All Legend of Zelda Games Ranked by Their Dungeons

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword gameplay

All Legend of Zelda Games Ranked by Their Dungeons

It almost goes without saying that, especially where the earlier titles are concerned, it’s the dungeons of The Legend of Zelda games that are the star of the show. In addition to each game in the franchise featuring its own unique version of Hyrule and set of items and upgrades for Link to acquire, the dungeons themselves are as varied and iconic as any element of the series and one of the primary ways players get to see the creativity of the Zelda development team on display. Practically every game in the Zelda series has at least one great dungeon, but compiling a list of the Zelda games ranked by their dungeons shows that some titles stand out in their selection of these labyrinthine structures.

Dungeons are more than just the meat of Zelda‘s gameplay, they’re the reason that players keep coming back to the classic games in the series year after year, containing the best puzzles, combat encounters, and incredible boss fights available in one of gaming’s most important franchises. So important are dungeons to the Zelda DNA that the outcry over their exclusion in Breath of the Wild led to their reintroduction in this year’s Tears of the Kingdom, and it’s the better game for it. Withour further ado, these are the games in the Zelda series ranked by the quality of their dungeons.

16. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Breath of the Wild gameplay

It’s almost a given that Breath of the Wild would end up at the bottom of a list ranking the Zelda series by their dungeons, especially considering that the game doesn’t even really have any “proper” dungeons to speak of. Instead of the series’ typical reliance on anywhere between 6 and 8 iconic locations for Link to conquer as part of his adventure, Breath of the Wild dramatically switches things up to include 120 Shrines (which act as “mini-dungeons”) and the four Divine Beasts. These Divine Beasts are the closest thing that Breath of the Wild has to honest-to-goodness dungeons, but they’re too short and a bit of a mixed bag to actually count as such.

Still, there are some incredible moments that players can experience when taking on the Divine Beasts, such as the simple act of getting to several of them. Additionally, the game’s version of Hyrule Castle is an excellent and multi-layered fortress that Link can visit and then return to at multiple points in the adventure, calling back to the multi-stage pinnacle dungeons of both Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks. The actual moment-to-moment gameplay of Breath of the Wild is so good that the absence of dungeons doesn’t make it any less of an incredible Zelda game, but it’s hard not to imagine what could have been if it included them.

Best Dungeon: Divine Beast Vah Rudania

15. The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks

Spirit Tracks gameplay

Spirit Tracks only sits above Breath of the Wild thanks to the fact that it actually includes some proper dungeons, but that’s about the extent of how it manages to beat out 2017’s masterpiece. Spirit Tracks is by no means a bad game, and it’s absolutely bursting with unique ideas and qualities that aren’t present in any other game in the Zelda series. Ultimately, though, the temples that Spirit Tracks includes as the game’s selection of dungeons are a little too familiar and play it a little too “safe”.

The Temple of Spirits is a highlight for the way that it repeats the “central dungeon” idea of its predecessor Phantom Hourglass, presenting players with a massive structure that Link progressively is able to advance further into as he becomes more powerful and continues in his journey. One of the best parts about Spirit Tracks is the way Princess Zelda actually helps Link within the dungeons, but otherwise the locations themselves just aren’t that memorable.

Best Dungeon: Temple of Spirits

14. The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass gameplay

Phantom Hourglass earns a spot on a list of Zelda games ranked by dungeons slightly higher than Spirit Tracks thanks to it being the first game in the series to introduce a “central dungeon”. Rather than act as a penultimate or final dungeon that players visit once, the spot of the game’s final showdown against Bellum is a location that players visit mutliple times throughout the adventure, advancing further and further into its confines each time they return. It’s a play on the mechanics of the Forsaken Fortress from The Wind Waker, which Link visits twice, and as the direct sequel to that GameCube classic it’s nice to see Phantom Hourglass advance the concept.

Still, outside the Temple of the Ocean King, most of the other dungeons on display are only slightly better than the selection present in Spirit Tracks. That said, the controls and unique way that players navigate Link around these spaces help to make Phantom Hourglass one of the more distinctively different games in the series, and the dungeons themselves help to reinforce that idea.

