The hard thing about placing the Zelda games on a list is really that each game is GOOD- they are well-made products from professionals. However, my personal opinion of what a Zelda game should be is very different from others, so while I will be explaining my stance in micro reviews of each game, I just want you all to know that there's some steaming hot opinions present here. I also included one of my favorite tracks from each game!
17) Oracle of Ages
Apparently, of the two simultaneously developed Capcom titles, the focus here was on "puzzles," but I found the overemphasis on this element, as well as the story and actual gameplay, to be extremely bland and segmented. If Seasons could have four seasons, why didn't Ages have a future timeline? This also contains some of the worst non-dungeon sequences in a Zelda, but on the other hand, it has water segments that are actually fun.
16) Tri Force Heroes
I'll tell you what I DON'T want Zelda to be- a loot-based crafting game that has you repeating areas over and over unless you have friends. Still, some cool three-way puzzles and bosses here. The single player experience is difficult only because it forces one player to do the roles of three, though. I think there's some really good ideas here but it still feels like shoehorning Zelda gameplay into a multiplayer format just to see what happens.
15) Majora's Mask
I also don't want my Zelda to be plagued with micromanaging. That's why I play JRPGs. (By the way, Pandora's Tower is a great Castlevania-like JRPG with the same sort of time limitations and better gameplay!) While I think this is one of the few examples in video games where art successfully imitates life, it is really just not my cup of tea. There are design choices that were thankfully re-evaluated in the 3D remake, but it's another example of taking Zelda mechanics and putting them into a very different kind of game. Control-wise, this game was the weakest of the 3D entries and is not easily replayed because... well, you already replay it so many times. There are great dungeons and absolutely fantastic side-quests, however, but I would either recommend this game to someone who is either not sold on Zelda as a series or someone who has absolutely exhausted the series' options.
14) Phantom Hourglass
It was an experiment in making a Zelda game with touch controls, and its... actually pretty good! Retreading the Ocean King's temple isn't, though. It's just hard to put this game on the same level as other Zelda titles because if it's very unique control scheme, but it has way better sailing, naval combat, and treasure charts than Wind Waker. I still debate placing this higher than that game for this reason but I think I need to return to it one more time to make sure.
13) Spirit Tracks
Spirit Tracks is Wind Waker ON RAILS! Here's a longer answer, though still short: It's really tough to place this higher than Phantom Hourglass, because its traversal mechanic is a bit more tedious and has turned some players off towards the game completely. It also has even less dungeons than Phantom Hourglass. But Spirit Tracks is a worthy sequel to the previous DS entry, improving on some of Phantom Hourglass' flaws with an even better narrative. The character design and dungeon mechanics are excellent and make great use of the DS' capabilities. You can play as Zelda, too! Sorta. Even with its issues, its quality of life improvements, great soundtrack, and satisfying tune-ups to the DS Zelda engine make it superior to Phantom Hourglass.
12) The Wind Waker
Slow-to-start, lacking in content and dungeons, and featuring a boring traversal system, The Wind Waker is redeemed by its excellent art and character design, competent combat and controls, quirky writing, and it's unconventional setting. I already talked a lot about this game before, so forgive me if I sound very down on it. It's very pretty.
11) Adventure of Link
Harder, but more fair than the original and focused on harsh one-on-one encounters, Zelda II is hurt the most by its punishing experience system. Even so, it's still a fantastic and mechanically unique entry in its own right. It retains the same sense of organic discovery, and the addition of towns is an interesting facet, and hey! There's a tiny version of the first game's map in there! Recommended for the hardest of the hardcore. Also, I am Error.
10) Ocarina of Time
TRIGGER WARNING!!!Yeah, yeah. It pioneered the 3D Zelda formula. But it also established some trends that were considered to sacred to alter until only recently. With memorable music, a fun time-travel mechanic, and plenty of great side-quests and content, Ocarina remains as the golden standard for 3D Zelda, but it has since been surpassed. Was it a revolutionary experience when it came out? Yes. Is it a revolutionary experience now? Not so much.
9) Oracle of Seasons
A poor man's Link's Awakening, this game still features a more interesting dual world, overworld altering mechanic, and dancing mini game than its partner. The Maku Tree is cooler, and its emphasis on "action" means the dungeons are well-paced and the bosses are fantastic. I believe that the seasons changing mechanic opens up much more layered and interesting overworld puzzles than the time-shifting in Ages. Subros unite, Seasons is the superior game and I think represents an average level of quality for the top-down, 2D entries.
8) The Minish Cap
A personal favorite and the first Zelda I completed, Minish Cap has a dual-world mechanic that changes your perspective on the game completely. It features fun, unique items and dungeons, a decent, yet controversial side-quest mechanic, and a final dungeon and boss worth checking out. The GBA soundtrack is cozy and atmospheric, but most importantly, the game features something I LOVE in any and all Zelda titles (even Majora's Mask)- density of content. The world map is small... but is it, really? Also, Ezlo is the best companion.
