I have spent years pondering and talking about what makes the Zelda games tick: why do so many people, including myself, hold them in such high regard? What is this “Zelda magic” that everyone spaks of, and what do they mean when they say it? So I decided to ask! I built a survey intended to give me a glimpse into the minds and tastes of Zelda fans, and distributed it within the online Zelda fan community. I got nearly 6000 responses, an outstanding show of interest from my fellow fans, and learned a number of interesting things.
Note: This article and survey was written and conducted by our good friend Max Nichols.
The first step is to put these answers in context: Who are the people that answered the survey? What group are they actually representative of?
The survey was advertised in several places, and got 5,890 responses:
- Zelda Informer’s news page.
- Zelda Universe’s news page.
- Reddit’s Zelda community.
- My personal network of friends and acquaintances, many of whom are active in the Zelda community.
- My workplace, Turbine, a game development company located near Boston.
One of the first questions on the survey was this: “Do you think of yourself as a ‘Zelda fan?’”
Unsurprisingly, this was a massively lop-sided question, with only 59 people saying “no” and 81 saying “unsure”, while 5692 said “yes”. This means one very important thing: my sample is overwhelmingly composed of Zelda fans. More specifically, they’re Zelda fans that were paying attention to the English-speaking online Zelda community.
So what does this mean? It means that these results are not representative of all Zelda players, or even all Zelda fans. These results are representative of the online, English-speaking Zelda community only – that’s all I can say with confidence.
Because our survey is specifically targeting Zelda fans, all further results that I quote in this article specifically exclude the 2.4% of responses that answered “unsure” or “no” to the above question. Sorry non-fans, I simply don’t have enough of you!
Zelda Universe vs Zelda Informer:
The vast majority of responses came from readers at Zelda Universe or Zelda Informer. Which begs the question: Are these results really representative of the online Zelda community, or are they just representative of ZU and ZI? I was worried about this very thing, but when I compared the results of the survey from ZU and ZI, they were almost identical, and so were the ones from Reddit’s Zelda community. Because of this, I feel safe in extrapolating these results to the English, online Zelda fan community as a whole.
Sales Number Skew
Many Zelda games have sold more than others, but factors like the installed userbase of the console, the number of gamers in the market, marketing, the social acceptance of games, and even world population all complicate things, and make it hard to draw conclusions from those sales numbers. For instance, you can’t really claim that Ocarina of Time is the best Zelda game just because it sold the most. That said, there is a strong correlation between high sales and performing well in this survey: the best-selling Zelda games also happen to top most of the “favorite” lists and ratings here in these survey results.
What does it mean? Well, one obvious conclusion is that people aren’t going to choose a Zelda game they haven’t played as their favorite in any category. Another might be that high quality leads to good review scores and good word of mouth, and thus higher sales. Just keep all this in mind if you plan on using this data for anything!
Anyways, enough blabbing, let’s get to the good stuff!
Table of Contents
- The majority are 18 to 24. This means that they were between 2 and 8 when Ocarina of Time was released in 1998.
- The “13 to 17” answer is probably slightly inflated. Because I didn’t want to deal with the legal web of COPPA restrictions, I didn’t ask for responses from fans younger than 13. But I suspect that there were responses from younger fans anyways, and most of those probably chose the 13 to 17 option.
- Less than 20% of these responses are from fans that were alive when Zelda 1 was released in 1986, and only 1.7% were older than 6 and could have really played it.
- When I broke down the survey results by gender, I found that the answers from female fans were almost identical to those from male fans, across the board. I’ll call out the few places where their answers were different. The lesson here: Zelda fans are Zelda fans, and their gender doesn’t seem to change how they experience the games.
- Wii on top by a significant amount. This surprised me: The Wii is the best-selling Nintendo console of all time, but the DS outsold it.
- The vast majority of Zelda fans have been multi-platform owners at some point, according to this.
- MASSIVE lead for Ocarina of Time there. That game was good at creating fans.
- Even when you look at just the 13-17 age group (most of whom were not yet born when OoT came out in 1998!), the results stay very similar: OoT at 39%. The pre-OoT games all drop lower on the list though.
- A surprising number of people chose “Other”. It was usually because they couldn’t remember, but in some cases because they started with something like Link’s Crossbow Training – or because they counted Super Smash Bros.
