Home > Fake History, Pop Culture > A Brief History of the Zelda Timeline – Part 3

A Brief History of the Zelda Timeline – Part 3

Hyrule was certainly green

This is part 3 of a series of posts describing the ups and downs over the last 25 years for the few, the dedicated, the slightly insane, the fans who spent any time trying to make any sense at all of the Legend of Zelda chronology. Fear not, for all the confusion was cleared up in late 2011, when the official timeline was finally published in a commemorative artbook, Hyrule Historia. This, then, isn’t a story of the history of the Zelda series or strictly an exposition on what the official timeline is, but a chronicle of the various errant beliefs, theories and controversies fans had built up around the series.

For Part 1, please click here.

For part 2, please click here.

The year 1998 was eventful for a number of reasons. For me, it was the start of high school, the France ’98 FIFA World Cup, the Winter Olympics in Nagano and the year I first learned about the hit video game series Pokémon. One reason it would become a banner year for me, though I was unaware of it at the time, not being fortunate enough to own a Nintendo 64, was the initial release of the seminal game Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

In the history and evolution of the Zelda series timeline, there is no event more significant, nor for so long controversial. It would be this game that would cause another great schism in both the series timeline and among fans. It would do so with that tricksy bugbear of fictional continuity, time travel.

Now, all this nonsense would be cleared up in 2007, with an interview of Legend of Zelda series director at the time, Eiji Aonuma, in Japanese gaming magazine Nintendo Dream, also known colloquially as “The Blue Swamp Incident” thanks to some translation software confusion regarding the name Aonuma (which literally does mean Blue Swamp). Speaking of the recent release of Twilight Princess, he was asked how it fit in with the rest of the series. The answer was, well, complicated (Credit goes to TheHylia.com for the translation).

ND: When does Twilight Princess take place?

Aonuma: In the world of Ocarina of Time, a hundred and something years later.

ND: And the Wind Waker?

Aonuma: The Wind Waker is parallel. In Ocarina of Time, Link flew seven years in time, he beat Ganon and went back to being a kid, remember? Twilight Princess takes place in the world of Ocarina of Time, a hundred and something years after the peace returned to kid Link’s time. In the last scene of Ocarina of Time, kids Link and Zelda have a little talk, and as a consequence of that talk, their relationship with Ganon takes a whole new direction. In the middle of this game [Twilight Princess], there’s a scene showing Ganon’s execution. It was decided that Ganon be executed because he’d do something outrageous if they left him be. That scene takes place several years after Ocarina of Time. Ganon was sent to another world and now he wants to obtain the power…

For those of you who have followed along from part one of this post series, this concept should be familiar to you – the split timeline. The game Ocarina of Time split the Zelda continuity in twain, an idea that would have seemed nothing short of unthinkable at the time of the game’s release. That the game would one day be recognised as having actually split the timeline in three was completely unimaginable.

This was, in part, because the game was initially presented as a simple prequel to the very popular A Link to the Past, specifically the events of the Imprisoning War that led to Ganon and his minions becoming trapped in the Golden Realm and corrupting it with the power of the Triforce. Additionally, despite some inconsistencies, the backstory of A Link to the Past matched closely the events of Ocarina of Time, so there was little reason not to take the idea of Ocarina of Time as the Imprisoning War at face value. For years after the release of the game, this would be the official interpretation of events… until the release of Majora’s Mask and The Wind Waker came and overturned the cart. This time period would also cover the release of the excellent Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons, a pair of side story games for the Gameboy Color that came about only at the insistence of forces outside Nintendo.

At the Crossroads

Ocarina of Time (and its 2011 3DS remake) opens with a young Kokiri boy having a nightmare. He is woken to find that he has been summoned by the Great Deku Tree. The boy (we shall call him by his official Nintendo-bestowed title, the Hero of Time) makes his way to the Great Deku Tree, a magical being and father of sorts to all the Kokiri, only to learn that the tree has been cursed.

Mido had a town retroactively named after him in Zelda 2

All their names are made up of different combinations of the musical notes Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La & Ti… with the exception of Saria

At this point, I should explain what a Kokiri and the Great Deku Tree are. The Kokiri appear to be a type of fairy or forest spirit. Living a life of perpetual childhood innocence, these beings watch over the forest surrounding the Lost Woods and are watched over their whole lives by smaller fairies. All the Kokiri in the woods have fairies, except for one, Link, though the day the story begins is the day he is introduced to his own fairy, Navi. Armed with a short blade, the Hero of Time makes his way into the tree’s interior and defeats the monster that has poisoned the great tree and gains a green jewel called the Spiritual Stone of the Forest (analogous to the Medal of Courage from A Link to the Past).

The Great Deku Tree then proceeds to tell Link about the man who poisoned him, a man who lusted after the Triforce. He had been a sorceror, you see, and had been searching for the Sacred Realm, which was connected somehow to the land of Hyrule.

Din, Naryu & Farore

To explain what this meant, the Great Deku Tree then told Link a creation myth. Taking the template left by the backstory that A Link to the Past relegated to its manual, the game tells the story of how the three goddesses of Power, Wisdom and Courage, now given the names Din, Naryu and Farore respectively, created the world. Once they had completed their labours, they left the universe, but not before leaving behind a token of their power, the Triforce. The place this relic then rested would forever more become known as the Sacred Realm.

The tree then entrusted Link with the Spiritual Stone he had gained from within the tree and commanded the boy to make it his mission to stop the evil man from gaining entry to the Sacred Realm. He told Link to head to Hyrule and speak to the princess Zelda, for he had forseen that she would understand the meaning of these things and know what to do. The tree then breathed its last, telling Link that the fate of the world was in his hands.

