The Timeline dictates the order of canonical games in the Legend of Zelda series. Its precise chronology of events has been hotly debated among fans. On December 21, 2011, Nintendo released the book Hyrule Historia, which contained an official timeline created by the current Zelda series director, Eiji Aonuma.
Even with the release of an official timeline, it is still possible that this official order will change in the future. Many times in the past, the creators of the series have dropped hints as to the order of the series or confirmed certain connections, yet many of these "revelations" have been overridden by newer materials, games, and statements, much to the point that the overall timeline was considered relatively unimportant by the creators. Much of the ambiguity of the chronology of the Legend of Zelda series is due to the fact that the games take place over a span of centuries or even millennia, featuring many different incarnations of Link, Princess Zelda, Impa, and other characters. Some of the other confusion arises as a result of mistranslation and localization problems. Nintendo of America's localization process during the NES/SNES era was to have a Japanese-speaking employee directly translate the text, and an NOA employee (with no pre-requisite of understanding Japanese) take the literal English and re-write it to suit American grammar and culture. The man most frequently assigned this task was Daniel Owsen.
The following is the timeline published in Hyrule Hystoria. Afterward is a list of the Nintendo-published games in order of release, with known information regarding their place in the timeline.
Official Hyrule Historia timeline
In 2011, the Hyrule Historia was released, containing an official timeline created by Eiji Aonuma. In this timeline, there are three diverging timeline branches relating to Ocarina of Time, rather than the previously known two, one of which followed the events of Ocarina of Time after Link defeated Ganondorf/Ganon as an adult, and the other following the alternate course of events set in motion when Link is sent back in time to relive his childhood. The new third timeline is what happens should Link, the Hero of Time, lose against Ganondorf/Ganon during Ocarina of Time. Unlike the "Child Timeline", which was created when Link was sent back in time and changed the course of history, this newly announced third timeline is not created by any events in Ocarina of Time, and appears to be an alternate scenario of what would have happened had Link died during the course of the game (which can be seen as akin to a player getting a Game Over in Ocarina of Time). This separates the timeline into four main parts: the first part precedes all of the other games, beginning with the creation of Hyrule and ending with Ocarina of Time. During the events of Ocarina of Time, three separate branches of the timeline split off. The timeline is depicted as follows.
Creation of Hyrule until Ocarina of Time
The world is created by the Golden Goddesses, along with the Triforce. The events of Skyward Sword occur. Afterward, during an "era of chaos" the Sacred Realm is sealed. The kingdom of Hyrule is then established during the "era of prosperity", ruled by the Royal Family of Hyrule. The events of The Minish Cap then occur, followed by the events of Four Swords. During these two games, the origin of Vaati is explained, and he is left sealed within the Four Sword. Afterward, knowledge of the Triforce spreads, and the Hyrulean Civil War results as various tribes fight to acquire it. The war ends when the Royal Family of Hyrule unites the land. Shortly after the war's end, the events of Ocarina of Time occur, during which three separate timelines branch out.
Timeline A ("Adult Timeline"), Link defeats Ganon
As seen in the final battle and ending of Ocarina of Time, Link defeats Ganondorf, sealing him in the Sacred Realm with the help of the Seven Sages. Later, Ganondorf escapes the seal, which forces the gods to cause the Great Flood. The events of The Wind Waker occur, immediately followed by the events of Phantom Hourglass. Tetra's Pirates discover a new continent, and establish New Hyrule there. The events of Spirit Tracks then occur on New Hyrule.
Timeline B ("Child Timeline"), Link prevents Ganondorf's acquisition of the Triforce
As shown in the final scenes of Ocarina of Time, Link is sent back in time to relive his lost youth, after having defeated Ganondorf in the "Adult Timeline". Link is sent to the period of time before Ganondorf entered the Sacred Realm and claimed the Triforce. Link alters events so that Ganondorf's claiming of the Triforce never comes to pass. As a result, Ganondorf eventually attacks Hyrule, but is subdued. After a failed execution, Ganondorf is sent to the Twilight Realm. Meanwhile, Link travels away from Hyrule and the events of Majora's Mask occur. Later, the events of Twilight Princess occur, followed by the events of Four Swords Adventures.
