As a kid, the whole concept of a “canon” is generally a foreign concept. If you had told me that The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time didn’t actually happen in canon, I’d be like “what does that mean? I know it’s not real. It’s a video game. Yeesh.” The closest thing I had to grasping the whole idea of continuity was when the player character from Pokemon Red and Blue was the secret boss on Mt Silver in Pokemon Gold and Silver. It didn’t matter what was true and what wasn’t, what came first and what came last – games were just games, something to be enjoyed.
I miss those days.
When you’re an adult, things have to make sense. I honestly think it has a lot to do with culture in the current age. We live in a world where even the stuff we fantasize about has to have some kind of logical order to it. The way time travel worked in pretty much any old video game would never receive positive critical reviews now. Samus Aran rolling into a ball has to be justified by serious genetic modification – it can’t just happen because it’s a video game and it’s cool. There has to be order and logic to everything. I don’t necessarily think this is a healthy trend from an artistic perspective, but it’s the world we live in. What I’m really here to talk about is how it has affected the world of Zelda.
If you are not familiar with the Zelda timeline, allow me to enlighten you.
Okay, seriously, here’s how it goes. The story begins with Skyward Sword, and then proceeds onward towards The Minish Cap, the first Four Swords game, and then Ocarina of Time. OoT is where things get tricky – you see, at this point the timeline splits into three different branches. What are the three branches, you ask? Well I’ll tell you.
BRANCH #1: The Fallen Hero Timeline
This is the branch that happens when you play Ocarina of Time for the first time and some annoying boss (probably Morpha or Barinade) manages to get the drop on you. Link dies, Ganondorf wins, and the world goes to heck because he gets ahold of the completed Triforce. The Sacred Realm becomes a world of darkness and evil ruled by Ganondorf.
This is the part of the timeline where games such as A Link to the Past, A Link Between Worlds, The Legend of Zelda, and Zelda II occur. New Links have to rise up to deal with the problems left behind by the old one, and though most of them only succeed in sealing Ganondorf away, he is eventually killed and his revival thwarted.
BRANCH #2: The Child Timeline
This is the branch where, after Link has defeated Ganondorf in Ocarina of Time, he returns to his childhood to live out his days in peace. Except, you know, he ends up going to Termina and experiencing the most nightmare-inducing adventure that any Link has had to face. While Link is experiencing the events of Majora’s Mask, the king orders Ganondorf’s execution and sets up the stage for Twilight Princess. At some point, the second Four Swords game happens during this timeline as well.
BRANCH #3: The Adult Timeline
This is the branch where Link has defeated Ganondorf and returns to his time – but Hyrule is still wrecked. Ganondorf has ruled there for seven years, and now the few living Hylians have to pick up the pieces and start over. Unfortunately, Ganondorf comes back, and with no Hero of Time to rescue them this time, the Hylians cry out to the gods. The gods answer that cry by flooding the kingdom of Hyrule.
Yep, this is the branch where Wind Waker, Phantom Hourglass, and Spirit Tracks all reside. A new Link does eventually defeat Ganondorf, but instead of bringing back the drowned Hyrule, he and Zelda set off to find a new one. Some random crud happens in between (I never played Phantom Hourglass), but eventually they found New Hyrule and an evil train demon tries to ruin that too.
Sound ridiculous? A tad confusing? Perhaps unnecessary? Yeah, a lot of people think that. The introduction of the whole parallel worlds theory into the world of Zelda is certainly an odd choice, but that’s what folks get when they demand continuity in a world clearly not designed to have any. Sure, some games were intentionally made to be directly influenced by each other, but overall I think Nintendo was just having a grand ole time and then people begged to have all the games shoved together.
I understand and accept the timeline, but it’s probably obvious at this point that I’m not a fan of it. I just think it’s unnecessary. I love the idea of the Zelda games being retellings of the same grand legend. The same pieces of the puzzle are always there, but in each version of the story some details are changed to make a new and exciting world. I love the idea of being able to look at certain connections and create my own idea of what the Zelda canon could be. As an example, before the official timeline I thought that Wind Waker would have fallen not immediately after Ocarina of Time but instead after Majora’s Mask (in the same timeline, of course). Think about it – at the beginning of Wind Waker, it says that when Ganondorf returns for a second time, the Hero of Time never showed up. What if that was because he was busy in Termina, stopping Skull Kid and trying to find Navi? I’m sure plenty of people have their own ideas about where the Zelda games fit, and that’s the cool thing about not having a timeline – people can form their own opinions and have discussions about it. It creates a sense of wonder, and it lets the player interpret the world in their own way (something that’s apparently pretty important since the main character’s name comes from the idea of Linking the player to the game world).
Just for the record, I’m not saying we should just ignore the concept of canon and continuity entirely. After all, some games depend on it to make sense. But with Zelda, I think there’s a little more adventure involved when players are free to define the world according to their own fantasies.
So what do you think, adventurers? Should Zelda have a timeline? If so, do you like the current one or would you do something different? If not, why not? Discuss it in the comments and feel free to comment with your own vision of which order the games should occur in.