nintendo just trolls you by making it rain incessantly. You can keep popping into your menu and eat stamina refilling foods/elixirs, or you can stay still for 5+ real minutes waiting for the rain to end before continuing on your climb, but it’s highly annoying. I liken it to how annoying it was to constantly needing to go into your menu to equip or un-equip the steel boots in OoT’s water temple. It’s monotonous and unnecessary.
Anyway, I’ve gone on enough. The series has so many great games that a top games in the series list is impossible to please everyone. I do think BotW is a great game, but not a great Zelda game. It’s lost so much of the charm that Zelda fans are used to while also reinvigorating the series that was growing stale.
In the end, I think BotW is just leading the way for a sequel that, if it marries the best of the past games and the best of BotW, will end up truly being the best Zelda game ever.