Zelda’s three confirmed timelines are unprecedented in the series; there has never been anything quite like them in the entire series’ history. We’ve known some of the games’ order according to their relation to each other, and we knew two timelines existed, but we certainly didn’t know where every game went on the entire timeline, nor that there would be a third one. With the last game having been an ultimate prequel to the entire series, and with Hyrule Historia having come out to fill in the gaps, it’s easy to expect new additions to the end of the timelines for the next few releases, rather then stories that go between existing games.
So don’t you think it’s interesting to think about what we might see on these three timelines moving forward? What if Nintendo uses this brand-new opportunity to tell different stories, build different versions of the Zelda world, and utilize different themes on each of the three timelines?
Now, of course there’s no guaranteeing anything like that will happen. Nintendo has a tendency to just do whatever works and they usually make the games and their worlds in whatever way seems to work best for the game itself during development, regardless of how they fit in with the surrounding games. It’s very possible that this won’t change. But I think it’s still very interesting to speculate on this, to consider that Nintendo might use this unique opportunity to actually make events and themes between games line up now that everything is defined, and to speculate on what, specifically, they might do on each timeline if they decide to go this route. These are my speculations on what we might see on each timeline.
The Wind Waker -> Phantom Hourglass -> Spirit Tracks -> ???
The most immediately recognizable element of the Adult Timeline is that all of its games have used the “toon” style that was established in The Wind Waker, though of all things, I think artstyle is the thing that’s the least likely to be continued in future games on any given timeline. There are other elements of the Adult Timeline worth talking about, though.
First off, this timeline’s version of the Zelda world was initially the Great Sea, before New Hyrule was founded between Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks. That makes this the only timeline that’s pretty much entirely focused on new Zelda worlds, foregoing classic landmarks of Hyrule almost entirely.
Furthermore, Ganondorf is dead on this timeline, with two games since his death in which other villains have been used. He’s died on other timelines, but never spent this many games dead without being fully replaced (like he is in Four Swords Adventures on the Child Timeline by a new Ganon). It seems as though Ganondorf may not be intended to persist on this timeline at all. Instead, Bellum and Malladus appear, and I find Malladus especially promising. Having challenged New Hyrule’s “Spirits”, Malladus lead the demons and was resurrected in Spirit Tracks. This would seem to be a resurgence of sorts of the Demon Tribe, and it’s interesting to think about what that makes Malladus. The next incarnation of Demise? Simply a demon ruler who’s now inherited the throne? And could Bellum be related or is he just some other unaffiliated monstrosity? Regardless, the Demon Tribe appears to be prominent in New Hyrule’s history.
So what would all this mean for the next game in the Adult Timeline? Well no future games on it can take place in the original Hyrule, so whether or not they recycle areas and themes and stick them in New Hyrule, this timeline will have to focus on New Hyrule and other locations in this new world. Demons may or may not continue to be recurring elements on this timeline, but it’s still interesting to note that this is their first major mention since games that take place before the split, and I think that indicates something. The Spirits are also a new thing, with the Lokomo appearing to effectively replace the Sages, so they could indicate new elements to the Zelda world’s religion on the Adult Timeline as well. In addition to that, it’s unlikely that many elements of old Hyrule’s culture will remain, and I think instead legends and history in this timeline’s stories will focus on new elements, as well as characters like the Hero of Time and the Hero of Winds, Tetra, and possibly gods like the Great Deku Tree, Valoo, and Jabun. If those three elemental deities get mentioned again on this timeline, they are likely to be more prominent and influential to the world on this one than on others.
So bottom line is… If the Adult Timeline stays on course, it will probably focus on New Hyrule, the surrounding ocean, and new worlds in general. It also seems like it will focus on the Demon Tribe and new deities, and probably we will either continue seeing different villains each game, or we may eventually get a full recurring replacement for Ganon… But I don’t think it will be Ganon himself. It also seems like this timeline may emphasize more whimsical worlds and visual design, but as I said, artstyle is probably the most unlikely thing to carry over to new games in the timeline. Still, if the whimsy in the worlds and cheerful, cartoony style are things Nintendo cares to continue, then we’re probably going to see it more here on the Adult Timeline than anywhere else.
