History of the Zelda Timeline
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The History of the Zelda Timeline details how the chronology of the Legend of Zelda series has evolved throughout the series' history; both the official story, as well as the fan interpretations.
For long, the Zelda Timeline theory is perhaps the object of greatest debate amongst fans of the series. Nintendo's transcendental and thorough method of incorporating the tried-and-true formula of "gameplay first, story later" has arguably produced some of the greatest games of all time, but it has also resulted in an incoherent chronology - full of loose ends, contradictions, and general confusion. Fortunately, this has motivated fans to do all they can to sift, sort, and organize the Legend of Zelda canon. The December 2011 release of Hyrule Historia in Japan revealed a detailed and official chronology of the series. Hyrule Historia is a compilation of official sources with Eiji Aonuma as its chief editor and therefore it represents the developer's view of the chronology most accurately.
History of the official chronology of the Legend of Zelda series
Since the days of Pong, video game storylines have endured an amazing evolution, moving from simple "slay the dragon" conflict, through "save the princess" heroism, and into wonderfully deep epics. Early instalments of The Legend of Zelda series emerged at a very interesting point of this process; a point where the market was divided between casual platformers and plot-focused RPGs.
Zelda found a niche market somewhere in the middle. This is reflected in the storyline of such games as The Adventure of Link and A Link to the Past, which are simple and yet inspiring. Over the years, Nintendo has kept to this trend. Developers often focus foremost on gameplay and theme, and generally only decide on a definite storyline close to the completion of development. Resulting games are well-connected to the overall Legend of Zelda universe - and consider elements of games past - but do not often present immediate or obvious chronological connections.
In the early stages, this worked wonderfully. The first five Legend of Zelda releases were easily understood and organized. In 1998, the timeline had room even for the content of The Legend of Zelda TV series and Manga, as well as the mistakes of NoA, which would later be considered non-canonical.
Unfortunately, as time went on the sheer amount of information being introduced into the Legend of Zelda canon made a complete understanding less possible. Games such as The Wind Waker and Four Swords Adventures seemed to strain the connection between older games, and many fans began to wonder whether the Four Swords series had a place in the timeline at all.
Fans of the series wanting to learn more of the timeline began to discuss the concept on the Internet, slowly reaching conclusions on those issues which could be resolved and falling into bitter debate on those which could not. The debate continued for years, with fans dissecting Phantom Hourglass, Spirit Tracks, and Skyward Sword. On December 21, 2011, Nintendo of Japan published an official chronology of the Legend of Zelda series in Hyrule Historia, outlining how the games in the series are related to one another.
The Legend of Zelda & The Adventure of Link
The Legend of Zelda and The Adventure of Link were clearly linked in continuity, since the first game revolves around retrieving two of the major fragments of the Triforce, and Ganon is fought in order to rescue Princess Zelda; the second game revolves around finding the third major fragment in order to revive an incarnation of Zelda that was comatose for a very long time, and to impede the revival of Ganon.
A Link to the Past
When the A Link to the Past was released in 1991, it was placed at the then-beginning of the timeline, as the synopsis on the back of the original release packaging of the game, identified Link and Zelda as the "predecessors" of the original characters. Another evidence pointing to this placement was found in the Japanese manual, which stated that Ganon was originally "born" when he entered the Sacred Realm and placed his wish upon the Triforce.
Fan interpretations of the Zelda Timeline
- The Legend of Zelda Timeline Revealed, IGN.
- "The predecessors of Link and Zelda face monsters on the march when a menacing magician takes over the kingdom." — Packaging synopsis (A Link to the Past)
- "Indeed, the King of Evil Ganon, the one who has threatened Hyrule so, was born at this time." (A Link to the Past (JP version) manual, pg. 7)
- "Wind Waker's opening story seems to give a feeling of a "what if" scenario instead of aLttP: Hero of Time seals Ganon (both) Ganon sneaks/breaks his way through the seal (both), Ganon practically conquers Hyrule (tWW) / Link kills Ganon before Hyrule is completely enslaved (aLttP)." — Tounushi, Timeline Theories/Other Community Theories, Zelda Wiki, published April 3, 2011, retrieved March 7, 2013.