The Legend of Zelda is one of the most beloved franchises in video game history, right next to Super Mario Bros., Pokemon, and Sonic the Hedgehog. For nearly 40 years, fans have enjoyed playing through the vast world and lore of Hyrule with various incarnations of Link, the mute green-clad knight sworn to protect the kingdom and Princess Zelda from the evil of Ganon.
Now that The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is approaching its release date in May, you may be looking play all the games in the series in release order or chronological order. If you’re going down the latter route and don’t know which Zelda game to start with, you’ve come to the right place. Read on for the full timeline.
How To Play The Legend of Zelda Games In Chronological Order
If you’ve been a hardcore Legend of Zelda fan since 1986, you may have noticed that Link appears as a young adult in one game, a child in another, and vice versa. The inconsistency in Link’s age is because Nintendo made the timeline open to interpretation. However, Nintendo released the master timeline in Hyrule Historia in 2011, which starts with Skyward Sword and branches into three different timelines after Ocarina of Time: the Child Timeline, the Adult Timeline, and the Fallen Hero Timeline. The Calamity Timeline, which aptly starts with Age of Calamity, is separate from those timelines because it rendered them a myth.
That being said, here is the list of The Legend of Zelda games in chronological order according to the fictional continuity. Hyrule Warriors is its own separate thing because it was developed by Koei Tecmo, Omega Force, and Team Ninja — the creators of Dynasty Warriors — so we’re excluding the game from the list for that reason.
1. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Skyward Sword takes place thousands of years after the Ancient Battle in the Era of the Goddess Hylia, set on the floating island of Skyloft where knowledge of the surface world below is nonexistent. This game stars the first Link, who forges the Master Sword from the Goddess Sword with the help of Fi as he rescues Zelda from the demon lord Ghirahim in order to revive his master, Demise.
Nearly 10 years after its release as a Wii game, Skyward Sword received an HD remaster for the Nintendo Switch. The remaster has two control schematics: one where the Joy-Cons replicate the motion control maps of the Wiimote and the Nunchuck, and another where the sword can be used with the right analog stick in handheld mode.
Read our review of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD
2. The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap
The Minish Cap is the only canon Zelda title developed by a company other than Nintendo, which is Capcom. Link accompanies Zelda to the Picori Festival to celebrate tiny people who call themselves Minish. It’s here that sorcerer Vaati, the first reincarnation of Demise, seeks the Light Force as he believes it hides the Picori Blade. After Vaati unleashes a horde of monsters from breaking the sword’s seal and turns Zelda to stone in the process, Link sets off to reforge the Picori Blade with the help of Ezlo, the eponymous Minish Cap who has the power to shrink the wearer down to the size of the Minish..
The Minish Cap is a prequel to Four Swords because once the Picori Blade is reforged, it turns into the Four Sword, which seals Vaati inside it. You can currently play the game on Nintendo Switch thanks to the GBA game update.
Read our review of The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap.
3. The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords
Vaati breaks from the seal of the Four Sword and kidnaps Zelda with the intent of making her his bride. After drawing the Four Sword, Link splits into four copies himself — green, red, blue, and purple — and they all have to work together to defeat various foes to get to Vaati, reseal him in the Four Sword, and rescue Zelda.
Fours Swords is the first multiplayer game in the series that was bundled with the 2002 Game Boy Advance version of A Link to the Past. It was later released as a standalone game for DSiWare.
Read our review of The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords.
4. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
After having premonitions of Ganondorf seizing the Triforce, a young Link is gifted the fairy Navi by the Great Deku Tree, who is cursed and dying, and sets them on a quest to stop him. He meets Princess Zelda, who had the same prophetic dreams as Link and they plot together to open the Door of Time to get to the Triforce before Ganondorf does. Unfortunately, when Link attempts to draw the Master Sword from the Pedestal of Time, he gets sealed away for seven years and wakes up to a Hyrule ravaged by Ganondorf. Finally old enough to wield the Master Sword, he accepts his destiny as the Hero of Time, and travels throughout the broken kingdom — and time — to re-assemble the Triforce and defeat Ganondorf.
