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Ranking The Legend of Zelda Series

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There is hardly a more beloved franchise in all of video games than The Legend of Zelda, but though so many of its entries are at the top of many players’ lists of all-time favorites, how do each of the titles stack up when pitted against each other? After a lengthy voting process involving several members of our staff (and a complicated point-tallying system), we here at Goomba Stomp have finally come up with a ranking of our favorite Zelda games. These are not in the order of best to worst but instead, they are the ones we love from least to most! Without further Fi-like explanation, here is the list of our favorite Zelda Games:

Editor’s Note: We decided to omit spin-offs and obscure titles and focus solely on the main series. The cover image comes courtesy of Nintendo of Europe.

Ranking the Zelda Series

17. The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures

Nintendo would have you believe that The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures is a cooperative game where you can come together with your friends and experience all the joys of dungeon crawling together. In truth, it’s actually a crucible that tests even the greatest of friendships and tempts all players into committing atrocities against their fellow players.

Now, it’s all well and good to just play the game as it is intended to be — but that’s not getting the full depth out it. Oh no. Until you start using the feather to strand your friends across chasms, making it impossible to progress, you haven’t really played. Until you start trapping friends in tiny rooms with bombs, you haven’t lived.

Because, in truth, the game isn’t that hard — especially with four people. What makes it really fun are the resultant fireworks that pop off when the egos of four friends clash together. Did your buddy just nab the item you want? Screw that! Knock him into the void over and over. When he complains, laugh. When your other two friends try to intervene, make them share the same fate until justice is served. Then, after five solid minutes of everyone else begging for mercy, consider stopping so you can move to the next frame. After that, prepare to spend the next five minutes running away from your friends who want to do you harm. It is merely the circle of life.

And that’s why Four Swords is great. Not because of its excellent level design or the cool connectivity between Game Boys and the Gamecube, but because of the way it tricked friends into torturing each other for hours on end. (Jason Krell)

Ranking the Legend of Zelda Series

16. The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass was a game with good ideas, but held back with a few big problems. Spirit Tracks, on the other hand, builds on its precursor and fixes those problems to end up being one of the finest portable Zelda titles. Though the new system of traveling on your train initially feels more constricting than before, it still provides a sense of exploration and discovery by unlocking railways and expanding the map. The game also has more interesting items for puzzle solving, with the sand wand and the whip being notable standouts. It also offers more in terms of a narrative worth getting invested in.

As is typically the case, Zelda finds herself in a predicament, and though this inciting incident appears to turn her into a ghost, she actually ends up hanging out for the duration of the game as Link’s new companion. As crucial a character as she is to the plot, this is one of the first times where she actually gets to breathe and spend time with the main character who, despite not talking, still shares great chemistry with Zelda. They also allow for some side characters, notably one of the antagonists, Byrne, to have proper character arcs and a backstory.

Though it still has a similar “central dungeon” mechanic to Phantom Hourglass, they don’t force you to trudge through old areas, nor is it attached with a time limit. And with Zelda in her ghost form, she’s actually able to take over the bodies of those invincible monsters from before, which not only makes the game feel fairer, but it also adds a whole new mechanic of managing two characters at once.

It may have come out late in the system’s life cycle, but it’s a solid and underrated title that deserves a second look. (Daniel Philion)

Ranking the Legend of Zelda Series

15. The Legend of Zelda: Minish Cap

To be clear, The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap isn’t a bad game by any means. It’s not even a game that’s undermined by certain key flaws. It’s a perfectly functional entry that doesn’t betray the design philosophy that the Zelda series is known for. But mere competence can’t make up for the fact that this game is extremely forgettable.

This version of Hyrule doesn’t stand out as a particularly unique world to explore, instead relying on the standard location tropes. The characters bring little to the table, with your new companion, Ezlo (not to be confused with Assassin’s Creed’s “Ezio”), being more obnoxious than endearing, and the new villain, Vaati, lacking the presence of Ganon. Zelda herself also has no interesting role to play beyond being a typical damsel in distress.

The major new idea this game brings to the series is the shrinking mechanic, which may have been interesting if it had been offered with more freedom. In practice, you can only shrink in specific places, which makes this less of a fun new way to explore, and more just as a gimmick to set up specific puzzles.

That said, there are still some clever puzzles, and shrinking does offer a unique perspective. Though it’s a dull boss fight, there’s something to be said about taking those easily killed Chu Chu’s and making it more daunting by changing your size. In the end, Minish Cap proves that there’s more to the Zelda experience than the formula itself; there’s a spark or sense of wonder that they need to incite in the player to make them truly resonate. (Daniel Philion)

Ranking the Zelda Series

14. The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages is the sister game to Oracle of Seasons, both of which are the portable successors to Link’s Awakening DX. Both games share a lot in common with Link’s Awakening, but each took a different route in how it presented its gameplay, Oracle of Ages focused on puzzles and tried to find interesting ways to get the player to think about their surroundings and their inventory, as well as giving the player a lot of items that interacted with the environment rather than with enemies.

On a personal level, Oracle of Ages resonates with me a lot, as it’s the version I had when the two games originally came out. I remember being thoroughly surprised by the boss of the second dungeon, Head Thwomp, as it was a battle based around timing (something I wasn’t very good at when I was ten years old) and did not require the use of the sword, instead making use of bombs. Many of the boss battles in Oracle of Ages followed this trend of not using the sword as your main damage-dealing item. While today that’s not much of an accomplishment for a Zelda title, when the Oracle games were coming out the series was still establishing its footing in 3D, and many bosses in the top-down games were still focused primarily on sword-based combat. Oracle of Ages also has one of my personal favorite items, the Seed Shooter. Intended to be Ages’ version of the staple bow/slingshot, the Seed Shooter is able to ricochet various types of ammo off walls to hit targets. While this is implemented in some puzzles, it’s not carried throughout the game, and ultimately you can still just stand in front of something and spam seeds like rapid-fire arrows.

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages is an interesting example of how to experiment with an IP, even if some of its most interesting ideas are not fully realized. (Taylor Smith)

Ranking the Legend of Zelda Series

13. The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons is the action game anti-thesis to Ages‘ puzzle-focused gimmicks. Many of the bosses in Oracle of Seasons are reworks or recycles of bosses from the original The Legend of Zelda or other titles. This is probably because when Capcom made their original pitch to Nintendo about working on a Zelda game, it was meant to be a Game Boy remake of the original. Rather than rely on a lot of gimmicks, bosses were more about recognizing cycles and patterns and then punishing accordingly. This focus is reflected in the gear Link can acquire. In Ages, the Seed Shooter allowed for new creative ways to solve projectile based puzzles, but the Slingshot in Seasons serves roughly the same purpose as the Bow and Arrow in any other top-down Zelda.

