A definitive top ten is something that nobody will ever agree on when it comes to The Legend of Zelda. There are games in this franchise that have split the fanbase clean in two, and games that some would call underrated where others cry overrated.
Still, that’s not gonna stop me from having a go. Obviously, just to upset everyone – and to celebrate the 30th anniversary a stellar franchise – here are the top ten all time greatest games in The Legend of Zelda franchise.
10. Minish Cap
The only Zelda game exclusive to the Gameboy Advance, Minish Cap is a wonderful (often overlooked) gem of a game. Bright, colourful, and brimming with imagination, you basically get to experience Hyrule in two very different ways.
Obviously you’ll run around, explore, and beat dungeons as usual, but Minish Cap has a great system that allows Link to shrink down to the size of an insect – a concept Nintendo completely ran with. All of a sudden, the puddle you’d just splashed through was an impassible lake, ordinary monsters became full boss fights, and mountains became… well, much bigger mountains.
It’s a little light in terms of the main story, with only a handful of dungeons to its name. Still, there’s plenty of great sidequests, and loads of secrets to explore once you’ve realised the full potential of being able to shrink down to a wee fella.
9. Twilight Princess
Here’s one of those divisive games I was talking about. There are people that would likely see me hang for putting Twilight Princess this far up the list, but let’s be fair: The 9th best Zelda game is still a fucking outstanding game by any stretch.
After Wind Waker, people were crying out for a “realistic” sequel to Ocarina of Time. And in fairness, Twilight Princess is basically Ocarina of Time 2. That’s great, but it also means it was the first Zelda that didn’t really do anything new.
We got some cool new items, the world was gorgeous, and the combat was on point – but it all felt a little too safe to me. Give the fans what they want, sure, but Twilight Princess is proof I think, that you can go a little too far in doing so sometimes.
Still, it’s pretty hard not to watch the reactions of the crowd at E3 when it was first announced and not feel the Zelda love big time. I’m sure the Wii U’s Twilight Princess HD will change a lot of peoples’ minds on this one, mine included.
8. The Legend of Zelda
There was nothing like The Legend of Zelda when this game came out. There was nothing like it anywhere. This game gave us the ability to save data on a console and come back to play later. It gave us the nascent concept of an open world game, and it gave us a piece of music that remains -to this day – arguably the greatest videogame theme of all time.
The Legend of Zelda’s contribution to videogames is immeasurably immense, and anyone with more than a passing interest in the history of the medium needs to give this game a play. It’s also pretty fun, by the way.
7. Phantom Hourglass
Phantom Hourglass is a great example of Nintendo trying something new, and the first DS Zelda game saw players control Link entirely with the stylus and touch screen.
Again, it’s something that’s divided fans ever since, and even I can’t excuse the central dungeon that you have to revisit and trudge through again about six different times – but for the most part it’s a successful experiment with some amazing puzzles that make ingenious use of the touch screen.
Drawing a path for your boomerang, plotting out a course across the sea, or even just taking out bad guys with your bow and arrow – Phantom Hourglass made touch screen gaming feel completely natural, and this was long before the mobile gaming boom, mind.
6. Link’s Awakening DX
The very first portable, fully realised Zelda game. I still wonder what witchcraft Nintendo used to cram an entire adventure onto the Gameboy, and the DX remaster for the Gameboy Colour was more impressive still, injecting the world with vibrant, colourful life (and a new dungeon for good measure).
There were all manner of twists and turns in this one, as well as the standard Zelda formula that translated wonderfully to a smaller system. Don’t forget the bizarre inclusion of a ton of Mario characters too – Jumping on Goombas and taking a Chain-Chomp for a walk are just two of the strange, strange things you’ll be doing in Link’s Awakening.
Plus, if you managed to find the boomerang at the end of a lengthy side quest, you pretty much ensured nobody would ever fuck with you again. Seriously.
5. A Link Between Worlds
The most recent mainline Zelda game is a great reason to get excited about Zelda Wii U. Serving as a sequel to the SNES hit A Link to the Past, A Link Between Worlds pulls off the astonishing feat of nailing the style and feel of a 22-year-old game while pushing the series in a bold new direction.
A Link Between Worlds turned a tired Zelda formula on its head by revisiting the original Zelda game’s idea that you can beat the dungeons in any order you like. The freedom is wonderful, and no two playthroughs feel quite the same.
