No matter how far away a new Zelda game is, or how little we know about the next entry in the series, thoughts and theories are always swirling in our minds. What will the next game be like? Will it be top-down or 3D? Will it be set in Hyrule or somewhere else? How in the world can we possibly know what will come next in the series?
Welcome to a new set of articles designed to do just that: extrapolate on past Zelda games to inform us about potential future entries. To do this, I’m taking a close look at the Zelda timeline; in particular, each of the three eras: the Era of Decline, the Child Era, and the Adult Era.
Author’s Note: This is not focused on the upcoming Zelda U. It’s looking primarily at the future of the franchise beyond Zelda U, in terms of what may come after it.
Why only look at those eras, and not the Unified Timeline from Skyward Sword to Ocarina of Time? That’s because the Zelda series hasn’t done much to move the timeline forward. The two most recent entries in the series – Skyward Sword and A Link Between Worlds – served as a prequel to the entire series and a sequel to an SNES game, respectively. While they expanded on the lore of the series in different ways, I think it’s time to move the timeline forward and explore the future of the three different eras brought about by the events of Ocarina of Time. Let’s start this off with a look at the Era of Decline.
Setting the Stage
The Era of Decline includes the first four games in the Zelda series: The Legend of Zelda, Adventure of Link, A Link to the Past, and Link’s Awakening. It also includes the two Oracle games and A Link Between Worlds.
Like the era’s name suggests, this isn’t a happy time to live in. Ganon is resurrected three times in this era alone. Hyrule shrinks from a grand kingdom covering massive amounts of land, to almost nothing by the time of The Legend of Zelda, where there isn’t even a Hyrule Castle to speak of. Monsters ravage the land in between Ganon’s resurrections. Every time Link beats back the forces of evil, it seems to only last for a short time before they come back with a vengeance. Looking in Hyrule Historia, the era ends with this quote:
At the end of Adventure of Link, peace is once again restored. But can it last? If history is any indication… it won’t.
While a new game in this era would likely involve another attempted resurrection of the series’ lead villain, that doesn’t doom it to be known as nothing more than a rehash of what’s come before. Ganon clearly has staying power, and both his roles in the different games and the battles against him have shown quite a bit of diversity.
Sometimes Link needs to defeat the Demon King with Silver Arrows or Light Arrows. Sometimes the Master Sword needs to be shoved through his skull or chest after an epic one-on-one duel. We’ve seen Ganon fused with another villain (Yuga of A Link Between Worlds), throwing his trident (A Link to the Past), dual-wielding blades in either human or beast form (Wind Waker and Ocarina of Time, respectively), and going full beast-mode and charging Link as a giant (Twilight Princess).
Those are just the fights. Depending on the game, Ganon is just a villain waiting to be resurrected (a common theme in the Era of Decline) or a villainous mastermind plotting from the start (Ocarina of Time, Wind Waker). He’s shown some sympathetic qualities in Wind Waker, and is a more intelligent, calculating villain each time he’s been faced in human form (Ocarina of Time, Wind Waker, Twilight Princess).
There’s still ground to cover with the Demon King. Even if he’s resurrected… again… in the Era of Decline, he could still show some new colors. Perhaps he comes back deranged, psychotic, his mind ruined beyond repair by the constant cycle of dying and being revived. Maybe, rather than being resurrected, he’s reincarnated, like we see with the new Ganondorf of Four Swords Adventures, offering a chance for a completely fresh take on the iconic villain. Just because it’s Ganon doesn’t mean it’s the same old road other Zelda games have tread before.
The Era of Decline. It’s such an ominous name, isn’t it? Doesn’t exactly give you hope for the citizens of Hyrule, does it? The final quote for this era from Hyrule Historia offers a chance of hope, but also a chance for more danger and evil.
One part of that quote stands out in particular: “did the curtain rise on an age of darkness, when people quarreled in their search for power?” It’s an interesting idea, because it hearkens back to the I
mprisoning War that takes place between Ocarina of Time and A Link to the Past, where men fought each other over the power of the Triforce.
It could be that, rather than Ganon’s return, another civil war erupts. Men battle each other in their search for the Triforce and its incredible power, and in the midst of the war a powerful villain emerges. He could be a sorcerer or a warrior, but some kind of powerful leader rallies men to his cause to take the Triforce as his own, promising them riches and wealth in return.
