The Legend Of Zelda Games, Ranked From Worst To Best

We are just a few weeks away from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which means it is now time to rank all the Zelda games.

Before we start, some quick notes:

  • I'm skipping the CD-I games, because come on.
  • I'm also skipping Four Swords Adventures, because I haven't played it.
  • These rankings are entirely based on my opinions, and do not reflect the opinions of Kotaku's entire staff. (Stephen disagrees vehemently with this list.)
  • These rankings DO take ageing into account. The two NES games have not aged well.
  • I had a VERY hard time sorting out the top two.

Onwards.

15) Tri Force Heroes

Perhaps the only Zelda game that feels more like a time-waster than a genuine adventure, Tri Force Heroes is a real disappointment that you've probably already forgotten about.

14) Zelda 2: Adventure of Link

The random encounters are irritating and it's hard to figure out how to make progress without a FAQ, but Adventure of Link isn't a bad game -- it's just tough to play today. It also invented the downward stab move that led to Shovel Knight, which you should probably play instead of bothering with Zelda 2.

13) The Legend of Zelda

In 1986, the original Zelda was a masterpiece. It created a genre. Its influence on the video game industry is impossible to overstate. But today, like many NES games, it's clunky and obtuse. You're better off playing the later ones.

12) Phantom Hourglass

Remember when Nintendo was obsessed with the DS's touchscreen controls? To the point where they made a Zelda game where you couldn't actually use any buttons? You've gotta respect the Zelda crew's willingness to innovate, but the results were subpar, especially when combined with Phantom Hourglass's godawful Temple of the Ocean King, a dungeon you have to revisit at least five times just to finish the game.

11) Spirit Tracks

Spirit Tracks, the only Zelda game that lets you ride a train, is a little better than Phantom Hourglass -- no more repeating dungeons! -- but sticks with those awful stylus controls and is full of tedious sidequests that require you to do a near-endless cavalcade of errands for people. If you're into Ubisoft games with lots of dull side missions, Spirit Tracks is for you.

10) Skyward Sword

Might be higher on this list if not for Fi, dousing, tutorials, and cat-chasing. At least the motion controls were cool?

9) Twilight Princess

Twilight Princess has some of the most interesting items (Spinner! Double Clawshot!) and best dungeons (Snowpeak Ruins!) in the series, but it also suffers from tutorial bloat and one of the more boring intros of any Zelda game. On the other hand, you can turn into a wolf.

8) The Minish Cap

At the beginning of The Minish Cap, Link gets a hat that allows him to shrink down to the size of an ant, which allows for some clever dungeon design, sort of like the video game version of Honey I Shrunk The Kids. There are a lot of other cool ideas in The Minish Cap, too, like the Gust Jar, a porcelain vacuum cleaner that allows Link to suck in enemies, then spit them out like pellets.

7) Ocarina of Time

Here is where we start entering "generally incredible" territory. Ocarina of Time, like the next six entries on this list, is an excellent game that set a new bar for Zelda and revolutionised the concept of an "open world" in video games. Although it isn't quite as awe-evoking in 2017 as it was in 1998, it holds up very well today, especially on 3DS.

6) Link Between Worlds

Link Between Worlds, a direct sequel to Link to the Past, shakes up the Zelda formula in one groundbreaking way: It puts all the items in one place. Instead of acquiring items in dungeons as you would in other Zelda games, you rent or buy them from a shop and then use each one to access a specific dungeon. One dungeon, for example, requires the fire rod. Another asks you to bring bombs. The problem with this structure is that it makes puzzles far too easy -- if you're in the bomb dungeon, you know you won't need the boomerang -- but Link Between Worlds is clever and satisfying nonetheless.

5) Wind Waker

From the art style to the music to the story (RIP Hyrule), Wind Waker is up there with the greatest games of all time. Yeah, the sailing can get a little dull, especially when you're hunting for treasure maps, and it feels like some of the dungeons were unfinished. But it's impossible to see a face like this and not fall in love:

SPLOOSH!

