Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka's renowned Zelda franchise contains a series of video games that is arguably one of the best in the entire gaming industry. The best Zelda games are core to the debate involving the greatest video games of all time. With more than 17 games currently, the franchise is among the longest-running video game series in the world.
Set in the fictional land of Hyrule, the franchise's plot centres on an elf-like boy named Link, who aims to collect the eight fragments of the Triforce of Wisdom to rescue Princess Zelda from the antagonist, Ganon. Which are the best Zelda games to date?
The best Zelda games ranked from best to worst
Most of the Zelda games have received positive reviews from fans and critics. Here is a look at the games in order from the best to the worst.
1. Breath of the Wild (2017)
Which Zelda game is the best? The answer is Breath of the Wild. In its development, the game's developers took a ton of risks.
They did away with the traditional dungeons and replaced them with numerous small-scale puzzle shrines and scores of larger beasts as compared to previous games.
The game also introduced weapons that diminished with use, changing a big part of the core identity of Zelda in the process. Breath of the Wild ushered Zelda into the modern era, turning Hyrule into a truly open world, a sprawling, lavish piece of land that held a treasure trove of secrets.
These changes in the gameplay formula ultimately paid off. Breath of the Wild maintained the series' tremendous sense of wonder while pushing the franchise in a startling, wondrous new direction that emphasizes the freedom of exploration.
Is BOTW the best Zelda game? While the answer may vary from one player to another, BOTW is undoubtedly one of the best games in the franchise.
2. Link's Awakening (2019)
When it was released, Link's Awakening became the first Zelda game to move away from the original gameplay formula and offer a trippy makeshift of Nintendo tropes such as the ability to side-scroll levels.
Objects such as the feather that helped the main character jump could be used in the entire map and not just the dungeons in which they were found.
Additionally, Link's Awakening overworld did not just exist as a link the several dungeons, it was designed as its own expansive world to explore, complete with puzzle rooms and keys.
Link's Awakening initial release on the Game Boy only had one significant downside; the two-button limit which made switching out the lead character's many items a chore.
However, with the subsequent Nintendo Switch release, the flaw was rectified, making the game more beautiful than ever.
Even though Link's Awakening is built on a template from The Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past, the former has its own unforgettable identity, making it one of the best The Legend of Zelda games.
3. Ocarina of Time (1998)
Everything about The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is a showcase about just what gaming could be. It is not about small bits of action for a few hours, but an entire thrilling saga.
The game has a fascinating character-driven story in a world that feels so engaging and lively. Ocarina of Time makes one marvel at every aspect, become completely engrossed in every detail, and generate a powerful emotional attachment to Hyrule, Zelda, and Link.
The game catapulted the series to new territories in gaming and created a new benchmark for the world to aim towards.
4. A Link to the Past (1991)
Not too many games possess sequences that can be described as outrightly ingenious. With The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, nearly every dungeon is layered with brilliant ideas. You would be hard-pressed to find a game with such a consistently brilliant design as A Link to the Past.
After Zelda II: The Adventure of Link departed from the formula laid out by the original Legend of Zelda, A Link to the Past not only acted as the series' return-to-form but as one of the genre's masterpiece.
The game improved on every aspect of the original Legend of Zelda, greatly expanding the scope and adding a new Dark World element that set the template for many future entries in the series.
A Link to the Past also added to Link's arsenal with a massive collection of exciting and effective items to help in his fight against his main adversary.
To this day, the game's visuals are a treat to look at and arguably the best among all Zelda games. The dungeons are a thrilling challenge to work through, and the gameplay world is quite captivating.
5. A Link Between Worlds (2013)
While the storyline in The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds takes place in the familiar worlds of Lorule and Hyrule, the game did away with many of the linear Zelda conventions to great effect.
With A Link Between Worlds gamers could easily hire the series' useful items such as the bow, boomerangs, and explosive items from Ravio, the interesting new character. This videogame brought back the truly open-world feel synonymous with the original Zelda games.
With A Link Between Worlds, one was free to explore the beautifully-detailed world as they hunted down dungeons in any order they chose, collected heart pieces, and attacked their opponents.
Besides living up to its storied legacy, A Link Between Worlds also managed to carve out its own identity.
6. The Wind Waker (2002)
When The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker was released, it was initially met with some apprehension from fans. This was mainly due to its slightly different art style as compared to previous Zelda games.
Besides that, The Wind Waker is arguably the most visually stimulating entry in the entire Zelda timeline, especially the HD remake designed for Wii U. Regardless, the aesthetic was not the only aspect that made The Wind Waker shine.
Perhaps only upstaged by Breath of the Wild in terms of exploration, The Wind Waker sent players across the Great Sea on the King of Red Lions boat. Sailing the high sea was a magical experience, and stumbling across new islands always brought fresh delights.
