The Legend of Zelda, as a series, has been going on since 1986, the year of its first release in Japan. For most of its history (at least until the existence of Breath Of The Wild), the gameplay has centered on inventive dungeons and the items needed to beat each of them. If you are lucky, the item you will find will not only help you deal with the dungeon at hand, but will also open up new gameplay possibilities. It will take you to unforeseen parts of the map, or maybe it will help you defeat enemies in unexpected ways. Those are the best kind of Zelda items. On the other hand, a lot of the items you will find serve a single function, and have absolutely no use past the dungeon’s scope. It will do nothing but take up space and will be forgotten as soon as the inventory screen is closed.
As a franchise, even the worst parts of The Legend of Zelda are intricately designed. The best items have a way of becoming ubiquitous, of leaving their mark on the series long after their instalment is over. The least successful ones will still usually have interesting mechanics attached, but will lack versatility. As the series is now over thirty years old, we have decided to take a look at these two extremes.
Let’s separate the greatest items of the entire series from the lamest.
20 Useless: Bait
Most items in The Legend of Zelda are fairly straightforward. The bombs explode, the candle lights things on fire, the raft helps you cross water. And then, there’s the bait, that red piece of meat on a bone. It doesn’t give you energy if you eat it, you can’t cook it. It is only really necessary to your quest for a single puzzle and that’s it. The rest of your time, you don’t even need it in your inventory, although completists like me will make sure to always have one on hand.
The bait is supposed to serve a second purpose: placing it on the ground is supposed to attract enemies to it, which in turn should make it easier to sneak up on them and defeat them. The problem is that it only works on the weakest of enemies, most notably the Goriyas. It does not affect the Darknuts, the Keese, the Tektites, etc. Only Goriyas and Moblins, and even then, the meat has to be dropped so close to them that your enemies already are within striking distance by the time you are done. Not only is it useless, it is almost dangerous.
19 Best: Pegasus Boots
There is maybe one thing I would like to criticize about the first Legend of Zelda: the map is awfully big for such a tiny hero like Link, and going where you need to go can sometimes be tedious and time consuming. The same thing would probably apply for The Adventure of Link. Thankfully, Nintendo understood before I ever had to write a strongly-worded letter and the remedy to that situation was the introduction of the Pegasus Boots in A Link To The Past.
The stylish red boots give Link the ability to dash across the screen at the speed of light, sticking his sword forward and turning him into an unstoppable tank. As he runs all over Hyrule, only two things can stop Link: walls and trees. Even then, Nintendo made sure to fill the trees with treasures, giving players a reason to ram into the nearby vegetation. A few rupees might fall off, or maybe some life-giving apples. The Pegasus Boots were a revolution for 2D Zelda games.
18 Useless: Deku Nuts
Mostly obtained from the shrivelled remains of Deku Babas, the Deku Nuts are supposed to act as medieval stun grenades, which is a great idea in theory and would make it a useful item to have at all time. However, the nuts only work on certain enemies and anything more powerful than a Lizalfos will be completely unaffected. Since most minor enemies in Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask can be defeated by expertly mashing the B button, it greatly reduces any need one might have for Deku Nuts.
Nintendo tried to make the Deku Nuts slightly more useful in Majora’s Mask by adding a new functionality: while flying as Deku Link, the player could drop them like bombs, where they would actually damage enemies instead of stunning them. It was a nice improvement, but the Deku Link form was rarely used past the first dungeon. The nuts make a final appearance in Twilight Princess, where they lost the stun abilities and are nothing more than glorified rocks.
17 Best: Bombs
In the Zelda universe, bombs are not only essential, they are ubiquitous. Originally found only by killing enemies or buying them in shops, each new iteration brought a new way of finding bombs: Hitting trees, cutting grass, breaking pots, until they simply started growing on plants. That would be weird in any other world, but blowing up holes through walls seems to be as accepted as walking through a door in Hyrule. You do need a metric ton of bombs at your disposal at all times.
More than just a tool, bombs have also been powerful weapons since the dawn of the franchise. They are handy when taking on anything and anyone, from the most mundane of enemies to gigantic bosses. However, what really makes them fun is their versatility, as they can be placed down, thrown, or even rolled like bowling balls. If you ever feel lost or directionless playing any version of Zelda, just try to scatter some in your path, and you never know what might happen.
