Lots of games are good. Some are even great. A few you may even be able to call classics. But to our mind, there’s only one series of games that goes down in legend: The Legend of Zelda franchise.
Starting in 1986, Link, the little forest boy clad in green, led the way to the greatest adventure ever told in gaming. 30-odd years later we’re still experiencing epic journeys through Hyrule; ones that take us from homely villages to dark and mysterious dungeons.
Whether fighting Ganon’s minions, or simply talking to the vast array of awesome characters, The Legend of Zelda’s world has become home for many fans. Whether you prefer the classic charm of Link’s Awakening or the sprawling modern freedom that Breath of the Wild gives us, we all have our favourite Zelda games. But which ones are the best? Let us go on a journey.
It’s a celebration of what makes Zelda brilliant – the type of celebration that can only be matched in a Korok Ceremony. Read on to see how the 10 best Legend of Zelda games of all time rank.
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This list was originally published in September 2019 and has been periodically updated since.
10. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
- 17th instalment in the Zelda franchise
- Release year: 2013
- Available on: 3DS
A Link Between Worlds follows Link in his quest to save Princess Zelda from the evil Yuga. Despite being released over 20 years after A Link to the Past, A Link Between Worlds is actually intended to be its sequel. It shares some similarities within its predecessor, not least of all the fantastic dungeon designs.
Yuga wants to kidnap the Seven Sages to help him bring back Ganon. Through this, A Link Between Worlds introduces the world of Lorule, and the unique ability of Link being able to merge with the wall. This offers up many different puzzlie elements, and adds to the sense of difficulty which makes A Link Between Worlds so adored by Zelda fans. It’s one of the best Zelda games we’ve had, and one that is hard to forget.
9. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
- 13th instalment in the Zelda series
- Release year: 2006
- Available on: Wii and Gamecube
Twilight Princess follows Link’s journey from his humble beginnings at Ordon Village, to becoming a true hero who battles against Zant and Ganon. It also introduces Midna, the beloved sidekick, and introduces the Twilight Realm; an alternate dimension shrouded in darkness.
Twilight Princess was released simultaneously on Gamecube and Wii, and players on the Wii were able to make use of the Motion Control (which was heavily built upon in Skyward Sword). Featuring some of the series’ best dungeons and a vast array of intriguing new characters, Twilight Princess is something quite different, but still one of the best Zelda games we’ve had the joy of playing.
8. The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons
- 7th instalment in the Zelda series
- Release year: 2001
- Available on: Game Boy Color
Released in 2001, Oracle of Seasons was followed by Oracle of Ages. They’re separate games, but if you want to see their true ending, you’ll need to have completed both of them. Oracle of Seasons sees Link transported to the land of Holodrum, where Onox steals Din, the Oracle of the Seasons. Interestingly, Din is presented as being a human-like character, giving even more significance to the Triforce.
It’s a brilliant top-down game with plenty of action for Link to be involved in. The eight dungeons may not be as challenging as Oracle of Ages, but the bosses are incredibly tough. There’s also a relentless amount of enemies for Link to slay. Oracle of Seasons is one of Link’s most heroic outings, and one of the best Zelda games yet.
7. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
- 2nd instalment in the Zelda series
- Release year: 1987
- Available on: NES, Game Boy Advance, Virtual Console, Switch Online
Released in 1987, The Adventure of Link is the second game within the series. And, until Breath of the Wild game along, it was actually the only direct sequel to the original Zelda title. The Adventure of Link incorporates many RPG mechanics that we’ve come to love from the series. It even included experience points that could upgrade Link’s power and magic abilities.
It was here that we were first introduced to Dark Link, who would come to be one of the franchise’s most remembered villains. The Adventure of Link includes many side-scrolling elements, making it one of the most unique experiences in the whole series. Following on from the original Zelda title was no easy task, yet The Adventure of Link not only does it with aplomb. It’s aged considerably now, but that doesn’t stop it from being one of the best Zelda games in the franchise.
6. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
- 3rd instalment in the Zelda series
- Release year: 1991
- Available on: SNES, Game Boy Advance, Virtual Console, Switch Online
Released in 1991, A Link to the Past is the first non-sequel to be released after The Adventure of Link. In fact, it can be seen as a prequel to the original Legend of Zelda. It’s a return to many traditional elements from the original, removing additions such as side-scrolling sections. The evil Ganon returns once more, as do the Sages, who Link must save.
