Linearism Is Alive and Well

An Article by The Missing Link

Timeline “enthusiasts” (y’all know who you are!) may be looking at the title of this article with some amount of shock, disbelief, perhaps even disgust. The very thought is probably absurd to nearly all of you, and already you are probably dividing yourselves into two different camps. On one side, some may have already decided that I, in my many months of hiding, have somehow had my head stuck in the sand and haven’t heard about the confirmation of the Split Timeline. (I assure you that you are all dead wrong on that one.) And then, in the other corner of the ring, others would believe me to be some raving lunatic that is either delusional, mad, or simply desperately trying to hold onto the way things were years ago. (Mad? Me? Mad, you say? Hahaha! Hardly! You haven’t seen me get going yet!)

However, no matter what your knee-jerk reactions are to the title of this article, believe me when I tell you all that I am quite serious when I say that, just like bellbottom jeans, plaid pants, and ‘80s TV sitcoms, single timelines are going to be fashionable again before you know it. Sure, they’ve been mocked and critiqued and laughed at recently, but I think it’s only a matter of time before all the cool kids will be doing it.

Allow me to pause while you laugh. Go ahead, get it out. You’ll feel better in the long run.

Back? Good. Let’s keep going.

“How can I say that?” I hear you ask. Be patient, my fellow tenured professors of Ancient Hyrulian History of the Castle Town University Evaluation Board. I’m sure you’ll find my theories enlightening.

A little over three years ago, when I was the webmaster of ZeldaBlog, I began to write a few whimsical articles regarding a few more… controversial ideas regarding the timeline. A lot of the articles that I wrote were inspired by the fact that, when I used to participate in timeline discussions during that era, most of my objections, ideas, and what-ifs were usually dismissed without much thought. This was, for the most part, because they were quite unconventional and challenged the status quo of their beliefs. By and large, there was a consistent and passionate rejection of every idea that ran counter to what they, in their prior debates, had already determined to be goddess-given fact. (This is notwithstanding that there was an obsessive necessity to check everything minute detail of everything against the raw text of a foreign language that they themselves didn’t even understand. But, alas, I digress…) The result of this was that, the moment that you tried to question or show weaknesses in a few fundamental assumptions that were popular enough to have been elevated to law, you were as good as dead to them. Goodbye, sayounara, auf vidersein, au revior.

That sort of dismissal never really set well with me. Granted, it could have just been because their forum culture differed (drastically!) from the Internet corner in which I had been “raised,” but the riotous passion they expressed had practically become borderline religion, and I felt like a heretic amongst them… or at least amongst a few of them. (Some of those timeliners were quite reasonable, but they’re usually not the vocal ones, sadly.) And so, as a result, being the devious Internetian that I was (and still am!), I plotted my revenge.

I began to prove my points in a very different way… this time using their very evaluation techniques against them. What followed was an investigative series on the timeline that showed the weaknesses in their quest for absolute truth in uncovering the mysterious and elusive “one true timeline.” The articles also provided a basic set of principles that would help encourage discussion, new ideas, and… civility in timeline debates. Those who frequented ZeldaBlog in its heyday will remember these articles, but I realize that it’s been quite some time, so I want to present to you all a refresher course in TML’s Laws of Timelinedynamics.

The Zeroth Law of Timelinedynamics declares that, if indeed the canon can find the true timeline, then that timeline is illogical. I analyzed the seeming grandfather paradox found within the Song of Storms from Ocarina of Time and showed that, if one attempts to find the “one true timeline” using only a strict interpretation of canon, one eventually reaches a logical impasse. The Master Sword and the Ocarina of Time, despite how intrinsically intertwined they are within the game’s story, simply cannot work the same way if one hopes to make sense of both the windmill scene and the ending of the game. Therefore, if you hope to create a sensible timeline, you must view the canon as imperfect. Conversely, if you believe in an infallible canon, you must have an illogical timeline.

