The following article contains descriptions of fanmade theories. It only reflects the opinions of the writer and of the architects of said theories, and not ZeldaInformer as a whole. That said, enjoy the article!
A Link to the Past: The Original Story
After the largely marginal storylines of the first two Zelda titles, the comparatively epic backstory of A Link to the Past for the Super Nintendo (Super Famicom in Japan) was a fanboy’s dream come true. Players who had fanficced their lives away trying to determine the origins of the series’ trademarks – the hero, Link, the evil Prince of Darkness, Ganon, and the legendary Triforce – would finally have their questions answered. While the main mode of storytelling – the instruction manual prologue – remained from the previous games, the scale and quality of the content were both vastly improved. Instead of simply skimming over imperative details, such as Zelda splitting up the Triforce of Wisdom in the original Zelda or the king of Hyrule hiding the Triforce of Courage prior to Zelda II, A Link to the Past‘s prologue went in-depth to ensure that its readers were entranced through every paragraph.
Zelda‘s history had now taken the first leap toward higher fantasy, and gone beyond the limited stories of the previous generation of gaming. While it certainly was not the first game to have an intricate backstory, it was most definitely one of the most well-known, and the example it set helped drive video game storytelling to become what it is today.
The story was effectively split up into four main sections: the first was devoted to the Creation Myths of Hyrule, the second focused on the legends of the Sacred Realm and the conflicts that arose, the third told of Ganondorf’s original intrusion into the Sacred Realm to steal the Triforce, and the fourth gave more recent details pertaining to Agahnim the wizard and the threat he posed. These stories were published in territories outside of Japan as follows: (Link: North American SNES A Link to the Past Prologue)
Fan translations of the original Japanese source, however, revealed several inaccuracies within the English translation, ranging from wording discrepancies to factual errors to all-out additions and subtractions to the original text. For this reason, this article will refer primarily to the most reliable fan translations available. Credit must be given to a user who goes by the name “Zethar-II” from the ZeldaLegends fansite for all translations used in this discussion. (Link: ZeldaLegends Translation Guide – A Link to the Past Prologue)
Zelda‘s mythical country of Hyrule, previously a land known for its magical creatures and medieval framework, was now portrayed as part of a world created by three powerful gods – the gods of power, wisdom, and courage. Its people, now known as Hylians, were not just men with elf-like pointy ears – they were the race of people chosen by those gods to inherit the legends of creation. Within their blood ran magical powers, and their destinies were intertwined with prophecy. And they were not only denizens of Hyrule, for their descendants had spread across the whole world. The Triforce, that relic of immense power from the previous titles, was no longer just an extraordinary artifact – it was the Master Force that guided the world itself, left behind to represent the power of the beings that formed it.
The story continued in full swing, proceeding from the creation story directly into a conflict over the Triforce relic that sounded like something out of Tolkien. It told of a sacred land where the wish-granting Triforce rested, of people struggling over power, being corrupted by its taint, and inevitably turning upon one another in efforts to find that Sacred Realm. These conflicts then lead to the origin story of Ganon. The fearsome pig-beast most knew from the original Zelda was described as a man named Ganondorf who came from a race of evil thieves. Those thieves somehow found their way through the gates of the Sacred Realm, and when they moved to take the Triforce, Ganondorf slaughtered them one by one in a malicious effort to seize it for himself. It seemed this instance, when he touched the Triforce, marked his birth as the King of Evil, as a man-turned-monster.
Ganon would go on to use the evil magic granted him by the Triforce’s power to invade Hyrule. His power spread across the land like wildfire, consuming people as it went, and disaster remained in its wake. In response, the king of Hyrule summoned the stalwart defenders of the land – the seven sages and the Hylian knights – and charged them with stoppering the flow of darkness. It was here that the Master Sword, one of the trademarks of the series in the modern-day, was first introduced as the potential saving grace of the kingdom. But no hero could be found to wield that sword in time to prevent an assault by Ganon’s magic against the royal palace. The knights fell in defending the castle, but despite their sacrifice, the war would still be won – the sages would cast a seal on the Sacred Realm to end the calamities. This battle would go down in history as the Imprisoning War (‘seal war’ in Japan).
The Wise Men Seal the Entrance to the Sacred Realm
At this point, the A Link to the Past history had definitely plunged into the realm of high fantasy. It featured slaughter and bloodshed, an ancient clan of wizards, and heroless wars during which evil warlocks were granted immeasurable power but inevitably were sealed away only to return hundreds of years later (again evocative of Tolkien’s epics). These storyline features, particularly the “sealing” factor, would become series trademarks in the stories to come. Sealings in particular were erroneously believed to have originated in Zelda mythology by many for whom Zelda was their first dip into the pool of fantasy worlds.
