The oft-derided timeline introduced in 2011's Hyrule Historia has been an extremely divisive subject among Zelda fans since its introduction. This is no surprise, really, as #Zelda fans have been divisive about just about everything concerning its multiple entries since the series' inception.
Is Majora's Mask the best or the worst Zelda game? Was the added emphasis on story in Skyward Sword a good thing or a bad thing? Is Wind Waker's progressive art style and world superior or inferior to the by-the-books sequel to Ocarina of Time that Twilight Princess went for? Depending on who you ask, you'll always get a different answer.
Regardless of how you feel about the timeline, the story, or specific games in the series, one aspect of the franchise's latest entry, Breath of the Wild, has been throwing fans for a loop.
Where does this game take place in the Zelda mythos?
Spoiler Warning: This article contains plot details from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. You've been warned!
For a brief recap, there are three different timelines in the Zelda universe, all of which split at the end of Ocarina of Time. There is:
- The "Adult timeline
- The "Child" timeline
- The "Downfall" timeline
In the "Adult" timeline, the events of Ocarina of Time happened in full and Link defeated Ganon at Hyrule Castle. Both Link and the spirit of the hero were then removed from time and space and sent back to live the seven years he lost. This led to Wind Waker and the Toon Link sequels.
The "Child" timeline follows Link's journey back in time. Link and Zelda warn the King of Hyrule of what Ganon is attempting to do, preventing the events of Ocarina of Time from occurring. Ganon is executed, which leads to Twilight Princess and Four Swords Adventures.
Then there is the controversial "Downfall" timeline, where the events of Ocarina of Time happen, but Link is defeated by Ganon in the final battle. This leads to The Imprisoning War spoken of in the history of A Link to the Past. This is also the timeline that the classic games, the Oracle duology, and A Link Between Worlds take place during.
Got all that? Ok. Now let's look at what we know about Breath of the Wild.
Breath of the Wild tells us that 10,100 years ago, Ganon attacked Hyrule (again) and was defeated by an incarnation of Link and Zelda, as usual. 100 years ago, he did it again, only this time he succeeded, "killing" Link and the four racial champions and corrupting the Shiekah robots they used to fight him.
10,000 years is a really long time. This places Breath of the Wild very, very far into the future of whatever timeline it takes place in. 10,000 years ago, Hyrule was advanced enough to build Shiekah robots to fight Ganon, so it's very likely that a significantly longer amount of time has passed since the last title than we're initially led to believe. By this point, the Triforce and the Master Sword are rarely referred to by name, and appear to be mostly considered as symbolic relics. Most of the traditional Zelda mythos has faded into legend, appropriately enough for the title of the game.
'Breath of the Wild's Hyrule
Alright, so we know it's in the future. Now let's look at the hints the game drops that refer to previous titles:
- Ruto, the Zora princess from Ocarina of Time, is remembered in this version of Hyrule as having become a sage, just as she did in the adult portion of Ocarina. The same can be said for Nabooru.
- The Arbiter's Grounds from Twilight Princess can be found in Gerudo Desert, although it's submerged beneath the sand.
- Princess Zelda refers to three major incarnations of Link during the first recoverable memory: the Link of Skyward Sword, Ocarina of Time, and Twilight Princess.
- Hyrule has no mention of ever being flooded.
- Rito and Koroks, evolutions of the Zora and Kokiri that appeared in Wind Waker, also appear in this game, convoluting things even further.
- Ganon is more beast than man, his humanity nearly completely forgotten at this point outside of an offhand mention that he "once took the form of a Gerudo."
Key Take Aways
There are a few different things we can infer from the above information. First, the Arbiter's Grounds exist. While they appeared directly in Twilight Princess, they can just as easily have existed in the Downfall timeline, as well. This does, however, make the Adult timeline less likely. If Hyrule had been flooded, the Grounds would have never been created. It's possible they existed prior to its flooding, however, so it doesn't rule the Adult timeline out completely - it only makes it more a stretch.
In regards to Ruto and Nabooru, they only became sages in the second half of Ocarina of Time because of Link's actions as a teenager. This rules out the Child timeline, where the events of Ocarina never occurred.
Zelda's reference to The Hero of Time and The Hero of Twilight may seem telling, but ultimately might be nothing more than an easter egg (similar to the names of various locations on the game's map). In the Child timeline where Twilight Princess occurs, The Hero of Time is not remembered. In fact, this forms the entire basis for The Hero's Shade, the lingering spirit of Ocarina's Link who laments the fact that nobody remembers him.
The only reference to Hyrule being under the sea is in the item called Rock Salt, which is said to come from a time when the seas rescinded. However, this could be any body of water, and doesn't necessarily confirm that the entire kingdom had been flooded at one point.
Rito, the evolution of the Zora seen in Wind Waker, somehow exist in this version of Hyrule. However, they look entirely different from their Wind Waker counterparts. Since this game takes place so far into the future, I don't think it's a stretch to say that an offshoot of Zora may have migrated to the mountains and slowly became these very different sorts of Rito at some point. Kokiri turning to Koroks is not entirely far-fetched, either, as the massive gap in time can offer any number of reasons why they chose to take this shape.
Ganon has a history of coming back multiple times, to the point where he's seen as more of a force of nature than a sentient being. "He" is even called an "it" in this game, reflecting how people think of him. This would rule out the Adult timeline, as he returned only once in Wind Waker, and was in his human form for the entirety of that appearance. The sequels to Wind Waker featured villains other than Ganon.
He returned twice in the Child timeline, although his appearance in Twilight Princess was largely behind the scenes and unaccounted for by the people of Hyrule, leaving his Four Swords Adventures incarnation his only major comeback. However, the Downfall timeline has Ganon being sealed in the Sacred Realm, corrupting it into the Dark World, being defeated by Link twice, and having his resurrection prevented multiple other times.
What Does It All Mean?
All things considered, it makes the most sense to place Breath of the Wild on the timeline of the classic games - the so-called Downfall timeline. The discrepancies, such as Rito and Koroks, are fairly easy to explain with the passage of such a large amount of time. The knowledge of the sages from Ocarina means that the events of that game must have occurred, ruling out the Child timeline despite Zelda's mention of The Hero of Twilight.
This would place Breath of the Wild long, long after Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link. Another thing to consider is that Breath of the Wild is in many ways an homage to the original Zelda, with the developers even recreating its classic concept art with Breath of the Wild's incarnation of Link. In a way, this furthers its connection to the classic titles.
As an aside, the iconic green tunic that you receive from completing all 120 Shrines features the most similarities to the Hero's Tunic seen in the classic Zelda games. The shorts and yellow ring on the hat are all seen most prominently in the Downfall games. Does this mean anything? Maybe not, but it's an interesting nod.
Another theory that's being thrown around is the possibility that the timelines somehow converged into one, explaining the elements present from all three of them. Considering how far into the future Breath of the Wild is, I suppose it's possible that we're looking at the eventual conclusion of all three of Hyrule's histories. Perhaps the convergence was guided with a bit of divine intervention from the goddesses, or simply slowly and naturally merged into a singular endpoint. It's an interesting theory, to be sure, and it would work incredibly well as a thematic endpoint for the series.
However, it's a bit far-fetched for me to entirely subscribe to, so my eggs are still in the "Downfall" basket. I would lying, however, if I said I wasn't intrigued by the idea of a possible convergence.
Where do you think Breath of the Wild takes place?