The First Law is that the canon is overconstrained, or rather, that there are too many conflicting details such that, no matter how you rearrange all the pieces, some small sliver of canon—some glaring fact—cannot possibly be fulfilled. I showed that, in the Four Swords trilogy, no matter how you place The Minish Cap with respect to Four Swords and Four Swords Adventures—certain logistical nightmares will always erupt from the wreckage. The takeaway was that the canon isn’t sacred; to arrive at a perfect timeline, you must subtract facts from the canon.

The Second Law is that the canon is simultaneously underconstrained, or rather, that there aren’t enough details to fully determine the proper placement of all the pieces of the timeline. The Imprisoning War shows this quite nicely in that, given what we know, we simply do not have enough pieces of evidence to know whether or not the Seal War backstory of A Link to the Past is represented by Ocarina of Time or not, partially since a few details between from the manual’s backstory and from the game’s prologue that don’t align perfectly with Ocarina. The realization? The canon isn’t complete; to arrive at a perfect timeline, you must add assumptions to the canon.

The Third Law is that the timeline is canon-indeterminate, or rather, that the timeline cannot be determined beyond a shadow of a doubt through the use of canon details alone. Here I looked at the ending of Ocarina of Time and mused over the then-possibilities between the Single, Split, and Multiple Timeline Theories. I realized that the “problem” with the Split and Multiple Timeline Theories is that each of their respective timelines (e.g., the child and adult timelines) are effectively self-contained; games from one timeline would not be allowed to reference in any way, shape, or form games from another one, therefore making it impossible to know if there were indeed multiple timelines using the canon alone. In short, canon isn’t enough; you need more data in order to find the magical timeline of lore.

While these laws are named after a rather unclever (and remarkably geeky!) reference to the Laws of Thermodynamics (good jokes about serious business are hard to come by, what can I say?), they are actually rather aptly named given their main purpose, which is to say that the timeline is still a dynamic structure, that is, the true nature of the “one true timeline”—a timeline that is without any illogical leaps of faith or any pesky, nuanced contradictions—is forever being evolved and molded and isn’t something that we can possibly ever know absolutely. And if we’re never going to find it, we might as well take over complete ownership of what the Zelda timeline looks like. So be free! Make the timeline look like whatever it is you want it to look like! (But of course, you still need to have a few good reasons for believing whatever it is you want to believe; otherwise, it’ll end up looking like Link from the CD-i games, mai boi.)

However, despite the fact that this practically serves as the ultimate disproof of every timeline ever, there are some that see it for a lot of fancy smoke and mirrors. (In many ways, they are surprisingly correct on this issue!) You see, it’s the fundamental nature of the timeliner to want to uncover the truth. Even I feel this need deep down. There’s something in our DNA that wants to uncover, to analyze, to extract, to connect, and to build. It this regard, we’re all engineers of a sort. Consider that some people like to take apart VCRs, see how they work, and then put them back together (hopefully once again into working order!); we’re just like that… except with the Zelda canon instead of VCRs. And so it’s not surprising that timeliners don’t like the fact that the Laws put a stopper on the goal to find the timeline. It runs counter to our DNA to not reverse engineer it. And so what did they go and do? Well, the clever ones… they went and found a workaround to the Laws.

Yes, I must admit, there has always been one sole saving grace to the Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. (No, it’s not 42. You try telling people that the timeline is “42” and they’ll hang you from the rafters.) The Third Law of Timelinedynamics says that you need something outside the flawed and imperfect Zelda canon to find the timeline, and thankfully for most, there is such a thing. Which is why timeline enthusiasts have decided to fall back upon developer intent to save the timeline.

You see, on a rather semi-infrequent basis, Nintendo drags Miyamoto and Aonuma out for some interview with some game reviewing agency that actually gives a care about the whole timeline business (I still can’t figure out how “media” actually cares about such stuff, but, who am I to judge!?), and even more semi-infrequently do they actually reply with some useful tidbit about how everything is pieced together. And they make some rather vague allusions to how some game takes place “100 years” (Have you ever noticed that it’s always “100 years”? I’m getting rather suspicious about this just being a ploy to simply appease us…) after this other game, yadda yadda, stuff, and then Miyamoto and Aonuma hightail it out of there before anyone can think to hold them hostage until they finally divulge details about the next, next Zelda game that everyone is already suspecting to be in the works.