In order to obtain the true ending in either Oracle of Seasons or Oracle of Ages you would need to link the two games together via a password. If you were lucky enough to own both copies of the Oracles titles it was as simple as completing one game, writing it down, and starting the next, but for the not so lucky it required you to either have a friend who had the opposite title. Thankfully, this problem has sort of been remedied with the two games being put on the 3DS Virtual Console. While Oracle of Seasons was the preferred version here at Goomba Stomp, both titles are great in their own ways. If you’ve yet to play them, I highly recommend checking both out. (Taylor Smith)

Ranking the Zelda Series

12. The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass

In a many ways, this game should be a lot better than it is. It was the first Zelda game on Nintendo’s dual screen device, and it made use of nearly every feature on the system. The touch screen allowed you to attack enemies in a direct and interesting way, and you were able to write notes on your map screen and chart out your course when sailing across the sea. It also felt a lot more inspired than its portable predecessors by having a much larger world to explore and more out-of-left-field puzzles (including a devilishly clever one where you had to put the DS in sleep mode).

With all that going for it, why then would it be so low on this list? One reason: the Temple of the Ocean King.

The Temple of the Ocean King is possibly the worst/least fun idea of any Zelda game. What it entails is that every time you beat a dungeon you have to go back to this main dungeon to unlock the next area. It’s bad enough that this area is filled with invincible monsters that will send you back to the start of the room after one hit, but in subsequent visits they also have you go through areas you’ve already been to in order to get deeper in the dungeon. It gets very repetitive very quickly and just wastes your time, which happens to be limited here just to add a little more unwanted stress.

It’s also a pity that, in a game’s that meant to be a sequel to the excellent Wind Waker, it has next to nothing carried over from that adventure. The one thing they do carry over is Tetra, who gets relegated to “Damsel in Distress” in the first few minutes. She was an interesting enough character to merit her own game, so having her return just to be taken out of the equation that early can’t help but feel like a letdown. (Daniel Philion)

Ranking Zelda Games

11. The Legend of Zelda: The Adventure of Link

The second installment in The Legend of Zelda series titled The Adventure of Link is often considered the black sheep of the family. Despite being one of the best-selling games in the entire series, many fans hate it and with good reason. The game is tough and I do mean tough. Players must be prepared for repeated failure when sitting down to play Zelda II, but that is sort of what makes the game so great. The sense of accomplishment a player feels when finishing Zelda II is perhaps unmatched by any other game in the NES library.

The Adventure of Link was a bold and radical departure for the series, but it has its supporters and many fans will argue it is not only one of the five best games released on the Nintendo Entertainment System but the most punishing game of the 8-bit generation. It offers players one of the most engrossing gaming experiences available on the console and features some of the best boss battles the series has to offer. The Adventure of Link was an incredibly assured attempt to rewrite the rules and introduced many elements that would become commonplace in future Zelda games a larger focus on storytelling, as well as sidequests. Yes it is difficult and yes it is different, but for better or for worse, that is what makes it stand out from all the other entries in the series. Zelda II is unique, but frustrating – flawed but brilliant – and without question, an important game that helped define what the Zelda games would ultimately be. (Rick D)

Ranking the Legend of Zelda Series

10. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

Nintendo has always been skilled at linking to the past while looking to the future, creating a bridge to franchise evolution, and that philosophy has rarely been better realized than with the 3DS’ The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. A sequel of sorts to the seminal SNES classic, this adventure covers basically the same physical ground, but takes much of the established franchise elements of the last 20 years and chucks them out the window. By ditching dungeon rewards and instead allowing players to rent (with the latter option to buy) the hookshot, bow, boomerang, three magic rods, and every other weapon or tool usually reserved as a prize, Nintendo was able to concentrate on what the beloved series used to do best: exploration. The freedom to go wherever one wanted in a Zelda game was a concept so old that it was almost novel, and A Link Between Worlds was a breath of fresh air — at least before the next one came along.

Thanks to impeccable puzzle designs, a lively world full of character, and a brilliant mechanic that sees Link turn himself into a 2D painting that can traverse walls in order to solve puzzles and reach new areas, the game still is. A Link Between Worlds invokes nostalgia in order to mess with fans’ minds, using its new gameplay concepts to twist them into thinking outside the box, producing some of the best “aha!” moments in the series. Gorgeous top-down visuals make the old new again, tight controls are ever-so-satisfying, and a clever story plays on expectations, but The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds best lives up to its title by bridging the gap between the comforting formula of days gone by and the promise of exciting things to come for Nintendo’s hallowed franchise. (Patrick Murphy)

Ranking the Legend of Zelda Series

9. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

Fans had to know that Nintendo was up to something truly special when they announced that Skyward Sword would officially become the first game in the Legend of Zelda timeline. Fortunately, Nintendo delivered on all of those expectations and more with The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. A game that took the revolutionary/gimmicky motion controls of the Wii to their fullest extent, Skyward Sword is almost worth playing as much as a proof of concept as it is for its breathtaking adventure and wholly original take on the Zelda mythos.

Set among a series of floating islands that eventually give way to a shattered world below, Skyward Sword both echoes the world design of one of the best Zelda titles in history in the form of The Wind Waker, and calls to mind the scale of the Final Fantasy series in equal measure. Throw in some gorgeous art design and one of the most concise plots in the franchise, and you’re left with a truly underrated classic, easily one of the best games in the series. (Mike Worby)

Ranking the Legend of Zelda Series

8. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening was the first portable title in the series, and is easily one of my personal favorites. It was the first Zelda title to make an attempt at exploring Link’s character beyond that of the boy called to action. For once, Link is not seeking to stop Ganon and save the princess, kingdom, or Triforce. Instead, his is a journey of self-discovery, led by a desire to leave the island of Koholint that he has been shipwrecked on. Much of Koholint is full of life, especially when compared to the desolate wasteland that was the original Legend of Zelda and horribly mangled Dark World of A Link to the Past. It’s a breath of fresh air, with plenty of different-looking areas and regions. Overall, the game’s aesthetics’ are great, and the story they present is something that was only ever (theoretically) tackled again once.