7) Skyward Sword
In an attempt to prove that motion controls could make a good game, the Zelda team developed an outstanding and very different Zelda title with plenty of innovation at play. Even with unconventional design that transformed its areas into dungeons on their first run, some of the best dungeon design in the series, an antagonist that is glorious and weird, and of course, its signature motion controls with a multitude of applications, Skyward Sword still has narrative and technical flaws that can prove irritating. Still, it provides a different and fun approach to the series that is much more laid back than others, especially with its high school romance with a big-nosed, cutie-patootie Zelda. Accessible, yet always clever, it is a game I cannot be compelled to hate.
6) The Legend of Zelda
While it might seem like a cop-out to place this title so high, many NES games do not age as well as this classic. It's exploration elements and odd role as a social experiment (check out my explanation in my Breath of the Wild review) make the original Legend of Zelda not only a rewarding individual experience, but a collective victory and rite of passage for any serious fan. Enemy AI behavior is the only real flaw I can attribute to this title. Also, get good.
5) A Link to the Past
Oh hey, why don't you put another SNES classic up there as a mock display of "refined taste?" Except, A Link to the Past is great. Like, really great. A dense overworld interwoven with a dual-world mechanic, excellent dungeon design, and a wonderful soundtrack result in a game with great momentum and a fair challenge. It's also a game that becomes more fun the more times you've played it, understanding the iconic world and recognizing where shortcuts can be found. This is an absolute essential for any newcomer for its accessibility, great in-game resources, and staggering amount of content.
4) Twilight Princess
Although it is considered one of the easier games in the franchise, Twilight Princess was developed in an attempt to surpass Ocarina of Time, as stated by series' producer Eiji Aonuma. And yes, I would argue that it succeeds. The controls are tighter, the items are more inventive, the dungeons are varied in structure and aesthetic, and the story is suitably epic, while still having a sense of familiarity. More cinematic and varied in gameplay and atmosphere, it treads the line of high-fantasy and more bizarre, magical elements rather well. In allowing the narrative to become more intimate and for the types of Hyrulean technology to be cooler and more imaginative, Twilight Princess is a fine example of breaking the traditions of the series in the same manner as Majora's Mask, and both games benefit from it. Moreover, it becomes more and more enjoyable and fluid upon replays and higher difficulties.
3) A Link Between Worlds
If you are looking for an essential example in taking 2D game design and adding a third dimension, this title fulfills the role in more than a few ways. Simply put, A Link Between Worlds is a tour de force in unique dungeon mechanics, and it's non-linear design offers a variety of approaches. Even as a direct sequel to A Link to the Past and featuring the same overworld, this game adds even more charm with a wacky cast of characters, attractive main villain (wait, Yuga's a dude...?), and the addition of concentrated mini-dungeons centered around specific themes. Running at a silky-smooth 60 frames per second and containing a number of fantastic remixed and new music tracks, I simply cannot gush enough over this return to Hyrule. It also has a baseball mini game. Beat THAT, Ocarina of Time!
2) Link's Awakening
When I think about Zelda, my mind goes back to a few memories- watching a family friend play pieces of Ocarina of Time, picking up Minish Cap on a camping trip, and braving Twilight Princess' bosses and such. And then, there's the literal and figurative fever dream that is Link's Awakening. Unabashedly weird, this title is the perfect blend of the puzzle-based gameplay of the 3D entries mixed with the 2D overworld and dungeon design. It has great dungeon mechanics, an iconic Game Boy soundtrack, and a plot that plays with the idea of beating a game in the most interesting of ways. It has Mario characters in it that add to the hazy atmosphere, plenty of variety in gameplay, and also introduced and pretty much refined one of the greatest Zelda items, the Roc's Feather. I don't think a better entry point to the series exists, as its pocket-like quality and engaging mythos help to ease the player into what exactly they're doing, but the gameplay cycle eases you slowly into a very simplistic, yet enjoyable experience. This was neither my first Zelda game and I'm not sure if it will stay at the top of this list for long, but I highly recommend it to everyone.
1) Breath of the Wild
Grand in scope and ambition, Breath of the Wild offers something A Link Between Worlds courted, and the original successfully implemented: freedom. Except, there is freedom in so many ways- weapon choices, gathering and cooking food, approaching enemies, progressing through the story, and even making the game more or less difficult. It features one of the most amazingly lush maps in any game I have ever seen, and its variety of challenges found in Shrines and elsewhere is astounding. Every other Zelda pales in comparison with its unbridled freedom, and it rewards player intuition and logic immensely.
And there you have it. All the Zelda games, in order, by me. Comments? Post below.