Posted on September 23 2014 by Tyler Meehan
The continuity of the
Zelda series spent many years atop the mountain of gaming mysteries. Devoted fans spent hours, weeks, even months of their lives trying to crack the code behind the Zelda timeline, in the process forging complex and convoluted theories from the most minute of details in order to prove their own unique take on how the games all tied together. Of course, Hyrule Historia put an end to all that, but I bring this up because it shows just how much some people (myself included; I was a timeline theorist for years) love to find the connections between various parts of the series.
Fast forward to today, when
Hyrule Warriors‘ release is almost upon us in North America. Relatively early on, the game was confirmed to have absolutely no connection to the main Zelda series—sure, the title features numerous characters, locales, items, and enemies from a select number of the games, but it’s all taking place in another parallel world that does not intersect with the ones Historia gave us. But was that the right call, and, assuming that the Dynasty Warriors/Legend of Zelda crossover gets a sequel, should Nintendo and Koei Tecmo continue to keep the worlds separate?
Separation from Zelda: An Excellent Starting Point
Hyrule Warriors was initially announced, a lot of people wondered where and how the game would fit in with the Zelda franchise. No doubt the developers spent a long time working through that problem on their own, and their decision to go with “it doesn’t” was perhaps the best way to go about this first spinoff title.
No one is going to deny that
Zelda‘s continuity is a bit of a mess—the choice to go with three timelines instead of the generally-assumed two made that clear to a lot of people. There are all sorts of little contradictions and issues that…sure, they may not utterly disprove Nintendo’s timeline; very plausible explanations can be crafted if you’re willing to spend a bit of time mulling it over. But they do make it obvious that this timeline was not in the forefront of the developers’ minds while they were creating the games. Nintendo did not plan this continuity from the start; when it came time to craft it, be that anywhere from the days of Ocarina to right before Historia’s release, they looked at what they had and came up with the best solution they could work out at the time. And “best” did not mean “perfect”, not by a long shot.
When you look at it from that perspective, throwing a completely new experience into the mix becomes a bit of a challenge. Then you start to consider bringing in all those characters, locations, weapons, and enemies from across the franchise’s many games…and it becomes a
monumental challenge. Creating such an experience from scratch would have been all but impossible if the team at Koei Tecmo had allowed themselves to be constrained by the continuity of the mainstream Zeldas.
By removing themselves from that continuity and keeping only the basic tenants of the series—Link, Zelda, Ganondorf, the Master Sword, the Triforce, etc.—the team obtained total control over their work. They could contradict the events of the main series all they wanted now; anything that didn’t mesh with the Zelda games would be a result of them being completely unrelated. And, brilliantly enough, anything that did mesh with the main games became another nod to the core franchise. For a celebration of the series, it’s kind of the perfect way to go about it.
So now we suddenly have a brand new incarnation of Ganondorf, Link, Zelda, and others running around a brand new
Hyrule—and while many things are going to feel similar to the games we all know and love, the differences have a chance to feel just as appropriate in this all new setting. Things like Ghirahim and Zant simultaneously working with this new version of Ganondorf, like Zelda and Impa being fully aware of the reincarnation cycle of the Hero, like…um…other stuff, I’m sure… I’ve actually managed to avoid a lot storyline spoilers, so I don’t know of many more examples myself. But I’m sure they’re there, and I’m sure they’d have many fans complaining about the inconsistencies if Aonuma had not confirmed the game’s canonical stance so early on.
For a spinoff like this, the ability to escape such a massive part of its origin series’ shadow is key. We fans no longer have to worry or wonder about how
Hyrule Warriors works within the Zelda franchise, and it helps the title to achieve its own sense of identity—a very important thing for a game that is so different from the titles it’s spun off from. It has completely broken from traditional Zelda gameplay, and it only feels right that its continuity and place in the core franchise’s timeline reflect that.
Continued Separation: Good or Bad?
If there’s one thing that a quick glance at the
Warriors games tells us, it’s that it absolutely adores spinoffs. If there are two things that glance tells us, however, it’s that it also adores sequels.
