Posted on November 30 2017 by Andy Spiteri
It’s finally here! It’s with great pleasure and pride that we at Zelda Informer welcome all you Zelda fans to Zelda Informer’s Best Zelda Ever: 2017 Edition!
It’s been awhile since the last time Zelda Informer put together a list like this, and in that time, a lot has happened. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was finally released; longtime editors left, while new editors joined; opinions changed, games aged for better and for worse; and even Zelda Informer itself is due to undergo some major changes (more on this in the future). The year leading up to and following the release of Breath of the Wild was a crazy time to be a fan of the Zelda series, and an even crazier time to be a writer covering the Zelda series, so making this list seemed like a perfect culmination of the last twelve months.
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.
If you want a little more information about how scoring works, head over to our announcement post here. In that same post, you can also check out your entry in the comments for our Musterbrand giveaway. But for now, I know you’ve all come here to read our list, so we’ll so get right into it! You’ll find first-hand quotes from all the editors that helped shape this list below, so buckle in (cause this gonna be a doozy) and enjoy the ride as Zelda Informer ranks it’s Best Zelda Ever!
Let’s start off with number 18.
18) The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes
Highest Rank: 7 Lowest Rank: 18
Perhaps Tri Force Heroes got the short end of the stick from the get go. Debating if this game was even eligible to be included or not due to its quasi-canon status, the editors elected to ultimately allow it to be ranked on our list. Unfortunately for Tri Force Heroes though, it might have been better off sitting on the sidelines with Hyrule Warriors and Link’s Crossbow Training as no fewer than eight editors picked the spinoff title as their least favorite Zelda game.
“With the right group of friends and under the right circumstances, Tri Force Heroes can be an absolute blast to play. It’s clear that the developers took great care in crafting an experience that would make the most of cooperative gameplay,” Zelda Informer Managing Editor Rod Lloyd says. “The issue lies in that the actual systems that hold the multiplayer together are not well implemented.”
“While still very enjoyable and highly memorable, Tri Force Heroes feels like it was only meant to be played in multiplayer mode,” adds Editor Almog Rimer. “Tri Force Heroes wasn’t all that bad, just poorly executed. I personally tried to love this game like the others, but unfortunately couldn’t.”
Still, not every editor had underwhelming experiences with the game. “I love Tri Force Heroes,” one of the site’s newest editors Michaela El-Ters declares. “This was my first real chance to play a multiplayer Zelda game with my roommates, and we had a blast. The puzzles were surprisingly challenging and required careful teamwork in order to solve them, and collecting the outfits was easily one of the most addictive parts of the game for me.”
Ultimately, it wasn’t enough for Tri Force Heroes to avoid being ranked last on our list this year. “Online matchmaking is unreliable and troll-friendly, download play restricts content, local multiplayer can be extremely inconvenient, and single player isn’t all that fun,” Rod surmised. “With better decision making on the back-end, this Zelda title could have shined brighter than it ultimately did.”
17) The Legend of Zelda: The Adventure of Link
Highest Rank: 7 Lowest Rank: 18
Long considered the black sheep of the Zelda family, Zelda II’s lower placement on the list is likely due to a combination of the radically different gameplay and the clear signs of age that it exhibits without the benefit of its 8-bit predecessors nostalgia. Still, despite its position, Link’s second adventure does have its champions on the site.
“The Adventure of Link is one of the most overlooked games in the franchise, and I believe it is easily the most misrepresented,” Hyrule Compendium Host Gooey Fame boldly proclaims. “Zelda II has great action and challenges that can not be found in other Zelda games. When I first completed this game, I felt a true feeling of accomplishment, like I overcame a great obstacle.”
“One of the few direct sequels in the series and definitely a dark horse of the franchise, The Adventure of Link made a lot of changes that were, looking back, pretty dang bold,” Associate Editor Bob Aquavia adds. “Ganon isn’t the villain, there are rudimentary RPG elements introduced, and the game switches between overhead views and 2D side-scrolling. There’s something about it that holds a special place for me, though. This was one of the first games that my best friend and I would start to speed run on the weekends, and we had almost everything in the palaces down to muscle memory.”
Despite its somewhat cult status among Zelda faithful, it ultimately doesn’t stand up to some of the entries that would follow it in the series. Still, for a game that seems destined to always be the awkward cousin of the Zelda family, it’s nice to know that The Adventure of Link has a hardcore audience out there not afraid to tell you about its merits.
“The dark horse of the Zelda series may have gone under-appreciated when it was initially released,” Rod states, “but the evolution and maturation of today’s gaming landscape have revealed Zelda II to be truly ahead of its time.”
16) The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks
Highest Rank: 4 Lowest Rank: 18
The Legend of Zelda series’ second installment on the Nintendo DS, Spirit Tracks (and it’s DS cousin Phantom Hourglass) are games that are ultimately defined by their stylus controls; if you like them, the games are fun adventures full of charming characters. Dislike them, however, and the games become almost unplayable.
“Spirit Tracks is probably my least favorite Zelda game,” Zelda Informer Managing Editor Andy Spiteri admits. “The stylus controls are awful, forcing you to hold your DS in an awkward position to play it. I wouldn’t call it a bad game, but it’s the only Zelda game I’ve ever had to force myself to finish. If it had just controlled normally, who knows…”
Looking past the controls though to give credit where credit is due, Spirit Tracks does implement some innovations.
“Travelling on train was quite adventurous and if you looked hard enough, you would find something fun to do while on the road to your next destination,” Senior Editor and Community Manager Michelle Garcia writes; “but what I loved most of all was the main theme of the game and having Princess Zelda as a companion. It might not be one of the best Zelda games, but I encourage Zelda fans and players to play it at least once.”
