The Legend of Zelda is one of the most respected franchises in video game history. With Skyward Sword having just been released, itís the perfect time to figure out where each title stands. That being said, it wonít be considered in this list as it is too fresh in our mind. While there are a few poorly made non-Nintendo Zelda games, they are hardly considered in a Zelda discussion. Those made by Nintendo are often incredibly enjoyable. With Skyward Swordís release in 2011, it marks 25 years of Zelda game releases. With that said, lets find out where your favourites are placed.
Only one game per ranking. This is clearly an opinionated list, but I would also love to hear your opinion or list in the comments section below. This list is an attempt to put away nostalgia and truly figure out the Zelda games by their actual value and enjoyment level.
#10: The Legend of Zelda (NES)
The list begins with the original that started it all. It is an NES classic that gives the player little in the way of guidance or help. The difficulty, length, and fun value are second to no other title on the NES. As Link, you grab a sword from an old man and go out on a quest to defeat Ganon and save the princess Zelda. While it is a classic, it lacks the features, stories, and polish of later games in the series. While it was an immense achievement for its time and is still a blast to go back and play, it can be difficult for first time players to play now. While it didnít age poorly, the series has gone a long way since its original breakthrough.
#9: Swords Adventure (GC)
Swords Adventure is mostly enjoyed for its multiplayer experience. While it is a complete game, it lacks the vastness of most of Zelda games. Instead, the game is broken down into separate levels. If you manage to find 4 GBAís with 4 link cables, the game is phenomenal as a co-op experience. That being said, 4 Swords is far from being the deepest single-player Zelda experience. The story and gameplay may be fairly simple but the overall polish and fun is enjoyable nonetheless. That being said, grab some friends and you may easily think this is one of the best.
#8: Oracle of Seasons (GBC)
Nintendo handed off the Zelda series to Capcom to create a handheld title. Capcom created two titles that shared many similarities while maintaining thematic and technical differences. Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages were essentially mirror images of one another. One leaned towards combat while the other puzzles. The games together felt like one complete Zelda experience, especially considering to fight the true final boss you had to beat both. On their own they are lacking but together they shine. It introduces a brand new world, characters, yet maintains the fundamental Zelda gameplay. It was an impressive experience when played together that took many of the best parts of previous Zelda games. That being said, as a single game they never truly felt complete. I simply chose Seasons because I always felt the changing of seasons made for more interesting puzzles. The games were not so obviously identical as Pokemon Red/Blue, which means they have to be considered as different games, yet the same experience. While they are equally excellent and either one can be placed at #9, they would have certainly placed lower had they been simply one game.
#7: Linkís Awakening (GB)
The first of Linkís portable adventure was also quite a successful outing. Along with Pokemon, it is regarded as the best the Gameboy has to offer. It changed the Zelda formula by not taking place in Hyrule and not having Ganon or Zelda take part. While those kind of changes often water down the experience, Linkís Awakening somehow captured the spirit of Zelda games. The game took itself lightly and even chose to question your reality in the end. While the gameplay wasnít that revolutionary compared to its predecessor, the gameplay was fun, the music as good as ever, and the environments and theme of the game purely Zelda.
#6: Twilight Princess (GC, Wii)
The latest Zelda to be released came out simultaneously for the Gamecube and Wii. The game is basically the same regardless of which console you played it on, only flipped. Link has to deal with his new transformation into a wolf. There is a lot of content here, both in terms of gameplay and story. The game features much darker tone then other games in the series. This game clearly tries to move away from its last outing, Windwaker. Instead, it borrows many elements from Ocarina of Time, including horseback riding, storyline, songs, and general theme. It is the grandest of all the Zelda games, though it lacked a certain charm that the others had. Whether it was the graphics or something different altogether, the land of Hyrule felt somewhat lifeless.
#5: A Link to the Past (SNES)
Despite all the titles already listed, this would be the first one many actually claim to be the best Zelda game ever. A Link to the Past was a landmark game that improved on every single aspect of the Zelda franchise. The graphical improvement over its predecessors was enormous, while the 2D gameplay was perfected. The story also took a front seat, guiding the player through the game. It is also the first Zelda game to introduce the dual world concept. Whether past and future or light and dark, many future Zelda titles reused this concept. Many Zelda fans that remember the release of A Link to the Past were so blown away by the vast improvements that they still consider this the ultimate Zelda experience. It is important to acknowledge the game as a great achievement and still a wonderful game to play, even today. However, to discount the games that followed would be to do a great disservice to the series.
