Whether you like it or not, the Legend of Zelda series is one of the most important video game franchises out there. Almost every game’s release is an event, and several of them have set genre-defining standards that have shifted the focus of video games at large by setting the bar to new heights. And others are just “pretty good, I guess”. So at the risk of dragging on longer than Skyward Sword’s tutorial section, here is every Zelda game ranked, which will serve to either upset you or validate your opinions.
20. The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes
I’m going to be real with you guys: I didn’t play this one. This is the only one I didn’t play on this entire list, so please, let’s not start off on the wrong foot here. That being said, I was hesitant to even include this game. I had a rule that I would not be including any spin-off games like Link’s Crossbow Training, but several outlets list Tri Force Heroes as a mainline title, so hey, here it is. Also a list of 20 looks a lot better than a list of 19, right? While we’re at it: what is going on with that name? Isn’t “Tri Force” one word? Do I need to have played the game to understand it? Whatever. It apparently runs on the Link Between Worlds game engine, which is enticing enough. Maybe I’ll try it one day if I can find three pals who still have fully-charged 3DSes.
Best Item: The cool costumes?
Best Dungeon: TBD
Best Boss: TBD (sorry!)
19. The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks
The Zelda series was in a weird place for a while there, wasn’t it? After the release of Twilight Princess in 2006, the series kept trying to re-invent itself while also simultaneously feeling like it was spinning its wheels. The DS titles are the best example of this, with Spirit Tracks being the weaker of the two in my opinion. Going from sailing with free reign on the sea to being confined to train tracks felt pretty limiting, and I wasn’t particularly fond of the stylus controls to begin with. Ghost Zelda is probably one of the best companions in the series with the armored suit and everything, but this game is still a tough pill to swallow.
Best Item: Snake Whip
Best Dungeon: Ocean Temple
Best Boss: Byrne
18. The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords
This hardly feels like it constitutes a full game, and it sure as hell isn’t making it into the top of anybody’s Zelda lists, that’s for sure. Probably because most people weren’t even able to play it, even if they owned the game! Four Swords was a pack-in title with the Link to the Past GBA port, and you could only play it if you had a Game Boy Advance link cable, another Game Boy Advance system, another copy of A Link to the Past & Four Swords, and if you made it this far: a friend to play it with. Yeah, that’s kind of a tall order. At least the game introduced recurring villain Vaati, allowing the series to take a break from Ganon for once. You know what? Bring Vaati back. He was dope.
Best Item: Chain Chomp
Best Dungeon: Sea of Trees
Best Boss: Vaati
17. The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass
This game’s stylus controls were controversial at the time, and looking back on it now, I can’t say I stand by their decision to utilize them. Still, the game was filled with enough charm to get by. Its connection to Wind Waker was a neat little element that the game didn’t rely on heavily but at least acknowledged, and Linebeck is one of the greatest side characters in all of Zelda. Customizing your ship to outfit it with different canons, sails, and more was a cool element too, but I think we have to admit to ourselves that this might be one of the ugliest Zelda games. The Wind Waker art style just did not carry over to the DS as well.
Best Item: Grappling Hook
Best Dungeon: Ghost Ship
Best Boss: Gleeok
16. The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures
Now this is the multiplayer Zelda experience that we truly deserved! Granted there were limitations and capabilities locked behind needing a GameCube to Game Boy Advance link cable (good luck finding one of those in 2024) but there’s just something about this game that feels dark and brooding in a very uniquely Zelda way. Something about reusing assets from Link to the Past to create a new overworld while also utilizing Wind Waker particle effects and character designs just works so well. The added power of the GameCube allows certain things you can do for the first time in a top-down Zelda game, such as lighting an entire field on fire which is always satisfying if you catch a few enemies in there, or your allies if you’re feeling a little cheeky. God, I just remembered how fun Shadow Battle was. Wish I could play it again! Oh well.
