Zelda‘s chronology is a sticky mess filled with inconsistencies, prequel after prequel, alternate realities and alternate timelines. I’ve been noticing a new amount of Zelda fans in the wake of Breath of the Wild, so I wanted to make a rundown of this tangled, but lovable mess.
In Part 1 of this series, we will look at the events leading up to and including Ocarina of Time, known as the Unified Timeline. These are the events prior to the timeline split that sent the history of Hyrule off in multiple, wildly varying directions.
My information here will be taken from all of the Zelda games pre-Breath of the Wild, as well as from the Hyrule Historia, Nintendo’s Zelda lore book, and also some tidbits from the newly released Hyrule Encyclopedia. That said, some of this is, of course, may veer into conjecture based on implications made by the games. I will make another post later on theorizing on possible timeline placements for the new game, since it’s not explicitly laid out. Furthermore, there’s no need to worry about Breath of the Wild spoilers here.
The Creation of the World
Long before the events of any of the Zelda games, there existed three goddesses, Din, Nayru and Farore. These three golden goddesses were responsible for the creation of Hyrule, with Din creating the physical realm, Nayru creating law and order, and Farore creating life. After their creation was complete, the goddesses departed the world, leaving behind an essence of their power called the Triforce.
The Triforce was left under the care of the goddess Hylia, who would come to rule over the land in an ancient, peaceful age known as the Era of the Goddess Hylia. However, the Demon King, Demise, coveted the world, and sought to rule it for himself. He gathered a large army of monsters and invaded the mortal realm, murdering as many humans as possible in an attempt to gain the Triforce.
Hylia gathered the remaining humans, and sent them, along with the Triforce, on pieces of land from the earth into the sky, out of Demise’s reach. Hylia then created a magical barrier of clouds to prevent monsters from reaching the islands in the sky. After this, Hylia joined forces with the remaining mortal races, and took part in a long war with the Demon King’s forces. Eventually, the forces of good triumphed, and Demise was sealed in an area known as the Sealed Grounds.
Hylia, who was gravely wounded in this battle, knew this seal would not hold forever. Because of this, she devised a plan to deal with the Demon King once and for all. First, she created the Goddess Sword, along with the spirit known as Fi. Hylia hid the Goddess Sword within the island that would become Skyloft, waiting for the day where it would be found by her chosen hero. Second, she chose to give up her divinity, in order to be reborn as a mortal who could one day use the Triforce to destroy Demise.
The Era of the Sky & the Events of Skyward Sword
Many ages later, the story of this war fell into obscurity and became a legend to the people of Skyloft. One day, the goddess was reborn in mortal form as Zelda, without any of her memories from her past life. Around the same time, Link, the first hero, was born. Zelda and Link were close childhood friends, and lived a peaceful life in Skyloft. One day, all of this changed when Zelda is taken to the surface by a mysterious demon spirit known Ghirahim.
Zelda is rescued by Impa, a Sheikah warrior from the time of the old war, sent to the future by the Goddess Hylia herself. Impa informs Zelda of her true identity, and together they set out to purify Zelda’s body and reawaken her as the goddess Hylia. At the same time, Link is contacted by Fi, the spirit of the Goddess Sword. Link acquires the sword and travels to the surface, where he begins to search for Zelda.
Impa and Zelda escape to the past by using a magical portal known as the Gate of Time, but Impa destroys the gateway to prevent Ghirahim from following them. As we learn, Ghirahim is a servant of Demise, and wishes to use Zelda’s soul to release the seal that imprisons him. Link eventually finds a second Gate of Time that he can use to reach Zelda, but he must first purify the Goddess Sword in the light of three sacred fires, transforming the blade into the Master Sword.
Link does this and travels to the past, where Zelda reveals her true identity as Hylia reborn. She reveals that to reinforce Demise’s seal, she must remain in the past, but tasks Link with finding the location of the Triforce. Link pieces together a melody called “The Song of the Hero” from the Sky Warden, Levias, as well as the three dragons of the surface, Eldin, Lanayru and Faron. Using the melody, Link locates the Triforce at Sky Keep in Skyloft and successfully uses it to send the Keep plummeting to the surface, landing on the Sealed Grounds and completely destroying Demise once and for all.
