EDIT: The 3D Zelda Games: A Definitive Ranking

A few months back I wrote a post giving the absolute complete and definitive ranking of the 3D games in the Legend of Zelda franchise… unless you disagree with me, in which case, you know, it’s just games. Like what you like. I graded the games out of eight categories: Presentation, Combat, Pacing, Narrative, Overworld, Dungeons, Dungeon Masters, Side Quests, and Final Battle; top marks in a category resulted in a grade of (+5) and bottom marks a grade of (+1).

One problem: I did the list pre-Breath of the Wild. So the breakdown back then looked like this:

Which give us a ranking of:

So now let’s factor Breath of the Wild into the rankings and see what happens, shall we? Here we go: 3D Zelda rankings, the abridged edition.

Presentation: Breath of the Wild is gorgeous, lush and green, and subject to whorls of changing weather and neon pseudo-tech. The cel-shaded cartoon presentation of The Wind Waker HD is distinct, clean, bright, and consistent. The impressionist water colors of Skyward Sword will enter this conversation if that game gets its own HD facelift. Until then, though, in a showdown between two gorgeous HD games: the textures in Breath of the Wild sometimes flatten out up close and there are notable frame rate drops in heavily wooded areas, whereas The Wind Waker HD‘s presentation is almost a hundred percent seamless. The Wind Waker for the win. Breath of the Wild: (+5).

Combat: The combat is the one grade on the scale that has trended upwards throughout the entire series, and Breath of the Wild doesn’t break that streak. I’ve talked before about the brilliance of BotW‘s combat systems: wide open macro-fights with flanking enemies, getting your butt handed to you by Lynels and Guardians, fluid on-horse combat… here, the (+6) goes to Breath of the Wild.

Pacing: This is a no-brainer, because Breath of the Wild allows you to choose your own pace, and there’s no better pacing than the speed you can set yourself. You can face Ganon within the first hour of gameplay, or you can dump 200 hours into Hyrule before charging into the castle. Breath of the Wild, (+6).

Narrative: Breath of the Wild tells a great story of a 100 year-old calamity, both through the terrain and architecture of Hyrule and in cinematic cut scenes. But it’s still a story told largely in flashbacks, a narrative no-no. Again: you can defeat Ganon within the game’s first hour. Ultimately, the story of Breath of the Wild, though compelling, is arguably inconsequential. Compared to the rich origin story of Skyward Sword and the template Zelda tale laid out by Ocarina of Time, Breath of the Wild gets (+4).

Overworld: C’mon. (+6) for Breath of the Wild.

Dungeons: This is where things get interesting. Breath of the Wild features, in place of traditional Zelda dungeons, four Divine Beasts, constructions Link must venture into and take control of. I appreciate what the Zelda team was trying here, and the Beasts each present a short external battle as Link works with a partner to gain entrance, followed by an internal series of puzzles for Link to solve as he attempts to gain access to the Beast’s control panel. Still, the Beasts are smaller spaces than traditional Zelda dungeons, they’re built almost exclusively around Link’s array of physics-based Sheikah Slate abilities, and are largely combat-free. Simply put, they just aren’t dungeons. Not even the final journey into the massive Hyrule Castle can keep Breath of the Wild from taking the (+1) here.

Dungeon Masters: The Zelda series features some of the most memorable level boss battles in gaming history, but Breath of the Wild‘s four Divine Beasts are each effectively “possessed” by neon-colored portions of Calamity Ganon’s essence. These aren’t bad battles, per se, but they are pretty forgettable. Not one of them would break into my list of top ten 3D Zelda boss battles. Breath of the Wild, (+1).

Side Quests: Majora’s Mask still contains the creme de la creme of Zelda side quests; helping the citizens of Termina fight aliens and fall in love is easily the best part of that game. Breath of the Wild‘s series of citizen-based side quests are basic, and on their own wouldn’t score high marks. However, when you factor into the equation the amazing collection of Shrines to conquer, the diverse sets of armor to find and upgrade, all of the flora and fauna to chronicle in your Pokedex… er, Hyrule Compendium, and 900 Korok seeds to find…. Breath of the Wild, (+5).

Final Boss: The battle against Calamity Ganon is amazingly cinematic and beautiful. It is not, however, terribly difficult, especially if you’ve put 200+ hours into the game and approach Ganon with a full rucksack of five-star meals. The final conflict also suffers from the absence of Ganondorf. In the lore of BotW Ganondorf has forsaken his humanity and is now and for always in his demon form of Ganon… which is cool and all, but it means he’s not terribly talkative. Overall, the final battles of Twilight Princess, The Wind Waker, and Ocarina of Time offer higher drama and greater challenge. Calamity Ganon earns a (+3).

So now that we’ve added Breath of the Wild to the discussion, we get a breakdown of this:

And the final ranking shakes out like this:

  1. Breath of the Wild: +37
  2. The Wind Waker: +36
  3. Twilight Princess: +33
  4. Ocarina of Time; Skyward Sword: +30
  5. Majora’s Mask: +23

Breath of the Wild ends up on top of the list, and the rest of the games remain in the order they were in with the sole exception of Ocarina of Time and Skyward Sword now being tied at 4th.

All-in-all, this was pretty anti-climactic.

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