Best Item: Four Sword
Best Dungeon: Lost Woods
Best Boss: Manhandla
15. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
Okay, I lied. Well, only kind of. When I said that Tri Force Heroes was the only Zelda game I hadn’t played, technically that is correct, because I only kinda played Zelda II a bit. Man, I don’t know what it is about this game, but it has always intimidated me! I know it has a specific reputation for being a black sheep of the franchise, yet there’s still something about it that is so captivating. The world feels a little more “realistic” and historical compared to most other Zelda games, and I think the side-scrolling sections were a fun experiment, but ultimately I’m glad they (mostly) cut those out later on. I think there’s just a lot of unrealized potential in this one.
Best Item: Hammer
Best Dungeon: …Parapa Palace?
Best Boss: Dark Link
14. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Ah yes, the game that everyone loves to hate on because some YouTuber loudly stated that it was basically the worst video game ever made. Well, over the course of time, I too found that I personally did not like it as much as I’d remembered. In my humble opinion (IMHO), the seams of the series started to show around Twilight Princess, becoming somewhat templative. Story, dungeon, item, boss, repeat. Skyward Sword aimed to shake things up a bit, but not enough and not in the right ways. The comparison between it and Breath of the Wild just several years later isn’t exactly favorable either. Skyward Sword also attempted to cement the official Zelda timeline, but let’s be honest, the only people who care less about the timeline than fans are Nintendo themselves.
Best Item: Beetle
Best Dungeon: Ancient Cistern
Best Boss: Koloktos
13. The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap
This game has been overlooked by a lot of people due to it releasing fairly late into the Game Boy Advance’s lifecycle, and to very little fanfare. There is still something absolutely charming about this game though, and it is highly underrated, even if it’s not one of the best Zelda games out there. It’s a top-down, classic style Zelda game that incorporates elements from some of the 3D Zeldas to come before it: the artstyle of Wind Waker, NPCs from Ocarina of Time, as well as nods to some of the side quests, which, let’s be honest, are some of the biggest reasons we like these games. The gimmick of turning tiny is fun, but it does border on overstaying its welcome despite being one of the shorter games in the series.
Best Item: Gust Jar
Best Dungeon: Palace of Winds
Best Boss: Big Green ChuChu
12. The Legend of Zelda
The original game is fairly far down on this list, isn’t it? Well, I don’t think that’s necessarily a controversial take. Later entries did improve a fair bit on the formula, but still, there’s something undeniably magical about this first entry. Ironically enough, its open-world, nonlinear elements make it the most like Breath of the Wild out of all the other games in the series. Well, aside from the one that re-used its world and assets, of course. Some of the combat can be a bit stiff by comparison to even Link to the Past, where using the sword feels more like you’re poking at someone to stab them instead of taking sweeping brushes with your blade. All that being said, the foundation laid down here is incredibly strong, and it’s important to note its historical importance in the medium. So quit whining that it’s too cryptic and try it out some day.
Best Item: Arrow
Best Dungeon: Level 2
Best Boss: Dodongo
11. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
Twilight Princess is a game that exists as a response to something else. Thanks to the (in hindsight, very stupid) backlash to “Celda” (Wind Waker), Nintendo sought to make something a bit more “mature and realistic”, harkening back to the series’ 3D roots on the N64 a bit, while still retaining just enough of that goofy Zelda flair. That being said, this game also has some of the best dungeons and boss fights in the entire series. Why is it this low then, you may ask? Well, by the time we got this far in, many fans could acknowledge that while the game itself is great, it does feel slightly uninspired, leaning too heavily on series tropes and formulas. In its attempt to be a people-pleasing game, it feels slightly held back, and a tad predictable at times.
Best Item: Double Clawshot
Best Dungeon: Snowpeak Ruins
Best Boss: Stallord
10. The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages
“What? Aren’t the Oracle games the same thing?” No, they are not. Don’t come in here asking such stupid questions again. The two games are split, able to be connected and focused on different things. Oracle of Ages is more puzzle-centric, and its core gimmick involves playing a harp to travel between present day and 400 years in the past. Time travel is by no means a unique concept in the Zelda series, but I can’t think of many where the gap is quite so wide. The dungeon design in this game is excellent too, and it feels like Nintendo (and Capcom!) really nailed the top-down formula here.