Link returns to the Sealed Grounds to awake Zelda from her long slumber, but Ghirahim appears and kidnaps Zelda, intending to travel to the past and free Demise there. He does so by traveling through the second Gate of Time, and Link unsuccessfully tries to stop him, and Demise returns to the world. In an epic duel, Link battles Demise, but ultimately defeats him using the Master Sword. With his final breath, Demise, places a curse, saying that his hatred will return in an endless cycle to torment those with the blood of the goddess and the soul of the hero. His ominous final words essentially set up the cyclical nature of the Zelda universe.
The Era of Chaos
After the defeat of Demise, the humans of Skyloft returned to live on the surface. The land came to be called Hyrule, and the people the Hylians, in honor of the goddess Hylia. Hyrule was peaceful for a long time, but human greed and evil would eventually take hold. Tales of the Triforce, a divine power capable of granting any wish, became commonplace in the land. Many people sought control over the Triforce, causing constant wars and strife in a time known as the Era of Chaos.
This chaos continued until the Sage of Light, Rauru, along with other ancient Sages, appeared. In order to end the chaos, they took the Triforce and sealed it within a sacred dimension known as the Sacred Realm. The portal to this Sacred Realm was inside of the Temple of Time, which was guarded by Rauru himself. To protect the Triforce, they created the three spiritual stones, which along with the Master Sword, would serve as the keys to the Sacred Realm.
However, even stories of the Sacred Realm were enough to cause strife. Most famously, a tribe known as the Dark Interlopers developed powerful shadow magic and created an artifact known as the Fused Shadows. The Interlopers planned to use this power to gain dominion over the Sacred Realm. Before they could try to do so, however, the Light Spirits, Faron, Eldin and Lanayru, intervened. They took the Fused Shadows and split it into pieces, hiding them inside specific temples in Hyrule. The Interlopers were taken to Arbiter’s Grounds in the desert, where they were banished to the Twilight Realm through a magical artifact known as the Mirror of Twilight. Trapped within the Twilight Realm, the Interlopers would eventually end their evil ways and become the peaceful Twili.
The Era of Prosperity & The War of the Bound Chest
The Era of Chaos was brought to a close with the creation of the Kingdom of Hyrule, established by the descendants of the goddess Hylia. The royal family charged itself with the protection of the Triforce and the Sacred Realm, and enforced secrecy regarding the two in order to prevent further insurrections. With this, knowledge of the Triforce eventually fell into obscurity. The descendants of Hylia would often develop magical powers, and many females would be named Zelda in honor of the legend of the first Zelda. After the establishment of the kingdom, Hyrule experienced a long era of prosperity.
However, this prosperity was not meant to last for long. Over time, monsters began to appear throughout the land, and Hyrule was on the brink of collapse. It was then that magical beings called the Picori descended from the sky, and presented a hero with the Picori Blade and a magical power known as the Light Force. This hero used his newfound powers to seal all of the monsters inside the magical Bound Chest, sealed by the Picori Blade itself. The chest would then come to be under the protection of the Hyrule Royal Family. In honor of the gifts that saved Hyrule, the people would come to have an annual celebration known as the Picori Festival.
The Force Era: The Events of the Minish Cap & Four Swords
One hundred years after the War of the Bound Chest, the 100th annual Picori Festival was held. A tournament was held in Hyrule Castle Town, and the winner was given the opportunity to touch the Picori Blade, still attached to the Bound Chest. However, the winner of this tournament, a Wind Mage called Vaati, had evil intent. He wished to acquire the Light Force used by the hero, so he broke the Picori Blade, which unleashed all of the monsters trapped within. After doing this, he uses his magic to turn the kingdom’s princess, named Zelda, into stone. A young hero named Link is tasked with contacting the Picori in order to attempt to reforge the Picori Blade. Link is chosen despite of his young age, since it is said that only children can see the Picori.
