Posted on November 30 2019 by Andy Spiteri
I can’t believe it’s that time already, but here we are: it’s time for Zelda Dungeon’s 2019 Edition of the Best. Zelda. Ever!
Two Zelda games were released this year — one a remake, and one a spinoff — but maybe most crucially, the next mainline installment of the series was teased at E3 when Nintendo revealed the sequel to Breath of the Wild was to be released! Exciting times are ahead for Zelda fans no doubt, but let’s focus on this year’s list in what very well could be the last list NOT to include Breath of the Wild 2!
For this year’s list, we decided to include three new games that were excluded from last year’s list (or, ya know, didn’t exist yet in the form of one): Cadence of Hyrule, Four Swords, and Hyrule Warriors. We also decided that, like previous games on this list that had received the remake treatment (Ocarina of Time 3D, Twilight Princess HD, etc.), we were going to bundle up Link’s Awakening for the Switch with plain ol’ Link’s Awakening and DX. Additionally, we decided to overhaul how points were totaled to reward editors that had played more Zelda games. For example, instead of a writer’s favorite Zelda game automatically be awarded 21 points (for 21 games), we started with the least favorite game getting 1 point and worked up. That way, an editor who had only played 10 Zelda games would only be awarding their favorite Zelda game 10 points.
As I said last year, putting together a definitive list like this is tough. There are tons of different personalities that have very different opinions about what the greatest Zelda game ever is, and even more differing opinions about what constitutes a great Zelda game in the first place. Is it the dungeons? Is it the story? Exploration? Music must be a factor. And then there’s nostalgia. Older Zelda fans that grew up in the NES era might look back more fondly on the 8-bit classics, while newer fans whose first exposure to the Zelda franchise came during the Wii days might not view Link’s early adventures as fondly.
Another obstacle to tackle is the ranking of the complete series. Sure, it’s easy enough to say what your favorite games are, but what about after that? Maybe it’s my inner fanboy talking, but there aren’t any bad Zelda games, so ranking one dead last makes you feel a little guilty. What about the ones that we never finished, or haven’t played in years and years? It was with great care that our editors made their lists — some of them taking several weeks to do so — and with even greater care that their picks were averaged out to give you this year’s ranking.
As always, we have a whole host of new writers with different perspectives and different opinions, so this list is shaping up to be a different looking animal than last year’s! Inside, you’ll see insights and excerpts from different editors giving you their thoughts on each game!
Enough talking, let’s get down to it! It’s my pleasure to present Zelda Dungeon’s Best Zelda Ever 2019 Edition List! Let’s start off with…
21) The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords
Highest Rank: 14 | Lowest Rank: 21 | Last Year’s Rank: N/A
7/20 Editors had not played Four Swords and did not rank it
Well something had to finish it last place, right? And for the first time in recent history, it wasn’t Tri Force Heroes! The spinoff adventure included in the Game Boy Advance re-release of A Link to the Past takes that dubious spot, though to be fair, many editors hadn’t experienced the game. The ones that had though?
“My experience with Four Swords has been brief and unpleasant,” recalls Associate Editor Sean Gadus. “Playing the game at 3.a.m. at the Zelda Dungeon Marathon felt like an exercise in pain. The game was ambitious in its decision to give four players to control in a Zelda experience, but the execution was imperfect. Four Sword is a weird Zelda experiment that never quite manages to live up to the brilliance of the original concept.”
Four Swords did have its fans, however, such as Senior Editor Kristen Rosario. “Even when just playing Four Swords on my own, I found it to be a rather fun experience. When eventually playing it with other like-minded fans of the game, it becomes even more entertaining. Unlike its successor Four Swords Adventures, the lengths of each level feel reasonable and fun, while still also providing a rather fun challenge throughout. Four Swords is just a great time with friends, especially ones you like to pick up and throw into bottomless pits.”
Overall, Four Swords just didn’t have the same level of prestige the other games in the series do, but did lay the groundwork for some cool stuff to come out after it. “All I could think in the brief time that I played Four Swords was, ‘This isn’t Four Swords Adventures!'” writes Copy Editor Alasyn Eletha. “Despite this attempt at a multiplayer Zelda being somewhat lackluster in my opinion, I was really glad that Nintendo didn’t quit the concept and went on to make other multiplayer Zelda games. If anything, I think that if anyone wanted to play this title, it should merely be for the fact that you could say you played it. Otherwise, you can move on with the Zelda series without worrying about it too much.”
20) The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes
Highest Rank: 5 | Lowest Rank: 21 | Last Year’s Rank: 18
7/20 Editors had not played Tri Force Heroes and did not rank it
Despite somehow NOT finishing in last place this year, Tri Force Heroes still manages to somehow lose ground in the list, falling to 20th spot. Still, this year at least, it can say it wasn’t dead last.
“Tri Force Heroes is a frustrating game to me, as there are aspects of it I really like, but also some things I hate,” grumbles Editor Charles Xavier. “Hytopia is such an interesting addition to the franchise. I loved all the French references, the soundtrack was enjoyable to me, and the game is a really fun multiplayer experience. However, this game wasn’t designed for solo play… yet they implemented a solo campaign.”
Senior Editor Alexis Anderson agrees. “I am the biggest proponent of Four Swords Adventures, so I was thrilled at the prospect of another multiplayer Zelda. But, boy was I let down. Apart from it being super cute (those outfits!) and contributing some fun new tunes, I don’t think Tri Force Heroes adds anything to the series. The bosses, items, plot, and mechanics left no impression on me. It was also a vexing slog to get through alone, which I can’t abide when the solo experience I had with Four Swords Adventures was so enjoyable. The multiple-Links schtick can be done right and could’ve been made even better, but this game unfortunately went backward.”
Still, the general consensus is that despite its various flaws, Tri Force Heroes can be a fun experience if played under the right circumstances.
“I never used to be the biggest advocate for this title. However, when I actually got to play it with a couple of really great, hilarious friends (one of which knew the game rather well), I couldn’t help falling in love with it,” writes Alasyn Eletha. “The music is fun, the outfit mechanic is interesting, and the bonds you make laughing over each other’s mishaps are unforgettable. 100% play this with friends. It’s a less disappointing experience than trying to slog through it alone.”