#4: Majoraís Mask (N64)
Majoraís Mask is a very difficult game to place in a top ten list. It is a perfect example of why you cannot rank a game in a series right when it is released. Majoraís Mask took a lot of criticism, especially when it was first released. No single aspect can be blamed, as there were multiple things gamers had problems with. The time limit of 3 days, the beginning of of the game as a deku scrub, the smaller overworld compared to Ocarina of Time, short main quest, odd story, and reuse of Ocarina of Time characters were all reasons used for why Majoraís Mask failed the Zelda series. It took many years until the game was considered on par with most of the other Zelda titles. In hindsight, the length and scope of the game was large if you consider the liveliness of Clock Town and its inhabitants. It was a testament to the gameís development that there was so many scripted events all happening at once, as well as all the gameplay options given the variety of masks. The side quests in Majoraís Mask were by far the best in any Zelda game. The game introduced a lot of new things for the Zelda series, while still using the same engine from Ocarina of Time. The game managed to give life to the inhabitants of Clock Town, and it succeeded admirably. It wasnít the most grand of adventures, but it was easily one of Linkís most memorable.
#3: Minish Cap (GBA)
Another portable game made not by Nintendo, but Capcom. Though it received quite favourable reviews, it has been largely overlooked by gamers and fans alike. It is the ultimate 2D Zelda experience available thus far. Most Zelda fans acknowledge it as the first game in the timeline, with a fairly in-depth story. With fun gameplay, great visuals that make the 2D landscape truly stand out, and an original villain, it is not your typical Zelda game. The polish in Minish Cap makes the entire experience excel above the rest. At no point will you feel itís simply a smaller, portable version of its console counterparts. While many fans have long since left the overhead Zelda games in the past, Minish Cap makes a great argument to give them another try.
#2: Windwaker (GC)
Another well reviewed game largely overlooked by Zelda fans. Many were put off by the childish looking cel-shaded graphics. Itís a real shame that the one Zelda game they overlooked was also perhaps the best. The graphics, while cartoonish, created a visual look that will never really look dated. It is perhaps the best use of cel-shading to date, and it would be impossible to imagine Windwaker looking any other way. The story blended much of Ocarina of Time with an original world, characters, and plotline. The gameplay, though not entirely ground-breaking, was a fluid and perfected system. Never before did Link feel quite so nimble. While Twilight Princessís combat added many things, it did not feel as polished as it did in Windwaker. The boss battles were grand, the overworld enormous, and the story and characters charming and engaging. The only fault with the game is a tedious map finding quest and a teleporting system that lacked one warp point that would have made the sailing more streamlined(near the top left for those of you familiar with the map). Regardless, Windwaker could easily be the best game in the series, yet is overlooked by many fans because of the visuals.
#1: Ocarina of Time (N64)
Widely considered the best game in the Zelda series, Ocarina of Time has earned it. The game earned an enormous following thanks to incredible 3D gameplay. The story was perhaps the most iconic in the series, mixing a smaller story early on with a grand epic tale by the end. The duality of worlds made for a game world that truly felt alive thanks to the changes over time. The game had plenty of dungeons, an original story, great characters, a good lock-on combat system, and some of the most memorable songs youíll find in gaming. It was a true classic that Iíve found many non-gamers playing to this day. While many Zelda fans have become tired of people ignoring other Zelda games in favour of Ocarina of Time, it would be wrong to discount Ocarina of Time simply because it is well liked. It has an undeniable charm that other games continue to strive for. While many Zelda games are on a similar level, Ocarina has that indefinable charm that is so hard to recreate. It is the perfect representation of the Zelda series.
While I too believe many fans have overlooked fantastic games in their focus on Ocarina of Time, it is hard to deny the game its rightful place. That being said, the Zelda series houses amongst the best games in all of gaming. Simply being in the top 10 in a series so full of quality is already an accomplishment. Where will Skyward Sword be placed in this list? I can certainly see it in the top 10, but placing it so soon after release is to allow the hype, excitement, and critical acclaim to sway its true position. Despite that, The Legend of Zelda series is one of very few that can even have a top 10 list, and giving any of these games a chance is never a mistake.