Link. The Hero of Hyrule. The Wielder of the Master Sword. The Bane of Ganon. Possessor of the Triforce of Courage.
In The Legend of Zelda's more than 30 year history, we've seen many iterations of the young green clad Hylian. They all share some of the same qualities: they're all courageous swordsmen who, through clever use of a variety of tools at their disposal, overcome impossible odds, from the classic boomerang to the more recent paraglider.
Oh, and they're all pretty darn close to mute. Besides for the grunts and yells that have become trademarks of the characters (HA! HAA! HEEEYAAA!) he seems to either be completely incapable of speech or be very reluctant to it. This is, of course, to make him more a blank slate for players to put themselves into.
So, that said, is it possible to rank them? You read the title, you know I'm going to. Each Link, despite having the communication skills of a monk that has taken a vow of silence, manages to bring their own unique spin on the Hero's Journey, with some accomplishing their goal quicker, more completely, or just with more style. Plus, some of them just have a cooler kit of equipment than others.
Here's the ranking of all the Links, from worst to best.
14 The Non-Canon One (Hyrule Warriors)
Got to start this list somewhere, might as well start with the one whose biggest crime is existing outside the official canon. Okay, there are actually a few non-canon Links, but I refuse to acknowledge a certain meme-tastic Philips CDi game, and does anyone even remember the animated series?
This Link serves as the primary protagonist in the spin-off game Hyrule Warriors, which takes Legend of Zelda characters and gives them the Dynasty Warriors mass battle treatment. He's the first character you play as and one of the better fighters in the game, and certainly the most diverse with five different combat styles (in addition to the classic sword-and-shield, he can fight with the Fire Rod, the super strength granting Gauntlet, the Great Fairy (also known as getting carried around in a bottle while the fairy kills everything), and horseback style on Epona.
While certainly a badass in his own right, its hard to consider him a 'true Link', and not just because of his canonicity; mowing through mobs of enemies with only a few tools in his kit isn't really the Link way.
13 The Four Who Are One (Four Swords)
The evil wind mage, Vaati, escapes from the legendary “Four Sword” where he had been sealed and takes Zelda captive. To stop him Link takes up the Four Sword, which then splits him into four versions of himself, giving us a storyline reason for multiplayer. The Links must then prove themselves ready to fight Vaati by collecting rupees.
Other than being split, there's nothing too interesting about these Links. They get a standard arsenal (boomerang, bombs, bow, and so on) lacking in the diversity and uniqueness of other iterations of the Hero.
Also, he defeats Vaati by sealing him in the same sword that failed to hold him the first time, so really all he managed to do was stall.
12 Hero Of Trains (Spirit Tracks)
Do you like trains? Well, I hope you do, 'cause if you are playing Spirit Tracks you will be dealing with them a lot. You probably guessed that from the title.
The Hero of Trains has to conquer the Tower of Spirits to find the Rail Maps to restore the titular Spirit Tracks. And then it's all aboard and time to play train conductor. He can customize his train cars and transport passengers all while avoiding the Dark Trains also roaming the tracks. He also receives help from Zelda, who is a ghost and possesses Phantom armors. …You know what, it's a weird game.
While certainly the hero of anyone who has ever had dreams of being a conductor, he falls short of some of Hyrule's other heroes. His villain is the demon Malladus, who looks like an angry blue cow with fire hair. But in fairness, his dream was to be a Royal Engineer, not a warrior, and that role suits him.
11 Hero Of The Minish (Minish Cap)
Sometimes to be a big hero, one must become very small. Such is the case with the Minish Cap, in which Link has to take on the evil sorcerer Vaati many years before the events of Four Swords.
Link has to seek help from the diminutive Picori (who call themselves the Minish) to restore the legendary Picori Blade to defeat Vaati. He meets Ezlo, a former Minish who has been turned into a wizard's hat. In addition to the nifty power to shrink down to the size of a Minish, this Link also has the ability to forge together Kinstones, which can turn into rupees, hearts, or even the opening of secret passages.
In the end, Link reforges the legendary sword in the Four Sword, which he uses to seal Vaati. At least, for the moment. But that's a problem for another Link.