16 Useless: Picto Box
The Picto Box serves no real purpose during Link’s quest in The Wind Waker. Instead, it is only an item that serves to pad the game’s length, as the quest it unlocks carries no real reward. If one is to follow the side quest of the Picto Box to its end, it will unlock a gallery of figurines which can be obtained by taking pictures of the characters you meet. The figurines can then be admired, looked at in different angles, and that's it. That would be a fine enough side quest, if it wasn’t for one little detail.
In order to obtain the Deluxe Picto Box, Link must help a man called Lenzo spy on the inhabitants of Windfall Island. Two of the pictures Lenzo request involve secretly taking pictures of a man mailing love letters, and of a couple of secret lovers who do not wish to be revealed. So not only is the Picto Box completely unnecessary in the grand scheme of things, its existence is only justified by the desires of some creepy Peeping Tom.
15 Best: Gust Jar
Only appearing in two handheld games, the Gust Jar is nevertheless a surprisingly effective item. Acting as an ultra powerful vacuum cleaner, the jar is mainly used to solve puzzles. It clears away the dust which could be hiding switches, and it can pull objects toward Link, acting as a multifaceted hookshot. Furthermore, in Minish Cap, Link can even use the jar as a propeller, effectively turning lily pads into motor boats.
But wait, there’s more! More than a simple dungeon tool, the Gust Jar is also a powerful weapon, which can instantly kill lesser enemies such as Keese. As for bigger baddies, the jar can pull them towards Link and shoot them back at other enemies, using them as projectiles. That little jar can more or less do everything that the Force can in Star Wars, minus the mind tricks.
14 Useless: Spinner
The Spinner is a terrific concept, one which reaches its pinnacle in the same dungeon where it is found. Past the intense battle against the Stallord, the Spinner becomes a glorified key for gear-shaped holes. Outside of dungeons, it tries to get by on some neat tricks which are so specific that they might only be used once or twice. For example, it can negate Link’s falls from very high places or it can help him cross slippery surfaces more effectively.
If used outside of the very specific tracks for which it is designed, the Spinner quickly loses speed, making its effectiveness as a weapon substandard. Not only is the attack incredibly weak, but the enemies almost have to throw themselves at you to incur any damage since the Spinner is not nearly as mobile as its original appearance would have you think. As it is, it’s only a bunch of unfulfilled promises, but one must admit that it would have been a great addition to Link’s inventory had any of that potential been put to good use.
13 Best: Beetle
Speaking of potential, the designers of Skyward Sword looked at all the possibilities that the Beetle opened up and made sure that the game would be crammed full of opportunities to use Link’s latest toy. One of the shining stars of the Wii-exclusive game, the Beetle can be launched and used as a drone to do many tasks. For one, it’s an effective tool to just ram into anything, from enemies, dealing surprisingly strong damage, to switches. It can also be used to pick up items that are far away, such as hearts, rupees, and other collectibles. However, it’s the beetle’s final ability which makes it so good in my book.
Not only can it carry items, it can also drop them. The world of Skyward Sword is littered with bomb flowers, which means that many areas are perfect places to launch the Beetle, grab a bomb flower, and carry it over to an unsuspecting enemy for a sneak bombing. Some of the bad guys, such as Bokoblins, are painfully aware of that fact and will run away from the Beetle at all cost, sometimes falling to their own doom in their attempt to escape. One can only hope that such a flexible tool will make a comeback to the series someday.
12 Useless: Giant’s Knife
In Ocarina of Time, Link can obtain the Giant’s Knife for the reasonable sum of 200 rupees. A formidable weapon, the sword must be held with two hands, disabling the shield. Such is the strength and power of the Giant’s Knife. It deals twice as much damage as the Master Sword, and is nearly unstoppable… until it breaks at the hilt after four meager hits. The hilt can still be used as a weapon, but it’s still a hilt, so the reach is less than exceptional.
The Giant’s Knife serves as a tease for a more powerful weapon to come later in the game: Biggoron’s Sword. Similar in appearance, the difference is that the sword will never break, making it the most powerful weapon in the game. Still, the price of the Giant’s Knife, combined with its limited durability, gives it the distinguished title of "most irritating item in the entire series."
11 Best: Bow
As one of the most recognizable weapons in Link’s arsenal, the bow has played an important part of most games in The Legend of Zelda. More than a long-range weapon, it is distinctly part of Link’s identity. He wields it not only during most of his quests, but also in Super Smash Bros. and its many sequels. What truly makes the bow great is both its wide range of projectiles (fire arrows, ice arrows, silver arrows, etc.) and just how much fun it is to use.
