Grudge match is a regular series where two or more Vanguard contributors debate on a divisive issue in pop culture. This edition features a discussion between Opinion Editor Nick Gatlin and Arts & Culture Editor Morgan Troper on the best Zelda game, inspired by a contentious Twitter poll.
Nick Gatlin: I think Breath of the Wild is one of the best games in the Zelda series because it takes the games back to their roots. It expands on the open-world adventure philosophy of the first Legend of Zelda with a modern open-world engine, and it perfectly embodies the spirit of the series.
Morgan Troper: I really like BotW, though I am sympathetic to the issues some people have with it. I feel like it misinterprets the essence of the series and the focus on combat and exploration comes at the expense of the tight puzzle solving Zelda is known for. I also don’t think the story is too memorable.
NG: That’s fair. I think BotW has a completely different philosophy than most other Zelda games, which probably makes a lot of people who grew up with the series a little uncomfortable. I grew up with Twilight Princess [on the Wii] and Phantom Hourglass [on the Nintendo DS], so I know the linear, puzzle solving aspect of Zelda is what a lot of people know the games for. I don’t think the disagreement is about whether BotW is a good game, but if it’s a good Zelda game. I completely understand how someone who really enjoyed games like Ocarina of Time, Wind Waker and Majora’s Mask would be put off by BotW—I think both types of games have their place in the series.
MT: Yeah, the first Zelda game I remember playing right at launch was Majora’s Mask, and I was super excited for Wind Waker. To me, Wind Waker sort of feels like everything great about the early 3D Zelda games in one package, before that formula started to get a little stale with Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword. I think Wind Waker might secretly be the most influential game in the series—its art style obviously had a huge influence on BotW, but also non-Zelda games like Okami and Persona 5.
NG: I also love Wind Waker but I feel like in a head-to-head matchup it would lose against most Zelda games. I first got into 3D Zelda with Twilight Princess so I might have nostalgia goggles on, but after playing Wind Waker I never really had the desire to play it again. I’ve played BotW countless times and I’ve even played Ocarina and Twilight Princess more than once, but Wind Waker just got really stale for me after a while. I love it for its art style and its influence on the series but gameplay-wise I think it’s really lacking.
MT: I think nostalgia goggles are a huge problem when it comes to evaluating old games—like I also really love the Shrek game for the first Xbox, which I know is objectively terrible. In what ways do you find Wind Waker lacking?
NG: I think the game was just too linear which made it too easy. None of the puzzles are that difficult and the way you go through a play-through is the same every time, which gets old after a while. I have kind of the same issue with TP and Ocarina, but those games have challenging enough puzzles and enough choice in the main plot (which temple you go to first, which side quests you do, etc) to feel interesting every time, although those games also get stale. I just really like open world games where I can follow the “main plot” if I want to but I can also mess around in the world if I want.
MT: Yeah, I think BotW is obviously the only truly open-world Zelda game, and while I think it’s pretty neat that we got that I hope Nintendo won’t rest on their laurels. I’ve had a really difficult time envisioning the sequel—will it be an expansion that takes place on the same map, or will it just be the same engine but take place in a more confined environment? An open-world Zelda wouldn’t be as novel the second time and I hope it isn’t a permanent new direction for the series.
To your point about Wind Waker being linear, there is a certain amount of sequence breaking in every post [A Link to the Past, for the Super Nintendo] Zelda game I think, even if it’s only like being able to switch the order of a couple of dungeons. I played the Wii U version of Wind Waker last year and it looks great and plays better than the GameCube version thanks to some quality of life changes. I feel like it’s really inspired and more fluid than Twilight Princess, both in its pacing and the gameplay mechanics themselves. I also like how it’s the only game to really honor the series’ chronology—they’re really explicit about how it’s the sequel to Ocarina of Time.
NG: I do appreciate the timeline aspect of Wind Waker. I guess I just enjoy the style of open-world games more with the freedom they provide over the value of a tight, linear plot. It’s not really that one is better than the other, just that they hit different points. I hope BotW 2 does something unique with its map like rebuild Hyrule or show us a different region. Maybe the best sequel would be some kind of synthesis between the open-world and linear games and have an open-world engine with a strong old-school Zelda plot. Although to be honest, Zelda’s never really had incredibly sophisticated plots.