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Fans of Zelda often face a frustrating dilemma: after you beat the latest game, there’s not much else to do but wait a whole year or two until Nintendo releases the next one. The blueprint for a fantastic gaming experience is encased in the DNA of nearly all of the Zelda titles, but the fact remains: so few games try to emulate it, and even fewer do so successfully.

But thankfully, there are some that end up containing the elements that make the franchise so compelling. The perfect Zelda adventure contains a mix of dungeons, action, and drama: you’ll be sure to find those attributes in the games on this list as well.

Pikmin 2 (2004, GameCube)

Pikmin

There is no pervading evil, or a princess that needs rescuing. What there is a lot of, however, is exploration. Starring Captain Olimar and his trusty cohort Louie, there is a lot to traverse with limited knowledge of the surroundings. With this exploration comes baddies and dungeons, all in the pursuit of treasure. Sound familiar? In Pikmin 2, the peril is real, as you desperately cling to the resources available while trail blazing in areas unknown. Featuring 201 collectable items, there will always be incentive to explore until you find them all. Plus, it’s a challenging game; that “Oh no” moment that follows the emergence of fearsome Zelda bosses will happen quite frequently in Pikmin 2 as well.

piki

You’ll despise these more than Like Likes.

Tales of Symphonia (2003, GameCube)

TOSZelda games share many of the same attributes that RPGs have; while containing the action that they usually sacrifice. This is where Tales of Symphonia differs from most RPGs, as all battles take place in real-time. The mad dash to drink the potion before your health is completely depleted is a consistent occurrence in this game (which always makes battles way more lively!). Bosses are formidable, and often will scare the player into backtracking to a save point before facing them. The story contains its cheesy moments, but the characters are strong willed and are reminiscent of some of the eccentric ones featured in Zelda.

ossa

It’s like Hyrule Field! Almost.

Each dungeon contains many mind-bending puzzles, and there is no Fi to guide you to the right solution. They are truly difficult and emerging from them successfully gives a similar feeling to that of escaping Jabu Jabu’s belly. You know you made it out, but it’s tough to describe exactly what went down. Swordplay and key items are a prominent feature in the game, along with ghoulish monsters and a group that does its best to impersonate the evil only Ganon is capable of emitting.

The Binding of Isaac (2011, PC)

isaheadThe original Legend of Zelda for NES introduced the  concept of dungeons. Since then, it has become the foundation for the Zelda experience. Explore the overworld, find the dungeon, navigate it to the end, go back to the overworld and find the next one. With Isaac, you get the best of Zelda’s dungeons without much of anything else.  The enemies are more diverse, the graphics are more in line with what you’d expect from the 21st century, and a variety of sound effects accompany weapons and explosions; but this game does not attempt to differentiate much from its 1986 source material. That is what makes it great!

buy

From that point on, Isaac took ‘Buy something, will ya?’ way more seriously.

This game does not shy away from horrific imagery, containing cutscenes of the protagonist Isaac crying in the fetal position, and as seen above, a shopkeeper hanging himself. Fans clamoring for a dark Zelda game can get a taste of what happens when E becomes M, and the result isn’t always pretty. People who miss the random nature and excitement of Legend of Zelda’s dungeons will greatly enjoy this game, but those looking for a deeper narrative that defined the later editions will have to look elsewhere.

Okami (2006, Wii)

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This is the one most mentioned in the same breath as Zelda. Its director has confessed to being a huge fan of the franchise, using the adage that imitation is the most sincerest form of flattery. Containing the same cel-shaded graphics that we all grew to love with Wind Waker, this game is another justification of cel-shading being the way to go. With a sprawling adventure, numerous side-quests, and serious fighting: Okami invokes the greatest qualities that Zelda consistently brings to the table. The protagonist of the story is a wolf; so for everyone that wishes Twilight Princess utilized Link’s transformation better, you get that here. The various biomes that Zelda uses almost religiously (grass, fire, and ice) are also included. With Okami, there is plenty to explore. With devious boss battles and compelling gameplay, one could see how this is comparable with Zelda’s finest.

okami

There’s gotta be a place to howl around here somewhere…

3D Dot Game Heroes (2010, PS3)

DOTDOTWhat, a title that contains the word “3D” and isn’t for the 3DS? What is this blasphemy? Like The Binding of Isaac, this game offers the same sort of frenzied dungeon exploring that Zelda made famous back on the NES. There is a more developed overworld with a variety of weapons and equipment to upgrade.  Customization, something that Zelda titles never really allowed for, is fully present in this game as you get to design the looks of your character. The majority of the items, NPCs, and scenery will feel straight out of Hyrule. But make no mistake about it: it does not do much to make itself superior to the original in any sort of way. This is essentially a Zelda clone for new gamers that have grown up without the glow of the originals, and perhaps Nintendo’s consoles, gracing their homes.

angrytreeEssences? Who said anything about Essences?