“Unlike most people, I actually enjoyed Spirit Tracks,” Senior Editor Jarrod Raine, nicknamed the Queue Blight by his friends at Zelda Informer, said. “The gameplay was solid, the mechanics were interesting, and the dungeons were pretty challenging in their own right.” Echoing Michelle’s sentiment about playing as Zelda, Jarrod summed up the game pretty well: “Overall, Spirit Tracks, while not the best Zelda, is certainly up there on my list.”
Ultimately though, too many editors agreed with Andy’s stance on Spirit Tracks to rank it any higher. “I don’t know,” Andy mused; “everything from blowing into my DS to use the flute to the stylus controls just wasn’t for me. And frankly, 3D cel-shaded graphics just don’t translate well to the DS. What’s gorgeous in The Wind Waker looks goofy in Spirit Tracks. Unfortunately, when lumped with all the other masterpieces, Spirit Tracks has a hard time standing out.”
15) The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass
Highest Rank: 6 Lowest Rank: 18
Well, take everything we said about Spirit Tracks and apply it to Phantom Hourglass, the first entry for the Nintendo DS. The two games were largely inseparable in our list, with most Zelda Informer Editors ranking them right beside each other in some capacity. While this adds more credence to the notion the two DS Zelda games are judged largely on their control scheme, Phantom Hourglass is able to stand out a bit more due to its connection to The Wind Waker and stronger characters.
“It took Wind Waker’s greatest asset, sailing, to the next level by utilizing the bottom screen of the DS to draw a path for the ship,” Almog says; “Phantom Hourglass also had brilliant characters (I’m looking at you, Linebeck) and hilarious dialogue.”
“I thank Phantom Hourglass for blessing us with the hilarious mess of a person Linebeck is, and for giving us his incredible theme music,” Senior Editor Alexis Anderson adds.
Being the first game to use the stylus controls, and the first game in the Zelda series on the DS at all, Phantom Hourglass is arguably less refined than its successor, something our editors acknowledged. “I got off to a bumpy start the first time I played Phantom Hourglass. I booted it up and played through the Temple of Fire. Then as soon as I got out of the Temple, my DS froze. I hadn’t saved a single time. I was devastated,” Alexis remembers. “I wouldn’t want to replay this game, but (if you just repress your memories of the Temple of the Ocean King) it’s really not bad all things considered.”
Though ranking on the lower end of our list, the game still has its fans that have grown to appreciate it. “The dungeons aren’t too long and the controls are an interesting change from the norm we had all been used to up until it’s release,” Senior Editor Alasyn Eletha writes. “To me it seems to be one of those underrated gems you really appreciate once you’re older and can progress through the game better than when you were a kid.
“It might not be too close to the top of my favorites list, but it’s definitely one of those games I’ve grown to love rather than dismiss.”
14) The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventure
Highest Rank: 6 Lowest Rank: 18
The first time multiplayer and The Legend of Zelda met was in 2002’s Game Boy Advance port of A Link to the Past. A fun little side game called Four Swords was included in that remake, introducing the Four Sword and Vaati, arguably one of the series’ coolest secondary villains. Coming two years later, Four Swords Adventures expanded what Four Swords did on the Game Boy Advance and made a multiplayer Zelda seem like not such a crazy idea.
“This game actually managed to pleasantly surprise me. As when I got it, I expected that controlling four Link’s would be difficult and that all the puzzles would be manufactured in a way that required two or more people to play the game,” News Editor Peter Lowes stated. “Instead what I got was a game that had very precise and unique mechanics along with puzzles that would never split up my party for too long, allowing me to progress without much hassle.”
Aside from a few editors, Four Swords Adventures was a very middle-of-the-pack game, largely finding itself, while not mentioned among the more unpopular games, undeniably overshadowed by its main entry series brothers. For one editor though, Four Swords Adventures holds a special place in her heart.
“I rarely hear people speak favorably about Four Swords Adventures. In fact, I rarely hear it talked about at all. The Wind Waker was a tough act to follow, and Twilight Princess’ release all but assured Four Swords Adventures would become a forgotten gem,” Alexis recalls. “For me, though, it’s one of the most memorable games in the series because it’s the first one I ever played. I have a twin brother, so growing up my parents only ever bought us multiplayer games. If Four Swords Adventures‘ gameplay style hadn’t been so unorthodox, I might never have been introduced to the Zelda series.
“Nostalgia isn’t the only thing keeping my love for this game alive. The level-design fits perfectly with the multiplayer style, and is equally as enjoyable when playing alone. I think the character sprites are adorable and somehow it feels like each of the four Link’s has a distinct personality,” Alexis continues. “The kookier aspects of the game, like Tingle showing up to steal dropped force gems, are also quite endearing. And its locations are pretty cool — let’s be real, the Village of the Blue Maiden is iconic in every way.”
Four Swords Adventures is arguably the most overlooked game in the series, but give it a shot and you may find yourself a believer. “It’s a delight!” Alexis finishes off. “I strongly recommend players revisit it… it’ll surprise you.”
13) The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons
Highest Rank: 7 Lowest Rank: 17
The notion of a Legend of Zelda game not developed by Nintendo had some fans feeling… skeptical to say the least. Even though the developers of the Game Boy Color games were Capcom, themselves a well respected developer with tons of hits to their name, expectations were tempered. Perhaps that’s why it was so easy to be pleasantly surprised by the quality of the Oracle games.
Most people automatically lump them together because of their simultaneous release and name, but there’s actually quite a bit separating the two.
