Zelda: TOTK
Image: Nintendo Life

Never mind Ganon, anyone who has ever been brave enough to look will tell you that the true Dark Beast of the Zelda franchise is its timeline. Up until Skyward Sword, many of us were happy enough to form our own theories about how the games slotted together, or just play blissfully unaware of the intricacies of how one flowed into the next. Then the Hyrule Historia came along in 2011 and shook everything up.

Instead of one cohesive timeline, this official tie-in book suggests that there are in fact three separate strands to keep track of after the events of Ocarina of Time — 'The Hero is Defeated' and 'The Hero is Triumphant (Child and Adult eras)'. And this doesn't account for any of the games that release after Skyward Sword, so we have only been able to speculate on where the likes of Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom slot into the mix. Simply put, it gets really complicated, really fast.

Fortunately, we're here to help try and make sense of it all. We have pored over official Hyrule chronologies from the books, looked for clues in the games, and read through enough theories to make a Zonai go zany, all in the name of trying to work out where Tears of the Kingdom (and Breath of the Wild) fall on the order of events.

We will do a brief recap of the 'official' timeline before we delve into this latest generation just so that we are all on the same page. And yes, we will be discussing set events and plot points from almost all Zelda games in this one (though we have gone easy around Tears of the Kingdom for now), so do be prepared for spoilers ahead.

Notepads at the ready. Let's do some (ocarina of) time travelling...

The Zelda Timeline, Explained

The Timeline According To Hyrule Historia

We are going to be very brief with our summaries here, so hold on tight.

The Legend of the Goddesses and the Hero

Zelda: Skyward Sword
Image: Nintendo

Hyrule and the Triforce are created by three goddesses (Din, Nayru, and Farore) and are left in the control of another goddess called Hylia. War quickly breaks out after an evil being called Demise attempts to get the Triforce but is sealed away by Hylia and her armies. Hylia lifts the Triforce and humans into the sky on a giant floating island called Skyloft.

Hylia is reborn as a human (Zelda) who is kidnapped by one of Demise's servants and pulled to the surface in an attempt to get the Triforce. She is saved by her friend Link, who defeats Demise, but not before the villain curses the pair, swearing that his quest for vengeance will be eternal, and a version of his evil will forever hunt those with the blood of the goddess — spooky stuff.

Years pass. The people of Skyloft return to the surface and name it Hyrule. There is some nasty business with a mage called Vaati, who is eventually sealed into a powerful Picori blade known as The Four Sword.

After some years of peace, Hyrule descends into Civil War. A baby is entrusted to the Great Deku Tree to be raised as a Kokiri, growing up to become Link. Link meets a new version of Princess Zelda (there's going to be a lot of this reincarnation business, to be clear) and the pair learn that an evil Gerudo called Ganondorf is attempting to steal the Triforce, and Link travels forwards seven years in time so that he can wield the legendary Master Sword and defeat the evil.

Games included:

The Twilight Realm and the Legacy of the Hero (The Hero is Triumphant — child timeline)

Zelda: LTTP
Image: Nintendo

Having defeated Ganondorf at the end of Ocarina of Time, Link is sent back in time to live out his childhood. He places the Master Sword back in its pedestal, warns Zelda of Ganondorf's plans to betray the king, and flees with the Ocarina so that the Gerudo can never open the Seal of Time just in case he manages to escape punishment (spoiler: he does).

This young Link, though he is the Hero of Time, never battles Ganondorf in his own timeline. Instead, he visits a parallel world, fights a scary moon, and returns to Hyrule to live out the rest of his days unremembered as a hero — it's all very sad, and the games don't go into it all that much (although he does appear in Twilight Princess as the spirit who gives that Link his special sword skills).

One hundred years pass, Ganondorf survives his execution (who would have thought it?!) and is banished to the Twilight Realm where he builds his power and eventually kidnaps Princess Zelda. A direct descendent of the Hero of Time goes on a quest to save the Princess. He kills Ganondorf, saves Hyrule, and the gateway between the two realms is shattered.

Ganondorf is reincarnated and frees Vaati from the Four Sword, but Link makes light work of them both.