- Very strong lead for console Zelda here, despite the fact that Nintendo handhelds almost always outsell their consoles. Only Link's Awakening breaks the top 7.
- Newer Zelda games have a low presence. This may indicate that there isn’t a big influx of new fans entering the online Zelda community as result of their experience with newer Zelda games.
- “I don't remember the FIRST Zelda game I played, because it was so long ago, in fact, I don't remember a time when I didn't know who Link and Zelda were!”
- “Technically OoT for 5 minutes, but I got immersed with MM first.”
- “BS The Legend Of Zelda ~Map1~ (patched rom back in 1997)”
- “Super Smash Bros.”
- “I had the animated zelda series on VHS, bought OOT because of that.”
- “I barely played ALttP, but I watched my grandfather play it a lot. The first one I really got into playing myself was OoT.”
- A full 2.5% of us have not played Ocarina of Time! Get to it, my friends!
- Twilight Princess is very high; everyone and their mother had a Wii, so this is not surprising.
- Only Four Swords Adventures is below the 50% mark. With 17 games on the list, that’s pretty impressive.
- There are 870 (15%) respondents who have played all of the games (except “Other”).
- Ocarina of Time on top again, but some close competition from Majora’s Mask.
- The highest handheld game is A Link Between Worlds, at #7.
- The highest top-down game is A Link to the Past, at #6.
- There are 3 Zelda fans out there that voted for Four Swords as their favorite!
- A lot of people chose “other”. Almost all of those are people who couldn’t pick a favorite.
Are people biased towards their first Zelda game? Yep! When I filter the results based on the first game that people played, that game always rises dramatically:
- Ocarina of Time: 35%. 1st place.
- Majora’s Mask: 57%. 1st place.
- Twilight Princess: 46%. 1st place.
- The Wind Waker: 47%. 1st place.
- Skyward Sword: 46%. 1st place.
- A Link to the Past: 21%. 1st place tie (with Majora’s Mask).
What about those 15% of respondents who have actually played all of the games? Do their results differ? Why yes, they do! The top five change to:
- Majora’s Mask: 26%
- Ocarina of Time: 23%
- The Wind Waker: 11%
- A Link to the Past: 10%
- Twilight Princess: 8%
Ok, ok. Majora’s Mask and Ocarina of Time clearly need a deciding showdown. What if I only include people who have played both games, to eliminate any bias that Ocarina’s high sales introduce?:
- Ocarina of Time, 25.75%
- Majora’s Mask, 24.82%.
- “I was so young when I played N64 Zeldas they basically feel like the same game to me.”
- “This is an impossible question, it's like asking if ice cream or cookies are better. Sometimes I want ice cream, sometime I want cookies.”
- For each game, I asked people to choose whether they “Hated”, “Disliked”, “Liked”, or “Loved” it. Those were worth 0, 1, 2, and 3 points, respectively. I also had an abstain option. The points were added together and then averaged to get the scores you see here.
- The lowest score, The Adventure of Link, is 1.65, somewhere between “Disliked” and “Liked”.
- Note the difference between this list and the “favorite Zelda game” list – you’d expect them to be fairly similar, but A Link Between Worlds jumps up from #7 to #2, Majora’s Mask falls from #2 to #4, etc. Part of the reason is that this method removes some of the bias towards games that more people have played, giving a newer game like ALBW a more level playing field. It also allows everyone to express their feeling on every game, instead of just their favorite.
- Each survey participant ranked these five things from most important to least. They earned 0-4 points depending on rank, and those scores were averaged across all of the answers.
- “Experiencing a good plot” actually had the highest number of Rank 1 placements, but fell off abruptly: people tended to either rank it #1 or low. In contrast, “Exploring a Rich World” had the second-most Rank 1 placements, and the most Rank 2 placements. People agreed across the board that it was important.
- A full 40% of people placed “Fighting enemies” last in their ranking, and another 25% put it second-to-last. On the other hand, there WERE almost 300 people (5%) who said it was the most important thing.
- If I filter people by which game is their favorite, people who like A Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time,Majora’s Mask, or The Wind Waker had answers consistent with these overall rankings. People who likedTwilight Princess or Skyward Sword rated plot the highest.
- When I compare the answers of the youngest group of fans to the oldest group, they are the same ranking.