“From Spring to Winter, Summer to Fall, the adventures in Holodrum with Link were some of the most vivid experiences I had on the old Game Boy Color system. While it didn’t quite evoke the emotions that Ocarina of Time did, it still had the essence of Zelda that I could take with me wherever I went,” proclaims Zelda Informer Original Content Editor Taylor Wells.
“This game has everything: great humour, fun challenges, and a surprisingly well-made story,” Almog adds. “I was absolutely amazed by the ability to change the seasons in a flash. Even if one had to go through an almost complete cycle for it (changing winter to autumn requires players go through spring and summer), the mechanic was a perfect match for the colorful display of the Game Boy Color.”
Although one of the main differences between the two Oracle games is the balancing of combat versus puzzles, Peter argues Seasons doesn’t get enough credit. “I know that this wasn’t ‘the puzzle game’ and was focused more on combat, however the puzzles that Seasons did have were used to their full extent.”
And although Four Swords was the first official Zelda game to dabble in the world of multiplayer, Taylor looks back differently. “Oracle of Seasons was the game that relaxed me while riding five and a half hours on a bus with a bunch of other eleven-year-olds headed for camp. Coincidentally, the linked game functionality between its sister Oracle of Ages gave me even more of a reason to share my nutty Zelda addiction with my peers.
“That, my friends, is priceless.”
12) The Legend of Zelda
Highest Rank: 6 Lowest Rank: 18
The one that started it all. More than thirty years have passed since Link was introduced to the world in the revolutionary-for-the-time adventure. It’s to this game that we owe our respects, since without it, there wouldn’t be a Zelda Informer to read this list on.
With all that being said, and all that reverence being heaped upon it, you may be surprised to see it ranked comparatively low on our list instead of challenging for the top spot (or even breaking the top ten). The original Legend of Zelda’s biggest downfall likely lies with the fact that the game is older than virtually every editor writing for Zelda Informer, with the current generation’s first Zelda’s largely being on the SNES or N64.
Of course, that’s not to say that the 8-bit classic doesn’t have its own merit outside of nostalgia.
“The start, the original, the game that launched the imagination of millions of fans,” Bob proclaims. “I remember pouring over any and all information about the game as a kid, utilizing the maps and strategies that we all had to come up with pre-Internet in order to defeat Ganon. From figuring out the correct path through the Lost Woods, to finally finding out where to use the whistle, to finding secret rooms in all the dungeons. While it’s relatively simplistic compared to current iterations of the franchise, it’s still remarkably deep and holds up to this day.”
“It was the second game I ever played, just behind the original Final Fantasy title,” recalls Senior Editor and longtime Zelda Informer writer Bobby Chichester. “It was so different from everything else and it started a love story that persists to this day. The Legend of Zelda will always remain as one of the definitive games of my childhood, and if Final Fantasy introduced my three year old self to games, The Legend of Zelda sent me down the path I’m on now: gaming journalism.”
All in all, while being a title showing signs of its age, The Legend of Zelda is both a game that can still be enjoyed by modern players and a game that every other entry in the Zelda series on this list owes a debt to.
“It’s not common for the first game in a series — especially not in a series as old as Zelda — to establish so many traditions that would be employed in every subsequent title. But, as we know, The Legend of Zelda is something truly special,” Rod finishes off. “This NES masterpiece firmly declared the series’ identity; it set the template for all other games to follow. Speaking from a standpoint of influence and legacy, The Legend of Zelda is still one of the most important titles in the entire series.”
11) The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages
Highest Rank:4 Lowest Rank: 17
One of the bigger surprises of putting this list together was just how much our editors seemed to view the Oracle games as their own entries, and not as part of a two-pack as they’re often labeled. During the early rankings, Ages and Seasons were fairly close, with some Editors choosing one a couple spots ahead of the other, only for the other to come back with a higher ranking of its own. Ultimately though, Ages pulled away from its Oracle brother to be voted the better game.
“The title boasted some truly mindbending puzzles for a Game Boy Color game, with some clever time-warping challenges that were leagues apart from its season-swapping brother,” Associate Editor Simon Rayner claims. “A world that felt much bigger, characters and landscapes completely different in their timescapes… the superior of the two Oracle games.”
“Oracle of Ages took everything I loved about 2D Zelda and made one of the best Zelda games to date,” Zelda Informer and Zelda Dungeon owner Mases Hagopian adds. “The world was filled with fun and interesting characters, it had a near-perfect duel world structure, and a surprisingly deep storyline.”
While Seasons was more of a combat-oriented game, Ages’ strength laid in its puzzles and the ways it found to put a new spin on an old Zelda design: duality. “The later dungeons presented some of the most lengthy and complex dungeons that the series has seen,” Mases finishes. “Top it off with the extra linked game content with Oracle of Seasons and you get perhaps the most underrated Zelda game to ever release.”
For Simon, Oracle of Ages represented literally a sort of coming of age for him. “My first Zelda title. My young, untrained mind was no match for the hefty challenges the pixelated title could throw at me. In a very real, poignant way, much like Link who traveled through time, it was a game I dipped in and out of in different stages of my life,” he states. “As a very young child, to my first day of secondary school, right to my last, I dipped in and out as I grew as a gamer.”
The two Oracle games are something of an anomaly for the Zelda series — games intricately linked, released at the same time, not made by Nintendo. Though they don’t get celebrated as often as they perhaps should, Ages definitely left it’s mark on our editors.
10) The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
Highest Rank: 3 Lowest Rank: 16
Link’s Awakening is actually quite a daring game when you think about it. Putting aside the fact that it was the first game in the Zelda series to embrace the portable Game Boy, Link’s Awakening did some other (for the time) unorthodox things. For one, the game was a direct sequel to A Link to the Past, something the series hadn’t seen yet.