In another story told by the Great Deku Tree’s fledgeling heir, the Great Deku Sprout, Link learns of his own origins. The Great Deku Sprout describes a “fierce war” that had engulfed their world some time ago, “before the King of Hyrule unified this country”. He tells the tale of a woman who, to escape the fires of that fierce war, ventured into the forbidden forest with her infant child. Gravely injured, she had no choice but to entrust the boy to the guardian spirit of the forest – the Great Deku Tree. Sensing that the child had a great destiny, the Great Deku Tree raised the child as a Kokiri.

From Ocarina of Time 3D

Saria says goodbye

Link, armed with this information, makes haste to leave the forest as no Kokiri before him had ever done. Before he can, however, he is stopped by his childhood friend Saria, who gives him an ocarina (a type of flute) and teaches him a song with which he could magically communicate with her should he need help. It is clear that the Kokiri girl has a crush on our hero, though his destiny lies elsewhere and she lets him go.

The Hero of Time with his fairy companion Navi in tow makes his way to Hyrule Castle and sneaks past the guards stationed there to speak with Princess Zelda. The princess, sneaking a look through a window, is at first startled at the sight of the boy dressed in his funny green clothes. She then directs him to sneak a look into the window she was spying on. Looking out into what is clearly an audience chamber with the King of Hyrule sitting upon his throne, the boy sees a man stride into the hall, then bow his knee in order to pay fealty to the monarch.

King of the Gerudo

Clearly, a man who wears this much red cannot possibly be evil.

This is our first look at the man Ganondorf. In the previous games, we saw Link battling against Ganon, the Prince of Darkness or Ganon the King of Evil. We saw glimpses of Ganondorf the man, but only in the backstory of A Link to the Past where this name is used to refer to the man he was prior to touching the fabled Triforce. In this incarnation, Ganon is the king of a desert tribe known as the Gerudo – an almost entirely female collection of redheaded desert nomads who occasionally dabble in raiding and thieving from the settled societies around them, in this case, Hyrule. As with the backstory of A Link to the Past, Ganondorf was presented as the leader of a band of thieves.

Interestingly, the name Gerudo appeared in A Link to the Past, in the name of the desert enemy Geldman, a monstrous man made from sand and mud. Geldman and Gerudo do not sound very similar in English, but their Japanese names betray their connection. The monster’s name in Japanese could just as easily be rendered Gerudoman as Geldman and, had the game’s translators known about Ocarina of Time beforehand, they might well have translated it that way.

The Ocarina of Time Gerudo are an interesting bunch. They possess some very powerful magic and all the members of their tribe are born female and have red hair. Occasionally, a male child is born among them and this child is then elevated to the kingship, which seems a little sexist, but seems to happen rarely enough that the Gerudo see no problem with the practice. Because they have no men among them, the Gerudo will occasionally wander into settled societies like Hyrule in search of “boyfriends”, or to put it more bluntly, fathers for their children. Various characters throughout the series appear to have Gerudo ancestry, including a character who will feature more prominently a little later, Malon.

Zelda, perhaps unfairly, describes him as having evil eyes and, perhaps presciently, accuses him of being up to no good. After Link tells her the story of the Great Deku Tree, she realises that Ganondorf can only be after one thing, entrance to the Sacred Realm.

It seems that the Spiritual Stone of the Forest is one of three keys, which, along with the royal family’s sacred Ocarina of Time, are the only way to open the Door of Time, situated in the Temple of Time. Apparently, the Door of Time is the only access to the Sacred Realm in Hyrule. Whether this means that the Sacred Realm is actually just a chamber inside the Temple of Time or if it’s a small parallel universe with its entrance being the Door of Time, the game does not explain, though Link does learn that the ancient sages built the Temple of Time to protect the Sacred Realm and the Triforce contained therein from people with evil hearts.

This is a lot to take in all at once, but suffice it to say that Link now had a mission to collect the three spiritual stones before Ganondorf could get his hands on them.

At some point between leaving the forest and fulfilling this mission Link has an encounter with a young girl by the name of Malon and a horse named Epona. Link learns to ride a horse, Epona learns to trust a rider and Malon, like every young girl in this story, develops a little crush on the presumably hunky Hero of Time.

Link’s quest takes him to the fiery depths of Death Mountain, where he becomes an honorary Goron and the squishy innards of the Zoras’ guardian deity, where he inadvertently finds himself engaged to the precocious princess of the Zoras, Ruto. From both adventures, Link receives a Spiritual Stone, of Fire and of Water respectively, completing the set of three keys Link needs to complete his quest.

Before I get ahead of myself and jump to opening the Door of Time, perhaps I should pause for explanation here to explain what Gorons and Zoras are.

This marks the very first appearance of Gorons, a kind of troll that lives in dry mountainous parts and likes to eat rocks. They’re big, strong, boisterous and just a little bit slow, but also very loyal and friendly to those they take into their fold. It is their leader Darunia who Link spends the most time interacting with and his role will become clearer as the story moves along.

The Zoras, meanwhile, had appeared in each of the previous games that had hitherto been released, though up until now, they had appeared only as enemies. In Ocarina of Time, they are a tall, slender, aquatic people, more akin to mermaids than the Thing from the Black Lagoon looking creatures they had hitherto been depicted as.

Only their corpulent king Zora XVI really resembles his aggressive, fire-breathing brethren from prior games. Later games would make a distinction between the peaceful, civilised Sea Zoras depicted in Ocarina of Time and the aggressive River Zoras who would remain a staple enemy in the series.

With all three Spiritual Stones in hand, Link makes his way back to Hyrule Castle and the Temple of Time. As our intrepid hero draws close, however, he notices that something is wrong. The sky is dark and yet the gates of Hyrule Castle Town are open. A rider on a dark horse gallops out of the town at full speed, but he does not ride alone – Ganondorf has kidnapped Princess Zelda!

Link tries to stand in the way, but he is thrown aside. The princess, perhaps as a last-ditch effort to thwart the evil king, throws her own precious ocarina, the epynomous Ocarina of Time, into the moat for Link to find. If you explore the town at this point, you find a dying soldier and hear his final words. It is clear that Link’s only hope to save the princess is to make his way to the Sacred Realm, obtain the power kept within and use it to defeat Ganondorf.

