What is the best Zelda game of all time? Instead of opinions, we used sales statistics for objective answers.
I wanted to make an Every Zelda Game, Ranked article. But that wouldn’t really be fair because there are still a handful of Zelda games I haven’t played yet. (Don’t worry, I’m working on that.) Anyway, it’s not fair to a franchise to rely solely on the opinion of a single writer, and especially one so obsessed with Zelda II. So I asked myself:
What is the best-selling Zelda game of all time?
As of this writing, Breath of the Wild has sold over 19 million units and is still one of Nintendo’s top sellers. And the game in second place isn’t even close! I hope I’m not spoiling the article, but you should already know this. You really don’t remember every gaming publication raving about the numbers?
And if this was all the info you wanted from the list, you may as well move on to my Breath of the Wild 2 Demands article. We’ll pick apart the existing BotW 2 trailer as well as confirmed rumors from Nintendo insiders. Check it out.
Otherwise, if you want to see how your favorite Zelda game ranks against the others in this list, read on. There may be a few surprises.
A few more things bear mentioning before we get into the list.
- The data I’m using came from VGSales. It doesn’t jive with every other bit of info I’ve found, but they cite their sources and most of them come from Nintendo’s official pages. So it seems relatively trustworthy.
- If these counts aren’t 100% accurate, you’ll be okay. These are just estimates and don’t include things like mini console sales, compilations and stuff like that. Still, the numbers should be accurate to within a few hundred thousand, and the numbers we’re dealing with here are big enough that the margin of error wouldn’t make much difference in the rankings.
- I used my best judgment to separate different releases of the same game, such as with The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening on the GB and Switch. Of course, there was also the DX release, which would be under the GB sales. And the Wii U and Switch versions of BotW were available concurrently and are essentially identical, so I kept them together.
- Finally, these are worldwide sales, not US sales or otherwise by region.
Other than a few places like that where I had to combine or adjust some numbers, these are the most accurate counts I could come up with.
So please chill out, enjoy my little post and let me know what you think!
Four Swords Adventures – 810,000 units sold
The worst-selling Zelda game in the entire franchise is The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures. Despite the multiplayer gimmick, this is considered an official mainline release. Although to me (and maybe a few others) it seems more like a side-project game; something to calm the fans in between major releases like Cadence of Hyrule and Triforce Heroes.
Four Swords Adventures came out in 2004, the same year as Minish Cap, and in the middle of an almost-four-year gap between The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess. Most likely Nintendo wanted to give fans a home console release (GameCube) as well as a handheld one in order to reassure us that we definitely needed to keep buying consoles. In the case of Four Swords, however, it possibly didn’t work.
Minish Cap – 1.76 million
As mentioned in the Four Swords Adventures entry, The Legend of Zelda: Minish Cap shared a release year with Four Swords. Due to this, marketing and fan attention were split between the two releases and surely contributed to the tepid enthusiasm of both.
Minish Cap is also an unusual entry in that it was created by Capcom, rather than a Nintendo in-house development team. There’s a little more nuance to the story than that, but it’s beyond the scope of this post. Suffice to say that Nintendo oversaw Capcom, who outsourced development to Flagship, the dev that helped create the Four Swords Game Boy game and Oracle games, some Kirby and Resident Evil games, too.
While it certainly has a unique look and feel compared to other mainline Zelda games, Minish Cap is a lot of fun and despite its poor sales, is worth a playthrough.
Spirit Tracks – 2.96 million
Nintendo’s follow-up to Phantom Hourglass probably sold poorly because… well, because it was the follow-up to Phantom Hourglass. You know what they say: fool me once, shame on you. Or whatever.
Point being: Legend of Zelda fans were not excited to revisit the format of Phantom Hourglass. And like so many other Zelda fans, I have yet to bother with this entry.
Skyward Sword – 3.67 million
Link and Zelda’s only Wii exclusive release was met with great reviews by most every publication. If sales lagged, it was due to hardware purchase requirements. Fans had similar complaints when Majora’s Mask required the N64 Expansion Pack. It makes sense, though. If Nintendo needs to sell something, make it required for a Mario or Zelda game and fans will buy it.
Additionally, there were mixed feelings about the use of the nunchuck controller and a general frustration that Nintendo was trying to be cute and showcase motion technology when really fans just wanted a solid, classic Zelda experience.
Still, three and a half million copies sold is nothing to scoff at. Especially considering that every game sale required a corresponding hardware sale. Well played, Nintendo.
Link’s Awakening (Game Boy) – 3.83 million
Close to 4 million units feels a little low for what a big deal this game was. Link’s Awakening was the game that finally made me demand that Santa Claus bring me a Game Boy.
In a lot of ways, Link’s Awakening was a side-quest to A Link to the Past. It used the same top-down format, the same graphical style, similar music. And the story itself was… nothing more than a dream, right?
Regardless of sales, Link’s Awakening was a heavyweight title for the game Boy, loved almost universally by Zelda fans, and would enjoy a DX version and a major Nintendo Switch remake.
