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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in January 2017. And has several revisions overtime with the release of new games.
Legend of Zelda is one of those Nintendo games that have the same basic mechanics and plot from game to game with minor differences. And on the surface level they don’t seem to be linked together in anyway, but they actually are occurring to the creator of the games.
Lore of Hyrule
The world was created by the three Golden Goddesses: Din (Power), Nayru (Wisdom), and Farore (Courage). They left beyond a symbol of their power known as the Triforce, which was trusted to the Goddess Hylia. This is a repeated story you are told of in almost every Legend of Zelda game.
However, the true lore of Hyrule that forms that connection between the games was not mentioned fully revealed until Skyward Sword. The Demon King Demise wanted the world in his image so gathered an army of monsters to get the Triforce. Hylia saved the remaining humans and took them to Skyloft, then sealed away Demise. It wasn’t until the 25th anniversary of the Skyloft’s Knight Academy that Zelda and Link were drawn back to the surface by Demon Lord Ghirahim in attempt to revive Demise.
Zelda learns that she is the incarnation of the Goddess Hylia and link is the spirit of the hero who can wield the Master Sword. Together they defeat Demise and create Hyrule. But not before Demise in his true form he announces that it will his hatred will never end and will be reborn again, hinting at his fate in becoming Ganon. As well as cursing Zelda and Link to be reborn time and time again in an endless cycle. Which is how they explain how all of the versions of Ganon, Zelda, and Link are the same yet time has moved on in the land of Hyrule.
Chronological Order of Games… AKA Timeline
But there is a very distinct separation in the timeline after Ocarina of Time: one for the successful adult Link, one for the successful child Link, and one for the defeat of Link. The successful adult Link goes through a Revival Era of Hyrule; however, a successful child Link goes through the Twilight and Shadow Eras. A defeated Link goes through the Decline Era. I would’ve personally thought the successful child Link and the defeated Link would be flipped due to Ganon taking control of things but that’s not the case. Mainly because Ganon isn’t technically defeated during the child Link era as he doesn’t manage that until he’s an adult. Which makes sense, the world is in a terrible state and you see the mess it goes through before the adult Link resurfaces seven years in the future.
Update (August 2017) Nintendo hasn’t released an updated timeline for Legend of Zelda with the release of Breath of the Wild. But I’m guessing it falls into the defeated hero timeline. Mainly from the presence of the Lynel, yellow rim on Link’s hat, and Ganon being permanently in beast mode. All of these are only present in the Defeated Timeline so Breath of the Wild falls into this timeline presumeably at the end as Zelda states that Ganon is tired of being resurrected and went into full enraged mode or Calamity Ganon.
Update (May 2023) with the release of Tears of the Kingdom it’s all but confirmed that Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom happen in the Defeated Hero timeline since it mentions the Imprisoning War. Previously, they called it the Distant Past but with outright reference to that event it’s placement in the timeline is confirmed. Granted, they haven’t released a new graphic with that yet. But it’s nice to have confirmation on where it falls into the timeline rather than it was a ‘question mark’ below each of the timelines.
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