Here’s where the time split comes in. After Ganondorf is sealed away in the Evil Realm, Zelda uses the Ocarina of Time to send Link back to his own time, but it splits into three branches — the Fallen Hero Timeline, where Ganon defeats Link; the Child Timeline, which follows Link back to his own time; and the Adult Timeline, where Link disappears from Hyrule. The Master Sword exists in the last two timelines; however Link places the sword back in the Pedestal of Time in the former, while Zelda does so in the latter.
Read our review of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time or check out more top N64 games.
1. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
During his months-long search for Navi in this direct sequel to Ocarina of Time, Link runs into the Skull Kid, who wears the titular mask and steals Link’s horse, prompting the hero to chase him into the parallel world of Termina. The mask itself is inhabited by a demon named Majora, and corrupts the Skull Kid to the point where he plots to destroy Termina by bringing down the moon. With only three days to stop the apocalypse, Link uses transformative masks to free the Four Giants from four different regions to help keep the moon from colliding with the earth and defeat Majora.
After saving Termina from getting pummelled by the moon, Link resumes his search for Navi, never to be seen again. He turns into the Hero’s Spirit after his death.
Read our review of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask.
2. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
In Twilight Princess, Link is a ranch hand and a descendant of the Hero’s Spirit. His peaceful life in Ordon Village is shattered by the shadow monsters called Bulbins, who he pursues after they kidnap the children and plunge most of Hyrule into Twilight. When Link enters the Twilight, he transforms into a wolf and teams up with an imp named Midna to go up against Zant, King of the Twilight, who seeks to rule over the realms of light and shadow.
After Link kills Zant with the Fused Shadow, he rescues Princess Zelda from a resurrected Ganondorf at Hyrule Castle and kills him with the Master Sword, which broke Link’s wolf curse after he drew it from the Sacred Grove, where the Temple of Time once stood.
Twilight Princess was the launch title for the Wii and the last first-party release for the Nintendo GameCube in 2006. It was remastered for the Wii U a decade later.
Read our review of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.
3. The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures
Centuries after Ganondorf’s death, Princess Zelda summons Link to the castle to protect her and her shrine maidens after figuring out that the strange occurrences plaguing Hyrule were caused by the weakening of Vaati’s seal. As Zelda works with the maidens to restrengthen the seal, Shadow Link appears and kidnaps them. This forces Link to pull the Four Sword and work his multi-colored clones once more to defeat his evil doppelganger, who turns out to be the minion of Ganon, who wants to plunge most of Hyrule into darkness.
Read our review of The Legend of Zelda: Four Sword Adventures.
1. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
In the first GameCube game of the series, Link is a resident of Outset Island who is not related to the Hero of Time whatsoever. He sets out to rescue his younger sister Aryll, who gets kidnapped by the Helmaroc King per Ganondorf’s command to kidnap young girls with pointed ears in the hopes of capturing Zelda. He gets help from the pirate captain Tetra — an incarnation of Zelda. With the help of her pirate crew and a talking boat called the King of Red Lions to sail the ocean, they explore the islands to gather the powers necessary to defeat Ganondorf.
Nintendo remastered The Wind Waker in HD for the Wii U in 2013 to hold fans over while they wait for a new entry to be developed the same console — which turned out to be Breath of the Wild for the Nintendo Switch — and to give developers room to test what they can do with the new hardware.
Read our review of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.
2. The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass
After the events of The Wind Waker, Link sails with Tetra and her crew when they happen upon the Ghost Ship, one of the ships rumored to disappear in the World of the Ocean King. When Tetra boards the ship in sight, she disappears with it, prompting Link to rescue her only to get thrown overboard and wash up on Mercay Island. There he meets a fairy named Ciela and her grandfather Oshus, who gives Link the Phantom Hourglass to fend off the curse placed on the Temple of the Ocean King by Bellum.
Read our review of The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass.