Best Item: Seed Shooter
Best Dungeon: Jabu-Jabu’s Belly
Best Boss: Giant Ghini
9. The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons
I just prefer the gimmick in this game, okay? We’ve seen time travel a bunch of times in this series, but getting to change the seasons with a magical rod? Well, I can’t say that’s happened before. Or maybe it has and I’m an idiot. Let me know in the comments down below! This game is more action-focused than its counterpart, which may be a little strange for a Zelda game, but it offers a fair bit of healthy challenge. Since you can connect the two games, I’ve seen people say that it’s advised to play Oracle of Ages first, to bring what progress you can into this game. Connecting the two at the end isn’t exactly essential to getting the full experience, but it’s a neat little bonus that incentivized many to play both games instead of just one, and to fork over double the cash to Nintendo.
Best Item: Rod of Seasons
Best Dungeon: Dancing Dragon Dungeon
Best Boss: Syger
8. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
A fantastic return-to-form for the series. In a somewhat unorthodox move, Link Between Worlds returns to the world of Link to the Past. It’s not often that Zelda games retread on familiar ground, but this game really makes it worth it without relying too heavily on “hey, remember this?!” The 3D graphics and fluid controls make it feel like a truly modern experience (despite being 10 years old now as of this month, ugh). I was worried that the wall merging mechanic would be too much of a gimmick, but it’s handled with such grace that it feels like it was always there from the very beginning. You can see Nintendo flirting again with non-linearity here, allowing players to play the game’s dungeons in any order thanks to an item-renting system. This game kicked some much needed life into Zelda when it really needed it.
Best Item: Nice Hammer
Best Dungeon: Turtle Rock
Best Boss: Stalblind
7. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
Ah yes, the game that everyone loves now and pretends they never hated before. Well, that probably depends on your age bracket, to be honest. Many of us expected something entirely different from the GameCube’s Zelda outing, especially after that awesome sword fight demo they showed off between Link and Ganondorf using a more realistic artstyle. When “Celda” was finally revealed, however, fan response was mostly negative. But, let’s get past that, shall we? The world has forgiven Wind Waker, apologized, and loves them for who they are. Sea exploration may be somewhat divisive, but it added something truly new to the series. Some fans complain that it’s just a big empty overworld with nothing but islands dotting the map to explore, but… isn’t that kind of the whole point? The King of Red Lions is the best companion character throughout the franchise, and the tone of the game has incredible range. One moment it can be cute and funny, then later it can be incredibly haunting and creepy. The Triforce fetch quest at the end could probably have been cut though, I think we can all agree on that.
Best Item: Deku Leaf
Best Dungeon: Dragon Roost Cavern
Best Boss: Ganondorf
6. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
Nintendo really let their developers get freaky with this one, and I absolutely love it. Apparently it was originally supposed to be a simple Game Boy port of Link to the Past, and every time I hear that I get shivers thinking about what we could have missed out on. Zelda games prior to this one kept upping the ante, aiming to make a bigger, better, more fleshed out world than before. With this being the first portable title in the series, they knew that wasn’t a possibility, so they had fun experimenting. While the game is a direct sequel to Link to the Past, it doesn’t have much to do with it… or the rest of the series at large, really. And it’s all the better for it. Mario enemies show up, Kirby enemies show up, and hell, even Kirby himself shows up, or at least someone who bears a striking resemblance to the puff ball. The remake on Switch is also worth checking out as well, if you’re looking for something that’s a bit more modern with none of the weirdness toned down or taken out.
Best Item: Roc’s Feather
Best Dungeon: Bottle Grotto
Best Boss: Facade
5. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
I will preface this with “no pun intended” when, in fact, the pun is very much intended: Breath of the Wild is a breath of fresh air. Yep, don’t think anyone’s ever said that before. Before this, the series was clearly tailing behind its competitors for some time. Skyward Sword releasing around the same time as Skyrim did not draw many favorable comparisons. So when Nintendo revealed that Zelda was finally getting an open-world game, I remember thinking “too little, too late.” But oh, how wrong I was. Picking this up with my Switch on day one had me absolutely glued to the screen for hours every single day. This felt like so much potential had been injected into the franchise that had been lacking for years. The game itself felt fun, but more so than anything, it showed that the Zelda series still had a lot of love to give. Granted there were some nitpicks that fans had with the game, such as repeated enemies and shrine designs, but those were easy to handwave away because of it being their first real open-world game, and it only gave a roadmap of what we could probably look forward to in the future.