While searching for the Picori in the Minish Woods, Link encounters a sentient cap known as Ezlo. Ezlo is a Picori who was transformed into his current form by Vaati, and agrees to help Link. Ezlo has the power to shrink Link down to microscopic size, which turns out to be what is required to find the miniature Picori. Link arrives at Minish Village, and meets with their leader, who informs Link that to reforge the Picori Blade, Link needs to gather the crystallized essences of the four elements: Earth, Wind, Fire and Water.
During this time, Vaati secretly imprisoned the king of Hyrule and impersonates him using his magic. He commands the Hylian army to search of the Light Force on his behalf. Link and Ezlo are able to reforge the blade after finding two elements, but the blade is not at its true power until they find the rest. However, they find that the blade has a secret power: to create clones of the wielder, multiplying his power. Link eventually finds the other two elements, transforming the Picori Blade into the Four Sword.
It is then revealed that the Light Force was within Zelda the entire time. Vaati sets a plan into motion to extract the Light Force from Zelda’s body, so he could use it to amplify his power. Link and Ezlo infiltrate his fortress, and eventually weaken Vaati using the Four Sword. Zelda awakens, and they are then able to seal Vaati away into the Four Sword. Ezlo is returned to his original form, and peace is returned to Hyrule.
Vaati reappeared briefly several generations afterwards after his seal was broken. He kidnapped another incarnation of Princess Zelda, until a hero wielding the Four Sword reappeared. This hero, who was split into four because of the Four Sword’s magic, invaded Vaati’s palace in the sky and once again sealed Vaati using the Four Sword, restoring peace to Hyrule.
Civil War & the Unification of Hyrule
Many years after the events of The Minish Cap and Four Swords, the Force Era is brought to a close by a long and bloody civil war in Hyrule. The events and causes surrounding this civil war are unknown, but we do know that at the end of the war, the king of Hyrule was victorious, and unified all of Hyrule into a single country. The other tribes of Hyrule, namely the Gerudo, the Gorons, the Zora and the Sheikah all swore fealty to the king.
During the events of this war, a Hylian woman fled from the chaos of the war into the forbidden Kokiri Forest. Mortally wounded, the woman entrusted her baby boy to the deity of the forest, the Great Deku Tree. The Deku Tree raised the boy as his own, and for much of his life, this boy believed that he was one of the forest spirits, the Kokiri. This boy would be named Link, and with this, the stage was set for the events to come in Ocarina of Time.
The Great Battle Across Time: The Events of Ocarina of Time
Although the leader of the Gerudo, Ganondorf, swore fealty to the king, he secretly had darker intentions.He eventually developed a close relationship with the king , but secretly intended to try to find a way into the Sacred Realm to obtain the Triforce for himself. Somehow, Ganondorf not only learns about the Spiritual Stones that are needed to unlock the gateway into the Sacred Realm in the Temple of Time, but also of their locations. However, he finds that the stones are closely guarded by the Kokiri, the Gorons and the Zora, who aren’t ready to part with the stones.
When the Deku Tree refuses to give him the Kokiri Emerald, Ganondorf places a death curse on the forest guardian. This is when the Deku Tree summons Link by sending the fairy Navi, knowing of the boy’s true destiny. He asks the young Link to venture inside of the tree to kill the monsters placed there by Ganondorf in order to break the curse. However, this is still not enough to save the Deku Tree’s life. With his final breath, the Deku Tree entrusts Link with the Kokiri Emerald and asks him to seek out the kingdom’s princess.
Link and Navi travel to Hyrule Castle Town, and sneak into the castle gardens, where they are able to meet with Princess Zelda. Zelda had been having prophetic dreams about the events to come, and was actively trying to stop Ganondorf’s plans. Zelda asks Link to seek out the other Spiritual Stones, so that they may reach the Triforce before Ganondorf does. Link travels to Death Mountain, and Zora’s Domain, where he retrieves the Goron Ruby and the Zora Sapphire by helping the two tribes and gaining their trust.