Link’s Awakening was also the first top-down Zelda to make use of jumping. While The Legend of Zelda and A Link to the Past both used pitfalls as ways to impede progress, they never had a clear answer to them. This time Link is granted the gift of jumping from an item called the Roc’s Feather, the very first dungeon item in the game. By combining the Roc’s Feather with the Pegasus Boots, Link could clear even bigger gaps and jump over large obstacles. Link’s Awakening is an amazing Zelda title not only for its plethora of new ideas, but for also setting new benchmarks for later games in the series. (Taylor Smith)

Ranking the Legend of Zelda Series

7. The Legend of Zelda

Shigeru Miyamoto’s masterpiece laid the groundwork for almost every action-RPG that came after it, and it has become a staple franchise for Nintendo that is still going strong, 30 years later. When it was released, The Legend of Zelda was a first in so many categories. Not only was it an early example of open world and non-linear gameplay, but it also introduced a battery backup to save your progress. It served as the foundation of many modern adventure games, introducing now-basic concepts like dungeon maps, utility equipment, and boss formulas that we still see used today.

The Legend of Zelda has aged surprisingly well thanks to a brilliant soundtrack, creative visuals and masterfully layered adventure. And while it’s unapologetic in its open world approach, the lack of hand-holding might be what makes it so great. It is, without a doubt, one of the most influential games of all time, and one of the greatest games ever made. It was ahead of its time and it stands the test of time. Very few games can make that claim. (Ricky D)

Ranking the Legend of Zelda Series

6. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

The adult Link portions of Ocarina of Time got gamers’ appetites whetted for a more badass version of the green tunic-wearing hero, one who could stand tall against the inevitable evil forces and whose sword slashed viciously, cutting a swath through them. Wind Waker was not that, and though looked upon now as a masterpiece, its seemingly lighter tone at the time sparked a little rebellion. Fans of Nintendo’s legendary series were growing up, and just like with Star Wars or comic books, they wanted to hold onto their innocent past while also having it reflect their pragmatic present, something that kept in tone with their rising adult pessimism, something truer to the gloomy outlook that only comes with maturity. In short, as eventually happens with everything fun or innocent that fans go crazy for, they wanted something darker.

I was no different in those days, and so when the first images of Link wielding his blade from atop his trusty steed, surrounded by grossly disfigured moblins and bathed in eerie twilight first surfaced, I was instantly sold. Twilight Princess is no kiddie quest with bright flowers and snot-nosed munchkins; there is war, pain and suffering, noble sacrifice, and trippy weird visions of greed, death, and super-creepy-looking laughing girls slowly descending headfirst from the sky. The land has been poisoned and the people that populate it struggle against the shady sickness taking hold. A somber tone pervades throughout to the melancholy end, few moments of true happiness relaxing in the goat paddock found in between.

Never has a Zelda game relied so much on imagery to set its tone, never have the dungeons been so vast and monstrous, and never has the journey seemed so mythic. Twilight Princess feels like everything Ocarina of Time wanted to be, a fulfillment of years of fan expectations. It hosts the best sidekick in the series, the widest assortment of attacks, some of the most clever dungeons (Snowpeak’s crumbling mansion, the Gerudo desert’s Arbiter’s Grounds) and unique items (magnetic boots=awesome, spinner surfing=fun), and a massive amount of gameplay for those willing to explore every nook and cranny tracking down Poes and bugs. I personally have never bothered with Agitha or the golden Jovani on any of my many playthroughs, but it’s nice to know that there’s more going on in Hyrule than just the main quest.

With an epic setting accompanying the tragic feel, Twilight Princess gave fans exactly what they wanted, and in doing so delivered one of the most powerful entries in the franchise. (Patrick Murphy)

Ranking the Legend of Zelda Series

5. The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker

Director Eiji Aonuma’s swashbuckling adventure The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, set 100 years after the events in Ocarina of Time, stands as one of three best games released in the series thus far. Along with the N64 classic and A Link to the Past, The Wind Waker masterfully baits and hooks players with its perfect blend of polished design, tightly crafted controls, and beautiful presentation. Utilizing a completely new look with cel-shaded graphics, the game casts players in the role of a familiar young Link, who sets out on a long voyage across troubled seas, into dark dangerous dungeons and against ruthless foes to save his kidnapped sister. At the time of its release, it was immediately evident that Wind Waker was going to be different from the previous Zelda titles, yet it’s surprising that the grandeur of The Wind Waker‘s bold, thick strokes, lusciously saturated palette, and notably boyish protagonist with his humongous, expressive eyes ever caused so much controversy back in 2003. Over a decade later, the game’s legacy remains defined by its visuals.

Players with keen eyes and an appreciation for art will know that Nintendo doesn’t just do things for the sake of pure experimentation. When developing The Wind Waker, Nintendo not only created a hugely stylistic world down to every last detail, but also pushed the power of Gamecube to do so. Upon closer inspection, cel-shading clearly was the right choice. This is a game that emphasizes the vastness of the open ocean and the open sky, and with the application of cel-shading, every wave, every gust of wind is beautifully pronounced against a backdrop of colorful hillsides, small villages, and coastal locales. And like all previous titles in the series, the dungeons prove to be the most enjoyable aspect of this game, despite having so few. It is in these dungeons that Wind Waker shines. The true beauty of the visuals stands out, as each dungeon is brought to life with an astounding amount of detail. It’s ultimately not difficult to see why The Wind Waker has become something of a classic in the years since its release. Overall it is a huge achievement in every way, with a classic mix of sword-swinging action, perplexing puzzles, stirring storylines, vibrant art, evocative soundtrack, a cast of colorful characters, beautiful melodies, and a fantastic battle system that propels the adventure and exploration. For many, the Zelda brand represents the pinnacle of gaming, and The Wind Waker stands tall, side by side with the very best. (Ricky D)

Ranking the Zelda Series

4. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

How exactly do you make a follow up to Ocarina of Time? Well, apparently you do it by making one of the few games in the series that doesn’t involve Ganon, you limit Zelda to one tiny appearance in a flashback, and you all but forget about the Triforce. Don’t be fooled, while Majora’s Mask is a clear departure from the typical Zelda formula, it’s still very much a Zelda game at heart, and to me (and at least a few others) it ranks right up there as one of the absolute best games in the franchise.

Taking place a couple of months after the events of OoT, Majora’s Mask kicks off with our good friend Link searching a forest for an old friend, when he stumbles upon an imp wearing a bizarre mask. The nefarious creature, known as Skull Kid, steals Link’s horse and leads him to a parallel version of Hyrule known as Termina. From there Link embarks on one of his typical quests; there are dungeons to explore, puzzles to solve, and bosses to beat, all standard-fare for the Hero of Time. The game is very similar to Ocarina of Time in a lot of respects, as gameplay between the two is near identical, and Nintendo reused also of graphical assets from OoT, so they share many visual similarities. However, despite all their commonalities, Majora’s Mask sets itself apart with its three-day time cycle, and more importantly, its ominous tone.