Additionally, it left behind almost everything Zelda had spent the last three games building up; there was no Princess Zelda or Ganon to be seen; we weren’t trying to save Hyrule, in fact, weren’t even in it; and there was no struggle for the Triforce. It was just an odd, cheery side story… that threw an incredible swerve at you halfway through.
“I feel like this game may have messed me up a little bit when I was younger,” Gooey said sadly. “I may still be haunted by all the inhabitants of Koholint Island, whose lives I may or may not have destroyed when I awakened the Wind Fish. Even just hearing that tune to wake him still gets to me.”
“Link’s Awakening is a really unique game in the series in terms of its story and atmosphere,” Alexis adds. “Frankly, its gameplay wasn’t anything special, but its characters and morally ambiguous conclusion make it one of my absolute favorite games, Zelda or otherwise.”
Indeed, the general consensus among our editors who ranked Link’s Awakening near the top of their lists wasn’t that they had ranked it there based on the strength of its gameplay, but rather the experience of playing it and the compromising position the game manages to place you in.
“Link’s Awakening is an incredible experience. Playing through it is like watching an episode of The Twilight Zone,” aptly puts Alexis. “Small details pop-up here and there adding to the mystery until you piece everything together and your whole worldview gets turned on its head! The subtleness of this game is its greatest strength.”
“More emotion was packed into the monochromatic screen of the original Link’s Awakening than many other video games even now capture,” Gooey finishes.
“But on a lighter note, this game should also be remembered for its wonderful new compass feature. You’ll never miss a key again!”
9) The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap
Highest Rank: 3 Lowest Rank: 15
The Minish Cap is another Zelda game that doesn’t get near the attention it warrants. There are many factors that contributed to The Minish Cap’s under-the-radar status in the Zelda series, and most had nothing to do with the game itself.
“There’s gonna be a lot of people telling you that this game or the other is the most underrated Zelda. None of these games even come close to The Minish Cap,” Andy boldly proclaims. “There are extenuating circumstances why nobody talks about Minish Cap; it wasn’t the first Zelda game released on the Game Boy Advance; A Link to the Past was. It wasn’t the first Zelda game to be developed by Capcom and not Nintendo; the Oracles were. Coming off of the heels of The Wind Waker, one of the most controversial Zelda games, didn’t help; and by the time it came out, all eyes were looking forward to Twilight Princess. No wonder no one talks about it.”
For all of the things that The Minish Cap wasn’t, what it was was a charming Zelda game with a throwback style that harkened to the SNES days of old.
“My favorite handheld Zelda title. The concept of shrinking and growing to visit ‘The Borrowers’ of Hyrule was an awesome premise and made way for some dynamic and inspired puzzles,” chimes in Simon. “A normal ChuChu was now a towering Goliath and a mere cat now an impassable hellbeast. The shifting between the two viewpoints really made the game standout for me. A kinstone sidequest that influenced virtually every creature both great and small packed your main quest with countless, memorable asides, all the while a mad, shrieking sage-turned-talking-cap rode above your noggin.”
The Minish Cap is a game that could best be described as incredibly solid. What it lacks in flair, it makes up for with consistently good gameplay, story, side quests and more. “Minish Cap was whimsical, innovative and fresh for its time. The rise of Vaati also made way for a new kind of threat. It was entirely its own flavor of sweet, refreshing adventure with secrets layered throughout,” Simon finishes.
“Look, Minish Cap didn’t reinvent the wheel, but it kept a consistently high level of quality throughout every aspect of the game that puts it on par with some of its bigger 3D brothers,” Andy comments. “Ezlo was great; Vaati was a welcome change; the Tingle brothers, the Gorons, everything was just so charming. Basically, everything a 2D Zelda game should be.
“I almost got fired so saying so, but The Minish Cap is my favorite 2D Zelda game, period. It’s a shame so few people realize how good it is, because I tell you: it’s damn good.”
8) The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
Highest Rank: 1 Lowest Rank: 16 Number of First Place Votes: 1
We now enter the stretch of Zelda games that at least one editor paced at the top of their list. Sequels in The Legend of Zelda series weren’t exactly unheard of before — after all, we had Majora’s Mask directly follow Ocarina of Time, Phantom Hourglass came after The Wind Waker, and even Link’s Awakening continued to follow Link’s journey after his adventures in A Link to the Past. However, never had there been a sequel quite like A Link Between Worlds.
Almost as much a remake as it was a sequel, A Link Between Worlds recreated A Link to the Past’s Hyrule. In keeping with the SNES classics’ theme of duality, Worlds offered a different, harsher take on Hyrule: Lorule.
“This 3DS title refined just about every aspect of A Link to the Past, a Zelda game that I have always considered one of the best. While the game may not present the same epic story of its SNES predecessor, A Link Between Worlds touts the same impressive game world, the same masterful dungeon design, and the same wealth of content. And beyond inheriting all these great qualities, it also improves upon the mechanics and presentation in such a way as to perfectly streamline the entire experience,” Rod states.
“The dungeons were fun and challenging to play through; and I loved the aspect of Hyrule and Lorule along with the characters and their Lorule counterparts,” Michelle chimed in. “And the maiamais were so cute and fun to look for!”
