It might be hard to believe that, at this point, The Legend of Zelda has been a 3D series longer than it has been 2D. Beginning with the release of Ocarina of Time on the Nintendo 64 in 1998, the Zelda series made a successful transition to 3D after originating as a 2D franchise. Ocarina of Time became the bedrock on which the series’ future was built. Every subsequent 3D Zelda uses the foundation laid by Ocarina of Time and then expands on it in subtle ways, but ultimately each of the games in the series trace their lineage back to the 1998 classic. That is, until the release of Breath of the Wild.
Breath of the Wild’s release in 2017 stands as nothing short of a watershed moment for the Zelda franchise, boldly bringing the series into its new open-world format and establishing the new status quo for The Legend of Zelda. Its sequel Tears of the Kingdom, released earlier this year, can be viewed as the best version of the new open-world Zelda format, expanding Link’s suite of abilities and injecting much more of the series’ trademark storytelling flair than was on display in Breath of the Wild. In terms of which game in the series just might be the best 3D Legend of Zelda, it comes down to the series’ first foray into 3D and its latest.
Ocarina of Time vs Tears of the Kingdom: Side-by-Side Comparison
It’s telling that Tears of the Kingdom arrived in the year that makrs the 25th anniversary of Ocarina of Time‘s release, with both games representing massive paradigm shifts within the Zelda series. Ocarina of Time is to the Zelda franchise what Super Mario 64 is to both Mario, and its influence reaches far beyond just Zelda and into the design and mechanics of every 3D action adventure game that follows it. Similarly, Tears of the Kingdom is one of the best open-world games available, simultaneously giving players one of the most dense and varied open-world sandboxes while also redefining the tenents of open-world design. Let’s examine both of these influential games side-by-side:
|Characteristic||Ocarina of Time||Tears of the Kingdom|
|System||Nintendo 64||Nintendo Switch|
|Total Sales||7.6 million||18.51 million (and counting)|
|Sequel to Previous Zelda Game||✅|
|Ganon as Final Boss||✅||✅|
Ocarina of Time vs Tears of the Kingdom: 5 Must-Know Facts
Here are 5 must-know facts about Ocarina of Time versus Tears of the Kingdom in determining which is the superior 3D Zelda:
- Ocarina of Time is the progenitor of what fans now refer to as “classic” Zelda when comparing the older games in the series to the newest entries Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom. Breath of the Wild is the first game in what fans refer to as “new” Zelda, following an open-world and non-linear format.
- After their absence in Breath of the Wild, Tears of the Kingdom thankfully revives a staple of the series in featuring dungeons. These dungeons aren’t as expansive or numerous as they are in the “classic” Zelda games but they are a nice reminder of one of the series’ trademarks in its newest entry.
- Although Tears of the Kingdom introduces some radical changes to the Zelda formula with its hugely powerful Ascension and Ultrahand abilities, it’s still a Legend of Zelda game at its heart. As such, players will control Link, they will rescue Princess Zelda, and they will fight Ganon. At least that hasn’t changed.
- While Ocarina of Time was revolutionary at the time of its release (and frankly, still holds up today as a pinnacle of 3D game design), its visuals are beginning to show their age. Conversely, Tears of the Kingdom takes excellent advantage of every bit of the Switch’s aging hardware to deliver a truly beautiful game whose art style is breathtaking.
- Both Ocarina of Time and Tears of the Kingdom are the number 1 and number 2 highest-rated games in the Legend of Zelda series, respectively.
Ocarina of Time vs Tears of the Kingdom: “Classic” vs “New” Zelda
Determining which of these all-time great Zelda games is the best in the series boils down to how you feel about The Legend of Zelda. If players prefer a more traditional Zelda experience, then Ocarina of Time will be the obvious winner thanks to how it masterfully translates the gameplay of the 2D Zelda titles into a 3D world. There’s a reason it serves as the format for every 3D Zelda game that comes after it until Breath of the Wild. On the other hand, if you’re one of the fans who grew tired of the traditional, “classic” Zelda formula and felt that Breath of the Wild was a breath (pun intended) of fresh air, then Tears of the Kingdom is the obvious victor. It does everything Breath of the Wild does and then some, becoming the definitive open-world Zelda game.
Ocarina of Time vs Tears of the Kingdom: Dungeon Crawling
One of the main gripes fans of “classic” Zelda hold against Breath of the Wild is the game’s total lack of the Zelda series’ trademark dungeons. These labyrinthine structures typically represent the peaks of previous Zelda titles’ gameplay, requiring Link to use new mechanics, solve devious puzzles, and take on a climactic boss battle at the end. Thankfully, dungeons make a bit of a return in Tears of the Kingdom, albeit in a slightly lesser form than some might have hoped for. Still, being able to have dungeons back in the newest open-world Zelda title is promising for the future of the franchise, indicating the Eiji Aonuma and team may be trying to meld the old and the new for the best of both worlds.
Ocarina of Time vs Tears of the Kingdom: Phantom Ganon
As is the case with most Zelda games, both Ocarina of Time and Tears of the Kingdom feature a final boss battle against Ganon in both human and beast form, although these fights do take on different formats in each game. Interestingly, both games also happen to feature a boss battle against Phantom Ganon, something that originates with Ocarina of Time and only features in a handful of series games. That Tears of the Kingdom features this iconic boss battle is obviously a callback to the excellence of and fondness for Ocarina of Time.
Ocarina of Time vs Tears of the Kingdom: The Benefit of Technology
The Nintendo Switch is currently Nintendo’s longest-running console of any hardware generation, meaning its technology is beginning to show a bit of wear in comparison to Sony and Microsoft’s current-gen consoles. Still, Nintendo is able to leverage the power of the Switch to make one of the most technically impressive games of all-time run on the aging hardware. Tears of the Kingdom is more than just a sequel to Breath of the Wild — the creativity and game-breaking potential that its open-world sandbox and crafting mechanics provide is nothing short of a miracle of game design, and it clearly outpaces the 25-year-old Ocarina of Time in that regard.
As a fan who grew up on The Legend of Zelda on NES and counts both A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time as not only two of my personal favorite games but also two of the best games ever made, it can be difficult to look back on the first 3D Zelda game without rose-tinted glasses. Still, Ocarina of Time is one of the most important games in the history of the medium, and its influence reaches both through the Zelda series and beyond. That said, Tears of the Kingdom is only 4 months into its lifespan as a title and is already outpacing every Zelda game that has come before it, showing just how much the title is resonating with fans both old and new.
In terms of historic importance and influence on the medium, Ocarina of Time is undoubtedly the best 3D Zelda game. Conversely, Tears of the Kingdom is the undisputed winner if the contest is a battle of mechanics and gameplay variety. While sales are a strong indicator of a game’s success and the views of fans on the title, the critic scores speak to the importance of a game and the brilliance of its design. in that regard, Ocarina of Time stands as the best 3D game in the Zelda series as well as the foundation on which all other 3D Zelda games were built.