The world of video games isn’t starving for adored game series, but no other franchise has been as prolific, as prominent, or as endearing as the Legend of Zelda. The series has reached its coral anniversary; 35 years of whisking us away to the lands of Hyrule and beyond. Every fan has their favorite and is more than willing to make their opinion heard. It simply isn’t possible to satisfy everyone with any list, but therein lies the franchise’s beauty. There are so many entries, with each game holding a unique place in our hearts. With that in mind, AIPT has ranked the best Zelda games of all time. Every aspect has been taken into account; gameplay, innovation, reception, impact, and legacy.
19. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
The Adventure of Link is as divisive as Zelda titles come. While arguments can be made regarding a better Zelda game (good luck defining that), The Adventure of Link divides fans on whether it’s even a good game. To its credit, Zelda II took chances and tried mixing up the blueprint; the previous top-down perspective was replaced with side-scrolling, as well as placing a greater emphasis on RPG mechanics. The fact that The Adventure of Link garners so much ire is more of a testament to the quality of the other Zelda entries into the series than the detriments of this game.
- The Adventure of Link featured the first appearance Dark Link.
- The side-scrolling element is also featured in other titles: Link’s Awakening, Oracle of Seasons/Oracle of Ages, and Four Swords Adventures also implement this mechanic.
- It’s the first time a romantic interest is implied between Link and Zelda.
18. The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes
Understandably, Nintendo was quick to underscore that Tri Force Heroes was a departure from the expected experience. At its core, Tri Force Heroes is a multiplayer game with a single-player campaign along for the ride. Like Four Sword Adventures, the emphasis was on co-op, meaning you can complete a level with two other friends or play alone, switching from one character to another throughout. Tri Force Heroes draws heavily from A Link Between Worlds’ aesthetics in terms of platforming, graphics, and enemy types, but remains largely forgotten. It may not hold a special place in many fans’ minds, but it does provide a multiplayer experience steeped in the world of Zelda — a worthy undertaking.
- Tri Force Heroes is the only Zelda game where Link can’t use a shield.
- Link’s voice was randomly assigned, pulling the pitch from earlier Zelda games: Ocarina of Time, The Wind Waker, Spirit Tracks, or A Link Between Worlds.
- It’s the only Zelda game that doesn’t allow multiple save slots.
17. The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks
In Spirit Tracks, players use touch controls to guide Link as he travels from one location to the next on a steam train that spans the globe, hence the name. The second of the Nintendo DS Zelda titles, Spirit Tracks carried over the cel-shaded cartoon visuals and 3D perspective of Phantom Hourglass but improved on the combat and puzzle elements, implementing the touch screen controls the DS is known for. Unfortunately, the train – the game mechanic meant to distinguish Spirit Tracks from its peers– is also part of the problem; it limits exploration, a significant contribution to any Zelda title.
- This was the first introduction of the whip as a weapon. It would later reappear in Skyward Sword.
- In the Japanese version of the game, several direct quotes refer to Tetra being Princess Zelda’s grandmother.
- After defeating Moldarach in Skyward Sword, the room has a design similar to the main hall of the Tower of Spirits in Spirit Tracks.
16. The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords
Four Swords is only a handful of multiplayer Zelda titles, taking cues from A Link to the Past. Unfortunately, the lack of technology was a hindrance. Connecting four Game Boy Advance systems isn’t a smooth operation. The dungeons were procedurally generated – or more accurately – randomized, allowing for fresh challenges. The drawback? Wonky dungeons with poor layouts aren’t uncommon. Despite the obstacles, Four Swords is a strong entry in the Zelda Series with enjoyable gameplay and enough depth for new and old players.
- Four Swords is one of only three Zelda games where the player doesn’t choose a name for Link, alongside Four Sword Adventures and Breath of the Wild.
- It was the first Zelda game to feature multiplayer.
- It was the first Zelda title to feature a dungeon set in the clouds.
15. The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures
Four Swords Adventures builds on the groundwork laid out by Four Swords. Single player is possible, but it defeats the purpose of a multiplayer Zelda game. The game is geared towards co-op, meaning the best experience comes from playing with others, as long as you all had the right consoles and gear. The standout feature here was the ability to control the game using your Game Boy Advance while playing on the GameCube — when you walked off screen, your character would appear on your GBA, allowing you to explore areas/dungeons free of the invisible tether that ties you to your teammates. The Four Swords titles may feel detached from the core games, but Zelda titles have become synonymous with innovation. In that regard, both can easily be considered a success.
- Contrary to traditional Zelda games, acquired items can’t be kept. The Links are only allowed one secondary item at a time, and bracelets and heart containers are restricted to one stage.