19) The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks
Highest Rank: 8 | Lowest Rank: 20 | Last Year’s Rank: 15
7/20 Editors had not played Spirit Tracks and did not rank it
Spirit Tracks falls several spots down the list this year, crashing down to 19th spot. I was a little surprised by this, since this game had always seemed to have its fans. Nevertheless, I was told why Link’s sophomore DS effort ranked so low.
“Spirit Tracks has some really great dungeons with awesome boss battles that make up for a painfully boring overworld. The final sequence involving the Demon Train, Cole, and Malladus is refreshingly different to other Zelda games too. These points considered, Spirit Tracks could have been up there with some of the more popular Zelda games. However,” Copy Editor Judy Calder states, “the stylus controls made gameplay unnecessarily difficult, something I can vouch for after a seven-and-a-half-hour stint to complete the game! On top of this, blowing into the 3DS for the Spirit Flute gimmick was one of the most frustrating elements of gameplay. At what felt like my 30th attempt to get a song right, I thought I was going to faint!”
Not all the comments about Spirit Tracks were negative at least.
“I can understand why people feel uneasy about the theme with the trains, or the chibi art,” concedes Editor Emilee Church. “However, the game has a special, nostalgic, pocket-sized charm about it (mainly because of the train) like the old games did. When it comes to traveling through different regions, while not the best graphics, it’s still neat that you get to experience a little adventure with our hero, Link! A nice surprise is added when you get to travel in the companionship of Princess Zelda! It was wonderful to see Zelda have such a spunky-girly personality and seeing how she and Link reacted off one another.
In summary, Judy puts it best: “Spirit Tracks sticks out from the crowd for all the wrong reasons and that’s such a pity.”
18) The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures
Highest Rank: 4 | Lowest Rank: 20 | Last Year’s Rank: 16
8/20 Editors had not played Four Swords Adventures and did not rank it
Much like Tri Force Heroes before it, Four Swords Adventures seems to only get positive feedback when being discussed as a multiplayer experience. Unlike Tri Force Heroes, it seemed more people were vocally supportive of the second Four Swords game, despite it falling back a spot in 2019.
“I played Four Swords Adventures for the first time at the Zelda Dungeon Marathon. I enjoyed the multiplayer element of this game, especially because it was my first experience of playing Zelda with friends,” recalls Judy Calder. “Working as a team was just as frustrating as it was fun, which made voting for the most bothersome and helpful player even more satisfying. All in all, this is a cool game if you’ve got both the patience and the friends to play it with!”
Longtime editor and longtime Four Swords Adventures advocate Alexis Anderson added this:
“I love Four Swords Adventures with all of my heart, and while it’s becoming increasingly difficult to access, I truly believe every fan should play it and see for themselves how much fun it is. Much like in Link’s Awakening, the plot is rather thin but is built on a solid premise with high stakes. The Shrine Maidens are captured, Shadow Link emerges as a mysterious new foe, and Vaati returns. The level structure limits exploration but makes for tight gameplay so almost everything in a given level is significant and warrants investigating. Tingle’s affinity for Force Gems is hilarious, and the gems are a fun competitive element of the multiplayer. The sprites are honestly beautiful, the game makes clever use of the four Links, and there are some really heartfelt moments along the way.
“It’s not necessarily a traditional Zelda title, but it’s certainly my cup of tea.”
17) The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass
Highest Rank: 4 | Lowest Rank: 21 | Last Year’s Rank: 14
5/20 Editors had not played Four Swords Adventures and did not rank it
Much like its DS counterpart Spirit Tracks, Phantom Hourglass suffers a three-spot tumble down the list. Though in previous years, it seemed like the stylus controls were the more pressing factor in Phantom Hourglasses ranking, this year, the division seemed to lay within the controversial Temple of the Ocean King.
“Repetition in Zelda games is not foreign, like the Light Spirit quests in Twilight Princess or the fights against the Imprisoned in Skyward Sword. However, I never could get behind the Temple of the Ocean King in Phantom Hourglass,” states Editor Alexandria Weber. “Although the title has a remarkable humor and introduced the new mechanics of DS Zelda games very well, the Temple of the Ocean King takes up a bulk of the game that I can’t ignore. The dungeon is returned to six separate times throughout the game, with puzzles that honestly tested my patience more than my brain. By the end, it felt like I spent half the game in that dungeon, which unfortunately overshadowed Phantom Hourglass’ better aspects.”
On the flip side, Editor Emma Jane, who ranked Phantom Hourglass the highest at fourth place, counters with this.
“Phantom Hourglass‘ bad rep, while unsurprising, isn’t one it deserves. While the world isn’t as vast and diverse as previous titles, the simplicity allows you to focus more on the stories of the people you’re traveling with, allowing the ending to have that much more of an effect. While the sea may seem barren at first, there are plenty of treasure charts leading to underwater treasure, and fish abound, with one of the side quests involving hunting down the legendary Neptoona. The most common complaint for this game is the repetition of the Temple of the Ocean King. However, I appreciated the idea of coming back again with new supplies ready for you to explore the floors with a new strategy. Being able to come back and find out that you can get a new treasure or unlock a new shortcut was a rewarding experience, and encouraged me to explore more in both this game and future titles.”
16) The Legend of Zelda: Adventure of Link
Highest Rank: 10 | Lowest Rank: 21 | Last Year’s Rank: 17
7/20 Editors had not played Adventure of Link and did not rank it
Link’s sophomore effort for the NES has seeminglygained some steam and a handful of new editors willing to show their appreciation for the so-called “black sheep” of the Zelda family, moving up a spot in our list this year.
“Zelda II: The Adventure of Link is actually pretty high on my list,” says Charles Xavier, who ranked the game at number 10/21 on his list. “I enjoy it for being different, whereas most consider it bad for the same reason. The difficulty can be brutal, but I found myself getting sucked in more and more each time I failed in the game. I liked having more combat options, and a range of spells to use — it made Zelda II feel unique. The plot laid out in the game’s manual was also very intriguing. Combined, those two aspects are the reason I consider Zelda II a step up from the original.”
