For many years, The Legend of Zelda worked like an anthology series, taking its players on new adventures with each game that happen to feature the same core characters, Zelda and Link. Each new Legend of Zelda game seemed to tell its own story and simply included references to previous titles every now and then, but not in any kind of concrete way. That changed when the Hyrule Historia released alongside Skyward Sword in 2011, a book that outlined an official Zelda timeline and revealed that every entry into the Legend of Zelda series takes place in the same world throughout many different eras. Sadly, the way Nintendo structured the Zelda timeline is pretty confusing.
The Legend of Zelda timeline begins with Skyward Sword, which establish how every Link and Ganon are connected through reincarnation. This began when Skyward Sword‘s Link defeated and sealed the Demon King Demise, who didn’t truly know the power the Master Sword and a courageous human had. Before Demise was fully sealed, though, he cast this curse upon Link and Zelda: “Those who share the blood of the goddess and the spirit of the hero… They are eternally bound to this curse. An incarnation of my hatred shall ever follow your kind, dooming them to wander a blood-soaked sea of darkness for all time!”
Ocarina of Time plays a pivotal role in the Legend of Zelda timeline due to Link traveling back and forth through time in order to defeat Ganondorf (the reincarnation of Demise), as Link’s meddling results in splitting the single Zelda timeline into three: The Child Era, where Link returns to the past and creates the Majora’s Mask, Twilight Princess, and Four Sword Adventures timeline; The Adult Era, which continues after Link is sent back and creates the The Wind Waker, Phantom Hourglass, and Spirit Tracks timeline; and the Fallen Hero Timeline, where Link is defeated and Ganondorf gains the full power of the Triforce, becoming Demon King Ganon. The first two timelines have clear connections and work quite well, whereas the Fallen Hero Timeline is confusing and doesn’t really work.
The Legend Of Zelda Timeline Is Overly Complex
A Link to the Past is the first entry in the Fallen Hero Timeline, but Nintendo’s way of connecting A Link to the Past to the Zelda timeline doesn’t follow the rules of its own world. Ganon was somehow still able to be sealed away in the Sacred Realm (so he could be freed in A Link to the Past), but the incredible power of the Triforce and Ganon’s mastery of magic could have easily prevented this. The Triforce operates the same way in each timeline, so when Twilight Princess shows Ganondorf nearly escaping a similar fate when the Triforce was split and he only had the Triforce of Power, it doesn’t make sense that his strongest form, Ganon, could be bested while wielding the full Triforce.
Nintendo also isn’t consistent with what game follows A Link to the Past. Hyrule Historia states that Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons comes next, but the timeline on the official Zelda website changes it to Link’s Awakening. The logistical disparity, clunky lore bending, and making A Link Between Worlds and Triforce Heroes fill the space between Oracle/Link’s Awakening and The Legend of Zelda leaves the Fallen Hero Timeline feeling a bit forced – and it sort of is.
In an interview with PureNintendo, producer Eiji Aonuma gives a disclaimer about the timeline and The Legend of Zelda series as a whole. Aonuma stresses that while every game has its story, the main focus is on the game’s mechanics and if those new Zelda mechanics change the story, they let it go where it needs to go without worrying about adherence to a timeline. To solidify his view of the this topic, he closes that section of the interview by saying: “Thinking of that way of developing the games, it may be correct to say that the story is an appendix to that. I even think that setting Skyward Sword as the “first story,” was merely a coincidence.“
The timeline of The Legend of Zelda is confusing and full of contradictions. However, its existence is less about telling one perfect story and more about inspiring players. In an interview with Eurogamer, Aonuma is asked about the timeline and where Breath of the Wild fits in, but he chooses not to provide an answer because to him, it’s more fun to see the theories and interpretations that players come up with.