This storyline, however detailed compared to those of its predecessors, was merely the framework that set the stage for A Link to the Past. At the start of the game, players learned that the sages’ seal fell under the threat of an evil warlock named Agahnim, one of Ganon’s minions. If the seal was broken, Ganon could escape to the light world and unleash the might of the Triforce upon the cosmos. Link’s quest, then, was to claim the sacred Master Sword in order to stop Agahnim’s plot. It was a simple progression from the Imprisoning War to A Link to the Past, a few generations of peace between war’s end and the advent of Link’s adventure.
Ocarina of Time: The Story Retold
The Imprisoning War, which had already become one of Zelda’s largest legacies, would be reexplored in the Nintendo 64 title Ocarina of Time. Script Writer Toru Osawa describes Ocarina‘s story as being set “in the Imprisoning War era” and Character Desginer Satoru Takizawa stated that they were “dealing with the ‘Imprisoning War of the seven sages’ from the SNES edition Zelda.” These statements, coupled with the actual in-game progression of Ocarina‘s storyline, seemed to confirm a direct timeline connection between this new title and its SNES predecessor.
Story-telling made another great leap between the Super Nintendo and Nintendo 64, again largely due to the sheer increase in the size of memory available. As a result, Ocarina of Time was able to feature an even more detailed story than A Link to the Past, which of course meant that its retelling of the Imprisoning War would be able to add even more details to the Zelda melting pot.
Ocarina‘s first treatment of the A Link to the Past story came in the form of the Creation Myth. Where Link to the Past had simply gods, without defining their genders or identities, Ocarina‘s deities were female, and had names: Din, Nayru, and Farore.
The game also featured most of the classic elements of the Imprisoning War story front-and-center. Its main plotline at first followed Ganondorf’s attempts to infiltrate the Sacred Realm in order to steal the Triforce. A young boy from the forest named Link set out to attempt to get the Triforce first, uniting three Spiritual Stones and the legendary Ocarina of Time. But when Link opened the portal to the Sacred Realm, Ganondorf managed to get inside first, and claimed the Triforce for himself. While no young boy was depicted as being involved in Ganon’s break-in into the Sacred Realm in the Imprisoning War story, the events stood parallel nonetheless, and there were no outright inconsistencies.
The Spiritual Stones Open the Way to the Sacred Realm
Just as in A Link to the Past‘s storyline, the Triforce allowed Ganondorf to become Ganon, the King of Evil, and his power spread from the Sacred Realm to cover the land of Hyrule. And just as in the Imprisoning War, the sages were summoned to stave off the flow of darkness. Ocarina threw a monkey wrench in the works by adding a seven year gap between Ganon’s entry into the Sacred Realm and the casting of the sages’ seal, citing that Ganon’s darkness prevented the sages from being awakened to this purpose at first. This also raised questions, but again there were no outright discrepancies of fact – simply a more detailed, more complicated progression.
And, just as in A Link to the Past, Ganon attacked Hyrule Castle and exterminated its defenders, and the seven sages were eventually able to seal the gateway to the Sacred Realm and stifle the threat of the power granted Ganon by the Triforce.
The main differences in the story were as follows: (1) Ocarina of Time portrays a hero as being involved in the creation of the final sages’ seal, whereas A Link to the Past suggests that one never appeared; (2) Ganon has all three parts of the Triforce in A Link to the Past, while he only obtains one in Ocarina of Time; (3) the sages are depicted as being Hylian in A Link to the Past, but Ocarina of Time has representatives from a number of Hyrule’s peoples not even featured in the SNES game.
Point 1 is perhaps the least compelling of all, since A Link to the Past‘s story only suggests that no hero appeared before the attack on the royal palace was launched.
Point 2 is the most compelling, since if A Link to the Past was meant to follow Ocarina of Time, then Ganon should have inevitably wound up with the Triforce in full in the game’s ending. Arguing that Ocarina‘s conditions retcon those seen in A Link to the Past is rather futile, since Link to the Past‘s ending hinges on Link becoming the master of the Triforce left behind by Ganon and wishing on it, something that could not be done if it remained in pieces, as a retcon would have it.
Point 3 raises mixed opinions. On the one hand, the character designs for the sages and maidens in Link to the Past are very monotonous, with the sages simply being hooded old men and the maidens all sharing the same sprite. The variation in the Ocarina character designs would have been meant to add spice to replace the bland original depictions (and would constitute a series retcon). On the other hand, this discrepancy was upheld in the GameBoy Advance rerelease of Link to the Past, which suggests to some that it was purposely not changed with the intent of making a distinction.
Others cited that the Knights of Hyrule were nowhere to be seen during Ocarina, but their outcries were easily stifled by the fact that their role in the events would have been fulfilled during the span of time the player never witnesses during the game. It is clear that the Knights were definitely meant to exist at this time, since a reference appears to them in the form of the shop description of the Hylian Shield.