- A streaming audio file is hidden in the game’s files “smw.ast”. Using vgmstream reveals it’s the secret theme found in Super Mario World.
14. The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons
Oracle of Seasons launched alongside Oracle of Ages in a Pokemon Red and Blue-type manner. However, the games proved to be much different from their monster hunting counterparts — each game is an admirable addition to the Zelda phenomenon. While Oracle of Ages focuses on puzzles, Seasons shined the spotlight on the action. The gimmick here was the ability to use the Rod of Seasons to alter the world’s climate. Like any good Zelda game, this feature was used to solve puzzles in thoughtful ways. For example, a large tree may block your path, but shifting the season to winter reveals a tree with dead leaves that can now be crossed. But Nintendo had more extensive plans in mind, as the games could unlock content for one another.
- According to Hyrule Historia and the Oracle of Seasons manga, Oracle of Seasons is the first game in the sequence and in the timeline.
- Limited editions of the series were available in North America and Europe. North America featured a foil effect on the box and manual. Europe had both Oracle games, a boomerang, a shirt, pins, and unique game skins. I’m pretty sure Europe won out on that one.
13. The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages
Seasons and Ages were meant to “send the Game Boy Color off with a bang,” and essentially, they did. After completing one of the two games, they can be linked to form a single, linear plot with an alternate ending. Seasons was a delightful experience, but it was Ages’ emphasis on puzzle-solving that granted it a higher place on the list. Ages’ counterpart to the Rod of Seasons was the Harp of Ages, which was used to travel through time. Exploration was twice as fun as you uncovered secrets from the overworld of Labrynna in two time periods. Actions in the past manipulate the future, and the terrain would vary from one period to the next. Both Oracle titles received praise from fans and critics alike — they rarely make the top 5 in terms of favorite Zelda titles, but they are by and far Zelda games worth experiencing.
- Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages were the first Zelda games to be developed outside of Nintendo. They were developed by Capcom, who also developed Four Swords and The Minish Cap.
- Seasons and Ages were meant to be part of a trilogy, with each installment geared toward different gameplay elements representing the Triforce. Unfortunately, the third game, Mystical Seed of Courage, was canceled since co-ordinating three games proved to be too difficult.
12. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
After the cartoonish nature of Wind Waker, Nintendo approached Twilight Princess with a darker, grittier tone more in line with Majora’s Mask. Link could transform into a wolf, which factored into all aspects of gameplay, including battle, puzzle-solving, and even an ability to communicate with animals. Twilight Princess is worth playing for fans of the series and remains a decent action-adventure game, though it has its shortcomings. It did little to move the series forward and relied on the formula introduced in Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker.
On a positive note, the dungeons took full advantage of Link’s wolf form. Arguably containing some of the series’s best dungeons, the back-and-forth transformations forced players to tackle puzzles with fresh eyes — but on the flip side, players were forced to play through them multiple times in both forms. While it did manage to make an indelible mark, other entries in the franchise met and surpassed expectations.
- If you have a saved game from the Wii version of Twilight Princess, you can unlock an emblem of Hyrule bumper sticker in Metroid Prime 3: Corruption for Samus’s ship.
- It was the first Zelda game to be featured on two consoles: GameCube and Wii. The only other Zelda game to be released on two consoles is Breath of the Wild.
11. The Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass
As the first mainline Zelda on the Nintendo DS, Phantom Hourglass took advantage of the touch controls and dual-screen layout that defined the handheld. Admittedly, using the stylus to control every aspect of Link was polarizing, but once you became acclimated, Phantom Hourglass was clearly a jewel in the Zelda coffers. It was a direct sequel to GameCube’s Wind Waker, even tactfully mimicking the art style. It also featured several multiplayer features distinct from other titles. In Battle Mode, two players control a Link and compete to retrieve Force Gems while opposing players impede their progress. In Tag Mode, players can trade treasure and ship parts. While Phantom Hourglass may not embody the core Zelda mechanics fans are accustomed to, sheer originality alone suggests Phantom Hourglass’s place on the list.
- It’s the first game in the series with a real-time item selection, which can also be experienced in Skyward Sword.
- Phantom Hourglass is the first game in the series that doesn’t include any new tools. All the items were featured in previous Zelda games in one form or another.
- Producer Eiji Aonuma considers it his favorite entry in the series.
10. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
No other Zelda game truly puts you in Link’s shoes quite like Skyward Sword. Designed to squeeze the most out of the Wii Motion Plus peripheral, Skyward Sword introduced a unique system: the Wii’s “nunchuck” controls Link’s shield, and the Wiimote controls Link’s sword. Like any good Zelda game, this system contributed to the adventure, including puzzle solving and combat, requiring precision timing to defeat foes.