But that’s not all, folks!…

What an exciting time to be playing video games. Every company is competing with each other to provide the most fun experiences, and the people that created the legendary titles are, for the most part, still working on producing new ones. Without a doubt, there will be games reminiscent to Zelda in the future that do not contain a hero garbed in green. Try as they might, these imitators will never replace the magic that is shared within the series. But they can come close, and there is respect to be gained from that.

The perfect Zelda game has a mix of everything: lovable NPCs, ferocious monsters, innovative dungeons, and exciting items. While many games contain these elements, it takes a special blend to truly make it feel like a Zelda title. If you are ever playing a game and stop for a moment to think, ‘hey, this feels like Zelda…’ the game is probably doing something right. There was not room in this article to cover every game similar to Zelda. If you believe you’ve got a good one, leave it in the comments, as there is a chance that it could be featured in a future article!

  • Eg

    Star Fox Adventures!

    • Ultima Link

      it was a awful game you kidding?

      • Daniel Ireland

        It probably would be awful if I played it now but I remember loving that game lol

    • Aaron

      I remember loving this as well, but that was like 12 years ago haha. I’ll have to give it another go one of these days

    • True Davad

      Spoiler Alert: I stopped playing it after failing to beat Andross but I did enjoy that one.

    • Christopher C

      The game play itself was fun, but there were sections that would make go run through “The Library” in halo CE on legendary as a better alternative. Test of Fear I’m looking at you. I got two seconds away (I know cause I watched the full thing on yt) and then I rage quit.

  • FVMF

    How about SNES classics like Secret of Mana, Secret of Evermore, Chrono Trigger, Earthbound, and Terranigma to name just a few?

    • VladNorris

      Earthbound and Chrono Trigger are average JRPGS. The battles are turn based and the dungeons lack puzzle value. Not bad games(NOT AT ALL) but they lack significant reminiscence to Zelda.
      Terranigma is quite neat, and both “Secret” games are awful IMO(That battle system is one of the most awkward hybrids I’ve ever seen)

    • tooyoucat

      Illusions of Gaia before Terranigma. Nerd.

  • Danicus

    I’ve seen trailers for the new game for the 3DS called Bravely Default, judging by the trailer that seems to have a strong “Zelda” vibe!

    • moaramstedt

      I thought so too, but it really isn’t. The battle system is turn-based (which makes a huge difference, and is the main reason all Zelda is so much better than most Final Fantasy games imo) and there isn’t that same kind of overworld-dungeon world. Ok game though 🙂

  • Baker1000

    I would say the Golden Sun games are as close to Zelda as you could get really. I discovered them precisely because a magazine suggested if I liked ALTTP (GBA port) that Golden Sun: The Lost Age would be a perfect game to play. It mixes classic RPG elements like levelling up, turn-based random encounters and summons with Zelda’s dungeon puzzling. The design of Golden Sun’s dungeons is on a par with the brilliance of the Zelda series, requiring you to use the abilities at your disposal to work out how to move forward. Through this system, you can’t always fully explore areas and have to return once you have the necessary ability. Much like Zelda’s “work through a dungeon, find a new item, progress to the next dungeon” structure.

    Hmmm, wouldn’t say Bravely Default has much of a Zelda vibe and I’m halfway through it. Dungeons lack much to do besides hunt for chests, there’s few puzzles, which as I said above is one of the main aspects of Zelda. It’s more Final Fantasy than Zelda (which is exactly as it is intended). Still a brilliant game though, everyone should play it but don’t hold out much for it being similar to Zelda.

    • Danicus

      Thanks for the insight! I was going off a minute long trailer, I definitely want to play it, but I will keep my “Zelda” expectations low.

    • Definitely going to give Golden Sun a try! Thanks for the feedback! and Bravely Default is on the must play list.

  • Majora’s Servant

    I would HIGHLY recommend Threads Of Fate for the PS1. It has a Zelda-ish vibe to it, yet it has it’s own unique charm.

    • ZeldaMaster

      I LOVE that game!!! It’s a game everyone should play at least once!

  • FancyLivinHereWeCome

    Tales of Symphonia is an amazing game and I’m pretty happy it’s up there. It’s not extremely Zelda-esque, but it’s still really good. They are on the nose, however, when they say it has it’s sappy moments. It’s got a lot of those.

    I do think that a game that could be added to the list would be Xenoblade Chronicles, though. That game is pretty beast, and it has some Zelda like qualities. Running around an over-world, different towns along the way, getting into some weird dungeons… for the most part, it doesn’t seem very puzzle heavy, though. I’m not that far into the game, but it’s mostly exploration (so much exploring!) and killing stuff. But it’s great, and I’d recommend it to anyone.

    • ToS’s cheesiness peaks with Marble. Everything for Marble!

