Zelda: Echoes of Wisdom Timeline
Image: Nintendo Life

Much to our shame, it took approximately 30 seconds of The Legend of Zelda: Echoes of Wisdom reveal trailer for us to start thinking about the dreaded timeline.

In the weeks since, we'd wager that a similar thought has appeared in the minds of most Zelda fans out there. Whether that was a happy thought or an "Oh god, here we go again" will depend on how deep you are in the trenches of Hylian chronology. For some of us at Nintendo Life (eg. this writer — hello!) it landed firmly in the former camp and so, after an intense period of digesting, research, and trailer breakdowns, we think we're just about ready to get into things.

But before we start, let's do some housekeeping. Yes, the Zelda timeline is a fallible thing. This is an extremely muddled chronology that popped up in the Hyrule Historia and subsequently created a rift in the fanbase unseen since the reveal of Wind Waker's art style. It's a mess. What's more, it's a mess that even Nintendo has confessed it doesn't pay all that much attention to when developing Zelda games. But that's where the fun of speculation lies.

We previously detailed the full timeline and its many branches when we theorised how Tears of the Kingdom might slot into things. If you have read this far, then we'd imagine that you have a basic understanding of its twists and turns already, but if you are new to timeline chatter and want a speedy catch-up, then we'd recommend reading our summary before heading in.

Get your cork boards and red string ready, the theories are about to begin...

Zelda: Echoes of Wisdom Timeline: Three Theories

Zelda: Echoes of Wisdom
Image: Nintendo

That's the ultimate question, isn't it? At the time of writing, we have only seen a single four-minute trailer and Nintendo had the nerve to focus all of it on the game's story and mechanics rather than playing to the interests of our small group of nerds who are curious about the game's relationship to the Imprisoning War (we know, shocker).

When the game releases on 26th September, we might get some indication of where it sits in the 'official' chronology but don't get your hopes up. As we said, Nintendo is typically cagey with this kind of information, so we wouldn't expect to see any Echoes of Wisdom dialogue where a random NPC tells Zelda, "Link's gone?! But he only just got back from that mysterious trip to Koholint Island!"

Without any official answer right now, we're doing what we timeline fans do best: drawing up theories based on likely insignificant details.

Let's start with our favourite one and go from there.

Theory #1: The Hero is Defeated Timeline - A Link to the Past Prequel

Zelda: A Link to the Past
Image: Nintendo

If you have ever so much as glanced at the official Zelda timeline, you'll likely be aware of the 'Hero is Defeated' branch. This typically falls after Ocarina of Time with Link popping his clogs and the Demon King nicking the Triforce and getting sealed away in the Sacred Realm by the Seven Sages. This typically leads to the events of A Link to the Past. Typically.

Why do we keep saying "typically"? Because there's every chance that Echoes of Wisdom is a retelling of this timeline's origins and our first real look at Link falling to the hands of the Demon King — unless you succumbed to ol' 'Dorf at the end of OOT and never stuck around to try again.

It's perhaps the most obvious answer, but it makes a lot of sense. Link being defeated is a pretty key event in the 'Hero is Defeated' timeline (whodathunkit?) and from what we have seen in the Echoes of Wisdom reveal trailer, the next 2D adventure will be all about that scenario. This branch of the timeline has always been a bit of a hypothetical one operating under a 'what if?' clause that most of us have never seen in-game.

But Echoes of Wisdom could be its definitive starting point, a true prequel to A Link to the Past. Now that's exciting!

There's more evidence that points to this branch of the timeline as a potential home for Echoes of Wisdom too. Fans quickly noticed that the game's Hyrule appears to closely mirror the one we saw in A Link to the Past. Plus, Ganon looks all big and blue in a way that more closely resembles his appearance from Oracle of Ages/Seasons, A Link Between Worlds, etc. than the 'realistic' boar model from Twilight Princess and Ocarina of Time.

However (and it is a rather big however), the Echoes of Wisdom reveal trailer does differ from what we know of the 'Hero is Defeated' timeline in one key aspect: Ganon is also defeated. According to the Hyrule Historia, this branch is supposed to see the Demon King defeat Link and grab the Triforce before the Seven Sages seal him away. That doesn't seem to be how things are playing out here.