Best Item: Remote Bomb
Best Dungeon: Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh
Best Boss: Thunderblight Ganon, I guess?
4. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom
I debated about whether to place this above or below Breath of the Wild. On one hand, you’ve got so, so very much to see and do in this game, much more than before. But on the other, it simply builds off of what Breath of the Wild did, without that same massive impact. But you know what, when playing this, I had a recurring thought of “this feels like it could be one of the greatest video game experiences of all time,” so it’s going above. Though uh, not number one, I guess. The Zonai building gimmick is a fun, one-time experiment, but to be honest I don’t think it’s something I’d like to see brought back in future games. Let’s see how poorly this list holds up in a few years, shall we? Tears of the Kingdom improves on all of the issues and concerns most people had with its predecessor with style and grace. The only shame was the reveal that there wouldn’t be more DLC to play. But hey, if it helps them release the next game in less than 6 years time, it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to accept.
Best Item: Ascend
Best Dungeon: Lightning Temple
Best Boss: Colgera
3. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
This game ain’t for everybody, but those who do love it, love it. And I’m one of those people. I don’t place it this high up just because it’s different, but it’s partly due to that and the fact that it’s just an incredibly fine-tuned experience that shouldn’t work as well as it does. The game’s a big cuckoo clock, for crying out loud. Or at least that’s what I tell people to help them conceptualize it better. The world has moving pieces that do the same things on the same three days, allowing you to experiment in fun and exciting ways we hadn’t seen before or since then. Obviously we all know this is the dark and creepy cousin of the Zelda family, giving rise to numerous creepypastas online. The game’s atmosphere does a great job of showing us emotional or uncomfortable moments and having us just sit there with it. Story and themes aside though, getting to use masks to transform into different creatures and races from throughout the series is just the cherry on top. Each transformation has a completely different moveset, giving the game’s somewhat shorter runtime a bit more depth.
Best Item: Zora Mask
Best Dungeon: Stone Tower Temple
Best Boss: Goht
2. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
This may not be the first Zelda game, but it feels like the first time where they nailed down exactly what this series would be moving forward for many, many years to come. Link to the Past really feels like, and I hate to use this word completely unironically: an epic adventure. Whew, there we go, I did it, okay moving on. The combat is vastly improved upon from the original Legend of Zelda, and they decided not to move forward with the unconventional design of Zelda II. The overworld map is flawless, and the music will absolutely get stuck in your head long after the game’s turned off. The pacing is so well-executed that it’s not surprising they decided to keep using this formula up until, well, Breath of the Wild. It holds up to this day as a true classic for the ages. You’re not playing it right now? What are you doing with your life?
Best Item: Bombos Medallion
Best Dungeon: Thieves’ Town
Best Boss: Moldorm
1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
I bet half of you are throwing a little hissy fit at home because I put Ocarina of Time as number one. “Oh, how predictable, you coward.” Save it. This game is amazing, and you are wrong, full stop. Unless I’m just making up a guy to get mad at– hopefully you agree with my subjective opinion here. It really feels like Nintendo put their absolute all into making this game, creating something that truly transcended anything to come before it. Sure, it reuses some elements and structure from Link to the Past but it does so in big, bold ways. Aside from Breath of the Wild, I can’t think of such a massive leap forward for any series to make. The time travel mechanic in this game is handled with grace and nuance, too. We’re not simply jumping between different eras in a kingdom’s history– we are watching a boy become a man and take on the responsibility unfairly thrust upon him. Simply put, it’s a story about the melancholy of growing up. Do I even have to mention how influential the Z-targeting combat in this game is too? The muddy, strange, and at times creepy atmosphere it has, warts and all, will stick in my mind for the rest of my life.
Best Item: Ocarina of Time
Best Dungeon: Shadow Temple
Best Boss: Ganondorf