Looking For A Definitive List Of Mainline Zelda Games

Avatar image for extortion
Extortion

61

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 7

I've only cherry-picked a few Zelda games to play from the franchise and I've enjoyed what I've played but I'd like to try going through the entire franchise's line-up start to finish. The problem is, I'm not really sure which games are proper, mainline entries, and which are "Zelda adjacent" entries (like Link's Crossbow Training).

The list seems pretty straightforward for me until I get into the handheld stuff. I have no idea which GBA/DS/3DS games I can skip. If someone could provide a list of games to play, that would be great. Also, I don't really care if they're "good" or not, I just wanna know which games are "core" to the franchise.

Avatar image for ntm
NTM

12197

Forum Posts

38

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

When you mean core to the franchise, do you mean highly regarded, worth playing ones, or ones that are considered canon? If it's highly regarded, there's always Metacritic, if it's the canonical ones, you can check here.

Avatar image for bisonhero
BisonHero

12154

Forum Posts

625

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 1

User Lists: 2

#3  Edited By BisonHero

Cribbing a list of the Zeldas from Wikipedia, then bolding the ones I consider mainline:

  • The Legend of Zelda
  • The Adventure of Link
  • A Link to the Past
  • Link's Awakening
  • Ocarina of Time
  • Link's Awakening DX
  • Majora's Mask
  • Oracle of Seasons & Oracle of Ages
  • Four Swords (technically an original game that exists as separate mode in the GBA port of Link to the Past)
  • The Wind Waker
  • This weird promotional Gamecube disc you got for preordering Wind Waker, that contained Ocarina of Time Master Quest (and regular Ocarina of Time) and is the only official release of Ura Zelda/Master Quest, a version of Ocarina of Time where they remix the dungeons to be trickier
  • Four Swords Adventures
  • The Minish Cap
  • Twilight Princess
  • Phantom Hourglass
  • Spirit Tracks
  • Ocarina of Time 3D
  • Skyward Sword
  • The Wind Waker HD
  • A Link Between Worlds
  • Majora's Mask 3D
  • Tri Force Heroes
  • Twilight Princess HD
  • Breath of the Wild

Link's Crossbow Training is so Zelda-adjacent that it doesn't really have a story and is just some assets they ripped out of Twilight Princess. The only Zelda games I don't really think of as mainline are the multiplayer ones; they're well made games in their own right, but co-op Zelda is such a different experience, and often they have a way to play through them solo but the controls are kinda clunky since you're swapping which Link you control all the time. They feel like a subseries within Zelda, and not part of the actual main Zelda series. Also most of the multiplayer Zeldas are the games which have pretty much never been rereleased on any platform other than the one they originally came out on, so they're a little harder to obtain copies of at this point.

Aside from that, they're pretty much all mainline Zeldas. If you own some combination of a 3DS, Wii, or Wii U, a lot of those titles are available as either an emulated version you can download or an HD remake. Note that I don't think you should play every bolded game since many of them are remakes. Don't play Link's Awakening (which is a monochrome Game Boy game not available as a digital download anywhere), instead play Link's Awakening DX (which is the slightly expanded Game Boy Color version that you can download onto a 3DS). For the games that have a 3D or HD remake, don't play both, that's crazy, just play whichever one is easier for you to obtain with the systems you own. Slight wrinkle in that I guess they're winding down the Wii digital storefront, so you can't add funds to that store anymore. The more condensed list of mainline games is something like:

  • The Legend of Zelda
  • The Adventure of Link
  • A Link to the Past
  • Link's Awakening DX
  • Ocarina of Time/Ocarina of Time 3D
  • Majora's Mask/Majora's Mask 3D
  • Oracle of Seasons & Oracle of Ages
  • The Wind Waker/The Wind Waker HD
  • The Minish Cap
  • Twilight Princess/Twilight Princess HD
  • Phantom Hourglass
  • Spirit Tracks
  • Skyward Sword
  • A Link Between Worlds
  • Breath of the Wild

I could list off some titles that I think are pretty safely skippable, but that's up to personal preference. If you find you like the 2D Zeldas like original Legend of Zelda or Link to the Past, then they made a zillion of those types of games for the handhelds. If you vastly prefer the 3D Zeldas, you can probably skip the handheld ones (even the ones with 3D graphics have the perspective and gameplay of a 2D Zelda). If you don't want to play every single console Zelda, I think you can safely skip Twilight Princess; after making 2 console Zeldas (Majora's Mask, Wind Waker) with weird new settings and ideas, Twilight Princess feels creatively bankrupt with how similar its premise and setting are to Ocarina of Time. It's still a mechanically sound game that is fun to play, but at the time I really remember it feeling just super safe and rote when it came to everything about the story and art and character design.