I don’t necessarily see the game taking place in the midst of an all-out war with massive battles a la Hyrule Warriors, but rather the war is fought more from the shadows, or is at a bit of a standoff as both sides debate, with the good side seeking peace, while the villain’s army lets the debates drag on so that shadowy agents can seek out the Triforce in secret.
This is where Link comes in, fighting against the evil forces, keeping them from the Triforce while seeking out its location in order to keep it safe. The “shadow war” going on could also be a great opportunity to bring Dark Link back into the Zelda series.
Of course, when Link finally finds the Triforce, the big villain finds it as well, and thus we have our final battle. When victory is achieved, the Triforce could be used to finally revitalize the land of Hyrule and restore it to its former glory, washing away the evil and devastation that years of war and strife have caused.
Or perhaps the adventure is, from the very start, about revitalizing Hyrule. Link’s quest would then not necessarily be a challenge against a mortal villain, but against a creature created by the evil magic that has sunk its roots deep into the land over the long years of decline and hardship. This could also be an opportunity for a host of new enemy types, as the enemies Link has faced in the past games in this era have almost all been part of Ganon’s evil army. Now they could be horrible creatures wrought from dark, ancient magic, offering up brand new enemies from both a visual and gameplay standpoint.
To Heck with Hyrule, I’m Sailing Away
It’s important not to forget a trio of games in the Era of Decline that don’t take place in Hyrule at all! Oracle of Ages, Oracle of Seasons, and Link’s Awakening all have Link off on adventures in different lands. Perhaps a new game set in the future of the Era of Decline would have a new Link leaving Hyrule entirely, either to seek adventure, or to seek a new home for Hyrule’s citizens after discovering that their ancient home is battered and bruised beyond repair.
I’m always a fan of exploring brand new worlds in Zelda games. I don’t have an issue with Hyrule, as I’ve found it’s different enough in each iteration, and even when it isn’t, it’s still a fun world to revisit. Brand new lands, however, offer a massive flood of creative freedom. Holodrum and Labrynna are vastly different from any other Zelda title’s world, with talking animal companions, special seeds with mystical powers, and fresh, exotic environments with wonderfully original allies and enemies.
The same can easily be said of the not-so-real island of Koholint in Link’s Awakening. From swamps with man-eating flowers, to a village of talking animals, to a vast mountain range and the final battle taking place inside a giant egg, Link’s adventures in Koholint Island stick with you long after you’ve beaten the game.
The opportunity for brand new environments, brand new enemies, brand new allies, and brand new items and gameplay elements just excites me. Perhaps we could get a new spin on the sailing mechanic of Wind Waker, but instead applied to a smaller scope. Link could use a small boat to navigate rivers and lakes, with treasures hidden in deep canyons or small islands only accessible by boat. Combine that with a vibrant, expansive mainland (maybe even big and open enough to work Epona into the mix?), and I’m sold.
New types of enemies could completely deviate from the classic Zelda baddies we know and love. Maybe the new land is filled with magic, and enemies are shape-shifting beings and spellcasters. Or perhaps a continent where the forces of nature themselves are at war with each other, as beings comprised of rocks, trees, water, fire, and air make up different enemy types?
This new quest in a new land could also tie back into Link’s reason for leaving Hyrule. Perhaps Link is seeking out a power to restore Hyrule to peaceful prosperity, or seeking to destroy an evil that threatens the land from afar. Whatever the reason, a journey to a new land could perhaps carry the most hope with it, as it leaves behind the sad history of Hyrule for new lands and a new history.
There are many possibilities for a new Zelda game continuing the Era of Decline. Yet they all hinge on one question: does the war-torn history of Hyrule continue, or can there finally be peace?
Sadly, there may be no hope for a restoration of this era’s Hyrule. The entire Era of Decline exists solely because of the death of the Hero of Time in Ocarina of Time. It seems that, as sad as it sounds, that hero’s death has doomed every successive Link to a futile quest of restoring peace to Hyrule for only brief moments.
If there’s one thing Zelda games have shown us, however, it’s that there is always hope. There may yet be a hero who can change the fate of this declining era in the Zelda timeline.
I’ll be back soon with a look at the Child Era of the Zelda timeline, and what a new Zelda game continuing that era could look like. Until then, let me know in the comments below what type of game and scenario you envision for a Zelda game continuing the timeline past Adventure of Link.
Fan Art Links
Kakariko Village of Zelda U by Mei-Xing
Young Dark Link by NekoLoveLetter
Wind Waker art by Machiazu