Skyward Sword has its critics, and the controls, while innovative, can often be wonky — we’re hoping the new HD remaster hitting the Switch in July truly lives up to Nintendo’s promise of fine-tuning the motion system. Also, the signature Zelda exploration was limited, lacking the kind of free roaming the series has become known for. Thankfully, it also features some of the most well-designed dungeons the series has to offer, and the story is compelling, even in a series known for its storytelling. Skyward Sword isn’t without its drawbacks, but is praised for its novel combat system and immersive gameplay.
- Skyward Sword was the first Zelda game to feature a stamina meter (you’re welcome, Breath of the Wild).
- Skyward Sword is rumored to have the longest development period in the history of the franchise.
- Skyward Sword’s central theme, “Ballad of the Goddess,” is “Zelda’s Lullaby” played in reverse.
9. The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap
The Minish Cap is the Game Boy Advance’s only Zelda title and holds a special place in young gamers’ hearts getting their first taste of Zelda. Another flagship entry standing the test of time, imbuing traditional Zelda beats into the adventure while introducing the game’s standout feature, the Minish Cap. The cap, named Ezlo, allows Link to shrink to microscopic proportions to locate fragments to save the Minish people. Its only drawback is that it was too formulaic, but it’s a fascinating entry to Zelda lore nonetheless.
Piccori, the shrunken world Link finds himself in, provides a new setting for fans to delve into. The visual style is as charming as they come, and dungeons are on par with the best of Zelda’s 2D offerings. Despite being 15+ years removed, The Minish Cap provides the traditional Zelda experience fans have come to love.
- Bob-ombs from the Super Mario series makes a cameo as dungeon enemies.
- The Ocarina of Wind’s tune is the same as the Warp Whistle from Super Mario Bros. 3 and the Recorder from the original The Legend of Zelda.
8. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
When Nintendo announced a sequel to a Link to the Past, it set a high bar for itself (as you’ll see later in this list). Deciding to return to that world inherently carries lofty expectations. But once again, Nintendo knocked it out of the park. A Link Between Worlds isn’t merely a commendable sequel; it’s among the best Zelda has to offer and remains many young gamers’ gateway into the series.
A Link Between Worlds took all the trappings from A Link to the Past and upped the ante. The story takes place in a familiar landscape, the light world of Hyrule and the dark world of Lorule, but every other aspect was enhanced. Combat is expanded to meet modern audiences’ demand and improved traversal made the world far more accessible than its precursor. You can rent items like the boomerang, bow, or bombs, taking full advantage of the open world. It also introduced an ability to merge onto walls like a painting, adding another layer of depth to puzzles. Working in concert with the rental items, dungeons can be tackled in a non-linear order, genuinely expanding upon discovery.
Sequels struggle to toe the line between staying true to the original and moving the series forward. A Link Between Worlds is an example of a sequel that other franchises should look to for inspiration. It lives up to its storied legacy while carving out a name for itself.
- A Link Between Worlds’ Hero mode is the only one in franchise history to include recovery hearts.
- Everything in the game is slanted to capture the perspective seen in A Link To the Past.
- Majora’s Mask can be seen on the wall inside Ravio’s store.
7. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
When ranking Links Awakening, it’s only right to include the 2020 Switch Remaster. Even in the early days of the Gameboy, Link’s Awakening is a densely-packed Zelda experience that is just as much of a joy to play today as it was in ’93. Very few story or gameplay elements were changed, but the visuals were beefed up to a style reminiscent of Rankin Bass’ Christmas Claymation movies, and it’s adorable. Simply put, it’s one of the best games ever to hit the Game Boy or Switch.
The game’s shortcomings are overshadowed by all the quality-of-life improvements Nintendo made. Amiibo support for unique unlockables enhances the already fantastic inventory at your disposal, and the dungeon creator adds hours to your experience. Nintendo could have phoned this one in, but instead built the game from the ground up while striking the perfect balance between maintaining the original game’s essence and ushering it into a modern age.
- There are many references found throughout Links Awakening. Many of the items and characters share likenesses to characters/items from the Mario franchise.
- Part of the game’s inspiration came from the mystery television show Twin Peaks.
- Princess Zelda is not featured in Links Awakening, only mentioned by Link. Plenty of gamers mistook Mara for Zelda (especially on the Game Boy version).
6. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
Many Zelda fans fall into two camps when it comes to N64 Zelda: Ocarina of Time, or Majora’s Mask. And guess what? You’re both right. At first glance, Majora’s Mask seems like a hard sell, pivoting direction in what is arguably the most experimental entry the series has ever seen. Majora’s Mask pulls heavily from Ocarina of Time in terms of controls, game engine, and in-game assets, but introduced a time-based system that forced players to manage every second to prevent a moon-based apocalypse.
While it stands alongside Twilight Princess as the darkest entry the series has ever seen, Majora’s Mask is a far more immersive experience. Link repeats events Groundhog Day-style to prevent disaster, taking into account NPCs’ routines and scheduled events to piece together riddles and make permanent changes to save Hyrule. Nintendo also balanced the time system, allowing a three-day cycle that covered 54 minutes in real-time. The one minor hiccup was remedied in 2015 when a 3DS update allowed players to track side quests.
And how can we ever forget the mask-wearing mechanic, which can transform Link into a Goron, Deku Scrub, or Zora. Other masks also triggered various reactions from townsfolk, factored into resolving side quests and getting to the narrative’s heart. Understandably, fans might not get to play through every Zelda in the series, but I’ll go for broke and say Majora’s Mask is one experience that shouldn’t be missed.
- Majora’s Mask was the first appearance of Tingle and the Postman.
- The game was the first time Link can kill an NPC — by shooting Sakon’s bomb-bag, the explosion results in his death.
- The Happy Mask Salesman is based on Zelda’s creator, the ever-joyous Shigeru Miyamoto.
5. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
When initial screenshots for Wind Waker were released, reactions were contentious — despite showing an impressive technical demo that iterated on Ocarina of Time‘s darker, more realistic style, Wind Waker turned out cartoony and bright. Then we got on our hands-on time with Wind Waker, and any trepidation became an afterthought. Wind Waker remains one of the most beloved games in franchise history. With time, the overall consensus has shifted, as the game’s visual style, combat system, and sea-based exploration are lauded for their novelty.
For the very first time, Link would travel the seas, discovering remote islands instead of a land-based world. Using the titular Wind Waker, you can manipulate the winds to guide your travels. Each island contains a bevy of secrets, and you can unearth seafloor treasures and even fight with a cannon. It was nothing like past Zelda experiences, which was a welcome surprise. It wasn’t the Zelda game gamers had expected, and it’s all the better for it.
Wind Waker also marshals in debatably the most incredible boss fight in Zelda to date, ending in one of the most iconic visuals in video game history: Link standing atop the behemoth Ganondorf with his sword piercing squarely into his skull. “Memorable” doesn’t begin to describe the moment. Despite initial sentiments, Wind Waker became a critical and commercial success and continually tops Zelda’s “best of” lists (like this one).
- In the Italian release of the game, Tetra is named “Dazel”, an anagram of Zelda.
- The Wind Waker is the first game in the series to signal that Link and Princess Zelda have multiple incarnations over the centuries.
- The drastic change in art style was meant to reinvigorate the development team, hoping the new directions would spur developers to create new gameplay ideas. It seems like it worked.
4. The Legend of Zelda
The OG of Zelda games, the one that ushered in all we know as Zelda. If you like Zelda, then it’s important to understand just how much the original contributed to the franchise and the gaming industry in general. In terms of sheer impact and paving the way for future iterations, few games can compete with The Legend of Zelda. It perfectly blended puzzle solving with combat, exploration, and collecting. That standard inventory menu you enjoy so much in 90% of games you play? You can thank The Legend of Zelda for that.
The game’s influence is undeniable; even today, Breath of the Wild still borrows from a 35 year-old game. The Legend of Zelda is still available on the Nintendo eShop and worth a quick run-through; if nothing else, it’s worth it to familiarize yourself with the 8-bit gem that started it all.
Granted, the game doesn’t hold up as well as other entries in the list, but the original Zelda changed the video game landscape. It didn’t just expand the video game world; it created lifelong gamers at a time when the industry was in critical need of consumers willing to explore digital worlds of fantasy. Just remember, “It’s dangerous to go alone. Take this.”
- Most The Legend of Zelda cartridges are gold, but the game’s Classic Series version came in standard gray cartridges.
- Shigeru Miyamoto stated that the game was meant to inspire a sense of adventure, taking inspiration from Indiana Jones and Adventure for the Atari 2600.
3. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
Launching on the SNES, A Link to the Past returned to a top-down perspective after The Adventure of Link’s foray into 2D. It was an epoch in terms of Zelda games, as it was the game that nailed down the Zelda format. The movement opened up; Link could move diagonally and swipe his sword sideways, making battle less of a chore. The magic meter from The Adventure of Link carried over, and for the first time, arrows became a separate item from the bow.