Making his way through the town, the Hero of Time makes a beeline to the Temple of Time, places the Spiritual Stones on the altar and plays the Ocarina of Time. The door opens and the boy in green makes his way to the chamber inside.

There, he finds an altar upon which is perched a sword. They boy, not seeing any other alternative, runs over to the blade and pulls it from the altar.

The next thing that happens is as sudden as it is pivotal – Link’s first instance of time travel. If you paid attention to the Eiji Aonuma quote from the first part of this post, you know we have not quite arrived at any of the points of divergence, where the timeline splits, but it is important to note it nonetheless. Regardless, the jump carries Link forward, in both time and physical maturity, by seven years. This is because at the approximate age of ten, Link was “not yet ready” to become a hero.

The one who deemed Link to be unready was a mysterious old man called Rauru, speaking to Link from his haunt in the Temple of Light, itself hidden away in the Sacred Realm. Link must awaken six sages, the man tells him, in order to be able to fight Ganondorf on his own terms. There are hints throughout the game that Link has met this man before, though in the form of an owl named Gaebora Kaepora.

Link also notices that a Triforce mark has appeared on the back of his hand, which turns out to be the mark of the Triforce of Courage. He is told later on that the Triforce, while it does grant the wishes of whosoever touches it in its complete form, it only does so reliably for someone whose heart is is in balance between Power, Wisdom and Courage. Otherwise it tests that person by splitting up and instantly implanting its pieces in three people who embody each particular aspect, forcing the protective wisher to gather the three people together before he or she can touch the Triforce again and get their wish. It sounds really annoying. Through the miracle of plot contrivance, Ganondorf got yo keep the Triforce of Power, while Princess Zelda got the Triforce of Wisdom and Link unwittingly got the Triforce of Courage.

Here it is useful to note that time travel in the Legend of Zelda series is by no means consistent nor is it in any way limited to the use of magical swords as a method of traversal. In Ocarina of Time, Link seems to be able to carry items back and forth between two points and actions taken in the past can affect the future in a persistent way (for instance, a seed sown in the past can become a plant in the future). This means that timeline splits (from your own point of view) can occur when something is changed in the past because of knowledge of future events. Note that it is only jumping back in time and making changes that causes these problems. More on that later.

Link, now physically seventeen years old, walks out of the room, the sword from the altar (the Master Sword, in case it wasn’t obvious), in hand. The Temple of Time is much as he left it, but beyond… well, that’s a different story.

Link steps into a world devastated by war and ruled by Ganondorf. Castle Town, once a bustling city, lies in ruins. The gleaming white castle is gone, replaced by a black, forbidding tower-fortress. The inhabitants are either fled or killed, reanimated as screamin zombie-like monsters known as redeads who haunt the streets of the once happy place.

Outside the town, things are no better. The ranch where Link learned to ride as a child has been taken from its rightful owners and gifted to one of Ganondorf’s cruel minions. Death Mountain, home of the Gorons, lies all but empty, its peak throwing out ominous smoke clouds. Zora’s Domain, once flowing with endless water and full of life has become little more than a frozen cave. The quiet village Link visited on his way to the Gorons is now overcrowded and choked with refugees.

Along the way, Link has an encounter with a mysterious figure calling themselves Sheik. A member of a now almost extinct tribe of magic users known as the Sheikah, Sheik sports the red eyes and distinctive clothing of her people. Gossip stones, strange monuments bearing the Sheikah crest that under specific circumstances tell you secrets about Hyrule and its inhabitants, are somehow connected to this mysterious people, though their history is only vaguely hinted at. At one time they were more numerous, but appear to have been nearly wiped out in the fierce war described by the Great Deku Sprout.

Another notable member of this tribe is Zelda’s nursemaid Impa, presumably an ancestor or relative of the Impa from A Link to the Past and the one from The Legend of Zelda. It seems that the Impa family is nothing if not loyal, though if the official art is anything to go by, the latter Impas appear to have lost much of their ancestors’ athleticism.

With the intermittent guidance of Sheik and the sage Rauru, the Hero of Time proceeded to have adventures all over Hyrule, from the fastness of the Gerudo Desert, to the watery bottom of Lake Hylia, the depths of the Lost Woods along with a variety of temples and monuments hidden all over Hyrule. Link’s mission in each temple was to gain the medallion hidden in each, which through whatever magical means it had, would choose, then awaken a sage to help Link in his journey.

In a burst of clever retcon, most of the sages, excepting Zelda, are named for the towns the Hero of the Triforce (the name we gave the Link from The Legend of Zelda) would later travel through in The Adventure of Link. Except of course, that this game is a prequel to all previous games in the series, so in-universe, the sages eventually became so important as to have towns named after them. The names of the sages were, of course, Rauru, Saria, Darunia, Princess Ruto, Impa, Nabooru and Princess Zelda herself. Interestingly, Mido the Kokiri gets a town named for him as well, despite never having become a sage himself. Additionally, The Adventure of Link features a town that does not appear to have retroactively been named after any character, Kasuto.

Further to the plot, along the way, Link encounters Malon again, now a servant at the ranch her father once owned. Link, through a mixture of reckless gambling and fast riding, at once gains a steed (Epona, the horse Link met as a foal) and restores the ranch to its rightful owners. Well done Link.

As I mentioned previously, jumping back in time via the method used in this game may cause timeline splits. Link can jump back and forth at any time after first doing so, though this is only ever made mandatory to progress the plot once, and in doing so, Link causes a paradox.

You see, in the future, Link meets a man who teaches him a tune called the Song of Storms. In order to progress the plot at one point, he must go back to his childhood time and play this song in the man’s presence, which, as an unintended side effect, leads the man to learn the song. One assumes that the man originally learnt the song elsewhere, but Link’s actions cause the man to enter a time loop in which Link accidentally teaches the song in the past, which leads to him learning it in the future. Confusing stuff.