So, in other words, there were discrepancies, but they were either negligible (Point 1), potentially over-writeable in future installments (Point 2), or likely a simple retcon (Point 3). Despite this, they were discrepancies, and unless evidence existed that specifically supported their compatibility with A Link to the Past, many would be quick to reconsider whether Ocarina really was an actual telling of the Imprisoning War myth (as opposed to simply a similar story).
A list of rebuttals to the view that Ocarina intrinsically fails as a telling of the Imprisoning War are found at the end of this discussion. The remainder of the article will proceed under the assumption that such a stance is incorrect.
The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back
Even though Ocarina of Time was a retelling of the Imprisoning War backstory, its GameCube sequel, The Wind Waker, while it included an even more in-depth story, with even more apparent series connections, effectively made a direct progression from Ocarina into A Link to the Past impossible. While Ocarina of Time ended and A Link to the Past began with Ganon trapped in the Sacred Realm by the sages’ seal, Wind Waker posited a scenario in which Ganondorf had escaped the Sacred Realm, and was eventually even killed. He caused so much mayhem after his escape, in fact, that the world was flooded and Hyrule was buried under a great ocean. Though Ganon has shown the ability to endure beyond death before, if Ocarina‘s Imprisoning War was to connect in any way to Link to the Past, Hyrule would have to find some way to survive in the world of the Great Sea. Vague hints of the establishment of a new kingdom may prove to substantiate this, but the direction the Great Sea tales will travel has yet to be seen.
Luckily, Wind Waker did offer some elements that improved continuity between the worlds of Ocarina and Link to the Past. The Triforce, which was split in Ocarina and whole in Link to the Past, was reunited in Wind Waker. Additionally, the Hylian race, which was said to have begun to fade by the time of Link to the Past, is alive and kicking in Ocarina, while the people’s defining trait, long ears, has presumably become more rare by Wind Waker. Compared to Hyrule being covered by the sea and washed away in the game’s ending, however, these added consistencies do not altogether justify Link to the Past fitting in any clean, continuous way after Wind Waker.
But what of the Child Timeline, then? Could the Imprisoning War still tie into Ocarina in a clean, seamless progression there? Many went with this alternative until the advent of Twilight Princess on Nintendo’s Wii console. Like Wind Waker, Twilight didn’t result in Ganon being sealed in the Dark World – he was killed there, as well. Twilight Princess also featured a small homage to Link to the Past in the form of the Master Sword pedestal’s placement in the woods, which led many to believe that Nintendo had orchestrated a late-placement of Link to the Past in the Child Timeline, after Twilight. But Twilight failed in many of the ways in which Wind Waker had succeeded – it did not end with the Triforce reunited, and the Hylian race was definitely still alive and kicking and showing no signs of dying out.
Each timeline had its pros and cons as far as A Link to the Past was concerned. This half-certainty seems in recent years to have become the new standard for Zelda plotlines. For the sake of objectivity, there’ll be no underhanded arm-twisting and no forceful opinion-shoving here. I’ve presented the arguments for both sides: decide in which timeline you think Link to the Past belongs on your own.
So What Do We Do About the Imprisoning War?
To recap so far: The Imprisoning War was originally introduced as the backstory of A Link to the Past, and explained the scenario in that game. Ocarina of Time was originally made to tell the Imprisoning War story within one of the titles in the series. However, these two roles can almost certainly no longer easily coexist. The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess, as well as Four Swords Adventures, through its introduction of a never-before-seen Ganondorf backstory, make such a picture altogether impossible.
That leaves timeline theorists hoping to pin down when this event occurs two options:
Most opt for the option of disconnecting the Imprisoning War from Ocarina of Time. Ocarina still tells the story of the first time the Sacred Realm was invaded and Ganondorf became the Evil King through his use of the Triforce, but the Imprisoning War’s story runs as a separate, parallel event. Some place it in the Child Timeline, after Twilight Princess and usually after Four Swords Adventures, and some place it in the Adult Timeline, also usually after Four Swords Adventures. In both cases, the war either features the Ganon from that game or his successor entering the Sacred Realm, claiming the Triforce, launching chaos, and then being sealed until Link to the Past. This maintains the simple, seamless internal storyline of the Imprisoning War and Link to the Past, and thus sates this group’s need for simplicity.
Fewer, more imaginative theorists go with another option, the reverse of the other: disconnecting the Imprisoning War from A Link to the Past. With Ocarina proving to be the focal point of most of the recent storyline developments (with the exception of Four Swords Adventures), it seems unlikely to these theorists that the developers would even bother trying to maintain the original games at the expense of the newer ones. They cite the indications within the Imprisoning War story that point to it marking the first time the Sacred Realm has been broken into and the additional Ocarina-era parallels presented in Twilight Princess as undeniable proof that the Imprisoning War happens during Ocarina. The story progression is only slightly more complicated than those on the other side of the fence: the Sacred Realm is sealed in the Imprisoning War, Ganon manages to seep through the seal prior to The Wind Waker, and is killed, and one of his future incarnations (the one from Four Swords Adventures or otherwise) reenters the realm and is trapped there until Link to the Past.
