How to play the Zelda games in order, by story timeline or release
Want to play the Zelda games in order? You'd better clear your schedule.
There is a lot of Zelda chatter doing the rounds right now, with the long-awaited and much-hyped The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2 being the topic of much discussion.
And while we're obsessing over the new Zelda game, many of us may want to check out some of the older ones, of which there are a great many.
If you do decide to trek through Zelda history, you will find that there are loads of games to get through, and the easiest way to do it is to play them in release order. But what if you want to experience the story in chronological order? Well, that is where things get a lot more complicated.
But we've given explaining it all a go and you will find both ways to play all the main Zelda games detailed out for you below!
How to play the Zelda games in release order
As with most long-running franchises, the order to play can become a bit jumbled if you want to play them in story order. But if you want to experience the main entries in the Zelda series like everyone else did, in the order of release, here is how to do it:
- The Legend of Zelda (1986)
- Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (1987)
- The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (1991)
- The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (1993)
- The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998)
- The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (2000)
- The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages (2001)
- The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (2002)
- The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures (2004)
- The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap (2004)
- The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (2006)
- The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (2007)
- The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks (2009)
- The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (2011)
- The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (2013)
- The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes (2015)
- The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (2017)
- The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom (2023)
It's worth noting that Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity (2020), Cadence of Hyrule (2019) and numerous other titles are considered spinoffs rather than core entires, which is why we've left them off this list. You can normally spot a spinoff by the fact that Nintendo isn't the only developer that worked on it.
Read more on Tears of the Kingdom:
- Zelda Tears of the Kingdom Shrines - key locations
- Zelda Tears of the Kingdom Skyview Tower locations - fill in the map
- Zelda Tears of the Kingdom Master Sword - how to get it back
- Zelda Tears of the Kingdom Hylian Shield - where to find it
- Zelda Tears of the Kingdom Green Tunic - get the look
- Zelda Tears of the Kingdom Paraglider - location revealed
- Zelda Tears of the Kingdom Geoglyph locations - memories found
- Zelda Tears of the Kingdom Korok Seed locations - seeds unearthed
- Zelda Tears of the Kingdom Great Fairy Fountain locations
- Zelda Tears of the Kingdom Lynel locations - they're back
- Zelda Tears of the Kingdom Dungeons - key details
- How long is Zelda Tears of the Kingdom? Hours needed
- Zelda Tears of the Kingdom review - our final verdict
- Zelda Tears of the Kingdom cast - voice actors revealed
- Zelda Tears of the Kingdom OLED Switch - custom console
- Zelda Netflix series - rumours explained
How to play the Zelda games in chronological order
Let's be honest, following a narrative with the Zelda games is by no means straightforward and there are many different variations of what people think to be the go-to order for experiencing the lengthy saga.
It gets complicated thanks to the three, at least, different timelines that the games exist in the games. And because of that, there is no definitive order that you can play them in that everyone will agree on.
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The main timelines that you need to know about the Child, Adult and Fallen Hero timelines, which we'll try to explain below. There are also some games which come before the split into different timelines, which here we've decided to call the Prequel Timeline just so we have something to call it.
So, with that in mind, this is just our preferred way of working through the games if you want the story to flow the best it can. This order starts with Skyward Sword, and it will end by nicely teeing you up for BotW 2. Take a look below for our recommended order:
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Prequel Timeline)
Platform: Wii/Wii U
While things get confusing quite quickly with the Zelda timeline, one of the things that we can all agree on is that Skyward Sword is the entry point for the overall narrative - going way further back than any other core game in the franchise has done.
So many key parts of the franchise are established here - so much so that we don't think any future game in the main series will ever go as far back as this one did. It would be fun to be proven wrong on that, though!
The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap (Prequel Timeline)
Platform: Game Boy Advance
Slotting into the original Zelda timeline between Skyward Sword and Four Swords, The Minish Cap is relatively unique due to the fact that it shrinks Link down to the size of a bug so he can interact with a race of little people called the Minish.
If you only want to play the more famous games, you could skip this one, but you'd be missing out if you did - the reviews were very strong for The Minish Cap, so we'd recommend giving it a go if you haven't already.
The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords (Prequel Timeline)
Platform: Game Boy Advance (bundled with A Link To The Past)
You could easily pair up this little multiplayer experience with The Minish Cap, as there are a lot of similarities between the two regarding where they place in the overall Zelda mythos - before most of the famous and modern games, basically!
In terms of story, there is apparently quite a few years between The Minish Cap and Four Swords. But since there isn't a game that fills that gap, you don't need to worry too much about it.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Child and Adult timelines)
We mentioned the different timelines that Zelda has, didn't we? It is here, with the Nintendo 64's Ocarina of Time, that the split first occurs - this game is set in both the Child and Adult timelines, so this is where it starts to get confusing.
The long-running feud with Ganondorf kicks off here, too. And as for what causes the timeline to split, well, that would be Princess Zelda sending Link back in time, a move which in turn forever changed Zelda history.
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (Child Timeline)
It is generally thought that after Link was sent hurtling back through time, he decided to leave Hyrule for a bit. And it is during that time away that he gets caught up in a time loop that keeps repeating the same three days over and over again.
He does return home, at the end of the game, where he joins the Hylian army. This game continues the Child timeline, and is remembered by many for its creepy moon.
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Child Timeline)
Sticking with the Child timeline now, this one adds more confusion to its placement in the timeline, because we actually have two versions of Link on our hands - as if things were not confusing enough!
We also see the end of Ganondorf here, but it doesn't really stick - he is killed in this title, but he soon shows up again in a reincarnated form in the next game.
The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures (Child Timeline)
Onto the last game in the Child timeline, now. Ganondorf returns in Four Sword Adventures, a sequel to the aforementioned GBA game, which wraps up the Four Swords arc. But it still remains a game that is hotly debated as to where it should be placed.
