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The 10 Essential Legend of Zelda Games

The Legend of Zelda is one of the most iconic and beloved video game franchises of all time. For over 35 years, Link has been exploring the vast and varied lands of Hyrule, solving puzzles, fighting enemies, and saving Princess Zelda from the evil Ganon. Along the way, he has encountered many memorable characters, items, dungeons, and bosses that have left a lasting impression on gamers.

But with so many games in the series, which ones are the most essential? This is a question that has sparked endless debates among fans and critics alike. Of course, there is no definitive answer, as different games appeal to different tastes and preferences. However, based on several criteria such as gameplay, story, innovation, impact, and legacy, we have compiled a list. These are the games that we think represent the best of what the series has to offer, and that every Zelda fan should play at least once.

10. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

Released in 2006 for the GameCube and Wii, Twilight Princess was a darker and more realistic take on the Zelda formula. It featured a mature and complex story that involved Link transforming into a wolf and teaming up with Midna, a mysterious imp from the Twilight Realm. The game also had some of the best dungeons in the series, such as the Snowpeak Ruins and the City in the Sky. Twilight Princess was praised for its graphics, combat, music, and atmosphere, but also criticized for its slow start, lack of originality, and excessive padding.

Buy it for the Wii | Amazon

9. The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages/The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons

Developed by Capcom and Flagship for the Game Boy Color in 2001, Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons were two interconnected games that could be played in any order. Each game had a unique mechanic that affected the gameplay and puzzles: Oracle of Ages let Link use the Harp of Ages to travel through time, while Oracle of Seasons let Link use the Rod of Seasons to change the seasons. The games also had different focuses: Oracle of Ages was more puzzle-oriented, while Oracle of Seasons was more action-oriented. Both games had a rich and colorful world to explore, with many secrets and sidequests to discover. By linking both games with a password or a cable, players could unlock extra content and face the true final boss.

Buy “Ages” for the Game Boy Color | Amazon

Buy “Seasons” for the Game Boy Color | Amazon

8. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

A sequel to A Link to the Past for the Nintendo 3DS in 2013, A Link Between Worlds was a refreshing and innovative game that brought new ideas to the series. The game introduced a new mechanic that let Link merge into walls as a painting, allowing him to access new areas and solve puzzles in creative ways. The game also gave players more freedom to explore Hyrule and Lorule, two parallel worlds with different versions of familiar locations and characters. The game also let players rent or buy items from Ravio’s shop instead of finding them in dungeons, allowing them to tackle the dungeons in any order they wanted.

Buy for the 3DS | Amazon

7. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

The Wind Waker was a bold departure from the previous Zelda games when it came out for the GameCube in 2003. It featured a cel-shaded art style that gave it a cartoon-like appearance, which divided fans at first but later became widely appreciated for its charm and expressiveness. The game also had a unique setting: a vast ocean dotted with islands that Link could sail across with his talking boat, the King of Red Lions. The game had a whimsical and adventurous tone that contrasted with its darker themes of loss and legacy. The game also had memorable characters such as Tetra, Medli, Makar, and Ganondorf himself.

Buy it for the GameCube | Amazon

Buy the HD version for the Wii U | Amazon

6. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

Majora’s Mask was a direct sequel to Ocarina of Time that came out for the Nintendo 64 in 2000. It was a darker and more experimental game that took place in Termina, a parallel world doomed by an evil moon that would crash into it in three days. Link had to use his Ocarina to travel back in time repeatedly to prevent this catastrophe while also helping various people with their problems. The game also had a unique mechanic that let Link use masks to transform into different forms, such as a Deku Scrub, a Goron, a Zora, and a Fierce Deity. Each form had its own abilities and advantages, such as flying, rolling, swimming, and shooting beams. The game also had a rich and emotional story that explored the themes of death, grief, and acceptance. The game had many sidequests that involved helping various people with their problems before the world ended, which rewarded Link with more masks and heart pieces. The game also had some of the most memorable and challenging bosses in the series, such as Odolwa, Goht, Gyorg, and Twinmold. Majora’s Mask was a game that dared to be different and succeeded in creating a masterpiece of game design that still resonates with fans today.