But no one seems to mind that they dodged the big question. We had the chance to have this ever so brief peek at the Golden Land! Quick everybody, to the Zelda Club tree house! (Oh wait, we’re not allowed to talk about Zelda Club!) We must scoff at those disbelievers and readjust our timelines accordingly! Oh glory be, there is science timeline to be done!

Now, I’ve had the privilege of being able to make videogames for the past three years of my life. My opinions about how games are made has changed remarkably from this experience. I’m sure you’ve all had those infuriating questions of “why did so-and-so decide to do this such-and-such stupid idea?” I now have rough ideas as to why. Those times where you ask, “Why don’t the developers communicate with us more?” I’ve felt the frustrations… except from the other side of the fence. And those press releases? Well, let’s just say I can smell PR’s involvement in something from a good 20 miles away. (I mean, anything that requires blowing into the DS’ microphone as controller input… am I right?)

And so every time I hear Miyamoto or Aonuma speak about how the games are ordered (and how Nintendo is going to make us smile), thoughts of sugarplums dance in my head. Okay, so I lie; it’s not really that, but I do begin to wonder exactly when in the grand processes that little detail was decided… and more importantly how it was all of that came about.

So while researching this article, I found a hilarious tidbit from Aonuma regarding Four Swords Adventures. In it, he mentioned, before FSA’s release, that “the GBA Four Swords Zelda is what we’re thinking as the oldest tale in the Zelda timeline…[with FSA] being a sequel to that.” However, as it turns out, that plan never really panned out, and after FSA’s release, Aonuma sheepishly admitted that, during FSA’s development, “we changed the story around quite a bit… [changing it] all the way up until the very end.”

If I had heard this three years ago, I might have been surprised; today, I’m laughing to myself because I know how true those words are. The only constant in developing a title is that it constantly changes and evolves in order to account for a significant number of factors. Is this game too similar to another game we’ve made? Too different? Is it going to stand out amongst its competitors? Is it possible to add this feature to the schedule? This isn’t working out; can we cut it? What demographic are we targeting? Is the game too simple? Too complicated? Too unbalanced? Too difficult? Is it fun from start to finish? Is the storyline compelling? Is it believable?

On and on the questions go, and here’s a shocking secret about making games: Not every issue gets resolved. There’s always a few “bugs”—whether they be program crashes, spelling mistakes, leaps of faith in storytelling, and simple violations of common sense—that either slip through the cracks or simply aren’t important enough to get taken care of in those last all-important days before the game goes gold. Games are shipped “imperfectly,” and so not only is the game never quite what you initially thought it was going to be, the game never quite ends up to be what you hoped it would become.

This is, in essence, the Developer’s Dilemma. Do you sacrifice gameplay for story? Do you sacrifice story for expanding our audience? Do you sacrifice your audience for gameplay? Sacrifices—in other words, cuts—always have to be made; where do you make them in order to make them as painless as possible? Where do you make them in order to make the game as fun as possible? And as a result of this, I’m going to remove that last pillar of the timeline hierarchy. The standard workaround for the failures of canon is about to be blown away. You ready for this? Because this one’s a doozy.

The Theory of Timeline Relativity: The developers cannot save the timeline.

Please, before you rush down to the comments section, let me tell you what this isn’t saying. I’m not saying that developers cannot possibly establish strong continuities between games. I think it’s quite clear that the Metroid series, despite being passed from developer to developer, has told a very compelling storyline over its entire series (disregarding the deus ex machina of starting over from scratch every time).

However, in the case of the Zelda timeline, we are officially up to 15 Zelda games, and the best Nintendo has been able to clarify the order of everything is to piece a measly six of them into some sort of continuity. The rest of the timeline is so scattered and so disjoint (thereby creating the need for the prior four Laws of Timelinedynamics) that Nintendo is in far too deep in order to ever fully make sense of all the small details now. If they could have saved the timeline, they would have done so already. At any point in this process, they could have already decreed by fiat precisely what the timeline actually is. (Actually, NoA tried to do this once, but that timeline was ironically met with derision and mockery.)