Best Dungeon: Temple of the Ocean King

13. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom

Tears of the Kingdom gameplay

Tears of the Kingdom corrects one of the only missteps of Breath of the Wild by seeing the return of the classic dungeons that the series is known for. These locations are more than just the four elemental temples that Link visits too, with several labyrinths and an entire biome to explore (the Depths) that almost acts as one giant dungeon. The new dungeons introduced as part of Tears of the Kingdom are generally shorter than what one might expect when comparing them to the “classic” Zelda games, but it’s still a welcome sign to see their return.

The four temples are absolutely the highlight, with each one requiring Link to put his skills to the test. Just getting to these locations is an act of puzzle solving in and of itself, and once players arrive within the confines of these temples, it’s hard to not feel like Tears of the Kingdom is successfully combining the best parts of “classic” Zelda with the new, open-world format the games continue to adopt. If Tears of the Kingdom is any indication, players may see the full-on return of 8 iconic dungeons in the next game in the series.

Best Dungeon: Wind Temple

Zelda II gameplay

Say what you will about Zelda II and its drastic departures from essentially everything players love about the original, the game has some absolutely incredible dungeon design. Flipping the third-person perspective of the series from top-down to side-scrolling was a massive gamble on Nintendo’s part, and while it didn’t quite pay off, it does result in some liberties in the layout of dungeons and the encounter design of the bosses in these spaces. Zelda II‘s dungeons aren’t just interesting, they’re difficult and intimidating, and it’s almost like the game embodies the spirit of FromSoftware’s Dark Souls series decades before those games’ existence.

The highlight of these dungeons is, of course, the penultimate dungeon that Link visits in the game — the Great Palace. Simply looking at a 2D map of this dungeon shows how impressively complex and intricate its layout is, and playing through it underscores the fact that there’s danger lurking around every single one of its corners. It might not stand the test of time as one of the favorite games in the series, but it absolutely has some truly impressive dungeon design that still holds up to this day.

Best Dungeon: Great Palace

11. The Legend of Zelda

The Legend of Zelda gameplay

The original Legend of Zelda is a landmark title in the medium of video games for so many reasons, but one of them is for its ability to make players feel like they’re truly on an adventure. A large part of that feeling comes from traversing through its 9 dungeons, each of which feature the telltale theme music coming from the genius of Koji Kondo. The design of each dungeon is modeled after a real-life object or symbol, making them easier for players to map out in their mind prior to the age of Internet FAQs and guides, and their geometric simplicity also made it possible for these same players to draft their own graph paper maps, becoming amateur cartographers in the process.

The best of these dungeons is the final assault on Ganon’s fortress at Death Mountain, which takes the shape of a skull and features so many potential dead-ends and maze-like teleportation paths that not having a guide nearby is a surefire recipe for getting lost. Mainly, though, the dungeons in the original Legend of Zelda establish the importance of these locations, ensuring that their presence would become a core component of the series’ DNA moving forward.

Best Dungeon: Death Mountain

10. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker Wind Temple

Fans may have been split on the issue of Wind Waker‘s visuals when the game first released, but actually getting to sit down and play through the game served to emphasize one simple fact — The Wind Waker features some of the best combat and puzzle design of any game in the series. Navigating the Great Sea is a bit of a puzzle on its own, with Link needing to collect valuable sea charts and continually hop from island to island, but this makes the eventual act of landing at one of the game’s handful of dungeons so much more impactful. By the time Link gets to these spaces, they feel like major turning points in the adventure.

The Temple of the Gods is a standout for the way it requires players to monitor the tides and use the natural flow of the water to rise from floor to floor, and the Forsaken Fortress is one of the first dungeons in the series that Link visits a second time to get revenge. Perhaps the highlight of the game, though, is Dragon Roost Cavern, which sees Link traverse through a massive volcano to find out what’s causing the titular beast resting at its peak so much distress.

Best Dungeon: Dragon Roost Cavern

9. The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap

The Minish Cap gameplay

The Minish Cap carries over a lot of the DNA that Capcom established in the two Oracle games, but it does so in unique ways that help its small selection of dungeons stand out from other entries in the series. There may only be 6 total dungeons (5 in the main quest plus the final dungeon), but each of these spaces is truly unique in terms of its theme, its mechanics, puzzles, and implementation of Link’s items and abilities. With so much creativity on display in just a handful of dungeons, it’s a wonder that Capcom and Nintendo have yet to team up on the Zelda franchise again.

