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Why stop at 10? In my new blog, I rank the rest of the games I played in 2023.

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My Ranking of Zeldas

This list is exactly as it sounds: my personal ranking of the games in The Legend of Zelda franchise. It's one of the few long-running franchises where I've played basically every game, and thus feel qualified to rank. Note that I'm only including what I consider to be the core Zelda adventures here. So no multiplayer spinoffs, training games, or, well, whatever those CDi things are here. This ranking is based on my personal, subjective preferences alone, and I will amend it over time as new Zelda games come out. Hope you enjoy, and thanks for reading!

Last updated on September 8, 2023 (to add Tears of the Kingdom)

See my other rankings of: Metroids | Marios | Zeldas | Final Fantasies | 2D Castlevanias | Fire Emblems | Gaming Years | Consoles and Handhelds | From Software Games | Nintendo Franchises

List items

  • It took some serious thought to order the top of this list, as I think the top three are all equally impressive masterpieces. But upon examining what Zelda really means to me, it became clear that its beating heart has always been its spirit of adventure. And I think Breath of the Wild embraced that spirit better than any game in the series. Every single design decision encouraged the player to follow their own curiosity, and the world itself was executed so beautifully to make that exploration worth every second. It was a special journey I'll never forget, and in a way it embraced everything I love about this entire medium. So, yeah, I'd be lying to myself if I didn't put it at #1.

  • A Link to the Past was the game that codified the formula that would see the Zelda series through decades of successful sequels. And yet, looking back I can't shake the feeling that it executed that particular formula better than any game that followed; it had a flow and cohesiveness that still holds up beautifully today. Further still, where its direct followers got more and more guided over time, A Link to the Past still had half a foot in the series' roots. It didn't feel the need to guide the player by the nose so strongly, which made it feel like a grander adventure I could get lost in.

  • Ocarina of Time's legacy speaks for itself at this point, but all its praise is totally warranted. This was a great game that paved the way for 3D action games for decades. More importantly for this list, it executed the Zelda fundamentals extremely well. Great world, great dungeons, great music, great presentation, and so on. Many of my most memorable moments in the series came from this game, and it was one of the first times I felt in awe while exploring a virtual 3D space.

  • Unlike many I initially loved the Wind Waker's look, and I think time has proven its art style to be on the right side of history. But Wind Waker wasn't just an artistic marvel; it also proved to be a smart follow-up to Ocarina of Time by changing the way you explored its watery world, while still feeling undeniably like a Zelda game. It also had a great soundtrack, and the best combat among 3D games in the series. I only wish the dungeons were a bit better.

  • A Link Between Worlds was one of those games I couldn't put down until I squeezed every last drop from it. There was a level of polish and execution to every single facet of this thing that was mesmerizing. The musical score was glorious, the pacing was buttery smooth, and the combat was better than it's ever been for 2D Zelda. Despite being a follow-up to a 20 year old game at the time, A Link Between Worlds felt like one of the most unique, forward-thinking games in the series, and one of the most fun too.

  • Man, the original Zelda was *awesome*. I played it well after it came out, but the way it completely set you loose to find your own way through an engrossing adventure was not lost on me. Sure, it had some design elements that feel dated today, but I think it showcased what I consider to be the true spirit of Zelda more boldly than most of its successors have. That counts for a lot to me, and I can only imagine how this game felt when it first came out. Hat's off to you, Zelda.

  • Tears of the Kingdom was a well-earned victory lap after the success of Breath of the Wild, and I enjoyed it in many of the same ways; primarily, exploring that world remained a joy. And between some cool new powers, and some fresh alterations to the world, it even added some worthwhile new tricks of its own. Yet for me it could never quite escape the shadow of its predecessor, retreading too much of the same beats to reach those same heights. A little more of its own identity would have gone a long way on this list.

  • Twilight Princess wanted to be a bigger Ocarina of Time, and for better or worse, that's kind of what it was. It employed that same classic formula with a bigger overworld, and more, longer dungeons. But it also had a lot more exposition that didn't work as well, and the pacing suffered under all that weight. So it's a little rough in spots, but I still enjoyed it in many of the same ways I enjoyed Ocarina; in particular, a few of its dungeons were killer.

  • I just want to give Minish Cap a hug. In some ways, I’ve always placed it in the same group as previous handheld games as a very well-executed, but pretty standard 2D Zelda game. But then I thought about its lively art style, catchy music, funny writing, and most importantly, the clever dynamic that let you view the world as both normal and mini Link. That’s when I realized that Minish Cap had a layer of charm and polish that those others didn’t.

  • I enjoyed the remake of Link's Awakening slightly more than the original: a fresh coat of audiovisual paint brought Koholint Island to stunning life, and streamlined controls and other quality of life features further modernized a game that was originally held back by unfortunate hardware limitations. The underlying game design remained more or less the same, but this remake updated an old game in just enough ways to be worthwhile.

  • I never had the strong attachment to Link’s Awakening that some do, and it felt like a step down from A Link to the Past at the time (no big surprise given hardware limitations). But I do think it was a very solid Zelda game in most ways. In my mind it’s comparable to the Oracle games: it did everything well without standing out much more than that. Though Link’s Awakening had a more interesting story and setting than those.

  • Majora’s Mask was always one of the more interesting games in the series... I just wish I enjoyed playing it more than I did. I didn’t find its overworld or dungeons to be that noteworthy, and the game’s strict time structure could get very tedious. Still, that time structure allowed for some interesting stories and side quests to fill out the game in some pretty profound ways that I respect a lot. Also, its soundtrack was genuinely great.

  • It’s hard to separate the two Oracle games in my mind; I think Ages was more puzzles, and Seasons was more combat? Either way, I consider them both to be equally solid Zelda games. They did all of the basics very well, and I enjoyed playing them from start to finish, but they never stood out as going above and beyond. That trick at the end where you fought the real final boss after completing both games was pretty cool though.

  • See Oracle of Ages above.

  • Phantom Hourglass retained some of Wind Waker’s charm, but there were just enough annoying gameplay quirks that brought it down for me. The touch controls never felt as good as buttons, the overworld wasn’t that interesting (this came out during a time where Zelda games relied a lot on fetch quests between dungeons), and that dungeon you had to keep going back to wasn’t great. Also, screw that meta-puzzle where you had to close your DS.

  • I appreciated some of what Skyward Sword was going for: its dungeons were solid, it looked great, and it gave the series a decent origin story. But I did not appreciate its more directed approach and lack of exploration. More importantly, I think its execution was poor on multiple fronts. The motion controls were not reliable enough for sword combat. The between-dungeon sections were defined by rote fetch quests. The pacing was all over the place. And that reminder text… yeesh. In the context of a series that’s generally been excellent across the board, Skyward Sword does not compare well.

  • Spirit Tracks' few highs were undermined by some infuriating lows. I remember its dungeons being pretty good (as most Zelda dungeons are), but I also remember thinking its overworld was incredibly dull, and that only being able to explore it via trains was laborious at best. Plus, this game had that goddamn pan flute. I’ve rarely been so livid with a video game.

  • Zelda II is the only core Zelda game I never finished. Put bluntly, I found the combat repetitive, tedious, and not fun at all. And it turns out Zelda II was more of a combat slog than anything. I do think there were some interesting ideas in there, but none of it felt executed well enough to overcome the combat for me. Error seems like a good guy though.