And no, this doesn’t end up causing a split. Go figure.

Anyway, remember that Sheik character we talked about earlier? Yeah, that was Princess Zelda in drag. Apparently, she escaped Ganondorf’s clutches as a child and has been in hiding ever since. She, of course, gets kidnapped again by Ganondorf, this time through magical means.

Armed with the power of the sages, however, Link is able to break into the black tower in the ruins of Castle Town from which Ganondorf rules his kingdom and faces him down. The final battle is about to begin.

Link faces down Ganondorf and defeats him, rescuing Princess Zelda. While they celebrate Link’s victory however, fueled by rage and the Triforce of Power, Ganondorf revives himself and transforms into the ten-foot-tall, blue pig monster we all know and he becomes Ganon proper.

Here then is where the first branch of the timeline splits off from the other two.

Link faces Ganon and loses. That’s right, Link dies. At least, he does in one branch of the continuity. In this version of events, Link’s death allows Ganon to gather the three Triforce pieces, but also buys Zelda and the rest of the sages enough time to cast a spell to trap Ganon in the Sacred Realm and imprison him there. This then, forms the events of the Imprisoning War from the backstory of A Link to the Past and thus to all the events of what we’ll call the Dowmfall Timeline.

Yes, it seems a bit depressing to have Link die so that the original games happen, but them’s the breaks. This is also the only split that is never referenced by in-game events. If you lose the final battle in the game, that’s it, game over. No explanatory cutscene for you. This split was only revealed to have happened twelve years after the original release of Ocarina of Time, in the commemorative art book, Hyrule Historia and smacks of retcon. We can explore why in the next section.

The next split is much more fun and involves time travel shenanigans.

Link fights Ganon and defeats him, though critically, does not kill him. Again though, Zelda and the sages cast the spell to imprison Ganondorf in the Sacred Realm. Critically, however, he fails to gather the Triforces of Wisdom and Courage and is sealed away in possession of only the Triforce of Power.

Hyrule is saved, though in the aftermath, Zelda laments the fact that thanks to her, Link never had a proper childhood. After all, though he may be physically seventeen, he has but a ten year old mind and would never have gotten involved had she never asked him to gather the Spiritual Stones. Taking pity on him, Zelda uses the Ocarina of Time to send Link back to his childhood, to before any of these things happened.

Here is where the second split took place. By sending him back to his childhood and with no way of getting back than aging up naturally, Zelda essentially made it so no matter what Link did in his childhood, it would alter the outcome that led to her present. That would be impossible, so anything Link did in his childhood would create a new future. From her perspective, Link disappeared from the world. From his perspective, everything got rebooted and he had a chance so that things with Ganondorf would turn out differently.

The adult Zelda eventually rebuilt her kingdom in the post-Ganon world and while the Hero of Time would always be remembered, he was lost in the mists of time. Future games would come after this event in the continuity and this series would come to be known as the Adult Timeline.

From Link’s perspective, however, the story was not over. Zelda had, after all, given him a second chance at a proper childhood and the Hero of Time was not about to waste it. Upon arriving, however, Navi the fairy, Link’s Jiminy-Cricketesque companion on this adventure, takes the time to say goodbye, on the basis that her mission is done and that the boy doesn’t need her anymore.

Having been transported back to just prior to his first meeting with the child princess and, having seen the consequences of letting Ganondorf operate in the open, Link is determined that things should go differently this time. He meets with the young Princess Zelda in the epilogue of the game and, as future games and Hyrule Historia would bear out, their relationship with Ganondorf changed and he never gained access to the sacred realm. Games following on from this branch in the continuity would come to be known as the Child Timeline.

There are more details here that need to be ironed out, but of course, these form the backstory of future games and will need more expansive treatment in later posts. For now, however, let’s move the story along to Ocarina of Time’s direct sequel, Majora’s Mask

Further Adventures

Majora's Mask - Link's transformation and Skull Kid

They’re all Link (apart from the horse and the guy in the moon)

Having recapped all of that, our treatment of Majora’s Mask will, regrettably, be brief. While it is more than a worthy, if overlooked, sequel to Ocarina of Time, it is simply not that consequential in the timeline apart from its existence providing fans with the first clue that something was amiss.

Still, Majora’s Mask is the first Child Timeline game and picks up where Ocarina of Time left off – with young Link going on a journey.

The purpose of the journey is never fully explained, apart from being to “find a lost friend”. The most popular assumption is that he is on the hunt for Navi, who left him at the end of the previous game. That would explain why it is that he is travelling through the Lost Woods in the prologue.

In the previous recap, we skipped on an explanation of the nature of the Lost Woods. In prior games (that is, Legend of Zelda and Ocarina of Time, the Lost Woods are a curious place that subverts the player’s expectations regarding spatial navigation. To put it more simply, because going left doesn’t necessarily lead you left, you end up spending a lot of your time in the Lost Woods, well, lost.

Also, when talking about a place where you can get to any part of Hyrule simply by walking through doors placed in odd locations and straying from the path simply leads you back to the entrance like some mad M. C. Escher painting, there are many things left unexplained. The Lost Woods are a warped, twisty thing with entrances everywhere and pathways that lead to other worlds. Every time a hero traverses the Lost Woods, it seems, fate conspires to place something disturbing in his path.

In Ocarina of Time, that disturbing thing was the Skull Kid, so called because at one point, Link sells him a skull mask. This kid is weird. Looking directly at him is more difficult than with other characters, unless you make friends by playing him Saria’s song. He looks like a scarecrow or puppet brought to life, a ghastly version of Pinocchio made all the more creepy when it’s revealed that he used to be a real boy, but got lost in the woods one day and became this… thing.

Skull Kid wearing Majora's Mask

It’d suit him if it weren’t so darn evil.

Creepy.

This is where Link finds himself when he is set upon by Skull Kid, who, wearing the frightening Majora’s Mask, plays a prank on Link, steals his stuff (including the Ocarina of Time, naturally), curses him with a transformation spell and rides into the forest on Link’s horse, Epona.

