I am not a completionist. At all.
When I play, unless it’s something I’ve done before, I’m mostly interested in character and plot. I see video games like movies, but better, because you can be an active participant.
As long as I can move, and the camera isn’t conspiring to assassinate me, I’m a happy camper.
When I game, I am the type of person who often rushes into a battle unprepared (not sufficiently leveled up or stocked up) because I just want to advance the main story. I level up when forced to, or happily during a second playthrough, but usually, whether I’m going in as the tank or the strategist, I’m praying I can just move on. Sidequests can be the bane of my existence; sometimes feeling more like chores than anything else.
That said, Zelda games are my big exception.
I still don’t typically strive to get everything you could possibly get in the game, but there are a ton of different quests you can choose to do, and a lot of them are really fun. I complete them as soon as I can, or later, when I’m trying to stall the inevitable ending of the game.
For the purpose of this list, I am classifying a side/subquest as: any quest that either a) has no or little effect on the end’s result, and/or b) does not need to be done to finish the game. More items will probably lean to the latter, but there you have it.
10) Poe Soul Hunting
This spot was a toss up between bug hunting and poe hunting from The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, but the poes win because:
Sure, Agitha is a disturbing but intriguing character, and the bugs get to go to a tea party at her place once you collect them all. And yeah, catching bugs is extra fun in Skyward Sword, once you figure out the net. And you can use them to spice up potions, strengthening status effects. This is fun and useful stuff here.
But screw that! Ghost hunting!
And the ghosts look like this:
Hell, I thought they were fun to hunt back when they looked like this:
Along the course of the plot, you will meet a man named Jovani. He has quite the sparkling personality.
His story is that he got greedy and sold his soul to the poes for abundant wealth. They granted his wish, but also turned him into a living jewel, so he can’t even spend his money, or swim around in it Scrooge McDuck style!
So he’s turned over a new leaf, and he needs you to murder 60 poes before he can be returned to normal.
This quest is a spiritual sister to both the poe and skulltula quests from Ocarina of Time. The difference here is that the hunt employs Link’s other form, rather than a bow or other standard weapons. You can only see poes using wolf senses, and once you’ve spotted one (usually at night, indicated with a floating ball of light and creaking sounds), you jump and bite it repeatedly until it falls to the ground, then dig the soul right out of its chest.
You get the picture by about 0:06, but still. Hardcore, and pretty damn brutal. It’s not the darkest thing that Nintendo has ever given us in these E rated games, either.
But it’s a fun collection quest with some freaky adversaries.
Who you gonna call?…Yourself!
9) Gerudo Training Ground
After you obtain the Gerudo’s membership card (which is hilarious) from the desert tribe of Amazonian/Spartan women, you have access to several things. The Haunted Wasteland (needed for plot), the horseback archery game, and the Gerudo Training Ground.
Inside await various puzzles (many of which are timed), to test your stamina, ingenuity, and whether or not you’ve got all the right items. Or, in some cases, whether you’ve brought enough of the right items. Like bombs and arrows.
You’ll need those.
Water puzzles, fire puzzles, monster puzzles, and more. All for the relatively useless, but nice and item-collection-completing Ice Arrows.
And when I say useless, I mean that there aren’t many or any boss battles left where you could use them by this point.
There really isn’t too much to say about this one. It’s pretty low on this list, but still a fun mini-dungeon with elements from most of the other dungeons you’ve faced, combined in an atmospherically-acclectic moosh. Just beware misusing your keys, because you only win so many.
8) Magic Armor
Yeah, the sailing in The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker did get a bit tedious after a while, but thankfully, the HD remake keeps the ability to teleport while upgrading you (via the auction) to the swift sail, making traversing the Great Sea more fun and fluid. Now, if only they gave you the option to bypass the fish man’s dialogue every time you want to fill in your chart…
He’s a contender with this owl, Navi, and Fi as most annoying, “helpful” character.
But in defense of the sailing, the game is very big on color and atmosphere; the weather and lighting changing frequently, as well as a multitude of interesting islands to explore. So suck it up, whiners!
This is a big fetch quest and you will probably need a guide to avoid backtracking and unnecessary purchases. There are several people scattered across several islands on far sides of the map, and they will give you things in exchange for other things. And money. You will need lots of money.
