best The Legend of Zelda games ranked list

Best Legend of Zelda Games

Link’s adventures throughout the Legend of Zelda series have taken him from dark dungeons to cities in the sky. He’s sailed across a world covered by ocean. He’s shrunk to the size of an acorn to explore miniscule temples. He’s even trained relentlessly with a crossbow to lesser narrative or adventurous effect. So what are the best Legend of Zelda games in the franchise? Obviously, the answers are extremely subjective, and everyone’s take is going to be different — but here is one humble take.

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Ranking the Best Legend Zelda of Games

10. Skyward Sword

While it’s often seen as one of the weaker 3D Zelda entries, Skyward Sword still delivers an epic adventure that puts Link and Zelda’s relationship at the center of the story. Skyward Sword also holds two of the series’s best temples with the time manipulation mechanic of the Sandship and the wildly creative use of Buddhist folklore in the Ancient Cistern. Add in a beautiful cel-shaded watercolor world, as well as some beautiful music, and this Zelda origin story is certainly worth revisiting. And while the motion controls might not be for everyone (or always function properly for that matter), when they work it can lead to some engaging combat and puzzle-solving that shouldn’t be missed by Zelda fans.

best The Legend of Zelda games / Skyward Sword

9. Spirit Tracks

One of the more out-there Zelda titles, Spirit Tracks opts for a slightly more modern vision of Hyrule where train tracks connect the world’s different regions, and Link is the engineer of an adorable little locomotive. Like Skyward Sword, Spirit Tracks utilizes some weird controls for Link with the stylus used on the lower pad of your DS screen, but it feels far easier to pick up and much more fluid with fun features like drawing a path for your boomerang or other neat touchscreen puzzle-solving mechanics.

Also like in Skyward Sword, the story of Spirit Tracks is one of only a few to put Link and Zelda’s relationship at the center of the story, only here Zelda is actually your companion throughout the entire adventure. And while its iconic Tower of Spirits can be a bit frustrating to navigate for a third time, the game’s other dungeons are engaging, especially once you find some of the great items like the Sand Rod that make for some great boss fights. The game is delightfully charming, the characters are cute and quirky, and the music, especially the iconic overworld theme, is some of the best in the series. Needless to say, we’re all aboard the Spirit Tracks train.

8. A Link to the Past

If you’re a retro gamer you’re probably gasping, or unleashing a slew of expletives, but hear me out. First we’re entering the territory where all these games are considerably stronger, and while A Link to the Past has two whole worlds to explore and a gorgeous series and industry-influencing art style, it also in many ways was an integral building block for the series to only improve from.

A Link to the Past is filled with nooks and crannies to explore, and jumping between the Dark World and Hyrule to discover secrets prods the imagination in brilliant ways. It also introduced plenty of classic staple songs to the series such as the Kakariko Village theme. My only real complaint is that sometimes the game’s movement mechanics can get in the way of the fun, whether you’re aimlessly sliding around the Ice Dungeon or getting bopped into the abyss by an enemy attack. But beating bosses like the Helmasaur King or upgrading your weapons and tunic remains endlessly satisfying to this day.

best The Legend of Zelda games /  A Link Between Worlds

7. A Link Between Worlds

While A Link Between Worlds owes a hefty chunk of its identity to A Link to the Past, this title builds off of everything its predecessor did well to create an adventure with deeper mechanics, more elusive secrets, and significantly more freedom. Players will have the opportunity to tackle dungeons in whatever way they best see fit, and they can rent items on a need-to-have basis rather than having to find them within the walls of a temple.

Speaking of temples, this reboot includes some pretty unique takes on the dungeon system with levels like the Thieves’ Hideout and the Tower of Hera. Puzzles like using launch pads to climb up a fiery building or simply finding a way to escape the dungeon add some refreshing angles to the classic 2D top-down gameplay. And of course, going into the second dimension with its wall-merge mechanic offers some exciting solutions in sticky situations.

6. Twilight Princess

Ask anyone about Twilight Princess and you’ll find fans are pretty divided over this dark iteration of Hyrule. But while the wolf segments can feel a bit haphazard and the game’s intro is 45 minutes longer than it needs to be, the game itself is teeming with plenty to love. The game’s assistant character, Midna, is complex and interesting, and many fans have claimed she’s one of the best, if not the best, companions Link has ever had in the Legend of Zelda games.

Twilight Princess also arguably has the best dungeons of any Zelda title, including the horrifying mummy tomb of Arbiter’s Grounds, the dragon-infested City in the Sky, and the eerie yeti home of Snowpeak Ruins.The game also has some of the best combat, with finishing attacks, dodge rolls, and other fun moves players can learn from a Stalfos with direct ties to the Zelda timeline. Sure, some pacing issues can be found here and there, and the open world does lack some of the depth from other titles. But the highs of Twilight Princess really are hard to match anywhere else in the series.

best The Legend of Zelda games / Ocarina of Time

5. Ocarina of Time

Once heralded as the greatest game in the history of video games themselves, Ocarina of Time to this day is still a masterpiece of game design and artistic immersion. Knocking out the series’s jump to 3D with nearly flawless execution, Ocarina of Time also embraced the importance of rich environments. Whether you’re walking into the spider-ridden Deku Tree, exploring the ghost-ridden mansion of the Forest Temple, or rescuing a princess from a fish’s innards in Jabu Jabu’s Belly, the game absolutely oozes with environmental storytelling and creative level design.

