The following article is an opinion piece, and is not meant to be taken as anything more than that. It only reflects the opinion of the writer, and not ZeldaInformer as a whole. That said, enjoy the article!

As I am sure most any Zelda series theorist you meet on the street will tell you, the series creators have been rather fickle in their progression of the overall Zelda storyline, what we know as the Timeline. In many ways, I am inclined to agree with them. Over the course of development of a number of the series giants – The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess being foremost – the developers have shown that they are quick to change their minds about what sort of storyline any given Zelda title they have, and how that title should relate to the series at large. With The Wind Waker, the original idea seems to have been to place it as a prequel to Ocarina of Time, and Twilight Princess was supposed to fall between Ocarina and Wind Waker. Now we know that neither of these is the case.

The creators have attributed such drastic direction changes to a phenomenon they call “upending the tea table,” usually exercised by the beloved Shigeru Miyamoto, and usually very close to the end of development. This “upending” can involve gameplay features, character design, or even storyline, of all things. As one might expect, being forced to overhaul a project at crunch time often results in stress, sleep deprivation, and our two most favoritest things in the whole wide world: delays and/or rushed games. We had the chance to enjoy through the former with Ocarina and Twilight; the latter with Wind Waker. But, delays and rushed releases aside, it is this “upending of the tea table” that in large part contributes to the molding of that thing the call the Timeline.

As such, it might seem to some that many of the Timeline-related creator interviews are useless. After all, if the developers can change their minds about the story direction of any given game, why would it not be the same for the whole shebang? With storylines like Twilight and Minish Cap lacking anything we can truly call specific in-game references, it would not be all that difficult for them to do. And yet with such lack a rampant feature of the Zelda series, creator quotes are sometimes all we have as fans and theorists.

And yet it was not always that complicated. The sequel to the original Legend of Zelda game – The Adventure of Link – was clearly just that: a sequel. Its backstory featured a clear transition from the original, and the same incarnation of the hero, Link. There was no need to worry about a timeline; the series storyline was simple and straightforward. Then along came A Link to the Past. On the flavor text on the back of the game box, it was named prequel to Legend of Zelda, featuring the “ancestors of Link and Zelda.” So for the longest time, this was the gospel truth; A Link to the Past, despite having no direct storyline connections to speak of to its sister title, was lauded as the prequel, and that was that (though, to be fair, the backstory of the game lends itself to that placement). Link’s Awakening followed as the sequel to A Link to the Past, with its prologue placing it easily after the SNES giant.

Some three-quarters of a decade later, Ocarina of Time arrived in stores, designed to tell the story of the Imprisoning War, first heard of in A Link to the Past. In the end of that game, the evil thief Ganondorf is sealed in the darkened Sacred Realm, just as he appears in the outset of Link to the Past, so the intention seemed clear: Ocarina was a prequel to Link to the Past, just as the SNES title was to the original. Or was it that simple? A Nintendo Power journalist made the perhaps-unfortunate mistake of actually asking the mastermind, Mr. Miyamoto himself, how the games tied together. The answer Miyamoto gave?

Miyamoto: Ocarina of Time is the first story, then the original Legend of Zelda, then Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, and finally A Link to the Past. It’s not very clear where Link’s Awakening fits in – it could be anytime after Ocarina of Time.

Perplexing, to say the least; Mr. Miyamoto’s statements contradicted both Link to the Past’s box text and what seemed to be plain as day in Ocarina. The community first was torn over this very issue. Many, if not most, disregarded them entirely (and continue to do so to this day). Miyamoto, after all, gave nothing to support his timeline, and couldn’t even find a place for Link’s Awakening. Then again, he is the maker, so who are we, as fans, to disagree?