However, given either Nintendo’s inability or lack of desire to do so, they have all but admitted that a perfect continuity has been either cut from their grand schedule or has been put on the backburner indefinitely. (This isn’t to say that they don’t have any ideas at all about how it all works, mind, just that they probably haven’t resolved every last plot problem themselves and are just waiting for a new game that just makes those nasty bits work.)

Of course, a statement as bold as mine requires at least some validation, yes? (Otherwise, I fear that you’ll all run me out of town before I can tell you all, “Game over, suckers!”) So, let’s show some startling truths here.

So, let’s rewind the clock to 2007 to an interview with Aonuma regarding Twilight Princess’ position within the grand Zelda timeline:

Q: When does Twilight Princess take place?

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

Q: And The Wind Waker?

A: The Wind Waker is parallel…. 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….

This fits in rather nicely with what Nintendo said much earlier involving Wind Waker and thus establishes most of what we do know about the timeline to date:

Q: Where does The Wind Waker fit into the overall Zelda series timeline?

A: You can think of this game as taking place over a hundred years after Ocarina of Time…. Ocarina of Time basically has two endings of sorts; one has Link as a child and the other has him as an adult. This game, The Wind Waker, takes place a hundred years after the adult Link defeats Ganon at the end of Ocarina.

But now, let’s look forward into the future. Nintendo’s finally given us some indication about the placement of Spirit Tracks in the timeline:

Spirit Tracks takes place 100 years after the events of Phantom Hourglass. Apparently in the land that’s now called Hyrule, the inhabitants had to deal with a vicious Demon King. In the time span between the two games there was an epic battle and the spirits of the land helped take down this evil being. Though they couldn’t kill the beast, they could muster just enough strength and energy to subdue him with chains and shackles and bury him underground. The shackles, extending the land of Hyrule in four different directions, became the Spirit Tracks, and the surrounding community used these tracks as transportation railways.

Now, from these individual quotes, you can come up with the famous six-game partial timeline. It starts with Ocarina of Time and then, along the child timeline, you have Majora’s Mask and Twilight Princess. In the adult timeline, you have Wind Waker, Phantom Hourglass, and Spirit Tracks.

Do you see a problem yet? Have you seen just what is wrong about extending this timeline to encompass all 15 games? If you haven’t, fear not. I shall reveal to you the answer using my Book of Secrets.

One Ganondorf Dragmire. Given what we now know about Spirit Tracks, provided that they don’t resurrect him in this game (which appears to be the likely case at this point!), Ganondorf is currently at the bottom of the sea… encased in a thick layer of stone… with the Master Sword jammed into his forehead. And what about Twilight Princess, the current “ending” of our other timeline? Well… to be quite honest… I honestly don’t know what happened to him at the end of the game. He’s… just… standing there, going through his death monologue, with the Master Sword jammed through his stomach… just… standing… there….

But lo and behold, Link then dashes off to stare at Midna’s sexy, new curves, so he and Zelda can’t be too worried about Ganondorf suddenly reanimating himself and wreaking havoc over Hyrule at any moment! Furthermore there’s no hint or suggestion that we’ve merely just sealed him away for “100 years” or only “mostly killed” him. As far as I can tell, no one’s concerned that this ain’t over, and that’s as good of a “the end” as we can have!

And so now, considering the other nine games, just what do you have to work with? Legend of Zelda, A Link to the Past, and Four Swords Adventures all involve Ganondorf somehow taking over Hyrule! However, not a single one of them reveals anything about removing the Master Sword from Ganondorf’s personage. (A few might be crafty to mention that Ganon was, in fact, resurrected in the linked Oracle game, but they resurrected Ganon, not Ganondorf. This besides, Twinrova wouldn’t have been able to pull out the Master Sword from their master’s stomach since the blade can only be held by one who is good, thank you, Ocarina of Time. This is besides the point that Zelda tells you at the end of the Oracles that “wisdom and courage were able to prevent Twinrova’s planned resurrection of Ganon” [emphasis mine]. That means canon suggests that Ganon’s officially gone (again) at the end of the game. Sorry, no dice, guys.)