In addition to boldly recreating such an iconic setting, A Link Between Worlds also wasn’t afraid to take some other long-standing Zelda traditions and turn them on their heads. “Allowing players to complete dungeons in any order, rent items from the lovable Ravio, and explore most of the map from the get-go made this one of the most tightly crafted Zelda games of all time,” Rod proclaimed
Ultimately, A Link Between Worlds could very well have been named ‘A Link Between Generations’, since in many ways, that’s exactly what it was. Bridging the gap between the 1991 masterpiece and modern gaming elements found in the current generation of Zelda games, A Link Between Worlds brought all kinds of Zelda fans together. Ultimately though, there was probably only one reason for Worlds’ lasting appeal.
“Those Maiamais;” Rod sums up. “You can’t forget those Maiamais.”
7) The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Highest Rank: 1 Lowest Rank: 16 Number of First Place Votes: 1
Skyward Sword: The most controversial Legend of Zelda game. Much has been made over the years about the various stylistic choices Skyward Sword made. From its disastrous debut at E3 2010 onward, there seemed to be an infamy about it, and bringing up the games motion controls is sure to start an argument among Zelda fans.
Still, the game does have its champions, and our list reflected that. Rarely did Skyward Sword find itself in the middle of the pack. For most, it was either a top 5 game or not even in the conversation.
“For the life of me, I just don’t understand why people rag on this game so much. I obviously can’t speak for everyone, but I never had a single issue with the motion controls. Quite the opposite,” Andy writes.
“With its sometimes awkward motion controls, linear progression, and statistic-obsessed partner, Skyward Sword is one of the more controversial games in the Legend of Zelda franchise,” Adam Barham, host of Zelda Informer’s Artists of Legend series, says. “However, despite many commonly criticizing this game, it’s a strong contender for my favorite Zelda yet.”
Count Alasyn among those fans that see the good in Skyward Sword. “I know it’s an unpopular opinion, but Skyward Sword is my #1 favorite Zelda game. The motion controls might be difficult, and it can feel a bit long at times, but those are the only real complaints I have.”
While most of Skyward Sword’s biggest detractors deride the control scheme as the main issue, it seems like a disservice that so many would skip over a game in which almost everyone can agree features a great narrative. “Not even close,” Andy says. “In terms of narrative, cinematography, pacing, emotiveness… no other Zelda even comes close.”
“Skyward Sword is supposed to be and truly feels like an origin story for the lore and culture we’ve come to know and love in the Zelda franchise,” Alasyn adds. “The story is thrilling and exciting to follow, and the characters are so well done and unforgettable. Character development in a Zelda game is a little hard to come by in my opinion, so I appreciate that Skyward Sword shows us how characters like Groose, Ghirahim, and Link evolve as the game progresses and their purposes become more clear.”
In conclusion, Andy offers these parting words: “I will forever champion Skyward Sword to any Zelda fan that’ll listen. There are scenes that broke my heart, and there are scenes that made me cheer. To me, this is everything I want out of a Zelda game: an amazing story, amazing setting, amazing characters, amazing music, amazing gameplay, amazing dungeons, and amazing bosses. This is my second favorite Zelda game, and if it weren’t for nostalgia, it would probably be my first.
“I don’t care what anyone says. Skyward Sword is The Legend of Zelda at its finest.”
6) The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
Highest Rank: 1 Lowest Rank: 18 Number of First Place Votes: 3
Does anyone remember when Nintendo first revealed The Wind Waker? Before the phrase ‘break the internet’ entered the lexicon of pop-culture, Nintendo did exactly that with the reveal that the next mainline Zelda game would feature cel-shaded graphics. At a time when Nintendo was falling further behind Sony and Microsoft in the console wars, losing the teen demographic to their competitors, the style for such a big game did seem like a counter-productive choice.
Time, however, has proven that Nintendo’s controversial move was an inspired one.
“One thing that I’ll always appreciate about any video game franchise is when it tries something different with the formula. It may not always pay off, but the times when a series does take risks are when you get a game that’s truly special,” Zelda Informer Copy Editor Kristen Rosario explains. “This is where The Wind Waker comes in for me. By the time the game was first unveiled, it felt like I was the only one around who actually liked how it looked.”
“Unlike some of the fan base when it first came out, I absolutely fell in love with The Wind Waker. I was hooked immediately on its cute, cartoon-like graphics and the beautiful music,” Michelle adds.
Of course, only focusing on The Wind Waker’s graphical style does the game a disservice. Coming out on the heels of two critically acclaimed and industry-altering 3D Zelda titles, The Wind Waker took the gameplay that had made those titles such a revelation, refined it, and put the focus of the game back to where the series had began: on exploration.
“Although I would have liked more islands and stuff to explore out on the Great Sea, I had so much fun sailing around the world doing sidequests and travelling to the dungeons in the various locations,” adds Michelle. “This game even has some of the cutest characters I have ever seen and still adore to this day.”
“The story is definitely one of the best of the franchise, the combat is fun and exciting, and the characters are way more fleshed out and likeable than some from more recent games,” Alasyn continues. “I also feel that the pacing in this game is amazing, and it makes the dungeons feel more enjoyable and less like a chore. On top of all this, The Wind Waker actually had the first Zelda that I didn’t dislike as a character, and to me, that’s a major win.”
“Sailing the open seas, finding buried or sunken treasure, discovering new and uncharted islands, fighting giant mythical sea beasts; this game had it,” Kristen concludes. “I still got an amazing story (albeit very tragic), an unforgettable art style, fun combat, amazing score, and one of the most expression-filled Link’s I had seen up to that point in my life.”
For a game that many wrote off as ‘childish’ when it was first released, The Wind Waker finds that it has a positive legacy and a special place in the hearts of many of our editors.
“I don’t care what anyone tells me,” Michelle declares. “The Wind Waker is my favorite game of all time and I will defend its honor till the day my hearts deplete.”
