Which Zelda Game to Play First?
Currently, there are approximately 20 mainline Zelda games in the series. This increases even more if we take into consideration remakes, HD remasters, and spinoffs.
For those looking to get into the series, knowing which Zelda game to play first can be a bit confusing.
If you want to get started playing as soon as possible, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a great starting point.
But if you are interested in alternative options, or a deeper look into why Breath of the Wild is so great for beginners to the series, be sure to check out our recommendations below.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has received an unending stream of praise ever since its release.
This game shakes up the traditional Zelda formula, making it much more accessible to newcomers and bored veterans alike.
Firstly, with Breath of the Wild being available on Nintendo Switch, the game is far more easily accessible than other titles. Zelda games, like other Nintendo IPs, hold their value for a long time. If you want to play an older Zelda game, you may end up having to shell out for both a rare older generation console and an expensive game.
The Nintendo Switch is the current flagship console for Nintendo, which means that it is still available through most online retailers along with bundles and deals. Breath of the Wild might still cost a pretty penny, but it comes with far more content, graphical upgrades, and modern-day conveniences than a rarer older title, that will likely cost the same price or more on eBay.
“The Zelda formula” is a complaint lobbied against a few of the more modern Zelda titles that fail to switch things up. Breath of the Wild takes things back to basics and truly makes players feel as if they are on a free-flowing adventure.
The Legend of Zelda NES
Zelda 1 is a game that most Zelda fans find themselves looking at after they have fallen in love with the series.
However, if you enjoy starting your gaming journeys from the very first game ever released, Zelda 1 is the game for you.
Originally released for the NES, Zelda 1 is a top-down RPG with little to no instruction on what you actually need to do in order to progress.
At the start of the game, players will be given a sword and shield, before being sent on their way.
If you can get over the graphical limitations of the NES, Zelda 1 is still a fantastic game and holds up surprisingly well. The game is a constant reference for what Zelda fans want in a day of needless handholding from companion characters.
Zelda 1 is open-ended almost to a fault. Some of the puzzles and things that have to be done would be near impossible to figure out without consulting some of the best Zelda guides out there.
Some of the best Zelda-like games on Nintendo Switch take inspiration from this game by dropping players into a world and telling them to “go!”
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD
The Legend of Zelda has a timeline that only a mother could love. With branching paths, alternate realities, and multiple versions of different characters, things get confusing very quickly. However, after Nintendo decided to officially reveal where each game is placed on the timeline, we learned that Skyward Sword stands as the first chronological game in the series.
Without spoiling too much of the story, we learn via the story that the descendants of this world’s Link, Zelda, and Ganon will inherit their will and the power of their respective triforce shards. This is why all future titles have this triad dynamic in them.
Skyward Sword is not the most well-received Zelda title out there. It garnered a lot of criticism during its initial release thanks to the sloppy motion controls, rehashed level design, aggravating companion, and easy gameplay.
That sure is a lot of negatives, but a lot of these issues have been ironed out in the HD remake released on the Nintendo Switch. No longer do item pop-ups trigger every time you pick up an item. Your companion’s tips can be toggled on and off. And, finally, if you don’t like the motion controls, there is the ability to use a controller in this version.
The Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword is not considered the best Zelda game out there. However, if you want to see where everything began, definitely be sure to check it out!
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is the definitive Zelda experience. Not only is this game widely considered to be the best in the franchise, but the best game of all time by fans of the series and video games as a whole.
The leap from 2D to 3D completely changed the game for Zelda as a franchise. Exploring these levels was more immersive than ever before.
Every dungeon, every item, and every aspect that makes 3D Zelda what it is today is all thanks to the unparalleled success of Ocarina of Time.
Getting your hands on the original N64 cartridge might be a bit tricky nowadays. However, the 3DS remake improves upon a lot of the limitations of the original. For example, aiming a weapon in the N64 game was finicky and annoying. Now, thanks to the gyroscope, aiming is pinpoint accurate!
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask could just as deservingly occupy this spot. Focusing more on the sidequests and tense atmosphere, as opposed to Ocarina of Time’s more light-hearted tone, Majora’s Mask is just as good as Ocarina of Time, if not better. Plus, this game is also available on the 3DS!
For the best overall Zelda experience, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is a great place to start.
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
Link’s Awakening is a great beginner Zelda game for those not wanting to dedicate mountains of time towards 100% completion. Unlike other Zelda games with hours upon hours of content on offer, including side quests, main quests, and minigames, Link’s Awakening can be fully completed in about 20 hours total.
