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‘The Legend of Zelda’ Timeline(s)

Link from Tears of the Kingdom

It’s dangerous to try and understand the timeline alone! Take this guide!

Now that Legend of Zelda: Tears of The Kingdom is coming out, fans are thirsting for answers about various questions about the Zelda franchise timeline. After all, the series timeline was once a better kept secret than the Krabby Patty Secret formula, and until the release of the Legend of Zelda lore compendium Hyrule Historia the timelines were unconfirmed.

I have my own theories about the Legend of Zelda timeline, but we’ll cover those in a minute. It turns out that the book confirmed what Zelda fans thought all along: that Hyrule’s history takes place not across one, but multiple different timelines. For a series based squarely in the fantasy genre, it almost gets a little bit sci-fi with all the branching timelines! Eat your heart out, Doctor Who. Link was the original time lord.

So let’s begin at the beginning of The Legend of Zelda, shall we?

Skyward Sword

Link playing the Goddess Harp in 'The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword'

The game that began it all! Skyward Sword takes place high in the heavens above, in a floating town called Skyloft. In Skyloft, the first-ever Link is a young boy training for his flight exam. What is he flying? A giant bird! Ever wonder why every Link has the green tunic with the cute little sock hat? That’s Link’s flight school uniform! Link has a pretty simple life. He rides a bird, helps the townspeople, and crushes on his childhood friend Zelda. One day, Zelda is whisked away by a magical dark tornado, and Link uncovers a sword hidden deep in a shrine to the Goddess worshipped by Skyloft’s people that will help him defeat the evil that has kidnapped his beloved. The sword is possessed by a spirit named Fi, which tells Link that he is the hero of prophecy who will defeat the evil Demon King named Demise. Demise was imprisoned by the Goddess in the ancient past, but dark forces are working to bring about his resurrection. So that’s exactly what Link does! He journeys to the world below to rescue Zelda and defeats Demise. Demise warns him, however, that he will someday reincarnate, and that Link’s reincarnations will be locked in a battle against the Demon King for all eternity.

So what happens next?

The Minish Cap

Ever wonder why rupees are hidden under rocks and in grass in every Zelda game? As we find out in The Minish Cap, it’s because a diminutive race of beings called the Picori put them there! Centuries after Skyward Sword, the lands of Hyrule fall victim to dark forces once more, and the Picori turn to Link’s reincarnation for aid. Link is tasked with repairing the shattered pieces of the mythical Four Sword, a weapon of Picori origin that was given to a hero long ago. And he’s given a magic hat to help him! After forging the sword, Link faces off against the dark warrior Vaati and defeats him, bringing peace to the land once again.

Four Swords

Four Swords takes place just before Ocarina of Time and begins during the Four Swords festival, which is celebrated to honor the weapon that helped purged the land of evil years ago. Surprise, surprise, the evil breaks free! Princess Zelda is captured by Vaati, who has been sealed inside the Four Sword, and whisks her away to marry him. Link draws the Four Sword from its pedestal, and he is split into four identical copies that must work together to defeat Vaati once and for all! They do, naturally.

Ocarina of Time

Ocarina of Time causes the most major timeline shift in the series. After all, “time” is right there in the name! A young faerie boy who lives deep in the forest is tasked by a talking tree to seek out the Hyrule royal family in order to halt the creeping spread of evil in the land. Link finds Princess Zelda at Hyrule Castle, where she tells him that a mysterious man named Ganondorf has come to the realm from the desert in search of power. Link must draw the sacred Master Sword from the Temple of Time and use it to defeat Ganondorf. It doesn’t go as planned. When Link draws the sword, he is transported seven years into the future, and is now an adult. During those seven years, Ganondorf has laid waste to Hyrule. After purging the land of evil, Link engages the demonic warlock in a final battle for the fate of the realm. And then the timeline splits into three separate possibilities, depending on the outcome of the battle.

The Child Timeline

Link and the cast of characters in 'The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask'

After Link defeats Ganondorf, he is sent back in time by Princess Zelda. When Link returns to his child self, he warns the rulers of Hyrule about Ganondorf, thereby foiling the warlock’s plans before they ever come to fruition. Then Link goes on a journey through the Lost Woods in search of “a friend” (probably his childhood friend Saria) which results in the events of…

Child Timeline: Majora’s Mask

In Majora’s Mask, Link travels to a parallel realm called Termina, where he has to defeat a mischievous forest imp named Skull Kid who intends to destroy the world using the power of an ancient mask. What’s Skull Kid’s plan? Drop the moon on the world. Over the course of three days, Link gathers four giants who are able catch the moon before it falls and save Termina. Link then journeys to the moon’s surface to defeat Majora, an evil spirit housed in the mask that has been controlling Skull Kid all along.

Child Timeline: Twilight Princess

Twilight Princess is set in the future, when Ganondorf is imprisoned by seven mystical sages and is set to be executed for his crimes. It goes horribly wrong, and Ganondorf breaks free by transporting himself to a dark dimension called the Twilight Realm. A young farm boy named Link teams up with Midna, the princess of that dark realm, in order to stop Ganondorf from destroying the Realm of Light and the Realm of Twilight.