Hmm. Shall we put it down to a defeated mix-up? Might there be another battle between Link and Ganon at the end of the game? Is this a complete retelling? Maybe another theory is the answer.

Theory #2: The Hero is Defeated Timeline - A Link's Awakening Sequel

Zelda: Link's Awakening
Image: Nintendo

Okay, now this one puts things on the same timeline branch as our former theory, but it moves the order around a little to suggest that Echoes of Wisdom could be a sequel to Link's Awakening.

This is a theory that we have seen proposed on Reddit a couple of times and it holds water pretty well.

There are all of the 'Hero is Defeated' branch links that we have already mentioned (similar map, Ganon design, etc.), but we also have the bigger visual connection: this game looks very similar to the Switch Link's Awakening remake.

Now, as we have reiterated many times, Nintendo generally doesn't pay all that much attention to the Zelda timeline, but when it's implied that we're seeing the same Link in two different games, we tend to see the same visual style make a comeback. This is what we saw with Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass, Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask, Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom. It's not always the case (see Minish Cap and Four Swords Adventure, which have the same art style but aren't directly related, sequel-wise), but it tends to be a Nintendo shorthand for "Remember that other game that looked like this? This is its follow-up."

We also have the sticky detail of Zora types. By the looks of the Echoes of Wisdom reveal trailer, the upcoming game will contain both the 'Sea' and 'River' variants — something we haven't seen in a Zelda game outside of Oracle of Ages. Of course, that adventure took place in Labrynna rather than Hyrule (and there's some dispute as to whether it chronologically takes place before or after Link's Awakening), but seeing both designs pop up again here makes us wonder whether things take place after Link's Labrynna and imagined Koholint seafaring travels.

Though even this theory has its holes — what's Ganon doing out of the Sacred Realm before A Link Between Worlds? Where was the Deku Tree in ALTTP if he's appearing in Echoes of Wisdom? — so perhaps we're still barking up the wrong tree.

Theory #3: A New Timeline Branch

Zelda: Echoes of Wisdom
Image: Nintendo

We cannot stress how much we hope this one isn't the answer, but annoyingly, it might be.

What if Echoes of Wisdom does away with the timeline as we know it? It might not slot neatly into the 'Hero is Defeated' branch, either of the 'Hero is Triumphant' branches, or the original Skyward Sword to Ocarina run that started it all. What if this is an all-new timeline branch we've never seen before?

Don't worry, we are groaning at the thought, too. But it does make some sense. Almost every timeline theory has its contradictions, and if this does precede some of the other mainline entries, where have all the mentions of 'That time Princess Zelda used her magic stick to defeat the Demon King' been? The 'Hero is Triumphant' timeline has two separate branches, so who's to say that Nintendo isn't doing the same with the 'Hero is Defeated'? One where the Seven Sages seal away the Demon King and one where Princess Zelda steps up to the plate.

This would explain why the Hylian landscape looks slightly different to what we saw in LTTP and ALBW, why Ganondorf has returned looking like he does, why Link seems to wield a blade that looks almost like the Master Sword, but not quite. Every question of continuity could be answered with a simple "Different timeline, mate", which, if we were Nintendo, feels like a pretty good way of sidestepping any potential headaches.

Sure, giving us another timeline branch would slide the series dangerously close to a multiverse setup (as if it hasn't been that ever since the 'official' timeline was published) that even the MCU would be envious of. But let's look at the positive: it makes space for more games where Zelda is the hero.

We'd bet all our Rupees that the Hylian monarch will save Link at the end of the game, but if this is a timeline where Zelda is the protagonist, then we needn't look at Echoes of Wisdom as a one-off. Not that we'd need a whole separate branch for that, but learning a new timeline's lore wouldn't be a bad trade-off when it opens the door to more Zelda-starring adventures in the future.

But what do you think? Do any of our theories seem likely to you or is there something that we've missed which has inspired a theory of your own? Let us know which one you're the most on board with in the following poll and then take to the comments to share your most off-the-wall timeline predictions.

Where do you think Echoes of Wisdom fits in the Zelda timeline?