The best Legend of Zelda games of all time

The best Legend of Zelda games of all time

Nintendo has some of the most devoted fans in gaming, and at the very top of its beloved franchises is The Legend of Zelda. The original game captured a sense of wonder and discovery. But more, it redefined the genre, taking RPG tropes like hit points and equipment and simplifying them to the point that anyone could enjoy them. Each new entry in the dungeon-crawling series adds to its legacy, creating stiff competition when determining just which Zelda game is the best.

What follows is GamesRadars ranking of the 10 best Zelda games ever made. Though all have some level of historical significance, that didnt impact our rankings. Much like our rankings of the best games ever, the key element to the rankings was what game would be the best to play today. With that in mind, lets start the list with

10. The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask

Zelda is at its best when it's channeling the Tolkien-esque charm of classic fantasy tales, but sometimes the series needs a palette cleanser to make the next epic quest feel special again. Thats where the thoroughly odd Majoras Mask comes in. The late-era N64 game reused many elements and enemies from the superior Ocarina of Time, but found new use for them by getting weirder and weirder as the time-twisting tale unfolded.

Young Link finds himself trapped in Clock Town, a place doomed to be crushed under an angry moon in just three days. Link has to keep repeating the three days over and over until he can find a way to prevent the disaster, all while experiencing the unique town life where--thanks to the games internal clock--all the inhabitants follow set schedules they repeat each day. Some of the games encounters might be a little too out there for those in search of a more typical Zelda, but we appreciate that Majoras Mask tested the limits of the franchise. Plus this game introduced Tingle, so it deserves to be on this list somewhere.

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

Zelda isn't a franchise Nintendo typically trusts to other developers, but the company made an exception for Capcom. Originally conceived as a remake of the original LoZ, Oracle of Ages and Oracles of Seasons grew into unique adventures that embraced different aspects of what makes Zelda great. (And unlike other games at the time, the twin releases were totally unique from one another.)

Seasons tasked Link with saving the day by cycling between summer, fall, winter, and spring, and the game had some of the best combat the 2D iterations of the series had seen. Meanwhile, Ages downplayed the combat and created some of the most complex, taxing puzzles the series had ever seen. Each complemented the other by playing to its strengths, and together they were proof that Zelda didnt need to go fully 3D to stay fun in the new millennium.

8. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

When the Wiis motion controls were first unveiled, many peoples immediate reaction was to imagine using the Wii Remote to swing Links sword. Though the port of Twilight Princess did the idea some justice, Skyward Sword fully embraced the capabilities. Swinging the sword in different directions was integral to combat, and the games other key items used the Wii Remote in some exciting new ways.

Chronologically, the game is the first story in the timeline, and it explores some uncovered terrain in Zeldas history that introduces new friends and arch villains to the narrative. The flight mechanics made exploration an exciting new prospect, and the dungeon design was reliably fun, if a little too linear. Ultimately Skyward Sword took what could have been an annoying gimmick and turned it into one of the most rewarding experiments in the franchise.

7. The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening

After the remarkably huge scale of Links SNES entry, many doubted that Nintendo could translate the same action to the technologically limited Game Boy. Links Awakening proved those skeptics wrong by squeezing the franchise onto the spinach green screen of the GB. The gameplay was the same as before, but the experience was satisfyingly compacted for the simpler hardware. Still, even if the story is smaller, the premise is one of the most interesting the series ever saw.

Link starts the game after wrecking his ship and being found unconscious on the beach of Koholint Island. Everything on the island feels both new and weirdly familiar as Link searches for the mysterious Wind Fish that can supposedly send him home. Familiar features like the Triforce and Princess Zelda are replaced by a dreamy, oddball atmosphere thats a welcome change of pace from tradition. And it immediately proved that portable Zelda games can keep up with their big brothers.

6. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

When you say that you are going to make a sequel to one of the greatest Zelda games of all time, that statement could be tough to live up to. But Nintendo doesn't disappoint in the 3DS entry in the series, A Link Between Worlds. While the story takes place in the familiar Hyrule (Light World) and Lorule (Dark World) of A Link to the Past, Link's latest adventure is anything but a carbon copy, and flips many of the linear Zelda conventions on their head to great effect.

The ability to rent the series' mainstay items like the bow, boomerangs, and bombs from the lovable, new character, Ravio, brings back the truly open-world feel of the original Zelda. Now, you're free to explore the beautifully detailed, stereoscopic 3D world as you hunt down dungeons in any order you choose, collect heart pieces, and spin attack spear-wielding Moblins. ALBW also looks beautiful with the handheld's 3D visuals cranked up to full. Without a doubt, the 3DS's first full Zelda title is one that every series fan needs to pick up and play.

5. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D

Ocarina of Time is one of the most historically important games of all time, but the fact that its in the middle of this countdown is a tribute to how consistently great the Zelda series has been. Ocarina popularized so many techniques that are ingrained in 3D gameplay--Z-targeting, camera control, world layout--that its easy to take for granted, particularly when later Zelda titles improved on them so well.

Though well always have a soft spot for the N64 version, the 3DS remake is the best one to currently play, not least of which because the infamous Water Temple has been fixed to some degree. Ocarina also tells the most stripped-away version of the recurring tale--a young boy named Link must save Hyrule and Princess Zelda from the ambitious evil of Ganon--and its an epic adventure that every gamer should experience at least once.

4. The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap

After Capcom and its subsidiary Flagship proved itself worthy of the Zelda franchise with the Oracles games, the developers returned to Zelda with the even better Minish Cap. The Game Boy Advance adventure introduced a new version of Link in a particularly early version of Hyrule. This time Link must save Princess Zelda from a life encased in stone, and to save the day hes going to have to get small.

Minish Cap introduced gamers to Ezlo, one of our favorite side characters in the series, and one that had the power to shrink Link. The shrunken world of the Piccori people gave the series a new perspective, and the deliciously colorful graphics are some of the most memorable the GBA ever hosted. Minish Cap might not have been as epic as other Zelda titles, but the shorter quest was rewarding the entire time.

3. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

After stepping away to a degree from the traditional fantasy trappings of the Zelda series, Twilight Princess saw those tropes make a return in a massive way. Hyrule field seemed more sprawling than ever, the tone was more mature, and the action reached new levels of intensity. The early trailers promised the most epic Zelda adventure ever seen, and Twilight Princess delivered while finding ways to be unpredictable.

Many expected to see Link slashing enemies while riding a horse, but they didnt expect to play a good portion of the game trapped in the body of a wolf. And the darker tone of the story was cleverly reflected in the shadowy graphical style as well as in Links many journeys to the Twilight Realm. Whether on Wii or GameCube, the game met the sky-high expectations of a return to the style of Ocarina of Time while still finding ways to surprise players with fresh ideas.

2. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

For gamers that grew up with a Super NES, Link to the Past will always be the greatest Zelda game ever made, and its not hard to see why. Like other 16-bit Nintendo classics like Super Mario World and Super Metroid, Link to the Past expanded brilliantly on its NES predecessor and defined how all future 2D entries in the series will be measured. The graphics, gameplay, and music were also top notch for their time and have aged gracefully.

The story defined what people expect from the Triforce-saving hero, introducing many ideas that are now core to the series. Nintendo also used the game to push storytelling in impressive new directions, setting the mood early with its unforgettable opening. The scale of the game was mind-boggling for its time and is still one of the largest and most diverse worlds in gaming. If you want to discover why aging gamers speak so highly of Zelda, this is the game to start with.

1. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (HD)

Link to the Past defines 2D Zeldas, but Wind Waker is ultimately the best version of what makes the Zelda franchise so irreplaceable in the gaming landscape. The sense of exploration was never greater than when a seemingly never-ending blue ocean is right before your eyes, an ocean teeming with adventure on every island. And the classic gameplay is backed up by a visual style that has aged incredibly well--and it looks even better in HD.

By choosing to make Link a child again for Wind Waker, the series recaptured the innocence of the series without sacrificing the high-stakes adventure. Links journey across the waterlogged world felt important and dire when it needed too, but it never forgot to make the grand adventure fun. All things being equal (and Wind Waker features some of the best action, dungeons, and writing in the franchise), thats the key element that puts Wind Waker above the rest, making it the best Zelda game ever made.

A Link to the Future?

So there you have it, the 10 best Zelda games ever made. But Nintendo is showing no sign of slowing down with its beloved franchise. With the all-new 3DS adventure, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds out and an as-yet-unnamed Wii U installment on the way, there's still plenty to look forward to. When the new console title finally hits store shelves, will it be added to the list? Only time will tell...

And if you're looking for more from Nintendo, check out GamesRadar's list of the best Wii U games and best 3DS games.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Henry moved from the suburbs of northern Florida to work at GR+, and hasn't looked back once in seven years. When not collecting Mario toys, you can find him constantly checking his Twitter.
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