Home > Fake History, Pop Culture > A Brief History of the Zelda Timeline Part 2

A Brief History of the Zelda Timeline Part 2

It's kind of pretty for a place called Death Mountain
This is part 2 of a multi-part series on the history of the Legend of Zelda timeline as perceived by the Zelda fan community. For Part 1, please click here. For Part 3, please click here.

An interview with Legend of Zelda creator Shigeru Miyamoto in November 1998, held while doing a promotional tour for the imminent release of Ocarina of Time has been the source of much hand-wringing, hand-waving, fist-slamming and face-palming within the Zelda fan community over the years. Fan communities have argued endlessly over this interview, its content spawning a dozen controversies that were not fully resolved until thirteen years later, with the release of the commemorative art book Hyrule Historia. There is but one slip that could render a thousand Zelda fans this insane, one heresy that could cleave a community in two, made all the worse as it came from on high with seemingly all the authority of the Word of God.

I am, of course, speaking of the infamous Miyamoto Order.

I'm sure he didn't mean to cause so much trouble

This interview, appearing in issue No. 116 of Nintendo Power magazine in December 1998, contained the following exchange:

NP: Where do all the Zelda games fall into place when arranged chronologically by their stories?

M: Ocarina of Time is the first story, then the original Legend of Zelda, then Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, and finally A Link to the Past. It’s not very clear where Link’s Awakening fits in–it could be anytime after Ocarina of Time.

The words that would launch a thousand flame wars were buried well inside an otherwise innocuous interview to promote the latest Legend of Zelda game. To understand why this quote was such a big deal, we shall need to examine the stories of A Link to the Past and Link’s Awakening, how they were viewed at the time of release and how more than a decade of orthodoxy was turned on its head in one off-the-cuff sentence by the man who created Mario.

Before the Beginning

As we now know for certain, the events of A Link to the Past were originally intended to serve as a prequel of sorts to the original Legend of Zelda. This was also borne out in the original marketing materials released with the game, including posters, magazine advertisements and the blurb on the back of the English language boxes.

Thus, though the game was billed in previews and breathless pre-release fluff pieces as “Zelda 3”, at the time of release, it was a lot more like Zelda 0. Where Legend of Zelda and The Adventure of Link told the story of how the Triforce was restored, A Link to the Past would tell the story of how the royal family got the Triforce in the first place.

Now, while there are two versions of the story (one in the original 1991 release and one in the 2001 re-release), I’ll be using the story in the English-language localisation of the original. There are good reasons not to trust this original version on account of the 2001 rerelease excising and retconning many of the details to better line this game up with Ocarina of Time, but it is important to note the details that were once there for posterity’s sake.

The game’s story opens in the game’s manual with an introductory prologue telling the story of how the world was created and the Triforce came to be. The story centred around three goddesses of Power, Wisdom and Courage, each leaving behind a symbol of their power in the world after its creation – the three pieces of the Triforce. The goddess of Power created the land, the goddess of Wisdom created science and magic while the goddess of courage created life itself.

At some unspecified time, the magic of the Triforce became known to people and rumours began to fly about what one might be able to do with that power. However, knowledge of its location had become lost through the ages. Many sought it out, but it was nowhere to be found.

The Golden Land / The Sacred Realm

Legend had it that the Triforce or the Golden Power, as it became known, resided in a mystical Golden Land (also known as the Sacred Realm) and that it had the power to grant wishes. Its entrance was unknown and lust for power soon began to consume those who searched for it.

Enter Ganondorf Dragmire. Chief of a magic-using band of thieves, the Mandrag, he and his followers opened a gate into the Sacred Realm quite by accident. There, they came upon the Triforce. Each of the thieves wanted it for themselves and a bloody battle ensued among them.

Ganondorf fought his way to the top of the heap and got his hands on the Triforce. Nobody knew what he wished for, but soon after, evil power began to flow from the Sacred Realm. Unscrupulous types flocked to Ganondorf’s (now known as Ganon) banner and the stage was set for war.

The events that would become known as the Imprisoning War followed. A sword resistant to magic was forged to fight off the Triforce’s magic and ward off evil. This sword, called the Master Sword, required a worthy owner and none could be found to wield it.

They had some epic moustaches.

The seven wise men of Hyrule were summoned to seal off the entrance to the Golden Land using magic. While these august figures worked, the knights of Hyrule assembled for the defensive.

The knights of Hyrule were just about wiped out, but they bought precious time for the wise men to work the seal. They finally succeeded and Ganon was trapped in the Golden Land.

