As far as video games go, a very small amount of them goes on to innovate so far as to build a franchise around them.
The Legend of Zelda is one such franchise that serves as a lesson in innovation, beauty in simplicity, depth, and raising the standards of what we define as entertainment.
Keeping that in mind, here are the best mainline entries in the franchise, the best Zelda games, ranked to the top.
Best Zelda Games Ranked
16. Tri-Force Heroes
Now, if it wasn’t Nintendo who insisted that this game was part of the larger canon that they were trying to establish, I don’t think this game would even make the list here.
What differentiates this from other 3DS Zelda games, is the fact that this is a co-op experience meant for the very small crowd that wanted a friend to play their Zelda with.
Apart from that, there is a very little story to speak of here, set in a “kingdom whose citizens are obsessed with fashion.” Yeah, you know where this is going.
Anything but a classic single-player experience. The Legend of Zelda: Tri-Force Heroes takes the bottom spot on our list, barely making the cut.
By no means does second last place mean that Zelda II is a bad game. However, when it comes to a list of Zelda games ranked, we might see further down the line that this placement speaks volumes of the quality that Nintendo brought to the playing field over the years.
Regardless, Zelda II was a bold new step and one that paid off.
Adding more RPG elements, debuting that infamous magic meter, and getting the side scroller bits to be less Mario and more in their own style made this game a huge success for the NES and the series as a whole.
If any game can credit itself as one of the pioneers behind the bombastic success of the NES, it is the original Legend of Zelda.
The only ‘gripe’ that anyone could have with this game is its age and saying that is already pretty unfair due to the graphical limitations of its time.
Regardless, upon release, The Legend of Zelda was immediately a smash hit and quite obviously the number one reason that it spawned such a huge assortment of games and other merchandise in its wake.
So much so that even today, the latest in the franchise found something to borrow from this fantastic adventure classic.
Much removed from a classic Zelda experience, Hyrule Warriors is a hack and slash action game with a bigger emphasis on combat rather than exploration and dialogue.
Much of the style of gameplay is reminiscent of Koei’s Dynasty Warriors, as the game is a collaborative effort between Koei Tecmo and Nintendo.
As a distant cousin variant of The Legend of Zelda when it comes to Switch Zelda games, Hyrule Warriors was a competent effort at offering a different take on the adventure series that we all know and love.
That being said, the overall feel of the game is great and both the combat and plot are good enough for it to be considered a mainline entry.
Right from the start, you might notice that this 3DS release carried more than the dual nomenclature and contrasting color schemes as inspiration from the Pokémon games of the time.
However, unlike those, The A-side of their Zelda counterpart didn’t quite evoke the same response in fans, who wanted a more unified adventure experience, instead of distilled dual ones.
While that may be the case, the interesting weather and climate change mechanics as well as the classic Zelda gameplay has earned their place on our list.
Similar to our last entry, The Oracle of Ages had the significantly better-developed mechanic of time travel, which was extensively used to solve the myriad of interesting puzzles that this game had to offer.
While it is very difficult to effectively rank dual releases, with both of these being near-identical in terms of plot, gameplay, and reception, we believe that this is an apt placement for a nice little shot at innovation that was taken up by Capcom.
Regardless, this direction was best reserved for the likes of Pokémon, and never quite got into the hearts of an emerging American audience at the time.
This one was a little tricky as well. Released on the DS, The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks is one of the more divisive games in the pantheon of Zelda games, mostly due to the many unique mechanics it had.
While the art style and the usage of a companion in the game were much appreciated by the majority of DS users, many of the mechanics such as blowing on the microphone to complete certain actions, and the relatively clunkier controls of the DS made this game not as enjoyable universally as the developers might have hoped.
Still, because of the story and the unique companion mechanic, this makes our list.
Another DS title and the direct predecessor of our earlier entry, Phantom Hourglass makes our list by virtue of a much more open world to traverse, and much better narrative design.
Although just as divisive as its successor, with elements such as the stealth sections robbing the game of its pace and the hub world style temple sections being repetitive, Phantom Hourglass holds its own and even had a multiplayer option that not many mainline titles had to offer, and still do not.
Praised for its art style and the amount of content that it had on offer, The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass is one of the best DS Zelda games on offer.
Finally, we arrive at the cream of the crop.
Set in a time before Hyrule, Skyward Sword is exactly what every Zelda fan wanted at the time of its release; a classic, concentrated, and universally enjoyable Zelda with fantastic visuals, a compelling story, and head-scratching puzzles.
