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Flexible or impossible? A complete rundown of the inconsistent timeline behind ‘The Legend of Zelda’

By Sam Wareing

Jun 4, 2022

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The Legend of Zelda is one of those video game series that seems to have been around since time immemorial. Each new game added to the franchise over the years has helped the video game expand on the deep and fascinating lore that surrounds it. But one thing that always leaves fans scratching their heads, and even the developers too, is its timeline.

After 36 years, no one can seem to agree on the chronological order of the games. This has led to many fans coming up with their own theories on what order the series actually follows. But why is it that such an iconic franchise isn’t based on a concrete order? Buckle up, because the journey you’re about to embark on is not a short one.

Hyrule Historia

For those of you who are unfamiliar with The Legend of Zelda, let’s give you a quick history lesson. Originally released in 1986 on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), the game of the same name follows the heroic quest of Link, a young boy tasked with saving Princess Zelda—yes, Zelda is the princess, Link is the protagonist—from the clutches of the evil monster Ganon and bringing peace back to the land of Hyrule.

The rest of the 29 entries follow a similar formula, with a few exceptions, most notably with the release of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask in 2000—which saw Link trapped in a three-day time loop, having to stop the Moon from crashing into Earth. While it was quite popular when it first came out, the series really shot to fame with the 1998 release of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for the Nintendo 64 (N64). This was the franchise’s first foray into 3D and it paid off immensely, with 7.6 million lifetime sales worldwide and many claiming it to be the best video game of all time.

Fast forward to 2017, the Nintendo Switch was released and along with it, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. This was Zelda’s first venture into open world games and follows Link after a 100-year slumber, waking up in a ravaged Hyrule and trying to figure out what happened while he was sleeping. This is the most successful Zelda game to date, selling 24.7 million copies since its release. The entry turned the series on its head, removing the old level structure and allowing the player to take on challenges in any order they felt like. Now that you’re more or less clued into the whole ordeal, it’s time we got to the heart of the matter: What the heck is going on with the franchise timeline?

The ‘Song of Time’

The thing with The Legend of Zelda is that its storyline spans thousands of years. The series starts with The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, which is set immediately after the creation of heaven and Earth. Following this game, the Kingdom of Hyrule is created and the series progresses from there. As you can imagine, a franchise with an in-game history of this length is bound to have some inconsistencies.

Firstly, let’s take a quick look at the timeline, as listed in the book The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia. The series begins with Skyward Sword but once it reaches Ocarina of Time, this is where things get complicated. The timeline splits in three: one route if Link is defeated by main antagonist Ganondorf (the human form of Ganon) at the end of Ocarina of Time, and then two routes if he is triumphant—one if he stays as a child (the Child Era) and the other if he remains as an adult (the Adult Era). There’s time travel involved, don’t think too hard about it.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s look at some of the things that just don’t make sense.

‘The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker’

The Wind Waker is the first game in the Adult Era and takes place 100 years after the events of Ocarina of Time and the defeat of Ganondorf. The original Kingdom of Hyrule was sealed and flooded following Ganondorf’s resurrection. It’s here that our first inconsistency appears. It’s stated in The Wind Waker that in the 100-year gap, not only did all of Hyrule flood, but none of the living Hylians or their ancestors remembered anything about the flood or the world’s history. It’s as if every memory of the chronicles preceding the events of The Wind Waker has been wiped from existence.

Furthermore, we have the small issue of the Rito and Zora races, as well as the Kokiri and the Korok races. The Zora are a group of amphibious beings who inhabit Hyrule. After the flood, we are told that the Zora, not being able to survive in the flood, evolved over the 100 years into the Rito tribe, a race of people with bird-like qualities.

The first issue with this comes from the fact that the Zora are amphibious creatures. Why would they evolve from a form that was perfectly suited to living in water into one that isn’t? The second issue is that 100 years is far too short of a time for such drastic evolutionary changes to occur within both the Zora and Kokiri races. And when you take into account that the Kokiri were depicted as small children in Ocarina of Time, it makes these claims even more questionable.

‘The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask’

Majora’s Mask takes place in the Child Era after Ganondorf is defeated. There are two inconsistencies related to this game, the first one in terms of a character only found in Majora’s Mask. If you go to the Goron City in Breath of the Wild, you can see a stone carving of the Goron hero, Darmani. While this is a cool nod to Majora’s Mask, it’s also a glaring contradiction.

You see, Darmani is a Goron hero who only shows up in Majora’s Mask and is not referenced in any other game. The fact that he debuts here is one, weird, and two, downright impossible. Why? Because Majora’s Mask takes place in Termina, an alternate reality to Hyrule. There is no conceivable way that Darmani could be present in the Hyrule depicted in Breath of the Wild. That and the fact that Darmani is also dead in Majora’s Mask.

‘The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’

Oh boy. This is where things get really crazy. Breath of the Wild is the latest game in the Zelda franchise and also the one with the most inconsistencies. This game came out after the release of The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia but it was confirmed by the developers that it takes place at the end of all three of the split timelines. This is where the contradictions start.

First, this game is home to the Rito and the Korok tribes. Which, if you’ve been following along, makes absolutely no sense at all. The two were only ever-present in the Adult Era and are not referenced in any other Zelda lore or timelines, meaning if the Breath of the Wild is placed at the end of each of the three timeline splits, how can they exist in the first place? Secondly, there are plenty of locations in Breath of the Wild named after characters that are specific to the different timelines. This, once again, makes the placement of the game nearly impossible and incidentally fails to fit well into any of the other timelines.

With such vast lore spanning thousands of years, dealing with time travel and three separate timelines, it’s no wonder there are major errors regarding the chronology of the series. All of this being said, however, the looseness of the timeline has also allowed fans to come up with their own theories. Perhaps you know where Breath of the Wild should be placed or how the Zora evolved so quickly into the Rito in The Wind Waker. The beauty of The Legend of Zelda being a fantasy game is that anything is possible and whatever your take is, for all intents and purposes, your theory is the right one.