Since 1986, The Legend of Zelda franchise has been capturing the imaginations of gamers by sending us on grandiose adventures across the Kingdom of Hyrule. From rescuing princesses to saving the world from the forces of evil, never has a series of games been able to spark my sense of adventure quite like this one has. These games have defined the adventure genre and remain a masterclass of game design in which most developers still aspire to achieve. Fortunately for you, there are so many great entries in this franchise that any one you decide to play through will be a great choice. So grab your sword, hop on your horse, and follow me through my picks for several must-play Legend of Zelda games.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: Nintendo Switch
Kicking off this list, we have one of the most recent entries to the franchise: Breath of the Wild. As a launch title for the Nintendo Switch, this masterpiece of a game was what Nintendo needed in order to return to its former glory. For the first 6-12 months of the Switch’s lifespan, it was practically a Zelda machine. You didn’t own one and not have this game. The story starts you off after a 100 year slumber during which the Kingdom of Hyrule has descended into darkness. You are tasked by Zelda herself to go on a quest to save the Divine Beasts from possession in order to defeat Calamity Ganon. You will travel across the vast landscapes of Hyrule while fighting monsters, completing shrines, and helping the survivors of the world. This adventure still reigns today as the best offering on the Nintendo Switch.
Highlights: A huge and completely traversable open world, diverse and beautifully animated environments, and hundreds of hours of optional side content
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past: Super Nintendo
More than 25 years prior to the release of Breath of the Wild, we were blessed with one of the best video games ever created: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. The developers at Nintendo had quite a lot to live up to in order to build upon the foundation that the first two Zelda games laid. And frankly speaking, they completely knocked it out of the park. The story wastes no time sending you off on your adventure as Princess Zelda tasks you with taking down Ganon’s minions and saving two separate worlds from the monster’s wrath. Almost everything that is iconic about The Legend of Zelda, from the Triforce to the Master Sword, was introduced in this game. Amazingly, the game still holds up incredibly well to this day, and remains just as replayable as it was in the nineties.
Highlights: Beautifully animated 16-bit graphics that still look great today, engaging gameplay that keeps you challenged throughout, and an iconic soundtrack that inspires you to keep on playing
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time: Nintendo 64
It has gotten to the point now where calling Ocarina of Time “one of the best video games ever” sounds cliche. But trust me, it’s completely deserved. The jump to 3D was seamless and it laid the groundwork for the rest of the franchise moving forward. On top of that, the developers used the new hardware to employ several brilliant tactics in order to craft some of the most unique dungeons of the series. In terms of story, there is nothing new to the formula here, but the way it is executed is groundbreaking. Difficult… emotional… inspiring… Ocarina of Time not only embodies the adventure genre, but completely reinvents it. It hits all of the right notes by carefully teetering the line between depressing darkness and glimmering hope. Everything in this game is iconic, from the environments of the dungeons to the incredibly catchy soundtrack. Give it a try and you’ll be hooked immediately.
Highlights: Brilliantly crafted dungeon and puzzle design (especially via the time travel mechanic), well hidden secrets that have you discovering something new with each playthrough, and a lock-on combat style that influenced countless action games after it
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker: Nintendo GameCube
The Wind Waker is indisputably my favorite video game of all time, and there is only one word that I can use to describe it: beautiful. The light-hearted and upbeat score accompanies you on your epic adventure across a vast ocean and blends perfectly with the cel shaded graphics. This creates an aesthetic that has aged better than not only most other games from the GameCube era, but even better than games on subsequent consoles for years to come. However, while The Wind Waker may be a pretty game, the quality goes much further than that. Familiar characters are reimagined in ways that give them much more depth, gameplay continues to push boundaries and improve upon previous entries, and the light hearted tone isn’t afraid to tackle serious themes. Take all of that and combine it with great puzzles, a likeable cast of characters, and a story that will tug at your heartstrings. From just the first 10 minutes of the game you’ll realize how special it really is.
Highlights: A beautiful cel shaded art style that has aged wonderfully, unique and fun side activities to participate in, and a new take on a Hyrule in order to keep things fresh
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening: Game Boy
While this classic has finally received some love recently with a remake for the Nintendo Switch, Link’s Awakening has long flown under the radar as a criminally underrated game. As the first Zelda title to make an appearance on a handheld console, it was able to achieve the unthinkable by capturing the heart and soul of the the franchise through extremely limited technology. This game has one of the best stories of the franchise with a tear-jerking ending that will make you emotional without ever having to say a word. On top of that, it created a quirky and memorable world with cameos from other Nintendo franchises while only using the grayscale graphics of the original Game Boy. If you get the chance to play this classic, it will only make you appreciate the love and attention that went into the recent remake even more.
Highlights: A surprisingly touching story for a Game Boy game, a fresh and fun setting on Koholint Island, and a great Zelda title to take on the go
We have rarely seen so many perfect games within a single franchise, which made deciding on the must-play Legend of Zelda games incredibly difficult. In fact, some of my favorite Zelda games didn’t even make the cut, so that goes to show just how special this series really is. Additionally, these picks weren’t selected in any particular order because each game is as great in its own way as the next. If you enjoyed this article, please like it and follow me on Twitter @TheGameLounge5, or click the “Follow Blog via Email” button at the bottom of this page.