From Skull Kid’s creepy laugh during the game’s opening to the eerie final boss battle, Majora’s Mask is equally bizarre and unsettling from start to finish. The first time you witness Link transform when putting on a mask is undeniably jarring due to his screams of pain and the poignant visuals. The Happy Mask Salesmen seems like an ally, but one can’t help shake the feeling that he’s hiding malicious intent, which temporarily seeps out when you make him the slightest bit angry. The ever-looming harbinger of death that hangs in the sky, inching closer and closer as the clock winds down, creates a menacing sense of tension that’s not really present in other games in the series. And on top of all that, perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the experience is the game’s world itself. Where exactly is Termina located? Is it a parallel dimension, or perhaps some sort of purgatory state? Why are so many characters from OoT’s Hyrule also in Termina? The name given to the land makes it seem like it was doomed since its very inception.

As good as Ocarina of Time is, it succeeds by employing a somewhat simplistic and expected tone and pace. Majora’s Mask takes a much riskier route, creating an awe-inspiring yet disturbing world, resulting in perhaps the most unique and mesmerizing Zelda adventure to date. (Matt De Azevedo)

Ranking the Legend of Zelda Series

3. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

How many tales have been told about players popping in A Link to the Past only to be blown away by the game’s opening, an ominous start that begins with a psychic warning of danger, continues through a nighttime thunderstorm, and ends with the death of Link’s uncle and the rescue of Princess Zelda (so soon!) from her imprisonment? Younger gamers may get sick of hearing it, but the reason these moments and something as simple as rain stands out in the minds of those who experienced it at the time is because they were revolutionary, the start of a powerful new kind of storytelling in Zelda and video games in general. Never before had we seen something set such a cinematic mood as those streaking droplets illuminated by flashes of lightning, and from then on a standard was set that see games, for better or for worse, pay more attention to narrative.

But those atmospheric and still-gorgeous 16-bit visuals would have meant nothing if the game wasn’t backed up with an outstanding adventure at its core, and A Link to the Past‘s gameplay and puzzle-solving is where this turning point in the series still really shines. Swinging the sword felt infinitely better than the unsatisfying butter knife that Link wielded in his prior quest, and the various items and weapons acquired throughout were used far more frequently and cleverly. And while the previous entries in the franchise had certainly made their mark with different sorts of takes on exploring the land and battling enemies, it wasn’t until A Link to the Past, that the formula and feel that would define the series henceforth would finally come together. Puzzle-solving became the way to progress through dungeons, the idea of dual worlds or parallel dimensions came into play, and suddenly there were tons of empty bottles to be discovered, including from a guy under a bridge who has an abnormal friendship with birds.

Out of the entire franchise, I’ve easily played A Link to the Past as much as all the others combined, as its efficient pacing and beautiful world are a comfortable joy to return to, where I (unbelievably) keep noticing new surprises each time I take up the Master Sword. (Patrick Murphy)

Ranking the Zelda Series

2. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a masterclass in open-world design, and with its release comes a true watershed moment in gaming history. The result is nothing less than magical. It artfully blends the best bits of the franchise’s thirty-plus year history and produces a sandbox so full of mystery and so full of adventure, it could take you well over 100 hours to uncover most of its secrets. What we have here is the most ambitious title in the history of the franchise, an epic journey that quivers with anticipation, wonder, surprise and excitement. It never gets old. It never gets tiring. There’s not a minute that goes by in which you’ll want to put down the controller, because Breath of the Wild keeps players constantly curious and fascinated by the world around them. There’s truly something unusually haunting and engrossing about the game, and whatever your opinion on the Nintendo Switch, Breath of the Wild is arguably one of the greatest games ever made.

Since its arrival in 1986, the Zelda series has always pushed the technical boundaries of whatever console it has graced, and Breath of the Wild continues this tradition (times two). Epic, mythic, and simply terrific, Breath of the Wild brings a new kind of experience to fans across the globe. In return, it demands your attention. It’s a landmark in video games such that labeling it a masterpiece almost seems inevitable. In the end, however, most of what makes Breath of the Wild so beloved is Nintendo’s determination to constantly challenge themselves while crafting an unforgettable experience that also doubles as a commentary on the freedom of playing on the Switch. That a game of this magnitude can be playable anywhere you go is a remarkable feat. (Ricky D)

Ranking the Zelda Series

1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

You won’t find a gamer alive who doesn’t remember the first time they played The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and there’s a very good reason for that: OOT isn’t just regularly counted as one of the best Zelda games of all time, but it also routinely finds itself in the conversation for the best games ever made. As a trendsetter and pioneering effort for 3D adventure games, action titles and RPGs alike, Ocarina of Time holds a special place in a lot of gamers’ hearts, particularly those who were young enough to have a lot of imagination in them upon its initial release.

It was a game that opened a tiny door in our minds when it first introduced us to a young Link in Kokiri Forest, and then wrenched that door all the way open a mere hour later when we were unleashed onto the full expanse of Hyrule Field and were gifted with a world to explore which was bigger than life. If, through some very strange events, you have still managed to not play OOT then you are doing yourself a disservice as a gamer. With awe-inspiring environments, a cast of memorable characters, a charming story, and one of the most epic adventures ever experienced, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is a game that will stick in your grey matter even decades from now, and it is well deserving of its place there. (Mike Worby)

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Let us know your rankings in the comments below!

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. norsecode

    July 23, 2019 at 11:59 am

    In my opinion, Link Between worlds is underrated. It is an excellently crafted game. On the other hand, there are some games higher up because of nostalgia and not because of quality of game. I’m looking at you Twilight Princess and Majora’s Mask.

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Games

Interview with John Staats, First-Level Designer for ‘World of Warcraft’

We recently had the opportunity to sit down with John Staats, first-level designer for the launch version of World of Warcraft.

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The first iteration of World of Warcraft, often called “Vanilla WoW,” has a strong pull of nostalgia for many fans. From inspiring countless other MMOs, to imbuing an entire generation of players with memories that they will never forget, to inspiring Blizzard to re-release it earlier this year, Vanilla’s footprint is undeniable.

Recently, I had the chance to talk to John Staats, a first-level designer on World of Warcraft‘s initial launch, to discuss his recent book, The Wow Diary: A Journal of Computer Game Development, which chronicles his own personal experience with developing WoW‘s initial release.