Timeline C ("Downfall Timeline"), Link fails to defeat Ganondorf during Ocarina of Time
This timeline is an alternate continuity in which Link is defeated by Ganondorf during the final battle of "Ocarina of Time". After this, Ganondorf obtains all three pieces of the Triforce. Led by Princess Zelda, the people of Hyrule manage to seal Ganon and the Triforce in the Sacred Realm.
The Hyrule Historia explains in a different section that Hyrule experienced a short lived peace, after which knowledge of the Sacred Realm and Triforce spread across Hyrule, and many sought the Triforce. However, the Sacred Realm had become the Dark World under the control of Ganondorf, and evil stemmed from the entrance. The King of Hyrule orders the Seven Sages to seal the entrance to the Sacred Realm. Protected from the evil forces by the Knights of Hyrule, they succeed. These events cover the Imprisoning War. It is not explicitly stated whether or not these events are the same as the sealing of Ganon mentioned above or a separate occurrence.
All of this leads to the events of A Link to the Past, A Link Between Worlds, and Tri Force Heroes. The events of both Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons then occur; which happens first is left ambiguous, as the two connecting games can be played in either order. The Oracle series is followed by the events of Link's Awakening. For a time, the Triforce is used by the Hyrulean monarchy, until the Triforce of Courage is sealed away and Princess Zelda is cursed into an eternal slumber, as described in the backstory of The Adventure of Link. Later, the events of The Legend of Zelda occur, directly followed by the in-game events of The Adventure of Link.
As with all timeline orders, the official Hyrule Historia timeline contains some continuity errors. While Aonuma has stated that all the Zelda games take place in a single continuity, the third timeline branch, in which Link fails in his quest during Ocarina of Time, does not stem from events in any other part of the timeline, instead appearing to be a second, mutually exclusive continuity. Also, the Dark World seen in Four Swords Adventures would have to be unrelated to the one seen in A Link to the Past, as the origin of the Dark World from A Link to the Past does not take place in the Child Timeline.
Another continuity error is the Triforce of Courage. Both Links in Twilight Princess and Wind Waker possess the Triforce of Courage; however, the Hyrule Historia states that when Link returned to his childhood, he brought the Triforce with him. This explains how the Twilight Princess Link came to possess the Triforce of Courage, but this does not explain how the Triforce of Courage still exists in The Wind Waker. Even if one supposes that Link did not bring it with him to his childhood in Ocarina of Time, then the child Link could not have passed it on to the Link in Twilight Princess, creating a continuity issue both ways. It is possible though, that Twilight Princess Link merely gained the Triforce of Courage through other means as Zelda and Ganondorf also seemed to have their Triforce pieces in the game.
While not a continuity problem, several loose ends are also left in the timeline. While Vaati was sealed in the Four Sword before the three timeline branches diverged, Vaati's escape and possibly final defeat in Four Swords Adventures occurs only in the "Child Timeline", leaving him still sealed within the Four Sword in the other two timelines. Also as a result of the timeline placement of Four Swords Adventures, an incarnation of Ganon is left sealed away but not slain in the "Child Timeline", whereas the incarnations of Ganondorf/Ganon are apparently dead at the end of the other two timelines. In addition, although it is confirmed that the events of Breath of the Wild took place after Ocarina of Time, it wasn't made clear as to which timeline it took place in other than it being either the Child or Adult timeline. Several weapons and gear that originated from all three timelines being included in the game don't help the situation either.
