Look, it’s tough to rate the games in a series like The Legend of Zelda. Few franchises have so many influential, infamous, and incredible entries that have each shaped the landscape of gaming with their release. Regardless, we’re going to try to list the best ones.
I’ve played The Legend of Zelda games since I could pick up a controller, and have managed to play a lot of them as they were released, as well as their numerous remakes. However, after replaying many of them multiple times, I don’t hold reverence for the early titles just because they came first. So, what are the best Zelda games?
I’ll do my best to make arguments for each pick and to be clear, these are not being ranked in any particular order. These are just our picks for the very best in the series, and we’ll leave it to you to decide which one sits at the very top. Besides, we really don’t think we could pick a definitive best one, so it’s just a lot easier this way. So, let’s break down the best of the best!
Here is our guide to the best games in The Legend of Zelda series.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
If you didn’t know, this is a spiritual sequel to the classic game The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. So much so, in Japan, it’s known as A Link to the Past 2. Link Between Worlds simply could not exist without the former, and expands upon its predecessor, while surprising you by toying with your love and nostalgia for the original. Saying that, Link Between Worlds does so many fresh things with a familiar world, that it works astoundingly well. New features include the ability to rent almost every item and tackle the dungeons in any order, and Link being able to turn into a painting and travel on walls (which adds so much fun to puzzles), while you once again travel between a world of light and one disrupted by evil.
Throw in a bunch of fun, smaller features like the adorable Maiamai waiting to be discovered, and the great new characters and antagonists introduced, and we have a recipe for a truly classic entry that many underestimate. It’s also one of the few games that utilised the 3DS’s 3D features wonderfully, helping to make this version of Hyrule one of the most immersive we’ve ever visited, even as a top-down adventure. If you own a 3DS and haven’t played this entry yet, you owe it to yourself to try it out – but we do recommend you play Link to the Past first, to ensure that you understand a lot of the nostalgic cues.
Twilight Princess HD
Look, Twilight Princess does a lot wrong. I’ve never been the biggest fan of the edgy dark art style, the beginning is sluggish to a truly boring degree, and the overworld is ultimately pointless. But, honestly, Twilight Princess has some of the best-designed dungeons in all of the Zelda series, as well as some fantastic weapons and powers that complement each dungeon in some deviously smart ways. Not to mention, Midna is the best companion Link has had in any Zelda game ever. That’s not even a question.
Twilight Princess displays so much intricacy in its dungeons, along with some grandiose designs that work so well with its more ambitious items like the double clawshots and the awesome spinner. Plus, almost every dungeon rewards you with a huge and intimidating boss that demands mastery of certain items to beat. There’s just so much good to be found in here.
I have fond memories of buying a Wii at midnight and rushing home to play Twilight Princess until 5AM, but I have to put the HD version here as it brings a lot of the art closer to the original vision, and some welcome gameplay tweaks make for a smoother experience.
Now, this is a weird one, but I’m so happy it exists. Originally an experiment to port Link to the Past to Game Boy, it evolved into its own weird beast where Link washes up on a mysterious island and must gather several musical instruments to wake the mighty Windfish. Featuring a colourful cast of whimsical characters, including appearances by both Chain Chomp and Yoshi from the Mario games, this surreal adventure feels like it could all be a dream.
While it was especially impressive back on the Game Boy, Grezzo’s HD conversion adds so much charm with its toyetic style and subtle depth of field effects, it feels like the game playing in our imaginations when we were just wee little nippers. It also holds some of the best topdown puzzles in a Zelda, and while it can be obtuse, there is so much charm thanks to the beautiful, colourful style and quaint folksy music. A delightful entry, and, as long as you play it with a guide open, a great way to introduce kids to the series.
Often referred to as the darkest Zelda game, (and for very good reason) Majora’s Mask places our hero in a time loop, set just days before the world comes to an end thanks to an angry-looking moon colliding with the town of Termina. There’s such a palpable sense of dread to this game, especially when talking to each denizen during the final moments, but some smart time travelling and a few fantastic dungeons later and you have a chance to save it all. The time loop mechanic is done so well here, and slowly but surely understanding the intricacies of this world is super satisfying.
Plus, throw in some great new enemy designs (such as Skull Kid and the many bosses), as well as some fantastic new abilities with the many masks you can unlock, and this makes for a truly memorable story. I’m not going to get into the weeds of the arguments between the original N64 version or the 3DS version here. I prefer the 3DS version thanks to its sharp visuals and streamlined quests, but I understand the changes that people have issues with. Luckily, it’s pretty easy to play either, as the 3DS version is still readily available, and the original version will be added to the Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pak library very soon.
Wind Waker HD
There’s something so magical about Wind Waker. It was the first time one of the Zelda games felt truly open to me, with the vast seas stretching for miles (in my young brain), and so many things to discover strewn across the map. I’ve always adored the cel-shaded direction its art took, as it gives a lot of personality and character to Link, as well as everyone else, and it works with this inspiring and hopeful story that’s told like a children’s bedtime tale.