Originally, many thought it was connected to Link to the Past, but the Child timeline reveal changed all that. Vaati is also killed off in this one, so it's worth checking out if you haven't already!
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (Adult Timeline)
Welcome to the Adult timeline! Centuries have passed since Link was sent back in time in Ocarina, and without anyone to protect the world, Ganon was able to do some pretty hefty damage.
To counter that, the goddesses decided to flood, and then sink, Hyrule - the iconic location became locked in the depths of the ocean. As far as Zelda goes in terms of pure storytelling, this is one of the best chapters the series has given us.
Wind Waker introduces a new Link, who has grown up hearing tales of the legendary Link of old (the one who was sent back in time in Ocarina). The new Link comes of age in this game and becomes the protagonist of the series for a time.
The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (Adult Timeline)
Link and Tetra set off to find a brand new kingdom at the end of the last game, and in Phantom Hourglass, the pair are unfortunately shipwrecked and then trouble ensues - as it inevitably does.
This is a strange one, really, as it is more of a mini-game than a full entry in the franchise. No major impact is made on the timeline and most of it takes place in a dream. One to skip if you don't want to play everything!
The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks (Adult Timeline)
Platform: DS/Wii U
New Hyrule is the setting for this game, which is also part of the Adult timeline, even though it takes place about 100 years after the events of the previous game. It is also the first to give us a playable Zelda!
Cole is the main villain here, sort of, having been possessed by a resurrected Ganon (he has a habit of doing that). This is definitely one to play as it brings the Adult timeline to a close.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (Fallen Hero Timeline)
Now we are out of the Adult timeline, let's move on to another - this game kicks off what fans like to call the Fallen Hero Timeline! We jump into this timeline years after Link was defeated by Ganondorf (in what is believed to be an unseen alternate ending to Ocarina of Time - simples).
Obviously, this is an older game in terms of release date, and it has been shunted further and further down the timeline as the many prequels have come out since 1991. This one features a notable moment where Link touches the Tristone and undoes a lot of the damage done in the world so far by Ganon.
The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages (Fallen Hero Timeline)
Platform: Game Boy Color
This is another game that can be debated about where it fits, thanks to a small bit of dialogue that caused some confusion, but most can agree that it follows on from A Link to the Past in one way or another.
We know that the Link in this game has already Tristone and that is one of the biggest clues. Plus, he has definitely already defeated Ganon once - maybe even more than that!
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Fallen Hero Timeline)
Released: 1993 / remade in 2019
Platform: Game Boy / Nintendo Switch
Originally intended as a direct sequel to A Link to the Past, Nintendo has caused some confusion by saying this game could take place with any version of Link that has defeated Ganon - so you can really take your pick of a few places with this one.
But the story and overall narrative do take a bit of a backseat in this one, something that was welcomed by some, so it is a fun game to play regardless of when you get to it.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (Fallen Hero Timeline)
This is yet another interesting one! You get a lot of lore in this game but it actually pulls from various games from various timelines which again, makes it one that could be shuffled about a bit if you wanted to.
That being said, it does very much feel like a game that belongs in the Fallen timeline and the name of the game itself suggests that it is, at least in some ways, a bit of a hybrid.
The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes (Fallen Hero Timeline)
This is another game that you can quite easily skip without missing anything crucial to the complex world-building we have had in the Zelda franchise. It is a game that has not really had much love from the fans - so much so that there are many that don't count it as a main Zelda game at all.
Play it here if you like, as it is technically part of the Fallen timeline, but letting this one pass you by is no bad thing.
The Legend of Zelda (Fallen Hero Timeline)
We do find it quite amusing that the first game in the series - The Legend of Zelda, released way back in 1986 - is one of the more recent games in the series chronology.
Also known as The Hyrule Fantasy, this game features Link on the hunt for the Triforce after Hyrule has been decimated and only monsters are left to walk the land. You can play this one, alongside Zelda II: The Adventure of Link as part of Nintendo Switch Online.
Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (Fallen Hero Timeline)
While it was only released one year later than the first, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link actually takes place three years after the events of that game and is a direct sequel to it - so an easy one to place on the timeline.
What is notable here is that some think this is the furthest ahead in time the series has gone and there are arguments to be made for that. We've gone with the notion that Breath of the Wild takes place thousands of years after it - and not just because playing BOTW after this is about as strikingly different as you can get in every way.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Fallen Hero Timeline?)
Platform: Wii U/Nintendo Switch
The recent-ish relaunch of the franchise has also been heralded as one of the greatest games of all time - a title that it fully deserves. As for its placement in the timeline, that is still up for debate. There are clues that point toward it being part of the Fallen Hero timeline - Ganon being very much alive is one of them - but the jury is still out.
Whether you think BotW is in the Fallen Hero Timeline or not, the main thing to know is that it takes place more than 10,000 years after Ganon's previous defeat. This means that you don't really need to know the specifics of the previous games. Instead, BotW tells you what it wants you to know.
Incidentally, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is said to take place just prior to BotW, so while we have not included it in the list (because it's not a fully-fledged entry in the franchise), just before you start this one is a good time to play it.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom (Fallen Hero Timeline?)
Release date: 2023
Platform: Nintendo Switch
This brings us to the next game to come in the franchise. The sequel to Breath of the Wild will follow on from the previous game, it would be strange if it didn't, picking up with Link and Zelda some time after their previous adventure. The game has something of a cold open, thrusting our heroes into a new scenario straight off the bat.
Interestingly, the game also uses flashbacks and memories to tell a few tales about the ancient history of Hyrule. We won't spoil the surprises here, but we think players who've stuck with the series for years will enjoy this history lesson aspect.