With Link's Awakening, Nintendo somehow managed to cram an entire Zelda adventure onto a Game Boy cartridge, and the result just so happened to be one of the finest Zeldas ever created, even by today's standards - so much so that Nintendo remade it for Switch.
It also laid the foundation for so many Zelda mechanics we still see today, introducing flying on Cuccos, trading sequences, playing songs on an ocarina, fishing, and even mini-bosses. Link's Awakening introduced jumping to an overhead Zelda for the first time too, which allowed for 2D sections similar to Zelda II: The Adventure of Link.
For such a tiny game, Link's Awakening left enormous shockwaves in the Zelda franchise that we're still feeling today.
Boy, do we pine for the N64 era. The console got not one but a whopping two exclusive Zeldas, both of which still rank as many of our all-time favourites. The 'lesser' of the two – at least, according to us – is Majora's Mask, which eschewed the traditional Zelda format for a bunch of unique features, like a limited amount of time to complete it and a mask-wearing mechanic which transforms Link into a Zora, Goron, or Deku Scrub.
The time limit is particularly interesting. Link has three days of in-game time to achieve as much as he can before – get this – the moon crash lands on Clock Town, destroying it and its inhabitants. Those three days translate to roughly 54 minutes in real time, which isn't very long at all to save the world. Thankfully, Link has his trusty Ocarina of Time, which allows him to play the Song of Time to rewind back to the first day. Most things he accomplishes during that time is saved though, so you're not really starting at the beginning.
The brilliant 3DS remake brought a fresh lick of paint and some quality of life improvements. If you're thinking Majora's Mask sounds a little darker than the rest of the Zeldas, you're bang on the money. But this makes it one of the more intriguing entries in the franchise.
We were just as surprised as you that The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds made it so high on the list, but after digging deeper it actually makes an awful lot of sense. It's a follow-up to the absolutely excellent A Link to the Past, after all.
A Link Between Worlds reintroduced a non-linear order to the dungeons and the top-down perspective of classic Zeldas. New was the ability to rent the equipment you'd need to beat the various dungeons, and Link's ability to merge onto walls as a painting. You'd use this to solve puzzles and reach inaccessible areas of the world.
With beautiful visuals, unique mechanics leading to intricate puzzles, and that non-linear open world structure, A Link Between Worlds remains a high point in Zelda history.
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The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is the precise moment where Nintendo perfected the Zelda format. It launched on the SNES, and returned to the overhead perspective of the original, waving goodbye to pretty much everything introduced in Zelda II: The Adventure of Link.
So what changed? Arrows became a separate item, the magic meter from Adventure of Link returned, Link could move diagonally and run thanks to the Pegasus Boots, and he could swipe his sword sideways, allowing for a much wider range when attacking.
A Link to the Past also introduced many mainstays of the Zelda franchise, including items that unlock sections of dungeons and the overworld (Hookshot, Master Sword, Pegasus Boots), Pieces of Heart that you can find to unlock a Heart Container, and multi-level dungeons.
It also introduced parallel worlds – the Light and Dark worlds – that we'd later see in A Link Between Worlds and Twilight Princess. Mechanics used in this system, such as altering things in one world to affect another, would also return in Oracle of Ages and Seasons, Ocarina of Time, and Majora's Mask.
In other words, A Link to the Past was an incredibly progressive Zelda at the time, and is largely responsible for making the franchise the massive hit it is today.
A Link to the Past might have laid the framework for the Zelda franchise, but Ocarina of Time perfected it and then some. For the first time in a Zelda game we had a wide open 3D world to explore, a third-person perspective, and a targeting system.
Until Breath of the Wild came along, Ocarina of Time served as the blueprint for a 3D Zelda adventure. It's amazing just how much Nintendo nailed in its first foray into 3D (and the excellent 3DS remake tweaked a few things that didn't age so well).
Ocarina of Time is also famous as being the entry that split the Zelda timeline, as detailed in the Hyrule Historia. We now have a timeline in which Link fell to Ganon, and two timelines in which Link defeated Ganon: the Child Era, where Link returns to his original time, and the Adult Era, where the Hero of Time disappears.
If it wasn't for a certain recent Zelda entry completely shaking up the formula and blowing away the cobwebs which had formed on the Ocarina of Time template, this would remain firmly fixed at the top.
Was it ever really in any doubt? Ever since The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild launched alongside the Switch in 2017, we all knew that it would take the crown as the finest Zelda ever – and for good reason.
Breath of the Wild has shaken up the formula far more intensively than any previous Zelda, yet it still remains firmly tied to its roots. The big new feature is the wide-open world, which Link can explore at his leisure as soon as he's left the Great Plateau. It actually plays a lot more like the original The Legend of Zelda, with its non-linear design.
There's just so much to unpack here. Combat introduced slo-mo mechanics, the world now has persistent physics, allowing you to tackle problems in a wide variety of ways, and you can craft a variety of items to help Link on his adventure. Weapons break, equipment has statistics, and you can surf down slopes on your shield. Wear metal during a lightning storm and you'll receive a nasty shock, while wearing too little in cold and too hot in warm environments deals damage.
The world of Hyrule, while a far cry from its former glory, is living and breathing like never before. As a result, Link has a far greater arsenal at his disposal to traverse it and conquer its many pitfalls. Breath of the Wild is an adventure, a playground, and without doubt the finest entry in The Legend of Zelda franchise – for now.
There we have it – all the The Legend of Zelda games ranked. What's your favourite Zelda? Where do you think the upcoming Breath of the Wild 2 will sit? Let us know in the comments section below!