Here are a number of the reasons given for and against the statement (NOTE: whether or not they have any merit whatsoever is entirely irrelevant to my purposes; please don’t interpret this list as my support for or opposition toward any of these justifications):

For the Miyamoto Order:

1. He’s Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of the Zelda series. What he says is canon.

2. Other evidence related to the games supports this order, even if certain obvious plot devices must be ignored.

Against the Miyamoto Order:

1. The interview was originally in Japanese. It must have been a mistranslation.

2. Miyamoto did not support his answer well enough. He must not be that well-informed.

3. This order is impossible. A Link to the Past is clearly before The Legend of Zelda.

Majora’s Mask was the next installment, and fit easily after Ocarina of Time without question – to a point. By this time, theories regarding the ambiguous ending of Ocarina had already begun circling through the fan base, and some of the more radical of these involved the so-called “ending” of Ocarina taking place in an alternate history in which Ganondorf never got his chance to take over Hyrule. The Wind Waker’s release would bring these theories into the limelight. Following its release, in the summer of 2002:

Question: Where does The Wind Waker fit into the overall Zelda series timeline?

Aonuma: You can think of this game as taking place over a hundred years after Ocarina of Time. You can tell this from the opening story, and there are references to things from Ocarina located throughout the game as well.

Miyamoto: Well, wait, which point does the hundred years start from? Aonuma: From the end.

Miyamoto: No, I mean, as a child or as a…

Aonuma: Oh, right, let me elaborate on that. Ocarina of Time basically has two endings of sorts; one has Link as a child and the other has him as an adult. This game, The Wind Waker, takes place a hundred years after the adult Link defeats Ganon at the end of Ocarina.

Miyamoto: This is pretty confusing for us, too. (laughs) So be careful.

These ideas seemed to fit best in the context of a split timeline (and were later confirmed to), so, for humor’s sake, I am going to pretend that that is all they have ever meant. However, in the light of the Miyamoto placement of the original titles (or even the early Link to the Past alternative) this posed some problems. The Wind Waker ended with a clearly dead Ganon, whereas both Legend of Zelda and Link to the Past began with a very much living one; and that’s not taking into account the complications posed by Hyrule being covered by a giant ocean.

As before, here are the reasons, for and against:

For the Split Timeline:

1. This content was discussed by Eiji Aonuma and Shigeru Miyamoto, the director/producer duo of the Zelda series. What they say is canon.

2. Other evidence related to the games supports this order, even if certain obvious plot devices must be ignored.

Against the Split Timeline:

1. The interview was originally in Japanese. It must have been a mistranslation.

2. They did not support their answer well enough. It must not really be that important.

3. This order is impossible. All the Ganon games (including Majora’s Mask) clearly reference the events of Adult Ocarina.

(NOTE: “Strange… it sounds somehow… familiar…”)

Around the same time, Four Swords was released for the GameBoy Advance alongside a remake of A Link to the Past. Four Swords did not include any references to other titles in the series, and seemed to many to be a standalone game. At least until another intrepid journalist asked that age-old question. This was the answer he received:

Aonuma: The GBA Four Swords Zelda is what we’re thinking as the oldest tale in the Zelda timeline.

Of course, this interview was tied to the GameCube sequel, Four Swords Adventures, which seemed to feature the same Link from Four Swords, but did not fit well with the climate that would have to follow with it being the oldest tale. Four Swords Adventures had a lot in common with another older title, A Link to the Past. This caused the Four Swords placement, as well, to come under fire.

Reasons for and against:

For Four Swords as first:

1. This content was discussed by Eiji Aonuma, the director/producer of the Zelda series. What he says is canon.

2. Other evidence related to the games (The Minish Cap, later) supports this order, even if certain obvious plot devices must be ignored.

Against Four Swords as first:

1. The interview was originally in Japanese. It must have been a mistranslation.

2. Aonuma did not support his answer well enough. He must have been misinformed, or his statement must be outdated.

3. This order is impossible. Four Swords is clearly a direct prequel to Four Swords Adventures, which is clearly not before Ocarina of Time.

(Is this getting repetitive yet?)