Several franchise staples were introduced, like the Hookshot, Pegasus Boots, and the legendary Master Sword. For the first time, pieces of hearts could be found to unlock full heart containers, and the game featured multi-level dungeons never seen on the NES. Intricate dungeons – a mainstay in the Zelda series – began to reach new levels of intricacy with A Link to the Past. Successful game mechanics found in future iterations can thank A Link to the Past for setting the stage.
Older generations of gamers speak highly of A Link to the Past, and the praise is well deserved. To this day, the world is large and diverse enough to attract players of any age. To this day, A Link to the Past still rivals Zelda titles, including Ocarina of Time and Breath of the Wild. It’s a game that has to be experienced to be understood.
- The game first introduced the cuccoos and the Cuccoo Revenge Squad, a flock that groups up on Link if he attacks one continuously.
- Many reoccurring musical themes were introduced, including Zelda’s Lullaby, Fairy Fountain, Hyrule Castle, and Ganon’s theme.
- In the Japanese release, the Magic Hammer is referred to as the M. C Hammer, a reference to real-life rapper M.C. Hammer.
2. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Breath of the Wild is the culmination of every Zelda that came before it, pulling in some of the best Zelda offerings while fully capturing the term “open world.” Many games claim to allow you to do anything, but Breath of the Wild truly lets you loose. That gigantic mountain you’re staring up at? Have a go. Not enough stamina? Then use your wits to find smaller ledges to reach the peak incrementally.
Nearly 20 years after Ocarina of Time, Breath of the Wild took the franchise to a place we hadn’t considered. The only minor chink in its armor is the divisive weapon system, allowing weapons to break within a short window of degradation. While it takes some getting used to, once adjusted, it forces players to test all the weapons the game has to offer. Weapons also have statistics, and the combat is more refined than ever, introducing slow-motion mechanics and the ability to sneak up on unwitting foes.
The game’s physics are a thing to behold. Puzzles, combat, and discovery can be tackled in a variety of ways. Wear metal during a lightning storm at your own risk, and temperatures have real-world effects. Warm clothing can stave off the cold, and desert climates require lighter garb. Slide down a hill on your shield surfer style, or leap of that cliff and glide to the valley below, all while accounting for the wind. In the history of gaming, no other title truly captures the term “sandbox” quite like Breath of the Wild.
- It’s the first game in the series since the Philips CD-i Zelda titles to feature voice acting with dialogue.
- Breath of the Wild is the first game to have Link wear the Champion’s Tunic rather than his classic Green Tunic.
- When Link awakens and exits the cave to overlook the valley from the Great Plateau, it’s a reference to the illustration of Link overlooking the cliff from the original Legend of Zelda.
1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Four games are considered epochs in the Zelda series: The Legend of Zelda, A Link to the Past, Breath of the Wild, and Ocarina of Time. Ocarina of Time for the N64 opened Zelda’s world to a lush 3D world rife for adventure. In the early N64 days, Nintendo was still testing the waters with true third dimension gaming, and Ocarina of Time came out swinging with a massive landscape waiting to be discovered.
Until Breath of the Wild came along, Ocarina of Time was the blueprint for all Zelda games that followed. It set the tone for the third dimension, introduced the targeting system we’ve come to rely on, and the story elements have become staples in the world of Zelda, only to be re-introduced in alternate versions. The Deku, the Gorons, and Zora were brought to life in the N64 classic.
The new technology provided developers with new ways to challenge and engage players with puzzles, exploration, near-perfect controls, and dungeons that are unforgettable — if you’ve played the Water Temple, you know what that means. Nothing compares to walking into Hyrule Field for the time and anticipating what lies ahead. But developers didn’t stop there — allow me to introduce you to your trusty steed, Epona. It may seem like a trope in modern gaming, but Epona’s introduction was mind-boggling in 1998.
Most aspects of Ocarina of Time hold up today, and the rich story involving time travel still strikes a chord. The dichotomy of young and old Link was fascinating. The soundtrack is a masterpiece and isn’t a stranger to plenty of Spotify playlists. Beyond Zelda, when talking about the best games of all time, Ocarina of Time is always in the conversation. No other game on the list has the gameplay, story, mechanics, impact, nostalgia, and sheer legacy that The Ocarina of Time has.
- Ocarina of Time runs on a heavily modified version of Super Mario 64’s engine.
- Dark Link mimics the player with few exceptions, including his health, potentially making him very durable or quite weak.
- According to a Miyamoto interview, early development plans involved Navi having romantic feelings for Link, even being jealous of Princess Zelda, but this was eventually left out.
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