Why is it that we love Zelda? The puzzles, the wacky characters, the BOSSES!? I'll tell you what I love about it- the story. While at first glance it might seem like most of the Zelda games have fairly simple plots, the overall web of how all the games connect keeps dedicated fans constantly coming up with new theories on the chronology of the Zelda franchise. Jumping right in can get overwhelming- but I'm here to help.
Basic Knowledge Before you can even think about thinking about the Zelda Timeline, there are a few things that you should know:
-All Zelda games take place in the same universe. -Every game released has some sort of reference to another game in the series. -The CD-i and BS Zelda games are not canon. -There are multiple Links and Zeldas. -There are at least two incarnations of Ganon. -The Triforce's location/owner/status varies from game to game. -Skyward Sword is the first game in the timeline.
The Official Zelda Timeline Originally, this editorial laid out a theoretical timeline. Nintendo has since revealed the official Zelda timeline in the 25th Anniversary Hyrule Historia Zelda art book. Here is the full timeline, translated:
Nintendo's timeline doesn't perfectly match the one I had come up with- in fact, no one had guessed that the timeline would split into three branches. The only major difference between the Hyrule Historia timeline and the one I had put together is the placement of the Four Swords games. I said that Four Swords Adventures is a prequel to A Link to the Past showing the origin of Ganon, with Four Swords as a direct prequel to Four Swords Adventures. Four Swords Adventures' new placement makes sense; however, placing Four Swords directly after Minish Cap contradicts Four Swords Adventures' prologue, where it is implied that Four Swords took place only a few years prior to Four Swords Adventures. Despite this, I'll be using Nintendo's timeline for the rest of this editorial.
The Split One of the most significant events in the entire Zelda universe is the ending of Ocarina of Time. After saving Hyrule and sealing Ganondorf away, Link is sent back in time by Zelda using the Ocarina of Time. Link appears standing in front of the Master Sword as a child. He then goes to Hyrule Castle to meet with young Zelda, just like at the beginning of the game. Since Zelda is still in Hyrule Castle, Link had to have been sent back in time to before he first opened the Door of Time- yet the Door of Time is open anyway.
What all this complicated time travel mumbo-jumbo boils down to is the Timeline Split. Back in the Hyrule that Link saved as an adult, Zelda, the Sages and the citizens of Hyrule go on living in peace until The Great Flood. This is known as the "Adult Timeline." The Hyrule that Link goes back in time to is known as the "Child Timeline." Upon meeting Zelda, Link warns her that her plan to stop Ganondorf will not work, and that they should wait until he makes a wrong move and reveals himself. Eventually, Ganondorf is caught, put on trial, and sealed in the Twilight Realm, as seen in Twilight Princess. Meanwhile, Link journeys to Termina and saves the land from Majora's Mask.
Now that the official timeline has been revealed, we've found out that the timeline splits off into a third branch at the end of Ocarina of Time. While the other two branches exist together as alternate universes, the third branch is a "What if?" scenario, taking the place of the Adult Timeline and preventing the Child Timeline from ever coming into existence. The third timeline allows for Ocarina of Time to act as the backstory for A Link to the Past- the Hero of Time is killed in the final confrontation with Ganon, leading to the Imprisoning War, where Ganon is sealed away by the seven sages.
Before Nintendo revealed the official timeline, one of the hottest points of timeline debate was whether there was a split or not. For some of the arguments for and against the split, check out this post.
The Official Timeline Explained After looking at Nintendo's official timeline, you might have a few questions. In this section, I've put together a more in-depth version of the timeline to shed some light on the gray areas.
*Hyrule and the Triforce are created by the three goddesses, Din, Farore, and Nayru.*
*Skyward Sword's Backstory: Civilization advances to a point where intelligent robots exist. Demise attacks Hyrule and wipes out nearly all humans- the survivors are sent to the sky on a chunk of land that would later be known as Skyloft. The godess Hylia defeats and seals away Demise.*
Skyward Sword- The Master Sword is created and humans return to the surface. Before being sealed into the Master Sword, Demise prophecizes that his evil will return again and again in a never-ending cycle.
*Hyrule is founded once again. Hundreds of years pass.*
*Minish Cap's Backstory: The Picori create the Picori Sword and give it to a hero to seal away Hyrule's monsters.*
Minish Cap- Monsters are re-released into Hyrule. The Picori Sword is broken and reforged as the Four Sword. The Wind Sorcerer Vaati is defeated.