Avatar image for nick
Nick

1101

Forum Posts

13

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 3

#4  Edited By Nick

look up the official Zelda timeline, then add A Link Between Worlds, and Breath of the Wild. (Nintendo published an official timeline before those 2 games)

Avatar image for dan_citi
Dan_CiTi

5477

Forum Posts

306

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 2

#5  Edited By Dan_CiTi

I'd say play these ones:

the bolded titles are my favorites. Twilight Princess doesn't have the personality of some of the others at times but the dungeon design is probably the most consistent of all of the 3D Zelda games. Almost all of them are very good, extensive, and interesting. The way draw distance is displayed in Skyward Sword is pretty breath-taking. That Ocarina of Time game is pretty good I guess. The Shadow and Spirit Temple are like.....really good.

I wouldn't be too precious about playing on original hardware or anything like that. I always found that to be really overrated in the current days where emulators are really good and re-releases are frequent. The games I didn't include are weirdish multiplayer games or are just not very good (i.e. Spirit Tracks) I don't love all of the ones I've listed but I think they should be looked at simply as part of the "story" of the Zelda franchise over the years. Oh yeah and when you play Skyward Sword make sure to turn on one of the more minimal HUD options. The default is a huge ugly wiimote onscreen the entire time.

As for the 3DS remasters of the N64 games, I definitely recommend Ocarina of Time's, it is almost totally better aside from needing to play it portably (but emulation has become quite good, even looking better with some texture filters.) There are some purists that may not love it, but for a casual fan its a more solid experience.

Majora's Mask's is more complicated; the game definitely looks/runs better(maybe looking too good, adding in fidelity without a bit more charm or style to even it out), QoL improvements that are very nice, and generally polish that help the game. The problem is some of the gameplay tweaks fall flat. For instance, the Zora swimming is really different, much more constrained and definitely less fun for no reason. Later in the game there's an alteration to a boss bottle that's half-good and half-bad. Other sorts of tweaks here and there that feel a bit misguided. There's definitely a version of MM3D that's the ultimate version of the game, but a handful of things hold it back. The Bombers' Notebook is a lot better though, but each entry should probably have just been met with a chime and a little text display onscreen instead of cutting to the menu every time.

Avatar image for ntm
NTM

12197

Forum Posts

38

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

@nick: And after to add at least Breath of the Wild. That said, the site is all in Japanese. Breath of the Wild now exists as the end of all the branching timelines from what I read.

Avatar image for ungodly
Ungodly

458

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

The main Zelda games are:

The Legend of Zelda

The Adventures of Link

Link to the Past

Ocarina of Time

Wind Waker

Twilight Princess

Skyward Sword

Breath of the Wild

Those are the mainline games, and everything else is sideline stuff. I have never looked at the official timeline, but I have been told that it all mixes in weird ways. None of it really matters though, because almost every Zelda game plays like a one off adventure, and outside of themes and characters nothing really connects them all together.

Avatar image for extortion
Extortion

61

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 7

#8  Edited By Extortion

@bisonhero said:

They feel like a subseries within Zelda, and not part of the actual main Zelda series.

This is the differentiation I was looking for. Thanks to everyone who posted a list. I think I mostly know which ones I need to track down now. How does everyone feel about Spirit Tracks? I think that's the one Dan stood on his head for as being a mainline Zelda game on a bombcast a long time ago right?

Edit: On a side note, I'm currently playing through the original Legend of Zelda on the NES Classic and man, I'm a huge Binding of Isaac fan and I knew that game was heavily influenced by the Zelda dungeons but I had no idea it borrowed so directly. Overall, having a great time with a 30+ year old game I never played.

Avatar image for mamba219
Mamba219

283

Forum Posts

7536

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 3

@bisonhero said:

They feel like a subseries within Zelda, and not part of the actual main Zelda series.