4) Majora's Mask

When Majora's Mask first came out, the timer scared me off. A Zelda game where you had to rush through everything in three days and you couldn't take your time to explore each dungeon at your own pace? No thank you, said teenage Jason. But when I played it two years ago, I realised that Majora's Mask actually adds a brilliant new dimension to the Zelda formula, forcing players to think about puzzles not just in terms of who, what, and where, but in terms of when. It's weird and gloomy and very cool.

3) Oracle of Ages/Seasons

In the Oracle games, you can change seasons by standing on a giant stump, ride a kangaroo, and use a pair of magnetic gloves to cross chasms by pulling yourself to metal objects. Both games are surreal, charming, and somehow more entertaining than any of their 3D counterparts. I highly recommend them.

2) Link's Awakening

You probably know that Link's Awakening is excellent. What you might not realise is that it's tiny. You could walk across the entire island of Koholint in two or three minutes. But because each area of the map is so dense, full of interesting secrets and puzzles and things to discover, the world of Link's Awakening feels much larger than it is, which is exactly what you'd want from a Zelda game. Link's Awakening is tough but never unfair. It asks you to backtrack often but is never boring. And it's got a story far more impactful than any other game in the series. It'd probably be number one if not for...

1) Link to the Past

A perfect video game. What else is there to say?

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Comments

    Any list that doesn't feature Skyward Sword dead last is objectively wrong.

      Hahaha I actually hated it as well

      I don't quite think it deserves last but yeh, it isn't a strong entry to the series. Ballad of the Goddess though is an amazing main theme that deserves credit. It also had some interesting mechanics especially with regards to the dungeon where you fussed with time streams. It also has Groose.

      I just finished playing it and thought it was great. Few annoyances here and there but nothing that deserves the outright hate it seems to get.

      The motion controls were FANTASTIC!!! For that it must be mentioned as top ten.

    errr no....the time to rank them is when you've finished BotW one would think

    That list sucks (obligatory).

    OOT is arguably the best game of all time and to have it anything worse than no.3 is a joke.

    All the mobile games are worse than OOT, MM, and WW.

    You’re 100% right on the puzzles in a Link Between Worlds being stupidly simple due to the limited items required for each dungeons. What’s inexcusable though is the final dungeon, which is not only easy as hell but has rooms MARKED with the item required at the door, despite only being accessible once all the dungeons are cleared (hence you have all the items). Also (MINOR SPOILER) why the hell do you only get the light arrows for the second half of the final boss when they’re actually a functionally unique item that could have been used interestingly used throughout the broader game?!? Idiocy 0/10

    Skyward Sword is probably fractionally better than Twilight Princess and should be promoted to “easily the second worst console Zelda since 3D became a thing”.

    Phantom Hourglass’s flaws should see it slot nicely into last place. At least you’re learning from history playing the original game, PH is just a flawed exercise in annoying controls.

    Why is Triforce Heroes on this list and not any of the other half-baked cash-ins that Nintendo dribbles out to make sure their consoles get at least one game a year (Links Crossbow Trainer, Hyrule Warriors ect)?

    EDIT: Upon further remembering I remembered that Skyward Sword was indeed pretty shit. I retract my comment re: it being better than TP (that’s Twilight Princess, not Toilet Paper…. which is also better than Skyward Sword).

    Last edited 09/02/17 11:29 am

    Skyward Sword

    Not officialy but Fi Battery, Health, Shield Warnings, First time item pickups messages can all be disabled

    i don't remember being all that annoyed by any of the games tutorials,

    though things like OoT's press A to open door where pointless

    Last edited 09/02/17 11:32 am

      Holy crap. Did not realise that mods were a thing for this game. Just looked them up and wow.

      I love Nintendo games when they work, but the world seriously needs the return of the Game Genie to protect Nintendo from their own terrible game design decisions. I'd actually start with removing the need to hold the run button in Mario games. Just let me auto run, dammit, rather than needing to clinging 30 year old control schemes.

