The Legend of Zelda has been around since 1986, creating a series that has enveloped fans with its fantasy tales and quirky elements.
Since that time, there have been 19 mainline entries on numerous Nintendo consoles not including any remakes, remasters, or spinoff titles. Tears of the Kingdom will mark the 20th entry upon its May 12 release.
With so many entries in this long-running franchise, it can be daunting to jump in if you haven’t played a The Legend of Zelda game in the past. Even if you’ve played a few, selecting one to rejoin the franchise can be intimidating.
Fortunately, jumping into these titles is not difficult. For one, most titles are standalone and even sequels include loose connections that don’t inhibit gameplay if you haven’t played prior titles.
If you’re still unsure about jumping into the series, we have some suggestions to help you feel right at home with the green-clad hero of Hyrule.
Before continuing, let’s clarify there is no wrong way to jump into this franchise. The Legend of Zelda titles are woven together in a timeline, but that connection is loose and only amounts to easter eggs rather than major plot points.
The Wind Waker: A Lighter Adventure
The Wind Waker originally released in 2002 on the Nintendo GameCube and it featured a divisive approach to the series at the time. Years later, this game has risen the rankings as one of the best Zelda titles out there as it got a remaster on the Wii U and many want it on the Switch.
Pros: This game is relatively easy. If you’re worried about high difficulty or complex gameplay, this game provides a simple approach that is easy to pick-up. This game is a great way to ease into some of the more challenging aspects of the franchise while still grasping the overall gameplay of Zelda games.
Cons: This is one of the longer games in the franchise with an average time of about 25 hours to beat. While that might not seem awful, there are elements that drag in this title such as a late-game fetch quest and long boat rides. The Wii U remaster did speed these points up but there is still a lot of dragging in the late game.
Ocarina of Time: First Step into 3D
Nintendo changed the game with its 1998 release of Ocarina of Time on the Nintendo 64. This was the franchise’s leap into 3D graphics and it made the jump so well that many still point to this game as their all-time favorite. It has had rereleases on numerous modern consoles as well as a Nintendo 3DS remake with updated graphics.
Pros: This game is a lot of fun, featuring a gripping narrative and an immersive world. Zelda titles typically aren’t known for their stories, but this title showed how a narrative could work. Each dungeon is memorable and the music is fantastic. Nintendo pulled out everything to make this a quality outing for the time. Gameplay is simple and easy to learn for newcomers.
Cons: The graphics of Ocarina of Time have aged like milk. Everything else makes up for this, but if you struggle with retro graphics, this one may be difficult for you. This game can also be difficult in places with no clear way forward. Every puzzle is doable but does require some serious thought in places. The 3DS remake is a great place to go for an updated experience.
A Link to the Past: A 2D Masterpiece
Alongside Ocarina of Time, A Link to the Past often dominates rankings of Zelda titles. This game hit the Super NES in 1991 and really elevated the franchise’s top-down output. This game has seen numerous rereleases, but no remake. A spiritual sequel A Link Between Worlds came out on the 3DS and took players back to this version of Hyrule. It may be a more beginner-friendly entry into the world but differs greatly from the original.
Pros: Graphics for this title still hold up as do many others from the SNES era. The colorful world still looks gorgeous as ever on the Nintendo Switch. This is also the first Zelda title that fully embraces the format that the franchise uses for many years. It was also the first game to truly expound on in-game lore.
Cons: Combat can be difficult for newcomers. The 2D outing does force the player to be strategic in how they approach enemies. This can be a lot of fun to some, but newcomers might find it difficult. It can also be hard to know where to go next although this is helped by an open-world approach late in the game.
Breath of the Wild: A Redefinition of the Franchise
The Legend of Zelda has largely followed a set layout since its inception, but Breath of the Wild broke all the rules. It completely shifted the franchise to an absolute open-world sandbox format with smaller dungeons. It released on both the Wii U and Switch in 2017 and looks to have changed the franchise’s trajectory as Tears of the Kingdom will include a lot of the same.
Pros: There is a lot of freedom in this game, allowing players to take the game at their own pace without feeling pressure to continue the main quest. Exploration is crucial in this game, an added freedom that wasn’t readily available in previous titles. The world is immersive and a lot of fun to be in on any given play session. Gameplay is pretty simple although there are downsides.
Con: This is the least Zelda-like title in the franchise, which doesn’t set the stage for other games in the series. This is only a con if you are hoping Breath of the Wild will prepare you for other Zelda games. To this end, many of the gameplay changes are unique to this game with some being frustrating such as breakable weapons. There is an extremely light narrative to this game as well.
Closing Thoughts: Finding the Right The Legend of Zelda Game
Again, there is no wrong title to get you into The Legend of Zelda as each is simple enough to pick up and play. The Legend of Zelda is one of Nintendo’s flagship series and as such, it is pretty accessible to newcomers.
The only other two that may be worth your time as a first timer are Skyward Sword or the original The Legend of Zelda.
Skyward Sword is the beginning of the timeline, but does feature some challenging gameplay with the motion controls and repeating sections. The original The Legend of Zelda is a tough game because of the open-world format and lack of direction though it can be fun to see the series’ origins.
As far as remakes, Link’s Awakening on the Switch is also a great 2D adventure that is worth your time.
However you decide to enjoy the franchise, there is a lot of great fun to be had for all fans of both action-adventures and action role-playing games. Don’t let the franchise overwhelm you because once you start, it’ll be hard not to be a fan.
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