With the exception of the godawful Phillips CD-i’s that shall not be named, every The Legend of Zelda title has been a triumphant and enchanting tale of exploration, growth, and adventure. While there is a formula that is present in (almost) every game, there’s also a brazen combination of the novel and the familiar. The games are layers – both in story and in mechanics – and each release has boldly challenged the standards of game design. In some cases, this challenge proved more successful than others. While trying to choose a “best” Zelda game is similar to trying to pinpoint the “best” star in the sky, it is a task that has fallen to me, and I can only hope that I have done it some justice. Here is my list of the top 10 The Legend of Zelda titles, but I would love for you to share yours in the comments or in our poll! Please, no pitchforks!
10. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Chronologically, this is where we see the start of Link’s story – for now, at least. Skyward Sword fully utilized the capabilities of the Wii’s motion control. It was a little bloated feeling for a LoZ title, but it also gave us the most detailed look at the history and lore of Hyrule.
9. The Legend of Zelda
Ranking above the first is, well, the first. Did the graphics hold up over time? Of course not. But this is where it all began. This is the game that influenced countless titles, and countless gamers. This is where we were dropped into a massive world without an easy to read overworld map or any sort of guidance on how or where to start our journeys. But it was the absence of those things that established The Legend of Zelda as what it was – a game of exploration. The adventure of the unknown. This is where we learned that it was dangerous to go alone, where we discovered the thrill of hidden paths and the immense satisfaction of pushing forward after uncovering a big secret. Without The Legend of Zelda, this list wouldn’t exist. Neither would, like, half-ish of all the indie games ever made.
8. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
“There’s no way they can make a good Zelda game for the Game Boy,” – probably lots of people back in the day. But those people were wrong. Considering the action and exploration and remarkable scale of A Link to the Past, no doubt many were skeptical that everything that had become core to the franchise could be translated onto a handheld device. Sure, it was smaller, and there wasn’t a glimpse of Zelda or the Triforce, but it proved that Zelda was capable of being a portable gaming experience, as well as being responsible for one of the saddest game endings of my youth. Link’s Awakening was unfortunate enough to fall between A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time, making it one of the mos underrated games in the franchise.
7. The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap
The battle between The Minish Cap and Link’s Awakening was intense. In fact, I spent more time debating which of these two games would rank higher more than anything else I considered on this list. In the end The Minish Cap took the higher spot. The land felt more lush, more charm, and more personality, and despite its compact size it was surprisingly atmospheric. Sure, that whole shrinking thing was a bit gimmicky, but it ended up contributing to some unique and memorable puzzles. In addition, Link’s attire definitely had way more character in this game than any other one….
6. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
A Link Between Worlds is a direct sequel to A Link to the Past, one of the greatest video games of all time. No pressure there, right? Well, fans weren’t disappointed. Sure, we were still dancing between the Light and Dark worlds, but it wasn’t a clone. While the map was essentially the same, A Link Between Worlds came full of new gameplay, new graphics, and a new story. The game also succeeded in having an engaging narrative without bombarding the player with massive amounts of cutscenes and dialogue. It played on nostalgia by invoking A Link to the Past, but managed to establish itself as a strong game independent of its predecessor.
5. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
Every game in the Legend of Zelda franchise is adventurous – that’s kind of its thing. But Wind Waker took that adventure to the seas. The game brought quite a bit of change to the Zelda formula we’d all come to know and love, but still remained true to the spirit of the series. The characters were extremely expressive, and the story, while funny at times, was deep, emotional, and even a bit dark. Sure the sailing got tedious at times, but that was almost to be expected when exploring a vast, oceanic world, and the story more than made up for it.
4. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
The first word that comes to mind when I think of Twilight Princess is “exquisite.” Everything about this game made me emotional After the style shake-up of The Wind Waker, Link returns more mature, more dark. Twilight Princess brought us into two different worlds, reimagined our beloved hero as a wolf, and introduced us to one of the single most memorable supporting characters in video game history – Midna, whose growing friendship with Link was one of the strongest elements in the entire game.
3. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
You thought Twilight Princess was dark? You could have thrown Toon Link and his accompanying art style into Majora’s Mask and it would still be the darkest LoZ game. Majora’s Mask had, without any doubt, the coolest concept of any Zelda title ever. Sure, sailing around the ocean was fun and different, and being a wolf was also pretty neat, but MM used the concept of time travel that its predecessor, Ocarina of Time, introduced and turned it into an enemy. Sure, you’re fighting loads of bad guys, but the real battle is against time, and that freaky moon that is plummeting to earth, of course. The incorporation of masks in order to gain certain abilities was cool (especially the bunny hood), but knowing what happens on each day, and knowing that you have to let certain things happen to certain characters with the hope that it’ll be ok in the end, is the most emotionally conflicting experience I’ve ever had with any game.
2. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
In a world where my personal preference is the deciding factor, Ocarina of Time would hold every spot in the top 10. This is the most impactful video game that I have ever played, and changed the way that I viewed not only The Legend of Zelda as a franchise, but video games in general. OOT was a breathtaking accomplishment, with every area saturated with characters. It was revolutionary, with excellent gameplay, an immersive world, Z-targeting, and a breathtaking musical score that was not merely a feature, but an instrumental (lol) mechanic on which progress was dependent. No game will ever capture what Ocarina did when it first released – it was a once in a lifetime perfect storm of a game.
So, I know that a lot of you are probably furious right now, and I understand that. Ocarina of Time is a masterpiece, with its shadow looming over every other title in the franchise. So what could have possibly topped it?
*braces for impact*
Tingle’s Rosy Rupeeland
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
Hear me out. Personal bias aside, there’s no arguing that A Link to the Past is deserving of this spot. Aside from a clever name, A Link to the Past didn’t just set the bar for every Zelda title that followed, it was the bar, against which all others were to be judged. The original The Legend of Zelda gave players a winning formula of a skeleton, which the franchise’s third entry fleshed out with an impressive prologue that established the backstory of the game, as well as the first introduction of the Ocarina, the Hookshot, the Master Sword, and, greatest of all, alternate dimensions, all of which would be used in future titles. A Link To The Past provided not one expansive land to explore, but two. The detail-packed light and dark worlds, both mirror images of one another, allowed each world to influence the other and encouraged exploration in one of the most magical titles of all time. It was the ultimate – wait for it – game changer.
And that concludes our list of the Top 10 Legend of Zelda games – to date, of course. Disagree with the list? Sound off in the comments, and then make your way over to our poll to vote for your favorite game. We’ll be releasing a Reader’s Choice list at the end of the week!
Want more The Legend of Zelda? Take a look back at the past thirty years with The Hero That Went Alone – Celebrating 30 Years of Link, and tune in all this week for more coverage.