Majora’s Mask -> Twilight Princess -> Four Swords Adventures -> ???
The Child Timeline is also a timeline where Ganondorf has died, and in this case, been canonically replaced: By another Ganon. Ganon’s death in Twilight Princess seems more notable to me than his average death, because it’s emphasized quite a bit in a scene dedicated to it, and its caused by the Triforce of Power leaving him. Add in the fact that he has a successor, and I think this is the timeline where Ganondorf may be treated as a mortal more than anything else. Twilight Princess explicitly depicted his divine power failing him, and Four Swords Adventures introduced a successor who goes by the same name, so I think that in this timeline it’s probable we will see Ganondorf depicted in his human form. He did appear in pig form in Four Swords Adventures, but that was only because of the Trident; certainly he was a regular Gerudo without it, so I still think a human Ganondorf is the most likely.
Beyond Ganondorf, there are two other particularly prominent elements that are consistent on this timeline. The first is the Dark Tribe. As I’ve written before, the backstories of both Twilight Princess and Four Swords Adventures appear to refer to the same events, dealing with the Dark Tribe attacking Hyrule. This is the only timeline with two entire games that hinge heavily on the Dark Tribe story — debatably three, if you consider the Ancient Tribe of Majora’s Mask to be related — and they focus on it far more than any other game in the series. Could this be the timeline that deals with this element of Zelda’s history? Could we see a resurgence of the Dark Tribe and see what, if anything, they have to do with the Demon Tribe of Skyward Sword that they seem to parallel so much?
This is also the only timeline that has so far carried a large amount of elements of Ocarina of Time’s world into future games. Many of its areas reappear in Twilight Princess, as do most of its races, and the game in general makes a lot of references to its predecessor. Even in Four Swords Adventures, most of the races reappear, and all of the familiar landmarks are referenced in some form. This is the timeline where we will likely continue to see more of the Hyrule established in Ocarina of Time, in the form of its culture, its peoples, its locations, and so on. We won’t be seeing these anymore on the Adult Timeline, and as I will discuss, they’ve disappeared from the Third Timeline as well.
There’s also an odd, probably coincidental focus on alternate dimensions on the Child Timeline; both Majora’s Mask and Twilight Princess contained notable otherworlds in Termina and the Twilight Realm. This has been seen in other games but this timeline seems to favor the concept the most. I doubt this means anything though.
All in all, I believe the Child Timeline will sustain Ocarina of Time’s world and lore at least in the form of old legends, ruins, and history, while potentially continuing the story of the Dark Tribe and introduce a new, more human Ganondorf. It would be especially interesting if they decided to link this new Ganondorf to the Dark Tribe and depict them by having him discover and join or lead them, as his predecessors seemingly have.
A Link to the Past -> Oracle of Ages & Seasons -> Link’s Awakening -> The Legend of Zelda -> The Adventure of Link -> ???
And the Third Timeline — whether you want to call it the Cop Out Timeline like I do or prefer to call it the Downfall Timeline — has focused entirely on classic or classic-style Zelda games; it’s where the developers have shoved all of the old games. This means this is the timeline where it’s least likely that Nintendo intended any running themes, and I worry they just intended to brush them all aside. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any running themes or that they can’t impact future games. After all, Nintendo cared enough to put them together on the official timeline. It would be really interesting to see a new game on this timeline again after so long… especially if it took place after the first two Zelda games.
