The Zelda timeline

The Legend Of Zelda has a long and rich lineage of games, but how do they all fit together? We attempt to make sense of the series’ complicated history…

As the Zelda series has grown and evolved with each successive entry, exactly how the numerous intersecting stories and timelines fit together has become a contentious subject among its fans. A Link To The Past, for example, although released in 1991, served as a prequel to the original Legend Of Zelda from 1986.

With Ocarina Of Time, also set before the events of the original Zelda, causing the series to split and head down two separate timelines, and opinion split over where the Game Boy Color titles, Oracle Of Ages and Oracle Of Seasons fit into the overall Zelda canon, you can see why the series’ chronology is so difficult to pin down.

Interestingly, series creator Shigeru Miyamoto has occasionally made mention of a document that lays out exactly how all the games’ events fit together. “For every Zelda game we tell a new story, but we actually have an enormous document that explains how the game relates to the others, and bind them together,” Miyamoto said, in a 2003 interview with Superplay magazine. “But to be honest, they are not that important to us. We care more about developing the game system… give the player new challenges for every chapter that is born.”

Miyamoto has always insisted that gameplay takes precedence over storytelling in the Zelda series, however, which may explain why he’s always kept the games’ relationship to one another a secret – with the exact chronology of the series’ characters and events up for debate, it takes on the legendary, mythical hue implied in its title.

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Figuring out how all the pieces of the Zelda timeline fit together is one part of the franchise’s enduring appeal, so with this in mind, here’s a brief overview of all the games in the series so far (excluding the three rather dreadful Philips CD-i titles, which are generally considered to be non-canon), and how it’s widely thought they fit together.

To make things a bit clearer, we’ve arranged the games in what is generally thought to be the correct order in Zelda chronology – which, confusingly, isn’t necessarily the order in which they were originally released…

The Minish Cap

Although a relatively recent addition to the Zelda series, having first appeared on the Game Boy Advance in 2004, it’s widely thought that The Minish Cap is the first chapter in the franchise’s sprawling canon. One of the game’s creators, Eiji Aonuma, said at the time of The Minish Cap’s release that it was intended as a prequel to Four Swords Adventures, and in an interview with Game Informer, he said, “The GBA Four Swords Zelda is what we’re thinking as the oldest tale in the Zelda timeline.”

The events in Minish Cap, then, occur many, many years before the other games in the series, and there are several clues within it that appear to support this. It’s here that the young Link is first given the trademark hat, green clothes and sword by the tiny Minish. It’s also worth noting that the kingdom of Hyrule is quite small here, compared to other games in the series – another clue, perhaps, that The Minish Cap is set furthest in the past. If this is indeed the case, then The Minish Cap introduces the youngest incarnation of Princess Zelda who, like most of her relatives in other titles, has to be rescued, this time from the evil Vaati, whose own origins are revealed in this game.

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Skyward Sword

Confirmed by producer Eiji Aonuma as being the prequel to Ocarina Of Time, Skyward Sword details the adventures of a teenage incarnation of Link who, at the start of the game lives an idyllic life in the Laputa-like land of Skyloft. Far above the clouds, Link and his people live peacefully while the land below is gripped by evil. When Zelda (who this time, isn’t a princess, but the sweet-natured daughter of the Knight Academy) suddenly disappears, apparently kidnapped by some wicked force, Link arms himself with the powerful Goddess Sword and heads off to rescue her.

In many ways, Skyward Sword is an origin story about the Master Sword, and also the series’ regular villain, Ganondorf; although he’s not the main antagonist in this game, it’s likely we’ll see how he came into being. “This game talks about the birth of the Master Sword, and it touches on why Ganondorf showed up,” Aonuma told Famitsu Magazine. “If you play it, I think you’ll get some understanding on that. It connects to Ocarina, so if you play Ocarina Of Time 3D and move on to this game, I think you’ll catch on to a lot of things.”

Ocarina Of Time

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In Ocarina Of Time, we learn that Link was brought up in Kokiri Forest, and protected by the Great Deku Tree. It’s in this game that Ganondorf makes his first play for power, by killing the Great Deku Tree, stealing the Triforce and later kidnapping Princess Zelda.

It’s in Ocarina Of Time that the series’ chronology apparently breaks in two. “Ocarina Of Time basically has two endings of sorts; one has Link as a child and the other has him as an adult,” Eiji Aonuma said in a 2002 interview with Gamepro. In one timeline, Link closed the Door of Time and returned to his original time seven years earlier, meaning that the events in Ocarina Of Time never took place. In the other timeline, known as the Adult Timeline, Link returned to his own time, but the events of Ocarina still took place.Majora’s Mask

Majora’s Mask follows on directly from Ocarina Of Time, this game served as a dark and quite surreal side-story to its hugely successful predecessor. Taking place in an alternate world in which the moon is set to crash into the land of Termina within three days, Link must retrieve Majora’s Mask, stolen by the mischievous Skull Kid.