For sanity’s sake, I am going to stop here. Every single major creator quote that has ever surfaced related to the timeline has come under fire with the same counterarguments, and is supported by the same justification. Interestingly enough, however, not all these quotes are accepted or denied by the fanbase – indeed, the fanbase largely cannot agree on which are good and which are bogus. There are really three extremes, and these quotes represent them all.

The First Extreme: Outright Denial

The Miyamoto Order quote represents that first extreme – those quotes largely ignored by the Zelda community, despite being largely neutral at the time the statements were made, despite not having been proven to be correct or incorrect by other sources, despite no changes in the chronology surfacing to make them less likely.

Never mind that the head of localization at Nintendo of America backed him up, using specific storyline events in the doing, never mind that recent developments have forced most of us to decide that A Link to the Past is no longer the sole sequel to Ocarina of Time, thereby leaving a gap that Legend of Zelda could easily fill. Miyamoto was clearly wrong, either that, or this order is clearly the result of a translation error.

The Second Extreme: Ambiguity is Certainty

While I was once of the camp that disagreed with the Split Timeline interpretation of the Wind Waker quotes, I will take the time now to applaud those of you brave enough to hold fast to that interpretation from the beginning. You were right; I was wrong. That said, though, I still must reprimand you all for falling into one of the extreme categories.

This second extreme is that of declaring something that is ambiguous as certain. It is indeed true that Mr. Aonuma said that Ocarina of Time had “two endings” back in 2002. It is not true that Mr. Aonuma made it perfectly clear that those “two endings” were “alternate” endings that took place on alternate timelines branching off from Ocarina. He could have been speaking of two endings “in different time periods” – the past and future. This ambiguity meant that he could either be referring to a Single or Split Timeline. In the end, thank goodness, Mr. Aonuma decided to use a more specific term – “parallel” – putting that headache to rest.

Both sides were guilty of this extreme to some extent (although, in fairness, I must say that the Split side was more arrogant on the issue). I hope we are all willing to admit this. We have not, however, all moved past it. A certain ambiguous quote related to The Minish Cap (which will not be discussed further here) is evidence of that.

The Third Extreme: Go With the Easier Answer

The final extreme is less common, and really mostly involves the Four Swords games and those timeline cases in which retcons or “upending” may have taken place. Firstly I would like to point out the final interview quote I cited. Many people will simply take Aonuma’s answer as absolute fact, without double-checking the related content to verify the accuracy of the statement.

While I admit that no clear answer to the Four Swords mystery exists as of yet, I must say that the games do more clearly support Four Swords and Adventures featuring the same hero, as well as Adventures being closer to Link to the Past, which, given that Link to the Past is still squarely “sometime after Ocarina”, would rate the Four Swords statement incorrect. Simply taking the Four Swords quote as truth, given this, is in my opinion a farce.

Those who persist in disagreeing with the Split Timeline, even after the confirmation last winter, do so on equal grounds. Because earlier creator quotes tell us that Twilight Princess is after Ocarina and before Wind Waker, all evidence suggesting a new timeline is simply inadmissible. The earlier statement must be taken as true, newer statements notwithstanding, simply because that is the easier answer to accept.

Concluding Remarks

And those are my thoughts, my grievances, and my opinions. All creator quotes may have equal merit, all of them may even be correct, but most people will not place them on an even keel. As such, the importance creator quotes have to the timeline, outside of one single, solitary, detailed-enough-to-be-interpreted-fairly-objectively Twilight-related quote, is fairly subjective. Quotes are not an expression of developer intent – they are the words of the developers, saying what we think they ought to be saying.

I leave you with this: Yes, the creators may change their minds a lot, and their stories may seem inconsistent at times, but that’s only because we – the fans – are so dead-set in our ways that we can’t understand why it would possibly be that way. Whether you fall into any of the extremes I pointed out above or not, please stop tearing their words to shreds in a vain attempt to add your own meaning to them. Let them speak for themselves. It is their creative vision that shapes the series, not ours. Why should it be any different with out-of-game content or interview information?

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