SteveT: Zelda Timeline Theory 101

Overview: Why Timeline?

The Legend of Zelda series is one of the most respected franchises in video game history. It has built up a complex mythology, a sweeping tale of good vs. evil in which evil is never vanquished, and good only enjoys temporary victories. The themes, characters, and events are recurring. Ganon, for example, is locked in a constant cycle of building up power, invading Hyrule, and being defeated by the hero Link. Each Zelda game tells a unique story yet the series conveys a strong sense of interconnection. Each game is an atom in the crystal lattice of the history of Hyrule.

But when you zoom out on the microscope and try to view the whole crystal, it can be hard to tell what you are looking at. For example, imagine you are new to the Zelda series, and you've only played the latest console titles: Wind Waker and Twilight Princess. You play through Wind Waker, and everything's fine. You're left in the dark a bit, because of the references to previous games. You don't know Ganondorf's origin, but he seems like a tragic figure.

Then you get to the end of Twilight Princess and meet Ganondorf a second time. You wonder to yourself, “Is this even the same guy?” He's lost his composure. He's lost weight. He's well and truly insane, and concerned with nothing but world domination. You wonder what happened to him between Wind Waker and Twilight Princess. You remember that he was stabbed in the face with the Master Sword, turned to stone, and left on the bottom of the ocean.

Then you think about the ocean and it all makes sense. “Oh,” you say to yourself, “I guess Twilight Princess takes place before Wind Waker.” After all, Wind Waker took place in a post-apocalyptic flooded Hyrule, whereas Twilight Princess shows quite a bit of dry land. Everything's fine. The games are reconciled.

Then you kill Ganon. You kill a man who died in the previous game. You put a sword in his chest.

You kill the same person twice, and there's no explanation of how he returned between the games. At the same time, there's still a sense of history and connection between the games. Surely there is a way to fix this contradiction. If Nintendo put all that effort into making the games feel connected (unlike Final Fantasy, for example) then surely the common fan can put the puzzle together.

That's the game within the game: trying to turn upwards of 10 distinct stories into one, and to do it with as much grace as possible. That is why Zelda fans think about the timeline.

In this article, I will explain the basic methods of forming a solid Legend of Zelda timeline. Hopefully it will be of service to anyone new to the hobby, and perhaps help more experienced Timeliners perfect their own theories. This article is not intended as a tool to justify and propagate my own or any other timeline, so when examples are needed, I will cite completely fictitious Zelda games whose details I make up as needed:

Legend of Zelda: Mysterious Turtle of the Sky (MTotS)

Legend of Zelda: Crown of the Overlord (CotO)

Legend of Zelda: Lampshade of No Importance (LoNI)

Before we get too deep, we must define certain terms that frequently appear in Timeline discussion. After all, the jargon can be a major stumbling block to newcomers.

Glossary of Common Terms:

Single Link Theory: The theory that the character Link is a singular entity who stars in every Zelda game over the course of the series. Link is not a title, or a reincarnated hero. His is just one man who had a lot of adventures in his lifetime. This theory has lost its foothold as the series progressed, but was once a major source of controversy. Nowadays, Single Link Theories are ignored at best, mocked at worst. This is due to overwhelming evidence for the…

Multiple Link Theory: The theory that there is more than one person named Link over the course of Hyrule's history, each fulfilling the function of thwarting evil. This theory is almost universally accepted, as it is backed by both in-game details and comments from series creators.

Multiple Ganon Theory: The theory that there is more than one Ganon/Ganondorf. This is not a popular theory, often treated as a cop-out or detrimental to the overall theme of the series, but it is gaining acceptance in some circles. Variations include ideas that Ganondorf is locked in the same cycle of reincarnation as Link, or that Ganon is a malevolent demon who possesses people, Ganondorf being one such host.

Canon: In the loosest sense, Canon is derived from the idea that some sources of information count, and others do not. This is invoked when contradictory statements are given by different sources. For instance, imagine that a Nintendo executive states that 20X4's The Legend of Zelda: Crown of the Overlord (CotO) takes place 20 years after 20X1's The Legend of Zelda: Mysterious Turtle of the Sky (MTotS). However, a glacier which housed the Ice Temple in MTotS is on the other side of the map in CotO. Do we assume that Nintendo has a poor grasp of Earth Science? Perhaps the map is just a gameplay mechanic, and doesn't count? Maybe it's a different glacier. Or perhaps the executive's statement was simply wrong. How we resolve the issue depends entirely on who we decide to trust. If we say that the game's information takes precedence over the executive's, or vice versa, we have established canon . It is important to decide what sources to take as canon, and to consistently apply that rule.

Sources that might be considered canon include: game mechanics, game plots, manuals, foreign translations of the game, official statements from series creators, strategy guides, manga, cartoons, and comic strips.

(Note: a common rule of thumb is that the games are at the highest level of canon, followed by their manuals, then by creator statements, then by first-party strategy guides and everything else. Some purists take it a step further and consider the Japanese versions of the games to be more canonical than any others, since all other versions are translations and localizations of the Japanese source material.)

Backstory: The historical context in which a story takes place, usually described in the manual or cutscenes.