      And I really want to try Xenoblade, but I’m not sure if I’m ready for 70+ hours of gameplay…

      • manukajoe

        I really liked Xenoblade. It wasn’t very much like Zelda though. There was a lot more focus on RPG systems like equipment, relationships, crafting, levelling.

        So just play till you’ve had enough!

        • FancyLivinHereWeCome

          It reminded me of Zelda in the fact of the over world type running around and free battling (even if there is auto-attack). It’s definitely way more RPG, but it’s still somewhat similar.

          • manukajoe

            I always miss the tight controls and movement of Zelda games when I play other types of games. Rolling, jumping, climbing, smashing pots. It bugs me in RPGs (TLS, Xenoblade, Symphonia) when you can’t even jump off or or climb a low wall (well TLS does allow you to vault). Zelda games allow you to interact with the environment a lot more.

          • FancyLivinHereWeCome

            Yeah, I suppose. But you can jump in Xenoblade, and that let’s you do some weird stuff. I always thought Link should be able to jump freely rather than having to run off a cliff first.

          • manukajoe

            True, although the jumping in Xenoblade was kinda sluggish. The autojumping in Zelda is kinda strange, I agree, it can be a pain in the N64 titles where the movement is not as precise and you sometimes jump by accident, fatally…

          • FancyLivinHereWeCome

            Yeah, true. And autojumping has killed me before, so I agree there 100%

      • Baker1000

        Play Xenoblade. I finished it after 100 hours (I did a lot of the sidequests) and I can honestly say the length should be a positive not a negative. You will not want to put this game down, it’s such an epic adventure. Not very Zelda-like but if you find yourself twiddling your thumbs waiting for the next game, this will more than keep you busy.

        • FancyLivinHereWeCome

          Straight up.

      • FancyLivinHereWeCome

        It’s a seriously cheesy game, yeah. But I still love it, nonetheless.

        Go for Xenoblade. It’s an amazing game.

  • thatengineergirl

    Shadow of the Colossus for the PS2

    If I ever have a horse in my life, I will name it Agro without hesitation instead of Epona. The player’s connection with his/her steed is so much stronger than it has ever been with Epona. That game is wonderful and gorgeous in every possible way.

    • FancyLivinHereWeCome

      That game is amazing. Point blank.

  • Simon Woodward

    Pandora’s Tower..

    • Danicus

      I just looked up Pandora’s Tower; that is definitely on my to-do list!

    • Darkstar

      That game has the epitome of what a chain/hook shot should be like and how it should be used. Also, the dungeons n that game are decent and the boss battles can be hard. It kind of felt like Majora’s Mask with the time limit (trying to obtain the beast flesh and bring it back to the woman in time before her transformation)
      It’s definitely a Zelda-esque game with 13 dungeons. The Last Story is also an awesome game with good voice acting, interesting characters with decent storylines and great gameplay.

      • manukajoe

        I still have to play Pandora’s Tower, but looking forward to it. I enjoyed The Last Story too, but wouldn’t say it is Zelda-like at all.

        • Darkstar

          Only some parts of The Last Story are relevant to Zelda, like Zael kinda of looking like Link (his style) and the ganderak King who looks a lot like Ganondorf (especially the hair colour and general appearance). I like the group dynamics and how the player can use each member for different quests/fights.

          • manukajoe

            I didn’t think you could change character at will? I only played as non-Zael a few times when I was forced to, did I miss something?

      • manukajoe

        Just started Pandora’s Tower, and liking it!

  • tp13goron

    Dat Pikmin 2

  • TheAverageEmblem

    Maybe the Ys series? I only recently got into that franchise, but there are parts that do remind me of Zelda. Like the well-composed soundtrack, or the fact that the main character mostly remains silent throughout the series. While Ys doesn’t have quite the place Zelda has in my heart, both are awesome!

  • oh

    no darksiders? yeah the mechanics are pretty broken in 1 (it does get better in 2) but the art style and atmosphere is absolute bliss. One of the best lookin games out there (especially for comic book fans)

    • Flovnat

      The mechanics are broken in one? I haven’t played 2, but I didn’t have any complaints with any of one’s mechanics.

  • Elizabeth Brickey

    Alice: Madness Returns and Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy.

  • Flovnat

    Another great game series for people who want something darker and more mature is the Darksiders series. It’s similar to Zelda in a lot of ways, but it definitely differentiates itself. The games also look fantastic.

  • Thanks for all the great comments guys. Now I have enough games to last me until the Wii U releases its next classic. (which is when?!?!)

  • Wickedpedia PHil

    no Sphinx and The Cursed Mummy ?..of course..that game is the most underrated overlooked game of all time, out of all the games in the world it’s the closest to a zelda and it’s a 60FPS gem as well…amazing game just amazing…i checked all the web out of the hundreds of “games like zelda” lists it’s not even in one of them…shame on you all so called gamers