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
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.
- Skyward Sword
- The Minish Cap
- Four Swords
- Ocarina of Time
The Twilight Realm and the Legacy of the Hero (The Hero is Triumphant — child timeline)
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 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).
Link 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.
One hundred years pass, Ganondorf escapes 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 (also called Link) 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.
The Hero of Winds and a New World (The Hero is Triumphant — adult timeline)
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...
The Decline of Hyrule and the Last Hero (The Hero is Defeated)
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.