Effectively the only difference between the two theories, in fact, is that, in the one case, Link to the Past Ganon launches a war after entering the Sacred Realm, and the other has him enter the still-closed seal. Choosing a theory, then, is purely based on which is more important: the integrity of A Link to the Past‘s original story, or that of Ocarina of Time.
So what’ll it be, Zelda fans? Is Ocarina the Imprisoning War? And in which timeline does A Link to the Past belong? You have the basic framework and background information necessary to decide. Now exercise your best judgment, and be sure to make your opinion your own.
Appendix A: The Rebuttals
Refuting 1: Beyond the Legends
Recall the first of the three solid discrepancies noted with respect to Ocarina‘s depiction of the Imprisoning War. It is true that it was presented in the previous section as negligible, but it is important to understand that it is also negligible for another reason, one consistent throughout all Zelda storytelling.
The argument, as you hopefully remember, was that because a hero was not mentioned in A Link to the Past‘s legends, then the appearance of a hero in Ocarina of Time means that the two stories are incongruous. Why, then, does the story in The Wind Waker not mention the sages, if it is to be a telling of Ocarina of Time? And what of the Triforce of Courage splitting after the hero departs from Hyrule? That, too, did not happen as far as can be told from Ocarina of Time. Why, then, does the backstory of Twilight Princess show Ganon being banished to the Twilight Realm if it is to take place after Ocarina? Surely he was sent to the Sacred Realm at the end of that game.
There are a number of other such incidents. We can presume, then, that information that appears in newer titles can still be a valid extension of the stories of older titles even when the stories are seemingly incongruous.
Another potential solution would have been, prior to the release of Twilight Princess, to simply place the events surrounding the Imprisoning War in the then-merely-conceptual Child Timeline. That way they could resemble the Imprisoning War exactly while still being partially represented in Ocarina of Time. Twilight Princess, of course, didn’t fulfill this, since Ganondorf wasn’t sealed in the Dark World in that story arc*.
*- Whether the Sacred Realm itself was sealed at some point in the Child Timeline is up for debate, certainly.
Refuting 2: Three-for-One
Now here’s a predicament. How does a creature locked away in a sacred universe go from having one piece of the legendary relic of the gods to having the full three? The most obvious answer was, of course, that the Triforce situation would be resolved in a future installment. And in a sort of roundabout way it was.
Since, of course, Wind Waker disjoined Ocarina of Time from being any sort of direct prequel to A Link to the Past, any number of situations could occur that could place the Triforce back in the Sacred Realm after it was reunited in Wind Waker. When it disappeared in the ending of Wind Waker, many believed it returned to the Sacred Realm, having fulfilled its wish. Those who followed the Miyamoto timeline could have it return to the Sacred Realm after being reunited once again in Adventure of Link. It could even return there in the ending of the Oracles chronicles.
Four Swords Adventures answered the problem of Ganon’s death by introducing another Ganondorf character, much as the series had established multiple Links and multiple Zeldas. This one appeared in a world more similar to the A Link to the Past world, wielding weapons and abilities more congruous with that era of the saga – his trademark trident and the form and powers of the blue pig-like beast seen in the other 2D titles. The Ganon in Four Swords Adventures would then be free to reenter the Sacred Realm and steal the now-returned Triforce, only to find himself unable to return to the light world, setting up for the events of A Link to the Past**.
**- Ganondorf’s escape from the Sacred Realm prior to Wind Waker, however, remains a mystery to this day, but it seems clear he did not escape using the means employed in A Link to the Past, the only known way to break the seal.
Refuting 3: Where Do Babies Come From?
How do you get seven apparently human descendants from a group of five more-or-less-humans, a rock-man, and a fish-woman? Frankly, I don’t think anybody knows. Does that make the idea any less plausible in a fantasy setting? Absolutely not!
The Zelda series is full of examples of descendants springing from creatures that are not of their species. The Kokiri originally take on human forms, but are known as the children of the Great Deku Tree, and later take on the forms of the tree-like Koroks. The Zoras are a blend between humans and fish, and later evolve into the Rito, a bird-like race. Phantom Hourglass follows this vein in taking the Postman seen in Twilight Princess and The Minish Cap and giving him wings. With these precedents in place, it seems there is an abundance of instances in which racial barriers are oversighted within the series, and I see no reason why there should not be another in this case.
Appendix B: Imprisoning War Sources