The highlight of the game is, without a doubt, the Palace of Winds, which might both be one of the Zelda series’ longest dungeons and one of its most unique. The Palace makes great use of its dungeon item and sees Link using his newly acquired cape to trounce around on the clouds dotting the landscape, Even with it being one of the longer dungeons, its hard to not feel like it’s over too soon with how fun it is to traverse. It might be a bit of a trek from Point A to Point B, but it packs so much fun and ingenuity into the journey that the linearity of it doesn’t really matter.

Best Dungeon: Palace of Winds

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds gameplay

The fact is that A Link Between Worlds would rank much higher on this list if many of its dungeons were appearing in the series for the first time. Since several of the dungeons the game includes are remixes or reappearances of dungeons appearing in its predecessor A Link to the Past, it does lose some points where originality is concerned. Still, A Link Between Worlds is both one of the best sequels to any Zelda game and the last 2D game in the series, making it a bit of a historical footnote for the franchise.

Taking place in the same version of Hyrule from the SNES classic A Link to the Past, A Link Between Worlds cleverly toys with players’ memories and nostalgia, often flipping expectations on their head at points where many would least expect. It’s in these moments that the game truly shines, showcasing how Nintendo brilliantly used this follow-up as a way to both innovate and honor many longtime fans’ favorite game in the series. And, lest it be forgotten, the “Painting Link” mechanic that many of the dungeons’ puzzles utilize is a moment of brilliance that should return to the series somehow.

Best Dungeon: Desert Palace

7. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask gameplay

Majora’s Mask, much like Ocarina of Time before it, brilliantly takes the principles underpinning the dungeon design of the 2D Zelda games and successfully translates them into the third dimension. The result is a selection of dungeons that, for many, continue to rank as some of the best in the entire series. The implementation of masks to change Link’s appearance and abilities is a brilliant move that lends itself to creating some truly unique and awe-inspiring moments as players make their way through several of the game’s dungeons.

The location that stands out the most in this regard is the Stone Tower Temple, which sees Link needing to use every single mask that’s in his possession as a final test. Not only does the dungeon serve as a reminder of how far players have come since the beginning of the adventure, it embodies every one of the aspects that make the Zelda series’ dungeons so special by requiring players to use every tool at their disposal.

Best Dungeon: Stone Tower Temple

6. The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages/Seasons

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages/Seasons gameplay

Similar to The Minish Cap, both of the Oracle games are the result of a strategic partnership between Nintendo and Capcom. Unlike The Minish Cap, though, the Oracle games wear their Link to the Past inspirations loud and clear and feature not one, but two selections of some of the best 2D dungeons in the series. As one would expect, these dungeons feature plenty of tightly-tuned combat, puzzle-solving, and platforming, but the ways that they toy with the series’ tradtion and conventions help them to rank as some of the best in the franchise.

The themes of the dungeons themselves range everywhere from the traditional elemental locations players are familiar with all the way to entirely unique locations like the Wing Dungeon or Ancient Ruins that are unlike anything seen in a Zelda game before or since. Perhaps the best part about each of the Oracle games’ dungeons is the way that they expertly weave in the time or weather manipulation mechanics of each title, requiring players to consider how shifting temporal or seasonal conditions will impact the spaces themselves.

Best Dungeon: Ancient Ruins

The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening gameplay

Regardless of which version of Link’s Awakening players happen to experience, its dungeon design stands toe-to-toe with A Link to the Past as some of the best among the 2D Zelda games. The Game Boy Color release (Link’s Awakening DX) adds-in the Color Dungeon, which thankfully sees a return in the 2019 Switch remake, and more of Link’s Awakening is never a bad thing. Like the best dungeons across the series, each of Link’s Awakening‘s collection of dungeon locations feature a strong mix of clever puzzles, compelling mini-boss fights, and some challenging combat.