Is it any reason that we haven’t solved the timeline debacle yet? You hit a roadblock the moment you leave Nintendo’s carefully crafted trail! Given that Nintendo hasn’t declared any resolution to this inherent mystery, you either have to negate that pesky detail about the Master Sword (First Law of Timelinedynamics) or add in a detail about Ganondorf being freed from the blade (Second Law of Timelinedynamics) in order to proceed. (Sure, you could probably nail me on the fact that the game is simply vague on the details of Koume’s and Kotake’s plot to revive Ganon. I’d gladly counter by saying that they were intentionally vague such as not to spoil the secret ending before the proper time, and so Nintendo is in effect throwing themselves onto the mercy of the court, indirectly supporting the Second Law.)

Furthermore, I would also place a friendly wager on the statement that this stalemate will never be resolved, even with Nintendo’s best intentions otherwise. (Though please, pretty please, don’t bother contacting me to establish any sort of bets on the issue.) While Ocarina of Time was kind enough to only seal Ganondorf away for years upon years upon the game’s denouement, it would be extremely tacky of Nintendo to start pulling this trick after every single game featuring Ganondorf from here on out. Can you imagine this!? It’d become some horrible Internet meme about how Ganondorf the Rather Unlucky can’t seem to get a break by either getting himself killed off or actually managing to succeed in his quest to have a lifestyle of the rich and famous. (No wonder he’s so emo in Wind Waker!)

If you want more, we can take a quick peek at Spirit Tracks for a moment. From what we know, Spirit Tracks is at least a good 200 and more years from Ocarina of Time’s adult ending. Now, over the course of this period of time, Hyrule had to go through many a difficult time. First, they had to completely rebuild Hyrule after Ganondorf sacked it in Ocarina (remember how Castle Town was practically ruined, not to mention the Zoras encased in ice and whatnot?). And of course, they had to completely rebuild the castle (since, naturally, it appears in Wind Waker… right alongside Ganon’s Tower). Probably not long after that, Ganondorf manages to break free from his Evil Realm prison and almost conquers Hyrule, but the goddesses smack him on the hands and “flood” Hyrule. We go through Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass above the waves, just like normal… and then, many years later, we actually establish a new Hyrule… only to be plunged into another war against the Demon King there! And then finally (FINALLY! Take a deep breath…) Hyrule gets a little bit of long-lasting peace. And yet somehow in these 200 and more years, Hyrule managed to invent steam power, y’know, to power Linebeck’s ship and the new Thomas the Tank Engine.

Yet where is steam power in Twilight Princess? Telma’s still using a horse-drawn carriage to go from town to town, and there’s no signs of railroad tracks in sight. Literally, Hyrule was at peace that entire time given that Ganondorf got sent straight to the Twilight Realm (and he didn’t even get to pass Go or collect $200 first either!), and barely anything was damaged in the meanwhile! It should have been a period of renaissance for all of Hyrule, especially considering how well Castle Town seemed to be doing in Twilight Princess, yet it seems that very little advances in technology had actually been made! (Okay, they were able to create the Linkapault that somehow managed to fire him through the air into the desert and somehow not kill him. Besides that!) The only other game to ever establish train tracks are the Oracle series, but those don’t take place in Hyrule, so they don’t count for our purposes. Thus, what do we get in the end? We get an illogical timeline (Zeroth Law of Timelinedynamics).

And how about a third one, for good humor here. Let’s compare the maps of Twilight Princess and Ocarina of Time. We have it on authority that these two views of Hyrule are about 100 or more years apart from one another. Furthermore, if you use the GameCube variation of the maps, you’ll notice that Lake Hylia, Kakariko Village, the Gerudo Desert, the Lost Woods, and Death Mountain all line up fairly nicely. It’s like the two were meant to be together!

All except for… Zora’s Domain. Somehow, Zora’s Domain (which is still at the end of the river, mind) warped from being southeast of Kakariko and Castle Town to being northwest! How’d that happen? And more importantly, how’d that happen within the mere span of a few hundred years tops? That canyon needs time to carve itself… and it simply isn’t going to pick itself up and move. The But if you try to solve this from the perspective of the Developer’s Dilemma, it makes total sense. If the map of Hyrule were always the same—same orientations, same locations, same everything—it really wouldn’t feel like exploring the map anymore, would it? We’d know where everything is, and all we’d be left with is figuring out when we’re actually going to visit each place. Where’s the fun in that?