Zelda Dungeon Editor Bryan King echoed the sentiment, not going as far to say it was one of his favorite games, but one worthy of a second look. “Let’s get one thing out of the way now: Zelda II: The Adventure of Link is… interesting to say the least. It’s not typically at the top of many ‘Greatest Zelda of All-Time’ lists, as it deviates from the template that its predecessor established, and that subsequent sequels would adhere to. With that said, I think that The Adventure of Link is objectively a good game in its own right. Ignore the blisteringly-hard difficulty and you have a game that’s ahead of its time with dynamic combat, an incredible soundtrack, lite RPG progression, and one of the coolest final encounters in a Zelda game to date. If you’ve never played it, you can do worse than The Adventure of Link, and I think jaded fans would do well to give it another chance.”
While certainly not competing for the top spot, as any longtime fan of Zelda Dungeon knows, landing at 16 isn’t so bad.
15) Hyrule Warriors
Highest Rank: 3 | Lowest Rank: 21 | Last Year’s Rank: N/A
5/20 Editors had not played Hyrule Warriors and did not rank it
The combat-focused spinoff Hyrule Warriors lands at a respectable 15th spot, but falls short when compared to some of the more revered games in the series and even another spinoff. Hyrule Warriors seemed to be a very divisive experience: while it had its handful of vocal champions, it seemed the majority of our editors were put off by its hack-and-slash nature.
“While the Dynasty Warriors/Musou style of gameplay may not appeal to everyone, this was a fun out-of-the-box title in the series,” Kristen Rosario writes. “Hyrule Warriors is the first game in the Zelda series where I felt like an absolute badass. Just mowing down wave after wave of enemies, while at the same time, performing amazing combat feats against the more common bosses of the franchise. The wide selection of characters to choose from and weapons to use makes this a Zelda game with some solid replayability.”
Associate Editor Sean Gadus echoed the sentiment. “While The Legend of Zelda is known for beautiful locations, relatively simple combat, and incredibly clever puzzles, Hyrule Warriors focuses on stringing together massive combos and screen clearing special moves. While some fans may decry the lack of traditional elements, Hyrule Warriors is a blast to play. It is satisfying to slash and blast your way through bosses and enemies as if you were T800 from the The Terminator. Regardless of how you feel about the game’s style or mechanics, the Hyrule Warriors also has an incredible amount of content with the Definitive Edition having content to last several lifetimes”
14) Cadence of Hyrule
Highest Rank: 8 | Lowest Rank: 16 | Last Year’s Rank: N/A
6/20 Editors had not played Cadence of Hyrule and did not rank it
The most unlikely — and newest — Zelda spinoff debuts on our list at a very respectable 14th place overall, narrowly beating out Hyrule Warriors in total points. While all the same points that prevented Hyrule Warriors from landing higher on the list, our Editors were slightly more receptive to Cadence.
“What a pleasant surprise,” writes Zelda Dungeon Editor-in-Chief Andy Spiteri. “I put a lot of stock into music in my video games, and this soundtrack, with its upbeat remixes and head-nodding catchiness, is one of the best in the Zelda series — maybe the best. It takes a little getting used to moving your characters to the rhythm of the music, but if you can nail that down, Cadence offers you maybe the greatest Zelda spinoff experience to date.”
“It’s understandable why some may not like it due to its rhythm mechanics,” states Editor John Piland, “but as someone who has played the original Crypt of the NecroDancer, the combat in this game was familiar. I won’t lie and say that I didn’t have some struggle, but adjusting for me wasn’t all too hard.”
The biggest hurdle that Cadence of Hyrule may face is convincing Zelda fans to play a rhythm game, but Editor Heather Beard sings this game’s praises pretty highly.
“If you’re into short indie games with rockin’ music then Cadence of Hyrule is for you! The game’s story is pretty basic, but it’s a fun title with the potential to be played over and over again. I’ve found myself ready to adventure again after beating it the first time. The music and the boss fights are what shine the most! The game is relatively short, and that is my one complaint. I really wish the game had been longer. I’d love to see a sequel or something akin to it. I still find myself listening to the music regularly, it’s just that good.”
13) The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages
Highest Rank: 8 | Lowest Rank: 16 | Last Year’s Rank: 11
9/20 Editors had not played Oracle of Ages and did not rank it
Falling a few spots this year is the puzzle-focused Oracle game, a game no doubt hindered by the fact that almost half the current editors have not played it, making it the least played Zelda game ranked on our list this year. If ever there was a reason for a remake to get this game to some new audiences, our list is proof. Still, the editors that had played it all seemed to sing its praises.
“Oracle of Ages has perhaps some of the most cleverly designed puzzles in a Zelda game,” states Editor Almog Ritter. “It is truly a game that makes you think outside the box, and I commend it for doing it. The music is simply amazing and the story is so compelling. The cast has so many unforgettable characters, and none of them seemed gratuitous to me. The dungeons were great and fun to play through, the items in this game were incredibly smart and innovative, and the bosses were excellent. If you’re a big fan of puzzles, Oracle of Ages is your go-to Zelda game.”
Zelda Dungeon Managing Editor Rod Lloyd agrees. “The more cerebral of the Oracle games, Ages places a greater emphasis on puzzles than on combat. And in doing so, the folks at Capcom proved that they could build a Zelda game as sophisticated as those developed by Nintendo. Every dungeon in Oracle of Ages is fresh and inventive, even if some will make players want to pull their hair out if they don’t have a guide. But, to me, the thing that elevates Ages is its setting and story. The plight of Labrynna, through its colorful cast of denizens, is always an emotional focus during Link’s journey. The circuitous relationship of Nayru, Queen Ambi, Ralph, and Veran — which benefits from the game’s time travel mechanics — is both fully developed and fully engaging.”
12) The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons
Highest Rank: 9 | Lowest Rank: 17 | Last Year’s Rank: 12
8/20 Editors had not played Oracle of Seasons and did not rank it
Although Seasons remains in the twelfth overall position, its placement on the 2019 list can only be considered a success. Beating out the three debuting games on our list this year and, more importantly, beating out its Oracle brother for the first time in the history of our list: Oracle of Ages.