While it was already a thoroughly satisfying weapon in the 2D world, the introduction of 3D to the series turned it up another notch. Since making the jump, the bow has been usable in first-person perspective, but also while horseback riding. No one can deny how much fun it is to snipe enemies from a distance with this powerful weapon. Taking things even further, Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword used motion control to truly make using the bow an immersive experience. Sure, the bow has often been necessary to defeat Ganon, and that would be enough to get it on this list, but it’s seriously one of the most fun items at Link’s disposal and that’s what puts it over the top.
10 Useless: Quake Medallion
A Link To The Past introduced to the world a trio of medallions, each of which had a different effect on baddies and environment alike. The Ether Medallion freezes enemies in place. The Bombos Medallion conjures up pillars of fire which incinerate visible enemies. The Quake Medallion… shakes trees and turns some enemies into slimes, which are much weaker, but can still attack.
The truth is that the Quake Medallion’s only real use is opening the entrance to Turtle Rock, the Dark World’s seventh dungeon. In battle, if you have all of the medallions available to you, why would you pick the one which turns your enemies into different enemies? You have an item which creates fire out of thin air and explodes everything on screen. It literally explodes bad guys! That’s amazing! And if you’re just looking to shake trees, then run into them and save the magic meter. The Quake Medallion could be okay on its own, but when compared to its comrades, it’s the weakest of the bunch.
9 Best: Hawkeye
A few entries ago, I talked about how much fun it was to use the bow to shoot at distant enemies. The thing is, the bow still has its limits and if the enemies you are trying to shoot are too far away, then your accuracy severely diminishes. So how can you improve on a weapon as simple yet effective as the bow? If you are the designers behind Twilight Princess, you introduce the Hawkeye and turn that bow into a retro sniper rifle.
Sure, it can also be used as a simple pair of binoculars, but the Hawkeye shines because of its pre-emptive strike potential. An astute Twilight Princess player will keep it close at all time and use it to scout new areas ahead. Because it dramatically extends the reach of the bow, it can then be used to take out any unfriendly Bulbins which might be waiting in ambush or which might be attempting to snipe you from a tower before they can even react. The Hawkeye is a true game changer.
8 Useless: Blue Candle
The Red Candle in The Legend of Zelda is useful because it can reveal hidden entrances by burning bushes. It can also serve as a makeshift weapon, since its flame can damage enemies. More importantly, it can be used as many times as necessary. You can spam the red candle for as long as you want and it will always produce the same flame. The Blue Candle, however, is the Red Candle’s less effective, but very irritating little brother.
The biggest disadvantage of the Blue Candle is that is can only produce a single flame per screen. Therefore, if you are hunting for secrets, you must try to burn a single bush at a time. If that wasn’t the right one, then you must leave to a different screen, come back, and try a different bush. This process artificially raises the difficulty of an already demanding quest, but also severely reduces the candle’s use as an offensive weapon. The fact that you are stuck with this lesser version of a pretty cool item until the seventh level makes it all the more disappointing.
7 Best: Ball & Chain
The Master Sword has been the main offensive weapon of the series for a long time, but every once in a while, the games will let you wreck some baddies with an item which might have been designed for a different purpose. Many games include a hammer of some sort which is primarily for hitting switches and breaking rocks, but which can pack quite a wallop when used on unsuspecting enemies. Twilight Princess does not even pretend that the ball & chain has any other use. Sure, it can break rocks and blocks of ice, but that’s only a side effect of this weapon’s immense power.
Ripped away from the dead hands of a mini-boss, the ball & chain instantly becomes the most powerful weapon in Link’s arsenal. It can kill tougher enemies quicker than the Master Sword. It can either be swung around, which gives it the power to deflect most attacks or it can be thrown for some serious damage. This thing can even bring down towers with one fell swoop. So why isn’t Link using this weapon exclusively as soon as he finds it? Because it dramatically slows down his walking speed. That’s the price to pay to be turned into a walking tank.
6 Useless: Hover Boots
Talk about a one-and-done item. Found only in Ocarina of Time, the Hover Boots are only really useful in the dungeon from which they come, where they allow Link to cross large chasms. The boots make Link float on air for a short moment, which is a very specific skill, and one which is never really put to good use past the Shadow Temple.
In order to benefit from that short boost in distance, one must put up with its many flaws. First of all, while wearing the boots, Link skids and slides around like a greased-up pig on ice. The traction is so terrible that you will want to take off the boots whenever they are not absolutely necessary. However, in order to do so, you must access the inventory screen over and over, because they count as equipment and not as an item. Therefore, they cannot be mapped to the c-buttons. That design flaw was taken care of for the 3DS remake, but the slippery traction and lack of practical use remained.
