The Zelda timeline is one of the central pillars to The Legend of Zelda franchise. It is without a doubt of great significance to the series’ fanbase, but it is debatable how important the overall chronology is to Nintendo. There has recently been a bit of controversy over Eiji Aonuma confirming the existence of a ‘master timeline document’. More often we hear about how Nintendo tends to place gameplay as a higher priority than storyline. Looking at the Zelda series in recent times I tend to think that Nintendo has been taking more care in the overall series storyline, and to me, that implies nothing more than they have given up on the timeline.
You’re probably wondering how exactly it can be classified as ‘giving up’ when I say Nintendo has been paying more attention to the timeline. Logically, it implies the exact opposite – but not in this case. Most Zelda fans will be familiar with the ‘arcs’ that are used to piece together a timeline. They are the confirmed (or widely agreed upon) connections between certain games in the series. The timeline nowadays comprises firstly of the unquestionable split timeline arc. This is where Ocarina of Time has two endings. The ‘adult’ portion leads onto The Wind Waker, Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks. The ‘child’ side ending leads into Majora’s Mask and eventually onto Twilight Princess. It is then up to each individual fan to decide how the rest of the games fit into the timeline, of course, the conventions of the remaining confirmed arcs must be adhered to – for instance, The Adventure of Link must be a direct sequel to The Legend of Zelda.
The most recent four titles released to the Zelda series all came with a definitive timeline placement in relation to the split timeline arc. In other words, they all had a direct relationship to what’s seen as the core of the timeline – Ocarina of Time. Twilight Princess came hundreds of years after Majora’s Mask, the sequel to Ocarina of Time. Phantom Hourglass directly followed The Wind Waker which was centuries after Ocarina of Time’s adult ending, and Spirit Tracks comes centuries after Phantom Hourglass. Now, we also have Skyward Sword, which is a prequel to Ocarina of Time. Do you get the picture? Nintendo appears to be too afraid to make a Zelda game that doesn’t have a definitive timeline placement that relates directly to Ocarina of Time. It has been five years and five titles since the last game whose position in the timeline was ambiguous – that game being The Minish Cap.
I doubt we will ever again see a Zelda title with a questionable timeline placement and that doesn’t relate to the main arc now. What are the chances of us seeing an A Link to the Past prequel, or something that takes place 100 years before The Legend of Zelda? What are the chances of us seeing a game that stands alone and is hard to relate to any others? In my opinion – never, but I hope I am wrong.
Of course when you realize this trend there are two stances that you can take on it. The first is that Nintendo is attempting to piece together the mess of a timeline they’ve made. They are not creating any more questionable titles and are using new games to connect the rest of the series together. For instance, Spirit Tracks confirmed a “New Hyrule” on the adult timeline after the flood, allowing for arcs like the original, the Four Sword series and the rest to be placed afterwards. Skyward Sword may well be an attempt to clean up the various myths of the Master Sword origin story to connect Ocarina of Time and A Link to the Past. It may also be to clarify Ocarina of Time’s references to a ‘fierce war’ and Twilight Princess’s backstory of the interlopers. This first perspective could very well be what Nintendo is doing, but I think otherwise.
The second mindset simply ascertains that Nintendo has given up on the Zelda timeline. They regret having made such a mess of it, and not having considered the chronology since the beginning. Now they’re left with a couple of little side series, like Four Swords or the Oracles, and only care about new games staying true to the main series arc, and hence, Ocarina of Time. In essence, I feel that Nintendo have decided to only worry about connecting future Zelda games to this arc of the timeline: forsaking the others and the idea of a coherent overall chronology. Never again will we see games like the Oracles where timeline placement is an adventure of personal discovery on top of the game’s adventure itself. Some see the creation of the new game, Skyward Sword, as a predecessor to Ocarina of Time as a desperate grasp of somewhere in the timeline to stick a new title.
Even with the supposed timeline document, it doesn’t really matter to us. They say that we’ll never see it, and even if we did, would we be satisfied? I doubt it. I remember the Nintendo who put gameplay before story. Now Nintendo are putting more emphasis on story, but I feel it is too late and not with the right motivation. A motivation not to screw up the timeline any more than it already has been. Has there ever been the notion in Nintendo’s mind for a cohesive overall timeline one day? Is it a part of their new generation – the touch and motion generations – to forsake the games of old with unconfirmed placements? Do you think that Nintendo knows what they’re doing with the timeline and will one day connect everything together? Should we have faith, or should we know at heart that Nintendo has given up on the overall timeline?