“I hear a lot of people talk about how Ages is the better Oracle by far because of its focus on puzzles. And while I understand and appreciate that sentiment, I find that Seasons strikes a better balance between what I want out of a Zelda game: puzzles, action, and a fun gimmick. Changing the weather from summer to fall to winter to spring always bought me a joy aesthetically and added to the overworld. Seasons, and Ages for that matter, are such good games that unfortunately get overshadowed by their bigger console brothers. It’s too bad,” writes Andy Spiteri.
Editor David Wayne Nystrom remembers his first impressions of Seasons:
“I remember seeing the ad for the Oracle games for the first time in a movie theater. I lost my mind thinking we were getting a Zelda movie. Then, I found out it was just two new Zelda games for the Game Boy Color. Seasons stuck out to me though when I played it because of how close to the original it was. Also, the new races and characters of Holodrum made me nostalgic for Link’s Awakening’s cast of characters. However, while the game was fun, it didn’t live up to the hype that came over me when I saw that trailer.”
11) The Legend of Zelda
Highest Rank: 3 | Lowest Rank: 17 | Last Year’s Rank: 13
1/20 Editors had not played The Legend of Zelda and did not rank it
The one that started it all recovers from a slide down the list last year to claim its highest spot ever on our list. An influx of older editors helped put it over some newer releases.
“Some of my most vivid memories of my childhood involve me wandering through Hyrule, trying desperately to make my way through dungeons Seven and Eight, then searching everywhere for dungeon Nine,” writes Editor Doug Kwiecinski. “It wasn’t until school the following morning that my friend told me to ‘bomb the rocks that look like glasses,’ and Ganon never stood a chance. The Legend of Zelda offered everything I could want in a game: immense challenge, the opportunity to be a hero, and a tangible bad guy, Ganon, I could track down and kill. The first game in the Zelda series laid the foundation for over 30 years of greatness by focusing on simplicity of concept and a story that wasn’t weighed down by exposition and fluff. It’s a nearly perfect game to use as the foundation for an entire series.”
Editor John Piland grew to love it eventually, but admitted it didn’t come at first. “Though I love it now, I wasn’t always so fond of it. The combat is undeniably more suited to skilled players, so those new to Zelda-like combat may be in for a rough time. Tough gameplay may have been popular when the game released, but just as easily can difficulty push one to try harder, it can push one away. Thankfully, for those who can grasp it, the combat can prove very rewarding. Unfortunately, many puzzles in the game are left without even a hint to their existence. In a game that relies on puzzles, this is an absolute, ‘no’ — though it encourages exploration, it also causes needless wasting of time and resources. However, the optional secrets (like Rupee rooms) and the ability to do almost anyhow in almost any order is beautiful and part of what keeps me coming back. Though it may not be a truly perfect game, if you’re able to look/get past its flaws, it sure comes close to one.”
“The Legend of Zelda started it all. It’s Zelda stripped to its very core, so I feel like there needs to be respect for the game,” Charles Xavier agrees. “Future games would smooth the formula out, but the original is still pretty fun! It was actually in my endeavor to beat this game that I found Zelda Dungeon over a decade ago. I have many fond memories of playing through this game until I got absolutely stumped, prompting me to look over the guide on the website. I cannot imagine what it would have been like to play this game without the Internet! There are better Zelda games to play, but this one remains solid.”
10) The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap
Highest Rank: 2 | Lowest Rank: 17 | Last Year’s Rank: 10
3/20 Editors had not played The Minish Cap and did not rank it
The Minish Cap remains stuck in place on this years list, finding itself in the same spot as last year: easily beating out everything on the list prior, but not coming close to surpassing any of the games above it. Still though, with three new editors sharing their thoughts on Link’s GBA adventure, the narrative remained the same as last year: this might be the most underrated Zelda game.
“I believe that The Minish Cap is an under-appreciated gem of a game, that can delight both veterans and first timers in the Zelda universe,” Editor Alison Brunyee boldly states. “I played this to death on my Game Boy Advance SP back in 2004, this was gaming on the move at its finest. The game mechanic borrows from Alice in Wonderland as you shrink to the size of a Minish to solve puzzles and advance into different areas of the game. The Minish themselves are adorable, but you get to interact with a number of familiar faces such as Mutoh, Tingle, and even Din, Nayru and Farore which raises a smile. Link’s guide, Ezlo, is good comedic relief and his relationship to the antagonist Vaati is intriguing. I love the music in this game. The sound effects as you zip through text and discover items in treasure chests are pure nostalgia for me. It was easier than other Zelda games I’ve played and quite short, but an enjoyable romp nevertheless.”
John Piland agrees: “It’s hard for me to say anything bad about this game — I mean, other than a long and tedious fetch quest that rewards you with an item that can’t be obtained until AFTER completing the main campaign. That aside, this game nails everything a top-down Zelda ought to, and more. Without a doubt, one of my favorite mechanics was the ability to roll, which had never before been seen in a non-3D Zelda. Now, both traveling and combat were enriched. The multiple sword skills were a great addition to combat as well. Music, world, dungeons, enemies, and bosses were also great, and the story sufficed for a top-down Zelda (all while giving us the great Vaati). Maybe I’m being too generous, but if I am, I sure can’t tell; like I said, I love this game.”
Doug Kwiecinski summarizes: “The Minish Cap was a game that I had overlooked when it launched. I had the opportunity to play through it in its entirety very recently, and I am kicking myself for missing out up to now. For a Game Boy Advance title, the game is quite beautiful, and the shrinking mechanic is particularly memorable, particularly in a few of the boss fights. The game is a bit shorter than many other titles, and there’s a bit of backtracking that I found a bit detracting from the overall experience, but the puzzles, bosses, and story make this game a stellar, if underappreciated, entry in the Zelda series.”