Alongside this, I enjoy Wind Waker’s combat thanks to its fluidity, which helps in the game’s many memorable dungeons and bosses. I may never get the catchy soundtrack for Dragon Roost Island out of my head, nor forget the dramatic fight against the enormous scorpion foe Gohma. Wind Waker just has a real sense of heart to it, which only further propels the amazing mechanics underneath, and luckily the HD version makes this beautiful adventure even more breathtaking. An absolutely essential entry, and one of my favourite personal memories of the series.
Ocarina of Time
This one’s at the top of many people’s lists, and for good reason. Ocarina of Time was not only the blueprint for almost every Zelda game that came after it, but had an influence on gaming culture like almost no other game before it. Exploring the open fields of Hyrule on Epona as a child felt like a fairytale brought to life, and the dark story of Hyrule’s ruin at the hands of the evil Ganondorf was heartbreaking and compelling in equal measure.
This was our first encounter with 3D dungeons in the series, and yet they still remain some of the most memorable. Fascinating items like the lens of truth and the hover boots help to change how you interact with the world, and switching between two timelines, each affecting the other depending on your actions, still remains a genius mechanic to this day. Throw in some of the most iconic video game music ever created, and Ocarina of Time truly earns its title as an absolute masterpiece. It’s on Nintendo Switch Online for anyone to play, but we also highly recommend the gorgeous 3DS version if you own the handheld.
Link to the Past
Now, I’m going to be honest with you here. I didn’t play A Link to the Past until I was much older as I never bought it for the SNES, and, as such, I didn’t quite get the hype when Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, and even Wind Waker were all so great. Then, when it came to the Nintendo Wii’s Virtual Console, I decided to finally sit down and play it through. Within moments, I understood. I got it. Just before Nintendo took its first tentative steps into the realm of 3D, they absolutely mastered the 2D sprite-based medium, with a title that still outshines most modern games.
The map of Link to the Past’s Hyrule is densely packed and smartly filled, offering action in every single square of the screen and allowing you to explore as you please. It’s also the first time we are introduced to a light world/dark world mechanic, and it’s used so well here that it’s no surprise it has made so many returns. LttP still controls like a dream, and each weapon and item feels satisfying to control, so I can only imagine what a revelation it must have felt like nearly 30 years ago. You can experience this classic whenever you want through Nintendo Switch Online.
Breath of the Wild
What is there left to be said about Breath of the Wild? Providing a major shift just when the series needed it (following the well designed but suffocatingly linear Skyward Sword), Breath of the Wild truly rips the training wheels off. Rather than Nintendo deciding the exact story you’re setting out on, here, the world of Hyrule is the story – one that you’re writing with every subsequent step. Nintendo’s foray into an open-world design takes many pieces from modern western titles, wrapping them in the stunning Ghibli-esque art style that compliments the consistently majestic tone of the Zelda series.
My standout memories of BOTW aren’t even the huge setpieces – though fighting the divine beats is an incredible experience – it was the joy I found in experimenting, even against the smallest foes. I tussled with four enemies in a treehouse for nearly two hours once, trying different combinations of items and lobbing everything in sight, before I eventually realised I could start a fire, light my arrow, and then send a flaming shot straight towards my unsuspecting foes.
Breath of the Wild is essentially a gigantic sandbox, where Nintendo gives you the best tools imaginable – so much so, that it’s almost easy to miss the beautiful story at its core, and the help that true voice acting gave. It’s a masterpiece in every sense of the word, and if you only ever bought one game for your Nintendo Switch, I’d implore you to choose this one.
Cadence of Hyrule
Have you ever wanted to beat bountiful bokoblins to the beat? Well Cadence of Hyrule takes the top-down aesthetic of titles like A Link To The Past, and throws in some incredible music-infused gameplay. Featuring heaps of mind-blowing remixes of classic Legend of Zelda tracks, you must attack enemies to the beat to properly land attacks, and watch out for them moving just as quickly.
It’s a really fun twist on the formula, and features some of the best rearrangements of Zelda tracks you’re ever likely to hear. The phsyical version includes all of the DLC as well, so if you’re a huge Zelda fan who hasn’t taken the plunge yet, we encoruage you to get on your dancing shoes.
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity
Are you a fan of the classic Musou games like Dynasty Warriors? Have you played Breath of the Wild to death, and want to know what happened in the war 100 years ago? Well, bloody hell, this is your lucky day. Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity ditches the open world and dungeons, instead dropping Link and friends into a franctic action game where you take on dozens of baddies in every moment.
Chain attacks, unlock new characters, and discover what truly happened in the war 100 years ago. In fact, this story might even take on a few surprising twists, even if you think you know how it ends. If you just want more classic Zelda gameplay, be wary as this isn’t it. But if you want some pure popcorn action gameplay and to slash through hoards of enemies, this is a real delight and a fun way to experience a small part of Zelda history.
Well, there we have it! A completely subjective but also definitely correct list of the very best games in The Legend of Zelda series. Quite a lot of these are available to play on Nintendo Switch thankfully, and, hopefully, we won’t have long to wait until the rest are as well. If you need something to play right now, however, be sure to check out our guide to the best Switch adventure games, just in case you’re sick of wearing a green tunic for a little bit.