10 Best Legend of Zelda Games

The Legend of Zelda series collage

10 Best Legend of Zelda Games

Trying to pick a favorite game in The Legend of Zelda series is practically like trying to pick a favorite child. As any longtime fan of the series can attest, there are things to love about every entry in Nintendo’s long-running action-adventure franchise, regardless of which games you grew up on. But even with their adherence to a particular formula and inclusion of certain series staples, each game in the Zelda series varies a good bit from entry to entry. The Zelda games certainly shine bright when compared to other action-adventure titles that they’ve undoubtedly influenced, but there are some clear winners when comparing each game in the series.

Making a list of the 10 best games in The Legend of Zelda series is no easy feat. With more than 20 games spread out across 37 years, there’s a lot of quality titles to pull from when trying to narrow the series down to its absolute best. That said, among both the 2D and 3D Zelda titles there are some standouts that aren’t just some of the best games within the franchise but also qualify as some of the most brilliant examples of game design ever seen in the medium. Make no mistake — the 10 games on this list are, without question, 10 of the best video games ever made. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how these entries stand up against one another in a Zelda series face-off.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds key art

A Link to the Past is an incredibly special and important game. Not only was the single SNES-era Zelda title a return to form after the departure that Zelda II represented, it stands tall as the perfect distillation of the 2D Zelda formula into a single experience. That Nintendo found it pertinent to give A Link to the Past a proper sequel more than 20 years later is nothing short of a miracle. Thankfully, A Link Between Worlds absolutely lives up to the pedigree of its predecessor. Featuring a unique mechanic that no other game in the series has yet to replicate, Link can turn himself into a painting and use this ability to traverse quasi-3D environments as a 2D object. And as if that weren’t enough, this 3DS classic brings back the iconic map of Hyrule from its SNES predecessor.

9. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword key art

Even though Skyward Sword‘s 1:1 sword fighting combat with the Wiimote Motion Plus is still a bit of a sore subject for some, there’s no denying how important this game is to the series’ timeline. Taking place at the very beginning of the entire Legend of Zelda chronology (and launching alongside the series’ 25th anniversary), Skyward Sword finally lays bare all of the answers that fans had speculated on for decades. Even outside of its incredible narrative reveals, though, Skyward Sword features some of the absolute best boss and dungeon design of any game in the series, 3D or otherwise. The Switch port of the game is an excellent alternative to the Wii original that uses analog stick controls to replace the motion ones, and now the brilliance of the title’s design can shine through without distraction.

8. The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap

The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap key art

Let’s go ahead and get one thing straight: The Minish Cap is perhaps the most criminally overlooked game in the entire series. Thanks to its launch on the Game Boy Advance at a time when most Nintendo fans were solely focusing on the GameCube and the upcoming launch of the Wii, the title holds somewhat of a cult following that pales in comparison to the player adoption of its contemporaries The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess. For longtime fans of The Minish Cap, this stands as one of the greatest injustices in the franchise’s history thanks to just how brilliant its gameplay is. The final game in a trilogy of 2D Zelda titles co-developed by Nintendo and Capcom, The Minish Cap has one of the best unique mechanics of any Zelda game and some of its most incredible dungeons.

The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening key art

©Zelda concept art

Not many of the games on this list can attest to having not one, but two remakes of their original source material. Then again, not every Zelda game can stand toe-to-toe with Link’s Awakening. Taking the template of A Link to the Past and finally bringing the Zelda series to Game Boy, Link’s Awakening is still one of the all-time best entries in the series. The Switch remake only serves to reinforce this fact, bringing all of the charm and brilliance of the original’s design fully into the modern era with a new art style and some quality-of-life changes. In terms of the staples fans expect to see in any Zelda title, the ones on display in Link’s Awakening are some of the best. The puzzles are ingenious, the dungeons are intricate, and the boss fights require observation and patience. A masterpiece among masterpieces.

