Ranking Links
Image: Nintendo Life

Across 19 mainline games and a handful of spinoffs, the Hero of Time has taken on a variety of forms. The changes between each have ranged from the subtle (Skyward Sword's eyeliner or A Link to the Past's pink hair) to the pretty "wait... what?" drastic (come on guys, he's literally turned into a wolf), but he's still the same old Link at heart, right?

Wrong! No matter which way you spin it, some Links are just cooler than others. Be it their unique swanky outfits, luscious golden locks, or freaky abilities, most games in the mainline Zelda series force us to think, "yeah, this hero's cool, but he's not as cool as..."

That's where we come in. We've ranked several elements of the Zelda series — instruments, bosses, companions, dungeons, er... fields? — and now it's time to take on the big one. It's all well and good discussing which is the best Zelda game, but which one has the best star player? It's time to rank the Links, once and for all.

To be clear, our order (completely objective and based on nothing but 100% facts, of course) is in defiance of the quality of the games themselves and is instead an attempt to analyse every facet of the Link and why each one deserves to be 'the best'. This means that the hero's appearance takes priority in some cases, while others will be based more on his unique abilities. We're taking everything into account. Some of the Links below are technically the same Link, but we've separated them on a per-game basis. Hey, people change! Sometimes for the better, sometimes... not.

If you're hoping to see an appearance from Dark Link in this one then we might just have a little surprise in store. If, however, you're hoping to see an appearance from every Link of the Shadow-y, Dark-y variety, then prepare for disappointment. The guy's cool, but let's not detract from the real hero here.

And if you disagree, there's a poll at the end where you can have your say and let us know just how wrong we are! Can't say fairer than that.

Without further ado, let the ranking commence!

21. CD-i Link

Zelda CD-i
Image: Philips Interactive Media

We don't need to give you a full rundown of this one, right?

Of course, we don't consider any of the three CD-i games canon by any means, but starting from this baseline means that the Links can only get better, we suppose. Only 'well, excuuuuuuuse me, princess' animated Link gives this one a run for his rupees at the bottom end, but he doesn't feature in any Zelda game.

Moving swiftly on...

20. Link's Awakening Link (Game Boy)

Zelda: Link's Awakening GB
Image: Nintendo Life

Link's Awakening in its original, DX and Switch remastered form is a great game (we know, hot take alert) but let's not pretend that ol' sleepy Link at the centre is one of the franchise's best.

This is a guy that (spoilers!) stays asleep for the entirety of a game. Sure, he might seem cool in a dream, but in reality, this hero is nothing more than a tired boy in dire need of a few sailing tips.

19. Link's Awakening Link (Switch)

Zelda: Link's Awakening Switch
Image: Nintendo Life

For all of the reasons that we mentioned above, this is not the best Link out there in terms of abilities, but that sweet remastered makeover means he's bumped slightly higher.

We'll admit, we love how this little fella looks in his Switch form, but words like "cute", "adorable" and "omg I just want to squeeze him" simply don't cut it in this discussion.

18. Skyward Sword Link

Zelda: Skyward Sword Switch
Image: Nintendo Life

Oh, Link of Skyloft. You might chronologically be the earliest incarnation of the hero that we have seen so far, but let's not pretend that you're the best.

Sure, you have a magical giant bird at your disposal but even that isn't enough to overcome the baggy pants. And yes, pointing your sword to the heavens as it fills with skyward energy is pretty neat. But the preceding 15 seconds of faff as you flail it every which way trying to aim the blasted blade upward undermines your street cred, ya big goof.

17. Four Swords (Adventures) Link

Zelda: Four Swords
Image: Nintendo Life

What do you mean you forgot that this game was even part of the main timeline! How could you!

This is the first appearance of the 'Toon Link' lineage on this list. Being able to split your body into four sentient, colour-defined versions of yourself is a pretty neat skill, we'll admit, but the limited skillset on display from this version of Link was enough to place him pretty low down on the list.

The four Links on display here have all the limitations of those in Four Swords and Tri Force Heroes (yep, we're grouping them) but with the added bonus of actually being able to see the job through and defeat both Vaati and Ganon.

16. Shadow / Dark Link

Zelda: Dark Link
Image: Nintendo Life

There he is! See? We said that we wouldn't let you down.

Is this version of Link one of the coolest-looking ones out there? Yes, he is. Up there with Fierce Deity Mask Link, we'd argue, though we excluded masks from this list.

However, with the whole point of this incarnation being that he is easily defeated (some more so than others *shakes fist at Ocarina of Time*), we can't really go around saying that he is "the best Link" now can we? Coolest, maybe, but not the best.

15. Hyrule Warriors Link

Zelda: Hyrule Warriors
Image: Nintendo Life

Not a 'mainline Zelda' Link, but worthy of a nod, we think.

In terms of design, this Link is pretty great. He's got those smooth features, fluffy hair, and even a suave blue scarf. We also have to respect his ability to take on huge hoards of enemies at once, but compared to what we know Link can do, the special abilities here just don't live up to his looks.

14. Adventure of Link... Link

Zelda II
Image: Nintendo Life

This is a very similar Link to the one that we see in the series' first entry, it's true. But with its fresh side-scrolling perspective in the towns and dungeons, this iteration of the hero commits the unforgivable crime of consistently reminding us that Link has no trousers on.

Sure, there's some key art that shows the hero in his brown tights, but we all know what that pixel art is telling us and we know that it must be drafty...

13. Legend of Zelda Link

The Legend of Zelda
Image: Nintendo Life

Before you say it, yes we understand that Link clearly doesn't have any trousers on in this one either, but the advantage of the top-down perspective is that we don't need to be thinking about that with every step that he takes.

The graphical limitations of this pixel design also mean that this is a hero with either bright green eyes or eyebrows depending on how you look at him. Bold hair choices like that are more than enough to move a few spaces up the list in our book.

12. Oracle of Seasons Link

Zelda: Oracle of Seasons
Image: Nintendo Life

Now we're getting into the realms of Links with some serious power. Not only does this Link have a sweet art design (check out the volume on that hair!) but the hero can literally change the seasons at will with a magical Rod.

Look, it might not be the best special ability in the franchise, but in the cold winter months the thought of instantly being able to switch things up to BBQ weather sounds pretty attractive to us.

11. A Link to the Past Link

Zelda: Link to the Past
Image: Nintendo Life

For many of us, the design for A Link to the Past is what Link looks like. He's got the voluminous hair, the right shade of green on his tunic and hat, the knee-high boots, and the poorly-considered tunic length. He's Link. In-game, he even has the added flare of those bright pink locks just to mix things up a bit.

So why is he at the mid-point on this list? Because he's the vanilla choice. A glorious blank canvas for future iterations. He looks just like Link should look and acts just like Link should act, but he's lacking that something special that went on to define later versions.

That's the first half — page two awaits with the top 10 Links...