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In a lot of ways, The WoW Diary reminds me of Blood, Sweat, and Pixels by Kotaku’s Jason Schreier. Both books address the challenges of game development, including the incredible amount of hours that game developers work and the dreaded “crunch” when a project has to be delivered on time. Your section on how your colleagues described their work on StarCraft was particularly interesting. What do you think is the public’s biggest misconception about how developers work?

The biggest misconception is how expensive developers are! Most publishers and studio heads are always portrayed as the bad guys, but the truth is there’s so much risk in game development, it’s just insane. If a company is upfront about long hours, then I see no problem with longer hours to some point. Unfortunately, the law isn’t so flexible. After WoW shipped, we dropped to capped 40-hour weeks (mandatory) and it sucked. Everything was so schedule-conscious that we stopped experimenting.

Studios are all different. Some people asked if unions were the answer, and they might help in some cases, but they would make other situations worse. There would certainly be fewer games out there without crunches. I dunno. I’m from Akron, Ohio. I’m just happy to have worked in the entertainment industry!

As a developer, even at somewhere like Blizzard, fan feedback seems like it’s able to affect team morale. In the book, you mention a few cases of this. What was it like to work under the pressure of fan expectations?

World of Warcraft feedback wasn’t nearly as bad as Warcraft III, because the company was too quick to promote their first 3D title. Making a 3D game has such a sharp, painful learning curve that engine re-writes caused long delays. The fans were unfamiliar with the long waits associated in making 3D games, so they were especially angry.

The class designers definitely had it bad on World of Warcraft. People never post when they’re happy, the forums are usually very negative. And there’s strange “voodoo” where people report glitches or errors that aren’t really there. There’s a LOT of voodoo reports that designers need to verify, and that eats up their schedule.

Kevin Jordan once joked that he was going to claim to be a character artist at the launch party signing table, just to avoid being drawn into discussions about rogues versus shaman duels. For the most part, WoW was so much better looking, better playing, better running than the competition, we had it easy. Still, we put pressure on ourselves: for the most part, the fans were pretty cool.

World of Warcraft

You state in the book that you got your start in modding computer games on the PC. Did you have any prior experience with other game systems, or was your only experience with the PC?

PC only. I was actually a Macintosh user exclusively because I was in advertising in NYC. I bought my first PC in the mid-1990s. As a Mac person, there weren’t many games available (thank you, Steve Jobs), so I only played a few titles on my roommate’s machines. They always had to kick me off whenever they came home.  When I got my own, I relentlessly played FPS and strategy games.

One of the more interesting comments that you make in the book, and one that I was curious about while reading, was the following: “Writing stories is so easy it seems nearly half the people in the industry want to do it[…] it’s unreasonable to expect players to follow a storyline, detailed or subtle.” Do you think games are ever capable of delivering complex and subtle stories, or is it beyond the medium’s scope?

I honestly doubt stories will become more subtle for most genres. Most games pull the player’s attention to non-story elements like socialization, user interface, goals, and combat tactics. Looking for things is rarely fun. It’s just too hard to expect the average player to follow nuanced stories… and you never want to risk players becoming confused with your plot.

You use the phrase “computer games” throughout the book instead of the more commonly used “games.” Was there a semantic reason for this?

Ranchers and farmers are in the agricultural industry, they have a completely different set of concerns.

There’s a huge difference in developing computer games versus console games. It’s so much easier to make games for a console. They’re far more predictable, and optimized for specific types of games. Developers are influenced by all kinds of games; pen-and-paper RPGs, tabletop board games, card games, handheld devices… and all of them are very different to produce. I didn’t want to lump everything into the “games industry.”

You mention early on that you’ve suffered “a neurological problem in [your] hands that hinders [you] from using a computer for significant lengths of time.” Given the increasingly interconnected nature of modern society and how much time you spent on computers during your career in the games industry, how hard was it to adjust?

I played FPS games before I became a level designer. I played up to 14-16 hours a day when I had the time. That’s without stopping, BTW. I would eat leftovers between matches. I was nuts.

John Staats World of Warcraft

Blizzard and Nintendo have always seemed like analogous companies to the outside public. Both spend large amounts of time and money crafting games that have long-standing appeal and excellent quality. Both don’t worry about winning the public relations war and, instead, depend on the endemic quality of their games to do the talking for them. Did anyone ever make that comparison inside of Blizzard?

It was a very conscious effort to avoid distractions. There’s so much temptation for some people to jump into every conversation, there was a company-wide mandate to keep your mouth shut. We had Bill Roper for our spokesperson, and if the public thought he personally made all our games, that was fine with the developers (he wasn’t even a dev!). This lets every member of the company, as a whole, take credit for the collective products. Other industry developers will weigh in on every conversation, and journalists will seek out the same developers for opinions. On top of the risk of crossing wires with the company’s official opinion, so much exposure could create jealousy.

At one point in the book, you mention that an acquaintance of yours, Scott Hartin, had worked making console games in Japan and hated it. Was this a common complaint among those who had worked in Japan?

He’s the only person I know who’s worked there, and it was something he said in passing. I thought it such an interested idea, that different cultures tend to work in different ways. Who knows? Perhaps it might have just been the studio he was in, that made them work that way.  

Ragnaros and the Molten Core raid have emerged as a large part of the lore surrounding the vanilla release of World of Warcraft. It’s also something that you mention receiving compliments from fans about. What part of Molten Core are you the most proud of?

I’m proud that we ninja’d it into the shipping game without the producers having it on our to-do list! It was a passion project Jeff Kaplan rallied people around. I’m glad he did. We were working on so many bugs after we shipped, there’s no telling how long it would have taken to update the live servers with a content update like MC.

As a historian, having an oral history of one of gaming’s largest and most influential games is an incredible resource. In the beginning of the book, you say that you struggled with compiling your development diary because, to a large degree, you were afraid of underrepresenting some of your hardest co-workers. In the end, why do you think more oral histories, such as your book, aren’t published?

I can absolutely tell you it’s because the author needs to take notes. I can’t do a sequel to The WoW Diary because I stopped taking notes after we shipped. There’s just no way, I’d get everything wrong, or release a bland, broad-strokes version of how things went down. That’s where my book stands out, the details make the story vivid.

 

World of Warcraft

Blizzard released WoW Classic back in August. What are your thoughts on it?

I’m surprised they did. No one has ever done something like this before. Redoing someone else’s work doesn’t sound like a fun project for developers, who are in nature, creative people. It just isn’t fun to walk in someone else’s footsteps. I’m also keenly interested to see how it plays out. Do they relaunch expansions? Does it affect the retail version? I honestly don’t know, but my popcorn is ready!

Blizzard has been criticized recently for their communication with players. How different does it feel when you are on the corporate side of that relationship?