Imprisoning War: A historical event referenced in A Link to the Past's backstory . It is a source of controversy in that some Theorists claim that the Imprisoning war played out during Ocarina of Time. Others disagree.

Sleeping Zelda: In The Adventure of Link's backstory , an ancient Princess Zelda was put into a magical sleep, to be awakened at the end of the game. She remains a mysterious and much-discussed topic.

Shipping: Speculation about game character's love life based on in-game hints. (Noun form: Shipper )

Fierce War: The unofficial name for an event in Ocarina of Time's backstory , in which the various races of Hyrule engaged in some form of war. It may have been a civil war, a product of Hyrule's expansion, or something else entirely. Details are scarce.

Fanfic: In terms of Timeline Theory, any piece of a timeline theory that is unsupported by canon. To use the example of the glacier: Say we take Nintendo's statement to be canon. We are now faced with the problem of moving a glacier a very large distance in a short amount of time. If I propose that a wizard teleported the glacier, I have created a fanfic explanation. Fanfics may be tolerated (and are often needed to fill the holes) so long as they do not contradict established canon or seem overly outlandish. A more derogatory form of the word is fanwank .

Split Timeline Theory: A Split Timeline Theory rests upon the idea that an in-game event can have two possible outcomes, and thus two alternate futures exist. These two futures are considered equally valid. One shows the future of Outcome A, the other shows the future of Outcome B.

The Split Timeline Theory is almost exclusively invoked when discussing Ocarina of Time (OoT). The theory is essentially as follows:

At the end of OoT, Zelda sends Link to the past so that he can relive his childhood. However, Ganon was sealed in the future , and it is unknown whether the seal transcends time. If it does not, the Ganondorf is still active in the past. This leads to two possible futures: One in which Ganondorf was sealed by adult Link, and one in which Ganondorf was dealt with in some unspecified manner. If both futures continue, then we have a Split Timeline. Some people find it convenient to place some games in Future A, and others in Future B. Once two games are placed in separate timelines, we no longer have to look for relationships between those two when formulating an entire theory.

Time Loop : If a time-traveler travels to the past, he can theoretically change events to create an alternate future, replacing the original, and the time-traveler is the only one who knows. Time loops are often cited as the cause of Split Timelines . They can also lead to the predestination paradox, such as Link's contact with the Windmill Man in Ocarina of Time.



Now that we know our terminology, it's almost time to start putting games in order. But first, have we established canon? Think of this step as washing your hands before a meal.

For this example, I will consider only game plots to be canon. That moving glacier doesn't mean anything.

Now one must simply gather all the relevant facts. Look for things that span multiple games. Questions to ask yourself include:

1) Where are Ganon, Zelda, Link, etc. at the beginning/end of the game?
2) Is the Triforce Split or Whole at the beginning/end of the game?
3) Does the game directly reference another game (i.e. maybe someone says “Ganon's trying to conquer the world again? My great grandfather still tells me stories about the first time that happened!”)
4) Where is the Master Sword at the beginning/end of the game?
5) Does the backstory of one game seem reminiscent of the main plot of another?
6) Do Link and Zelda (or any other two characters) already know each other the first time they interact? This helps to determine whether these are new incarnations of the given characters.

From there, I suggest making a chart containing the answer to these questions. After that, it's a logic puzzle.

Here's an example using my fake games. Pretend they are the only games in the series and see if you can solve the puzzle.





Master Sword

Reference to Another Game


Other Significant Plot Point

MTotS Beginning

Powerful Warlord

Soldier in training


In custody of the

Royal Family

Impa tells Link the story of Ganon's attack and near-victory

Hyrule is enjoying an era of peace, but in the Gerudo Desert , the evil wizard Ganondorf is preparing an invasion.

Hyrule's army is destroyed by Ganon's forces. Ganon kills the king. Only Link survives to continue the fight.

Ganon tries to use the Triforce to destroy Link, but his heart is not in balance and it splits

MTotS End

Transformed into a pig demon and sealed in the Golden Realm

Rides into the Sunset



CotO Beginning

Human with an army

Fisherman from the boonies


Locked in Temple of Time

Ganon recounts his struggle to escape the Golden Realm

Long ago, Ganondorf tried to steal the Triforce from the Royal family.He killed the King of Hyrule, and slaughtered its army. But when he touched the Triforce, it split apart.

Now, while Hyrule is locked in a civil war, Ganon has begun a search for the missing Triforce Pieces.

Link assembles the Triforce during the journey. It gives him the power to defeat Ganon

CotO End

Impaled by Master Sword

King of Hyrule


Falls into a volcano

LoNI Beginning

Upstart Warlord

Hunter from the boonies


Does not Exist

Prophesy that another Hero will come

Long ago, the Royal Family of Hyrule was given the Triforce. They kept it safe, until a warlord named Ganondorf gathered an army and set his sights on Hyrule

Sages forge the Master Sword

LoNI End

Escapes at the last second

Retires to a quiet life


Entrusted to the Royal Family

Did you solve it? If you said: Lampshade of No Importance, followed by Mysterious Turtle of the Sky, followed by Crown of the Overlord, then you got it.