- Each style was rated with “Loved”, “Liked”, “Neutral/Unfamiliar”, “Disliked”, and “Hated”. They were worth 4, 3, 2, 1, and 0 points respectively.
- I expected these results to be highly polarized. Instead, all three styles got mostly positive reactions: 84% liked or loved The Wind Waker and Skyward Sword, 91% liked or loved Twilight Princess. Only 2% claimed to hate The Wind Waker, 1% hated Skyward Sword, and less than 1% hated Twilight Princess.
- Female players prefer Twilight Princess a little bit more and The Wind Waker a little bit less. Male players rated the two more evenly.
- Gamers above 25 also prefer Twilight Princess a little bit more and The Wind Waker a little bit less. Younger players rated the two more evenly.
- Lots of people chose “other”. See quotes below for some of those. I can’t fit them all because there were almost five hundred of these written responses!
- People who want to see voice-acting in Zelda games are far more likely to choose “yes” in this question.
- “He should speak Hylian like Zelda did sometimes in Skyward Sword (she sang, at least).”
- “If this works to an amazing degree in a spin off game, then perhaps it could be carefully introduced in a mainstream Zelda game.”
- “…have options on what to say to feel like you can affect the. I would like to interact more with the characters.”
- “NEVER EVER.”
- “You are a part of Link, and your actions are his. No words are needed.”
- “I think the reason he is such a loved character is BECAUSE he never talks. He never says anything anyone might not like.”
- “I think instead of giving him a voice Link should use sign language.”
- “I think they should try so I could get my mind around it.”
- “… he doesn't need to and a critical component to the games is that he's emotional but not verbal, which allows the player to assert themselves more deeply into the experience.”
- “I think all that ‘Link doesn't talk so that the player feels more linked to it’ is pure bullshit.”
- “No, Link will never talk, should never talk. His voice is my own, I hear it outside of the game. Adding his own voice would mean that mine was never there.”
- This question has complex options and lots of people choosing “other” because there are many different ways voice-acting could be implemented. If you take it at face value, 58% of Zelda fans want to see voice-acting of some sort, but there is no broad agreement about exactly what form it should take.
- “They should speak Hylian!”
- “I like using my imagination in Zelda games and no vocal dialogue really helps.”
- “Fully voiced except for link!”
- “That would be an abomination.”
- “…Link can be given a different name in each game, so they'd have to sort of Fallout/Elder Scrolls it which kind of takes away from the experience.”
- “I think this could work out very well, even if Link wasn't voiced, because in games like the Elder Scrolls series the protagonist is not voiced.”
- “I would probably have to see it done before I could decide if I like it or not.”
- “It would add a level of separation between me and the game--to me, reading is more personal.”
- “Yes, and they should ditch needing to stop and read dialogue. Do it like Borderlands or Half-Life, where you can hear what they are saying, but you can still move around.”
- “When all there is is text, you can perceive the story and what's going on with the characters at your own reading speed without the feeling that you're missing anything.”
- Clearly my survey options were insufficient, and people feel strongly about this. There were over 850 written responses, far more than I can publish here. I may write an entire article about just this question!
- I received many comments that equating the character name “Link” with being a male wasn’t open-ended enough: Female players have been using “Link” as their avatar all along, and might associate strongly with that identity while still wanting a gender swap. My apologies!
- 45% of players support either a female protagonist, or a gender selection option. 38% oppose. 16% chose “other” – I haven’t done an exhaustive review of those responses, but they seem split roughly 50/50.
- I expected female fans to support the concept more than male ones. The opposite is in fact true: 43% of female Zelda fans support the concept, compared to 46% of male Zelda fans.
- (Since this survey was done, six female playable characters have been revealed for Hyrule Warriors.)
- “I'd like to have the opportunity to play as a female character sometimes, but I still think Link should be the main protagonist in the game.”
- “Allowing the player an option to choose between the two genders could help to give an extra level of depth to the player's relation to the character of Link.”
- “I want neither a female Link, nor a replacement for him, but rather a compatriot, an equal who has her own story and gameplay for the character.”
- “The main character should always have one gender for each game, as this allows for the most simple story telling for the creators; no need to make a gender neutral plotline.”
- “I would love to play as Zelda and she would have to go rescue Link. … I always thought Tetra would be a great playable character(plz don't laugh), being a pirate and having a lot of other skill before becoming a princess.”
