As you may have noticed from a previous post, I recently finished The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, which means I have beaten 10 Zelda games and have 3 to go (not counting the Four Swords spin-off games or the awful licensed games for CD-i). Now, finishing 3 Zelda games is no small task and it’ll probably be awhile before I’ve actually done so, but I can’t help looking to the future. When I’ve beaten all the Zeldas, what will I do when I want a Zelda fix but don’t want to replay a previously finished game? Well, fortunately, there are many Zelda clones out there. I’ve assembled this list for myself as much as anything but I’ll share it here for those other forlorn gamers that have rescued Hyrule as many times as possible. Note: I am ONLY including the games that by reputation are considered worthwhile. I’m not including any that are generally considered crap because I don’t want to play them!
Note 1: Before we start, bear in mind that I have not played most of these games. So, if I categorize a game incorrectly, just let me know!
Note 2: With each game I will list 2 ratings. The first rating, from GameFAQs, represents scores from amateur reviewers. The second rating, from GameRankings, represents scores from “professional” reviewers. Okay, let’s go!
Part 1: A rose by any other name . . .
Unapolagetic, Unabashed CLONES! These are the games that make little to no effort to hide their Zelda-ish-ness.
Golden Axe Warrior (Master System, SEGA, 1991)
I have to start with this game because, OH, GOD, just look at the screenshots!
Yep, this is a major rip-off but fans seem to like it for what it is. Interestingly, this game came out in 1991, five years after the original Zelda was released in Japan. What made SEGA think that, after all that time, they needed their own Zelda clone? And for the Master System, no less, when the SNES/Genesis war was well underway? And how did the Golden Axe property get mixed up in the whole thing? Another interesting note – SEGA never bothered to release the game in Japan.
GameFAQs: 8.3 (3 reviews) GameRankings: N/A
Neutopia (TurboGrafx-16, Hudson, 1990)
I mainly started with Golden Axe warrior because it was so blatantly derivative. However, Hudson beat SEGA to the punch by one year with a slightly less derivative offering, story and all. See fo’ yo’ self.
GameFAQs: 8.0 (6 reviews) GameRankings: N/A
Neutopia II (TurboGrafx-16, Hudson, 1991)
Hudson didn’t waste any time releasing a follow-up. Both games are supposed to be pretty good in spite of their shamelessness.
GameFAQs: 7.0 (1 review) GameRankings: N/A
Crusader of Centy (Genesis, NexTech/SEGA, 1994)
Unlike the previously-mentioned games, this one supposedly has some original and unique aspects in story and concept, like some sort of animal training and monster philosophy. However, just LOOK at those screenshots.
GameFAQs: 7.6 (7 reviews) GameRankings: 8.0 (1 review)
Part 2: I’m Breathless: Music From and Inspired by the Film Dick Tracy
This section contains games that take the Zelda formula and wrap it up in new clothes. These games have enough of their own feel that they have established their own fan bases, unlike the games in Part 1, whose only legacy is “play this if you want more action in the style of the first Zelda game.” However, all of the games in this section are usually described as, “it’s like Zelda but . . .”
The Battle of Olympus (NES, Infinity/Imagineer, 1988)
“It’s like Zelda but in ancient, mythology-inspired Greece.” More specifically, it’s like the Zelda black sheep, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Reputedly, it’s a bit more action-oriented and less RPG-oriented than its inspiration. This game has some pretty rabid supporters, too.
GameFAQs: 8.3 (12 reviews) GameRankings: N/A
Willow (NES, Capcom, 1989)
Oh, look! One of the few games on this list that I’ve actually completed! A year after the film of the same name was released, Capcom managed to finish off this beauty. “It’s like Zelda but in the world of Willow,” which isn’t exactly all that different from the world of Zelda. However, this game is far from derivative and very much has its own identity. There is a lot of item acquisition and there are dungeons, but there’s less of an overworld/dungeon/overworld/dungeon process. The setup is a bit more RPG-ish than most Zelda games. I thoroughly enjoyed the music and revisited certain areas just to hear it.
GameFAQs: 8.5 (11 reviews) GameRankings: N/A
Crystalis (NES, SNK, 1989)
“It’s like Zelda but more RPG-ish and with a storyline.” This game does look like Zelda on the surface but its fans, and there are many, claim that it is superior to the original in every way. Maybe so!
GameFAQs: 9.3 (29 reviews) GameRankings: N/A
StarTropics (NES, Nintendo, 1990)
“It’s like Zelda but in a modern setting and with a yo-yo instead of a sword.” This game was developed by Nintendo’s Punch-Out!! team and wasn’t released in good ol’ Japan.
GameFAQs: 8.6 (30 reviews) GameRankings: N/A
Zoda’s Revenge: StarTropics II (NES, Nintendo, 1994)
This little-known sequel was released four years later and only in the USA. Poor guy.
GameFAQs: 8.8 (16 reviews) GameRankings: N/A
Final Fantasy Adventure (Game Boy, SquareSoft, 1991)
Oh! Another game I’ve actually beaten! “It’s like Zelda but in a Final Fantasy world.” This is actually the first game in the Mana (or Seiken Densetsu) series and bore the title, Final Fantasy Gaiden: Seiken Densetsu, in Japan. At first glance it looks a lot like Zelda but the overall feel is pretty different, with that darker Final Fantasy tone. There are many RPG trappings like leveling up and magic points and the items/weapons acquired throughout the game are more destructive than what you’d normally find in Zelda games (like blades and clubs on chains). I understand the SNES Mana games are less Zelda-ish but this one certainly belongs in Part 2 of this article and I would definitely recommend it.