*Some time passes.*
Four Swords- Vaati breaks free of the Four Sword and kidnaps Princess Zelda (It is unclear whether Vaati was sealed in the Four Sword at the end of Minish Cap or sometime later). Zelda’s childhood friend, Link, saves her and seals Vaati back in the Four Sword.
*Hundreds of years pass.*
Ocarina of Time- The Split.
Ocarina of Time- The Triforce is broken into three parts. Power goes to Ganondorf, Wisdom to Zelda, Courage to Link. Ganon is defeated by Link and sealed away in the Sacred Realm. Link is sent back in time to his childhood. The Triforce of Courage is shattered and scattered across Hyrule.
*Wind Waker's Backstory: Ganondorf breaks free. Hyrule is flooded by the gods. Hundreds of years pass.*
Wind Waker- Ganondorf is killed. The Triforce is reassembled. Hyrule is washed away for good. Link and Tetra (Zelda) set out to find new land to settle on.
Phantom Hourglass- Craziness ensues on a high seas adventure with Link and Tetra.
*Link and Tetra find new land. They call the new land Hyrule and found a new kingdom. A hundred years pass.*
Spirit Tracks- A new Link saves Hyrule from an ancient demon.
Ocarina of Time- After being sent back to the past, Link warns Zelda that Ganondorf plans to take over Hyrule, and that the best course of action would be to do nothing.
*Twilight Princess' Backstory: Ganondorf is eventually caught, trialed, and sealed away in the Twilight Realm.*
Majora's Mask- Link goes off to the Lost Woods on Epona to search for an old friend (presumably Navi). The Skull Kid steals Epona and the Ocarina of Time. Link follows the Skull Kid to Termina and finds out that in three days, the moon will crash into the earth and kill everyone.
*About a hundred years pass.*
Twilight Princess- Ganondorf, still stuck in the Twilight Realm, takes advantage of a power-hungry young Twili named Zant. Zant and Ganondorf invade Hyrule, only to be killed by a new Link.
*Some time passes.*
Four Swords Adventures- A mysterious Shadow Link causes some ruckus at the Four Sword shrine. A new Link and Zelda go to investigate. Link draws the Four Sword, releasing Vaati from his seal, and goes off to save the maidens of the shrine. Eventually Link finds out that Shadow Link and Vaati were just distractions. The real threat is a young Gerudo named Ganondorf, who stole an ancient trident and underwent a transformation into Ganon. Link kills Vaati and seals Ganon in the Four Sword.
Ocarina of Time- Link dies in the final battle against Ganon.
*A Link to the Past's Backstory: After the Hero of Time's death, the Imprisoning War began. No one was able to weild the Master Sword and kill Ganon, so he was sealed in the Sacred Realm (now the Dark World) by the sages. Some time passes.*
A Link to the Past- A priest named Agahnim tricks the people of Hyrule into putting him into a position of power. He captures the seven maidens (including Zelda) descended from the Sages who imprisoned Ganon. A new Link recovers the Master Sword and finds out that Agahnim was just Ganon's pawn. Link ventures to the Dark World, rescues the maidens and kills Ganon. Upon killing Ganon, Link finds the Triforce and wishes for all of Ganon's influences to leave Hyrule, sending the world into a period of peace and prosperity.
*Some time passes.*
Oracle of Ages / Oracle of Seasons- A new Link journies to Hyrule castle and sees the Triforce. It transports him to a foreign land that is being threatened by a new villian, either Veran or Onox, depending on which game is played first. It is eventually revealed that this new villian is just a pawn of Koume and Kotake, two of Ganon's most loyal followers. Their master plan is to revive Ganon- but of course, Link stops them and kills their bastardized half-revived Ganon. His work done, Link sets off on a boat.
Link's Awakening- Link's boat crashes and he lands on a strange island.
*Some time passes.*
*Zelda II's Backstory: Long story short, the Triforce of Courage is hidden away in the Great Palace and Princess Zelda is put under a sleeping spell. More time passes.*
The Legend of Zelda- A new Zelda is captured by Ganon (this is the same Ganon from A Link to the Past, but it isn't explained how he was resurrected). Ganon steals the Triforce of Power; Zelda manages to shatter the Triforce of Wisdom and scatter it across the land of Hyrule. A new Link sets out to recover the pieces of the Triforce of Wisdom, rescue Zelda, kill Ganon and get the Triforce of Power back. He does.