No one is criticized when your games stink. LOL! Seriously though, complaints never stop, so it’s never a big deal. Whether it’s about lawsuits or controversy, Blizzard usually takes the high road, and disengages from distractions; it lets them focus on what they want to be known for… making good games. I’m glad to see they’re still doing this.

Final question. As something of a hardware nerd, I’ve got to ask, how did developers handle the rapidly progressing technology of the late 90s and early 2000s, when Moore’s Law was in full effect? 

Blizzard games sell well because they target low-end systems. Most studios weren’t, and aren’t, smart enough to realize this. Most studios want to be the first kid on the block to have a shiny new feature. While the industry chased after expensive features that narrowed their audience to customers who had top-end computers, the savvy companies focused on the low-end machines. To answer your question, Blizzard avoided the Moore’s Law trap.

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A big thank you to John Laats for agreeing to be interviewed and providing us with a review copy of his book. If you’re interesting in learning more about John Laats, his work, you can find him at his website.

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Indie Games Spotlight – Looking Ahead to 2020

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Indie Game Spotlight

The year is coming to an end. The holidays are just around the corner. We’ve already published our list of the best indie games of 2019 and now it is time to start looking forward to 2020. In what is sure to be our last Indie Games Spotlight of 2019, we take a look at some of the indies set for release next year. This issue includes a student project that led to the creation of an indie studio; a story-rich and fully narrated puzzle game; and a comedic occult adventure game that takes place during World War II. All this and more!

Lightmatter

Imagine, “if Limbo and Portal had a weird baby.”

Aspyr and Tunnel Vision Games announced that their long-awaited, award-winning puzzle game, Lightmatter, arrives on Steam on January 15, 2020.

Lightmatter is an atmospheric, first-person puzzle game set inside a mysterious experimental facility where the shadows will kill you. The game tells a sci-fi story about a maniac inventor who has created the ultimate power source called Lightmatter. Players must explore the facility in an attempt to discover the hidden plot while facing challenging puzzles that require mastering different light sources to survive.

Not only does the game look great but what’s even more impressive is that Lightmatter originally started out as a university project where a group of Medialogy students wanted to explore lights and shadows as the primary gameplay mechanic in a puzzle game. After creating a 15-minute prototype, the team offered it as a free download on Reddit. To their surprise, the game became an overnight success with thousands of downloads and multiple accolades from game conferences around the world. It didn’t take long before they created Tunnel Vision Games with the mission to take the light/shadow concept further and turn it into a fully-fledged game. The rest, as they say, is history.


Nine Witches: Family Disruption

Nine Witches: Family Disruption

Investigate the Occult

Nine Witches: Family Disruption is the comedic occult adventure game you’ve been waiting for. From Blowfish Studios and Indiesruption, the game takes place in a rustic Norwegian village on the fringe of World War II, where a supernatural scholar investigates the Nazi’s plan to conjure a dark ancient power and strike a devastating blow to the Allied powers. Players must investigate their plots by communing with a variety of eccentric characters from the realms of both the living and the dead. It’s your job to unravel a mystical mystery and put a stop to the Okkulte-SS’s evil schemes before it’s too late.

Nine Witches: Family Disruption was born from my desire to blend world history with magic and my personal sense of humor,” said Diego Cánepa, designer, Indiesruption. “I’m grateful Blowfish Studios are using their powers to help me bring the game to consoles and PC so this story can be enjoyed by players across the world.” If you like indie games with beautiful, retro-inspired pixel art and a comical story dripping with gleefully absurd, dark humor, you’ll want to check this out. Nine Witches: Family Disruption summons supernatural hi-jinks to Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Steam for Windows PC in Q2 2020.


Filament

Explore a mysterious ship.

Ahead of next year’s anticipated release of Filament, Kasedo Games & Beard Envy have revealed an exclusive look into the making of the upcoming puzzle game with the first in a series of short dev featurettes. Developed by three friends in the front room of their shared house, Filament is a story-rich and fully narrated puzzle game centered around solving sets of cable-based puzzles whilst exploring a seemingly abandoned spaceship. According to the press release, Filament lets you freely explore the mysterious ship, solving over 300 challenging and varied puzzles in (almost) any order you like.

If you’d like to learn more, we recommend checking out the short episode series which explains the complexity and variety of puzzles and offers an insight into how the game was made. Filament will release for PC and consoles next year.


West of the Dead

The Wild West has never been this dark.

Announced at X019 in London, West of Dead is a fast-paced twin-stick shooter developed by UK-based studio Upstream Arcade. The game stars Ron Perlman (Hellboy, Sons of Anarchy) as the voice of the main protagonist William Mason, a dead man awakened with only the memory of a figure in black. His existence sets into motion a chain of events that have truly mythic consequences.

Thrown into the unknown procedurally generated hunting grounds of Purgatory, your skills will be put to the test as you shoot and dodge your way through the grime and grit of the underworld. No one said dying would be easy and West of the Dead will surely test your skills. The battle for your soul will take place on Xbox One, Xbox Game Pass, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC in 2020.


The Red Lantern

Survive the Alaskan wilderness in this dog sledding, story-driven, rogue-lite game

We first took notice of The Red Lantern during a Nintendo Direct earlier this year and ever since we’ve been impatiently awaiting its release. The Red Lantern is a resource management game where you and your team of five sled dogs must survive the wilderness and find your way home. Set in Nome, Alaska, you play as The Musher, voiced by Ashly Burch (Horizon: Zero Dawn, Life is Strange), as she sets out to train for the grueling Iditarod race.

The game combines rogue-lite elements into this story-driven adventure game, where hundreds of different events can occur—like fending off bears, resisting frostbite, attending your dogs, or receiving a signature moose-licking. This might be the first and last dog-sledding survival game we will ever play but that’s fine by us because judging by the screenshots and trailer, the game looks terrific. The Red Lantern is Timberline Studio’s debut game and is funded by Kowloon Nights. The game will be releasing on Xbox One and Nintendo Switch in 2020.

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The Best Games of the 2010s

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Best Games of the 2010s Best Games of the Decade

The 2010s have spoiled us with an abundance of amazing games released year after year, and with the decade quickly drawing to a close, some would argue it is the best decade for video games yet. The choice of AAA titles, MMOs, indies and even mobile games is simply overwhelming. In no other decade have we had so much variety and so much to choose from making it extremely hard to pinpoint what our favourites are. Truth be told, many of us still have some catching up to do. Not everyone has played every game nominated below, and how could we considering some of these games require hundreds of hours of our time to complete? Thankfully we have enough writers on staff to be able to cover it all, and as expected, none of us seem to agree on every winner. It wasn’t easy to choose from our many favourites but we narrowed it down to one winner and five special mentions for each year. At last, here are the best games released in the 2010s.

