The Legend of Zelda has sold over 118 million games over the course of its 35 year old life span. These numbers make it one of the most commercially successful franchises of all time.
Apart from its commercial success, The Legend of Zelda, is renowned for its actual greatness as a gaming franchise. Has there ever been a ‘bad’ main console Zelda game? The answer to that question for most of us is (likely) a resounding “no”.
Today we have listed the five best selling The Legend of Zelda games of all time for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!
5. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D (3DS,2011) – Sales Numbers: 6,220,000
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D is a Nintendo 3DS 2011 remake of the Nintendo’s greatest (critically rated) title. Given the legendary reputation of the original game it is not a huge shock that its 3DS remake sold so well.
To be honest, this game was reason for my purchase of a 3DS system, and it did not disappoint. The game’s world, and characters looked like a closer match to the concept art of the original (the art work in the instruction booklet) than the original did (though in 1998 Ocarina was a better looking game than OoT3D was in 2011).
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D featured smooth polygonal characters, improved world texturing, and modeling (many objects that were sprites in the Nintendo 64 version were now modeled in full 3-D).
The dual screen set up of the 3DS made for a vast improvement with some ‘quality of life’ additions to the gameplay. It was no longer necessary to pause the game in order to equip (and un-equip) items. This simple addition fixed most of the complaints that people (personally, I never had issues with it) had with the Water Temple.
I still prefer the Nintendo 64 controller’s precision over the 3DS’ own controls. But, given the 3DS version’s visual overhaul, the remake is the best way to experience the game today. At least, until Nintendo decides to make (a long awaited) HD port of it to the Nintendo Switch.
4. The Legend of Zelda (NES, 1986) – Sales Numbers: 6,510,000
The original The Legend of Zelda was a groundbreaking moment for console role-playing games, and console gaming in general. The game was the brain child of Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka (writer).
Miyamoto wanted to create a non-linear world that would force gamers to think, explore (and listen/read) their way through the game. He also wanted to capture the sense of wonder that he felt as a child when he explored Kyoto’s wilderness.
The game’s lore and setting was heavily inspired by J.R.R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (which fantasy setting isn’t?). While The Legend of Zelda wasn’t a literary masterpiece (there was very little story ‘in-game’ in this title), it did capture gamers’ hearts and imagination with its large and challenging quest.
Because The Legend of Zelda was originally made for the Famicom’s Disk System peripheral (Japan), porting it over to cartridge format for the NES required the integration of new technologies such as battery back up saves.
This new technology (Zelda did it first) allowed for game saves in the game’s cartridge, this would eventually turn into a ‘must have’ feature in role-playing games (and titles in other genres) that came after the Legend of Zelda.
The Legend of Zelda would remain the highest selling game in the series for more than a decade after its original release.
3. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Wii, 2006) – Sales Numbers: 7,260,000
Twilight Princess was important in launching the Nintendo Wii for the Nintendo Hardcore. It was a GameCube/Wii cross-generational game that justified the purchased of the Wii for some Nintendo fans that might have skipped the GameCube’s lifecycle.
As a true Ocarina of Time (and Majora’s Mask) sequel, both chronologically and in its visual style, Twilight Princess set hearts afire (and journalists into tears) since its earliest trailer was shown to the masses.
Twilight Princess featured a dark story, and a massive quest set in Hyrule’s biggest and prettiest incarnation (prior to Breath of the Wild) yet. The game’s dungeons were bigger, and at times more challenging than anything that the series had previously seen, which provided a challenge for the series’ 3-D veterans.
All things considered, for a massive Ocarina of Time fan like me, Twilight Princess was a dream come true. The game remains one of the finest entries in this series, and probably my second favorite Zelda game after Ocarina.
While Twilight Princess’ sales numbers are impressive at first glance, when taken into context (the Wii sold over 100 million units, and it was a launch title available throughout the system’s lifecycle) the amount of copies sold isn’t as impressive as it could have been.
Then again, the Wii was a strange outlier (even by Nintendo standards), as many customers who had not been previously (or afterwards judging by Wii U’s monumental crash) into video games owned the system.
2. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64, 1998)- Sales Numbers: 7,600,000
Unlike Twilight Princess’ numbers, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time‘s own sales digits are massively impressive given that Nintendo struggled to move Nintendo 64 units off shelves (32.93 million sold).
Ocarina of Time outsold every prior The Legend of Zelda entry, despite being confined to a system that sold less units than the NES and SNES.
However, Nintendo’s excellent first party software always sells, and Ocarina of Time was no different. Launching to near universal acclaim on November 1998, as quite possibly “the greatest game ever made”, no other game has received more 10/10 scores at launch than Ocarina of Time did in 1998, and beyond.
Ocarina of Time remains the highest rated Metacritic game after nearly 23 years. Talk about longevity.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, did not only bring action-RPGs and action-adventure games into the 3-D space with near flawless execution. But, it also helped to establish the 101 book into how 3-D open worlds would be made thereafter.
A revolutionary game like Ocarina of Time deserved stellar sales. Thankfully, Nintendo 64 owners all over the world answered the call by purchasing the title.
1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Switch, 2017) – Sales Numbers: 24,870,000
While many old-school 90s buffs like me will continue to preach Ocarina of Time’s greatness till’ our dying breath (no pun intended), there is a new king in town. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the new standard bearer in the series, at least as far as game sales are concerned.
The reality of the situation is that The Legend of Zelda as a franchise has never been more popular than it is right now.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has sold more than 3 times the amount of units that its closest competitor on the list did, and the gap will only get wider as the Nintendo Switch continues to sell like hot cakes (approaching the 90 million unit mark) 4 years into its lifecycle.
Nintendo Switch’s historic sales have helped Breath of the Wild to move units, but the converse is also true. Early on, Breath of the Wild’s incredible critical reception, and overall positive buzz helped to move Switch units off shelves at launch.
Breath of the Wild itself deserves praise for revitalizing the series after the ‘Ocarina formula’ seemed to have reached its end with Skyward Sword. At that point, many of us hoped Nintendo would change its approach towards the series especially given the critical and commercial rise of games like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and GTA: V.
Nintendo listened, took a look at how open world games were dominating the sales market, and responded in kind. Breath of the Wild is an open world masterpiece that proved that nothing was impossible for Nintendo EAD.
While the game ditched the traditional “Themed Dungeon” pattern of progression that had blessed the series since its inception, it offered a massive number of smaller (but tougher) puzzle oriented dungeons, on the flip side.
Breath of the Wild’s massive (and incredible) world felt like a puzzle itself, as it was governed by a surprisingly advanced fun physics system.
Breath of the Wild rekindled by undivided attention for this franchise after my disappointment with Skyward Sword, and I am not surprised that it has broken every sales record in this legendary franchise.
Needless to say, I can’t wait for the game’s sequel to arrive. If you haven’t already, grab a Switch and a copy of Nintendo’s latest Zelda. Breath of the Wild alone is worth the Switch’s price of admission.
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