Games included:

The Hero of Winds and a New World (The Hero is Triumphant — adult timeline)

Zelda: TP
Image: Nintendo

Rewind to the end of Ocarina of Time. Link defeats Ganondorf (who is sealed away by the sages) and is sent back in time, so what happens to the timeline without Link? Well, carnage.

Ganondorf escapes the seal and takes over Hyrule. With no hero there to protect them, the king of Hyrule leaves the fate of the world to the gods who swiftly flood the lands, letting only a select few survive.

Years pass and Ganondorf escapes from his watery grave (yep, once again). Link gathers together the broken shards of the Triforce, repowers the Master Sword, and descends to the bottom of the ocean to put an end to Ganondorf for good — he stabs the sword into his head, turning the Gerudo to stone (this one is serious). On the wishes of the King of Hyrule, the Triforce, Ganondorf, and Hyrule itself are washed away in the hopes of a better future.

Link and Zelda (here called Tetra) go on a quest to find a new Hyrule. There are some shenanigans with a Ghost Ship along the way, but they eventually find a new land (and it even has its own railway network). Hundreds of years later, Zelda and Link (reincarnated) free the land from evil and they live happily ever after...

Games included:

The Decline of Hyrule and the Last Hero (The Hero is Defeated)

Zelda: Wind Waker
Image: Nintendo

Back to the end of Ocarina, but this time Link is defeated by Ganondorf. The Demon King takes the Triforce and is sealed away in the Sacred Realm by the seven Sages, corrupting it into the Dark World. The Sages seal off the Dark World completely.

Ganondorf's power grows and a hero called Link (surprise surprise) ventures to the realm to defeat him. He is successful and takes control of the Triforce, wishing for peace and entrusting the emblem to the royal family.

There are a number of adventures in the ensuing years, with various reincarnations taking the starring role. These involve fish islands, flame resurrections, and hopping between worlds. The short version is that there's some family drama with the royals and Zelda is put into an eternal coma.

Ganon is resurrected again but is defeated by Link. Link regains the full Triforce, uses it to awaken the sleeping Zelda, and peace is restored to Hyrule.

Games included:

When Does Tears Of The Kingdom Take Place?

Zelda: TOTK
Image: Nintendo Life

In short, there is no official answer. But we do know that Tears of the Kingdom appears much later on from everything that has come before.

According to Creating a Champion, the Breath of the Wild tie-in book, we know that this pair of games come right at the end of a timeline. The BOTW prologue (which you can find full details of in the article below) details the rise of the Great Calamity and the subsequent Imprisoning War 10,000 years prior to the events of the game. This is a long old time by Zelda standards, so we can be sure that these games take place far in the future of Hyrule, but which future?

Typically, there has been no official word from Nintendo on this one, but from all of the evidence that we can gather from both BOTW and TOTK, the games appear to reference multiple different timelines, suggesting that in the 10,000-year gap, the timelines converge — yay!

Look back to Breath of the Wild. We know from the carvings around Zora's Domain that in the game's past, Princess Ruto was awakened as one of the seven Sages. This aligns with both the Adult and Fallen Hero timelines, as Ruto undergoes no such transformation when Link returns to being a child.

There are also both Koroks and Rito in this game, pointing towards the evolutions that the Kokiri and Zora respectively underwent after the flood of Hyrule in the Adult timeline. Then again, there are also still Zora in BOTW and TOTK, so there's no confirmation there either.

All this is to say that the timelines which have previously held their own narrative threads, resurrections and key historical events, appear to have converged in the Hyrule of Tears of the Kingdom. Creating a Champion hints at this even further, lumping every other game in the series together under the collective banner of 'myths'.

Might we be looking at the first true Zelda games in the series? With everything to have come before being nothing more than stories of a world long gone — a real legend of Zelda? Maybe.

Or, of course, these games might just belong to a timeline of their own, but we really, really don't want to think about that...

Well there you have it, everything that you need to know about the Zelda timeline and where it is likely that Tears of the Kingdom sits in it. It's a rather confusing one, isn't it?

When do you think Tears of the Kingdom takes place? Have the timelines converged or is this something completely new? Drop your theories in the comments below.