The following is a list of the Nintendo-published games in order of release, with the known information regarding their place in the timeline:
Hyrule is introduced. Ganon steals the Triforce of Power. In order to face him, Link must assemble the Triforce of Wisdom. The game ends with Ganon's death, allowing Link to retrieve the Triforce of Power and save Princess Zelda.
The Adventure of Link takes place several seasons after the original game, as indicated in the manual. It stars the Link of the previous game nearing his 16th birthday and discovering a Triforce mark that has appeared on his hand. The Princess Zelda in this game is not the same Zelda as in the first game however. The manual describes how long ago, the Prince of Hyrule should have inherited the full Triforce from his father, the King of Hyrule, who died after telling the prince's sister, the original Princess Zelda, the location of the last piece. The prince and a Magician questioned Princess Zelda, who refused to reveal the location of the Triforce; in anger, the Magician cast a sleeping spell upon the princess, killing himself in the process. Out of grief, the Prince of Hyrule issued an order that all future females born into the Royal Family of Hyrule were to be named Zelda. In the game, Link eventually finds the Triforce of Courage, thus fully uniting the Triforce, which he uses to awaken this original Zelda. The idea of who this original Zelda was has been hotly debated, as the fact that the Triforce of Courage could not have been hidden prior to The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time implies that the events took place later, but references to the Sages imply that this game takes place after Ocarina of Time.
A Link to the Past allegedly takes place generations before the original game, as heavily emphasized in the US promotional material and on the packaging of the Japanese edition. The game's prologue references a past event, now often referred to as the Imprisoning War, during which a portal to the Sacred Realm where the Triforce was hidden, was opened. Ganondorf eventually claimed the Triforce, but could not leave the Sacred Realm, and evil power began to flow from the portal. Seven Wise Men were called upon to seal the portal to the Sacred Realm, and the Knights of Hyrule were called upon to defend the wise men. The knights suffered heavy losses, but the seal was cast, and evil flowed no more. The game shows how the seal was broken by Ganon with the help of his alter ego, Agahnim, and about Ganon's defeat and Link's possession of the whole Triforce. Link retrieves the Master Sword from the Pedestal of Time deep in the Lost Woods in this game.
Confusion was caused over this title's placement when Shigeru Miyamoto stated in an interview that it occurred after the original (see Miyamoto Order). However, due to Miyamoto's admitted lack of interest or involvement in the Zelda timeline, many choose to brand it an honest mistake on his part, or a possible mistranslation resulting from Nintendo's poor translation practices of the 80's and 90's.
Due to the fact that when Link gains the Triforce a golden age and prosperity returns to Hyrule and the statement that the Master Sword was never used again, this game seems most likely to occur toward the end of the timeline. However, the Master Sword is used by the Link in A Link Between Worlds, which happens generations after A Link to the Past, making this statement false.
Link's Awakening was initially universally agreed upon to occur very shortly after A Link to the Past, starring the same Link. The game's instruction manual states that Link left Hyrule on a journey of enlightenment after defeating Ganon. The Japanese official website states the game is a direct sequel to Triforce of the Gods (the Japanese title for A Link to the Past), but some theorists believe that the position of Link's Awakening in the timeline has been modified by the Oracle games.
Ocarina of Time ends with Ganondorf sealed in the Sacred Realm in possession of the Triforce of Power, and forms the Hero of Time backstory of The Wind Waker. This contradicts the previous idea that the backstory of A Link to the Past occurs during this game, as there are now two different accounts of how Ganon broke his seal. Many consider this the earliest story, due to the appearance of legendary figures, such as Ganondorf and the Seven Sages. This game most likely takes place before The Adventure of Link because the towns in the former bear the same names as the sages from Ocarina of Time. At the end of the game, Link leaves the Master Sword in its pedestal in the Temple of Time.
Shigeru Miyamoto stated in an issue of Nintendo Power that Ocarina of Time was the first game chronologically (in 1998), although this is now contested by The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap. This game's ending brought about the Split Timeline.
