Ranking the Legend of Zelda Games

At E3 this week, Nintendo released another Direct, advertising Banjo and Kazooie’s arrival to Smash Brothers Ultimate, the 2020 release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and most importantly, the sequel the most recent Legend of Zelda game, Breath of the Wild. As a lifelong fan of the Zelda franchise, I was elated. To celebrate, I listed the 17 major Legend of Zelda games.

Ranking the Legend of Zelda Games

17. Skyward Sword

A lot of people would dispute this ranking, saying that I’m being unfair, but let’s be honest, Skyward Sword’s biggest flaw is that physically, it’s hard to play. It’s an actual labor just to physically play the game because it was a Wii exclusive, and then it just feels too fluffy and formulaic. It felt like Wind Waker without the soul. It didn’t help that critics praised it as the best Zelda game ever before it came out.

16. The Adventure of Link

It’s hard to review video games from so long ago because our standards for them have changed. However, the first installment in the Legend of Zelda series is way, way, way higher so I don’t feel so bad about hating the second one. To me, it’s never felt like a Legend of Zelda game. Maybe it’s because of the RPG elements, the side-scrolling, or the lack of the franchise’s signature puzzles, but I’m not a fan.

15. Tri Force Heroes

This isn’t a Zelda game. From the weird title spacing to the soulless maneuvering of multiple avatars like the water temple from Majora’s Mask, it’s more like a mobile app that someone else built and they slapped the Zelda brand on then an actual Zelda game. This is the “Starfox Adventures” of the Zelda universe.

14. Spirit Tracks

Spirit Tracks is a big ripoff of number thirteen, except with trains. I wasn’t crazy about this game for all of the same reasons I wasn’t crazy about…

13. Phantom Hourglass

Phantom Hourglass is too easy to be considered challenging, obnoxiously repetitive, and it just feels like watered down Wind Waker. Not to mention the obnoxious touchscreen controls leave a lot to be desired. Also, can anyone explain to me why the Temple of the Ocean King needs to reset every time I leave? Nonsense.

12. Oracle of Ages and/or Seasons

So, I didn’t play either of these games. I know, I know, poor form, but I’ve always preferred the console games to the handheld ones, and I just wasn’t sold by the premise of these games. Feel free to eviscerate me in the comments, but I placed it right in the middle of the games I hated and the games I loved, if that helps.

11. Four Swords Adventures

Confession time, I played this game alone, and I gathered that wasn’t the best move. This is definitely supposed to be a “play with your pals” game and at this point, I was playing NFL2k and Halo with my buddies. That doesn’t mean I didn’t give it a shot, but all I found was a shallow puzzle game without any real story or adventure. It was still a good game, but not great. This is the turning point of my Zelda rankings.

10. A Link Between Worlds

I really like a Link Between Worlds, but it has one glaring flaw. This game is incredibly easy. I could probably beat this game in my sleep with relative ease.

9. Minish Cap

Sure, the world-shrinking is a bit gimmicky, but I liked it. I felt like it made this game different than the previous handheld Zelda games without sacrificing it’s namesake. It’s got plenty of nifty items to collect and the swordplay was pretty good. For a GBA game, the graphics weren’t bad either. I don’t know if I’d ever replay this game, but I definitely didn’t hate my first playthrough.

8. Twilight Princess

Twilight Princess is a very controversial Zelda game, with some loving the gritty, dark nature, and others feeling that it lacks the innovation that makes this franchise so unique. I’ll admit, I never beat it on the Wii because it just felt tedious. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago when I got ahold of the Gamecube copy that I was able to sit down and enjoy it.

Honestly, I think eight is a good place for Twilight Princess because it’s pretty close to the middle. It doesn’t reinvent the series, but entering the Twilight and being a literal wolf for large portions of the game makes it a little unique. My biggest issue will always be the the villain plot twist.

7. The Wind Waker

This is probably the most controversial ranking on my list, and I can respect that. Some will argue that it should be much higher, others will argue that it should be much lower, but ultimately, Wind Waker falls where it does because of one reason. The animation.

I’m personally not a fan of toon Link, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t like this game. It still does everything you expect a Zelda game to do, and I would probably play through it again, it just doesn’t have the darker tons I want from a Zelda game. And hey, we should never punish the good people at Nintendo for trying new things, it’s that kind of experimentation that gave us this wonderful franchise in the first place.

Also, the boat was just a clever way to mask loading screens.

6. The Legend of Zelda

It’s dangerous to go alone, take this!

While the very first Legend of Zelda game isn’t as replayable as many of it’s sequels, you have to give the OG the props it deserves. Without this, the original adventure, we wouldn’t have any of the other great games that we love today.

5. Link’s Awakening

I literally jumped out of my chair when I heard they were remaking Link’s Awakening for the Nintendo Switch, and I still can’t wait to play it. I like this game so much that I was able to get over an obnoxious plot twist (no spoilers) and enjoy it on my Gameboy without any color. This picked up where Link to the Past left off as far as being a true Zelda game, giving you all the sword-swinging, dungeon crawling, theme-song humming you could ever ask for.

4. Majora’s Mask

Ocarina of Time is my favorite video game of all time, but Majora’s Mask might be my favorite Zelda game, if that makes any sense. Picking up on many of the same things that made Ocarina of Time great (huh, haven’t seen that game on here yet) as far as graphics, gameplay, and atmosphere are concerned, Mask also has a much darker theme. Trying desperately to complete a story in three days so we can get a mask before we rewind time adds weeks of enjoyment to a game that’s ultimately all about stopping the sky (er, the moon) from falling.

3. Breath of the Wild

I’ll admit, I wasn’t a fan of the glider the first time I saw it. I didn’t think it was going to be my kind of Zelda game, so not only did I pass on buying it, I passed on buying a Switch on day one. And then I saw my brother playing it and realized I’d made a horrible, horrible mistake. I went to every Best Buy, GameStop, and Walmart in range for weeks and ended up dramatically overpaying on eBay for a Switch.

I have no regrets. As far as being a finished product, BoTW is objectively the best game in the series. The atmosphere and replayability are incredible, the characters are multi-dimensional and colorful, and it’s just challenging enough. I’m actually stoked that it’s getting a sequel because I could not get enough of this game.

Why not number one? Well, because the next two on this list are just too god damn revolutionary to pass up.

2. A Link to the Past

In many ways, A Link to the Past is the definitive Zelda game. Massive map just dying to be explored? Check. Engaging and immersive storytelling? Check. Dungeons and dungeons of loot begging to be discovered? Check, check, check. Every Zelda game since has been trying their best to fill this game’s shoes, and it’s only my undying love for the next game on this list keeping it out of first place.

1. Ocarina of Time

I dare you to find a list of the top ten video games ever that doesn’t feature Ocarina of Time. An iconic soundtrack, revolutionary 3D open world gameplay, an immersive story, and the reason I wanted needed a Nintendo 64. To this day, I can pick up Ocarina of Time and replay the entire thing without ever feeling bored or like it was taking up my time, and by the way, I do. I bought a 3DS so I could play Ocarina of Time on the go and I’m hoping Nintendo gives us a remake for the switch at some point.

Hint. Hint.

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