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Making sense of the official Legend of Zelda timeline has become so confusing that it seems Nintendo themselves completely abandoned it in Breath of the Wild, instead focusing on delivering a fun experience that called back to all the game's predecessors. And this was for the best, as understanding the convoluted timeline is by no means required to enjoy the many adventures that the Legend of Zelda series has to offer. Yet said timeline is actually based on a very simple presence - as evil raises its ugly head time and time again to destroy or conquer the world, an ancient spirit will reincarnate to defeat it - the spirit of the hero.
That hero of course, is Link. Though he may be a silent protagonist, his iconic design and the quality of the many adventures that have been thrust upon him have earned the elven hero a special spot in many a gamer's heart. I typically am not the biggest fan of the silent protagonist trope due to it being a bit unrealistic, but I think it works in Link's favor, as it allows the player to interpret what's going on in his head and how he is reacting to the crazy events unfolding around him as they would. Link is a great relatively blank slate for the player to project themselves onto and enjoy incredible adventures through.
Link has been reincarnated 11 different times throughout the 19 main Legend of Zelda installments, and while he's taken on many different forms through the years, some things have always stayed the same. He's always a blonde dude, he's usually caught wearing a green tunic and hat (until the creators decided the hat didn't look cool anymore at least) and he tends to know his way around a sword.Yet not all Links are created equal.
Some incarnations of the popular hero have far more impressive resumes and accomplishments to their name than others. Some have more personality and interesting abilities to make use of then their peers. And that's where I come in.
In this blog, I'll pour over 30 years of Legend of Zelda history to rank all 12 incarnations of Link based on personal preference. I should note that this blog is not a Screw Attack-esque "Death Battle" where I try and decide who would objectively win in a fight. Rather, I'll be ranking the series' many Links based on my own tastes, taking into account their design, abilities, strengths, and the quality of the adventures they've been on. Though he may be mute, many fans have particular attachment to one Link or another, so hopefully this will incite some interesting discussion!
As an aside, I originally intended for this to be a short and humorous read, but if there's anything writing on Game Informer has taught me, it's that everything I touch turns into a text wall. So prepare yourselves for another long MightyMagikarp blog, and let's start the list!
Link has been reincarnated almost a dozen times throughout the long running Legend of Zelda franchise... Which of his forms reigns as the best?
11) Hero of LightAppeared In: Four Swords, Four Swords Adventures
+Split his soul into four through the power of the Four Sword
+Defeated Ganon, and Vaati in his generic eyeball form
+Clashed with a Shadow version of himself multiple times
+Only appeared in mediocre multiplayer spinoffs
+Has the most unoriginal title of the Links
Some of the more hardcore Zelda fans are probably yelling at me for lumping the Link from Four Swords and Four Swords Adventures into one since they are technically different characters. But they have virtually identical backstories and in-game accomplishments, so I've decided to combine them for simplicity's sake. They're both pretty unremarkable. Sue me.
The Hero of Light is noteworthy for wielding the Four Sword, in the process splitting his soul into four and learning to work together with his clones to accomplish tasks greater than one person. And he ends up defeating Vaati or Ganon, depending on which mediocre spinoff we're talking about. And that's about it.
The Hero of Light is a particularly forgettable incarnation of Link because we know absolutely nothing of his backstory. While Link's history is never a focus of the Legend of Zelda series, we at least get glimpses of his character through his relationships with NPCs and cutscenes in other games. However, because the Four Swords games focus on multiplayer, the games never stop to explore the essence of Link's character and the Hero of Light never evolves beyond being a one note hero. The game also never really explores the implications of being split into four, a storytelling oporunity the game's manga adaptation actually made good use of.
In said manga, each of Link's clones had a unique personality, and they clashed and fought when trying to get things done together. It's a neat idea, and the fact it wasn't implemented in any of the Four Swords games makes the Hero of Light feel even more underwhelming than he already is.
We know next to nothing about the Hero of Light, which is a shame because exploring how he responded to being split into four would've made for interesting characterization.
10)Hero of the RailsAppeared In: Spirit Tracks
+Defeats a forgettable demon known as Malladus with the Lokomo Sword
+Is the only person that can communicate with Zelda's spirit, because plot convenient reasons
+Is roomates with a 100+ year old man
+Has a dorky alternate engineer costume
+Rides around in a dumb train rather than horseback
+Musical instrument of choice is the horrendous Spirit Flute
The Hero of Rails is a somewhat interesting incarnation of Link, because unlike his counterparts, he has no prior experience with swordplay or adventuring at all. At the outset of the game, he becomes an officially licensed Royal Engineer and likely plans to live a simple life of fetch quests and escort missions on rails. But because this is a Legend of Zelda game, that never happens.
The problem with this incarnation of Link is that the game he appeared in, Spirit Tracks, was tremendously flawed, and many of its annoying mechanics bounce back to the Hero of the Rails. In this game, Zelda's spirit is separated from her body and Link is the only person who can see her. She accompanies him on his quest to save Hyrule, which is a darn shame, because this is one of the more bland incarnations of her character. Spirit Tracks also replaced the expansive, secret rich overworlds the Legend of Zelda series is known for with a series of rails that Link is supposed to ride on train to get from destination to destination. And the musical instrument he wields is absolutely awful in comparison to the ones his predecessors have wielded before him.