They make it look so easy

The 2001 version was much the same, but revised to remove all references to Ganondorf and his thieves. No more Mandrag, no more bloody battle, no more Dragmire. Instead, the prologue only mentions that evil beings began to emerge from the Golden Land and that the king of Hyrule commanded “seven sages” (as opposed to wise men) to seal its entrance. Additionally, while the story mentions that “many brave knights” perished in the final battle, it neglects to name them the Knights of Hyrule.

It was a close-run thing

Centuries later, a series of disasters rock the land of Hyrule, leading to widespread panic and unrest. Nobody is able to do anything about the problems when out of the blue, a wizard appears wielding an entirely new type of magic.

Using this magic, the wizard, named Aghanim, dispels the natural disasters and saves the land. For his service, the king rewards him with honours and a high position as a royal adviser.

Soon though, rumours spread out of the castle that the king is being controlled by Aghanim and that the wizard is calling all the shots. Young women begin disappearing and a sense of dread hangs in the air.

With that fashion sense, why wouldn't you trust him?

It is at this point that game begins with Link, the nephew of one of the knights of Hyrule castle having dreams of a disembodied voice and waking up to see his uncle preparing to go out into a stormy night. The older man tells Link that he is going out and that he should stay where he is.

Link, perhaps shaken by the voice he heard, decides to disobey his uncle and follow him into the castle. Stumbling upon a secret entrance into the castle sewers, he finds his uncle wounded, perhaps dying. With his dying breath, the older man tells the younger that Princess Zelda is in danger and that it is up to Link to rescue her.

Now it is at this point that we have met our second Link and our third Princess Zelda (remembering that there were two in the LoZ / AoL story arc – the reigning Zelda and the sleeping Zelda). In order to give him some way of distinguishing himself from his namesake, I shall call him the Hero of Gold from here on out.

The Hero of Gold then fought his way through to the dungeons of Hyrule Castle, succeeding in busting the princess from her confinement and sneaking her out into a nearby sanctuary, one that bore a striking resemblance to a church or temple.

When they have finally reached safety, Zelda explains to Link what has been going on – that Aghanim has been kidnapping maidens that were descended from the seven sages (or wise men, if you prefer). With Aghanim holed up in the castle behind a magical barrier however, Link needs to retrieve the legendary Master Sword in order to be able to stop him.

The catch is that the Master Sword sits in a stone plinth in the Lost Woods and cannot be pulled by just anybody – the wielder needs to have three Medals of Virtue (the virtues being Power, Wisdom and Courage). The Hero of Gold then proceeds to head to each of the locations where these are hidden: The Eastern Palace, the ruins in the Desert of Mystery and the Tower of Hera.

It is on his way up Death Mountain to where the Tower of Hera sits that Link first crosses into the Dark World, what the Golden Land had become under Ganon’s rule. In this strange place, Link takes the form of a pink bunny. He learns from people he meets there that everyone who tries to enter the Golden Land will be transformed and take a form that reflects what is in their hearts, unless they happen to have a certain magical artifact.

The Hero of Gold obtains this artifact, along with the third Medal of Virtue and makes his way to the Lost Woods to retrieve the Master Sword. Immediately upon doing so, he is contacted telepathically with the message that Aghanim’s guards have found Zelda and taken her hostage in the castle.

Link rushes to the castle with all haste, breaks the seal on the entrance to the tower where Aghanim has made his headquarters and fights his way to the top. He is just in time to watch as Aghanim casts a spell on the princess and sends her into the Dark World we saw a glimpse of previously. A fight ensues and the Hero of Gold manages to defeat the evil wizard by reflecting his magic back at him using the master sword.

Undeterred by defeat, however, the evil wizard taunts the boy and draws him into the Dark World. The Hero of Gold then finds himself in a strange land, much like his home of Hyrule, but filled with evil creatures, talking trees and misshapen, transformed citizens. From his vantage point atop the Great Pyramid, Link can see what the Golden Land has become.

Finding ways of traveling to and from his own Light World to this one and gaining ever greater strength upon his quest, Link then proceeds to rescue the maidens in order to find a way to ultimately rescue the Princess Zelda. He finds out what Ganon has been up to – using the maidens’ blood to undo the seal upon the Sacred Realm and in doing so gain full access to Hyrule proper.

In an intriguing side note, it is often postulated that Aghanim was not a servant of Ganon at all, but rather a bunshin – a part of Ganon’s soul split off from the main Voldemort style and sent off into the world. Yes, Ganon was making horcruxes before it was cool.

The Hero of Gold fights his way through seven dungeons manned by his servants, rescued the seven maidens and tempers his sword to boot. Then, he makes his way to the Great Pyramid that serves as Ganon’s stronghold and faces down the King of Darkness, defeating him and gaining the Triforce.