Let's look at how I came to that conclusion.

First, the Triforce. This isn't very helpful because it splits during two of the games, but is only reassembled in one. In one game, the opposite occurs. All we know for sure is that information is missing. The Triforce, for this set of games, is a red herring.

Likewise, Link's progression is unhelpful. Each Link has a separate origin, so we can discount any One Link Theories--we know each Link is separate.

What about Ganon? In all three games, he starts as an ambitious warlord. However, CotO gives the story of him escaping the Golden Realm, while MTotS shows him being sealed IN the Golden Realm. Since the Golden Realm is not mentioned in LoNI, we can say that MTotS comes directly before CotO. Convenient, no? We can now look back at the Triforce and see that it's split at the end of MTotS, and still split at the beginning of CotO. No contradictions there!

So now the question: is LoNI before or after the other two? Well, now we can look at the Master Sword. We see that the Master Sword was forged in LoNI, and appears in both of the other two games.

Also, LoNI includes a prophecy of a future hero and no mention of previous heroes, while the other two DO have legends of past heroes. Therefore, LoNI has to be a prequel to the other two.

The Triforce is now a problem. We see that it is split at the end of LoNI, but whole at the beginning of MTotS (the next game in the timeline), with nothing to explain what happened. Oh no! Is the timeline ruined?

Not necessarily. We can now do one of two things: assume that a future game will fill in the gap, or make up a story of our own. In the case of the former, the timeline doesn't read as well. In the case of the latter, we risk ridicule from fellow Timeliners who don't appreciate our creativity (not to mention having to rewrite that section if a future game touches upon the subject). Ultimately, though, whichever you choose will not influence the validity of the Timeline, as long as your fanfic doesn't contradict canon sources.



So now that we've worked out the order of the games, how does the Timeline Theory read? This is the fun part. You could just write down:

My Zelda Timeline

LoNI < MTotS < CotO

and put it in your signature at your forum of choice, but honestly…where's the fun in that? Zelda is about the epic story, not just organizing a shelf.

A good timeline theory is clear, to the point, minimizes embellishments, and explains all the necessary details to make the games fit together. It also admits its flaws, and shows that the author is open to suggestion. Maybe you missed something important. The reader should feel invited to comment and help make improvements. Don't take it personally when they do—be glad they found your theory interesting enough to comment on.

So here's how I would write up a timeline for these three games.

The first game in the timeline is Lampshade of No Importance. It begins as Ganondorf is gathering an army to make an assault on Hyrule. Link, a hunter from a small town, gets lost in the woods and ends up in Hyrule. An old woman named Impa tells him the legend of the Triforce, and that Ganon is trying to steal it. Link looks at his hand and sees the crest of the Triforce of Courage. From this, Impa knows he is the Chosen Hero, and asks him to help the sages build a magic sword capable of defending its wielder against the power of the Triforce. He gathers the materials for the sages, and the sages forge the Master Sword. Master Sword in hand, Link confronts Ganondorf. Just as he is about to land the killing blow, Ganondorf uses the Triforce to summon a swarm of Moblins, and while Link fights them off, Ganondorf escapes. He vanishes into the night.

Zelda, who now has the Triforce of Wisdom, reveals a prophesy that Ganondorf will return, and the holder of the Triforce of Courage will fight him again and again throughout history. Link gives her the Master Sword and goes home.

Centuries pass, and the Hylian Empire grows. Somewhere in this time (not seen in-game), the Triforce is restored and placed in Hyrule Castle . I haven't worked out the details yet.

In Mysterious Turtle of the Sky, Ganondorf returns. He attacks Hyrule Castle once again, succeeding in killing the king. Link, a young squire who survives the assault, learns about the events of LoNI from Impa, and obtains the Master Sword from Princess Zelda, then opens the Seven Gates to the Sacred Realm. He also gathers the sages before storming Hyrule Castle . Link fights Ganon, who tries to use the Triforce. Ganon's heart is not in balance, so he only receives the Triforce of Power and turns into a pig-like demon. Link defeats him, and the sages seal Ganon in the Golden Realm. (This game serves as the backstory to Crown of the Overlord.)

But decades later, after Princess Zelda has died and Hyrule was thrust into civil war to determine the new ruler, Ganon escapes, beginning the story of Crown of the Overlord. He sends his monsters to search for the Triforces of Courage and Wisdom, hoping to reassemble the full Triforce. The monsters come to a small fishing village, and proceed to tear apart its most sacred temple. Only Link, a fisherman, has the courage to stand up to them. Inside the temple, he finds a fragment of the Triforce of Wisdom. Upon picking it up, he sees the Triforce Crest on his hand glow. He visits the town shaman, who turns out to be a Sheikah under cover, and learns that he is the Chosen Hero. He then departs on a quest to gather the Triforce of Wisdom and end Ganon's reign. In the end, Link fights Ganon atop Death Mountain . He impales Ganon with the Master Sword, and both Ganon and the sword tumble into the volcano, never to be seen again.

…And that's how you do it. Only it's a bit harder with more than three games. But it really is just a process of assembling the facts and figuring out how to string them together. Everything else is creative writing.

Good luck.