5) The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past
Highest Rank: 1 Lowest Rank: 12 Number of First Place Votes: 3
The NES featured two entries in the Zelda series that were both solid games that showed what potential and promise the series and its style of gameplay had to offer. But it wasn’t until 1991’s SNES follow-up that the series would realize that potential, as A Link to the Past took the foundations the first games had laid and took them to the next level.
“If the first two games established the world and mythology of Hyrule, A Link to the Past set the template for all the games to come,” exclaims Bob. “Many of the concepts developed in this game became staples of the series: switching between two worlds/dimensions, having to find multiple heart containers, the introductions of the three goddesses of Hyrule, the Great Fairy Fountain, the Master Sword, etc”
“So many of the staples of the Zelda series were first established with this iconic title. A Link to the Past had the most extensive inventory of magic and weaponry, it introduced the Master Sword, and it established the dual world system with the inclusion of the Dark World,” Mases comments. “It created a healthy mix of open-world exploration and linearity, giving the player a clear direction of where to go, while also allowing plenty of points of deviation. Musically, it was a masterpiece, with so many songs that were first introduced to the series, including themes for Hyrule Castle, the Dark World, and Zelda’s Lullaby.”
Though one of the oldest games in the series, A Link to the Past has aged gracefully, captivating players even younger than the game itself.
“From many years ago, when I would play videogames with my family, to modern day, where I now am far more knowledgeable about video games of many different kinds, A Link to the Past has always held a special place in my heart,” Adam pipes in. “I still enjoy the many dungeons, music, interesting items, and challenging enemies that it has to offer. And if you take the fan-made challenges that are available for this game into consideration, such as the three-heart run or randomizers, I expect that I will return to this game many times more in years to come.”
A Link to the Past set the bar for the Zelda series in terms of pedigree, making sure that the series would always be associated with high quality. “As much as I love a lot of the other games, this one is still my favorite to this day,” Bob writes.
For Mases, someone whose life and career has been shaped by the Zelda series, A Link to the Past represents the pinnacle of the franchise. “When I look at any Zelda title nowadays, I really have to look for flaws, often nit-picking, but I can find something wrong with almost every Zelda game to date. With A Link to the Past, however, I seriously struggle to find anything at all that is truly bad about the game. It’s as close to a perfect video game as I’ve ever played.
“An absolute masterpiece.”
4) The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
Highest Rank: 1 Lowest Rank: 15 Number of First Place Votes: 5
If Skyward Sword is bombastically the most controversial Zelda game, then Twilight Princess must be considered a quiet second. No Zelda game finished atop more editors’ lists than Twilight Princess, coming in at number one a staggering five times. Despite that, the Wii’s debut Zelda title finds itself unable to crack the top 3, as the amount of editors who loved the game were offset by many editors who ranked Twilight Princess towards the lower end of the scale.
“Twilight Princess, much like Skyward Sword, is one of the Zelda games that fans either love or hate. However, to me, it is one of my three favorite Zelda games out there,” said Adam. “Not everyone enjoys the storyline, and while I admit that it could have been better fleshed out, I believe that it gets more criticism than it deserves.”
“Twilight Princess has a number of things going for it. Its darker tone, engaging narrative, and deep characters allow it to stand apart from its predecessors. Watching Link take on his Wolf form for the first time blew my fourteen-year-old mind, but eventually became a repetitive chore that I couldn’t wait to get over with,” Video Producer and Social Media Manager Zion Grassel says. “Graphically they decided to stray away from the cartoonish look of the past titles to go with a more realistic style that just doesn’t hold up today. It’s not that I hated Twilight Princess, to me it was just one of the weakest links.”
While Twilight Princess does have its detractors though, there is still a vocal contingent of Zelda fans who consider this game their favorite.
“My favorite games usually consist of a nice mix between gameplay, mechanics, story, and atmosphere. Twilight Princess did all this and more. The story is consistently my favorite in the franchise, and I’m sure many of us can agree that Midna is by far the best Zelda companion to date,” Jarrod muses. “Every dungeon has its own theme and its own unique mechanics and items, the world felt detailed and large, the characters were all unique and interesting, it gave some of the most heartfelt story moments outside of Skyward Sword, and the soundtrack was amazing.”
“Where to begin heaping the praise? I don’t think I can say enough about my love for this game,” opines Bobby. “Midna, the atmosphere, the dungeons, the items, the weapons, Wolf Link! All of this and more goes into why it’s my favorite Zelda game, but it runs deeper. This came out at a particularly hard time in my life and it got me through some bad times. I will never forget my first run of Twilight Princess and how emotional it made me.”
A Zelda game both revered and shrugged off by fans, Twilight Princess’ dark themes may not have hit the mark for all our editors, but for others, it was a generational game that created a new wave of fans of the series. Count Jarrod among them.
“In my opinion, Twilight Princess is one of the best Zelda games of all time as well as my personal favorite in the series.”
3) The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Highest Rank: 1 Lowest Rank: 9 Number of First Place Votes: 2
By far the biggest x-factor in this years countdown, Breath of the Wild ends up number three on our list, though it will be interesting to see how that changes in the following years as the game truly sinks in among Zelda faithful. Breath of the Wild really isn’t even finished yet either, as its story DLC, The Champions’ Ballad, has still yet to be released.
Over the last year so much has been said about Breath of the Wild that it’s almost hard to think of anything new to add. Not since Ocarina of Time has an entry in the Zelda series shifted the landscape of the franchise so much. Although still riding high on the glow of Breath of the Wild, our editors knew they were playing something special when, after years of development, they finally got their hands on it.