Majora's Mask takes place very shortly after Ocarina of Time and stars the same Link, who has been returned to his youth. Link travels to the alternate world of Termina in the game. Although there is no official proof in-game that it is an alternate world, the manual for The Legend of Zelda: Collector's Edition states that it is indeed.
Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons are connected via a password system, and one takes place immediately after the other. They can be played/regarded in either order, depending on the player's preference. The saga takes place at a time when the united Triforce is in Hyrule Castle and Ganon is dead. Koume and Kotake are alive in the game, though it is unclear if they are the same individuals from Ocarina of Time, or a separate incarnation of them (like the many Links and Zeldas in the series). Dialogue suggests that the Link and Princess Zelda featured in the game meet for the first time. Upon completing both games via link-up to receive the 'full' ending, the very last scene shows Link on a raft sailing off into the sunset, waving goodbye to his friends. This may suggest that Link's Awakening takes place immediately after the Oracle series chronologically, although this is inconsistent with the original canon regarding Link's Awakening. Although some cite Link's departure in a boat at the end of the linked Oracle series ending as evidence of a connection to Link's Awakening, the majority of theorists believe that the Oracle series occur as stand-alone events, especially as plot points such as Link meeting Zelda for the first time and Link's apparent age directly contradict A Link to the Past, the game that Link's Awakening is known to be the sequel to. Ganon is dead prior to the story. He is revived, but due to the lack of a proper sacrifice, he is mindless. It is not stated whether Ganon is killed, sealed, or left alive at the end of the story.
Four Swords was stated by Eiji Aonuma in 2004 to be the "oldest tale" in the Legend of Zelda series. However, this has become a minority view among theorists, due to Four Swords Adventures appearing to contain the same Link as a direct sequel to Four Swords. As Four Swords Adventures is almost universally believed to take place around the time of A Link to the Past (generally as a prequel), this would mean that Four Swords does not occur before Ocarina of Time. This game's Link and Princess Zelda are childhood friends.
The Wind Waker takes place hundreds of years after Ocarina of Time - according to Eiji Aonuma, it follows the "adult" ending of Ocarina of Time, occurring on what is commonly called the Adult Timeline. The land of Hyrule has been flooded, with only islands remaining and the land almost entirely erased and forgotten. The game references the Hero of Time's defeat of Ganon, and then Ganon's escape from his Sacred Realm seal in another attempt to conquer Hyrule, leading to the gods flooding Hyrule to seal Ganondorf below the sea. During the game, Ganondorf breaks free from the seal and is defeated by Link, ending up with the Master Sword buried in Ganondorf's head at the bottom of the sea. It is stated in an interview with Eiji Aonuma that the timeline splits after Ocarina of Time, with one branch following the Hero of Time's defeat of Ganondorf leading to The Wind Waker, while the other branch was where Link lived out the rest of his life, and the events of The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. It is also said by many theorists That The Wind Waker is the second from last game in the series, although this has been proven false because The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks (released in late 2009) takes place roughly a century after The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, The Wind Waker's direct sequel.
Four Swords Adventures takes place "years" (according to the back of the English box) after Four Swords. Although Aonuma does not state where it stands in relation to the rest of the timeline, many believe it to be a bridge between the newer games in the timeline and the older classics, due to a combination of gameplay melds (i.e. features from both groups are present) and the nature of the storyline. It is both a continuation of the Four Sword arc and a precursor to A Link to the Past. The game shows how Ganondorf gains his Trident and turns permanently into the pig beast, Ganon. This game's Link wages a campaign strikingly similar to the Imprisoning War of A Link to the Past, and Ganon gets sealed away, albeit in the Four Sword, not the Dark World. As such, it is commonly perceived as a link between the 3D games, which lead to the previous Ganondorf's death and pave the way for the introduction of this new Ganon, who serves as the antagonist for the original three games. Several aspects of the game appear to contradict A Link to the Past (such as Ganondorf becoming Ganon through the Trident, not the Triforce), which is now believed to be a consequence of Miyamoto drastically changing the story of Four Swords Adventures late in development. Removed text found in the game's text dump hints at many removed elements which, when combined with existing similarities still in the game (such as the defeat of the Knights of Hyrule and the origins of Ganon), strongly suggest that the game was originally intended to be the Imprisoning War before the story was changed.
