(NOTE: Beware of large images! Click them to enjoy the full versions!)
With all the work that I’ve been doing on my “Minecraft Hyrule” project, it was only natural that I would give some more thought to the timeline of the Zelda series. This is even more natural when given that the version of Hyrule I’m working on is the one seen in “Zelda II: The Adventure of Link,” a game that is widely accepted to be the ‘final’ chronological entry into the series, despite being the second game released.
Yet, thinking of the timeline is often a dreaded thing because of how convoluted it has become over the years. Not only that, but also the fact that Nintendo is very tight-lipped about the timeline, and though they do claim an official document exists somewhere, the timeline is constantly altered with new prequels and new games that take place somewhere in between. As a result, each fan seems to have his or her own opinion on when these games take place, and in what order, and it gets even more convoluted when one gives thought to the time-travel that took place in “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time,” resulting, apparently, in a split time-line (which will be explained later).
Before I get too deeply into any of the major theories and draft up some possible timelines, I should point out that the series began relatively modestly back in 1986 with an elfish-looking boy out on a quest to collect the pieces of a magical golden triangle and save the princess of the land. That saga was, of course, continued in Zelda 2. After that, the game picked up such a following that rather than expand on the story of the first two games (which seemed to wrap up nicely, and which hints that originally it may have only been envisioned as one or two games), Nintendo opted to go backwards in time and explain some of the origins of the characters and the lore behind the world in which the story takes place.
With new stories constantly being introduced, some billed as prequels and then, later on, others being billed as prequels to those games, does this mean that the canon needs to be reevaluated completely with the release of each game? Not necessarily. Keep in mind that while Nintendo has an idea of when these games take place, they don’t want to say that one game is the “earliest” in the series, because then that limits their ability to tell stories. They’ve already shot themselves in the foot slightly by having Zelda 2 be the obvious finale of the tale, so they want to be able to be flexible to tell more stories. What this does mean, though, is that when new games are released that provide information relevant to other stories, we might get more clues as to when certain games take place.
And here, I’m drawn to the mistake that Konami made with its famed Castlevania franchise. Now, they’ve already established the first story in the series, “Lament of Innocence” (although you could view “Lords of Shadow” as an alternate starting point), and what is most likely the last game, “Dawn of Sorrow.” The last major tale to tell would be that of the Demon Castle Wars of 1999, and otherwise we just get a few more details in a timeline that is already condensing more and more on itself. It’s very possible that “Lords of Shadow” was their attempt to reimagine things and possibly have an alternate story to keep the franchise alive.
Anyway, enough of that for now…
So, first let’s examine why the two NES titles are the best candidates for the final chronological entries into the series.
In “The Legend of Zelda,” the hero collects the eight pieces required to reunite the Triforce of Wisdom and, upon the defeat of Ganon, he claims the full Triforce of Power. If we consider the story of the other games, which take place long before this one, we come to the understanding that the Triforce of Power may very well be the source of Ganon’s repeated revival, somehow binding his spirit to the mortal world. With the triforce in possession of the Hyrule Royal Family once more, Ganon’s threat largely seems gone.
However, in order to complete the saga and return things to the way they were in ancient times, when the monarchy possessed the full triforce, Link, upon his 16th birthday, had to embark on a quest to find the embodiment of the Triforce of Courage and awaken the fabled sleeping princess. It should be noted that in the past, it seemed that the Triforce of Courage resided in Link himself (and his other incarnations), but some argue that when the Hero of Time traveled in time, the Triforce of the Courage left his body/spirit and fragmented itself.
Thus, when Link obtains the Triforce of Courage, it seems that the Triforce is once again back where it was supposed to be, Ganon is vanquished, and peace should hopefully reign supreme (until the day when some other greedy individual seeks to steal the golden triangle).
But where things seem to start getting complicated is when we introduce “The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past” and “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time” into the timeline. Both of the games at their release (1991 and 1998 respectively) were billed as prequels, but the question became one of which game predated which? Naturally, it seems that “Ocarina of Time” predates “A Link to the Past” because OoT seems to represent at least part of the conflicts mentioned in the opening of ALttP.
Okay, still with me so far?
Where it starts getting VERY complicated is when we consider the time-traveling aspects of “Ocarina of Time.” In the game, a 10-year-old Link uses the powers of the Master Sword and the Temple of Time to travel seven years into the future, where he is now old enough to wield the blade and vanquish Ganondorf in an apocalyptic version of Hyrule that seemingly game about during the seven-year intermission. Upon Ganon’s destruction, the Zelda of the “future” time sends Link back into the past so that he can live out his childhood.
OK, not too bad, you say?
It sounds simple, but it’s not. What happens to the time period that Link defeated Ganon in, and then left? That time, naturally, didn’t cease to exist, but it existed without the Hero of Time present in order to protect them from future threats. Thus, according to the story of “The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker,” during the Hero’s absence, evil returns to Hyrule, and the King and his people have no choice but to pray to the goddesses to help them. In order to save the world from such evil, the goddesses instruct the people to climb to the highest mountaintops and then cover the lands below with water, sealing Hyrule deep below what becomes the Great Sea.
Meanwhile, in the “past,” the time period of Link’s return to his childhood, the Sages attempt to execute Ganon for his future crimes and then banish him into the Twilight Realm. Following that, Link embarks on a journey outside of Hyrule, eventually leading him to the parallel world of Termina. Naturally, “The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess” takes place after that, about a century or so later.