Ganondorf catches wind of Link and Zelda’s plan, however, and pre-emptively launches an attack on Hyrule Castle. Zelda is able to escape with the help of her attendant, Impa, and leaves behind the final piece of the puzzle for entering the Sacred Realm: the Ocarina of Time, a flute that must be played in front of the three spiritual stones in order to unlock the gate. Link does this, and finally encounters the Master Sword resting within the chamber. He pulls out the sword, unlocking the gateway into the Sacred Realm, but inadvertently seals himself within the Sacred Realm by doing so. This happened because Link was far too young to wield the sacred blade of the goddess.
It turns out, this was Ganondorf’s plan all along. He wanted Link and Zelda to unlock the Sacred Realm on his behalf, and with Link sealed away, no one is left to stop him from entering it to obtain the Triforce. Ganondorf touches it, and his dark wishes are fulfilled. Hyrule transforms into a dark, twisted land, and Ganondorf becomes its mighty king. However, this is when we learn a new detail about the nature of the holy power of the goddesses. If it is touched by someone who doesn’t have a perfect balance of their wisdom, power and courage, it will split into its three pieces and reappear in the bodies of the souls chosen by destiny.
Seven years later, Link reawakens within the Sacred Realm. He speaks with the Sage of Light, Rauru, who brings Link up to speed, and informs him of his seven year stasis. Now with the body of an adult, Link is of the right age to wield the Master Sword to defeat the incarnation of Demise’s curse, Ganondorf. In order to defeat the evil king, Rauru instructs Link to travel to the five temples throughout Hyrule in order to find and awaken the other Sages.Only the Sages of Hyrule now have the power to seal Ganondorf away within the Sacred Realm and bring peace back to Hyrule.
When Link returns to Hyrule, he is greeted by a mysterious Sheikah called Sheik. Sheik guides Link to the five corners of the land, where in an epic adventure, Link awakens the five sages: the Sage of the Forest, Saria; the Sage of Fire, Darunia; the Sage of Water, Ruto; the Sage of Shadow, Impa; and the Sage of Spirit, Nabooru. Link also gains the ability to travel back to the past by placing the Master Sword back into its pedestal, an ability that becomes invaluable in his quest to find the identity of the Sages.
After awakening the five sages, Sheik reveals himself to in fact be Princess Zelda in disguise. Zelda also reveals the true location of the Triforce pieces: Ganondorf has the Triforce of Power, Zelda the Triforce of Wisdom, and Link the Triforce of Courage. At this time, however, Ganondorf appears and traps Zelda within a crystal, intending to reunite the pieces of the Triforce once again. Link infiltrates Ganondorf’s castle, and seemingly defeats him. However, Ganondorf, who is still clinging to life, uses his power to destroy his own castle, trying to kill Link and Zelda in the process.
Link and Zelda escape the castle, but Ganondorf survived as well. In a blinding rage, Ganondorf transformed himself into the beastly Ganon. Link and Zelda worked together to weaken him, after which Zelda unleashes the power of the Sages. Zelda traps Ganon within the Sacred Realm, severing the link between it and Hyrule. Gazing upon the ruined land, Zelda takes pity upon Link, who lost his childhood in order to defeat Ganon. She takes the Ocarina of Time and uses its magic to return Link back to his childhood.
Zelda’s Choice: History Diverges
While Zelda’s choice to return Link’s lost childhood was done out of kindness, it also had profound consequences on the state of time itself. She inadvertently created a split timeline, where a young Link suddenly had all of the knowledge of Ganondorf’s plans, knowledge of how the Triforce works, knowledge of the Sacred Realm and knowledge of the identity of all of the Sages of Hyrule. Of course, Link isn’t ready to simply let history repeat itself. He took this knowledge to Zelda and the king of Hyrule, who surely must have been shocked that a young nobody knew all of the secrets of the royal family.
The king not only heeds Link’s warning to not trust Ganondorf, but arrests him and sends him to be executed. Meanwhile, back in the dark future that Link left, Zelda and the Sages must rebuild Hyrule from the ashes. Through the Hyrule Historia, however, a third divergence is also confirmed-a timeline where Link fails in his quest to awaken the Sages and is killed by Ganondorf.
This is where things get complicated. In our next look at the Zelda timeline, we’ll look at the events of the divergent Adult (future) and Child (past) timelines.