10 The New Hero Of Hyrule (A Link Between Worlds, Tri-Force Heroes)
A Link Between Worlds serves as a sequel to A Link to the Past, making the definitive “And the Master Sword Sleeps Forever!” ending a lie. Like his predecessor, the key to this Link's success is his ability to travel into another world, in this case the world of paintings. Other than that, the adventure is very familiar: obtain the Master Sword, save the Seven Sages to obtain the Triforce of Courage, and face off against Ganon. This Link manages to save two kingdoms at once, though, so bonus points.
This Link has a second adventure, as one of three Links in Tri-Force Heroes (the other two's origins are a mystery). Together they defeat the witch Lady Maud who committed the awful crime of cursing the Princess of a fashionable Kingdom, Hyptopia (yes, that's its name), to wear an irremovable ugly jumpsuit. So... not a world-threat, but hey, fashion is no joke.
Overall, not a bad run for the New Hero.
9 Hero Of The Wild (Breath Of The Wild)
Okay, before I take any heat for putting this Link so low on the list, let me just clarify: Breath of the Wild is a great game. Not only did it live up to its open world promises, it was a breath of fresh air that the series desperately needed. But did anyone else notice its difficulty compared to previous entries? And there's a reason for this: this Link just isn't as tough as some of his predecessors. He required a hundred years to revive after getting his butt kicked by Calamity Ganon the first time, he breaks all the weapons he uses, and trying to pull the Master Sword kills him if he doesn't have enough hearts.
Also, he doesn't even wear green unless you grind, like, a lot. And he calls himself a Link?
In fairness, Calamity Ganon is a force to be reckoned with, and once Link obtains some stamina and some of the better weapons he becomes pretty badass. But he has a long way to go to get there.
8 Hero Of Hyrule (The Legend Of Zelda, Adventure Of Link)
The OG Link (in terms of physical game releases, not timelines… I'll get to that in a moment) defeated Ganon at only 10 years old. 10. What were you doing at 10?
After rescuing Zelda's nursemaid, Impa, and learning the fate of the kingdom of Hyrule at the hands of Ganon, who had obtained the Triforce of Power, Link set out to deliver some justice. Thanks to some old man in a cave who worries about 10 year olds wandering about unarmed, he gains a sword and he plunges into dungeons to retrieve the pieces of the Triforce of Wisdom, which he uses to feat Ganon.
He has another adventure six years later (creatively titled The Adventure of Link) in which he seeks out the Triforce of Courage to awaken Zelda from a sleeping spell. Meanwhile, Ganon's henchmen try to revive their master by killing Link and spilling his blood on Ganon's ashes (I don't know how that was supposed to work, but it is a pretty metal plan).
7 Hero Of Light (Four Swords Adventures)
Once again, Link wields the Four Sword, splitting himself into four version of himself to give us a reason for multiplayer. This time, he witnesses as Dark Link seals Zelda and the six Maidens into a dark crystal and is taunted into drawing the Four Sword, thus accidentally releasing Vaati back into the world. Then its time to collect gems to power up the Four Sword, find the Royal Jewels to reveal the Tower of Winds, and rescue the maidens.
This Link has the distinction of beating both of the series' most recurring villains, Ganon and Vaati, in one game. Of course, there are four Links, each with a full compliment of classic equipment, so that's like each beat half of a villain… or something like that.
6 Hero Chosen By The Gods (Twilight Princess)
Sometimes called The Hero of Twilight by the fans, the Link of Twilight Princess has the distinction of being able to turn into a wolf. Which, depending on where you stand, was either really awesome or completely stupid. I find myself closer to the former camp.
At the beginning of the game, Link is just a simple ranch worker. He his tossed headfirst into the Twilight Realm, where he is turned into a Wolf, captured, and, worst of all, saddled with the weird imp, Midna.
Using a variety of sword techniques, a classic arsenal of equipment and a few new surprises, as well as the abilities of his wolf form, Link must fight his way to the Twilight Realm to defeat Ganon and, eventually, the King of Twilight, Zant.
5 Hero Of The Skies (Skyward Sword)
The original Link, timeline-wise. It is because of the adventures he has that the cycle of Links fighting Ganons throughout time (and multiple timelines) comes to be. So I guess you can say his eventual victory is bittersweet.