Link gives chase and even manages to hold on to Epona some of the way, but is thrown off and finds himself outrun on foot, following Skull Kid into a hole at the base of a tree. If all that weren’t bad enough, Link finds himself tumbling down a literal rabbit hole. In the confusion, Link gains a tag-along, a fairy named Tatl, who would go on to provide the same expository role that Navi provided in the previous game.

Finding himself in a dank tunnel with Tatl, Link sees no choice but to forge on ahead. When he makes it through, he finds himself face to face with a person he met in Ocarina of Time, the Happy Mask Salesman.

Little is know about the Happy Mask Salesman apart from his trade. In the previous game, this guy ran a shop in Castle Town that sold Link masks at wholesale prices which he would then sell on to various characters throughout Hyrule. As Link sold each mask, more masks would become available to sell, culminating in the availability of the Mask of Truth, which allowed Link to peer at the Gossip Stones and find out the dirty secrets of Hyrule’s residents.

In Majora’s Mask, it is revealed that he was in fact hiding darker secrets and was originally a resident of another world connected to Hyrule via the Lost Woods. His facial expressions are manic, his movements are jerky, unnatural and, bathed in shadow as he is throughout the game, his entire countenance is unnerving. He explains to Link that the Skull Kid has stolen a mask precious to him (Majora’s Mask, of course) and that he must get it back.

Armed with this information, if not with an actual weapon, Link steps out of the other end of the tunnel he has found himself in. Transformed, helpless though with Tatl as his guide, Link steps out into another world, Termina.

Termina is a parallel universe version of Hyrule. Things are very similar to Link ‘s home and yet so very different. Many of the people in Termina have eerily similar counterparts in Hyrule though their lives and culture are very different.

For instance, instead of a religion based on the three goddesses, the faith in Termina is based on four giants. Additionally, there appears to be no central government uniting Termina as the royal family united Hyrule. The humans living in the central hub of Clocktown labour under a mayoralty, the Deku Scrubs inhabit the Southern Swamp under their own royal family, the Zoras haunt the seas of the Great Bay in a communal arrangement, the Gerudo Pirates do the same and the Gorons live on the Northern Mountains under the watchful eye of the Goron Elder. Looming above it all is a disarming sight – a moon with a clearly visible face.

Link learns that the Skull Kid, under the influence of the powerful mask, has done something to the world’s moon to cause it to enter into a collision course with Termina and that the world will end three days after Link’s first arrival. Making his way to to the top of the central tower in Clocktown, Link, in his transformed state, is able to knock the stolen Ocarina of Time out of Skull Kid’s hands at the very last minute and use it to play the song of time as Princess Zelda had once taught him.

This, then, has the effect of turning back the clock by three days, a process through which Link loses all the money and ammunition he had collected over the past three days. Oddly, unlike in Ocarina of Time, time travel in Majora’s Mask appears to have no paradoxical effects. Link is able to take some objects with him from the future, which then appear in his possession at the dawn of the fort day, but nothing else changes. It is as though time isn’t skipped or cut through, but rather run backwards for all but the time traveller.

A happy side effect of winding back the clock than simply jumping from one time period to another is that this form of time travel causes no (confirmed) splits.

Regardless of the mechanics of it, Link spends the rest of his adventure caught in a three-day cycle reminiscent of the film Groundhog Day. He is able to help citizens of Termina throughout this time and collect rewards for his efforts, but as soon as Link plays the Song of Time, he’s back at the beginning again, most of his work undone.

Link discovers through the course of this adventure that to stop the moon from colliding into Termina, he must awaken the four giants that created the world (of course) and use their power to stop the apocalypse.

But we’ll get to all of that after a few things are explained.

First, we’ve noted that Link was transformed by the Skull Kid’s curse, but what was he transformed into? The answer is that he was transformed into a Deku Scrub. Deku Scrubs we’ve met before, specifically in Ocarina of Time. With leaves for hair, glowing orange eyes, trumpet-shaped mouths and a propensity to spit Deku nuts at passers by, these intelligent creatures of dubious loyalty resemble nothing so much as sentient trees and either attack or help Link as suits their own interests.

Their relationship with the Great Deku Tree is a somewhat tenuous one, though they are clearly related, producing, after all, the same kinds of but and seeds. Apart from that, they are much smaller, have the ability to walk, float or fly and appear to lack the magical influence of their gigantic counterpart. In Majora’s Mask, they inhabit a small kingdom run out of the Southern Swamp, but in each other game in which they appear, they are denizens of the Lost Woods, tending to its growth and attempting to transform existing forests into mere entrances to it. Think of the Lost Woods as their warped inter-dimensional empire and any forest that becomes an entrance to it as a new colony.

The first time Link turns back the clock and appears in front of the Happy Mask Salesman again, the latter teaches Link a song that would free him from the curse. Link returns to his human form, but not before finding that whatever magic had transformed him had coalesced into the shape of a mask. Putting the mask on turned Link into a Deku Scrub once more, while removing it reverted him to his natural state as a human boy.

Through the events of Majora’s Mask, Link also collects masks that would transform him into a Zora and into a Goron. It is also possible to collect a fourth transformation mask, but this mask belonged to a mysterious character known only as the Fierce Deity and plays little role in the story of the game.

The creepy part of all this transformation, however, is that for the Zora and Goron masks, Link is only ever awarded these masks after a member of that corresponding race had died. Not only that, but the form Link takes is eerily similar to that of the dead person, enough to lead to cases of mistaken identity. As a Goron, Link is mistaken for the dead Goron hero Darmani, as a Zora, he is never questioned as the deceased Zora musician Mikau, where while a Deku Scrub, he is said to remind people of the king’s butler’s missing son. What happened to this missing son? It is implied that Skull Kid, using the evil power of Majora’s Mask, killed him, sucked out his soul and put it into Link to transform him.