Best Games of the Decade

Mass-Effect-2-Best-Games-of-the-Decade

2010) Mass Effect 2

Bioware’s Mass Effect announced itself as a different kind of game. The natural evolution of games like Star Wars: Knights of the Old RepublicMass Effect offered gamers a whole universe of possibilities. Depending on their choices, their protagonist could be a cocksure rogue or an unrepentant optimist, a cold pragmatist or a warm confidante. Regardless of your choices though, what Mass Effect really offered was the chance to enter a world and experience it in your own individual manner.

Mass Effect 2 doubled down on this prospect in a way that was almost inconceivable. Giving players a bigger galaxy to explore, more characters to journey through it with, and more refined gameplay with which to devour it, Mass Effect 2 arrived as the sequel that fans never even dreamed was possible. A game with so many different possibilities for outcomes that there was an ending designed as if the player had died in his quest, there was literally no wrong way to play Mass Effect 2.

While the sequel ended up having to pull back on these ambitions, Mass Effect 2 still remains a game that made players believe that literally anything was possible, and for that reason alone, it remains a one of a kind, unforgettable experience. (Mike Worby)

Runners-Up: Call of Duty: Black Ops, God of War III, Red Dead Redemption, StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, Super Meat Boy

Dark-Souls-Remastered-Darkroot-Garden

2011) Dark Souls

Like Mass Effect 2Dark Souls is less an original prospect in and of itself, and more the perfectly refined version of a very good idea. Hidetaka Miyazaki may have hit upon a gold rush with his experimental action-RPG Demon’s Souls, but it was Dark Souls that really hit paydirt. Transporting the hybrid single-player/multiplayer experience into an ever-growing open world that devoured itself like an ouroborosDark Souls didn’t just perfect the experience that its predecessor had plotted out, it laid the groundwork for an entire genre.

Players still relentlessly speed run, troll, experiment with and redefine what Dark Souls is, and what it means to them, nearly a decade after its initial release. Check Twitch or YouTube on any given day, and you’re likely to find dozens of gamers re-exploring the world of Lordran, and seeing what it might offer them in this reincarnation of its virtues and faults, concepts and confines. Such is the result of a game so endlessly replayable that it doesn’t even ask before plonking you back at the beginning after those end credits. After all, why not spend a little more time in this world? (Mike Worby)

Runners-Up: Batman: Arkham City, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Minecraft, Portal 2, Rayman Origins

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2012) Xenoblade Chronicles

It’s hard to find a game as niche as Xenoblade Chronicles. A JRPG, published in North America two years after its initial 2010 release on the already-sunsetting Wii, it seemed an unlikely prospect for success. After all, the Wii was perhaps Nintendo’s most family-friendly console, a system designed around casual audiences and motion controls; its successor, the Wii U, was just around the corner. It made little sense to release a JRPG, of all things, when the system was on its last legs.

Despite launching at the tail end of one generation and the beginning of the other,  Xenoblade Chronicles delivered one of the best JRPG experiences in decades. Xenoblade creator Tetsuya Takahashi, with a checkered history of ambitious games that failed to fully deliver on their promises, finally perfected his craft.  A gripping narrative, a spectacular score, and an innovative focus on blending the best of both Western and Japanese RPGs made Xenoblade Chronicles a stunning achievement and the best JRPG to ever come from Nintendo.

Seven years, and two critically praised sequels, later, and Takahashi has yet to recapture the magic in the original Xenoblade and rekindle the pure, unadulterated sense of exploration and adventure that made it such an enjoyable experience, a testament to how unique and incredible this JRPG truly is. (Iszak Barnette)

Runners-Up: Diablo III, Far Cry 3, Hotline Miami, Journey, The Walking Dead

The Best Games of the 2010s

2013) The Last of Us

With The Last of Us, the cinematic-loving geniuses at Naughty Dog proved themselves once again as one of the most accomplished development teams in the world. The confident and handsome survival thriller was instantly hailed as the new bar for what gaming could and should be moving forward. The Last of Us is Hollywood stuff, of course, and it borrows from dozens of carefully chosen inspirations, among them George A. Romero’s original Dead trilogy, The Walking Dead, 28 Days Later and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. While the game’s cynical portrayal of survivors turning on each other is a very familiar premise – The Last of Us is also the rare video game that follows a traditional storyline and then improves upon it. Set twenty years after a pandemic radically transformed civilization – The Last of Us follows Joel, a salty survivor, who is hired to smuggle a fourteen-year-old girl, Ellie, out of a rough military quarantine. What begins as a straightforward, albeit risky job, quickly turns into a highly emotional, palm-sweating journey that you won’t ever forget.

The Last of Us mixes traditional adventure, survival, action, stealth, and constant exploration. Amidst the action, the horror and the many layers of modern mythology at work here (all quintessentially American), the game succeeds simply as a parable of what it means to live versus surviving. By the time you get to the last act, you understand why The Last of Us is the stuff of legends. The ending is simply amazing and not because it ends with a bang, but instead, because it ends with a simple line of dialogue. It’s intense and, yes, depressing – and it earns every minute of it.

Exhausting to play but oddly exhilarating to experience, The Last of Us works its way under our skin to unnerve, reside and haunt us. From the rich, complex combat system to the sublime sound design, this game immerses the player from start to finish. The Last of Us proves how far the craftsmanship of making video games has come from the outstanding engineering and art and sound design to the fine direction and performances, and the touching relationship of the two leads. It shouldn’t be a surprise that The Last of Us is our favourite game of 2013 because it works on every level: as a violent chase thriller, a fantastic cautionary tale, a coming of age story, and a sophisticated drama about the best and worst qualities of humanity. There’s something for everyone here to appreciate! (Ricky D)

Runners-Up: Bioshock Infinite, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, DOTA 2, Gone Home, Grand Theft Auto V

2014) Mario Kart 8

Nintendo was so confident about Mario Kart 8 that they implied it could turn the tides of both sales and public consciousness on the Wii U. Of course, Mario Kart 8 didn’t end up doing that, but it did handily exceed the expectations of its legion of naysayers, such as the infamous Polygon pie charts. Five years later and it has not only gone down in the record books as the highest-selling game on that fateful console, but is also the highest-selling game on Nintendo’s renaissance console, the Switch.

