Sony, and Squaresoft in particular, might have stolen the cutscene thunder back in the 1990s with grand FMV sequences, but that doesn’t mean Nintendo is without meaningful cutscenes. From the first successful home console right up to the present day, Nintendo games use cutscenes of all varieties to help tell their stories. Some are sad, some funny, and some are just overall pretty darn amazing. There’s a lot to choose from, but we’ve narrowed it down to a list of what we think are the top most impactful cutscenes Nintendo ever created.
Warning: There are spoilers for Fire Emblem: Three Houses and Xenoblade Chronicles, as well as mild spoilers for older games.
Super Mario Bros. — The princess is in another castle
The scene that plays after you clear a castle in Super Mario Bros. isn’t exactly a cutscene like we’re used to now. For the ’80s, though, it’s still pretty good for a few reasons. You’ve finally made it to the castle after clearing the world’s harrowing challenges. Bowser fled in terror at your jumping prowess, and now, surely, the princess is here to be rescued.
Nope. She’s in another another castle, of course.
What that means is your game continues though. More challenges and fun lie ahead, and you can keep playing without even putting in more coins. Primitive and meme-worthy it may be, but there’s no denying “Our princess is in another castle” was the dawn of a new age for gaming and perhaps the very first impactful Nintendo cutscene.
Metroid Prime — Landing on Frigate Orpheus
Metroid Prime was a first for the Metroid series in a bunch of ways. It’s the first to utilize first-person gameplay, the first on GameCube, and the first with 3D visuals. The opening cutscene wants to be sure both that you’re aware of how big this is and that it’s still the same Metroid you love. Samus lands on the Frigate Orpheus, showing that — unlike in her Game Boy outing — the Space Pirates are the main focus again. It’s eerie, and for the first time you get an idea of how big and bad the Space Pirates are.
Then there’s that iconic shot: Samus coming up out of her ship, ready for action. It’s a throwback to another excellent game, Super Metroid, and symbolically tells you this is going to be just as good, if not better. After Samus leaps down, we get a glimpse at her amazing Varia Suit in all its 3D glory, and you take direct control of the famous bounty hunter from behind the visor. It’s a slick opening sequence in general, but more importantly, it’s every Metroid fan’s dream, seeing the series and its heroine come to life like this.
Now if only the Metroid Prime Trilogy rumors were true…
Fire Emblem: Three Houses — Edelgard’s death
Most video games don’t want you to murder the main character. Fire Emblem: Three Houses’ development team obviously thought that was a boring approach and made killing Edelgard one of Byleth’s primary tasks in the Golden Deer route.
It’s an emotional scene with some different elements involved. You know Edelgard is responsible for the war, but she has her own story and reasons for what she did. Yet she was also behind your father’s murder, and there can be no peace while she lives. As she laments the way events unfolded — events she planned — the game scenario intentionally calls the game’s theme song to mind. She wanted you to take her hand and —
That’s it. Byleth strikes, and with anger. It’s done. It’s a much different kind of impactful cutscene than we’re used to with Nintendo.
Super Mario Sunshine — Mama Peach
This is one moment Nintendo very likely wanted to forget, since it hasn’t been brought up again. Given the nature of the scene and its implications, that’s probably for the best. But there’s no way we can forget. Ever. Super Mario Sunshine is going along just fine and dandy. The shadowy vandalizer who gets Mario chucked in jail turns out to be Bowser’s son. Okay, we can deal with that. It makes sense.
Then we learn the thing: Bowser’s son is Princess Peach’s son too. That’s… some mind-boggling stuff.
Of course, it turns out Bowser only told Jr. that Peach is his mom, but still. The idea is there, and it can never be undone. Plus, it means someone out there actually is Bowser Jr.’s mom, which is its own level of slightly disturbing. It’s hard to imagine a more impactful Nintendo cutscene that shakes up everything we know about the universe.
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker — Descending into the depths
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker was pretty controversial when it launched. Whatever your stance on its visuals, though, there’s no getting past the fact that Wind Waker has some eye-opening moments and pushes the series’s story forward. One of the best examples of that is what happens after you clear the Tower of the Gods.
As Link descends into the ocean, a whole other world opens up, and you realize everything wasn’t happily ever after for Hyrule like you once thought. It’s loaded with meaning for anyone, though of course Ocarina of Time fans get the most out of it. Plus, it coincides perfectly with this being Link’s coming-of-age story. Just as he stands on the cusp of entering a new world, so do you in this scene.
Xenoblade Chronicles — The Mechon invasion
Most RPGs start with something terrible happening, especially if they have “Xeno-” in the title… Xenoblade Chronicles is no different in this regard, but the particular terrible incident is really something else.
You’ve spent the opening hours getting to know Shulk and his friends — the usual combo of smart guy, tough guy, and spunky girl. Then the Mechon arrive, which you knew they would; someone’s hometown has to get destroyed after all. And Fiora gets murdered. Not only that, but Metal Face holds his claws up to the camera with her blood dripping off them.
It’s really quite disturbing, which is one way to make a top impactful Nintendo cutscene list, but there’s something more. For a long time, Xenoblade Chronicles is all about survival and vengeance, and there’s nothing like seeing your best friend murdered in front of you to put both those characteristics at the forefront and drive the game forward.
Animal Crossing — Debt-free
This Animal Crossing scene might be pushing the definition of cutscene a bit, but the debt-free cutscene certainly has an impact. It’s a shining, glorious moment, that moment when you leave the Post Office, step outside, and suddenly have control taken away from you because you just have to dance. You’re debt-free! For a little while, at least.
The best thing about finally paying off your loan from Nook is the anticipation of what you can do with your funds and expanded house. It inevitably leads to another loan, more work to pay it off, and the cycle continues. Still, most cutscenes are all about one big moment or shift, but few do what this one does. The debt-free scene encapsulates everything that makes Animal Crossing special and keeps us coming back for more.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild — Wake up, Link
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is crammed full of impactful cutscenes and moments, especially those charting Zelda’s emotional journey. However, the opening cutscene really takes the cake no matter how many times you’ve experienced the journey. You wake up in a coffin-shaped stasis… thing… and start hearing Zelda talk about saving the land.
That tells you a few things: (1) You’ve lost this fight once already. That’s big, because Link always wins fights. (2) Zelda’s trapped somewhere. Eh, par for the course unfortunately. (3) You have very few clothes. You can save the world in your underwear.
In all seriousness though, it’s an excellent signifier that this is a Zelda game unlike any other. If that hasn’t sunk in yet, it does when Link leaves the chamber and sees Hyrule spread out in all its beautiful vastness before him. Three years on, it is a marvelous sight to behold and an easy candidate for the top impactful Nintendo cutscenes. No wonder it’s a modern classic.
Even though we think these are the top Nintendo cutscenes, there’s no shortage of them out there. Whether they’re vital to the story or just add some extra flavor, cutscenes are an integral part of almost every Nintendo game now.
What are your favorite Nintendo cutscenes? Let us know in the comments!