Link is in training to be a Knight of Skyloft when he is chosen by the goddess Hylia to go the surface and search for Zelda. To this end he wields the Goddess Sword, a weapon forged by the goddess that is inhabited by the spirit, Fi, and that eventually (*spoilers*) becomes the Master Sword. And this sword is freaking powerful, as anyone who has ever seen the Skyward Strike in action can attest to.
The Hero of the Skies, as his name implies, gets to do a lot of flying on his crimson loftwing as he explores the skies, and has a few setting-specific tools, such as the Gust Bellows.
4 Young Link (Ocarina Of Time, Majora's Mask)
Okay, technically Young Link is the same Link as the Hero of Time, but they're both distinctive enough characters that they deserve their own entries.
Link is known of as 'the boy without a fairy,' in the Kokiri village, which causes him to be shunned by the perpetually-young citizens, until the day Navi is sent to him by the Great Deku Tree. He is warned by the dying tree about the evil of Ganondorf and goes off to find Princess Zelda, and later to claim the Master Sword. Unfortunately, he's not quite ready for it yet, and he is forced to spend seven years in the Temple of Time before he awakens as the Hero of Time.
Later (or before, cause time travel) Link's youth is returned. He stumbles upon Termina while looking for Navi and manages to save it from destruction via angry moon.
But let's be honest, the reason he's so high on this list: the Fierce Deity Mask, which is Link's coolest transformation to date.
3 Hero Of Winds (Wind Waker, Phantom Hourglass)
Ganondorf is looking for Zelda but isn't quite sure of her current incarnation and ends up accidentally kidnapping Link's sister instead. Link sets off after his sister and is drawn into destiny that will determine the fate of all the islands in the Great Sea. He learns the fate of Hyrule, retrieves the Master Sword, and sails the open sea looting everything he can find, like some kind of good aligned pirate. After one of the best final boss fights in the series Link finishes Ganondorf by stabbing him in the freaking head.
He returns in Phantom Hourglass where he faces off against another being of darkness, the phantom Bellum. And at some point, he finds a new land to become New Hyrule. That's a lot of accomplishments for one so young.
2 Hero Of Time / Adult Link (Ocarina Of Time)
The Hero of Time (though he could also be called 'The Hero Who Broke Time' due to his shenanigans splitting the timeline in three) is probably the most instantly recognizable version of the hero and the first thing that comes to mind when you think, “Link.” And for good reason, his epic journey to defeat Ganondorf redefined the series and the adventure genre as a whole.
This Link has one of the most diverse sets of equipment in the series, including masks, scales, gauntlets, and a hammer. Oh, and an Ocarina that can freaking control time. Probably should have led with that. That's right, this Link has literal control over time itself. Too bad he doesn't use it more. Or perhaps, good for the already confused timelines that he didn't.
1 Hero Of Legend (A Link to the Past / Oracle Of Ages & Seasons / Link's Awakening)
No other Link can claim quite as many adventures under their belt as the Hero of Legend. In A Link to the Past, Link finds his uncle mortally wounded in an attempt to rescue Zelda from the evil wizard Agahnim and decides to finish his quest. And there is a lot to do. After rescuing Zelda, he then has to clear some dungeons to prove himself worthy of the Master Sword. Then he gets sent to the Dark World where he has to clear more dungeons to free the seven maidens (including the recaptured Zelda). Then he has to beat Agahnim, and finally Ganon, and use the power of the Triforce to restore both worlds.
In Oracle of Seasons, the Triforce sends Link off the save the land of Holodrum by rescuing the titular Oracle using the Rod of Seasons, which lets him control the current season. After that, in Oracle of Ages, the Triforce sends him on yet another mission, this one to the land of Labryanna. Here he uses the Harp of Ages to travel to different points in the land's history to rescue the Oracle and defeat an evil sorceress.
Some time after that he is involved in a ship wreck and the events of Link's Awakening take place… though those are all some kind of dream… though the Wind Fish is real and in the perfect ending it is revealed Link did save her from the fading dream world. So bonus points, at least.