This is the differentiation I was looking for. Thanks to everyone who posted a list. I think I mostly know which ones I need to track down now. How does everyone feel about Spirit Tracks? I think that's the one Dan stood on his head for as being a mainline Zelda game on a bombcast a long time ago right?

Edit: On a side note, I'm currently playing through the original Legend of Zelda on the NES Classic and man, I'm a huge Binding of Isaac fan and I knew that game was heavily influenced by the Zelda dungeons but I had no idea it borrowed so directly. Overall, having a great time with a 30+ year old game I never played.

Spirit Tracks seems like a really divisive game, but I really enjoyed it, definitely more than Phantom Hourglass. You have to deal with DS motion controls but otherwise it's well-designed and has really good dungeons. I love the train, but it seems like I'm the only one.

Avatar image for bisonhero
BisonHero

12154

Forum Posts

625

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 1

User Lists: 2

#11  Edited By BisonHero

@extortion said:

@bisonhero said:

They feel like a subseries within Zelda, and not part of the actual main Zelda series.

This is the differentiation I was looking for. Thanks to everyone who posted a list. I think I mostly know which ones I need to track down now. How does everyone feel about Spirit Tracks? I think that's the one Dan stood on his head for as being a mainline Zelda game on a bombcast a long time ago right?

Edit: On a side note, I'm currently playing through the original Legend of Zelda on the NES Classic and man, I'm a huge Binding of Isaac fan and I knew that game was heavily influenced by the Zelda dungeons but I had no idea it borrowed so directly. Overall, having a great time with a 30+ year old game I never played.

Spirit Tracks is fine, and I think the dungeons in it are slightly better than Phantom Hourglass. tbh, the overworld in Spirit Tracks super sucks, but the overworld in Phantom Hourglass also super sucks, but people inexplicably prefer PH because of nostalgia for Wind Waker (which Phantom Hourglass heavily leans on). All that being said, Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks are just very similar games. Play at least one of them, I guess? They're worth it just to see the novelty of playing a whole Zelda game with mostly stylus use - I think the buttons are only really used to swap your equipped items and bring up maps/menus, while pretty much all your gameplay actions are done by stylus tapping, sliding, drawing, etc.

Also yeah, the look of Binding of Isaac's dungeon, map screen, and the "bomb random walls" thing are all very direct references to NES Legend of Zelda. Glad you're enjoying it. Like your experience, I also only completed it decades after it came out. I can see why the game was a big deal at the time, but I personally didn't like that the last 4ish dungeons of the game really amp up how much you have to just bomb random unmarked walls to progress through them. It's a mechanic I wouldn't have minded in a Zelda where you could hold more bombs, but it really limits the number you can hold, and I recall there being certain dungeons where the enemy types just never drop bombs so if you run out you had to leave the dungeon to go grind for bombs. It was too much for my dumb ass to handle, so I think at some point I just looked up the maps for the last few dungeons. It's kinda interesting that only some of the major design choices survive past NES Zelda, and it's really Link to the Past that feels like the blueprint for the rest of the series.

Avatar image for mrgreenman
MrGreenMan

378

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

Link to the Past and Links Awakening is all you need to play. I'm obviously being a bit hyperbolic here, but as good as all the Zelda games are both of these games to me stand up to the test of time and are nearly perfect as you can get when it comes to a game. I do love the original a lot especially if you decide to finish the game and do the 2nd Quest. The enemies are much harder as well as all the dungeons and many secrets are randomized making the game and the bosses much more of a challenge. Zelda II over the years I've come to appreciate a lot more but it's not nearly as good as the others. Also some of the enemies in that game are very difficult and cruel.

All of the DS Zelda games felt like a cheap imitation and really to me dont do anything special. As for Minish Cap for the GBA, it's a solid game other then the annoying hand holding in that game.

This edit will also create new pages on Giant Bomb for:

Beware, you are proposing to add brand new pages to the wiki along with your edits. Make sure this is what you intended. This will likely increase the time it takes for your changes to go live.

Comment and Save

Until you earn 1000 points all your submissions need to be vetted by other Giant Bomb users. This process takes no more than a few hours and we'll send you an email once approved.