It would be remiss of me not to point out that Link could also merge into walls and slide along them in this game, which opened up the entire concept of top-down Zelda games and threw out everything we thought we knew. Genuinely fantastic.
4. Ocarina of Time 3D
A lot of Ocarina of Time’s detractors basically say it’s overrated because it didn’t really add anything new. It took A Link to the Past and translated that into a 3D environment. I’m not really sure how anyone can argue that point as if that was an easy thing to do, but whatever. Ocarina is great game – maybe even a perfect game.
There’s a reason it so often tops “Best Games Of All Time” lists, and that’s because it’s a fucking good game. I don’t know what I can say about it that hasn’t already been said to be honest. Time travel, exciting combat, cinematic boss battles, horse riding, Ocarina was the ultimate immersive adventure game.
Ocarina of Time told an incredible story on an epic scale. Everybody remembers the first time they stepped out of the forest and into a living, breathing Hyrule for the first time. Truly iconic.
3. Majora’s Mask 3D
After Ocarina of Time, Nintendo just decided to make the weirdest, darkest game they possibly could. Set over the course of three days, you have to do what you can in 72 hours before the moon crashes in to the Earth. Whenever the moon gets too close, you can go back in time to the first day. You keep all your main items and quest progress, but the world around you snaps back to how it was every time.
Every person you’ve helped or met (and there are a lot of characters in Majora) forget you as soon as you go back in time. Majora’s Mask is melancholy bordering on depressing
Still, there’s so much to do, a huge cast of characters to meet (maybe the best in any Zelda) and a huge supply of mysterious masks that let you do all manner of cool shit – among them, the ability to turn into a Goron or a Zora.
This is also the game that gave the world Tingle, so… there’s that, too I guess.
2. A Link to the Past
The Legend of Zelda laid down the framework for one of the most beloved series of videogames, but A Link to the Past established the formula that the games have pretty much stuck to ever since. While this is undeniably becoming a problem for the franchise, A Link to the Past did it first, and it still feels fresher than a lot of modern adventure games.
Travelling between a light and a dark world to take out that blue fucker Ganon, A Link to the Past was alarmingly large at the time. Like its NES predecessor, there were secrets around every corner, and still a huge amount of freedom compared to the later games.
Every weapon and item you found had some kind of frequent, useful purpose – whether it was to aid you in exploring or just to help you smash the shit out of your enemies. Your journey from dweeb in green to Hero of Legend is always a satisfying one in Zelda, but it’s never more satisfying than in A Link to the Past.
Still as beautiful and easy to play as it was 25 years ago, A Link to the Past isn’t just a great Zelda game – it’s one of the greatest and most important videogames of all time.
1. The Wind Waker HD
The Wind Waker is the closest any Zelda game has ever come to replicating the spirit of adventure put forth in the NES original. Yes, the main quest is pretty easy and far too short – but that isn’t the point of Wind Waker.
Wind Waker’s charms lie in the story it tells – a grand sweeping adventure with a personal centre. This Link didn’t just get up and decide to fight evil one day, he sets out to save his sister (literally travelling across the world) and ends up fighting evil because that’s the right thing to do.
Wind Waker’s charms lie in the incredible cast of characters, from a sickly grandma that you’re forced to leave behind, to the band of lovable pirates who feel like they were designed by Pixar for some unseen film. Fuck, even Ganondorf has a sympathetic backstory in this one.
Wind Waker’s charms lie in the vastness of the ocean that you’re pretty much free to explore however you want. Submarines with hidden treasure, ominous watchtowers that loom in the distance, and dozens of tiny little islands that cling to the middle of a rainy sea all hide their own secrets and dangers.
Wind Waker never tried to be Ocarina of Time. It went in completely the opposite direction to what any Zelda fan could have expected, but in doing so created a breathtakingly gorgeous game that feels to me like the purest expression of what Zelda is meant to be: Discovery, adventure, and a massive world to explore as you please.
Ewan Moore is a journalist at UNILAD Gaming who still quite hasn’t gotten out of his mid 00’s emo phase. After graduating from the University of Portsmouth in 2015 with a BA in Journalism & Media Studies (thanks for asking), he went on to do some freelance words for various places, including Kotaku, Den of Geek, and TheSixthAxis, before landing a full time gig at UNILAD in 2016.