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The Zelda Timeline

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By Nelson Schneider - 01/08/12 at 05:57 PM CT

While it has been discussed and debated among fans of the franchise for nearly two decades (with the start of the speculation revolving around “Link to the Past” and “Ocarina of Time”), the timeline of the ‘Legend of Zelda’ series has always been a bit of a mystery. Nintendo would release new games in the series randomly: sequels, prequels, sidestories; everything just got stirred-together into a big, incomprehensible morass. Until now.

For the 25th anniversary of the ‘Legend of Zelda’ series, Nintendo released (in Japan only, sadly) an anthology of ‘Zelda’-related documents and trivia called Hyrule Historia, which has been translated by an enterprising amateur translator who goes by the handle, GlitterBerri. Of particular note is page 69, which contains a complete timeline of Hyrule’s history with each ‘Legend of Zelda’ game occupying its official space. Yet this timeline contains a huge “WTF” surprise in the fact that the creators of the ‘Legend of Zelda’ don’t conceive of their games taking place on a sensible, linear timeline, but on a timeline fractured into three parts by the concluding events of “Ocarina of Time.”

As if I needed another reason to hate Nintendo’s first N64 entry in the ‘Legend of Zelda’ series. While I was never impressed by that game’s hideously blocky and blurry polygons, nor by its grating sound effects (I’m specifically thinking of “Hey! Listen!” and the shuddering sound Link makes that sounds like he’s freezing to death while being anally penetrated by a Darknut), nor by its horrendous camera and gameplay that mandated the invention of a lock-on button (which, I concede, is necessary for 3D action games… but I don’t concede that the 3D was necessary in the first place). However, I did at least enjoy the story in “Ocarina of Time” for the way in which it told the backstory of Ganon the Pig-Monster and how he was originally Gannondorf the Gerudo Bandit. It seemed to me that the ending of “Ocarina of Time” segued perfectly into the beginning of “Link to the Past,” with the defeated Ganon being sealed in the Sacred Realm, which later became the Dark World. Years later, I still perceived all of the ‘Legend of Zelda’ games as fitting somewhat neatly into one timeline, with “Twilight Princess” following “Link to the Past” and preceding (with a few missing details) “Wind Waker.”

But no, the official explanation of “Ocarina of Time’s” ending is that it was tri-fold. Somehow, the timeline of Young Link being sealed in the Temple of Time, the timeline of Adult Link defeating the Full-Triforce-wielding Gan(n)on(dorf), and the timeline of the returned Young Link after the victory of Adult Link are three separate things. While time travel is a well-established trope with a reputation for ruining everything it touches, except on very rare occasions, this resolution of the Hyrulian timeline just seems convoluted and lazy. I would have much preferred a few official recons to a convoluted, time-travelling mess.

On the other hand, I can see some hidden meaning in the three endings of “Ocarina of Time.” The entire history of the game world of Hyrule has always revolved around the tri-part McGuffin, the Triforce. This series of three golden triangles that combine to make one giant golden triangle with an upside-down-triangle-shaped hole in the middle is said in the games’ mythology to grant any wish and to represent the three virtues of Power, Wisdom, and Courage. In the post-“Ocarina of Time” split, I see shades of these virtues. In the ‘Sealed Young Link’ timeline, Ganon wins due to his overwhelming Power. In the ‘Young Link Returns after Adult Link’s Victory’ timeline, Gannondorf loses because of Zelda’s Wisdom to arrest him before his ascendance. In the ‘Adult Link Victorious’ timeline, Link’s Courage allows him to overcome all adversity that confronts him. Hiding the virtues of the Triforce in each timeline fork is a cute idea, but would be much more suitable for a linear series that ‘began at the beginning,’ so to speak.

Regardless of whether or not fans of the franchise embrace or scorn this official history of Hyrule, I hope the writers at Nintendo will soon produce a ‘Legend of Zelda’ game that reunites the three timelines with a final resolution. As for more sequels: Just look at all the blank space in that timeline! Hyrule’s past is empty and vague, leaving plenty of room for more adventures with Master Swords, boomerangs, and bombs.

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View Jonzor's Profile


Wrote on01/16/12 at 01:09 AM CT

Well... that's always how I took it, but I thought Nintendo was too proud to actually admit they'd pretty much gotten lost in their own maze. And now they've actually made something official... we'll see if that changes anything going forward.

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Nelson Schneider

Wrote on01/15/12 at 09:15 PM CT

I think what they're saying is, "We have no idea what we are doing and this huge mess was made on purpose." I can't really see Nintendo doing too much to establish timelines for their other series (aside from "Metroid," which is pretty much rock-solid), as there is plenty of truth in the common complaint that Nintendo just makes the same game over and over with slightly different levels.

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Wrote on01/12/12 at 02:16 PM CT

Nintendo casts "Resolve All Zelda Timeline Issues" It's... kind of effective?

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View Jonzor's Profile


Wrote on01/08/12 at 11:02 PM CT

"Split timeline" theories have actually been around for quite some time, so I wasn't really surprised on that front when I saw the GlitterBerri's video.

This video is from 2006.

I was EXTREMELY surprised to see Nintendo finally publicly finalize a timeline, because while often times you'd hear a comment from this producer or that would drop a line about the Zelda timeline as if they actually had one, no one really ever acted like Nintendo WANTED there to be an official timeline. I always assumed it was just something they were saying the project a kind of "Don't worry, we know exactly what we're doing, although it looks like this timeline is just turning into a huge mess."

Whether or not they've always known what they're doing or not, I guess they're stuck with it now. I wonder if they're going to start clearly identifying timelines now when they make games.

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