While the Z-targeting system de-emphasizes difficulty in combat, there are a number of exciting and iconic boss battles like Phantom Ganon. The game also delivers in spades on its many quirky and odd characters found in Hyrule Castle Town, to the game’s seven sages who all form a kinship with Link over his adventures. Ocarina of Time remains an iconic moment in video game history, and its ability to create unique puzzles in a 3D setting set the tone for just how thrilling Zelda in the third dimension would become.

4. Link’s Awakening

Potentially one of the weirdest The Legend of Zelda games in addition to the best, Link’s Awakening in many moments feels like it’s more inspired by the likes of a Twilight Zone or Twin Peaks episode. The whole game is just Link navigating the island of Koholint, which exists in the dream of a sky whale (the Windfish). But this island is teeming with all sorts of odd yet lovable characters from a walrus making soup in an animal village, to an actual love interest for Link in the brightly melancholy Marin, who longs to be a seagull to fly away from the island.

It’s one of the most creative Zelda stories that finds the perfect marriage between the delightfully weird and whimsical and a sense of hopeless understanding that all good things aren’t meant to last. But along with the theming, the game has countless fun temples, with the Face Shrine and Eagle’s Tower standing out as two of the best 2D Zelda dungeons of all time. And the world has so many unique things to discover, even if finding out what to do with them can be cloyingly cryptic. Whether you’re playing the original from Game Boy or the toy-like Nintendo Switch remake, Link’s Awakening is a delightfully unique gem in the Zelda series, even if the titular Zelda doesn’t even make an appearance in the game.

3. The Wind Waker

This nautical seafaring adventure is bursting with cartoonish delight, capitalizing heavily on the sense of freedom and exploration found while sailing across the game’s Great Ocean. And for so much of the game being an open, cel-shaded sea, it’s impressive just how many secrets the game has to offer, with 49 unique islands, ghost ships, krakens, and more.

The Wind Waker’s five dungeons are all fantastic, though the Wind and Earth Temples are especially creative, seeing as Link brings a companion into each. And speaking of the companions, characters like the adorable flying Rito harpist Medli and Korok fiddler Makar are just two of the game’s countless delightful characters Link will meet while sailing across the realm.

And while the history of Zelda OSTs is filled with some of the best music from video games, Wind Waker’s score is perhaps the best. Just try to not want to sail off into the sunset when you hear the game’s title theme nautical flute come in.

2. Majora’s Mask

Another narratively fulfilling title, Majora’s Mask is a rich exploration of grief in the face of hopelessness. Link is transported to the land of Termina where the moon will fall in three days, destroying the realm and its many inhabitants. And throughout the game Link will become more and more familiar with the souls at risk of perishing should he not succeed. There’s also plenty of just plain horror as well, from deserts filled with ghosts and mummy-like Gibdos, to sinister ever-smiling Happy Mask Salesman.

The internet has waxed poetic praising Majora’s Mask for how dark and depressing its narrative is, but there’s plenty of mechanical brilliance that also makes the game such a classic. The ability to rewind time makes the entire game itself somewhat of a puzzle, as players will study how to best complete tasks in a day to get one of the day’s iconic masks or call one of the four giants. And the masks themselves not only make for a great collectathon, but will give Link special abilities that range from being able to run fast with the Bunny Hood, to being able to transform into Gorons, Zoras, Dekus, or a literal goddess.

While overall the dungeons mostly range from okay to pretty good, the Stone Tower Temple is a masterpiece in and of itself. But at the end of the day, Majora’s Mask is so memorable because of the sheer depth in its world and its many emotionally charged sidequests.

1. Breath of the Wild

Breath of the Wild’s open-ended celebration of exploration was this generation’s iteration of what made the original NES Legend of Zelda so iconic in the first place. Players have full control on their journey through Hyrule. Players could uncover every stone and find every Korok before rescuing Zelda. Or they could jump off the Great Plateau in their boxers only wielding a stick and rush right then and there to go face off with the final boss.

That both of these, and any other play style, work equally well shows how effective the game’s Sheikah Slate is at prodding players’ imaginations at creative solutions. When one of Link’s best weapons breaks, or other odds end up stacked against him, the Sheikah Slate’s variety of time manipulation, magnet wielding, and bomb-throwing always gives players a more creative angle when tackling fights or puzzles. The mechanic can give countless solutions to a single problem and lets players find their own way to tackle any unique encounter.

And while Breath of the Wild does lack some of the traditional Zelda dungeon-crawling, the four Divine Beasts and the 120 Shrines in the game offer plenty of puzzle-heavy dungeon-crawling. Toss in some iconic character sidequests involving characters like the plumed accordion-playing parrot Kass, or the old and new Champions, and Breath of the Wild still stays true to its Zelda roots, while completely revitalizing the series at the same time.

This has been one of many rankings of the best The Legend of Zelda games. Be sure to let us know what you think are the best Zelda games in the comments!


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Author
Image of Jeff Levene
Jeff Levene
Jeff Levene is an avid lover and writer of games, film, and theatre, who plays a little too much DnD in their free time. You can follow them on Twitter at @jefflevene498