Two juggernaut fantasy franchises have come head to head: Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy. Both are long-standing series that were created in the late eighties and flourished throughout the decades, releasing smash hit after of smash hit.
The Legend of Zelda was first released in 1986 on the Famicom and NES. They have about nineteen games over the span of thirty-five years (this number excludes HD remakes and collector’s editions), and is one of Nintendo’s staple IPs. Link is the famous hero of the game, his name hypothesized as meaning a “link” to the player. This franchise never shied away from changing up game and art styles such as top-down, side-scrolling, and cell-shaded.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time introduced the Z-targeting mechanic. It also featured context-sensitive gameplay and a companion, Navi, who guided the player on where to venture next. Soon, the franchise exploded, complete with timeline after the release of Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, a story that canonically started it all. Finally, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild became the franchise’s first truly open world. As the launch title for the Nintendo Switch, it amassed great success with current and new Zelda fans. What I credit Nintendo with is that they were able to keep The Legend of Zelda fresh with each iteration of our favorite trio: Link, Zelda, and (most of the time) Ganon.
The first Final Fantasy game was released a year after the original Legend of Zelda in 1987 on the NES, although it has been remade for multiple platforms. While The Legend of Zelda is an action-adventure, Final Fantasy is an RPG–and quite frankly, the series’ first game may have very well shaped that genre to the way it is today. The general game play involves traversing an over-world. There, your character would run into random encounters with enemies and engage in turned-based combat. You’d gain experience as you battle and defeat those enemies.
Final Fantasy has fifteen main titles release to date. For the most part, each title stands alone with its own set of heroes united in fighting a great evil. Some character’s names and mechanics do bleed into one another. Because of each game’s level of uniqueness, I do feel at times fans can be pretty opinionated about whether or not they like a particular title. Regardless, each release makes a splash.
Both franchises are multi-million dollar hits. Final Fantasy accumulated approximately 159 million in sales while the Legend of Zelda creeps closely behind at about 117 million. Each also have an amazing fan following, killer soundtracks, and presence in other media such as manga.
But back to the question on hand–which one made a larger impact?
Despite being the self-appointed ultimate Zelda fangirl, I believe I’d have to hand it to Final Fantasy.
The Legend of Zelda is my personal favorite series of all time. Each game was lovingly crafted and the franchise never grew stale. I appreciate Nintendo’s dedication to trying new things with each release like the use of the stylus for The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass or the hotly debated motion controls in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. However, I believe Final Fantasy barely edges it from the top spot due to its massive influence on the entire RPG genre. Both had their hand in unique game play, but the role-playing movement flourished in the advent of Final Fantasy. If this series had not been made, I feel that the gaming landscape would simply not be the same.
Now that I’ve shamed myself to the Zelda community, I would love to ask for your thoughts. Which franchise do you think made the biggest impact? Let us know your pick in our Discord!