The original Link’s Awakening will take some searching to find. Luckily, the 2019 remake for the Nintendo Switch faithfully reimagines the original game in glorious HD.
Link’s Awakening has always been a fan favorite due to its inclusion of several alternate world enemies (such as Mario’s Chain Chomps and Goombas). Perhaps, for avid Nintendo fans yet to play a Zelda title, this will make the transition easier!
Link’s Awakening offers more of a traditional Zelda experience. Here, you will travel to various locations, explore dungeons, and take on bosses with more of a focus on the adventurous gameplay as opposed to the narrative.
Definitely be sure to check out Link’s Awakening if you have not done so already!
The Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess HD / Wind Waker HD
Twilight Princess and Wind Waker were both gateway Zelda titles during their first release. Depending on your preferences, you could choose between the more colorful, stylized, and comical Wind Waker, or the gritty, down-to-earth, realistic Twilight Princess.
Wind Waker’s Great Sea was the jumping-off point for Skyward Sword’s Skyloft and the open world of Breath of the Wild.
Twilight Princess receives a lot less mention, but the game is incredibly solid, has some fun mechanics, and is one of the best companion characters in the entire series.
Both of these games received an HD remake on the Wii U, meaning that, while they are only available on previous generation hardware, they are still much more accessible than their GameCube counterparts.
If you want to start your Zelda journey as many others did back in the day, both of these games are a great starting point. Depending on your preference for whimsy or grit, you can choose between Wind Waker or Twilight Princess.
Or, you could just play both!
There are so many great Zelda games out there and it isn’t too strange to think that each title is somebody’s personal favorite. These are some great Zelda games that, although great, might prove to be a little difficult for first-time players.
You will have likely heard of these games already. But, whether it be due to small grievances people have about the game, their rarity, or the fact that they are very expensive, you may want to look elsewhere.
That being said, if you like the sound of any of the following games, we implore you to check them out. They are still great games in their own right and deserve a playthrough from any avid gamer!
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, as mentioned, is the direct sequel to Ocarina of Time. The traditional Zelda formula is flipped on its head in this entry, as there are only four mainline dungeons plus the final level.
Instead, this game chooses to focus on its sidequests and incentivize players to complete them all for an end-game reward.
Majora’s Mask is an astounding game, but might not be the most friendly for newcomers. The three-day cycle can be burdensome for those still trying to grasp basic Zelda mechanics and, even though you can slow down the flow of time, you may find yourself running out of it sooner than you’d like.
Also, this game is a lot darker than your usual Zelda title. Its dark undertones liken it to other games like Shadow of the Colossus or Undertale which may not be for everyone.
However, if you can get over these small annoyances, Majora’s Mask has perhaps the largest cult following among Zelda fans over any other game in the franchise.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
Link to the Past is the crowning gem of the SNES library. Catapulting the NES concept into a fully realized adventure, Link to the Past set the standard for all future top-down Zelda games.
While Link’s Awakening for the Nintendo Switch might be more accessible for newcomers, those looking for the definitive top-down Zelda experience need look no further than A Link to the Past.
Unfortunately, Link to the Past has yet to receive any kind of modern-day remake. This means that the graphics and modern-day quality of life features are almost nonexistent.
However, if you can get over these small annoyances, A Link to the Past can provide you with an unforgettable experience.
The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks / Minish Cap
When it comes to underrated gems, these two should be first in line for consideration. Now that the classic Zelda console titles have been ported to various handhelds including the 3DS and Nintendo Switch, the original handheld Zelda games seem to have fallen by the wayside.
However, these games are just as great as their mainline peers and offer a uniquely different experience. Game such as Oracle of Ages and Seasons set the bar for games like Spirit Tracks and Minish Cap.
The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks is the follow-up to The Legend of Zelda Phantom Hourglass. There are a lot of things to dislike about Phantom Hourglass from its repetitive gameplay, and annoying difficulty in certain locations (we’re looking at you Temple of the Ocean King).
Spirit Tracks fixes a lot of these mistakes and is a much more enjoyable experience throughout. Plus, if you love Zelda as a character and don’t like seeing her relegated to damsel in distress, she is very in this incarnation and actively lends a helping hand.
The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, on the other hand, is a charming little action-adventure with timelessly charming graphics and unique level design.
The game doesn’t break boundaries when it comes to the Zelda formula, but for a pocket-sized adventure on the god, Minish Cap is far better than it had any right to be.
Getting your hands on either of these games and the hardware might be pretty expensive nowadays, but if you prefer to game on a handheld (and don’t have a modern-day console like a Nintendo Switch or a 3DS), these are both great starter games.