9) The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Highest Rank: 1 | Lowest Rank: 19 | Last Year’s Rank: 6
2/20 Editors had not played Skyward Sword and did not rank it
The most divisive, the most controversial Zelda game takes a big step backwards this year, falling three spots despite topping two lists and finishing in second place on two others. A disappointing result for a game that was mere points from overtaking Twilight Princess last year, but the number of our editors who rated towards the bottom of their list outweighed the number of ones ranking it at the top. Still though, Skyward Sword has its defenders.
“I personally loved Skyward Sword, and would definitely call it my favorite game in the series,” Editor Emma Jane writes. “While it may be because it was the first mainstream series I played, it’s also because of the masterful storytelling. While the game is extremely linear in comparison to the rest of the series, it pulls the focus from exploration to the story, and as someone who grew up absorbing novel after novel and wishing I could be a part of the story, having a Zelda title focus more on this is a dream come true. Plus, I have to admit that the implication that Link himself was the hero he grew up hearing about warms my nerdy, time-travel loving heart.”
“I loved Skyward Sword and was surprised to see such disdain for it in the community,” agrees Senior Editor Alexis Anderson. “The story is incredible both in its own right and as a significant piece of Zelda lore. The characters all had personality and were memorable, particularly in Skyloft. The lack of a sprawling overworld didn’t even register for me because I was actively motivated by the story and engaged by the puzzle, temple, and landscape design. It makes good use of its space, with the Silent Realm trials being a clever way to reuse its lands. Generally speaking, Skyward Sword is a well developed and visually beautiful game that anyone can enjoy. But it alienates series fans who prioritize exploration while embracing fans like me who prioritize immersive storytelling.”
However, for every fan it had on this years list, there seemed to be an editor like Charles Xavier going the other direction:
“We’ve all heard complaints about Skyward Sword‘s motion controls, but my issues with this game span much deeper: it felt like a step back for the series. All previous Zelda games seemed to be pushing exploration, and suddenly Skyward Sword comes along without an overworld! Puzzles seemed to be the focus of this game, so regions on the surface were brimming with them. This made dungeons lose their charm to me, because they were more of the same. I think this game proves there needs to be diversity in Zelda games to maintain a good balance of activities to choose from, otherwise things get stagnant. Even its story couldn’t redeem the game for me — it’s by far my least favorite Zelda game.”
8) The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
Highest Rank: 1 | Lowest Rank: 15 | Last Year’s Rank: 9
1/20 Editors had not played A Link Between Worlds and did not rank it
Skyward Sword‘s loss was A Link Between Worlds‘ gain, as it moves up one spot to 8th place, using its power as a more consistently ranked game to out-muscle Skyward Sword‘s more up-and-down list placement. A Link Between Worlds was the first Zelda in some time to differentiate from the Zelda formula, and its placement among our editors reflects that.
“The graphics are beautiful and the idea of jumping through walls to move around obstacles is an interesting game mechanic,” starts Alison Brunyee, “But the thing is, I’ve grown used to completing dungeons of increasing difficulty and earning artifacts along the way. I couldn’t get along with Ravio’s ‘rental system’ in the game. I found myself renting an item, seeking out a dungeon and playing the first few rooms. Suddenly I had the option to leave, rent another item and have a peek at another dungeon. Some might say being able to complete the dungeons in any order gives the player freedom, for me this spoiled my experience. Personally, I feel The Legend of Zelda has always been about getting stronger and progressing because you’ve earned it. Being forced to complete a dungeon in order to move forward, makes the player commit. In my opinion, the dungeons in A Link Between Worlds need to be harder to reach and have more of a unique element to draw the player in.”
David Wayne Nystrom agreed. “A Link Between Worlds scores so low on my list simply because it wasn’t as good as everything else. Now that sounds like an obvious statement, but for me I never felt invested in the world that was presented. I found the non-linear play style was very much in its experiment phase at Nintendo, and because of that I never felt a deep connection to the anything happening. The dungeons were entirely forgettable, the buying of all major items felt gimmicky, and reusing the Link to the Past map wasn’t capitalized in an effective way.”
Rod Lloyd, who once again ranked A Link Between Worlds at the top of his list, defended the title. “This game, to me, is a perfectly balanced Zelda experience. It’s A Link to the Past with more freedom; it’s Breath of the Wild with more structure. A Link Between Worlds‘ non-linear progression system — in which players can tackle any dungeon in any order — coupled with a fresh approach to inventory — with players able to rent versatile items whenever they’re needed — was the exact remedy for the ills evident in Skyward Sword two years earlier. When considering the Zelda team’s new direction with Breath of the Wild, we can easily see A Link Between Worlds as the pivot point, the most palatable combination of what came before and what lay ahead.
“And, come on, how great was it to once again explore that familiar version of Hyrule?”
7) The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
Highest Rank: 3 | Lowest Rank: 12 | Last Year’s Rank: 7
3/20 Editors had not played Link’s Awakening and did not rank it
Maybe the biggest question mark heading into this year’s list is would the Switch remake of Link’s Awakening change anyone’s opinion of the game with all the improvements and quality-of-life changes, not to mention would the extra exposure and availability to a new audience (and younger editors who didn’t grow up with a Game Boy) impact its placement on our list?
Turns out the answer was… not really, as Link’s Awakening holds the 7th overall spot for the second year in a row. To note, we gave our editors their choice of how they chose to rank Link’s adventure on Koholint — if they wanted to focus on just the Switch version, just the GB version, or a combination of both.
“I was very excited when I heard that Link’s Awakening was being remade on the Switch,” exclaims Alasyn Eletha. “It was one of the few Zelda games that I had never played, so I was eager to play it all shiny and new! I wasn’t disappointed! I already knew the story, but I still got to enjoy the very satisfying feeling of playing a Zelda game for the first time. It was a pleasant, whimsical, sad, but also overall happy experience, forever moving this game up on my Best Zelda Ever list.”
David Wayne Nystrom agreed. “This game comes with everything for me: a compelling and dark story, memorable bosses and dungeons, great awareness of what it is trying to accomplish, and a variety of unique characters. The update on the Switch was fully worth it for me, because it made a great game even better. I have tremendous memories of playing it 20 years ago as a kid, and getting to watch my son this year play it on the Switch is something I’ll never forget. Link’s journey to Koholint is a dream come true for all Zelda fans.”