The Wind Waker, Phantom Hourglass, Spirit Tracks

These three titles are all part of the Adult Timeline, and take place after the events of Ocarina Of Time. In The Wind Waker, set at least a century after Ocarina, Link again has to fight Ganondorf, who’s still after the sacred Triforce. Wind Waker introduces Tetra, an incarnation of Zelda who’s much more feisty than her forebears, having lived a life on the flooded seas of Hyrule as a pirate.

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Phantom Hourglass takes place immediately after Wind Waker, in the same flooded Hyrule, and featuring Tetra, who this time is kidnapped by the monstrous Bellum. In Spirit Tracks, which takes place a century after Phantom Hourglass, an incarnation of Link is a train driver, who teams up with the spirit of Zelda to expel the evil Malladus, a Demon King who’s taken over the latter’s body.

Twilight Princess

This is where things become a little confusing. It’s commonly thought that Twilight Princess sits in the Child Timeline of Ocarina Of Time, and therefore assumes that the events of The Wind Waker, Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks didn’t happen. If this is the case, Twilight Princess follows on from Majora’s Mask, and introduces a teen incarnation of Link, who works as a farm hand in Ordon Village.

When the village’s younglings are kidnapped by monsters, Link is dragged into the twilight realm, where he’s transformed into a wolf and tossed into a prison. Later meeting Zelda thanks to the help of the imp-like Midna, Link learns that not only must he save Hyrule from the King of Twilight, but also find the Master Sword in order to return himself to human form.

Twilight Princess also reintroduces the evil Ganondorf, here banished to the twilight realm. Link must kill him in order to restore Midna (the Twilight Princess of the title) to her true form.

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Four Swords/Four Swords Adventures

It’s thought that Four Swords Adventures could slot into the Zelda timeline directly after Twilight Princess. Yet again, Ganondorf is the villain as an evil version of Link, Shadow Link, appears and kidnaps Zelda’s shrine maidens. When the good Link seizes the Four Sword, he inadvertently releases Vaati, the antagonist in The Minish Cap, from his enchanted prison.

A Link To The Past/The Legend Of Zelda/The Adventure Of Link

According to most chronologies, these three games all follow on from one another. In A Link To The Past, Link rescues Zelda from the evil wizard Agahnim, kills Ganon, and replaces the Master Sword in its rightful place in the Sacred Grove.

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The Legend Of Zelda, the first game in the series, is thought to be set a century after A Link To The Past. Here, Ganon once again steals the Triforce, and a new incarnation of Link sets off to retrieve both its fragments and the kidnapped Zelda.

In The Adventure Of Link, a now teenaged Link discovers that princess Zelda has been placed into an eternal slumber, and that only he can wake her. To do so, he must restore six crystals to their respective palaces, and open the way to a further palace, wherein the Triforce of Courage is stored. Only with this relic can Link awaken the princess.

The Oracle Of Ages/The Oracle Of Seasons

These interlinked handheld adventures are thought to occur after A Link To The Past and the first two Zelda games. In them, the evil Twinrova sisters attempt to revive Ganon, but only succeed in resurrecting a zombie-like version of him. Link eventually defeats all three.

Link’s Awakening

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This Game Boy entry in the Zelda series is set after A Link To The Past, and interestingly, isn’t set in Hyrule, but on a remote island called Koholint – Zelda, meanwhile, is merely mentioned. Having defeated Ganon, Link heads off on a new adventure, and arriving on Koholint, which turns out to be the dream of a god-like being called the Wind Fish.

If this sounds odd, it is – with its numerous allusions to other Nintendo games, and unofficial cameos from characters like Yoshi and Kirby, it’s the perhaps the most bizarre entry in the entire Zelda canon. Even placing it precisely in the games’ timeline is tricky (“It’s not very clear where Link’s Awakening fits in – it could be anytime after Ocarina of Time” Shigeru Miyamoto once told Nintendo Power), but as the Zelda Wiki points out, the fact that Link is seen leaving on a boat similar to the one in this game could place it after the two Oracles games.

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So there we have it – one possible interpretation of what order the Zelda games may fall into. This is by no means definitive, though, since, as the series’ creators perhaps intended, their chronology is open to interpretation. And given that the concept of the legend is right there in the Zelda games’ title, it’s possible that what we’re dealing with isn’t a proper chronology in the historical sense, but a series of half-remembered stories, handed down from generation to generation, featuring different versions of events depending on who tells the tale.

There’s a clue to this interpretation in Skyward Sword, in fact. Shortly after the introduction of Fi, the humanoid incarnation of the Goddess Sword, she says something to the effect that all verbally recounted legends are unreliable. Could this be a hint from the game’s makers that attempting to place the games in order is futile?

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Whatever your interpretation of the games and their history, there’s one thing everyone can agree on: whichever order you play them in, all the Zelda games have something truly spellbinding to offer.

The Legend Of Zelda: Skyward Sword is out now on Nintendo Wii – you can read our review here. Lots more exclusive Zelda content can be found here.