The timeline for the Legend of Zelda games, put mildly, is a bit of a mess. Instead of a nice simple line, it features three branching paths with alternate universes, time travel, and all sorts of wackiness. To get the full picture, fans would need The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia, a book that goes over the chronology of this beloved franchise. With Tears of the Kingdom soon to release, though, now is a great time to get a quick summation of the history of Zelda.
The History of The Legend of Zelda
The beginning of this tale actually starts with the gods Din, Nayru, and Farore. They are responsible for creating the world, but afterward, they fly back to the heavens. The Goddess Hylia takes the people of this ravished world and puts them into their sanctuary high above the ground. That place is now referred to as Skyloft.
This leads into the actual first game on the timeline: Skyward Sword. Link drops down from Skyloft to save Zelda in the land that would later be called Hyrule. He also has to deal with the Demon King Demise, who curses Link, stating that some incarnation of evil will always prey upon descendants of Link and Zelda.
This prehistoric incarnation of Link doesn’t have a complete look yet, though. He still needs his iconic green cap, which is why The Minish Cap is next on the timeline. Here, Link recruits the help of Ezlo (who takes the form of a green cap) to defeat the Wind Mage Vaati. Link and Ezlo are successful, but Vaati makes a comeback in Four Swords, where Link splits himself into four entities to take down Vaati again.
Era of the Hero of Time
The timeline gets a bit complicated here because the branching paths start from this game. As for what is seen in Ocarina of Time, Ganondorf tricks the Royal Family of Hyrule into trusting him, although what Ganondorf really wants is the Triforce. Link attempts to open the Temple of Time to grab the Master Sword before Ganondorf can take control, but he is too late. Zelda’s last ditch effort to save Hyrule is to toss Link with the titular Ocarina.
After that, the light mage Rauru puts Link into a seven-year sleep. When he awakes in the future, he conquers the five temples in Hyrule to finally be able to go toe to toe with Ganondorf. He is successful at first, but then he needs to fight Ganon’s true form atop Hyrule Castle.
From this point, there are three pathways the timeline goes down. After Ganon is slain, Zelda sends Link back in time to live out the seven years he was put to sleep. This creates two branches: one follows Link as he returns to his childhood, and one follows the fate of Hyrule with no Link to protect them.
There is also a possibility of Link failing this battle against Ganon. In that case, a third branch is created where the seven sages seal Ganon away. Therefore, the three timeline branches that come as a result of Ocarina of Time are:
- The Child Era: When Link returns to his childhood
- The Adult Era: Where Ganon is slain, but there is no Link to protect Hyrule
- The Fallen Era: Where Link fails to defeat Ganon
The Child Era
After being sent back seven years, Link wanders the forest to find his old companion, Navi. He instead encounters Skull Kid, who turns him into a Deku Scrub. From there, the events of Majora’s Mask ensues. Within three days, Link enlists the help of the four giants to stop the Moon from crash landing on Termina, and Link defeats Majora itself.
Many years after this ends, a new Link is raised in Ordon Village. Here, Ganondorf tries to make a comeback with the help of Zant, who comes from the Twilight Realm. This is where Twilight Princess starts: a captured Zelda and Link turned into a Wolf. He later encounters the same hero from Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, who gives this new Link tips on how to use his sword.
Fast forward many years later. A new reincarnation of Ganondorf arises, and this one frees Vaati from the Four Sword. Therefore, Link splits himself into four beings again in Four Sword Adventures to close out this part of the timeline.
The Adult Era
This follows what happens to Hyrule after Zelda sends Link back in time. Over many years, the seal on Ganondorf weakened to the point where he could escape. He then actually grabs the Triforce, and the gods only response is to flood Hyrule where nobody can find it.
Now that Hyrule is an oceanic environment, the next incarnation of Link is born on one of its islands. He then sails the seas on The Wind Waker in the game of the same name to defeat Ganon and restore Hyrule to its former glory.
After that, Link and Tetra (a long descendent of Zelda) travel to the World of the Ocean King to investigate missing ships in Phantom Hourglass. Later on, a new Link, with the help of a train, takes down Malladus in Spirit Tracks, which closes out this branch of the timeline.
The Fallen Era
This third part of the timeline occurs if Ganon beats Link at the end of Ocarina of Time. The seven sages (with help from Zelda herself) seal away Ganon in the Sacred Realm. Hyrule then is fairly peaceful until the wizard Aghanim appears and tries to free Ganon from the seal.
Thus begins the plot of A Link to the Past. Aghanim goes across the land of Hyrule, looking for the seven maidens. Link tries to stop him but is ultimately unsuccessful. Ganon is freed and turns the entire land into the Dark World. Link, therefore, needs to beat six more temples before he can beat Aghanim and Ganon at the Pyramid of Power.
Some time afterward, Link is stranded on Koholint Island. With the help of Marin, he plays the Ballad of the Wind Fish to wake said Wind Fish. After a fight with Nightmare, it’s revealed that it was all a dream. These occurrences made up the game Link’s Awakening.
It’s unknown what the fate of that Link is. A new Link is born years later when Twinrova decides to try and bring Ganon back to life (again). They send Minions to capture Din (in Oracle of Seasons) and Naryu (In Oracle of Ages). Link goes to Holodrum and Labrynna to defeat these minions but ends up having to slay Twinrova and a mindless form of Ganon.
Many years after the Oracle games, the mysterious Yuga is sent to a Hyrule that is very reminiscent of the one seen in A Link to the Past. In A Link Between Worlds, Yuga finds the seven sages and puts them into paintings before going back to his land of Lorule, with Link in pursuit. Link then learns that Hilda (a dark version of Zelda) sent Yuga to try and take the Triforce, but after Link defeats Yuga, he uses the Triforce to wish for peace to return to Lorule.
Far away, in the land of Hytopia, Princess Styla is cursed with wearing an irremovable jumpsuit. In Triforce Heroes, three Links are sent to deal with the situation.
Years later, back in Hyrule, Ganon is revived (once again) and makes a play for the Triforce. Now in nine pieces, Link must take the pieces back from the original Legend of Zelda game. This part of the timeline is closed with Adventure of Link, where Link battles a dark version of himself to get the Triforce of Courage.
The Calamity Era
All three of these separate branches connect with Breath of the Wild. This is why references to each of these timelines can be seen in the game. Calamity Ganon attacks, capturing Zelda and turning Hyrule Castle into a nightmarish stronghold. Before her capture, Zelda sends Link into a hundred-year sleep. When he awakes, he regains his memories and defeats Calamity Ganon to free Zelda.
These events will undoubtedly lead to Tears of the Kingdom, the newest entry in the series, which will release in early May 2023. When it arrives, it will actually be the latest game in the timeline, occurring after all three branches converge.
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