“I wasn’t expecting to love Breath of the Wild as much as I did,” confessed Michaela “I was confident that I would enjoy it, but it has easily topped my list as my favorite Zelda game. The game’s incredibly expansive open-world is gorgeous and rewarding to explore, but it also beautifully balances isolation and emptiness to create a unique setting that hasn’t been seen in other games.”
“Dialing back to what made the original 1986 classic The Legend of Zelda work, Breath of the Wild stands out as one of the most unforgettable treks through Hyrule I have ever experienced,” Kristen continues. “It is also the most challenging, as like with the first game in the series, this title doesn’t hold your hand. I just have to look at the unrelenting amount of times I died in this game to prove that point. The combat is the most challenging it has ever been, the vast amount of Hyrule available to explore is astronomical, and the ability to do what you want, whenever you want is reason enough to take more risks.”
For Adam, this Zelda game even offered an unexpected bonus. “Something that I thought was special about this game was that my mother has found it interesting enough to sit with me and watch every single time I play it, and I have enjoyed that quality time with her.”
It seems like Zelda Informer has been devoted to Breath of the Wild news, debates, and theories for some time now, so it seems appropriate that a game that changed the series so drastically also changed Zelda Informer drastically.
“Many of the editors that helped shape this list — myself included — were brought in over the last year to help cover the upcoming launch of Breath of the Wild and the Nintendo Switch,” Andy explains.
Breath of the Wild didn’t receive numerous first place votes, but (as did the other games in the top 3) it was consistently ranked in the upper echelon of Zelda games — so much so that after compiling the first half of the list, it looked as if it could take the number one spot without actually being selected first overall yet. For many, it was the the draw of the unknown that kept them coming back.
“I spent hours exploring the expansive world and collecting every treasure I could find, and the flexibility to be able to unfold the story as I chose created a unique and memorable experience exclusive to my playstyle,” Michaela says. “I love Breath of the Wild and would absolutely play a sequel revisiting the large, massive world of Hyrule and uncover all of its secrets.”
“The amount of side quests and shrines to do will keep your mind busy for months. Even the various amounts of armor will have you busy choosing what works and what doesn’t work for your Link,” writes Kristen. “While Breath of the Wild isn’t perfect, it will still go down in gaming history as one of the best Zelda games ever made.”
For Nintendo, Breath of the Wild was both an ending of a dark chapter in their history and the beginning of a promising new day with the Switch.
“For me, it just represents such an achievement, both as a game and as a symbol of what Zelda is,” Andy finishes. “I think after the Wii U fiasco, Nintendo needed this game to be a transcendent experience, a phenomenon much like Ocarina of Time before it was. After all the years of development, the setbacks, the hype… everything was riding on Breath of the Wild’s success. And it delivered in a big way. I don’t think we’ll ever see anything like Breath of the Wild again in terms of everything surrounding it from the outside world.
“This is a game we’ll be talking about for years and years to come.”
2) The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Highest Rank: 1 Lowest Rank: 10 Number of First Place Votes: 2
Google ‘the greatest video game of all time’ and it’s likely you’ll see Ocarina of Time pop up. Sitting atop GameRankings.com and Metacritic.com lists of Best Reviewed games ever, having topped countless ‘greatest game ever’ lists, and ushering a bold new direction for not only the Zelda franchise, but 3D games in general, it’s not hard to see why Ocarina of Time is so revered.
“Ocarina of Time is the game that immediately pops into my head when I think ‘Zelda’,” Gooey says; “from the characters, to the soundtrack, to the dungeons, this is one of the most ‘Zelda’ Zelda games you will find. In that era, I had never been more immersed in a game world than the worlds of Zelda on Nintendo 64.”
“It was an absolute masterpiece that took a chance and paid off,” adds Kristen. “Taking what was primarily a 2D-focused adventure series and converting it into a 3D world was one of the biggest risks Nintendo ever took. To this day, you can look back and see how much Ocarina of Time changed the gaming landscape for the better.”
“Ocarina of Time just did so many revolutionary things that became industry standards overnight,” Andy pipes in. “Z-Targeting? Ocarina did that first. Context sensitive button mapping? That was Ocarina. Even little things like day-and-night cycle; that was Ocarina. This game just nailed everything. Everything about it is iconic.”
For many of the editors at Zelda Informer, Ocarina of Time was their first exposure to the Zelda series, and with that comes a wave of nostalgia. Combine that with its aforementioned pedigree and influence, it’s easy to see how Ocarina comes just short of topping our list.
“It was my first Zelda game, yes. But it was also my first emotional experience with a game,” recalls Andy. “Before I played Ocarina of Time, video games were just a fun thing to do. When I was playing that game though, that was it. It changed the way I saw video games, what I thought they could be. I was so immersed in that world, it’s like I was weightless. It’s an experience I’ll never forget.”
“Whether it’s the fantastic score, memorable characters, unique dungeons, iconic weaponry and equipment, or the freedom to explore everything, there’s always a glowing aspect of Ocarina of Time,” adds Kristen. “For most, like myself, it was their first game in the series. I can never forget the first time getting Epona, traversing through time, and obtaining the Master Sword for what felt like the first of many adventures to come.”
“Anytime I think about the Zelda series, I’d be lying if I said Ocarina of Time wasn’t at the forefront of my thoughts. I still remember going into a Good Guy’s store way back in ‘98 when the game had just came out and completely losing myself in the playable demo they had there,” reminisces Taylor. “Much to my surprise, barely a month later I managed to get my hands on a copy and found myself living the fantasy of being an elf boy roaming through a world bigger than anything I could imagine at the time. Throw in all the cool mechanics — like locking on to my enemies and time traveling back and forth between two very different, yet familiar worlds — and this game absolutely captivated my eight-year-old heart.”