Should things go well with
Hyrule Warriors, then, we should expect signs of a Hyrule Warriors 2 to start popping up in the near future. In fact, I’d bet that Nintendo and Koei Tecmo have already discussed the prospect a fair bit; they are likely just waiting to see how the game fares before sealing the deal once and for all. Hyrule Warriors is set to become the start of a franchise with at least a few games under its belt, so one must ask: if those hypothetical sequels end up getting made, should they continue the separation from the main series that we’re seeing in Hyrule Warriors?
This is where things start to get tricky, and I’m not really sure if there is a right or wrong answer to the question. On the one hand, they’ve created a brand new dimension for these games to take place in—should we not focus on
that? Should we not go deeper into this brand new, original reality that Koei has free reign over? But on the other hand, wouldn’t it be great to use this new series as a unique opportunity to witness scenes and events that the main games will likely never give us? Maybe even scenarios that are impossible for the core timeline to see?
It’s all going to depend on how you view it, on your own personal opinion. I started writing this part completely in favor of them
not remaining separate, my main reason being that over time that separation becomes less liberating and more restrictive—if Koei wants to visit the main series, they should be welcome to do so. However, beyond that little caveat, I slowly realized while writing this that all my arguments against continued separation could work just as well for it. And that’s largely because of how they would probably go about crafting new experiences for sequels.
If a sequel is made, Koei Tecmo will no doubt continue to draw many of its ideas from the original
Zelda games, intersplicing it with their own unique concepts in the process. Hyrule Warriors 2 could very easily follow the same template as the first spinoff, having some levels that are completely original and some levels that delve into established Zelda lore and locations. But those levels based off established areas of the main franchise—should they take place in the spinoff universe, or the original world? It could go either way, with both options having intriguing possibilities.
On the one hand, keeping things in this new world allows us to see alternate versions of events that have played out in the
Zelda games. We could visit a ruined Termina that the Hero of Time never saved, letting us fight Majora’s Mask in an all new war. Link could travel through time and space to the timeline of The Wind Waker and battle Ganondorf when he escapes the Sacred Realm, perhaps even preventing the Great Flood from ever taking place. The game could take us to the fierce war spoken of by the Deku Tree Sprout and let us fight there, possibly changing the course of history as we know it and showing us a whole new way the events of Ocarina of Time could have played out.
By the same token, we could witness events in the main timeline that the
Zelda games will likely never show us. That fierce war? HW Link could travel to it and help the Hero of Time’s mother escape to the Kokiri Forest. The Great Flood? We could actually witness the start of the rains themselves and be charged with fighting through Ganondorf’s hordes to lead the surviving Hyruleans to safety. And there are other options, too—what about Ganondorf’s capture pre-Twilight Princess? Our characters could take part in that event and ensure he arrives at the Mirror Chamber for his execution. The events in question need not deviate from established Zelda canon when they can instead show us how that canon was established, and discovering that the Hyrule Warriors cast was behind such events would make for a fascinating twist on the original series.
There are plenty of moments from the
Zelda games’ backstories that are just itching to be explored, and the impact of participating in such events just wouldn’t be the same if they weren’t canon. But at the same time, there are further opportunities and alternate paths we could explore by going a non-canon route, things that we will never see in the main games because they would contradict established Zelda history. Both choices have their merits.
Conclusion: Neither Option is Wrong
Zelda timeline’s complexities and issues have consumed many fans over the years, and it was definitely smart for Koei Tecmo to avoid that whole mess with Hyrule Warriors. Simple storytelling is smart when starting a new franchise, and it’s not like such simplicity is going to harm the spinoff title. If the series goes forward, however, and we see a Hyrule Warrios 2 or 3 or more, should they continue to keep the universes separate? That’s difficult to say, as both separating and linking them have their benefits and their issues.
In the end, I still think I would want Koei Tecmo to be
allowed to enter the core universe—as I said above, denying them that opportunity would eventually turn into a restriction that hinders them from exploring new possibilities. Even so, there’s a ton of content and ideas they can present in this new spinoff world, so they may never reach a point where they feel they need to interact with events from the core games. Either option is as viable as the other, and the one constant is probably more important than this entire debate: whichever scenario Nintendo and Koei take will no doubt lead to some great games.
So for now, my fellow fans, let’s just cross our fingers for a sequel. We can save the canon vs. spinoff timeline debates for after we’ve gotten that much—and we can have those discussions knowing that either choice will be a good one.