      Oh, that would've been handy. I just got around the first item pickup thing by marathoning the game over a couple of days and leaving the console suspended on the Home menu when taking a break :P

    I agree with most of this, but I'd personally put Majoras Mask in the Number 1 position, which is odd because when it was released back in 2000 I hated it. I hated the impending doom that came with in game timer, I hated the dark and sad tone of the game, I hated that moons stoopid face!.. but now, years later and having finished the game more times than I can count I love all those things about it... I maybe still hate the moons Stoopid face.

    The Gameboy titles are all fantastic I highly recommend them to anyone who hasn't played them yet, I'd probably set them higher on the list than Link to the Past.

    and Skyward Sword should be higher too, bar Fi and one terrible boss design (Tentalus) its use of the motion controls were great, the Dungeon design was fantastic and the Koloktos battle was one of the most enjoyable fights I've ever had in a Zelda game.

      Yes. For years and years and was part of the team "ALttP is best Zelda, nay, game ever!!" while battling with a feel of dread through my first Majora's Mask playthrough. (seriously, what's with the random tortured face textures all over the place!?) However, like a strong cheese, you come to appreciate its genius well after the fact. With every passing year when I look back and examine the memories, I keep getting amazed at the depth of the story and mechanics, the ingenuity and cleverness of the main conceit and the canny execution of its unique atmosphere of impending, oppressive doom.

      On the other hand, upon revisiting ALttP I found it slow, unexciting and clunky, all things that it is NOT, but are perceived as such due the decades of gaming evolution I experienced in the meantime, the loss of novelty and the fact that its tight, smart yet simple design makes it very easy to remember even after decades, so rather than playing a game, it felt like tracing over a blueprint, an unrewarding and rather tedious chore. Still, second best Zelda ever!

    Ok so pleasantly surprised that the top 3 are actually correct, but the rest of the list needs work. Wind waker is easily the worst Zelda game in the series, i never understand why it ranks so highly, and spirit tracks was an abomination.

      See that's funny to me. Zelda is my favorite game series and Wind wakeer is my second favorite zelda game by a long way. And I HATE skyward sword. Opinions opinions 😃

        indeed, but more importantly... does that Smiley have a milk-stash???!?!!?

      WW was always polarising. You either hated it or loved it. However, I've found that with time, the number of lovers has steadily increased. Indeed, many of the haters back then were the kids that played Ocarina of Time, now grown into edgy-wannabe teenagers who were entranced by the gritty, "mature" (i.e. gore and/or boobs) and more realistic games appearing on the PS2 and original XBOX and resented that their beloved franchise not only didn't follow suit but actually went a more cartoonish and colourful way. (BTW, not saying that's why you dislike it.)

        Thats probably a fair look at it, my wife loves the Zelda games and loves the OOT/MM/TP look more than the cartoonish style and dislikes WW more than i do.
        I actually prefer the top down Zelda games to all others mostly for the cartoonish-ness, links Awakening being my personal favourite but still to this day cant bring myself to play WW and ive tried about 10 times i think i get to the first fortress and lose interest.
        The game play to me just isn't as engaging and the art style is kind of offensive on the eyes.

    Wind waker higher than OoT. I don't think so

    Me: I'm such a huge Zelda fan!
    Also me: I've only played 4 1/2 of the games on this list
    Again, me: I have so many awesome Zelda games yet to experience, and that makes me happy

    Links Awakening is the only Zelda game I have finished and enjoyed. I have tried a few others on list but always get bored half way through.

    You can usually tell how old somebody is by their favorite Zelda game, it's whichever one came out when they were 10-13, but I missed the boat on LTTP due to not owning a SNES till '97, when I did play it I enjoyed it, but when I popped in Ocarina of Time on xmas day '98 it changed me and captured my imagination, few games have had that much of an impact on me. Not to mention it was the building blocks for Majora's Mask.

    My biggest problem with Skyward Sword wasn't Fi, but the motion controls, I got so sick to death of the waggling and precision flailing that I put it down literally at the doorway to the last boss and 4 years later I'm still yet to finish it. Stupid controls are also the reason I still haven't beaten Phantom Hourglass and still have Spirit Tracks in the shrinkwrap.

