Best Legend of Zelda game of the decade

Best of the Decade

This is the first of a few roundtable debates planned covering the last decade of video games spanning 2000 through 2009. For today, three of the writers at the First Hour gave their opinion on what the best Legend of Zelda game of the decade was. This was not simple, considering there were three major console iterations along with many portables games, released across five systems. Here are Greg, Mike, and Paul's picks for the best Zelda game of the decade, ordered by their release.

Eligible games are: Majora's Mask, Oracle of Ages, Oracle of Seasons, Four Swords Adventures, The Wind Waker, The Minish Cap, Twilight Princess, Phantom Hourglass, and Spirit Tracks.

The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask
The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask Cover
Platforms Nintendo 64, GameCube, Virtual Console
Genre Time turning adventure
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Majora's Mask

Majora's Mask was the best Zelda game of the decade because it improved upon the amazing Ocarina of Time engine, had a dark storyline harkening back to A Link to the Past, and totally revitalized the tired eight-dungeon-fight-Gannon approach of almost all the previous games in the series.

Nintendo finally took some chances with the series and made Majora's Mask a direct sequel to Ocarina, had a brand new bad guy, and cut the main dungeons down to just four. But the biggest change was the three day time limit before the moon crashed into Termina, suddenly there was a time limit on what you could do.

While an enforced time limit would typically be the kiss of death for any other game, Nintendo somehow pulls it off and makes the three day limit (approximately an hour of real time) relevant when in dungeons, but irrelevant when you just want to explore and have fun. Majora's Mask is like the film Groundhog Day was turned into a really fun game.

The time based system allowed for some very fun background quests, that allowed you to actually get to know the people of the world and help them out with their problems. Zelda games are generally very poor on character development, but Majora's Mask weaves an entire town of interesting folk that you actually want to interact with. The quest notebook tells you at exactly what time a townsperson might be doing something worth watching, so there is a ton to do besides just going from dungeon to dungeon.

But of course, the highlight of the game are the masks. Not only do some masks speed up your running speed or hide you from enemies, but the big three will turn you into a Deku Scrub, Goron, or Zora! Some of my most memorable moments of the game are rolling around Termina as a Goron or swimming like a dolphin as a Zora. Incredible.

And of course, collect all the masks and you get the Fierce Deity mask which makes the final boss way too easy, but yet so much fun.

If there is anything going against Majora's Mask it is that it introduced Tingle to the gaming universe.

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker Cover
Platforms GameCube
Genre Cel sailing adventure
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The Wind Waker

This is really a tough one for me. I loved all these games, particularly those you guys mention. Having said that though, I think I have to go with The Wind Waker. I'll mention the visuals first, because that was what struck me immediately upon booting it up. I remember it vividly, probably the only Zelda game that I have a strong memory of the very first time I laid eyes on it. My wife was with me when I put it in my gamecube and as the start screen came up and those tones played, we simultaneously said, "wow". The game was stunningly beautiful. But that's not the reason I enjoyed it more than the others.

The key to its greatness to me was not only the beauty of the graphics, but of the world, and how the world was so incredibly cohesive. The look, the sound, the characters seemed so connected. The obvious Celtic inspiration permeated the design and really enhanced its believability for me. I've always felt like the worlds in Zelda games were somewhat piecemeal. You'd have the mountainous area bolted on to the hub zone which is bolted on to the seaside, etc. But in Wind Waker, I never felt like areas were bolted on. I felt like it was one vast explorable space with varying points of interest

At first, I struggled with the boating and the seafaring, but eventually I learned to love it. It brought me back to the purity of exploration that I experienced in the original Zelda game on the NES. I remember spending hours accumulating rupees just to buy more bombs so that I could bomb every single block on every single wall, hunting for hearts in the overworld and secret doors in the dungeons. That's how I felt sailing around hunting for treasure chests in Wind Waker.

I imagine, if I had to be totally objective, I'd have to say I thought Twilight Princess was technically the best game of the bunch, but taking how the games made me feel, it was Wind Waker, hands down. And honestly, unlike most games today, Zelda, to me, is still about the way it makes you feel to play it.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess Cover
Platforms Wii, GameCube
Genre Realistic dark world adventure
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Twilight Princess

Twilight Princess is the epitome of a 3D Zelda game. It's everything Ocarina of Time was and more. It's longer, has more dungeons, a bigger overworld, more items, and smarter combat than any other Zelda game this decade.

When it comes down to it, Zelda games have always been about exploration. The first Zelda game could be considered the predecessor to the open world adventure genre, and every game that followed focused heavily on exploring and the sense of wonder and discovery that comes with it. No game has realized this more fully than Twilight Princess. The overworld is massive, and unlike Wind Waker, can be fully explored on foot. There's always your horse if you want to get across more quickly, but nothing beats treading Hyrule Field and seeing a rock or tree you hadn't noticed before.

The boss battles in Twilight Princess are also outstanding. From swimming after a giant eel to tripping a giant flaming Goron to swinging through the air around a deadly dragon, this game delivers the thrilling climaxes its nine dungeon deserve.

And that's not even mentioning the graphics. When the first trailer for Twilight Princess was debuted, the jaw-dropping graphics brought tears to the eyes of E3 attendees. I'm not sure that can be said about any other game. Even though by the time the game came out, we had entered the next generation of systems, the graphics still held their own, thanks to the amazing art direction.

And it didn't have Tingle.


Well, this was going to start out as more of a true debate with rebuttals and such, but it was too difficult for us to actually argue about anything. This is the Legend of Zelda series we're talking about, even the worst Nintendo developed game in the series is better than most games released. The one thing we could agree on was that all three of these games were great, and all worthy of Zelda game of the decade.

Was your favorite included? Let us know what you think!