Ocarina of Time’s influence over the Zelda series is still felt today, almost twenty years later, as is its impact on a generation that would grow up with Ocarina as their standard for what a Zelda game should be.
“What can you say about Ocarina of Time that hasn’t been said before?” asks Andy. “It’s the best.”
1)The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
Highest Rank: 1 Lowest Rank: 8 Number of First Place Votes: 3
As we finally arrive to number one on our list, Zelda Informer is proud to declare The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask as our Best Zelda Ever! Though it was a long road to get here, Majora’s Mask constantly found itself among the highest ranked Zelda games amongst our editors — ranking first 3 times, placing in the top three 11 times, and placing in the top five 15 times.
Perhaps no game in the Zelda series has aged so gracefully. Majora’s Mask took everything that made Ocarina such a revelation and turned it on its head, flipping it to create a world that was charming, goofy, bleak, hopeless and so much more, giving an atmosphere to the game unlike anything else we’d ever had in a Zelda game.
“One of my earliest adventures with Link, I was introduced to the mad, twisting carnival of Termina by a childhood friend,” recalls Simon. “There were some truly dark corners in Majora’s Mask. Clock Town always felt a little grubby to me, a far-flung, more real, living townscape where crime and sordid, moonlit deals could still take place days before the apocalypse.”
“Out of all the Zelda games, I have to say Majora’s Mask is still the one I’d argue is the darkest and most intriguing to me. The dichotomy of time-management versus a need to save or help as many people as you could before the world ended was something I’d never thought I’d contend with at ten years old,” adds Taylor.
Though Majora’s Mask is probably most famous for the somber mood the Moon above provides, the game also takes the foundations of Ocarina of Time’s gameplay and adds its own twists on them — specifically its famous three-day system and transformative masks.
“Majora’s Mask, while one of the more odd titles in the Zelda franchise, is still one of the most enjoyable for completionists such as myself,” Jarrod opines. “The masks and the puzzles based around them were all interesting, with Stone Tower Temple being my favorite dungeon in the game because of how it used every mask.”
“Innovative and unique for its time, the game’s dark and morbid story creates a rich world, and the time travel mechanics truly shine,” adds Michaela. “The ability to transform into different forms with the masks is a lot of fun and allows the puzzles to be distinct and memorable, and collecting all of the masks was extremely rewarding. A game that once terrified me as a kid, Majora’s Mask has escalated to being one of my favorite games in the entire series.”
“Allowing you to temporarily assume different forms via soul masks was a fairly life-changing experience,” Taylor says, before pausing and adding, “of course, anybody who’s just met Tingle in Majora’s Mask could argue having a life-changing experience.”
Of course, gameplay and mood weren’t the only areas where Majora’s Mask excelled. It’s cast of characters and the numerous side quests they sent you on were some of the brightest spots, more than making up Majora’s Mask’s small dungeon count.
“It’s hard to talk about Majora’s Mask without talking about the side quests. Majora’s Mask has some of the best side quests in the Zelda series, ranging from the multi-day Anju and Kafei quest to listening to the Breman Mask Music Man,” Jarrod proclaims. “The world was full of intricacies while still being relatively small. Every side quest and interaction felt like it had meaning, even leading up the end credits, where the effects of Link helping everyone can be seen. Every character was unique and you could tell what stories they all had from what dialogue and side quests you were in. It went to show that you didn’t need extensive detail to show the core of a character.”
Simon adds: “every character had a schedule and story you could follow, really bringing these characters to life. A three-day unwavering capture of what felt like a real, living being. A sense of compelling hopelessness permeated the title, with Link a driving wedge between the populous and their downfall. Not everyone could be saved in a single three-day cycle, which made your victories that much more special.”
Majora’s Mask is a Zelda game that holds up to this day, and still has a sense of mystery about it that’s captivated Zelda fans for almost two decades. An unforgettable atmosphere, incredible story, memorable characters, and the core gameplay that the Zelda series is famous for all come together perfectly in Majora’s Mask to make it Zelda Informer’s Best Zelda Ever.
And so there it is! That brings to a close this year’s edition of the Best Zelda Ever competition. Thank you to everyone for reading. We’d also like to congratulate Zelda Informer user Shuan Hill on winning the corresponding competition we ran in conjunction with this list! We’ll be reaching out shortly to contact you about shipping details!
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 Informer, thank you for reading!
All quotes obtained firsthand. Make sure to follow the various Editors that helped shape this list. If you’re nice, maybe they’ll even tell you what their own list looked like!
Andy Spiteri – @Spiteri316
Rod Lloyd – @RODtheMaster
Bethany Shontz – @bethanyshontz
Kristen Rosario – SuperReactionBros
Gooey Fame – @gooeyfame
Michelle Garcia – @miichikoo76
Alexis Anderson – triforce3
Bobby Chichester – RPGMaker
Alasyn Eletha – @alasyneletha
Jarrod Raine – @jarrod_raine
Bob Aquavia – @ShadyBob
Molly Maugans – @MishMem
Almog Rimer – @almog_rimer
Zion Grassl – @ZionDood
Simon Rayner – @star_rayner
Peter Lowes – @GITProductions
Taylor Wells – @GIF_Bluehawk
Adam Barham – @Lucarios_Master
Michaela El-Ters – ObjectionNetwork
Savannah Gault – @xFaelwyn
Alfred Tabaks – @fullmetalalfie
Mases Hagopian – @MasesTheGreat