The standout, again regardless of version, is Eagle’s Tower, which serves as the penultimate location Link visits in his adventure. This massive structure is one of the game’s longest dungeons and is made all the more intimidating via the prospect of falling to the bottom and needing to retrace steps to the top. By the time players finally reach the peak to challenge its boss, it feels as if Link has truly mastered all of the tools at his disposal and is ready for whatever the game throws at him.

Best Dungeon: Eagle’s Tower

4. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time gameplay

Ocarina of Time holds the highest critic review average of any game ever for a reason — it’s one of the best and most important games of all time. By taking the core elements of the Zelda formula and evolving them into 3D, Ocarina of Time establishes both the template that the series would follow for almost two decades as well as informs entire generations of 3D action/adventure game design. The dungeons themselves are a large part of Ocarina‘s success, serving as the proverbial “proof in the pudding” that Zelda works in 3D.

It’s hard to talk about the dungeons in Ocarina of Time without mentioning the Water Temple, which is (ironically) a watershed moment for the series. For the first time in the franchise, the dungeon itself exists as one massive puzzle for Link to solve rather than being a series of gated puzzle or combat challenges, and this large-scale approach to dungeon design is something that would carry over into the rest of the franchise, even up through Tears of the Kingdom‘s dungeon design.

Best Dungeon: The Water Temple

3. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

Legend of Zelda scenery

Twilight Princess is almost like the full realization of Ocarina of Time‘s “proof of concept”, taking many of the design elements that form the foundation of the Nintendo 64 classic’s dungeons and elevating them to the next logical level. Every single dungeon in Twilight Princess is bursting with creativity and intuitive design, with players almost always being guided by some kind of visual element toward what they should be doing next. It also helps that each of these dungeons rank as some of the most fun in the entire franchise.

Snowpeak Ruins is a standout for its take on the “creepy mansion” theme, complete with ghosts and a fight against a monster, the Arbiter’s Grounds are an important moment in the game’s lore (and the Zelda canon in general), and the Forest Temple kicks off Link’s adventure proper with a bang. There’s something to love about each one of the game’s dungeons, and the fact that any one of them could make a legitimate claim to be on a list of the “Top 10 Zelda Dungeons” speaks to the quality of them as a whole.

Best Dungeon: Snowpeak Ruins

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past gameplay

Simply put, A Link to the Past is the best 2D Zelda game and, arguably, the best Zelda game ever made. A statement like that wouldn’t carry much water were it not for the game’s incredible dungeons, each of them absolutely bursting with iconic series moments that would come to define what most gamers think of when they imagine a Legend of Zelda game. The first three dungeon locations are excellent, but they’re simply the appetizer for Link to acquire the Master Sword and traverse into the Dark World.

The 8 dungeons of the Dark World are where A Link to the Past‘s brilliance truly shines through, with each of the locations embodying a particular element, puzzle type, or tool in Link’s arsenal. And at the end of each of these spaces are bosses that elevate the series as a whole, turning each fight into a combination of both puzzle-solving and combat. Out of all the games on this list, only one has a successor that borrows several of its dungeons, and that’s gotta count for something.

Best Dungeon: Skull Woods

1. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

Skyward Sword Earth Temple

Skyward Sword is a bit of an anomaly in the Zelda series in that it signals the need for the series to change, yet it also exists as the pinnacle of an aging formula’s evolution. After years of 3D Zelda games that utilized the foundation laid by Ocarina of Time, Skyward Sword represents the height of that design philosophy through its absolute series-best collection of dungeons. The dungeon locations are varied and beautiful, utilizing a variety of environment types and design themes, and the recurring use of time as a means to hop back and forth between a dilapidated present and pristine past serves as both a great gameplay mechanic and point of emphasis in Skyward Sword‘s narrative.

Perhaps it’s fitting that Skyward Sword exists as the last of the 3D Zelda games using the “classic” Zelda formula prior to the shift that Breath of the Wild introduces, since its dungeons rank as the best in the series, and one of its dungeons just might be the single best one in the entire franchise. With the game now available on Nintendo Switch, players now have the best of the “old” and “new” Zelda at their fingertips.

Best Dungeon: Ancient Cistern

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