GameFAQs: 8.8 (26 reviews) GameRankings: 8.2 (6 reviews)
LandStalker (Genesis, Climax/SEGA, 1992)
“It’s like Zelda but with an anti-hero, platforming, and an isometric viewpoint.” This one also has pretty rabid supporters.
GameFAQs: 8.7 (15 reviews) GameRankings: 8.7 (2 reviews)
Beyond Oasis (Genesis, Ancient/SEGA, 1994)
“It’s like Zelda but in a middle-Eastern setting and with brawling.” One reviewer described the game as a mash-up of Zelda and the Streets of Rage series. Sounds like a nice change of pace!
GameFAQs: 8.1 (13 reviews) GameRankings: 8.4 (3 reviews)
Legend of Oasis (Saturn, Ancient/SEGA, 1996)
The sequel to Beyond Oasis, but now with “Legend of” in the title to make the Zelda connection clearer. Thank you for that!
GameFAQs: 7.7 (3 reviews) 7.8 (3 reviews)
Alundra (PlayStation, Matrix/Sony, 1997)
“It’s like Zelda but in 32 bits and with some jumping.” The main character is even elfin in appearance.
GameFAQs: 7.9 (32 reviews) GameRankings: 8.5 (11 reviews)
StarFox Adventures (GameCube, Rare/Nintendo, 2002)
If you hadn’t already guessed, this game is “like Zelda but with the StarFox cast and conventions.” Here’s how it came about. In the N64 days, Rare had made something of a habit of making high-quality “clones” of Japanese Nintendo games. Super Mario 64 begat Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong 64 and Mario Kart 64 begat Diddy Kong Racing. Eventually, Rare decided to make a Zelda game for the N64, entitled Dinosaur Planet. Shigeru Miyamoto got a look at it, noticed the protagonist was furry, and commanded Rare to convert the game into a StarFox installment for the GameCube. Anyway, the gameplay is Zelda 64 to the core, with the L-button aiming, button mapping and auto-jump. After this release, Rare and Nintendo divorced.
GameFAQs: 7.7 (66 reviews) GameRankings: 8.0 (80 reviews)
Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy (PlayStation 2/Xbox/GameCube, Eurocom/THQ, 2003)
The general consensus is that this game is like Zelda but in ancient, mythology-inspired Egypt. The main innovation is the addition of a jump button.
PlayStation 2 version – 8.6 (8 reviews) 7.9 (33 reviews)
Xbox version – 8.0 (2 reviews) 8.1 (21 reviews)
GameCube version – GameFAQs: 8.0 (9 reviews) 7.9 (25 reviews)
Beyond Good & Evil (PlayStation 2/Xbox/GameCube/PC, Ubisoft Montpelier/Ubisoft, 2003)
The protagonist is a photographer of some sort and the setting is kinda sci-fi. I don’t know much else but it’s always described as a Zelda clone. It has developed a really fervent cult following and was respected by the critics. Supposedly, a sequel is on the way.
PlayStation 2 version – GameFAQs: 8.1 (34 reviews) GameRankings: 8.7 (57 reviews)
Xbox version – GameFAQs: 9.1 (27 reviews) GameRankings: 8.8 (52 reviews)
GameCube version – GameFAQs: 8.9 (33 reviews) GameRankings: 8.8 (43 reviews)
PC version – GameFAQs: 8.9 (9 reviews) GameRankings: 8.3 (23 reviews)
Okami (PlayStation 2/Wii, Clover Studio/Capcom, 2006/2007)
Unlike most of the games on this list, Okami enjoyed a pretty healthy marketing and hype push. Interestingly, it came out in the same year as a high profile Zelda release, Twilight Princess, and the reviews often described it as a “Zelda-killer” or as having “out-Zelda’d Zelda.” Pretty big talk! So, yeah, it’s like Zelda but in an ancient, mythology-inspired Japan, and the protagonist is a divine dog. The game was especially praised for its beautiful, painting-like visuals. This was the last game Clover Studio developed before Capcom dissolved them and the principal members left to form Platinum Games. There’s a sequel on the way for DS.
PlayStation 2 version – GameFAQs: 9.5 (52 reviews) GameRankings: 9.2 (75 reviews)
Wii version – GameFAQs: 8.9 (27 reviews) GameRankings: 9.0 (47 reviews)
Part 3: All in the Family
This section is a quick overview of games that bear superficial similarities to Zelda and are probably influenced by Zelda but are not by any means clones and that break out of the mold in several meaningful ways. Perhaps I will write more about these games at a later date but for now I’m including the following in this category.
Mana series, including Secret of Mana, Seiken Densetsu 3, Sword of Mana, and the bastard stepchild, Secret of Evermore.
SoulBlazer series, including SoulBlazer, Illusion of Gaia, and Terranigma.
Shining series, including I’m not even sure which games el oh el.
Zenonia series, the series that’s dominating on iPhone of late.
I’m glad that all these clones exist because there are too many elements that the Zelda games hold onto with unnecessary stubbornness. Why is the setting always medievel-Europe-looking’? Why is the star always a little, elfin, blond boy? Anyway, you have your orders. As for me, I still have to beat three more Zelda games before I can seven dig into the list. If you disagree with my categorization, let me know. If you love one of the above-mentioned games and think I should play it first, let me know. Goodbye.