Reunited with Princess Zelda, the Hero of Gold makes a wish. The Sacred Realm is restored to its former glory and peace returns to Hyrule. The royal family then rules with the Triforce and an age of prosperity begins.

Eventually, of course, the Sleeping Zelda story will take place and Ganon will be revived to invade the land of Hyrule as part of the LoZ / AoL backstory. Or it will, but more on that further on.

First, however, we should briefly look at the story of Link’s Awakening – the series’ first handheld adventure.

At first blush, Link’s Awakening is a weird game, full of cameos of characters from other Nintendo games, including the Mario and Kirby series. In later years, it would be revealed that the game was developed in the developers’ spare time as an unsanctioned after-work project and then, mostly as a challenge to prove that they could.

The story begins with Link, officially our friend the Hero of Gold (though at the time, this was somewhat less than clear), sailing the high seas during a storm. He is shipwrecked and winds up unconscious on a beach. When he comes to, he is greeted to the sight of a woman who looks uncannily like Princess Zelda and a man who looks uncannily like… Mario?

Yes, Link's just as confused as you are

The island he wound up on is called Koholint Island. It is the home of a giant egg in which the Wind Fish sleeps. The Hero of Gold then goes on a series of adventures to extricate himself from the island.

The monsters he fights, Link learns through the course of his journey, are nightmares. The land Link travels, by extension, turns out to all be a dream of the Wind Fish. By waking the Wind Fish, he ends the dream and destroys the island… and all its inhabitants disappear.

This puts Link in an odd predicament. Yes, waking the Wind Fish from an endless nightmare-infested dream is the right thing to do. On the other hand, not destroying Koholint Island allows its kooky inhabitants to continue living.

If the Hero of Gold ever had misgivings about his actions, he never showed it. In the final fight prior to waking the Wind Fish, he fights his own nightmare – a resurrected Ganon. Upon waking the Wind Fish, the island disappears and Link is left floating on a bit of driftwood.

The story never says what happened to him after that. I like to think he was picked up by a passing ship and lived out his days sipping mai thais on some beach somewhere. In all likelihood, the canon story has him returning to Hyrule as a fully trained hero to serve as a knight or something.

The State of the Timeline

At the time of the release of Link’s Awakening, (1993), the consensus timeline among fans was already somewhat uncertainly wavering between two possibilities, mostly centred around the placement of Link’s Awakening:

ALttP – LoZ / AoL / LA

-and-

ALttP / LA – LoZ / AoL

As I mentioned previously, the latter turned out to be the correct theory, but there was no way of knowing that at the time.

Though the insane arguments had already begun in earnest, it wasn’t until the infamous Nintendo Power #116 interview that things really got out of hand. Again, the quote is as follows:

NP: Where do all the Zelda games fall into place when arranged chronologically by their stories?

M: Ocarina of Time is the first story, then the original Legend of Zelda, then Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, and finally A Link to the Past. It’s not very clear where Link’s Awakening fits in–it could be anytime after Ocarina of Time.

Not only did this put doubt upon the hitherto unquestioned prequel status of A Link to the Past, it failed utterly to confirm the status of Link’s Awakening.

Now why Mr Miyamoto got this wrong is a matter of conjecture. The simplest explanation is that he didn’t care enough to remember and just said whatever came to his head (Mr Miyamoto is notorious for taking a dim view on stories in his games). Maybe he was tired from the promotional tour and simply goofed. Maybe he didn’t get anything wrong at all and there was some kind of translation confusion.

The worst part is that in multiple interviews held at around the same time, Mr Miyamoto was quoted as espousing the official timeline that most who were paying attention at the time already suspected. However, as these publications were either in Japanese or had neither the reach or the authoritative air on matters Zelda that Nintendo Power had at the time, this bit of misinformation would plague the more dedicated elements of the fan community for more than a decade.

Yes, there was still some doubt as to the placement of Link’s Awakening, but the confusion generated out of that was nothing compared to the creator of the series messing up in this one interview.

From now onwards, there would always be those who espoused the Miyamoto order for the original four games in the series and those who put forward the non-sanctioned, but less confusing “official” order (though the latter would not be vindicated for years). It would lead to endless, esoteric and obscure arguments over translation details, developer quotes and marketing materials.

Conclusion

As time goes on and the 1998 release of Ocarina of Time comes and goes, things are only going to get worse. Ocarina of Time will introduce yet another hero, yet another version of events for the Imprisoning War and multiple endings that will cause yet another schism until the “Blue Swamp Incident” in 2006 confirmed the split timeline beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Join me next time as I explore the effect of the Nintendo 64 and Gameboy Color eras of the series on the fan community. Unfortunately, things will get much, much worse before they get any better.

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