*A few years pass.*
Zelda II: Adventures of Link- Link finds out about the sleeping Zelda. The only way to break the spell is to use the Triforce of Courage in conjunction with the other two pieces of the Triforce. Link sets out to recover the Triforce of Courage from the Great Palace. Meanwhile, followers of Ganon try to kill Link and use his blood to revive Ganon. They fail, Link succeeds. The Triforce is whole again.
The Future of the Legend of Zelda Series So where does Zelda go from here? All of the loose ends left by Ocarina of Time have been tied up, and the Old Hyrule, along with nearly every single important plot item, is lost in the Adult Timeline. A sequel to Spirit Tracks would need a new villian and new plot that has nothing to do with the Triforce. That is, unless the Triforce and Master Sword somehow come back.
A sequel to Four Swords Adventures would make the most sense at this point; Ganon is still sealed in the Four Sword in that timeline. Besides, who wouldn't want a Wii U or 3DS online Four Swords game?
Skyward Sword has opened up a whole new onslaught of possibilities for the next Zelda game. We could have a series of prequels taking place in the technologically advanced Hyrule that the Timeshift Stones gave us a glimpse at, or we could have a direct sequel that ties up a few of the loose ends from Skyward Sword.
What Else is There? Now you know all there is to know about Zelda, right? WRONG! The Zelda universe is rich with unsolved mysteries. Take a look at any Zelda fansite. There are constant discussions and analyses about even the most obscure facts. Why did the Zoras evolve into birds, but the Gorons just stayed the same? How many groups of sages are there, and how are they connected? Why are there giant phallic pillars in Majora's Mask? The list goes on and on. So get out there and start analyzing!
Special thanks to the Zelda Wiki for remembering what I didn't and Triforcebun for making the banner art. And thank YOU for reading! Be sure to read the comment thread for a lot of great discussion!
Part One It is said that long ago, a boy garbed in green known as the Hero of Time saved this land. However, on a certain island, there is also the story of the fairy who saved that hero...
Part Two It is said that the Hero of Time met the fairy in the midst of his travels. The fairy appeared before the Hero, who had found himself lost in darkness. With a mystic power, it would float in midair, dancing above his head like a burst balloon.
Part Three After the fairy handed the lost Hero a map, it flew off as quickly as it had appeared. Better able to foresee places of danger than the Hero, the fairy marked them on a map. The Legend goes on to say the quest of the Hero of Time was saved by this plump figure...
Part Four Fairies live for thousands of years... but this odd fairy was a bit different. This mystical fairy was born near a lake, and when he met the Hero, he was but 35. Beyond that, there is little known about that fairy...
Part Five The little-known Legend of the Fairy's 35th Birthday. On one island they celebrate one's 35th birthday with a green coat and red pants. They do this in the hopes of becoming like the legendary fairy, Tingle.
You know what would be awesome (in the truest sense of the word from a gaming standpoint). If Nintendo attempted to weave an endcap story from all three timelines of story. Instead of the transition from child to adult in OoT you travel the same world in 2 or 3 art styles/timelines at various points of timeline crossover. Then the final area, the source of whatever is causing the timelines to whirlpool and crossover, all the various art styles are intertwining within the world leading up the the final battle to set things right again.
Skyward Sword set the bar high but I think we need a OoT game changer within the next 3 Zelda releases. For now I just want whatever that Wii U demo was as our Wii U Twilight Princess... perhaps an Adult timeline Spirit Tracks 3DS followup soon after.
@carlosrox Yep, I said it awhile back. There was and is no reason to take this "official" timeline as canon.
The thing is, why did they bother releasing this timeline at all? It was unnecessary.
In fact, I'm like 99% certain that neither Miyamoto nor Aonuma nor anyone who matters actually had much to do with this timeline. Someone probably decided that it had to be made and they were like ok screw it, TEMP, COME HERE. I HAVE A JOB FOR YOU!
And yeah maybe it has to do with Termina being parallel. See, in the original timeline the moon was supposed to crash and destroy Termina. So when Link intervened and defeated Majora's Mask, he created a split timeline. Thus when Tingle eventually crossed over from Termina to Hyrule, he did so from an alternate timeline of Termina...thus ending up in an alternate timeline of Hyrule (i.e the Adult timeline.)
That legend is probably referring to the events of OoT, where Tingle disguises himself as an owl (taking the name of the ancient headmaster of Skyloft who helped found Hyrule) and helps Link defeat gather the spiritual stones in hopes of learning the secret to fairyhood from Navi. In the adult timeline, Link and Navi are sealed away in the sacred realm before Tingle gets a chance to learn the secret to fairyhood. In the child timeline, Tingle follows Link into the Lost Woods in search of Navi.