It’s no secret that Link has had a variety of unique looks throughout the years. Sometimes he’s a little blonde kid with 90s hair, sometimes he’s a cartoonish stump of a person with cute, miniaturized weapons, and sometimes he’s a gallant warrior with flowing blonde locks and smoldering eyes.
If you haven’t been keeping up with Zelda games, it might be easy to get the impression that Link’s look just changes with the times, kind of like James Bond or Lara Croft. But in reality, there’s a deliberate reason for Link’s various appearances — they’re all different people!
Indeed, almost every Zelda game features a different Link, and even though he’s not much of a talker, every single iteration of our green-clad hero has his own unique charm. While we could just say that every Link is valuable in his own way, that’s boring, so instead we’re going to shamelessly compare them and pick the best one.
In this list, we’ll be ranking each Link according to the sum of all their parts. Visual design, personality, and achievements all play into our decisions. We have also left out the “minor” Links that are derivative of previously existing ones.
7 – The Hero of Hyrule
Appears in: The Legend of Zelda, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
Look, the OG Link is legendary, and we can’t disrespect that. This is the dude that coined Link’s iconic look that was carried for decades until BotW Link had to ruin it with his blue duds. This is the Link that defeated Ganon first, despite what Hyrule Historia will tell you about the timeline. Without this Link, all these other Links wouldn’t have existed. That certainly means something.
But, truth be told, this Link is just kind of boring compared to the others. He doesn’t have much of a character, originating in ye ol’ NES days, and his design, despite being the genesis of the iconic green tunic look, just looks a little bit dorky compared to his successors.
That being said, OG Link has a pretty good resume. In his games, he defeated Ganon, and a particularly nasty version of Dark Link. OG Link also has the distinction of being the Link that clears the hardest game in the series – Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. For all we know, he could maybe beat up all the other chumps on this list.
6 – The Hero of the Goddess
Appears in: Skyward Sword
Skyward Sword Link is likely to have a lot of fans, but he’s on the lower end of the Link tier list for a few reasons. First of all, cool factor. SS Link has a pretty good design, but it’s mostly copied from Twilight Princess Link. Bushier hair, baggier pants, and a different dominant hand are the main visual differences between him and his predecessor, and it’s a bummer we didn’t get a more original design in Skyward Sword. In fact, his design was so unremarkable that he got skipped in Smash Brothers 3DS/Wii U. Ouch!
This Link, while expressive, never shows a lot of character beyond just being a good dude. He’s heroic, he’s brave, he’s there for Zelda, and he’ll put up a good fight — all good boxes to check off on the “heroic good guy” checklist. He’s charming, and he’s made more interesting by the fact that he’s the only Link with a love interest, but nothing about his character ever sticks out as being unique in the Zelda universe. He saves the world, gets the girl, and gets arguably the happiest ending of any of the Links. What a guy!
In the Zelda lore, Skyward Sword Link is the first one of them all, and his victory with Zelda over the demon king Demise begins a recurring cycle of reincarnation that continues throughout the rest of the games. That is definitely a pretty badass entry for SS Link’s resume, but overall, this dude is just lacking in any qualities that make him noticeably more exciting than his counterparts.
5 – The Hero of Legend
Appears in: A Link to the Past, Link’s Awakening, Oracle of Ages, Oracle of Seasons
It’s kind of hard for the 2D Links to stand up to the 3D ones. Their retro designs aren’t as appealing to most people, and they didn’t have a whole lot of character due to the era in which they were created. Nonetheless, LttP Link is an absolute boss, and we’d be doing him a disservice if he wasn’t at least in the top five.
LttP Link may not be very expressive, but he has by far the most impressive list of achievements. He not only took Ganon to school in LttP, traversing both light and dark worlds to bring him down, but he’s also one of the only Links who touched the completed Triforce. But he wasn’t finished, not by a longshot. This Link would proceed to save not one, but two more worlds, bending the laws of nature and time in the Oracle games. Finally, he ended his career with a symbolic inner journey in Link’s Awakening, where he saved yet another world. Or destroyed it? It was all a dream, or something, so we’re not entirely sure. But hey, it was pretty cool.
We don’t know what happened to this Link in the canon, since he was last seen floating atop wreckage in the middle of the ocean. But we can only assume that he got out and continued to be, as we mentioned before, a straight-up boss.
4 – The Hero of Twilight
Appears in: Twilight Princess
Twilight Princess Link definitely has some accolades. First off, he was responsible for one of the hypest moments in gaming history, when Twilight Princess’s first teaser was unveiled at E3 2004. For those who weren’t there or old enough to remember the announcement, it was historic. This is a trailer that made grown men cry. This trailer showed a badass adult Link who was wearing armor under his tunic. Armor! Bona-fide chainmail! With many people worried that the Zelda series would forever be kiddy after Wind Waker, that first Twilight Princess trailer was essentially a message from Nintendo that said, “We’re listening. Here’s the gritty Zelda game you want.”
Well, Twilight Princess eventually came out, and it wasn’t quite the landmark miracle that many had hoped it would be. Don’t misunderstand — Twilight Princess is a fantastic game that’s near and dear to our hearts, but no game could live up to the hype that preceded it. Opinions on Twilight Princess are controversial to this day; many gamers consider it to be among the best of the best, while others feel like it was the first moment where the Zelda series started to show signs of stagnation.