Any Zelda game that followed Breath of the Wild was always going to have a hard time, which maybe explains Link’s Awakening‘s stagnant positioning, but longtime fan of the game Kristen Rosario sums it up best.
“The biggest takeaway anybody ever gets from Link’s Awakening is the story. Nobody ever expected that one of the best tales in the Zelda series would come from a Game Boy title. It’s not that it was unprecedented, but getting to know the citizens of Koholint Island made you realize how ambitious they are in following their dreams. On top of all of this, you have an unforgettable, amazing score and memorable characters that you’re going to do your best in saving. And now you can play a full-blown Switch remake of the game, so newer fans of the series can experience it for themselves.”
6) The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
Highest Rank: 1 | Lowest Rank: 16 | Last Year’s Rank: 8
0/20 Editors had not played The Wind Waker and did not rank it
Link’s cel-shaded adventure rebounds from a setback last year where it fell down the list to reclaim the sixth spot overall. Though it rose in the ranks this year — it did so on the strength of a select batch of editors selecting it as their favorite — opinion surrounding The Wind Waker was still divided among a lot of the writers.
“The Wind Waker is burdened by pacing issues,” writes Rod Lloyd. “The game’s opening act confines players to introductory areas for far too long and leads them down a tube of story sequences; and its third act assigns players a tedious fetch quest involving Triforce shards, sea charts, and a money-hungry Tingle. Only in its second act does The Wind Waker strike a satisfying balance between story progression — with the Earth and Wind temples — and open-world exploration — as only then is the entire Great Sea open to players. If not for the HD remake on Wii U, which vastly improved the Triforce shard quest by eliminating some of the Tingle-centric rupee scrounging, The Wind Waker would be near the bottom of my list. But given that streamlining, the game sits neatly near the middle.”
Senior Editor Adam Barham agreed. “The Wind Waker has a solid story, charming graphics, solid dungeons, and some of the best music in the Zelda series. And yet, I struggle to actually get into the game. I find that the biggest problem the game has is that there’s so little reason to do any sort of exploration, and so little to explore in the first place. A lot of time is spent getting from one place to another, with little to do or to look at while traveling. And most of the optional islands in the game are small and have little to do. The main story is the only thing to be done in this game, and while it’s good, the rest of the game is somewhat underwhelming for a Zelda title.”
Still, helping it rise in the ranks this year were editors like Almog Ritter, who ranks the game as his favorite. “The Wind Waker is the game that got me into the Legend of Zelda series, and for many good reasons. The originality of the story is what caught my heart first: Link began the quest to save his sister, a reason I can get behind more than the usual “save the princess” gag. Then there’s the phenomenal music, leading you on to adventure across the waves of the Great Sea. The dungeons come next, full of dangers and puzzles alike in just the right quantity, and the bosses that inhabit them are particularly fun to play. Lastly, the overall art style was an interesting take on the Zelda series, and Link’s design especially led to him having more personality with the goofy expressions given to him. Nostalgia aside, the game has it all: great story, awesome characters, interesting and engaging dungeons, bosses that are super fun, music that takes you away with it, and, most importantly, replayability, so you wouldn’t forget a second of the adventure that is The Wind Waker.”
Heather Beard agrees, and puts a bow on The Wind Waker’s placement this year. “The Wind Waker is my pick for best Zelda ever for a multitude for reasons. First, it holds a lot of memories of my youth, and I cherish it for that. Second, I feel like the game is an instant classic. The story and characters are memorable, the music is phenomenal, and it has a high replayability. The Wind Waker stands out for its quirky art style and unique story. This game’s tale has flooded the hearts of many and Hyrule alike, and it certainly stands out among the best.”
5) The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
Highest Rank: 1 | Lowest Rank: 13 | Last Year’s Rank: 4
3/20 Editors had not played A Link to the Past and did not rank it
The golden standard for the Legend of Zelda series sees itself falling a spot this year, despite being made available for whole new audiences on the Nintendo Switch, which perhaps might have been a reason for its undoing. While many of our younger editors had not played A Link to the Past last year, this year, the younger audiences were exposed to Link’s SNES adventure for the first time and found it maybe didn’t hold up to its 3D brothers.
“I got a shock when I played A Link to the Past, mostly because I’m a bigger fan of 3d Zelda games,” Judy Calder writes. “I found that A Link to the Past had most of the mechanics that I’ve come to expect from a Zelda title, except the gameplay felt totally different to me. I could wander around most of Hyrule and face all sorts of different enemies very early on in the game. The dungeons were a bit of a maze too and I found myself focusing more on my location within the game than the battles themselves. On the plus side, the secrets to be discovered in the overworld were intriguing, and I’m pretty sure I’ve still never discovered them all. This fact, coupled with a solid backstory offers replayability. So I’d say that A Link to the Past is… okay. ”
On the flip side, A Link to the Past’s prominence in the randomizer community is helping it stay fresh with old fans.
“Objectively, A Link to the Past is the most important game in the entire Zelda series,” counters Doug Kwiecinski. “Fans were upset with Adventure of Link, so there was immense pressure on Nintendo to create a game that captured the magic that started the series while building it for a new console generation. The story built upon the foundation set by The Legend of Zelda and Adventure of Link, creating a world that was stunning in terms of size and scope. When I fought Aghanim in Hyrule Castle and got teleported to the Dark World, my mind was blown. I had an entirely new map to explore, secrets to find, and bosses to fight. The renaissance A Link to the Past has gone through lately with randomizers and Crowd Control simply show how important and memorable this game is, nearly thirty years after release.”
Editor Bryan King explains why A Link to the Past is so special: “This is the game that genuinely made me rethink the possibilities of this medium. Prior to this, simple quests found in the likes of the original Legend of Zelda and Dragon Warrior (more commonly known as Dragon Quest in other parts of the world) were what filled my mornings and afternoons as a child. That all changed when my family brought home our SNES the week that this game launched. Unlike the immediate start of its predecessors, A Link to the Past instead opens with a telepathic message from a princess held captive, a raging thunderstorm, the demise of your uncle, and news that maidens are missing throughout the realm. A heavier focus on narrative now present, your place and purpose in this iteration of Hyrule was clear. There was now agency to your quest, and it was up to you to undo the damage wrought upon the land by the wizard Agahnim.”
