RetroVision – Deciphering The Legend of Zelda Timeline

For years, the Legend of Zelda timeline remained a mystery, with many wondering how, or even if, the games even connected together.  That was until 2011 when Nintendo, alongside Legend of Zelda creator Shigeru Miyamoto and series Director Eiji Aonuma penned Hyrule Historia, the complete Legend of Zelda encyclopaedia.  Including a mix of original Zelda artwork, history of the iconic series, and an exclusive manga, the 274-page book also featured a complete Legend of Zelda timeline, one that nobody could have predicted.

This fabled timeline finally shone some light on the mysteries of the overarching Zelda mythology, with some shocking discoveries, especially for Retro fans.  Not only was this official timeline not what many thought it was, but it also wasn’t just the one storyline, but rather three branching tales that are dependent on the events that occur in the legendary N64 classic The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time.  What’s more, The Legend of Zelda is not the first in the timeline, but rather one of the last in an incredibly dark branch-off from the Ocarina of Time.

Zelda Timeline
The Legend of Zelda Timeline

As depicted in the above image from Hyrule Historia, all of the timelines start the same, with the Wii exclusive Skyward Sword immediately following the creation of the Heaven and Earth.  In fact, Skyward Sword doesn’t even take place in Hyrule, pre-dating its establishment.  Following Hyrule’s establishment comes the Game Boy Advance titles The Minish Cap and Four Swords.  These two games then lead into the story splitting Ocarina of Time, shockingly revealing that these four titles are the only ones that appear in every single timeline.

This all means that none of the 8 or 16-bit titles are relevant in all timelines.  In fact, all of the retro titles exist in the one timeline, the darkest and most desperate of the three.  Not only this, but the chronological order of these games is possibly not quite what you’d think.

All three storylines rest on the fate of both Link and Ganondorf in the Ocarina of Time, and to make it to the Retro-arc, a terrible fate awaits both Link, and Hyrule in general.  Ultimately, for the events in all those retro top-down classics to occur, Link must fail, Zelda not be rescued, and Hyrule must fall into decline.  Simply put, in this chronology, Ganon wins.

Zelda Concept Art
The Darker Retro Timeline featuring The Original Legend of Zelda

Once this dark fate has occurred the timeline titled “The Decline of Hyrule and the Last Hero” begins.  This dark era starts with the events of the Super Nintendo game A Link to the Past.  This was always planned as a prequel to the original game, and as such makes perfect sense.  However, we have to move through three Game Boy games before we finally make to it to the 1986 series opener.  A game which is followed by its sequel in this chronological timeline, making The Adventure of Link one of the most recent games from a storyline perspective, and certainly the most recent in the dark era.  This interestingly also means that the first appearance of Dark Link was not actually in The Adventure of Link.

With regard to the other timelines, these both depend on Link’s victory against the Demon King Ganon in the Ocarina of Time.  If Ganon is simply sealed away, then we move onto what many refer to as the “Toon Link” titles, and the timeline referred to as “The Hero of Winds and A New World”.  Taking place centuries later, this story-arch sees Hyrule completed flooded, creating a new world, one mainly covered by the seas.  This also sees the resurrection of Ganondorf, as depicted in The Wind Waker and its direct sequels.

Wind Waker
The Wind Waker and The Toon Link Timeline

The final timeline of the three features the 3D adventure titles in the series, and is the one that many may have predicted, especially given that it begins with Majora’s Mask, a direct sequel to the Ocarina of Time.  This story-arch is referred to as “The Twilight Realm and The Legacy of the Hero”, and sees the Ganondorf executed in the time between Majora’s Mask and Twilight Princess.  A game which takes place over a century later.

Following Twilight Princess, this storyline goes on to make a distinctive connection to The Minish Cap and Four Swords from the earlier shared events, through Four Swords Adventure for the GameCube.  This sees the series’ other lead antagonist, Vaati, resurrected again, alongside Ganondorf’s reincarnation. Arguably this makes “The Twilight Realm and The Legacy of the Hero” the most complete storyline of the three, due to the connections that both Majora’s Mask and Four Swords Adventure make to the earlier shared timeline.

Twilight Princess
The Twilight Realm and The Legacy of the Hero Featuring Twilight Princess

Phew, did you follow all that?  It must be said that whilst initially convoluted, once you see the timeline in all its glory it does just seems to make sense.  With it finally shedding some light on the commonly misunderstood Zelda universe.  It even has the effect of not only categorizing the games by era and theme, but also by design and gameplay choices.

Nintendo have also gone to the extent of adding later Legend of Zelda games into the timeline.  Seen through the recent 3DS release, A Link Between Worlds, acting as a direct sequel to A Link to The Past, therefore falling into the darker Retro timeline.  This all shows their commitment to maintaining the overarching storylines, and to respecting the Retro games that helped to make the Legend of Zelda what it is today.

So where does your favourite game fall, and importantly where do you think the brand new Wii U title will lie in the Zelda timeline?

Simon Aubrey Drake

A lifelong gamer with a fanatical love of all things Nintendo and Japan. So much so that I've written a thesis on one and lived in the other. Currently on a quest to catch every last Pokémon. Follow me on twitter via @DudeXChill or @RingsandCoins.

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