While the appeal of Mario Kart remains perennial, Mario Kart 8 is an especially special Mario Kart. Its controls are the most fluid and refined, its visuals the most lush and detailed, and its courses the most vibrant and fully-realized. Moreover, its breakneck 200cc mode, wealth of fantastic DLC courses, and Deluxe-specific battle mode have given Mario Kart 8 incredible replay value, depth, and variety despite lacking an adventure mode. At launch, Mario Kart 8 was the peak of the series, the best modern kart racer, and a game of the year contender. Now, with tons of extra content, over thirty million copies sold, and the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear that Mario Kart 8 may become known as the greatest and most popular racing game of all time, kart or otherwise. (Kyle Rentschler)

Runners-Up: Bayonetta 2, Divinity: Original Sin, Hearthstone, Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare, Valiant Hearts: The Great War

bloodborne-the-old-hunters-1920x1080

2015) Bloodborne

FromSoftware pioneered a new genre and difficulty standard with their Souls series, but Bloodborne’s their magnum opus. The sordid streets of Yharnam teem with monsters, and hacking through the bloody lot of them is a visceral (and challenging) delight.

I made it through Bloodborne with minimal trouble, felling most bosses in two or three tries. But the last boss, the dude whose name starts with G (no spoilers), kicked my ass to the moon and back. I fought him for a whole weekend, dying upwards of fifty times. I thought I couldn’t do it, that I’d have to throw in the towel, for this was a mountain I couldn’t scale. But then something unexpected happened: I won! I flawlessly dodged his attacks, steadily chipping away at his lofty life bar until he kicked the bucket. The sensation of elation I experienced upon victory was a high that lasted for hours, and that’s when it clicked for me “This is why there’s no easy mode”. (Harry Morris)

Runners-Up: Life is Strange, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Rocket League, Undertale, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

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2016) Persona 5

When it comes to JRPGs, there’s no shortage of turn-based level grind-y time sinkers on offer, but Persona 5 is something different. It’s both unabashedly inspired by its genre brethren, yet wholly unique. Where countless JRPG stories crumble under the weight of “That’s flippin’ nonsense”, Persona 5 serves up a rewarding narrative driven by a wildly loveable band of misfits. Its relationship-building mechanics (that inspired Fire Emblem: Three Houses) are addictive, and its user interface is award-worthy. Every facet of this genre masterpiece is meticulously honed to perfection, and its bigger and better iteration (Persona 5 Royal) can’t come soon enough. (Harry Morris)

Runners-Up: Final Fantasy XV, Inside, Overwatch, Pokemon Sun and Moon, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

2017) The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

What’s perhaps most remarkable about Breath of the Wild is just how familiar yet simultaneously refreshing it feels. Breath of the Wild may be the biggest Zelda game to date, but it still feels like a Zelda adventure — in spirit, story, tone and in gameplay. You play as the young courageous Link, the hero of Hyrule, who awakens from a cryogenic sleep chamber inside of a small cave and teams up with the eponymous princess (so to speak) and sets out on an adventure to destroy the horrible fanged, boar-faced Calamity Ganon, a megalomaniac holding Princess Zelda hostage and bent on destroying Hyrule. The narrative setup is more or less standard for a Zelda game, but Breath of the Wild has something that was missing from the series for far too long — perhaps since the original title was released back in 1986.

Much like that original, Breath of the Wild is a game that begs you to keep exploring and it does this right from the start, immediately instilling a real sense of mystery, no matter how familiar you are with the series. As soon as you emerge from that opening cave, you’ll find yourself on a vista, looking out at the beautiful mountains and ruins of a post-apocalyptic, techno-plagued world. And from that moment on, the world is your oyster.

Since its arrival in 1986, the Zelda series has always pushed the technical boundaries of whatever console it has graced and Breath of the Wild continues this tradition (times two). Epic, mythic, simply terrific, Breath of the Wild brought a new kind of experience to fans across the globe. In return, it demands your attention. It’s such a landmark in video games that labeling it a masterpiece almost seems inevitable. Though in the end, most of what makes Breath of the Wild so beloved is Nintendo’s determination to constantly challenge themselves while crafting an unforgettable experience that also doubles as a commentary on the freedom of playing on the Switch. That a game of this magnitude can be playable anywhere you go, is a remarkable feat. (Ricky D)

Runners-Up: Cuphead, Hollow Knight, Horizon Zero Dawn, Resident Evil VII, Super Mario Odyssey

2018) God of War

To take their beloved franchise, turn it on its head, and deliver an experience that surpasses its acclaimed predecessors was no easy task for Sony’s Santa Monica Studio, yet they smashed it! God of War pays homage to its roots, whilst simultaneously bounding headlong into uncharted waters. It embraces modern conventions but utilizes them in a way that feels fantastically fresh.

Kratos’s journey with Atreus through the universe of Norse mythology is a masterclass in both character study and organic world-building, and a far cry from the one dimensional “Kratos angry, Kratos kill things” fare of old. Combat strikes a balance between strategic nuance and gory glee, and the Leviathan Axe feels badass to swing around. Discussing this game is more often than not an exercise in rattling off cool qualities, because there’s just that many things to dig about it. (Harry Morris)

Runners-Up: Celeste, Monster Hunter World, Red Dead Redemption 2, Spider-Man, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Best Games of the Decade

2019 ) Fire Emblem: Three Houses

With three stories that can change depending on the choices taken, Fire Emblem: Three Houses really does allow the player to choose the path they wish. Much like previous Fire Emblem games, what the player does and chooses is at the heart of the game, with benefits and consequences for each action taken. With three different houses to discover, Fire Emblem: Three Houses can be replayed countless times while never feeling like the same game.

It’s easy to get enchanted by all the personality, charisma, and cheesiness the game has outside of battles, that it’s even easier to miss the tactical ingenuity within battles. Fire Emblem: Three Houses has shaken up much of the battle formula from previous Fire Emblem games, creating a much more fragile web, requiring a balancing of personalities and classes that can develop constructively for the rest of the game. This means every brick you place from the start of the game will affect how well your house stands by the end of the game. It’s a clever design that can catch even the most ardent Fire Emblem veterans out there.

But most importantly of all, each story doesn’t feel rushed or out of place. That isn’t just the three main stories but every characters’ own personal story. Some of the characters are a little overly cloy for my personal tastes, but that isn’t to say they didn’t fit the narrative. Their story was woven into the main story without a slip or a bump. It is that Fire Emblem: Three Houses is more than just how the player develops, but how each character develops around them. (James Baker)

Runner-Up: The Outer Wilds, Disco Elysium, Control, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Resident Evil 2

Best Games of the 1990s | Best Games of the 2000s | Best Games of the 2010s

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