The single most notable element of this timeline is Ganon’s persistence: He has been revived a lot of times on this timeline. At least two, from total death anyway, and arguably three if you consider his attempt to escape from the Dark World. Furthermore he has remained in his pig demon form in all of these games. As a result, I think that the Third Timeline will focus on the inhuman side of Ganon; this is where Ganon is an inhuman pig monster, a demon wizard who can never truly die, as opposed to the Child Timeline where I think he will be a mostly mortal criminal. If that’s true, then a new game on this timeline would mean seeing a return of classic pig Ganon! His resurrection was prevented in The Adventure of Link, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be revived again, so I still think his consistent reviving indicates this will function as the opposite of the Child Timeline.
According to Hyrule Historia, this timeline also marks the downfall of the Hylian bloodline. Clearly Hylians persist, but during the Imprisoning War, the Hylians’ sacred bloodline weakened and became a thing of legend. So the Hylians still exist but have lost their inherent sacred power (derived from their ancestor, the Goddess Hylia). With the less-magical Hylians — not to mention a general absence of the other races on this timeline except in the Oracle games — this is the most grounded version of the Zelda world. The classic games had yet to introduce many of the more unusual, fantastic elements of the series, and while that’s a matter of the time at which these games were released, the story of the decline of the sacred bloodline implies, at least to me, that Nintendo may be attempting to explain this within the story. So I think that this timeline will have the most relatable, medieval-themed Zelda world with the least magical elements; the opposite of the Adult Timeline.
And last of all, this seems to be the timeline where the Triforce has remained in the form of a physical object the longest. It’s possessed in its full form by Ganon in A Link to the Past, seemingly displayed in a castle in the Oracle games, and physically collected in The Legend of Zelda and Adventure of Link. This parallels the other two timelines quite nicely; on the Adult Timeline, the Triforce is never mentioned after Ganondorf’s death, and on the Child Timeline, the pieces seem to stay with different people. This is the timeline where it reformed and stayed that way, being utilized by people in its complete state.
So I foresee that, should Nintendo choose to capitalize on the themes they may have inadvertently set up, the Third Timeline will be grounded, distinctly medieval and less fantastic, while contrasting that with a more supernatural and inhuman Ganon and the mystical yet physical and obtainable Triforce. This would be an excellent dichotomy, and would parallel a lot of old medieval stories and fairytales, in which a traditional medieval world is beset by evil wizards, demons, and dragons (along with a holy artifact needed to destroy the evil, or that it seeks), and it would make the Third Timeline more classic even if new games are made. And finally, if elements of the old world from Ocarina of Time continue on this timeline, they will be as far-off legends buried deep in history.
It’s fully possible that Nintendo has not intended any of these running themes, or that I’m reaching to see them. Even if they were intended, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will be continued. Nintendo has always made Zelda games by focusing purely on the game at hand and crafting it as a gameplay experience, molding all other aspects around the gameplay so it all fits together. Storyline, continuity, and running themes are all side effects of that for them. That said, if they take a little extra time, they can craft a more consistent world. Whether they’ll do that or not remains to be seen, and I’m sure you have your own thoughts on that, but I hope that they at least capitalize on these very different versions of the Zelda universe that they’ve crafted on these individual timelines, and make use of them to make new experiences. It would be a way of making the timelines really add something unique to the series.
The Adult Timeline seems to focus on a whimsical new frontier, discovering new lands, while an old and very fantastic evil — the demons — returns to replace the old villain. The Child Timeline seems to cling to the lore established prior to the split, continuing the beloved world of Ocarina of Time while hinting at the nature of the enigmatic Dark Tribe and giving us a more mortal depiction of the King of Evil. And finally, the Third Timeline seems to give us a very traditional medieval tale about a simple kingdom guarding an ancient artifact versus an ancient evil wizard that wants to take it.
They’re all very different versions of the Zelda universe. Might Nintendo decide to use these distinctions and build three individual tales off of the Zelda series in future games? What other distinctions can be found between these three timelines? It’s very interesting to think about, and I’m more intrigued by what Zelda 3DS and Zelda Wii U might bring to the series than ever.