The following article is an editorial that only reflects the opinions of the writer and not ZeldaInformer as a whole. That said, enjoy the article.
For the record: no, this is not going to be a soapbox about how the New Hyrule in Spirit Tracks
proves that ultimately the classic games will fall on the Adult
Timeline after all.
Neither will it be an exposé on how we now know for sure that the Deku
Tree definitely connected all of the islands we saw from The Wind Waker
to form said Hyrule. (Although do expect a
follow-up to my original article about New Hyrule which suggested
In fact, this is not going to be a continuity theory at all. Instead, it is a reflection on how the expression of the series’ continuity has evolved, from past to present, and taken on a completely new life in Spirit Tracks.
The original Zelda story, The Legend of Zelda
for the Nintendo Entertainment System, was unique among adventure games
of its time in that it created a complete world in which the action
would take place. Earlier examples of game settings, such as the
Mushroom Kingdom in Super Mario Bros., while they
certainly were not without their own unique character and life, did not
achieve the same “connected” feeling present in Hyrule’s universe. The
Mushroom Kingdom still had its trademark castles, pipes, and of course
giant mushrooms, but in terms of the game itself it existed only as a
series of stages a player had to complete. Hyrule in contrast consisted
of not only ‘levels’ but also a whole world to explore in-between.
Even though there was not a drastic difference between the actual
storylines of the two series—each was told primarily through the game’s
instruction manual, and each stuck to the core idea of a hero rescuing
a damsel in distress from an evil monster—the simple presence of a
developed world gave Hyrule a sense of continuity not present in the
Mushroom Kingdom. This was the first step towards a unified continuity
within Zelda games.
Zelda II: The Adventure of Link was a direct
sequel to the original game, meaning that it took place a short time
after the defeat of Ganon—months or years, depending on one’s point of
view. As such, Zelda II was the first indicator that the series’ universe, unlike the Mario
games which at that time consisted of “new adventures” with no
storyline continuity, would have its own chronological timeline. But
beyond simply establishing a storyline sequence for the Hyrule Fantasy,
Zelda II also introduced one of the first real
“backstories” in video game history: the “Legend of Zelda,” otherwise
known as the Legend of the Sleeping Princess.
The legend told the story of a princess from long ago, many centuries before Zelda II
as the game would have it, who fell prey to a sleeping spell. This
princess was the first Princess Zelda, and it was because of the
tragedy of her curse that all the princesses in Hyrule bear the name
“Zelda.” Now the story was not only a backdrop for the specific game to
which it belonged—because it served as the origin story for Princess
Zelda, it had implications for the games that had come before, and the
games that would follow.
These two styles of storytelling together would form the cornerstone for development of the Zelda timeline. In the early 90s we saw the release of A Link to the Past and Link’s Awakening, the latter of which was, like Zelda II, a direct sequel to its predecessor. The former followed Zelda II‘s
strategy of introducing a deep backstory that explained the origins of
the Triforce, Ganon, and the Dark World. At the tail end of the decade,
Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask continued the trend, Majora being the direct sequel, while Ocarina treated the backstory of A Link to the Past in greater detail.
All the while, another interesting pattern arose: the “sequel pairs”
all wound up being set in a different era of Hyrule, featuring a
completely different Link and Zelda from other games. The Wind Waker
would describe this phenomenon on the back of its packaging: “Legend has it that whenever evil has appeared, a hero named Link has arisen to defeat it” The re-release
of A Link to the Past for GameBoy Advance also
mentioned the recurring hero conflicts: “Whenever disaster waylays the
royal family, a hero shall appear from the bloodline of the Knights of
That the games spanned many centuries, possibly even millennia, made
the sequence of games difficult to decipher, oftentimes even
impossible. Luckily, like with Zelda II, Link’s Awakening, and Majora’s Mask,
it was usually easy to tell when a game was a direct sequel, and what
game it was a sequel to, so defining certain areas of the
timeline—dubbed “arcs” by the fan community—was never a problem. But
judging how the arcs related to one another was a different story
Ocarina of Time served as an example of a possible way out, however: it served to tell the Sages’ seal backstory to A Link to the Past.