The Wind Waker's storyline is arguably one of the best in the franchise, as it sees Link go on a journey to rescue his sister. Princess Zelda still makes an appearance, though not in her usual form.
The story in The Wind Waker, especially the ending, makes it one of the most peculiar and insightful games in the entire Zelda franchise.
For new players, The Wind Waker is probably the best entry point within the entire series.
7. Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages (2001)
While Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages were released as two separate titles, it is impossible to create one of the stories without the other. This implies that the two games are essentially one.
The two were released during the Pokémon trend of releasing different versions of the same game. However, the creators went above and beyond by creating separate stories and worlds for Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages.
A decision in one game often affects different outcomes in the other.
8. Majora's Mask (2000)
The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask is quite simply, a masterpiece. Initially released for the N64 in 2000, it features a twisted and unique adventure about a menacing moon set to crush the land of Termina three days from the game's opening.
Tasked with saving a kingdom in the constant limbo of apocalyptic destruction in 3 days, players have to keep rewinding the course of time to the beginning of the countdown and make small steps towards progress.
Before Majora's Mask, never had a Zelda game had such a dark setting, nor such an ambitious and inventive story, which at times was downright somber.
9. Twilight Princess (2006)
After most fans were divided on the direction of The Wind Waker, Nintendo delivered the dark, gritty, adult version of Zelda many clamored for. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess cast Link into a desperate version of Hyrule that was being absorbed by the Twilight Realm.
Even Link was affected, as was able to transform into a Wolf version of himself and enter the alternate dimension. This mechanic is central to not only the story, but the advancement through the dungeons.
The smart way the back-and-forth gameplay forces players to think outside of the box, as well as the unconventional design, meant that Twilight Princess delivered what were arguably the best dungeons in series history.
10. The Minish Cap (2004)
The Minish Cap is renowned among gamers for having introduced, Ezlo, one of the most interesting characters in the entire series who has the ability to shrink Link.
The newly-developed world in the game helped give the series a somewhat new perspective, complete with vibrant graphics that are among the best in the whole Zelda series.
While it is significantly shorter than other titles in the series, The Minish Cap is no less rewarding.
11. The Legend of Zelda (1986)
This is the original game in the Zelda franchise. For that reason alone, The Legend of Zelda has undoubtedly changed countless gamers' lives far and wide. But it was not just influential, it was good too.
The game had an iconic opening scene, brilliant narrative innovation, and fantastic replay value. However, one cannot help noticing the relatively poor graphics and overall storyline as compared to other captivating titles in the series.
12. Skyward Sword (2011)
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword was designed to take full advantage of the Wii Motion Plus peripheral. It is famous for introducing one-to-one motion controls, giving players complete control over Link's sword movements.
The game also introduced a new Skyloft setting, allowing Link to soar the skies with the help of a gigantic red bird.
13. Phantom Hourglass (2007)
Some of the worst games on this list were developed as cheap, lower-risk projects. Phantom Hourglass was a direct sequel to The Wind Waker and, thankfully, retained much of its charm.
Phantom Hourglass is played via the Nintendo DS stylus. The game's biggest downside is that the dungeons in the game were elementary at best, and some of the worst in the series.
14. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (1988)
The Legend of Zelda: The Adventure of Link changed perspectives. It changed the core gameplay, and of all the items on this list, it is probably the closest the series ever became to becoming a traditional RPG (role-playing game).
While some playing elements were implemented reasonably well into the character, the game's levels and enemies poorly designed and relied on cheap hits.
15. Four Swords (2004)
Taking several cues from A Link to the Past, Four Swords delivers intense gameplay, but the multiplayer focus made it difficult to play due to the hoops to jump through to connect four Game Boy Advance systems.
Besides, the randomized dungeons sometimes led to poorly-conceived designs. To make it even more of an uphill battle, Four Swords was packaged with the Game Boy Advance version of A Link to the Past, putting it in direct comparison with that beloved entry.
Zelda games in order of release
Here is a look at the games in order of the years of release.
- Breath of the Wild Sequel (2019)
- Breath of the Wild (2017)
- Tri Force Heroes (2015)
- A Link Between Worlds (2013)
- Skyward Sword (2011)
- Spirit Tracks (2009)
- Phantom Hourglass (2007)
- Twilight Princess (2006)
- The Minish Cap (2004)
- Four Swords Adventures (2004)
- The Wind Waker (2002)
- Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages (2001)
- Majora's Mask (2000)
- Ocarina of Time (1998)
- Link's Awakening (1993)
- A Link to the Past (1991)
- The Adventure of Link (1987)
- The Legend of Zelda (1986)
Most gaming fans have probably come across one or more Zelda games at a point in their lives. Which of the best Zelda games mentioned above did you find most exciting?