Yeah, it’s messed up.

Does he not make you tingle with delight?

A lot of Zelda fans don’t like him. I think he’s great.

One more thing to note is that Majora’s Mask marks the very first time Tingle appears in a Zelda game. In this game, he is the screw-up adult son of a man who runs a photo booth in the Southern Swamp and who sells maps to help out his father. The thing that makes him stand out, of course, is his ridiculous attire – a green spandex jumpsuit and what look like red Superman-style undies (on the outside, naturally). It is his grand ambition in life to become a fairy and when he first meets Link, with his Kokiri green attire, Link asks the boy if he is in fact one of the fairies. He’s weird, but harmless and will become a fixture in Zelda lore from this point forward.

Thanks to the fact that he is creepy, effeminate, more than a little bit pathetic and everything about him is utterly absurd, he is a divisive figure in the Zelda fan community, some of whom deem him too fabulous by half. As of writing, he (in a manner of speaking… like Link and Zelda, there are multiple Tingles throughout the series) stars in two of his own games and his activities appear to imply that people and objects can travel between divergent timelines, which makes him one of the most important recurring characters in the series. More on that in a future post.

Getting back on track, Link is able to awaken the four giants and heads to the centre of Clocktown near the end of the third day. There, he faces down Skull Kid and plays the Song of Summoning. The giants arise from their long slumber and, taking long loping steps, reach Clocktown just in time to brace for the moon’s impact and hold it up in the sky.

The next thing that happens is insane, just insane. Link is sucked up into the moon and finds himself standing in a field with a tree in the centre, a tree surrounded by running, playing children, children with the same features as the Happy Mask Salesman, children wearing masks. Each of their masks belongs to one of the bosses Link defeated in order to awaken the giants, all except the one in the centre.

Talking to the child in the centre and answering his question takes Link to a room where he faces off against Majora’s Mask itself, then a manifestation of Majora called Majora’s Wrath.

Once Majora’s Wrath is defeated and the dust settles, the Happy Mask Salesman gets Majora’s Mask back, though he also senses that whatever evil power was held in the mask is gone. Link, meanwhile, is seen with his trusty steed Epona, making his way into the Lost Woods.

A Touch of Colour

About a year after the release of Majora’s Mask, Nintendo defied expectations and released two distinct Zelda games on the same day for the Gameboy Color. These games were Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages.

Though their timeline placement would not be confirmed until fully a decade later, these two games followed the story of the Hero of Gold, our name for the Link from A Link to the Past. If you’ll recall from part 2 of this post series, A Link to the Past already has a sequel, Link’s Awakening. The Oracle games, then, are interquels, taking place after A Link to the Past, but before Link’s Awakening. Though their story makes sense played in either order, Seasons, then Ages appears to be the official order of events.

The Hero of Gold

The Oracles games sported a number of gameplay innovations that, at the time, were groundbreaking. For instance, the games could be played alongside one another, with characters in one game sending messages to characters in the other via codes that could be entered in and give Link information on how to complete his quest. Doing this had gameplay benefits as well, since it was the only way to fully upgrade Link’s sword or see the ‘real’ ending to the story.

Oracle of Seasons starts with Link in a post-Ganon Hyrule feeling the call of the Triforce. Mounting his horse, he makes his way to Hyrule castle and stands before the Triforce, only to be transported instantly to the land of Holodrum.

In Seasons, Link finds himself in a dark forest, which he travels through and finds a traveling group of entertainers, led by a redheaded dancer by the name of Din.

While talking to her, a voice booms from the air, declaring Din to be the Oracle of Seasons and itself to be Onox, General of Darkness. A tornado appears and Din is taken, an event that throws Holodrum’s seasons into chaos.

Who then, should be attending Din, but a woman named Impa. It is not known if this particular Impa serves Hyrule’s royal family too, or if she is the same person that serves Princess Zelda, but she nevertheless informs Link that the group was headed to Hyrule and that it would behoove him to go and talk to the Maku Tree in Horon Village.

The Maku Tree is similar in many respects to the Great Deku Tree from Ocarina of Time. How they are related, if at all, is the subject of speculation, but suffice it to say that she provides Link with the guiding voice he needs to navigate Holodrum.

She tells him that he needs to collect the eight Essences of nature, hidden throughout Holodrum and its underground counterpart, Subrosia. Doing so will, as is becoming a familiar pattern by now, allow Link access to Onox’s fortress.

Here is where Subrosia becomes important. When Din was taken by Onox, the Temple of Seasons sunk under the ground, into, it turns out, the realm of Subrosia.

Near the beginning of his adventure, Link sees a shady character wandering about, mumbling to themselves. Following the hooded figure, Link stumbles upon a kind of warp gate beneath some bushes. Falling through, Link finds himself in a strange place.

Subrosia appears to be a gigantic underground cavern, segmented by rivers and pools of molten lava, among which happily bathed more hooded figures, as though enjoying a day at the beach. The hooded figures are the Subrosians, a race of, well, puzzling beings.

Subrosians, as mentioned previously, are that race of subterranean dwellers who appear to be able to stand the great heat of molten lava. In a different game, in a different timeline, they reappear as the Salona and get into the armed mercenary business. Apart from that, they also seem to wither away in sunlight and find pink bows to be the ultimate in sexy.

At any rate, it is in Subrosia that Link winds up in the Temple of Seasons and it is there that he finds an item called the Rod of Seasons, with which Link is able to have some measure of control of the weather.

Once Link unites all the Elements, he goes back to the Maku tree, who uses them to create a huge nut that would open up the way to Onox. Upon facing and defeating the general, we are shown a strange scene.

The Twinrova, reincarnations of the four-hundred-year-old den mother witches from Ocarina of Time who raised Ganondorf and pretty much taught him all the evil he knew, appear to be watching the scene and note that the chaos Onox wrought has fed the Flame of Destruction.