So, now we are presented with two distinct timelines, and games that we must attempt to place within them. Moreover, we can only imagine that there may very well be stories that take place prior to “Ocarina of Time” in the timeline prior to the split. It has been suggested that “The Legend of Zelda: Minish Cap” is one such game, but we’ll get to that here in a bit.
What timeline do “The Legend of Zelda” and “Zelda II: The Adventure of Link” fall under?
Let’s examine some possible placements…
BEFORE THE SPLIT:
Creation of Hyrule -> Skyward Sword? -> Sleeping Princess? -> Minish Cap -> Four Swords -> Ocarina of Time
WIND WAKER TIMELINE:
Wind Waker -> Phantom Hourglass -> Spirit Tracks -> Four Swords Adventures? -> A Link to the Past -> Link’s Awakening -> Oracles? -> Zelda -> Zelda 2.
TWILIGHT PRINCESS TIMELINE:
Majora’s Mask -> Twilight Princess (after OoT/MM in the “child timeline”).
OK, well that’s not too bad, but it leaves some questions that we may still wonder about.
In Zelda 2, we are presented with the backstory of an ancient time when the complete Triforce resided in the land of Hyrule. However, the King did not believe his son was a worth successor, so rather than allow him to have all of the Triforce, he hid the Triforce of Courage in a far away land, leaving only clues of its hiding place. His daughter, Zelda, was the only one he told of this. Upon his death, the prince (now king) demanded his sister tell him, but when she didn’t, he had a sorcerer place her under a curse, forcing her to sleep seemingly forever. Saddened by this, he had her sealed away in the castle and decreed that all females of the royal family from that day on be named Zelda.
Some argue that this is the very first story in the timeline, but if that’s true, how do we explain the embodiment of the Triforce within Link in OoT, or the fact that Link collects the pieces of it from the depths of the Great Sea in WW?
This is where we once again encounter the idea of a story that’s more than 20 years old and how to place it in the modern, much deeper timeline.
One suggestion, and one I’m now inclined to agree with, is that perhaps in the past the name of Zelda was simply popular amongst princesses, but it was NOT required. Basically, just like we have Elizabeth II, an homage to the first queen by that name in England. This allows for flexibility within the timeline. A good theory (from Duke Serkol of the BS Zelda Homepage) states that the story of the Sleeping Princess might date to sometime not long after ALttP. This is because in ALttP it seems that the Triforce is once again united within the Kingdom. Perhaps either the king from that story, or one soon thereafter is the one in the ancient tale who split the Triforce.
Fair enough, but then what of Minish Cap? Many say that it is one of the first, if not THE first, games in the series.
It’s very possible that Minish Cap takes place in the “New Hyrule,” the land settled after the events of PH. Perhaps the Picori were people of this new land, or perhaps they existed in Hyrule before the Flood, but were simply not mentioned. Some say that the Picori are the reason you find objects under bushes. To me, that’s just a convenient excuse, and still doesn’t say when Minish Cap takes place, just that MC is the first game to outright mention them.
One more anomaly is the war mentioned within the intro of ALttP. Was this great battle actually a reference to the events of OoT and its immediate sequel TP, or is it an amalgamation of a long series of events? It seems very plausible that Ganondorf’s attack on Hyrule and his eventual sealing within the Twilight Realm stand as what happened in the Sealing War. Yet, we must also remember that in TP Ganon breaks free from his prison. In the WW timeline, Ganon is very much present in Wind Waker, unless we consider him “sealed” way below the Great Sea?
An explanation that exists is that the events of “The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures” explains the final sealing of Ganon and the fact that since he was unable to return to Hyrule, he made his way to the Golden Land and corrupted it. This would suggest that “Four Swords Adventures” is a prequel (at some undisclosed amount of time before) to ALttP.
And finally, we should note that we don’t often see too many of the lands outside of Hyrule. Yet, many maps depict it as an island nation, with maps like that of FSA outright showing it as such. And, even in Zelda 2, we see that water is very prominent. By the time of Zelda 2, it’s very possible that some of the water has receded, or simply so much time has passed between then and the Great Flood that people largely imagine Hyrule to have always been as it was.
So, all of this said, here’s my personal idea of the timeline…
BEFORE THE SPLIT:
The Creation of Hyrule -> Skyward Sword? (unknown at present) -> The Civil War -> Ocarina of Time
WIND WAKER TIMELINE:
Wind Waker -> Phantom Hourglass -> Spirit Tracks -> Minish Cap -> Four Swords (GBA) -> Four Swords Adventures (GC) -> A Link to the Past -> Link’s Awakening -> Ancient Stone Tablets -> The Oracle of Ages/Seasons -> The Sleeping Princess story -> The Legend of Zelda -> Zelda 2.
TWILIGHT PRINCESS TIMELINE:
Majora’s Mask -> Twilight Princess.
So, that was very long-winded, but I hope it covered it all succinctly enough. I’d love to hear all your thoughts on it!
Oh, and before this ends, I should point out that I still don’t understand a couple things…In ALttP, Ganon seemingly has the entire Triforce at his beckon, so why even fight Link? He could wish him out of existence and reign supreme forever if he wanted. And then there’s Wind Waker…Of all things that the King could have wished for (Ganon being gone forever, the return of the world as it was, peace?), he chose to wish to seal Hyrule and the Triforce below the Great Sea. *sighs*
(And just for fun, who can resist the Angry Video Game Nerd’s take on this?)