The Minish Cap takes place long before Four Swords and Four Swords Adventures. If the Palace of the Four Sword (the bonus dungeon featured in the Game Boy Advance port of A Link to the Past) is interpreted as canon, then The Minish Cap also takes place some time before A Link to the Past. Many fans have suggested that The Minish Cap is the first game in the Zelda chronology, but there is little in-game (or other official) evidence to support this besides containing a possible explanation of how the tradition of the hero wearing a green cap started. However, this is the earliest story involving Vaati, and contains his origin and transformation into his most familiar form; therefore, if Eiji Aonjuma's comment about Four Swords' placement in the timeline is taken as fact, The Minish Cap would be the first game in the Vaati saga.
Twilight Princess takes place over a century after the "child" ending of Ocarina of Time, according to Eiji Aonuma. As Majora's Mask continues the story of young Link from Ocarina of Time, it therefore takes place shortly after Ocarina of Time and over a hundred years before Twilight Princess. The game chronicles how Ganondorf's vile acts resulted in his attempted execution; however, he was gifted with the power of the gods and almost escaped, until he was sealed in the Twilight Realm. Over the course of the game, Ganondorf breaks his seal, but he is killed when impaled in the chest by Link, using the Master Sword.
The state of the Triforce is not certain in this game as the marks that appear on the hands of Link, Ganondorf, and Princess Zelda are never referred to as the Triforce. However, the use of the phrase "power of the gods" has previously appeared in the series to describe the Triforce, and Link, Ganondorf, and Zelda each have a particular piece of the Triforce appearing stronger on their hand, suggesting that they do possess Triforce pieces (which give all three characters certain powers). In the game, Link retrieves the Master Sword from its pedestal in the Sacred Grove deep in the Faron Woods; in his time period, only the ruins of the ancient Temple of Time remain. A mysterious time portal takes Link back to a fully intact Temple of Time sometime in the past, where he finds the same pedestal from which he withdrew the Sword in the forest to be in the exact same location as the pedestal in the past-version of the Temple of Time. This may suggest a connection between Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess, and A Link to the Past, in that order.
Phantom Hourglass takes place no more than a year after The Wind Waker with the same Link.
Spirit Tracks takes place at least one hundred years after the events of The Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass. The game is set in New Hyrule, which was founded by Link and Tetra after being told to look for a new land of their own. According to Anjean, before the arrival of Tetra and her band of pirates, there was a war between the Spirits of Good and the demon king Malladus. In the end, the demon king was sealed away and kept imprisoned by the Spirit Tracks, which were later used as railway by the new settlers.
Skyward Sword takes place at the start of the timeline before The Minish Cap. It tells of the creation of Hyrule, the war between Demise and Hylia, as well as how the Master Sword was forged by Link. In the ending, Zelda chooses to remain on the surface instead of going back to Skyloft, thus founding the kingdom of Hyrule.
A Link Between Worlds takes place generations after A Link to the Past, and Hyrule appears geographically unchanged, most likely meaning it takes place before The Legend of Zelda since that game has a much different Hyrule. The tale of the events from A Link to the Past have been passed down through the generations, and Link draws the Master Sword from exactly where the Link from A Link to the Past left it in the Lost Woods.
Tri Force Heroes takes place a few years after A Link Between Worlds, in the kingdom of Hytopia.
Breath of the Wild takes place generations after Ocarina of Time hence the Temple of Time being in ruins (though the locations of the temple in relation to the Castle and Castle Town have moved over time), the Divine Beast Vah Naboris was named after Nabooru and Ganon's origins as a member of the Gerudo tribe is mentioned.