    From Best to Worst. I have a softer spot for the 3D games because OOT on N64 was my first Zelda and I only played the 2D overhead ones some time later on Virtual Console.

    Ocarina of Time
    Wind Waker
    Majoras Mask
    Link Between Worlds
    Twilight Princess (HD Remake. Plug it down a few spots for the Wii Waggle version)
    Link to the Past
    Links' Awakening
    Oracle of Seasons
    Oracle of Ages
    Phantom Hourglass
    Minish Cap
    Spirit Tracks
    Skyward Sword
    Zelda 1
    Zelda 2

      Nice list. Personally I'd move Majora's Mask to first and LTTP up to above Worlds.

      This is the correct list

      I’d have Skyward Sword underneath TP and ALBW beneath that.

      Other than that I agree entirely.

    Zelda is one of my favorite series but I've only played and finished 5 of them. So I guess I can only put those in order :)

    OoT
    Link to the Past
    Link Between Worlds
    Wind Waker
    Zelda 1

    Wind Waker is definitely the best looking Zelda game of the entire series imo but that doesn't necessarily make it the best game. I started Twilight Princess and Zelda 2 but never got to finishing them. I'd like to finish Twlight Princess but it's a little tedious and I had the HD one crash on me several times which meant I needed to reply good portions of the game.

    Last edited 09/02/17 1:18 pm

    14) Zelda 2: Adventure of Link
    Ya Joking Shoulda Been Higher

    This is in my top 3 Zelda game

    I've played the vast majority of the Zelda games and Zelda 2 is still my favourite, as weird as that sounds. Epic game.

    Not a die hard Legend of Zelda fan, but I'd also say that Zelda II: Adventure of Link is my favourite Zelda game. For sentimental reasons, it was the first Zelda I played. Didn't find it too difficult or confusing either (the original game did that to me haha).

    Just wanted to show a bit of love here for Minish Cap, which usually doesn't get any. Jason's blurb and position in the ranking are correct IMO. A clever, fun little game that cannot possibly compete with the great classics, but that any Zelda lover should try.

    Also, The Four Sword Adventure was a quick but fun romp that captured most of the magic of ALttP in a small package.

    I hate to admit it, but I actually kind of went off Zelda a few years back. I was an obsessive player of the series in the past (Link to the Past was one of the first console games I ever owned and it's genius), but later games... just weren't gripping me. I never finished Spirit Tracks (which I found considerably less-impressive than Phantom Hourglass) even though I got almost all the way up to the end, only managed to get past the first dungeon in Skyward Sword before I put the game down and simply never picked it up again, and A Link Between Worlds has been sitting on my shelf waiting for me to play it ever since I bought it.

    A large part of that is admittedly down to my general malaise in gaming altogether (I almost never finish ANY games while still buying hundreds that I never even get around to starting) and turning-off from consoles in general in favour of my PC (when I rearranged my room after getting it repainted it became much harder for me to lounge back on my bed while facing my TV, so I've barely touched a console in years). But the series has frankly been losing its appeal a bit too over the last decade or so. I thought Twilight Princess was brilliant and highly underrated (the Gamecube version, not the Wii one) but other games haven't had the same... "zing" I think you could say, as the ones from my past.

    Link's Awakening DX! -It's gotta be DX

    All of them have pros and cons. The only one I never really liked was Zelda II. PH and ST are the two I never bothered to finish, therefore rank low for me. ALBW I felt was far, far too easy, and felt ridiculously rushed to me (unfortunately). TP was way too linear. WW had too much of the boring sailing. SS had too much emphasis on annoying motion controls and felt really small, having to return to the same areas multiple times. The Oracle games were mostly forgettable. OoT, ALTTP, MM, Links Awakening and the original have no real obvious flaws and therefore are among my personal favs. Again, all have pros and cons though, way too difficult to rank from best to worst.

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