Best Art Styles In The Legend Of Zelda Games

A split image of Link in Legend of Zelda titles Link's Awakening, Skyward Sword, and The Wind Waker

The Legend Of Zelda is a story of reincarnation and rebirth. With a few exceptions, every entry in Nintendo’s iconic fantasy adventure series features a new incarnation of Link, Princess Zelda, and the world of Hyrule. With each new title, Nintendo has experimented with a new art style.

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From pixels and polygons to anime-inspired and something more Western-looking, Zelda’s visual identity has gone through more transformations than almost any other Nintendo property. Every art style has its own legions of loyal fans, but some stand out more than others.



While the sprites of the original Legend of Zelda game for the NES are iconic, some found them a little too bland and simplistic. Some characters and enemies are completely unrecognizable compared to their modern versions. The sequel for the same console punched the sprites up with some more detail.

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link traded out the top-down perspective for a side-scrolling adventure, and thus necessitated a new art style. Not only did players get to see Link from the side, but they saw him and the denizens of Hyrule with more realistic proportions. Players gave the game a mixed reception, but The Adventure of Link still gave fans their best look at Link yet.

9 The Game Boy Titles

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, Oracle of Seasons, and Oracle of Ages all came out on the Game Boy and shared a similar art style. Though the Game Boy was far from Nintendo’s most powerful system, the developers were able to create a charming art style despite the hardware limitations.

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Link was far more expressive than on the NES, and the cast of characters he encountered had much more unique models. The games also featured complex boss designs, detailed environments, and even cutscenes. With such a fun appearance, it’s no wonder why so many Zelda fans are nostalgic for these titles.

When the franchise moved to the SNES, Nintendo gave The Legend of Zelda: A Link to The Past a graphical overhaul. With new graphics, a new art style was inevitable. A Link to the Past is one of the most beloved entries in the Zelda franchise, and its art style is a big reason for that.

The game was the most colorful and vibrant version of Hyrule yet. It had dynamic shadows and impressive-looking fog effects. A Link to the Past set the standard for Zelda’s aesthetics for a long time, and the art style still holds up by today’s standards.

Though it’s a sequel to A Link to the Past, Nintendo released The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds several years later for Nintendo 3DS. The game had a much more impressive art style than its predecessor.

With 3D graphics and cutscenes, Link was incredibly expressive. The world had an absolutely charming cartoon style that perfectly brought both the game’s silly and sinister moments to life. With such a vibrant world full of expressive characters, A Link Between Worlds won the hearts of many Zelda fans.

The reveal of the 2019 remake of the classic The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening surprised many fans, but many more were surprised by the change in art style. While the remake retains the same top-down perspective and gameplay of the original, it boasts a completely new coat of paint.

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With a plastic-like sheen, everything in Link’s Awakening looks like it came out of a toy box. It’s a fun and charming art style that perfectly captures the unique models of the Game Boy game while updating them for the Nintendo Switch. Many fans enjoyed the updated art style and hope to see it again in future titles.

5 The Legend Of Zelda: Wind Waker

Of all the art styles Zelda games have used over the years, the one from The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker is by far the most unique. While the style was divisive following the popular Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, it became so beloved that it was used in other Zelda games, like Minish Cap and Four Swords Adventures.

Presented in a heavily cel-shaded anime style, each of Wind Waker’s characters have a completely unique silhouette. The world has an exaggerated, cartoony appeal that is impossible to forget. That doesn’t stop Wind Waker from featuring frightening enemy designs, with one of the series’ most memorable incarnations of Ganondorf.

4 The Legend Of Zelda: Skyward Sword

The first Zelda game to grace consoles since Twilight Princess, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword looked to combine the best elements of its predecessor and Wind Waker. Link was a realistically-proportioned adult, but there was still a mildly exaggerated, cartoony quality to the environment and characters.

By taking a middle-of-the-road approach, Skyward Sword was able to appeal to a broad audience. The more mature-looking style was easy to take seriously, but it was colorful and fun enough that it wasn’t too dark. While not every Zelda fan can agree on whether Skyward Sword is good, they can all agree that it looks appealing.

3 The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild & Tears Of The Kingdom

Arguably the most popular Legend of Zelda game, Breath of the Wild’s art style fulfilled the game’s promise of exploring the vast land of Hyrule. The art style stayed the same in its spinoff, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, and its sequel Tears of the Kingdom.

Lush environments and fascinatingly detailed ruins beautifully represented the open-world of Hyrule. The character designs were beautiful as well, with all of Hyrule’s many races being diverse and expressive. The art style takes everything that works about Skyward Sword and makes it even better.

2 The Legend Of Zelda: Twilight Princess

After Wind Waker, the franchise pivoted with The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. No longer boasting a cartoony art style, Twilight Princess was the darkest looking Zelda game. It had less vibrant colors and a more gothic art direction. The monsters were scarier than ever, and even benevolent creatures could look intimidating.

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The characters are the most realistically proportioned of any Zelda game and wear intricately designed costumes even when compared to modern games. Even today, many fans point to Twilight Princess’s versions of Zelda and Ganondorf as their favorite designs for the characters.

1 The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time & Majora’s Mask

For many fans, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is the most iconic Zelda game in the franchise. The nostalgia is understandable, as both it and its sequel The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask brought Zelda into the realm of 3D and set the standard for Zelda gameplay going forward. The games’ art style set the standard for Zelda’s aesthetic.

The visual elements of many modern Zelda games can be traced back to Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask. Whether its beautifully designed locales, frightening monsters, or imaginative-looking characters, these two games laid the foundation for future Zelda art styles.

NEXT: 10 Darkest Zelda Theories


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