Buy for the Nintendo 64 | Amazon

Buy the 3D version for the 3DS | Amazon

5. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

Link’s Awakening was the first handheld Zelda game, released for the Game Boy in 1993 and later remade for the Nintendo Switch in 2019. It was also one of the most unique and surreal Zelda games, as it took place in a dream world called Koholint Island, where Link had to awaken the Wind Fish by collecting eight musical instruments. The game had a charming and quirky cast of characters, some of whom were references to other Nintendo franchises such as Mario and Kirby. The game also had some of the most inventive and challenging puzzles in the series, such as the Eagle’s Tower and the Turtle Rock. Link’s Awakening was a game that proved that Zelda could work on a smaller scale without losing its essence.

Buy it for the Game Boy | Amazon

Buy the DX version for the Game Boy Color | Amazon

Buy the Remake Version for the Switch | Amazon

4. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

Ocarina of Time was a landmark game for the series and for gaming in general when it came out for the Nintendo 64 in 1998. It was the first 3D Zelda game, and it set the standard for how to make a 3D action-adventure game with its intuitive controls, smooth camera, and immersive world. The game also had an epic and emotional story that involved Link traveling through time with his Ocarina to stop Ganondorf from conquering Hyrule. The game had many memorable moments, such as pulling out the Master Sword, riding Epona across Hyrule Field, facing off against Dark Link, and fighting Ganon in his final form. Ocarina of Time is widely considered one of the best games of all time, and for good reason.

Buy it for Nintendo 64 | Amazon

Buy the 3D version for the 3DS | Amazon

3. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

A Link to the Past was the third Zelda game, released for the Super Nintendo in 1992. It was a return to the top-down perspective of the original Zelda, but with improved graphics, sound, and gameplay. It also introduced many elements that would become staples of the series, such as the Master Sword, Kakariko Village, Zora’s Domain, and the Hookshot. The game had a vast and varied world to explore, with two parallel versions: Hyrule and the Dark World. The game also had some of the best dungeons in the series, such as Skull Woods, Misery Mire, and Ganon’s Tower. A Link to the Past was a masterpiece of game design that defined what a Zelda game should be.

Buy it for Super Nintendo | Amazon

Buy it for Game Boy Advance | Amazon

2. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Breath of the Wild was a revolutionary game for the series and for gaming in general when it came out for the Wii U and Nintendo Switch in 2017. It was a game that broke free from many conventions of previous Zelda games and gave players an unprecedented level of freedom and choice in how to explore, survive, and interact with its massive open world. The game also had a minimalist but captivating story that involved Link waking up from a 100-year slumber and trying to stop Calamity Ganon from destroying Hyrule with his ancient machines called Guardians. The game had many breathtaking moments, such as gliding over Hyrule with your Paraglider, taming wild horses, cooking delicious meals, solving Shrines, discovering Koroks, fighting Lynels, and facing Ganon in his final form. Breath of the Wild was a game that redefined what a Zelda game could be.

Buy it for the Wii U | Amazon

Buy it for the Switch | Amazon

1. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom (SPOILERS AHEAD!)

Tears of the Kingdom is the latest Zelda game, released for the Nintendo Switch in May 2023. It is a sequel to Breath of the Wild that takes place two years after its events. It is also a game that surpasses its predecessor in every way possible. The game has a more detailed and dynamic world that reacts to your actions and choices. The game also has a more engaging and complex story that involves Link and Zelda trying to stop a new threat that emerges from beneath Hyrule Castle: an ancient evil known as Malice that corrupts everything it touches with its tears. The game has many new features, such as crafting weapons and armor from materials you find or loot from enemies, riding different mounts such as bears and wolves, using new runes such as Magnetism and Teleportation, forming alliances with different factions such as Gorons and Gerudos, and unlocking new abilities such as Spirit Form and Divine Fury. The game also has some of the most impressive dungeons in the series, such as the Temple of Time, the Lost Woods, the Sky City, and the Dark Realm. The game also has a more challenging and rewarding combat system that requires you to use different strategies and tactics depending on the enemy and the environment. The game also has a more diverse and memorable soundtrack that blends orchestral, electronic, and ethnic music. Tears of the Kingdom is a game that delivers on every aspect of a Zelda game, and more. It is a game that deserves to be called the best Legend of Zelda game of all time.

Buy it for the Switch | Amazon

Station Manager of LTN Radio and co-host of the "Nerd History Podcast" & the "Two Words Podcast". Matt is a third-generation radio station manager who has done pretty much every job in the radio industry. Matt is the father of two boys and a little girl. It's probably the best thing about him.

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