Zelda mentions legends about the hero "Whether skwyard bound, adrift in time, or steeped in the glowing embers of twilight.", which is respectively a reference to these three previous games. The ruins of the Arbiter's Grounds from Twilight Princess can be found as well but it is largely covered in sand. Certain places and details like Spectacle Rock are pulled from the classic timeline, and Link's Wild armor set is inspired by the appearance of the classic Link.
"Just a Legend" theory
Some fans say that the chronology of the series should not be so rigid. Just as real-world legends are retold with different variations (e.g. the flood), each game could merely be a different retelling of the same story. With each advancement in videogame hardware and the ever-changing desires of the consumer, the base story of Link saving Princess Zelda from Ganon and recovering the Triforce is embellished, modified, and changed outright. Just like any other legend, The Legend of Zelda changes as it is retold through the years. Despite the fact that Aonuma and Miyamoto have confirmed the existence of a timeline, this remains a popular theory.
Although the Hyrule Warriors subseries was its own canon separate from the mainline series, the three playable eras were from Skyward Sword, Ocarina of Time, and Twilight Princess, with the last one strongly implying that the events of the game take place during the Child timeline. This was further supported by the Wind Waker story narrative for Legends revealing that the worlds from Wind Waker came from "an alternate dimension."
Information confirmed in interviews
In an interview with GamePro in December 2002, when trying to explain where The Wind Waker fit into the overall Zelda timeline, Eiji Aonuma and Shigeru Miyamoto mentioned that Ocarina of Time actually had two endings, one with Link as a child and one with Link as an adult. At the time, The Wind Waker was said to take place 100 years after Ocarina of Time. 
In an interview with Nintendo Dream in December 2006, Aonuma clarified that the Zelda timeline contains two parallel worlds due to Link being sent back in time by Princess Zelda at the end of Ocarina of Time. Once returned to his original time, Link goes to see her again, and the result of this meeting is an alternate future in which the villain Ganondorf is arrested and tried by the Ancient Sages, which causes him to get banished to the Twilight Realm. Twilight Princess then occurs several hundred years after the Ocarina of Time child Link's era. Meanwhile, The Wind Waker occurs in the timeline where the adult Link defeated Ganon, hundreds of years after the Ocarina of Time adult Link's adventures.
The creators maintained that the series has a set timeline, but due to the poor translation protocols in the 1990s and the constant debate over what counts as being canonical, the publicly available information was disputed. Additionally, some information in interviews was later overridden by later interviews, such as the amount of time between Ocarina of Time and The Wind Waker, or the placement of A Link to the Past in relation to The Legend of Zelda.
Eiji Aonuma stated that he would do his best to connect the games together and hopefully reveal the timeline someday, and both he and Shigeru Miyamoto publicly stated there is a master document containing the timeline. The timeline has since been released in Hyrule Historia.
- ^ "Interview with Eiji Aonuma" (English) [Question: When does Twilight Princess take place? Aonuma - In the world of Ocarina of Time, a hundred and something years later.]
- ^ GamePro interview with Aonuma and Miyamoto, 6 Dec 2002.Aonuma: Oh, right, let me elaborate on that. Ocarina of Time basically has two endings of sorts; one has Link as a child and the other has him as an adult.
- ^ "Interview with Eiji Aonuma" (Japanese) [Partial translation: "ND – About when is the Twilight Princess timeline set? Aonuma – In a world several hundred years after 'Ocarina of Time.' ND – And 'Wind Waker'? Aonuma – 'Wind Waker' is parallel. In 'Ocarina of Time,' Link jumps to a world seven years ahead, defeats Ganon, and returns to the time of his childhood, right? 'Twilight Princess' is a world several hundred years after that pacified childhood time."]
- ^ Nintendo Dream (2007). Interview with Eiji Aonuma (English translation). Retrieved on 2007-03-12.