Oracle of Ages starts off much the same way as Seasons, though he journeys to the Triforce by a different route and the destination he is warped to is instead the land of Labrynna.

Here he finds himself in yet another forest, surrounded by enemies. Upon defeating them, face to face with Princess Zelda’s attendant, Impa, Link is convinced to help her to escape. The Hero of Gold is tricked into moving a barrier.

Impa, it seems, had been possessed by the Sorceress Veran and the barrier Link moved was all that stood between her and her prey, Naryu, the Oracle of Ages. Veran gives Naryu the same treatment as Impa, possessing her body and using her power to warp a full 400 years into the past.

Well, that escalated quickly.

Never fear, however, since Impa knows what to do, despite it never being clear if she is in fact the same person Link met in Holodrum or not. Luckily, the advice is the same – find the Maku tree and ask her for advice. Also present is Ralph, Naryu’s bodyguard and a brave soul. He becomes important later on.

A quick visit to the Maku Tree reveals what we no doubt already had already guessed. Link needs to find the Essences of Time and these are scattered across Labrynna, though crucially, not all are accessible in the modern age.

Heading first to Naryu’s house in Symmetry Town, Link picks up the Harp of Ages, an artifact he can use to travel back and forth between four hundred years in the past and his present day.

Travelling to the past takes Link to the reign of Queen Ambi, who, under the influence of Naryu-possessed-by-Veran, is convinced to build a huge tower in order to help her husband find his way home. It’s actually a tragic story, but more on that later.

The project is prohibitively expensive and the taxation and labour burden on the populous of Labrynna is too heavy to bear. Queen Ambi is bankrupting her country and oppressing her people and the sad part is that she’s doing it for love.

Her husband, you see, was a great adventurer and captain of a ship. He had sailed off one day for some purpose that is never explained and never came home. His queen waited for him day after day, but he never returned, all but losing hope that he was even alive.

It was for this purpose that Queen Ambi, upon the advice of Veran, decided to have the tower built. In her mind, it would serve as a lighthouse, a beacon to guide her husband home. Veran’s purposes were less apparent – she wanted to cause chaos and misery, but to what end is not explained unless the games are linked to one another.

The sad part is that Ambi’s husband would never make it home. He and his crew would wander the seas lost forever and eventually become Piratians, living skeletons sailing, raiding and pirate talking on the high seas. Funnily enough, Link would meet these guys in his present day, though any memory of who they once were appears to have become irrelevant over the past four hundred years.

In the course of Link’s adventure, Link is able to rescue Naryu from Veran’s clutches and he, Ralph and the Oracle manage to escape just in the nick of time. Veran responds by doing the next best thing to possessing Naryu – possessing Queen Ambi.

It becomes clearer over the course of the game, that Ralph is obsessed with defeating Veran and a bit of a glory hound to boot. After Link was able to gather the Essences and open the way to Veran, Ralph sets off by himself, eager to finish the job himself. When Link finds him, Veran has knocked him out cold, so Link faces Veran himself and defeats her.

The aftermath to this is another appearance of the Twinrova, who again gloat about Veran’s actions having lit a flame, this time the Flame of Sorrow.

Princess Zelda now makes an appearance in Labrynna (or Holodrum, for the players who reversed the order) and her meeting with Link is brief and awkward. Though she presumably knows Link from the events of A Link to the Past she still asks him to confirm his name, as though they were strangers. She is more or less immediately kidnapped thereafter by the Twinrova, who intend to use her as a sacrifice to revive Ganon.

It turns out that Link’s defeat of Ganon in A Link to the Past was not the end of the story. Like with the backstory of The Adventure of Link, Ganon’s partisans were still at large and had cooked up a scheme to bring their king back from the dead.

In order to do so, the Twinrova used Onox and Veran to cause as much chaos as possible in order to light the flames of Sorrow and Destruction. So far, so good.

The next step was to sacrifice one of the royal family of Hyrule in a ceremony so that Ganon could use the sacrifice’s body as a vessel. They kidnapped Princess Zelda, so that part was checked off too.

What they hadn’t counted on, however, was Link riding in at the last minute and rescuing Zelda. With the ceremony nearly complete, the desperate Twinrova decided to sacrifice themselves as a substitute for Zelda. As the ceremony required Hyrulean royal blood, however, when the ceremony concluded, what they summoned was a mindless Ganon, filled with nothing but uncompromising rage.

Defeating him isn’t easy, but Link manages it, much to the joy of everyone Link met on this particular leg of the journey. The game ends with Link sailing on into the proverbial sunset, on a boat that looks remarkably similar to the one from the prologue to Link’s Awakening, though this wouldn’t be confirmed for another ten years.

The State of the Timeline

After all that, we get to the meat of the issue and where it gets the most complicated.  To recap, the consensus timeline fans had just prior to the release of Ocarina of Time was this:

ALttP – LoZ / AoL / LA

-and-

ALttP / LA – LoZ / AoL

At this point, clues from marketing materials and whispers of an unreleased Zelda game from Japan no doubt clued some in to the fact that Link’s Awakening was meant to be a sequel to A Link to the Past. The similarities in art styles between the two games, common gameplay elements and the contemporaneity of their releases and marketing made many accept it from the beginning, but it was the wonderful artwork by Katsuya Terada that appeared in Nintendo Power over a number of years that might have sealed it for others.

In Japan, however, it was the story of the 1997 Satellaview title BS The Legend of Zelda: Ancient Stone Tablets that would provide the biggest clue that the Link from A Link to the Past and the one from Link’s Awakening were one and the same. Ancient Stone Tablets, you see, took place in A Link to the Past‘s Hyrule and starred a generic mascot instead of Link. During a conversation with Princess Zelda, she mentions to the mascot that they remind her of Link, who had left Hyrule on a journey to gain strength.