The nice thing about these various trading items (flowers, flags, statues, etc) is that later, you can buy them on Windfall Island and use them to decorate the place or your own personal cabana, if that’s your thing. It’s not really mine that much, but few other fetch quests can say that they allow you to use and reuse items you traded away for your own purposes.
So, while I haven’t been upselling it very much and it can be frustrating occasionally, this quest is mostly fun, and in the end, you get a nice shielding device that makes you invulnerable for as long as your magic meter holds out.
7) Fetch Quests/Gratitude Crystals
Gratitude crystals can either be found lying around Skyloft in hard to reach places, or by doing favors and quests for characters along the course of your adventure. I like the latter more, particularly those that involve going down to the surface and dowsing to locate lost items, like the fortune teller’s (replacement) crystal ball and the Fun Fun Island clown’s party wheel. Dowsing in general was pretty fun for me throughout this game.
Anyway, you collect crystals to get things like pieces of heart and wallet expansions. You get those by giving the crystals to a demon who longs to become human.
I’m not kidding, either. He looks like this:
Despite the mildly sketchy way that Batreaux is introduced (you go looking for a lost child only to find her having “screaming contests” with this guy in a hidden bungalow beneath the graveyard), he gives good rewards in exchange for the crystals, and you can have oodles of fun tracking stuff down. Sometimes, the solution to someone’s problem is interesting and complicated, while other times it just the standard point a to point b delivery.
It’s more fun finding things in a game when you know where the item should be and can scope for it. In real life, your car keys go missing, and you’re in trouble. All you can do is retrace steps and blindly fumble and hope. 😦
But on the other hand, video games make people look really morally horrible. They will only help you if you help them first…
6) Circus Leader’s Mask
This mask is ugly as sin and virtually useless, but the jam session you go through to get it is fun. Fun, and short, but it takes a lot of elements and items to even get to this subquest, so it does feel like an accomplishment.
5) Skulltula Houses
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask will take up a lot of this list. It’s the game with the most sidequests and, in my opinion, some of the most fun ones. Especially because of the useful items you typically receive for your troubles.
There are two spider houses: one in Woodfall, and the other at Great Bay. I like both pretty evenly, but if I had to pick my favorite, it’d be the Oceanside Spider House. It’s dark and haunted-looking, with Stalchildren hanging around to add to the ambience.
Creepy, grinning, giant masks; minimalist, isolating music; a hunt through several dark and dusty puzzle rooms; and a giant wallet as a reward, with a new mask waiting around the corner. Also, you’re genociding these pleasant things:
4) The Romani Mask
The first step in this quest involves aliens.
It is one of the most bizarre things in all of Zelda. But that is what makes it so fun and interesting.
On the first day, you go to Milk Road and blow up the bolder blocking Romani Ranch. Inside, you will find several people (and activities), but the most important are Romani and her older sister, Cremia.
Romani will be outside, running around with her dog and shooting at a balloon with her bow. You talk to her and get your horse after a brief mini game, with the promise to help her ward off an alien invasion early the next morning. Cremia doesn’t believe that such a thing will happen, but she is delighted to hear that the road is open to travel. Now she can deliver her alcoholic milk to town!
…I’m not really kidding about that, either. It’s tied into a really dark scene later, and the game makes no bones about it being hard stuff.
So you fight off these…alien…ghost…looking things:
for a couple of hours, keeping them away from the barn with arrows, until they all go away. When you talk to Cremia, she will offer to give you a ride back into town on the second night, which you should accept.
The two of you chat (as much as Placeholder Link is capable to), and a series of road blocks lead you into “ugly country.” Some local farmers in masks come riding up to your wagon like bandits and try to destroy the milk bottles. It is your job to fight them off with arrows to the face.
Once you’re done: congratulations! You get a cow mask/hood/thingy! It gets you into the 21 and over milk bar in town after dark!
See what I mean? Bizzzzzzzzaaaaaaarrrrrrrreeeeeeee.
What’s even more bizarre (and dark and twisted) is what happens when you fail to protect the ranch from aliens…
3) The Couple’s Mask
Outside of making one guy happy and giving you a heart piece, this mask does nothing. Even less than the Circus Leader’s Mask, which can at least cry rivers. But the quest to get it is the longest in the game, and the resolution for the people involved is both sad and heartwarming. It’s very satisfying that way, somehow; one of the most in-depth and satisfying quests ever in the series, I would argue.