Even with a small gripe or two, King believes A Link to the Past to be the best Zelda game. “The trade-off however is that A Link to the Past is decidedly far more linear than its NES muse. Save for a few deviations, you’re bound to a set dungeon sequence throughout the adventure. Even with that small gripe in mind, I can’t think of a better game to occupy my top spot than this one.”
4) The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
Highest Rank: 1 | Lowest Rank: 17 | Last Year’s Rank: 5
0/20 Editors had not played Twilight Princess and did not rank it
After barely beating Skyward Sword for 5th spot last year, Link’s maiden Wii adventure takes 4th place with relative ease. Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword seemed to switch positions this year, as last year, Twilight Princess ranked either in the bottom or top 5 of almost every editor’s list, while this year, it seemed to level out more now that some of the tougher critics of the game had moved on.
“I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of Twilight Princess,” admits Editor Emilee Church. “I didn’t understand why everyone’s designs were so unpleasant; I mean, the love interest’s (Ilia) hair looks like a cow lick in the back, and the kids’ designs just make me cringe with how odd they look. It’s not a good sign when your two best-looking characters are Midna and Epona. If the characters had designs similar to those in Ocarina of Time or even Breath of the Wild, I’d feel better at making connections. I didn’t like the story quests that took forever, like tracking down the kid who goes missing, finding too many monkeys in a temple that took longer than necessary, etc. I did like the concept of a Twilight Realm, I will say that Midna’s character is the Navi we wanted in every way, and the music as always is incredible. While I like that Nintendo tries new approaches for the beloved series, there are just some changes that I don’t think need to be there to experience everything we already love.”
Sean Gadus counters, however. “I’m always amazed by the cloud of negativity that has developed around Twilight Princess in years since its release in 2006. I will freely admit that Twilight Princess is a game that has recognizable flaws and imperfections. Many fans will cite the opening hours as tiresome, complain about the plodding wolf sections of the game, or criticize the lack of use for items like the Spinner and Ball and Chain. But taken as is, Twilight Princess is nothing more or less than one of the most sweeping, wild, and beautiful adventures that Nintendo has ever created. It’s a game filled with memorable characters, dramatic battles, and a supreme musical score. When I have counted and quantified the game’s flaws and mistakes many times, all those mistakes feel so tiny and insignificant compared to the many aspects of gameplay and story telling that Twilight Princess nails perfectly.”
“If you can get passed the slow pace of the first two hours of Twilight Princess, you will discover a fantastic game,” agrees Alison Brunyee. “It was the darker and more mature title that I was craving after Wind Waker. Riding across Hyrule on Epona makes you appreciate the sheer size and scale of the game’s world. The soundtrack is incredibly varied, from peaceful tracks to a sense of urgency when trying to help Midna. I must admit, collecting the Tears of Light felt like a chore at times, but this was offset by playing as Wolf Link and exploring from a different perspective. I felt the difference in atmosphere between the world of Twilight and Light was very well done. The design and sound effects of the Shadow Beasts gave me the creeps and has stayed with me even years after playing the game.”
3) The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
Highest Rank: 1 | Lowest Rank: 14 | Last Year’s Rank: 2
0/20 Editors had not played Majora’s Mask and did not rank it
Crowned Zelda Dungeon’s Best Zelda Ever in 2017, Majora’s Mask sees itself at third place this year — far ahead of the votes Twilight Princess garnered, but with not enough top place rankings to challenge in the fierce battle we had this year for first overall.
“Majora’s Mask gets a lot of love and attention from fans, and for good reason,” writes Adam Barham. “While it is quite different from most other Zelda games, it makes use of its unique mechanics masterfully. This game’s primary strength is in the sidequests. The main story of the game isn’t bad, but it isn’t great, either. At the end, I found the Fierce Deity mask to actually be highly disappointing; I was looking forward to a climactic final battle, but the mask made the fight far too quick and easy.”
Still though, Link’s most bizarre, most atmospheric adventure seems to resonate with our editors, both new and old.
“Out of all the Zelda games, Majora’s Mask’s world is by far the most vibrant. As someone who loves character above nearly everything else in a story, watching the diverse cast of characters as they dealt with their fate is what really drew me into the game. While I enjoyed the story and the main quest, I got much more enjoyment in exploring the world and completing the sidequests, with each and every one being its own unique and memorable look into the population of Termina,” writes Emma Jane.
“The pull of Majora’s Mask for me is in its narrative themes,” agrees Alexandria Weber. “I feel that it is the darkest Zelda game to date, as it delves headfirst into aspects of fear, grief, mourning, and death. Faced with the end of the world, Link must watch all those around him succumb to these things, some of which as inevitable as the moon falling and destroying everything. The repeatable three-day structure only heightens this, not feeling at all rushed, but functioning as a constant reminder of an impending doom. The music perfectly fits these themes of panic over the three-day timeline, getting faster until it slows, like a sorrowful acceptance of Termina’s fate. All in all, Majora’s Mask excels in its deep-yet-subtle storytelling, laced with dark undertones and a sense of upcoming annihilation within any second of the game that no game before or since has been able to replicate.”
2) The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Highest Rank: 1 | Lowest Rank: 9 | Last Year’s Rank: 3
0/20 Editors had not played Breath of the Wild and did not rank it
Last year, I had written that I was surprised by Breath of the Wild‘s ability to avoid a sophomore slump slide down our list. This year, Link’s open-world adventure was neck in neck in the race for first place. The strength of Breath of the Wild doesn’t come from our editors claiming it’s the best game in the series necessarily — although it did finish first on two lists — but from how consistently high it’s ranked, with its lowest finish being 9th place and a staggering 15 editors ranking it in their top 5.