Regardless of all that, we got a pretty good Link out of it. TP’s Link has some character, a kickass design that would be Link’s defining image for nearly a decade, and some pretty great moments in-game. This dude sumo-wrestled with Gorons, herded goats like it was going out of style, and developed a strong relationship with Midna, one of the most developed characters in any Zelda game. His relationship with Ordon town’s children — and the little side story of being a role model to the bullied Colin — was touching, and a bit more compelling than just saving the world for a girl (though he did do that, too).
3 – The Hero of the Wild
Appears in: Breath of the Wild, Breath of the Wild 2
There is a certain amount of unadulterated badassery that Breath of the Wild Link embodies, and to understand it, just consider the Lynel. For all you folks who played BotW, you remember your first Lynel fight. These terrifying centaur freaks were absolute machines who could eviscerate your health bar with a single swing. Unless you played really carefully, there’s probably at least one Lynel that completely wrecked you at some point. In fact, there are many players who argue that the Lynel fight shortly before the final battle is harder than Calamity Ganon himself.
Okay, now that we have that in mind, let’s just point to a certain pre-Calamity cutscene on Death Mountain where he’s chatting with Zelda and there are, like, seven dead Lynel corpses behind them. We’re led to believe that he just kind of nonchalantly wiped the floor with the scariest murder machines that Hyrule has ever seen. This cutscene established a certain point about BotW Link — this dude means business.
And we see that through and through the rest of the game. BotW Link is the hardiest Link of them all, rising to utterly ridiculous challenges and survival scenarios, and running to Ganon like a madman, armed with only a stick and his underwear. In terms of personality, BotW Link is kind of generically stalwart and stoic. He gets some character development in Zelda’s journals, but his personality isn’t too standout.
Aside from being an absolute unit of a warrior, BotW also scores highly on his list for what he did to the image of Link as a whole. Breath of the Wild is where Link finally abandoned his green duds and pointy hat. And while it was an iconic outfit, it was far more enjoyable being able to customize his appearance with a variety of cool gear. Now that Link isn’t bound to his one singular look, we’re excited to see how Nintendo continues to play with his image.
2 – The Hero of Winds
Appears in: The Wind Waker, Phantom Hourglass
Didn’t expect this little guy to be at number two, did ya? Well, we won’t take it back, because Wind Waker Link is one of the best damn heroes of all time. While people have generally come around on Wind Waker in recent years, it’s important to remember that people hated that game when it came out. It got great critical reception, but its kiddy aesthetic was picked apart and criticized by the fanbase for many years to come.
But oh, what a fantastic decision it was. Wind Waker is an immaculate example of why Nintendo should trust their instincts instead of giving into fan demand — the game, and its corresponding Link, was utterly charming, and oozing with personality and emotion. Once you got past the fact that the visuals looked “kiddy,” Wind Waker told a phenomenal story that was able to take itself seriously, and the whole way through, you couldn’t help but fall in love with Link. This little scrapper could do it all, and he felt like a unique, distinct character from the Link who came before in the N64 games. He was chipper, cheerful, and dependable. Not exactly an original take for a do-good hero, but it was done so well that it’s hard for him not to rank among our favorites.
Wind Waker Link also left an important legacy. His existence basically set a precedence that the Legend of Zelda games could have any kind of art design or tone. His exact design was reused in several more games such as Minish Cap and Four Swords, and the upcoming Link’s Awakening remake seems to be taking some cues from it. No matter how many years have passed, this little guy has a spot in our hearts.
1 – The Hero of Time
Appears in: Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask
There are many arguments as to why the Hero of Time shouldn’t be at the top of this list, and they’re all wrong. This is the hill we’re going to die on, and if you disagree, we’ll fight you.
Forget about Princess Zelda — if anyone is a legend in these games, it’s this guy. The Hero of Time not only has the best story of all the Links, he is also one of the most important ones for the legacy of the series as a whole. This Link was the poster-child for the transition to 3D gameplay, and his game, Ocarina of Time, ended up being one of the most revolutionary titles in gaming history. OOT might not seem like much now, but its impact on the gaming industry as a whole cannot be understated. There are certain games that, to this day, look back to OOT as the genesis of their mechanics, and it still sits at the very top of many “best of all time” lists.
For OOT to leave the legacy that it did, everything had to be perfect. And the hero we got was nothing short of that. Ironically, the Hero of Time is a more developed character than the Links who came afterward, despite having much more rudimentary animation. Ocarina of Time, and its sequel Majora’s Mask both deal with heavy themes of growing up, coping with loss, and coming of age. The loss of childhood innocence is a pervasive motif in OOT, and in MM we learn what it truly means to grow up — if not in body, then in mind.
You have to read between the lines to see Link’s character in all of this, but it’s there. And when you look at it, the Hero of Time had a much more melancholy journey than any of the Links that followed. He sacrificed everything and traversed time to save the land, only to be sent back in time to live out his childhood in a world that would never recognize him or know of his achievements. He shows signs of depression in Majora’s Mask as he searches for his lost friend Navi, feeling lost in loneliness as he struggles to cope with his situation. He then goes on a beautiful journey of growth and healing, and saves yet another world in the process — one that is also ignorant to his sacrifices.
The Hero of Time gets bonus points for showing up in Twilight Princess as the Hero’s Shade, that spooky spectre who teaches you sweet sword moves. In his dialogue, he expresses grief that his heroics were never recognized and that he wasn’t able to pass on his skills. But it’s alright — while Hyrule and Termina may be ignorant of what he did, but we remember. OOT Link’s importance to the series as a whole, combined with his great design and surprisingly complex character, make him the one and only contender for Best Link.