Spirit Tracks is simply a forgettable and flawed game, and this makes it difficult for the Hero of the Rails to stand out in comparison to his peers. It's cool that this Link was more of a pacifist at the beginning of the game, and depending on the ending you get (yes, Spirit Tracks had slightly alternate endings) he could live a simple life as an engineer after all. But when the game he appears in is so utterly mediocre, there's only so far this incarnation of Link can go on this list.
The Hero of the Rails also struggles to look half as cool as the many heroes before him.
9) Hero of Lorule
Appeared In: A Link Between Worlds, Tri-Force Heroes
+Wielded the Master Sword to defeat Ganon after he possessed some creepy painter
+Can turn into a painting to shimmy across walls and gaps
+Uses the Triforce to save the alternate dimension of Lorule, even after its crazy princess tried to kill him
+Defeats a grandma to save a princess' style in the worst Zelda game ever
+Crossdresses to gain more hearts
The Hero of Lorule is pretty standard fare as far as Links go. Either a descendant of the hero from A Link to the Past or a dude that just looks suspiciously like him, he resides in the same house as the hero from the SNES classic and is thrust upon an adventure between Hyrule and its ultimate dimension Lorule. He ultimately gains the strength, wisdom, and courage to be deemed worthy of wielding the Master Sword and uses it to defeat the ugliest appearance of Ganon to date. He is also a particularly kind version of the hero however; even after Lorule's princess, Hilda, manipulated him into acquiring the Triforce of Courage so she could defeat him, steal it, and save her own kingdom, he took pity on her plight and used the only wish the Triforce granted to save Lorule for her. What a swell dude!
Not content living a life of peace after his grand adventures, the Hero of Lorule takes to travelling and eventually finds himself in the land of Hytopia, where he and two other heroes are recruited in tracking down and defeating an evil witch known as "Lady Maud" to save the land's princess from being doomed to wear a black leotard for the rest of her life. Or something. I dunno. I never finished Tri-Force Heroes. Frankly, it really sucks. But Link can wear Princess Zelda's dress in this game to increase his health so uh...make of that what you will.
While the Hero of Lorule's story is pretty similar to that of other incarnations of Link, he is actually very fun to play as. He controls incredibly smoothly in A Link Between Worlds, and he possesses a magic bracelet that allows him to temporarily merge with walls as a painting to traverse them and reach new areas. It sounds very gimmicky, but in practice it's a grand ability that forces players to rethink how they interpret the game's 2D world. Also, I found it pretty sweet how though the Triforce could've granted him anything he desired, he used his one wish to selflessly save a kingdom parallel to his own, whose safety had no impact on his life, and even after its princess tried to kill him. He's just a really nice guy. Though I think it's all best if we pretend Tri-Force Heroes never happened, so let's move on to the next hero...
I was gonna post a picture of the Zelda dress to crack a joke here, but Google linked me to uncomfortable Deviantart images, so have some genericconcept art instead.
8) Hero of Legend
Appeared In; The Legend of Zelda, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
+The O.G. Link since 1986
+The only Link to defeat Ganon without the Master Sword
+The only Link to wield the full Triforce
+Defeated a dark version of himself
+Likes to hang out with old men in caves
+Has unreasonably short tights
The Hero of Legend is the first ever incarnation of Link if we're looking at the games in terms of the order they were released. While he looks pretty dorky in comparison to the character designs of Link in more recent games, he also has one of the most impressive resumes in the series. Initially armed with nothing more than a wooden sword granted to him by some random old man in a cave, the Hero of Legend was successful in reassembling the Triforce of Wisdom, defeating Ganon, acquiring the Triforce of Power from him and saving Princess Zelda... all without the help of the legendary Master Sword, or an annoying sidekick for that matter. This Link reigned victorious in a ruined version of Hyrule where the few NPCs lived in hiding in caves out of fear, all by himself, and when he was 10 years old no less!
This Link would return in the original Zelda game's notoriously difficult sequel, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Six years after the events of the original game, Ganon's army gains strength and seeks to kill Link and pour his blood over Ganon's ashes to revive him. And it's rated E for everyone!
Meanwhile, Link adventures across Hyrule once more, acquiring six crystals to awaken an ancestor of Princess Zelda from an eternal slumber. This is undoubtedly the toughest of any Link's adventures, and it ends in him obtaining the Triforce of Courage after defeating a shadowy clone of himself that is equal in strength and skill.
So yes, the Hero of Legend may look kind of like a dork, but he accomplished all this at an age before other incarnations of the hero were finished herding goats or attending high school. The Hero of Legend is proof we should never judge a book by its cover, though he absolutely needs a better pair of tights.
He's not trying to look cool, he's scowling because of how uncomfortable those tights are.
