The 5 Best "The Legend of Zelda" Games

Few video game franchises have penetrated the cultural zeitgeist to the level The Legend of Zelda has. In fact, Super Mario Bros. could be the only Nintendo property to surpass it in terms of being universally beloved. With the recent release of The Legend of Zelda: Tear of the Kingdom, the series has shown no signs of slowing down.

After almost 40 years, the franchise has continued to capture the imagination of gamers. The story of Link adventuring through the lands of Hyrule to rescue Princess Zelda has become a ubiquitous modern-day myth. With almost 20 releases under the franchise's belt, it could be difficult for newcomers or casual fans to know where to start. While there hasn't really been a bad Zelda game, some are far more captivating than others.

5. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (2003)

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker was a game that truly pushed the limits of the Nintendo GameCube. The cel-shaded graphics and open-world environments were gorgeous for the time. The gameplay mechanics maintained the spirit of the myriad Zelda games which came before. However, it added the ability to traverse areas via Link's boat, the King of Red Lions.

The legacy of the game persisted in many ways. It spawned the character of "Toon Link," who appeared in games like Super Smash Bros.: Brawl. Furthermore, it got a high-definition rerelease on the Nintendo Wii U in 2013. Even twenty years after its release, Wind Waker has been considered an all-time classic. It has been seen on several "best video games" lists by publications like Nintendo Power and IGN.

4. The Legend of Zelda (1987)

The title that started it all has remained a benchmark in video game history. The Legend of Zelda was released over 30 years ago, but its influence has remained simply immeasurable. Gamers were introduced to an elf-like boy named Link, who sought to rescue Princess Zelda from the villainous Ganon. This basic premise would become the blueprint for every Zelda video game that would follow.

What made The Legend of Zelda such a unique experience at the time of its release was its combination of genres. It blended text-based adventure RPGs with hack-and-slash action games, creating a wholly original experience. The Legend of Zelda was a title that redefined what video games could be and birthed a legendary franchise.  

The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening marked several firsts for the franchise, including being the debut installment on Gameboy. It was also the first Zelda game no to be set in the Kingdom of Hyrule. Furthermore, mechanically, it was the first over-head release that allowed Link to jump. That simple addition changed gameplay, drastically. The game also introduced fishing, trading, and the Link's iconic ocarina.

What made the game so brilliant was its tone and scope. It built upon what worked in previous entries to make the game feel epic in a way the not felt before. Link's Awakening had a more ethereal atmosphere than other Zelda games. It brought in fourth-wall-breaking characters and a twist ending. The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening was a handheld masterpiece and a high benchmark for the series.

2. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (2017)

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was released on the Nintendo Switch in 2017 to universal acclaim. The game introduced several new elements to the franchise including consistent physics and degradable weapons. However, what made Breath of the Wild unique from its predecessors was its incredible traversal system.

For the first time in the series, Link was able to climb almost any topographical obstacle in the game's open world. While the story of Breath of the Wild was familiar to longtime players, the gameplay was a massive step forward. It created a Zelda experience unlike any other, pleasing newcomers to the series, as well as longtime fans.

Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past was a formative gaming experience for a generation. It galvanized the gameplay elements introduced in the series' first release. It also introduced the concept of parallel worlds, which would become a hallmark of the franchise going forward. Other additions A Link to the Past offered Link the ability to swing his sword and run with the use of the Pegasus boots.  

These upgrades might seem minuscule in hindsight, but at the time, they were revolutionary. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past was the game that made folks of a certain age fall in love with the series. For elder Millennials around the world, it's truly a case of "if you know, you know."


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