Child Timeline: Four Swords Adventures

In Four Swords Adventures, Ganondorf is reborn in Hyrule and tries to resurrect the evil sorceror Vaati— remember him? Link and his three Four Sword clones have to team up and stop him again, thus ending the Child Timeline.

The Adult Timeline

Link rides a red dragon boat across the ocean in 'The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker'

In what’s known as the Adult Timeline, Link returns to the past. Meanwhile, Zelda stays in the future and helps rebuild Hyrule. Generations later, Ganondorf breaks free from his imprisonment in the Sacred Realm and wreaks havoc once more. This time, however, no hero appears to save the day. The people pray to the gods for salvation, and the gods decide to purge the world of evil by drowning it in a flood. Kind of a dick move. The people of Hyrule now live on the peaks of Hyrule’s mountains, which have become islands in a Great Sea. This leads to…

Adult Timeline: The Wind Waker

The Wind Waker follows one of Link’s reincarnations, living the good life on an island with his grandma and sister. But one day, his sister is captured by a giant bird monster that is working for the newly revived Ganondorf. Link has to team up with a young pirate captain named Tetra (who turns out to be Princess Zelda’s reincarnation) and set sail to save the world once more!

Adult Timeline: Phantom Hourglass

Phantom Hourglass sees Link and Tetra set sail across the open sea and encounter a ghost ship. Tetra is kidnapped while boarding the ship, and Link falls into the sea while attempting to save her. After going on a quest to discover the mystical Phantom Sword, Link is able to defeat the evil squid ghost Bellum and save Tetra.

Adult Timeline: Spirit Tracks

In Spirit Tracks, Link and Tetra sail far and wide in search of new land to start the Kingdom of Hyrule once more. They are successful in establishing a new Hyrule, but a century later, the settlement is covered in train tracks! Link’s reincarnation is hired by Princess Zelda to work on a train, and the two eventually discover that a politician named Chancellor Cole intends to resurrect the Demon King Malladus, who has been sealed away in the Tower of Spirits. Naturally, they go kick his ass.

The Fallen Hero Timeline

Little Link wields a sword and shield in 'The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening'

The Fallen Hero Timeline is the darkest of them all! In this timeline, The Hero of Time from Ocarina of Time fails to defeat Ganondorf, and the world is plunged into darkness! The remaining forces of good are able to seal Ganondorf away in a conflict known as the Imprisoning War. But centuries later, some wiseguy decides to try and free Ganondorf once more. This leads to…

Fallen Hero Timeline: A Link to the Past

In A Link to the Past, the dark priest Agahnim attempts to take over Hyrule by capturing some magical maidens, but Link is there to stop him. After defeating Agahnim, Link must do battle with Ganon, who had been possessing the dark wizard all along!

Fallen Hero Timeline: Link’s Awakening

After defeating Agahnim, Link went on a little cruise on the ocean! In Link’s Awakening, he becomes shipwrecked on Koholint island and is tasked with waking the Wind Fish, who sleeps in an egg in the middle of the island. It’s revealed that the island was all part of the Wind Fish’s dream, and when the Wind Fish wakes up, the island disappears. That version of Link is never heard from again. Trippy!

Fallen Hero Timeline: Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons

Meanwhile, back in Hyrule, the twin witches and adoptive mothers of Ganon send baddies Onox and Veran to the lands of Holodrum and Labrynna. In Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons, Link is sent to both lands to defeat Onox and Twinrova using the Rod of Seasons and the Harp of Ages. Link is successful, and brings peace to the land once more!

Fallen Hero Timeline: A Link Between Worlds

A Link Between Worlds takes place centuries later, as a new Link is sent to a mirror version of Hyrule, known as Lorule, in order to prevent a sorceror named Yuga from resurrecting Ganon once more. After some paint-themed shenanigans, Link and Zelda are able to save the realm!

Fallen Hero Timeline: The Legend of Zelda

The Legend of Zelda is the game that started it all. Ganon invades Hyrule, and Link stops him with Zelda’s help. Link is brunette in this one, and therefore has less fun doing it than his blonde ancestors.

Fallen Hero Timeline: Zelda II: The Adventure of Link

In Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, our guy basically does the exact same thing he did in the previous game. Mind you, this was the second Zelda game ever made. Nintendo was still working out the creative kinks.

So, where do Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom fit on the timelines?

That’s the thing: they don’t. These games take place in “the distant past,” over 10,000 years ago. Sure, there are some Goddess statues in the land which remind one of Skyward Sword, but that’s really all that ties this game to the others. My theory is that these games actually take place after Skyward Sword, as the Kingdom of Hyrule is settled but people still venerate the Goddess deity from Skyward Sword. My other theory is that the timeline is totally made up and was slapped together after many of these games were released. No way they were planning it all out from the jump. Not even Nintendo is that ingenious.

(featured image: Nintendo)

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Jack Doyle (they/them) is actually nine choirs of biblically accurate angels in crammed into one pair of $10 overalls. They have been writing articles for nerds on the internet for less than a year now. They really like anime. Like... REALLY like it. Like you know those annoying little kids that will only eat hotdogs and chicken fingers? They're like that... but with anime. It's starting to get sad.