“Breath of the Wild is a gorgeous adventure to undertake,” says Alexandria Weber. “The story is handled masterfully, the player diving in with as much knowledge as an amnesia-ridden Link, discovering the ruins of Hyrule and gaining new skills and understandings along the way. The fighting mechanics are the smoothest they have ever been in the Zelda series, even surpassing the likes of The Wind Waker, with Breath of the Wild adding flurry rushes and head shots. It reinvented linear conventions of the Zelda series with its open-world overworld, while still staying true to themes of adventure and curiosity that Zelda fans have loved for over 30 years. While some may complain at its lack of traditional dungeons, I feel that the 120 shrines and four divine beasts offer plenty. Breath of the Wild is my top pick because I feel it is the ultimate culmination of everything great about Zelda games, and it is more than deserving of its upcoming sequel.”
Still, not every one of our editors was as in love with this game as the majority of our writers.
“I didn’t connect with Breath of the Wild,” writes Alexis Anderson. “It’s a beautiful game, skillfully developed, and admirably reinventive. But, I didn’t feel the series needed reinventing in such a major way. The linearity in previous titles allowed for engaging, intricate plots to be laid out and unfolded as the player progressed. But Breath of the Wild’s story was unremarkable to me in that you uncover memories rather than push forward a narrative. I lacked a strong motivation to play through the game and found very few characters memorable because of this. For me, exploration without aim is unsatisfying. I’m hopeful that after this extreme break from the formula, Breath of the Wild 2 will strike the perfect balance between plot development and exploratory freedom.”
Emma Jane agrees to a degree: “While I did love Breath of the Wild, I have to admit that I was surprised by how empty the world seemed. Despite the huge number of side quests, Shrines, and Korok Seeds, most seemed like they were copy-pasted from each other. In a game with so much potential for a wide variety of entertaining side quests, the fact that so many boiled down to “get this item and come back” was disappointing. The Korok Seeds were a little better in their simplicity, but the fact that there are 900 of them with little reward is highly frustrating. These uninspiring side quests meant I didn’t feel as motivated to really explore the world and instead ended up sticking to a few select areas. This, of course, is extremely disappointing, especially considering the level of detail put into every other aspect of the world.”
However, Heather Beard perhaps sums it up the best when talking about Breath of the Wild and really nails the one thing this game did so well that makes it so beloved for so many people.
“Breath of the Wild was definitely a breath of fresh air. The story was enticing, the open world pulled me in, and the gameplay held so many aspects of older Zelda games. I’m excited that we will get to explore the world of Breath of the Wild again once the sequel drops because I felt like there was a lot left to be desired. I love how you’re able to take the game at you’re own pace and kind of make it your own. There is no “set” story path; I love the fact that you could storm the castle if you’d wish. It’s a game I keep returning to, and it’s one of my very favorite games.
“Breath of the Wild was what reignited my love for the series, and I can’t wait to see where the next adventure in this series takes us.”
1) The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Highest Rank: 1 | Lowest Rank: 11 | Last Year’s Rank: 1
0/20 Editors had not played Ocarina of Time and did not rank it
Zelda Dungeon is happy to crown, for the second year in a row, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time as our Best Zelda Ever! Though the race was closer this year, it speaks to what a timeless adventure Ocarina of Time is to stay atop this list when the world of Zelda is evolving and changing so quickly. This year, Ocarina of Time finished first overall on 5 different lists and second overall on 7 different lists, which gave it a staggering amount of points.
“I loved Ocarina of Time,” states Emilee Church. “It was my first Zelda game, and I felt that there was no other game in my childhood that gave me such a perfect adventure. There were characters that felt real, and relationships that made you laugh and cry with the memories the story molds in you. Having Link go from a kid to a man gently reminds you that, just like Link, you can grow up to be the hero/heroine that you’ve always wanted to be. The songs are amazing, the challenges are excellent as tests of will, and to this day Ocarina of Time will always be a gem of my childhood.”
Bryan King agrees: “I know that this one seems like a no-brainer, as it’s commonly viewed as the apex of the franchise. While I don’t personally agree with that sentiment, I won’t argue that it has an indelible significance to not only the Zelda legacy but the gaming industry in its entirety. Players in 1998 were treated to the most realized version of Hyrule yet, boasting a fully-explorable 3D world to explore and lose themselves in. The introduction of Z-targeting allowed Link to interact with objects along a Y-axis for the first time, bringing new possibilities to traversal and the use of franchise staples like the Bow or Hookshot. This time-traveling odyssey pushed the storytelling potential of the franchise to new heights, portraying events with a cinematic flair unlike anything Nintendo had released to date. The DNA of Ocarina has been prevalent in countless games since its release, and while it may lack modern conveniences that technological leaps have afforded us, it’s still a journey worth taking over 20 years later.”
“Ocarina of Time is the BEST Zelda game ever,” boldly states Judy Calder. “It’s story is interesting and full of depth: a boy rescued from the fires of war and destined to become the Hero of Time; he traverses the past and present with the mystical power of music to awaken the sages, rescue the princess, and save Hyrule from the evil clutches of the King of Evil, Ganondorf. It’s compelling stuff! The gameplay is beautifully executed and even holds up to this day. Since the 3DS remake, the visuals are just as gripping as they were originally, and the music is some of the best in the franchise. I love the lore that comes with Ocarina of Time — the whole Zelda timeline is built upon it! I appreciate all of this, plus I have so many wonderful memories of the game. Ocarina of Time can do no wrong!”
Andy Spiteri gives his final thoughts.
“I run out of ways to say it each year, so I’ll just leave it at this: to me, Ocarina of Time is three things.
And so, there it is! That brings to a close this year’s edition of the Best Zelda Ever List. Putting together this list was exhaustive, but immensely rewarding. As new games come out, new editors come on board, and Zelda continues to evolve, it’ll be interesting to again see where this legendary series takes us, and how that reflects the other games’ legacies. From everyone at Zelda Dungeon, thank you for reading!
All quotes obtained firsthand. Make sure to let us know what your Best Zelda Ever is in the comments below! Could next year’s list feature Breath of the Wild 2? Who knows…
Featured Image by Ckrauser