A Link to the Past also introduces the Master Sword for the first time, and adds gameplay elements such as parallel worlds, which would come to play a huge role in the franchise. The Dark World, which was once the Sacred Realm, is a key part to A Link to the Past, and offers some of the most challenging aspects to the game. With great story telling, now familiar elements of the Zelda series, A Link to the Past is a true classic and undoubtedly one of the best Zelda games of all time.
5. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
- 6th instalment in the Zelda series
- Release year: 2000
- Available on: N64, Gamecube, 3DS, Virtual Console
Majora’s Mask is perhaps one of the most unique additions in the whole franchise. Following on from the success of Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask follows many of the same gameplay traits, such as the fantastic 3D graphics, and the brilliant combat gameplay. With the addition of an enigmatic antagonist too, it’s hard to believe that such a brilliant game was developed and released only a year after Ocarina of Time.
Majora’s Mask may follow similar gameplay aspects to the previous Nintendo 64 entry, but it also includes many of the same characters, and placed them all in the strange world of Termina. Perhaps the biggest difference is the three day countdown, something that split Zelda fans right down the middle: some love it; some detest it. Either way, the three-day cycle allowed for different events to happen each day and more character progression than ever before. Who wouldn’t play the Song of Time to return to the fantastic days of Majora’s Mask?
4. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
- 4th instalment in the Zelda series
- Release year: 1993 (remastered in 2019)
- Available on: Game Boy Color, Virtual Console, Switch (remaster)
Interestingly, Link’s Awakening started out life as a handheld port of A Link to the Past, but soon developed in to much more. Link’s Awakening is the first game in the franchise to not include Princess Zelda, the Triforce, or be set in Hyrule.
Instead, Link begins his adventure after waking up on the mysterious Koholint Island. Link’s Awakening includes the highly memorable Wind Fish, and some brilliant characters such as Marin and Tarin. Despite its detour to unknown lands, many of the traditional Zelda elements remain, and the dungeons are full of monsters to defeat. Link’s Awakening even features some crossover with other Nintendo games – particularly Mario – which only goes to make Link’s Awakening even more memorable.
3. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
- 19th instalment in the Zelda series
- Release year: 2017
- Available on: Wii U and Switch
Released in 2017 as a launch title for the Nintendo Switch, Breath of the Wild is the 19th addition to the franchise, and also released on the Wii U. Breath of the Wild is a return to the traditional format of open-world exploration that the original Legend of Zelda promoted. Breath of the Wild placed Link in a unique version of Hyrule, and expertly placed landmarks across the map; ones that would encourage the player to explore and adventure.
Despite not having traditional dungeons, and tearing the so-called ‘Zelda Rule Book’ apart, Breath of the Wild offers one of the most incredible adventures available in any game. From the breathtaking setting, to the subtle soundtrack and dynamic exploration options, Breath of the Wild is a breath of fresh air for the beloved Zelda series, and one that is a true modern classic that all players need to experience.
2. The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker
- 9th instalment in the Zelda series
- Release year: 2002
- Available on: Gamecube and Wii U
Wind Waker is the ninth instalment to the Zelda franchise, and provides a sense of adventure like never before. The lands of Hyrule have flooded, and the Great Sea now covers the lands. This leads to one of the most unique and enjoyable methods of exploration in any game, let alone a Zelda title. Link’s boat, known as the ‘King of Red Lions’, provides a sense of adventure that is absolutely thrilling – sailing the seas to find new and uncharted lands.
Of course, the islands within Wind Waker boast the charm that you’d expect from a Zelda title. Areas like Dragon Roost Valley and Windfall Island are some of the most magical areas Link has ever travelled to. With an array of highly engaging characters, a sense of history and legend being promoted, and an appearance from Link’s poor Gran, the first ever cel-shaded Zelda is one of the finest games to ever be created.
1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
- 5th instalment in the Zelda series
- Release year: 1998
- Available on: N64, Gamecube, 3DS, Virtual Console
Released in 1998, Ocarina of Time is the first ever 3D Zelda game. ‘Legend’ has never felt like a more appropriate title than in Ocarina of Time. The whole story, each significant character, and pretty much every single action Link takes in Ocarina of Time feels like part of a legend; something significant, and something that would be part of history.
Of course, I say “pretty much” because Link could also compete in mini games, find and equip new items, and even fish (in what is one of the most addictive additions to any Zelda game). Truly, Ocarina of Time has it all, and it still stands out as one of the greatest games of all time. From riding Epona as the sun slowly sets, to battling Dark Link in an epic duel, Ocarina of Time is full of breathtaking moments, and each moment comes together to create a perfect moment in time. Ocarina of Time is, quite simply, one of the finest stories ever told.