3. The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks
A century after the events of Phantom Hourglass, Link is a Royal Engineer who goes to the Tower of Spirits with Princess Zelda to investigate the disappearance of the Spirit Tracks. Their train gets derailed by Chancellor Cole, an advisor to Zelda who reveals himself to be a demon on a mission to revive Malladus, the Demon King sealed underground long ago by the Lokomo people. Cole casts a spell that separates Zelda’s soul from her body in order to use her body as a vessel for Malladus, fragmenting the Tower of Spirits, while her soul stays with Link as they work to put it back in its rightful place.
Read our review of The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks.
Fallen Hero Timeline
1. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
Link heeds a telepathic call from Princess Zelda to come to Hyrule Castle to save her from her imprisonment by the dark wizard Agahnim that used his powers to brainwash Hyrule’s soldiers, depose the king, and banished six maidens to the Dark World in order to break the seal on Ganon and rule both the Light and Dark Worlds. Link’s uncle also heeds the call, but dies in the dungeon — but not before telling Link he’s the heir to the Knights of Hyrule. Link learns that in order to defeat Agahnim, he’ll have to collect the three Pendants of Virtue from dungeons across Hyrule and then get the Master Sword from the Lost Woods.
During Link’s travels to the Dark World via the Magic Mirror to rescue the maidens he discovers Agahnim to be Ganon’s alter ego and fights Ganon in the Pyramid of Power.
Read our review of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.
2. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
On his way back to Hyrule following his training to prep for new disasters that would threaten the kingdom, Link gets caught in a storm in the middle of the ocean and ends up shipwrecked on the island of Koholint, where a giant egg sits on the peak of Mt. Tamaranch. He is rescued by Marin, a young woman who strongly resembles Princess Zelda despite the game not featuring her in any capacity, and learns that in order to leave the island, he’ll have to collect eight Instruments of the Sirens and wake the Wind Fish who sleeps in the egg.
Link’s Awakening received a 3D remake for the Nintendo Switch in 2019, which saw Link upgraded to a chibi design.
Read our review of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening.
3. The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons
The Triforce calls Link to Holodrum, where he witnesses a dancer named Din, the titular Oracle of Seasons, get kidnapped by Onox, the General of Darkness. This event throws the seasons of the land into disarray. To restore the balance of the seasons, Link has to collect the eight Essences of Nature and use the Rod of Seasons to manipulate the seasons everywhere he goes. After rescuing Din, he gets transported to Labrynna, where Oracle of Ages takes place.
Read our review of The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons.
4. The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages
As in Oracle of Seasons, the Triforce beckons Link to Labrynna, where the singer Nayru is possessed by Veran the Sorceress of Shadows, disrupting the flow of time. Link uses the Harp of Ages to travel between past and present to collect the eight Essences of Time and fight Veran atop the Black Tower.
Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons have an ending that is linked with a password, so if one game is played as a sequel to the other, Twinrova captures Princess Zelda and lights the Flame of Despair. Link defeats Twinrova and a poorly revived Ganon and frees Zelda, leaving Labrynna by boat.
Read our review of The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages.
5. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
In this game, Link, an apprentice to a blacksmith, encounters Yuga, who has been turning people throughout Hyrule into paintings, including the Seven Sages and Princess Zelda. Using a magic bracelet given to him by a mysterious peddler, Link travels to Lorule to stop Yuga’s ambitions to consume Hyrule and Lorule with Ganon at his side.
A Link Between Worlds is famous for its dual gameplay, as Link becomes a two-dimensional painting himself while traveling through the walls of Lorule and turns back into his three-dimensional self when he returns to Hyrule.
Read our review of The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds.
6. The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes
Tri Force Heroes is set in the kingdom of Hytopia, where Princess Styla is known for her beauty and impeccable taste in fashion. Unfortunately, the witch Lady Maud cursed Styla with a brown jumpsuit that she cannot take off at all, so Link joins two doppelgangers to gather the pieces of the Lady’s Ensemble and cure Styla of her fashion disaster.