Although still a divisive title because of the control scheme of the Wii, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is one of the premier Zelda titles and a chronological must-have if you intend to experience all of them in order.
With a focus on quirky characters, engaging world-building, and a beautiful soundtrack, Skyward Sword is one of the most meaningful video games to date.
One of the best 2D Zelda games, A Link Between Worlds takes our main character on a journey where he is allowed to be part of a 2D painting, which makes much of the puzzle system in the game work.
At a time when handhelds were raging in popularity, A Link Between Worlds stood out, with the endearing graphics, well-written story, characters, dialogue, a plethora of new mechanics, and an entirely new world called Lorule.
Taking its coveted spot on the list on the strength of being a fantastic return to form for the series in a long time, A Link Between Worlds has also aged very well and is still a great game to play for the Zelda fan and video game enthusiast in general.
This title came at a time when we were all moving past the GameCube and trying to embrace the Wii for all its quirks.
Nevertheless, that never stopped Nintendo from producing another stellar Zelda title, as fans of the series flocked to stores and made sure it flew off the shelves in no time.
Although praise was directed towards the excellent dungeons, the exploration and combat are as good as the technology of the time allowed, Link’s new abilities and the best companion the franchise had ever seen in Midna, Twilight Princess was also criticized for not bringing enough to the table in terms of innovation.
We won’t complain about more of the same, though. A fantastic addition to the franchise.
Considered hands down the finest 2D Zelda game and one of the best video games of all time, A Link to The Past was released in 1991 to commercial and critical acclaim.
Shining on its own, this Zelda title holds the prestige of being recognized as the rare ‘system-seller.’
Introducing award-winning Zelda hallmarks such as the hook shot and the Master sword, making it the most influential entry in the franchise.
Although similar to the NES titles it may not have aged as well as some of the other games on this list, the contribution of A Link to The Past to future Zelda titles cannot be overlooked.
As a child consuming an unhealthy amount of Saturday morning cartoons, one look at the Wind Waker and I knew that I had fallen in love.
The art style of this game was second to none, and that was matched by the gorgeous world that it was set in.
For a game that doesn’t look very serious, the combat system in The Wind Waker was simple, fluid, and effective, the soundtrack was phenomenal, and the plot of the game was similar in quality to most Zelda games, making it an instant hit.
With an HD remake already having been released, it goes to show how revered this title is by the fans of the series.
This entry might be considered a tie between Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, but by a sliver, Majora makes it to the third spot.
A truly unique Zelda experience as far as the themes of the titles are concerned, Majora’s Mask intended to introduce some actual horror into the action-adventure exploration platformer mix.
And boy did it do that well. Majora’s Mask is a groundbreaking Zelda title, and the mechanic of playing through the same 3 days, again and again, can be maddening at times, but if you persevere, under the veil is a haunting and tragic story, followed by an equally somber soundtrack and a very engaging series of quests.
A Zelda game like no other.
Even after pouring hours upon hours since the release of this masterpiece of a video game, the wide-open world of Breath of The Wild manages to entrance, engage and fill me with wonder and awe like no other.
With tidbits to find, interesting weapons to hunt down, an extensive range of plains, valleys, fields, mountains, and forests to roam around, secret tombs to unlock, and of course, enemies to fight at every corner of the world, Breath of The Wild is the single best of the Switch Zelda games, and there is absolutely no competition.
Along with a classic Nintendo story and a soundtrack provided by the genius of Manaka Kataoka and Hajime Wakai, Breath of The Wild must be seen to be believed.
No words can do it justice.
There is absolutely no way you didn’t see this coming right?
One of the most influential titles of the sixth console generation and a heavyweight in all aspects of video game development, the first 3D Zelda title to ever exist did justice to the series in a way that no video game has ever achieved for their franchise.
Revolutionizing gaming beyond what was thought possible in terms of game design such as the targeting system we all know and love now, plot, music, replayability, world-building, technical prowess, polish, and heart.
Ocarina of Time is the best Legend of Zelda game to ever have been made, and a classic that set benchmarks and never looked back.
Made even better by the time it was remade for the 3DS, Ocarina of Time is Zelda in a way that few games have ever been in the franchise, and I could count all of them in one hand.
So, there you have it, the best mainline entries in the history of our beloved Link. While many Zelda games may follow these and possibly innovate beyond the parameters that these games have set, one thing is for certain, these titles have been a part of the most valuable corners of our childhoods and shall continue to be so until a time that there is no entertainment anymore.