6. The Legend of Zelda

The Legend of Zelda key art

©Zelda manual art – Original

A list of Zelda games not including the original is something akin to blasphemy. Even foregoing the brilliance and innovation inherent in the 1986 original’s design, the sheer historic importance of The Legend of Zelda guarantees that it rightfully sits somewhere near the top of any list discussing the best video games ever made. In an era when most games on the NES were arcade ports or simple novelty-style games testing out what was possible on the hardware, The Legend of Zelda‘s arrival signaled a sea change in the medium of video games. While there’s been plenty written about its various influences and how the title made its way to the NES with the aid of (at the time) newly developed technology, the fact of the matter is that adventures like the one found in The Legend of Zelda simply didn’t exist before its creation.

5. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker key art

Looking back now on the controversy surrounding The Wind Waker‘s reveal seems ridiculous given how incredible of a game it is. Cartoon Link aside, Wind Waker smartly switches up almost 2 decades of tradition to completely submerge Hyrule under a vast ocean and task players with getting around by boat in a series that traditionally features land-locked settings. Even better, traversing this vast ocean comprises a significant portion of the gameplay, transforming the basic act of getting around the map into a meditative experience in an absolutely gorgeously animated setting. And for the times that Link finds himself in more challenging scenarios, the combat is fluid and fast, with cartoon Link being one of the most nimble and agile versions of the hero players have ever gotten their hands on.

4. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time gameplay and art

There’s a reason that millions of Zelda fans look back fondly on the Nintendo 64. Not only was the console host to a plethora of incredible first and third-party system exclusives, it exists as the system where Mario and Zelda made their transition to full 3D and completely revolutionized the gaming landscape in their wake. Ocarina of Time isn’t just the Zelda game that establishes the formula that every subsequent 3D series entry follows until Breath of the Wild, it’s the proof of concept that shows how 3D action games are supposed to be made. Prior to its release, the 3D worlds of games on the PlayStation and Nintendo 64 were rudimentary at best. In the post-Ocarina of Time world, however, it became abundantly clear how influential and important a game it was, and frankly, still is.

3. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild key art

In terms of the importance of The Legend of Zelda in the gaming landscape, there’s a solid argument to be made that the most influential game in the series other than the original is Breath of the Wild. Completely abandoning the series formula that Ocarina of Time establishes and carries up through Skyward Sword, this launch title for the Nintendo Switch winds back the clock to the franchise’s origins and reinstates the feelings of pure freedom and adventure that were so palpable in the 1986 original. Gone are the dungeons that players tackle in a strict order while tackling a linear adventure. Instead, Hyrule itself is now the dungeon, presenting players with a myriad of opportunities for exploration, puzzle-solving, and combat. There’s a reason this title is the best-selling game in the series by a large margin.

2. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom key art

The initial reveals of Tears of the Kingdom give the impression that the title is essentially a sizable DLC expansion to Breath of the Wild, and that would actually be correct. After beginning its life as a large DLC for its predecessor, the Zelda team realized that it had too many ideas it wanted to implement in Breath of the Wild but couldn’t, giving cause for the project to increase in scope to a full-fledged sequel. After multiple delays, Tears of the Kingdom‘s arrival this year was nothing short of a triumphant coming home and a reminder of why we love Zelda in the first place. Expanding the open-world Hyrule in two directions, adding a brand-new crafting mechanic, and bringing the dungeons of classic Zelda games back, Tears of the Kingdom represents the best blend of old and new series mechanics.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past key art

It takes an incredible game to beat out the other entries on this list for top billing, and A Link to the Past is unequivocally that game. This SNES classic isn’t just the best game on the SNES (right next to Super Metroid, Super Mario World, and Chrono Trigger), it’s the best 2D Zelda game and the absolute best game in the series. So many of the series staples that have become synonymous with The Legend of Zelda are established here. One of these, the introduction of the Master Sword, has such profound implications for the rest of the Zelda series’ lore that it’s hard to not place this game as the best Zelda of all-time for that reason alone.

However, Link to the Past backs up its great story and important series connections with the best batch of dungeons of any game in the series, an incredible roster of collectible key items, and a score that is nigh unbeatable by any other Zelda title. Not only that, the climactic boss fight against Ganon inside the Pyramid of Power is one of the best final boss fights of any video game. Even without the benefit of looking at the game through the rose-tinted glasses of childhood experience, A Link to the Past embodies everything that makes The Legend of Zelda one-of-a-kind among its contemporaries.

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