- “If the hero turned female, all I have to say is, they better not Objectify her. Princess Zelda is lucky since Nintendo does not show her in gratuitous ways, so her regal stature and respect remain. Many times females are overly done in games, and it's hard to find a main heroine where they are not treated differently in a scene since they're a girl.”
- “I would rather it feature a partner system between Link and a female protagonist where the characters can switch on the fly.”
- “Yes, but not Zelda or Sheik, but a female ‘Link’ (or another character that is similar), for example.”
- “I would like to see a dual/multiple story line, playing back and forth between Link and other characters, i.e. Sheik, Impa, Saria, etc.”
- “Link can reincarnate into any gender and still be ‘Link’.”
- “I don't want to know it will happen, I want to be surprised about it.”
- “I personally would always play as link, but my girlfriend doesn't play the series because she doesn't identify with him.”
- The actual survey question was worded like this:
“Most Zelda games use the classic, archetypal plot where Ganon (or a Ganon-like antagonist), Link, and Zelda fight for the fate of Hyrule and the Triforce, and Link prevails after earning the Master Sword and the Triforce of Courage. Should Nintendo mix this up more?”
- Predictably, people who chose Zelda games with non-traditional plots (Majora’s Mask, Link's Awakening) as their favorite want experimentation more than people who chose one with a traditional plot (The Legend Of Zelda, A Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, The Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, or Skyward Sword). But it wasn’t a big difference. No matter how I slice the data, the majority of people vote for “Yes, but these elements should still show up every few games.”
- “They should keep these elements but completely change the way they implement them.”
- “I think a mixture … would be perfect, maybe even forming a new ‘classic’ set of plot elements.”
- “The Master Sword definitely needs a hiatus, and the Triforce is close to deserving one of its own.”
- “I feel like this plot point has been reused too many times and for Nintendo, it's too much of a safety net.”
- “They could mix it up by not making them essential plot items (necessary and included but not the focus of the game).”
- “What other series mixes up their story? CoD is always about USA fighting off terrorists, AC is about a guy dragged into the assassins to fight templars and so on, only the setting changes. Zelda is very old and feels samey, but if it works, why fix it?”
- “As long as the infamous Hijacked-By-Ganon trick does NOT happen, I'm all for having the classical elements.”
- “…for Link to specifically require the Triforce of Courage in so many games feels a little tired.”
- “That is the core of the Zelda franchise and it the reason why there's reincarnations of the 3 in all games. Take away this plot, what would they fight for?”
- “The answer is yes. Please retire ol' Ganondorf.”
- “What makes Ganon a great antogonist, is the fact that the character is built up through the series.”
- “The main villain doesn't always have to be Ganon, but the master sword and triforce are a MUST.”
- “I don't think that is as important as actually having an engaging story with strong characters, it's about execution frankly.”
- Since this survey was conducted, Zelda U has had a brief reveal, and it appears to be embracing a more open overworld.
- “I believe it should be a priority, but I don't think it should be a top priority.”
- “I would like each set of dungeons to be tiered … and you had to finish them all before you could go to the next set.”
- “I just don't want to have to feel forced to follow a specific path.”
- “Most should be semilinear, like Ocarina of Time and A Link to the Past.”
- “I would love to see a "free roam" type Zelda. A finish whatever dungeon in whatever order you want type situation.”
- “I love both. Give me both!!”
- “It … can cause schizophrenic difficulty or static difficulty. A linear plot can help with a sense of scale and building towards the end of the game.”
- “Too much freedom hinders the developers from making an engaging plot. … Their most recent games,Skyward Sword and A Link Between Worlds, have been slightly too narrow and slightly too open respectively.”
- " Linearity for dungeons and plot, freedom for side quests and world exploration.”
- “If I've got the ability to go anywhere from the start, what's the point?”
- “I love both. Give me both!!”
- First, I must apologize: I believe that the wording of the answers may have skewed this data. “Yes, sparingly and with great care” is worded in a very positive light, much more so than other answers here. So take this particular question with a grain of salt.
- If we do take it at face value, there is pretty strong support for the idea, but only if it’s good. Zelda fans want more ways to interact with their franchise, but they want it done right.
- “They can use this to experiment with new ideas that might be risky to use in mainstream Zelda games.”
- “I really want another Zelda that is an RPG. Zelda 2 is one of my favorite Zelda games for that reason.”
