The Legend of Zelda games are, like most good legends, full of complex and convoluted backstory and in-universe mythology, made all the more complicated by the existence of multiple timelines. An explanation of The Legend of Zelda timeline only recently became possible when Nintendo released a definitive guide, but it’s still an incredibly dense thing for a newcomer to get into, so strap in. Things are about to get nerdily Byzantine up in here!
Before the definitive guide came out, Zelda fans theories flooded the Internet about how all the games in the Zelda series fit together. Some believed that Link and Ganondorf were character archetypes being constantly reborn and reinterpreted, which seems to still be the case, while others argued over the minute details of the Zeldaverse, like “How many timelines does Link have?” Nintendo finally gave fans the resource they need to make sense of this complicated fictional world. Read on for a breakdown of all the Zelda games and where they fit in the grand scheme of things.
1) Skyward Sword
Timeline Details: The very first game in continuity, Skyward Sword happens shortly after the “creation of the land and sky.” It predates the establishment of the Kingdom of Hyrule by a number of generations.
Plot: Link must lead his people back to the “surface” from the rock in the sky that they live on. The Goddess, Hylia, is still around. Link flies on birds throughout his aerial adventures.
2) The Minish Cap
Platform: Game Boy Advance
Timeline Details: This is the first game to happen after the establishment of the Kingdom of Hyrule. It also comes after the Sacred Realm has been sealed. This game occurs during the era when Vaati is the main antagonist, not Ganon/Ganondorf.
Plot: Link adventures around with a sorcerer on his head that has been turned into a bird-shaped hat. Link is tasked by the King of Hyrule to restore the “Four Sword” for a multitude of reasons, including the hopes of saving the petrified Princess Zelda.
3) Four Swords
Platform: Game Boy Advance
Timeline Details: Four Swords was actually attached to the Game Boy Advance re-release of A Link to the Past, but it happens long before that game in the timeline. Four Swords takes place just before Ocarina of Time, with a Hyrulean Civil War in the interim.
Plot: Link finds the Four Sword, which splits him into four copies of himself. The four Links journey to take on the evil, resurrected Vaati. En route, they must also find and bring together four Great Fairies.
4) The Timeline Splits Into Three With 'Ocarina Of Time'
Platform: Nintendo 64
Timeline Details: Time travel enters the Zeldaverse via the titular Ocarina of Time, and as a result, the timeline splits. Multiple timelines emerge, diverging from one another based on the actions that Link takes during Ocarina of Time. The three timelines are:
- A) Real World (Link defeated in Ocarina)
- B) Child Timeline (Link victorious in Ocarina; never opens the Sacred Realm)
- C) Adult Timeline (Link victorious in Ocarina; opens the Sacred Realm)
This list will go into further detail for each timeline with the corresponding games.
Plot: In Ocarina of Time, the previously sealed Sacred Realm, which houses the TriForce, can be opened with the Spiritual Stones. Young Link claims the Master Sword, but Ganondorf gets the Triforce, leading Link to be sealed in a temple for seven years until he’s old enough to take on the new Demon King. Link hops back and forth between his child and adult selves along the way via time travel.