Oracle of Seasons & Oracle of Ages – 3.99 million
I would rather have split these up as I did Phantom Tracks and Spirit Hourglass (or whatever). But the data I’m using lumps them together, so I guess we have to deal with it. Taken on their own, these entries would surely be far lower on this list, putting Skyward Sword considerably closer to the top.
These were very late entries to the Game Boy Color, coming nearly a decade after the original LInk’s Awakening.
To me, these games seem almost like an afterthought. Indeed, they were developed Capcom/Flagship, as if Nintendo had better things to do. (Like release the Gamecube.) But they were cool because you could link the two games together and unlock extra content, or play either one by itself. I guess you could think of these as serial release of a single Legend of Zelda game.
A Link Between Worlds – 4.07 million
Regarded by some (me) as the penultimate, “one true follow-up” to A Link to the Past, A Link Between Worlds was very well received. It brought players back to a familiar Hyrule, did away with gimmicky swipe-based controls and finally offered a “traditional” overhead Zelda adventure with “normal” controls.
That it was in 3D, apparently, was all the gimmick Nintendo needed to make this a unique offering in the Zelda library. Or maybe they just figured they owed it to their fans to quick fooling around with gimmicky gameplay and just give us a solid experience.
If you haven’t played ALBW, you owe it to yourself to do so. It may be the best game for the Nintendo 3DS.
Link’s Awakening (Switch) – 4.38 million
In case you missed it on the Game Boy, you can pick up this graphically-updated version on the Nintendo Switch.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I was fairly disappointed when Link’s Awakening came to the Switch. Maybe my expectations were too high… but I mean, we’re talking about Nintendo’s greatest franchise. Expectations ought to be high!
And it’s not that this game didn’t deliver a faithful port. It’s just that it was a little too faithful! The introduction of Dampe’s dungeon builder was not enough to draw me into this. I’ve played Link’s Awakening many times and beyond the (very cool) doll graphics, this game had nothing new to offer.
But if you’re new to Link’s Awakening, these are dumb complaints. It’s a great game. Please enjoy it along with the other 4 million-plus Link’s Awakening owners.
Zelda II: The Adventure of Link – 4.52 million
Originally released for the Famicom Disk System, this was big in Japan before we even got the original Legend of Zelda here in North America. Even though it was radically different from its predecessor (and from every other Legend of Zelda game so far), it sold very well and spent years on the Nintendo Power Ratings charts.
This is one of my personal favorite Zelda games, and one of my all-time favorite games period. Bringing Link into a side-scrolling world was a daring move, and one that hardware constraints limited a bit more than Miyamoto had wanted. Still, the cartridge version of this game was much more playable than its disk-based cousin in Japan thanks to decreased load times.
Fans today claim they were disappointed by the new format, as they were all expecting another top-down adventure. But the sales numbers, contemporary game reviews, and my own memory, tell a different story. Surprised by the new side-scrolling action or not, this game did extremely well for its time, and it holds up brilliantly today.
Wanna fight me? Go check out my soap-box article Why Fans Hate Zelda II and Why They are Dead Wrong.
Phantom Hourglass – 4.76 million
Wow, this one sold pretty well. Surprising, considering that the movement and combat are both swipe-based, requiring constant touching of the screen with the stylus to make Link move around.
There were a few gimmicks where this really shined, such as with tracing the path of Link’s boomerang. But overall, I think most fans would have preferred (as they would have with Skyward Sword) a standard, classic Zelda game.
The biggest sin of all was the time-based dungeon puzzles and the necessity of retreading certain areas and facing invincible enemies. I’m not great at puzzle games, and I get very frustrated when I have to face a segment repeatedly. So despite the actual cool developments in this game, I had to put it down.
Majora’s Mask – 6.36 million
It’s strange how the worst Legend of Zelda game of all time was also one of the best-selling. Even despite the fact that it required additional hardware to run. And despite the fact that it requires constant replaying due to the countdown clock.
As someone who doesn’t like repeating parts of a game, this one drove me insane. Running around, talking to people, scheduling events to progress the story, yadda yadda yah. It doesn’t feel like a Zelda game at all. It doesn’t feel like a game at all. It feels like I’m standing in as Link’s administrative assistant.
I tried this on the N64 shortly after its release. I couldn’t make myself sit down long enough to play it. I was bored out of my mind! At the urging of some of my Twitter followers (come hang out!), I decided to try it again on the 3DS. This time I made it a little further, but after the fifteen-thousdanth time the moon destroyed my session and made me go back, I gave up. There are too many good games to play to waste time on this.
Kudos to you if you have the attention span to sit down and play this game all the way through. You’re a greater warrior than I.
In truth, I think the only reason this game did so well is that had the advantage of following Ocarina of Time, which by most accounts was an excellent game and created a tidal wave of momentum for the franchise. The N64 and Ocarina of Time attracted a whole new generation of Zelda fans.
If not for the fortune of following an extremely successful entry, on a console that was hurting for decent games, I believe Majora’s Mask would be relegated to the dregs of this list. Ptoo!