Tri Force Heroes is the first game in the series to support online multiplayer. The controls are the same as Four Swords, even though there’s one less Link in the group.
Read our review of The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes.
7. The Legend of Zelda
Ganon is revived to lead his army to attack Hyrule, steal the Triforce of Power, and kidnap Princess Zelda. But before she was taken and subsequently imprisoned, Zelda splits the Triforce of Wisdom into eight pieces and scatters them throughout the kingdom to keep it from falling into Ganon’s hands, leading her nursemaid Impa to find Link. After learning of Ganon’s invasion, the hero finds the eight pieces of the Triforce of Wisdom, defeats him, and rescues Zelda.
Read our review of The Legend of Zelda.
8. Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link
Six years later after Ganon’s death, while helping to restore Hyrule, Link receives a glowing Triforce mark on his left hand on his 16th birthday. The mark opens the door to the altar where Princess Zelda I is under a sleeping curse, and Link learns the she’ll only be awakened with the Triforce of Courage, which is kept in the Great Palace. So Link sets out to deposit six crystals in the palaces around Hyrule, defeat six guardians, and beat any of Ganon’s minions trying to get his blood to revive him.
Read our review of Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link.
The Calamity Timeline
1. Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity
Set 100 years before the events of Breath of the Wild, Link and Princess Zelda round up their allies to defend Hyrule against Calamity Ganon, who is attempting to revive himself and destroy the kingdom with his Malice. When a mysterious Guardian comes from the future bearing evidence of their failure, they expedite their efforts to team up with four champions of Hyrule’s other races to strengthen their forces and find the Master Sword in the Korok Forest to change the outcome of their battle.
Unable to defeat Calamity Ganon, even after the Divine Beasts have weakened him, Zelda seals herself and him away in Hyrule Castle, and sends Link to sleep at the Shrine of Resurrection for 100 years to heal his fatal wounds.
Read our review of Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity.
2. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
A century has passed, and Link awakens from his restorative slumber without his memories. Meanwhile, Zelda’s awakening powers have weakened, Calamity Ganon has grown stronger, and Hyrule has been completely destroyed by the Great Calamity. Link travels all over Hyrule to regain his memories, free the Divine Beasts of the Blight Ganons, and confront Ganon once more.
Breath of the Wild is still widely praised as one of the best open-world games, with a style that has inspired games outside the series like Immortals Fenyx Rising, Genshin Impact, and Sonic Frontiers.
Read our review of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
How To Play The Legend of Zelda Games By Release Date
If you want to play The Legend of Zelda games in the order in which they were released instead of switching between the modern games and the classic ones, here are all the mainline games by U.S. release date.
- The Legend of Zelda – August 22, 1987 – NES
- Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link – December 1, 1988 – NES
- The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past – April 13, 1992 – SNES
- The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening – August 6, 1993 – Game Boy
- The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time – November 21, 1998 – N64
- The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask – October 26, 2000 – N64
- The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages – May 13, 2001 – Game Boy Color
- The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords – December 2, 2002 – Game Boy Advance
- The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker – March 24, 2003 – GameCube
- The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures – June 7, 2004 – GameCube
- The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap – January 10, 2005 – Game Boy Advance
- The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess – November 19, 2006 (Wii) / December 11, 2006 (GameCube)
- The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass – October 1, 2007 – Nintendo DS
- The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks – December 7, 2009 – Nintendo DS
- The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D – June 19, 2011 – Nintendo 3DS
- The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword – November 20, 2011 – Wii
- The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD – September 20, 2013 – Wii U
- The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D – February 13, 2015 – Nintendo 3DS
- The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes – October 23, 2015 – Nintendo 3DS
- The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD – March 4, 2016 – Wii U
- The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – March 3, 2017 – Nintendo Switch
- The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (2019) – September 20, 2019 – Nintendo Switch
- The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD – July 16, 2021 – Nintendo Switch
- The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom – May 12, 2023 – Nintendo Switch