- “Hyrule Warrior has my curiosity, but a spinoff would still need to be somewhat related to the genre, a "Mario Kart" type would be dumb, but the idea of Hyrule Warriors to exploit only the combat gives me hope in the game.”
- “I don't like the ideas of spinoffs because I want Zelda to stay as serious and magnificent as it is. It's such a unique thing and to see it lose its unique qualities and give into popular themes makes me sad.”
- “I think once the franchise is seen in spinoff games, it takes away from the original series.”
- “I think if they do, they should be non-canon.”
- “It would be wonderful to try anything new. I mean there isn't anything wrong with experimenting a bit.”
- “That really depends. Nintendo seem to have dug a hole for the Zelda series that players are very comfortable in. Like with Super Mario. They should experiment and push boundaries within this hole, like they did with Super Mario 3D world.”
- “Link should be in a racecar!”
- Again, mostly positive reactions, but if you compare to the rest of the survey, this is one of the strongest negative reactions we’ve seen: a full 10% did not like it. More fans disliked Skyward Sword’s motion controls than The Wind Waker’s graphics.
- Lots of people wrote in to say they loved it or hated it; my “liked” and “disliked” options weren’t strong enough! About a 50/50 split.
- “I loved the combat, however, sadly, the enemy variety and the way enemies attacked didn't stack up to the combat system, so it was entirely under used.”
- “I'm not really sure why people disliked it so much, but perhaps it's because it didn't function properly for them?”
- “Wii Sports in Hyrule. Those bomb puzzles were horrific.”
- “It was awesome when it worked.”
- “The lag was frustrating.”
- “I did not like it until the first Ghirahim fight. It seemed that fight was the first one to actually teach me how to use it. Then I liked it afterwards.”
- “When it came out I loved it^^ still do. But unfortunately I broke my shoulder, and now I still have trouble playing. I would love to have a choice to motion controls and regular controls. Also the option to be a lefty would be good.”
- “…it was literally, for me, the worst thing to have been put in a Zelda game ever. Completely ruined the entire experience for me.”
- “Loved it! Every game should be made this way from this point on!”
- “Every enemy in the game was too focused on using motion controls, i wish there were more enemies that I could just whack at every once in a while.”
- The results for almost every question in this survey heavily favor the 3D games. You’ll see it very strongly in the “Favorites” section below.
- If I filter by people who really value non-linearity, the results change dramatically: most of the respondents liked it, and want to see it used in future Zelda games.
- About half of the "Other" responses were people who disliked it, but chose “other” in order to express that view more strongly than my survey choices allowed. The other half ran the gamut from gushing praise to long essays on the topic.
- “It was horrible! I prefer finding all items in different dungeons and feel that I have really deserved them.”
- “It's a good use of rupees because I never usually use them.”
- “That's ALBW's special thing. That would be like having every single game after Majora's Mask being a 3 day long cycle.”
- “It limited the world. In A Link to the Past each nonessential game item required exploration. It made the world seem larger and more worthwhile.”
- “I liked it but I would have liked each of those items to be more key to the game. I never used several of the items, especially the boomerang.”
- “I want them to expand upon the idea. As in, maybe rather than just getting all the items from one place, you find them scattered about the overworld. You don't have to enter the dungeons to get them all, but you also can't just go to a building, flash your wallet in a guys face, and walk away with every item in the game.”
- “I hated it. You were able to get all your weapons at once, and that took some of the fun out of the game.”
- Only 3 games have Hero Mode: Skyward Sword, The Wind Waker HD, and A Link Between Worlds.
- I asked people to choose “Very Low”, “Low”, “Neutral/Unsure”, “High”, “Very High” for each of these. They were worth 0, 1, 2, 3, and 4 respectively. These are the average results.
- Note that this survey was conducted in January: since then there has been a big media blowout for Hyrule Warriors. I suspect that Hyrule Warriors’ score would be much higher now.
I asked people to choose their favorite game in a variety of categories. These are the results:
Well, that about wraps it up. More information about Zelda fans than you could ever possibly need(unless you’re a market researcher from Nintendo, in which case you know where to find me!). Just one more question: Let’s take the temperature of the Zelda fan community and see how they feel about the future:
(Caveat: there’s been a lot of news on Hyrule Warriors and Zelda U since this survey, so this is probably inaccurate by now!)