The Skull Kid (the main antagonist of the game) cursed a man named Kafei and gave him the body of a child, but still the mind of an adult, three days before he is supposed to marry his love, Anju. The customs of Termina (the land you are in, as opposed to the usual, Hyrule) dictate that two people commemorating their joining as husband and wife, as a symbolic gesture and simultaneous praise of the guardian giants, must each make a mask and exchange them with one another on the day of the ceremony. To add insult to injury, before Kafei could inform Anju of his misfortune, his wedding mask was stolen by a thief named Sakon, a “prancing man with a grinning face.”
Now Kafei, ashamed and desperate to find his mask before he confronts Anju, hides behind another mask that looks suspiciously like Pikachu (but is really more of a general Japanese fox mask) and lives on the far side of town. Anju, unaware of these events and having lost almost all contact with her fiancé, is distraught, and hesitant to evacuate town along with her family (due to the rumor of the falling moon).
Not even Kafei’s mother knows where he’s gone, and it’s up to detective Link to sort this mess out!
You get a lot of masks from this quest; the most out of all of the quests you could choose to undertake. It’s definitely not one of the flashier and funner masks, but in the end, the couple’s mask is a nice trophy to remind you how hard you worked to make all of these characters happy.
…Before you reset the time to the first day, and everything goes back to the way it was. Doomed.
2) Nintendo Gallery
I love Pokemon Snap. Always have, always will. And my Facebook is crammed with pictures. Not club pics and selfies (some of the latter, to be fair), but a lot of landscapes and nature shots. And deer.
I love taking photos. I love getting the perfect shot and focusing on every little minute detail to do so. The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker foresaw this, and acted accordingly.
So you take pictures (once you upgrade to a color camera) and then take them to a small pillar of land near The Forest Haven. Here you will find the Nintendo Gallery, where you can turn in good photos for shiny figurines, lovingly sculpted by this fellow:
You track down every person, monster, and animal (almost) that you can find, no doubt freaking them out with numerous, obsessive pictures, and you fill the rooms in this place with colorful figurines. Not only will they look pretty, but they also have little blurbs about the characters they represent.
This quest is utterly useless in the grand scheme of things, even by other useless quest standards, but it feels great to the completionist, and even to those who just want to say, “I stopped to take a picture of this boss during the middle of the battle! I have horrendous battle scars now, but look! A trophy!” 🙂
Hooray for catering to youth culture who are increasingly self and phone/camera obsessed!
The HD remake is worse in this regard because (while you get the colored camera much more easily, have more open slots for photos, and can use other players’ photos to complete your quest) you have the ability to take selfies. Literally, selfies. And you can stick them in bottles and send them to other people, receiving their selfies as well.
1) Item Upgrading
Hands down. This is. The greatest thing. Zelda has given me. Ever.
The fact that Skyward Sword shields can now take varying degrees of damage (rather than, say, the Deku shield just being obliterated by lava or fire) is an interesting, if occasionally irritating dynamic Nintendo recently added. But I barely used mine outside of certain battles anyway. Ironically, this game made shields feel more like decorations than anything else. Some people would argue you don’t need them to get through, although with hero mode I would definitely say, “pick one up for insurance.”
But the chance to upgrade my bow for better sniping capabilities?
The beetle can fly farther and faster now?
You can use items you get from monster murder/drops, bugs, and just random things that you find around the overworld. That idea is so simple, but so brilliant, it moves me to tears.
…Well, not really. But still.
Scavenging and hunting has the most appeal in this game, I think, because you can put what you find to many uses that are nice and can help you out, but won’t stall out the plot waiting for you. And it’s not just for completionists! How about those folks concerned with always having the latest models?
No one else in Skyloft will have these cool toys!
Seriously, though. Why hasn’t Link ever thought to add on to his weapons before? Polish and spit-shine them, add a few tweaks! The closest he came before this was probably Twilight Princess, with the Eagle Eye and the ability to make bomb arrows.
Psst…Nintendo! Bring those back!
So there you have it. My top 10 favorite sub and side quests from the Zelda series. Which ones are your favorites? Are there any ones I so unfairly missed? Let me know!
*The fan art is by Zelbunni, and that and their other work can be found at the link under the image. As always, I don’t own any of these images or videos. All hail/credit to Nintendo, Ghostbusters, and the creative minds of the web for their collages.