So despite the games being usually a century or more removed from
one another it seemed possible to string together stories using these
backstories. Some connections, like The Wind Waker‘s direct references to the Hero of Time or The Minish Cap showing the origin of the Four Sword seen in other games, were clear as day. However, even Ocarina‘s
relationship to the Sealing War of A Link to the Past was somewhat
questionable, to the point that some determined that the connection
might not be absolute at all.
This left theorists with little by which they could base the bulk of
their timelines, and we as the fan community had to rely on references
to various characters and locales throughout the series’ history. The
idea was first used in Ocarina of Time, where the Sages of that game had the names of many of the towns from Zelda II. According to Toru Osawa, the script writer for Ocarina, the team picked those names to reflect that Zelda II‘s towns were named after the Sages, meaning that Ocarina was Zelda II‘s prequel. The process of deciphering these references was often confusing, however. The Oracle
games developed by Capcom serve as a telling example, since they featured a
whole mess of character cameos despite not being set in the land of
Thanks to this seeming lack of a clear continuity, many theorists
concluded that, aside from the timeline as defined by the creators, it
was impossible to work out where the rest of the games would fit.
Now we arrive in the present, with Spirit Tracks,
and we can see a few key differences in the way the story is told.
First and foremost, the game has neither of the two “traditional”
timeline cues: it is not a direct sequel, since it features a new Link,
and its prologue does not define events that we can tie back to other Zelda titles. Yet we know explicitly where Spirit Tracks
falls in the timeline—not just from developer interviews that shed
light on the details, but from
information found in the game itself.
The way Spirit Tracks conveys its place in
the continuity is simple, but unprecedented for Zelda—it features
characters who have explicit relationships to the people or the world
of The Wind Waker. Anjean, the wise Lokomo sage
who guards the Spirit Tower, claims to have known Tetra from when she
first landed in Hyrule. In order to revive Malladus, the Demon King
sealed by the Spirit Tracks, Chancellor Cole needs to
kidnap a vessel from Old Hyrule: Zelda. But even more telling is one of
the recurring characters: Niko, the bottom-rung pirate from Tetra’s
gang, who is an old man in this game. These elements define the time
period of Spirit Tracks as set long after The Wind Waker, and place its Hyrule in a new land discovered by Link and Tetra.
Before Spirit Tracks, most recurring
characters were either descendants or ancestors of previous
incarnations in the same vein as the new Links and Zeldas that commonly
appeared, or else they were god-like beings with extremely long
lifespans, such as the Deku Tree and Ganondorf. For a human character
such as Niko to show up in the flesh in an indirect sequel is the most
definitive form of continuity we have seen in the series thus far. We
can see with our own eyes that the character we knew in The Wind Waker has aged to become the wizened old man we see in Spirit Tracks. Rather than simply being a carbon copy character with the same old story, Niko has grown and has new tales to tell.
In the past, the closest the creators have come to showing us this kind
of connection is through the world itself. The Forbidden Woods of The Wind Waker hide the abandoned homes of the Kokiri, who have fled to the Forest Haven and taken on Korok forms. In Twilight Princess, the Temple of Time has degraded into ruin, a shadow of its former self. Four Swords Adventures shows off many areas from A Link to the Past
in their original splendor. But while these kinds of details build up
the set for the story, the characters are the ones who make and drive
it to its conclusion.
This is why Spirit Tracks has saved the
timeline. It shows us that the actors within our beloved fantasy world
are not just part of the stage, popular archetypes brought back again
and again simply to show us that this is Zelda.
No longer is continuity found solely within the world, but now in the
movement of its people—its everyday people—within that world. If
Nintendo continues to invest in building this type of relationship
between the game world and its characters, there might be hope for us
to someday decipher that mess we call the timeline. Until that day, we
theorists have nothing to do but to pray to for deliverance…