5 Best: Masks
Majora’s Mask is probably the most unique game in the series, for many different reasons. Concentrating more on side quests than full-on dungeons, it also limited the player to the same three days which had to be relived differently over and over. Those side quests mostly involved the collection of different masks, four of which stood far above the rest because of their transforming properties: The Deku mask, the Zora Mask, the Goron mask, and the Fierce Deity’s Mask.
The masks are not only cool-looking, they also imbue Link with new skills, such as the throwable fins or the ability to turn into a rock and crush your enemies as you roll your way through Termina. The best, however, remains the Fierce Deity’s Mask. As your reward for collecting every other mask in the game, it makes the final boss battle a lot easier and it turns tiny young Link into an unstoppable force. There’s a reason why the Fierce Deity version of Link has so many fans within the Zelda fandom.
4 Useless: Tingle Tuner
As a Wind Waker exclusive, the Tingle Tuner was a good idea which was not so good in its execution. It acts as an entire convenience store for Link to carry in his pocket. The services which can be bought (or sometimes obtained for free) from the tuner range from life-giving potions to protective spells, or simply replenishing one’s supply of arrows and bombs. Sounds good so far, right?
The problem with the Tingle is that while it is available to everyone who plays the game, it requires a Game Boy Advance and the GameCube Link Cable to work properly. For an item which can be very useful in-game, the real life costs are adding up pretty quickly. It’s effectively a very limited multiplayer mode for a traditionally single-player game, but the thrill of playing as Tingle and helping whoever is controlling Link is a short one. The HD remake does not even bother with the Tingle Tuner, despite the fact that the Wii U has an integrated second screen in the controller. At least Nintendo understood it wasn’t worth it.
3 Best: Boomerang
The boomerang is the first item in the first dungeon of the first ever Zelda game. That’s a lot of pressure, as the entire concept of finishing a dungeon to receive a new item was to be the basis of the series for such a long time. Thankfully, the boomerang soon proved to be iconic and has since made regular appearances throughout the year, often being the first item found during Link’s quest.
A versatile tool, it has been reinvented a few times to give it new features. While the traditional boomerang is great as a stun gun of sort, the Wind Waker version allows you to hit multiple enemies at the same time. Best of all, Twilight Princess’s gale boomerang conjures up a storm, bringing back items and enemies alike while sacrificing its stun ability. It’s such a great item that it appears even in games where it is not essential to completing any dungeon, such as Minish Cap or A Link Between Worlds. It’s just a fun tool to have around.
2 Useless: Dominion Rod
Controlling statues can seem like a cool ability to have, but that depends on what type of statues you have lying around. In Twilight Princess, four types of statues could be controlled by the Rod: two of those had a weapon allowing them to attack, and only one of those two was mobile. Furthermore, only one type of statue could be controlled outside the confines of the Temple of Time, making the Dominion Rod a lame duck item which could have been thrown away as soon as the dungeon was over, without much changing in term of consequences.
Most of the puzzles involving the Rod had to do with switches being held down by a statue which had to be moved. In previous Zelda games, Link would have simply pushed or pulled the statue into place, or just one of those big blocks, really. Therefore, the Dominion Rod is barely anything more than a clunky interface for an ability which had so far been a part of every game in the series. Hyrule Legends did try to make the Dominion Rod cooler than it really was by giving it as a weapon to Zelda, which summoned statues at will to help the player in battle. Had that been one of the item’s real use in Twilight Princess, this might have topped the list instead of being in the “useless” pile.
1 Best: Hookshot
The Hookshot was introduced in A Link To The Past and, as a kid, it was a revelation. Here’s an item which allows you to fetch far away items or cross bottomless pits, and it can even stun enemies while you’re at it. It was one of the true stars of the Super NES adventure, but the 3D games made it even better. In Ocarina of Time, it can be used to fully explore the space, making accessible some cleverly hidden secret areas. The feeling of freedom that comes with this tool is unrivaled, as it gives you the impression that you are seeing parts of the game before you are supposed to.
Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword both tried to improve on the concept of the Hookshot by using a Clawshot instead. That item differs because it can no longer grapple treasure chests as it could in the past. In exchange, it does allow Link to lower himself using the Clawshot’s chain, like an elf Spiderman. Because the Zelda developers always try to give you more, the Clawshot can be upgraded to the double Clawshot, which is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a bit gimmicky compared to the original, which is why the Hookshot still retains the crown over its more modern version. The classic is still unbeatable.