When Ocarina of Time was first released in 1998 for the N64, Miyamoto and other developers made no secret of the fact that it was the very first game in the Zelda timeline. It was written to coincide with the events of the Imprisoning War in the backstory of A Link to the Past, which was itself a prequel to the original two games. As the series progressed however, questions arose about how consistent Ocarina of Time’s story was with that of A Link to the Past, and about whether any of the newer games could take place even before Ocarina of Time. Aonuma once stated that Four Swords was the oldest tale. Miyamoto mistakenly declared that The Wind Waker was the very first Zelda story. Many fans believe that The Minish Cap tells the origins of many things in Hyrule and must take place before Ocarina of Time.
Even now, we know for certain that Skyward Sword leads up to the events of Ocarina of Time. Despite that, when asked about this game, Aonuma dodged the point: “If I said that a certain title was ‘the first Zelda game’, then that means we can’t ever make a title that takes place before that! So for us to be able to add titles to the series, we have to have a way of putting the titles before or after each other.” With the release of Ocarina of Time 3D, specifically Prima’s strategy guide for the game, it seems that Aonuma’s new philosophy could make a huge difference in the future of Zelda games.
We were first told about the beginning of the timeline in A Link to the Past. This was the story of the goddesses descending, creating the Triforce, and leaving it in the Sacred Realm. Along with that story went the first account of conflict over the Triforce:
Longing soon became greed, and it was not uncommon for blood to be spilt for certain information.
The more carefree people had to live days of disquiet.
That is, until one day, completely by chance, the entrance to the Sacred Realm was opened by by a certain group of thieves.
This tale doesn’t leave much room for anything else to happen to the Triforce, which is implied to remain in the Sacred Realm until Ganondorf finds it. Sure, games like The Minish Cap could still fit, but anything involving the Triforce would conflict with this story. Except now Nintendo has shown us that this story isn’t as important as we used to think. In fact, they’ve given us a new one in the Prima Ocarina of Time 3D strategy guide:
Din, goddess of power. Nayru, goddess of wisdom. Farore, goddess of courage.
Together, these three crafted the world and all life within it. Before fading back into the cosmos, the goddesses forged a covenant with their newly created world. They called this token the Triforce, a nine-sided symbol that guaranteed safety for the world for as long as it existed.
But things of such power draw dangerous desires. And while many respected and cherished the bond of the Triforce, there were others who wanted to seize it and use it for their own wicked purposes. It has been said that throughout the centuries, a strain of truly evil beings have moved on the Triforce. And with each challenge, a hero has risen to protect it.
This new story sets up many new opportunities. It mentions an arbitrary number of instances when the Triforce is threatened and a hero protects it, specifically negating any notion that Ganondorf (at least, the one from the Seal War and/or Ocarina of Time, if there’s more than one) was the first to discover it. Now, instead of only obscure side-story titles like The Minish Cap, any new Zelda game can easily fit into the time period before Ocarina of Time.
Aonuma has repeated many, many times that he doesn’t want any one Zelda game to be dependent on another when developing it or when playing it. He has learned from his mistakes of dealing with other games’ backstories in Four Swords Adventures and Ocarina of Time. Dodging around specific references hinders creativity, so Miyamoto tells him to be as vague as possible. Players shouldn’t be confused about the story when playing one game without previous knowledge of another, so each story must be able to stand on its own with only supplemental ties to other stories.
I truly admire how Aonuma has learned to handle the timeline and how its future looks. He tries at every turn to not back himself into a corner by explaining known aspects of the timeline, but to create new opportunities for the timeline’s growth. This process started with the double ending of Ocarina of time, creating two futures to build from, with Majora’s Mask taking immediate advantage of it. With Spirit Tracks he introduced an entirely new country that could be free of the previous conceptions of Hyrule. Now (I attribute this to him because of what I’ve seen from past interviews, though it may not have been his own decision), he is freeing up the other end of the timeline, making room for Skyward Sword and any other games they decide should take place early on. While I hope Skyward Sword expands on a lot that we already know, it had better not do anything to hinder this move toward a more vague and free timeline.
Related: Ocarina of Time 3D Walkthrough