BS The Legend of Zelda: Ancient Stone Tablets and its sister title BS The Legend of Zelda are now, as they may have been then, widely considered to not be canon. What Ancient Stone Tablets did provide, however, was a tantalising clue as to the intent of Link’s Awakening‘s timeline placement, however weak or circumstantial that clue happened to be. Few outside Japan, let alone the Anglosphere, would or could have known about these games or the system they were released on, however, so until the Japanese release of Hyrule Historia in November 2011, the question was never fully settled.

If you’ll recall, just pior to release came Nintendo Power #116  in 1998 and the infamous (and, as it would turn out, wrong) Miyamoto Order. Now, there were a number of plot problems with the Miyamoto Order (such as the issue of multiple Ganondorfs and multiple Imprisoning Wars) which made it unworkable to anyone who wanted their stories to make sense, but it had the cachet of being the Word of God. It would always have its proponents, right up until the end, but for the purposes of clarity, we will ignore its pernicious effects on the theorising community, as many fans did over the years.  For completeness though, it is included here:

OoT – LoZ /AoL – ALttP

(LA)

To get back on the main topic then, while the Miyamoto timeline was the popular understanding for quite a while, there were always those who doubted its veracity and pointed out the many problems it presented.  The fans who were on the right track, however, abided by some variation of the following timeline, where the placement of Link’s Awakening shifted according to preference:

OoT – ALttP / (LA) – LoZ / AoL

Even back then, the timeline was starting to show holes.  Thanks to changes made during the development of Ocarina of Time, the initial plan to tell the story of the Imprisoning War as the events of the Adult Link portion of the game was scrapped. The result was a game that contradicted the Imprisoning War backstory of A Link to the Past in a number of details. First, the wise men of the Imprisoning War story were replaced with sages of multiple ages, genders and species.  The Knights of Hyrule and their sacrifice to buy time for the seal to be set were never mentioned.  Ganondorf did not stumble into the Golden Land / Sacred Realm with his band of thieves, he invaded it alone.  He was also not called Ganondorf Dragmire. Additionally, the ending of the game where Link is an adult shows Ganon being imprisoned with only a portion of the Triforce (Power), contradicting the A Link to the Past‘s story of his having the full Triforce.   Finally, the epilogue where a ten-year-old Link meets young Zelda again for the first time seems to imply that they may have done something to prevent Ganondorf from entering the Sacred Realm in the first place, which meant that if one assumed a single linear timeline, from the perspective of games, the adult portion of Ocarina of Time never actually happened.

A mere two years later in 2000 came the release of Majora’s Mask, which would come to be placed on a separate timeline to A Link to the Past.  At the time, few, if any were advocating a timeline split as a result of the events in Ocarina of Time.  There is no record of anybody espousing this opinion, which at the time would have been regarded as fringe, so it is safe to say that the majority of people assumed a linear timeline by default.  Inserting Majora’s Mask into the standard timeline of the day, then, yielded the following:

OoT / MM – ALttP / (LA) – LoZ / AoL

The inclusion of Majora’s Mask into this standard linear timeline yielded no more problems than before, apart from cementing in many fans’ minds that the events of the adult portion of Ocarina of Time never happened from the perspective of the backstory of A Link to the Past. This generated the problem of what to do about the Imprisoning War.  Some supporters of the timeline I outlined above simply assumed that the Imprisoning War was a separate event that occurred after Ocarina of Time but before A Link to the Past, and that the details of the adult portion of Ocarina of Time were handed down as a legend, its details lost in the mists of time, rendering it merely a tall tale as told by an unreliable narrator. Adherents to the Miyamoto timeline, ironically, did not have to deal with the problem of resolving the Imprisoning War and Ocarina of Time at all, but relegated the former to the status of vague backstory that took place some time after The Adventure of Link.

The fact is that the contradictions inherent to the timeline at this point were merely symptoms of Nintendo and Shigeru Miyamoto’s approach to stories in games. The man who created Mario simply did not  care about them at all and there are later reports that the developers working under him snuck extra story tidbits into Ocarina of Time in the form of the Gossip Stones so as to escape Miyamoto’s notice. The end result is something inconsistent, especially between Ocarina of Time and A Link to the Past that would take a  lot of retcon in later years to resolve. Back in 2000, nobody could have fathomed a split timeline. The idea was simply too foreign, to radical to get any serious attention at all.

Working out the placement of the Oracles games should have proven a lot easier.  While artwork similarities between them, Link’s Awakening and A Link to the Past were superficial at best, there were contextual clues within the games, especially in the extra content included in a playthrough of a linked game, that would really clinch it for many.  I mentioned the boat that Link sails away in at the end of the Oracles games being the same as the one he starts out in during the prologue to Link’s Awakening, but there was also the inclusion of easter eggs such as the Master Sword (obtainable if Link forged his sword to its maximum extent in a linked game) and the fact that the resurrected Ganon from the linked ending fights identically to Ganon from A Link to the Past.

Naturally though, these points were contradicted by the fact that Princess Zelda appears to not recognise Link and the fact that the Master Sword was said to have “slept forever” at the end of A Link to the Past.

At any rate, though the popular opinion joined the Oracles games to Link’s Awakening, many timelines separated them out. Even where they were conflated, there was controversy regarding their association with A Link to the Past, with cogent arguments for placements after The Adventure of Link and even before The Legend of Zelda being put forward.  Furthermore, there was argument as to whether Oracles Link was in fact the Hero of Gold, the Hero of the Triforce or a separate hero entirely.

Still, the most accurate popular timeline at the end of the Nintendo 64 / Gameboy Color era was the following:

OoT / MM – ALttP / (OoS/OoA/LA) – LoZ / AoL

Whereas the “real” timeline looked more like this:

OoT – ALttP / OoS / OoA / LA – LoZ / AoL
……\
……..MM

Conclusion

Things had gotten crazy, but the most insane theories regarding split timelines and the like would not gain traction until after the release of The Wind Waker and the Gameboy Advance games, nor would they be considered a slam dunk until the release of Twilight Princess.  Join me next time in exploring the plots of those games and the state of the fandom at that time in Part 4.

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