The Wind Waker – 6.71 million
I may have lived in an alternate universe, because I swear I remember Legend of Zelda fans bashing this game a few years ago. Maybe I’m mistaken. Seems like a lot of people were upset about the choice to go with cel-shading as a means of illustrating this adventure. They complained it felt too childish for a Zelda game. Hopefully the release of the very grown-up looking Twilight Princess made them feel better.
Whatever the case, The Wind Waker sold very well, with close to 7 million units sold worldwide.
The Legend of Zelda (The original) – 6.73 million
The one that started it all. The Legend of Zelda!
The original Legend of Zelda broke onto the scene and changed everything. In my own writing, I point out (too much, maybe) that this game was very far from perfect. But for its time, it really was an achievement. The sprawling overworld (both versions of it) gave players a taste of a truly grand adventure.
Hardware at the time was still relatively primitive, but Zelda made great use of what was there. With brightly colored enemies, intuitive controls, and varied environments, a great franchise was born. The addition of battery backup made the experience even more personal.
As the template for the whole franchise, it’s appropriate that this one would have been one of the best-selling Zelda games of all time.
I’m not crying, you’re crying.
A Link to the Past – 7.43 million
A bit surprising that the greatest video game of all time is not the greatest selling game of all time. But 7 and a half million units sold isn’t too shabby.
Listen! The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is almost universally loved. The only people that don’t love it are the people that only love to hate. And they’re dumb. This game is a masterpiece. NEXT!
Twilight Princess – 9.96 million
I was shocked to learn that Twilight Princess had nearly ten million units sold! This number may only be so large because it includes the combined total of Wii, Wii U, and Gamecube sales.
But besides this being released three times, it may also have been the more mature Zelda game fans were been clamoring for? The antidote to the Disney-cartoon aesthetics of Wind Waker, with an actual T-for-Teen rating from the ESRB.
The graphics in Twilight Princess were surely more mature, more fully implementing the technology of the time, rather than opting for the super-cartoony style more recent Zelda games had been using.
Personally, I couldn’t get into this one. But now that I see how incredibly popular it was, I may just have to give it another shot.
Ocarina of Time – 13.22 million
Was Ocarina of Time popular? Well, if every copy sold for retail $59.99, and every US dollar this game earned was lined up end-to-end, the money trail would wrap around the earth two and a half times. So… yeah. I’d say it was pretty popular.
Why did Ocarina of Time sell so well? Think about it: Nintendo captured a generation of fans with the original The Legend of Zelda on Famicom and NES, then captured a whole new crop with A Link to the Past. So when Ocarina finally hit, fully three generations of Zelda fans needed this thing!
Besides, who could deny that the ads and previews of Ocarina made it look amazing! A true accomplishment on the new 3D technology. Fans were foaming at the mouth.
I was one of them. It took two Christmases to get that N64 and Ocarina of Time under my tree, but once it arrived, it was awesome.
Fans debate whether Zelda games should be top-down or 3D, but when this came out, everything was going 3D and gamers were eating it up! Never mind the graphics are so foggy you can’t see what you’re swinging at. Never mind the Lost Forest is one of the most annoying areas in any Zelda game (still is, ackchually). We were all-in on 3D graphics, and 3D Zelda was going into our brains.
Overall, Ocarina of Time checks all the boxes for Zelda fans (at the time), being a “traditional” Zelda game with no gimmicks, no add-on gadgets or any of that stuff. Sure, they used 3D graphics, but that’s still technically a top-down view (as opposed to some weird side-scrolling.) It was a major release on a home console. This game had everything fans wanted, and made the best use of the N64’s graphical capabilities. (For its time)
Again, fans can debate whether this entry holds up today or not. Personally I haven’t had any success replaying this one, but the numbers don’t lie. Ocarina of Time was the record-setting, top-selling Zelda game for close to twenty years!
Breath of the Wild – 19.08 million
Nobody is surprised here. And that’s only party true because I spoiled it at the beginning of the article.
The Switch became the highest-selling Nintendo home console of all time within a few years. Certainly part of the Switch’s success was tied to Nintendo’s choice to make The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild their only first-party launch game.
And what a game it is! While still not perfect, this is much closer to the “mature” Zelda that fans have been looking for. While the cel-shaded graphics still give a fantasy quality to the game’s aesthetic, the feel and attitude of the game and its world, as well as the unforgiving, no-hands-held gameplay make it clear that this is a Zelda game for grown ups. …Finally.
But in true Nintendo fashion, there’s still plenty of gameplay here for younger players. It’s fairly easy to pick up and play, and it’s fun just to explore Hyrule’s open world in a way that we never could before.
My personal (Ghetto) opinion is that a smaller game world with more stuff in it would have been better. Truly, I have a handful of serious grievances with this game, but I still played it fifty or so hours to see the adventure through to the end. And despite all my petty complaints, this really is a great game.
Breath of the Wild 2 – 10 gazillion copies sold!!
Just kidding. But who knows what the future of the Zelda franchise holds? Well, actually a few people do. And they aren’t talking. But a little while ago I wrote a pretty robust roundup about what could be in store in the next Zelda game as well as what has already been confirmed. Might as well check it out, huh?