7) Hero of the Minish
Appeared In: The Minish Cap
+Forged the Four Sword through the power of the four elements
+Shrank down to the size of a quarter with the help of his talking hat, avoided getting stepped on
+One of the most skilled swordsmen in the series, trained under a literal ghost
+Managed to turn a glorified vaccum cleaner and a cane that flips things upside down into formidable weapons
Though the Hero of the Minish's accomplishments may not be quite as impressive as the Hero of Legend's, I have a soft spot for this pint sized hero and his play style. The Hero of the Minish is chronologically one of the first Links in the Zelda series timeline, and actually is the one who creates the Four Sword that two of his successors would later wield. He does this through travelling the land and acquiring four elemental essences, whose powers amplified that of the sacred Picori Blade and allowed its wielder to temporarily clone their spirit.
This Link also benefited from the companionship of Ezlo, one of Link's only good sidekicks in the whole series. Ezlo is a sage of the Minish, a very tiny race of people that are invisible to all but children of pure hearts. Ezlo is cursed and forced to take the form of a talking hat, whom the Hero of the Minish literally wears throughout his journey. This is far from an inconvenience though, as Ezlo has the power to shrink Link to Minish size and explore the world in a satisfying new way. Raindrops suddenly become the size of boulders, ordinary enemies turn into dungeon bosses, and what look like mushrooms turn out to be Minish houses! Link has had plenty of superficial abilities throughout the series, but this power Ezlo grants him is not one of them.
The Hero of the Minish is also one of the stronger incarnations of Link in terms of battle capabilities. He trains under many members of a clan of expert swordsmen, including one who is literally dead, to learn all manner of sword attacks that his green-clad peers lack. He also has the most unorthodox weapons arsenal of all the Links, relying on odd tools like the Gust Jar, Cane of Pacci and Roc's Cape rather than the standard boomerang and bow fare.
It could be personal bias due to my soft spot for Minish Cap as a game, but this Link was undoubtedly a fun hero to assume the role of, as swapping back and forth between regular and Minish size and making use of unorthodox weaponry gave this incarnation of Link a much more fun play style than other heroes bearing his name.
Surprisingly, the talking hat companion ended up being infinitely cooler and more likable than the spirit living in Link's sword...
6) Hero of Hyrule
Appeared In: A Link to the Past, Oracle of Seasons, Oracle of Ages, Link's Awakening
+Only family member dies literally three minutes into A Link to the Past
+Wielded the Master Sword and traversed Light and Dark Worlds to defeat Ganon
+Wielded the Rod of Seasons to control the weather and save the land of Holodrum
+Traveled 400 years in the past to save the land of Labyranna
+The only Link to defeat Ganon twice
+Rides around in a kangaroo's pouch
+Had an existential crisis as the end of Link's Awakening
The Hero of Hyrule is noteworthy for being the most adventurous of all the Links, appearing in a grand total of four(!) separate Legend of Zelda games. Many other of Link's incarnations were lucky to appear in more than one. The particular form of Link first appeared in A Link to the Past, where in a fashion standard with the series, he wielded the Master Sword, gathered a bunch of gear, saved a bunch of people, and plunged a sword into Ganon's gut. What makes the Hero of Hyrule interesting is what happened after this.
In the Oracle of Seasons, Link is summoned by the Triforce to the far off land of Holodrum after it finds itself in need of a hero. An evil general known as Onox has thrown nature out of balance and caused the seasons to wildly fluctuate in short spans of time, harming the environment in the process. The Hero of Hyrule thus wields the Rod of Seasons to bring nature back into harmony. This rod gives Link the power to change the world to any season at will, and can change his environment from Winter to Summer in the blink of an eye, a rather nifty ability.
After slaying Onox in one of the toughest battles in the series to date, Link is then warped to the land of Labyranna, where a sorceress has traveled 400 years back in time to construct a massive tower to blot out the sun and destroy the world in one of the most oddly specific and slow evil schemes to date. With the power of the Harp of Ages, the Hero of Hyrule skips back and forth between centuries of time like it was nothing and slays the witch.
After defeating said Sorceress and a resurrected form of Ganon, the Hero of Hyrule sets sail for further adventure and finds himself shipwrecked on Koholint Island, befriending many of the quirkly locals in the process. However, while searching for a way off the island and back home, Link learns that the Island is actually all the product of a dream from an entity known as the Wind Fish. Waking the Wind Fish from his slumber by overcoming eight trials will allow Link to wake the Wind Fish and escape the island, but it will also erase Koholint and all of its inhabitants from existence. Link is thus forced to decide whether to continue living in this dream world or terminate its conscious residents so that he can return to where he belongs.
It's a very Matrix-esque twist, and it depicts the Hero of Hyrule in a very tragic light, as all the friends he has made on Koholint disappear as if they never existed, and it's in part by his own hand. I really like that the Hero of Hyrule's journey didn't end after A Link to the Past. He continued to travel where he was needed and go on adventures rather than settle down, and along the way, through him, we players got to wield some of the coolest powers in the whole series and experience one of its most tragic plot lines.
It was no doubt a hard decision for the Hero of Hyrule to have to destroy Koholint Island in order to leave it, and this sort of existential crisis is why he ranks higher on this list.