The Legend of Zelda has a long history in the gaming world, dating all the way back to the 80s following the release of the first game before the series spiralled into numerous main games and spin-offs. With The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom only a few days away from release, we thought it would be a good idea to revisit the iconic Nintendo franchise and offer a ranking of each game in the mainline series from worst to best.
Before we begin, we have to set some rules. We’ll only be ranking the mainline games in the franchise. The ranking order was assembled from a combination of other ranking lists, review ratings, polls on forums and some of our own opinions sprinkled into the mix. Minus some questionable spin-offs, we don’t think there’s any particular “bad” Zelda game, though each does have its own strengths and weaknesses that we’ll try and condense as much as possible here.
Ranking The Legend of Zelda Games From Worst to Best
10. The Adventure of Link
Starting off the list is the second game in the franchise, The Adventure of Link. Originally releasing in 1987 for the Famicom in Japan, the game would eventually find its way to international shores a year later for the NES. Evolving everything from the first game including larger sprites, a lengthier playtime and more robust gameplay mechanics, The Adventure of Link is still held in high regard today. Age hasn’t been kind to the game, however, because it’s rough to play today so it was better served as a product of its time.
9. The Legend of Zelda
The game that started it all, the original Legend of Zelda was released in 1986 for the Famicom and introduced the world to this mesmerising new fantasy series – and a huge selling point for Nintendo as it dipped its feet into the popular genre. It’s undeniably a classic in every sense of the word, telling a gripping story with fun characters and a fantastic setting. Like The Adventure of Link, time has once again proven to be its biggest crutch today. Either way, it’s a phenomenal title that changed the tides for Nintendo forever.
8. Skyward Sword
You might be surprised to see Skyward Sword not sitting at the bottom of the list since the two aforementioned titles are arguably superior. Aside from its atrocious motion controls for the Wii (which has since been made better with the Switch port), Skyward Sword is praised because it evolved the series in interesting ways, ramping up the epic storytelling with some genuine surprises along the way. It’s not perfect by any means but it is a Zelda game that’s absolutely worth playing if you have the patience for it.
7. A Link to the Past
The third game in the franchise, A Link to the Past was released in 1991 in Japan for the SNES before heading overseas in subsequent years. The best way to describe this title is “bold”. It brilliantly built upon the foundations of past games and delivered an unexpectedly amazing story with a darker tone than previous games. Most of all, thanks to the modernised gameplay tweaks, it’s still a blast to play today and has aged considerably better than others.
6. Twilight Princess
Nintendo wisely chose to dial back the motion controls for the Wii release of Twilight Princess and not go overboard (also largely thanks to the GameCube release). As a result, the focus was shifted to the outstanding art direction, improved gameplay and immersive storytelling of Twilight Princess that elevated the series beyond what fans were used to at the time. To this day, it remains one of the most epic experiences in the franchise and largely responsible for giving Zelda its unique modern identity.
5. Link’s Awakening
I’m gonna cheat a bit here and lump the original Link’s Awakening in with the excellent Switch remake. The original, which launched in 1993 for the Game Boy, marked the first time that the series ditched the setting of Hyrule and didn’t feature Princess Zelda. Instead, we got a back-to-basics Zelda adventure that placed us in a new location with an emphasis on strengthening the original game’s mechanics and wonderful simplicity. It’s a timeless classic that’s made even better through the must-play remake.
4. Breath of the Wild
We look back at Breath of the Wild fondly now but most seem to forget that it was a bit divisive upon release despite universal acclaim. It took some of the biggest leaps that the franchise had seen so far including a vast open-world, new and overhauled gameplay mechanics and a risky approach to freeform storytelling that relied on the player’s natural progression through exploration. For the most part, it all worked wonderfully together and it’s often considered a modern masterpiece.
3. The Wind Waker
A quick glance at The Wind Waker will leave some confused about its jarringly different art style and almost kid-friendly appeal. If anything, this was a testament to Nintendo’s ability to creatively reshape its signature IPs without losing any of its charm – charm which The Wind Waker had in massive doses. Nintendo also found a way to make sailing some of the most imaginative and fun activites in gaming, not to mention everything else surrounding it being just as engrossing and addictive.
2. Majora’s Mask
The darkest point of the franchise, Majora’s Mask is easily one of the most beloved entries next to the number one. Boasting its unique Groundhog’s Day premise and plot, Majora’s Mask also took this once colourful franchise into some twisted but unforgettable territory. It’s not easy to digest, especially if you’re expecting something with a lighter tone, but the game is a magnificent creative endeavour that earned Nintendo another hall of fame heavy-hitter, especially coming right off the back of…
1. Ocarina of Time
Whenever the senseless debate about whether video games can be considered art, I always have my prime examples locked and loaded: Journey, Shadow of the Colossus and Ocarina of Time. There’s not a single thing that feels misplaced in this game. Everything is poetic, meaningful, deliberate, artistically driven and immaculately designed. There’s a reason it’s seen as the pinnacle of the Zelda games and possibly of all time. It’s going to take a lot to top Ocarina of Time in the series, so we’ll see if Tears of the Kingdom has what it takes.