Each of these itty bitty details could have been solved, and they could have been solved fairly easily if Nintendo had been focusing on it from the get go. If only they’d cared enough to keep their timeline stuff in check, they’d have been able to create said canon—even if it was developed in an out-of-order fashion (just like the Metroid series did).

So, what can we conclude here? Well, our absolute and infallible trust in Nintendo should be completely shattered (or at least wounded!) by this point! (If it hasn’t, please make sure your heart is still beating; you might very well have died from shock along the way here!) Nintendo, despite Aonuma insisting to us that one day he’d clearly reveal the timeline to us, he’s headed up ten of the 15 Zelda games, and still we’re as utterly confused as ever. I would go so far as to say that Nintendo hasn’t even gotten better at revealing all this information to us; Aonuma talking timeline is still just as rare, cryptic, and ambiguous as when Miyamoto was talking timeline.

All we have is more of the same, and the only way that will likely change is if Aonuma passes the reins onto someone else. But even if that happens, will that someone else respect all of the timeline statements that Aonuma has established over the years? Realistically, there’s no guarantee. And let’s face it, Miyamoto isn’t going to be there forever to keep upending the tea table either.

And so, if we really can’t trust Nintendo to be the infallible source on all things timeline, realistically that means that we have explicit permission to ignore them to begin with and come up with our own theory anyway. And, if the Third Law of Timelinedynamics is any hint, that means you and I are now suddenly free to dream up our Single Timeline Theories once again. Linearism is alive and well, my friends! Or, I should at least caveat this and say it this way: Linearism is as alive and well as any other timeline out there. Though, given what you just read, if you consider the hope of one day finding the “one true timeline” to now be dead… well, “alive and well” is totally a relative term.

Now, unlike some, I’m not interested in telling timeline enthusiasts that they’re completely wasting their time by contemplating the deep natures of the timeline. I mean, I’ll be frank; I used to be one of you! And, given the fact that I’m still writing articles about this subject, I can’t say I’ve fallen all that far from the tree. (Ahem, ahem, I would hope that’s obvious by now!) However, my business is neither to find the “one true timeline,” that magical Holy Grail that will reveal all of Zeldadom to me as if Nayru herself touched my head and filled it with her blessed wisdom.

My passion in the timeline is not the pursuit of ultimate discovery but in the gradual world building of the Zelda universe. Being one that has written scores of fanfics and a writer by nature, extrapolating upon the world of Hyrule and filling in the details with my own personal touch has been what has drawn me to the concept of the timeline. My sole desire is to be able to have the creative license to play with it to my heart’s content, to do something different if it feels right enough or, better yet, just to experiment.

Instead of me dictating to you how you all should feel about Zelda games, I would ask those of you who are passionate about the timeline the question of why it is you seek the answer. Discovering what that magical timeline is surely isn’t going to tell you the direction of the next Zelda title; I think Nintendo has been quite clear that you can never ever figure out exactly what they’re going to do next. That sheer creativity has been what has drawn me to them for many years, and the creativity that they pour into each yet-to-come Zelda game will almost certainly defy the most sage timeline theorist out there. The Zelda series is so rich with details and possibilities that we will always be surprised.

Sure, I suppose being able to find “the closest timeline to what Miyamoto is envisioning right this very moment” is a worthy runner-up goal, but to what ends? If Nintendo is making it all up as they go along (which I’d also wager is quite likely), the timeline is as flexible as a rubber band, completely mutable and able to be changed at their discretion from here on out. And so long as Nintendo remains silent as to the specific contents of whatever secret timeline documents they have (which, I’d also wager a bet on, are far less detailed than some might dream about), that goal is impossible to ascertain.

Instead, I truly believe that half the fun of inventing timelines is in the building of the world of Hyrule. It’s in creating our Hyrule. It’s feeling like a scholar of ancient history and digging through the ruins of a fallen Hyrule Castle to find archæological evidence regarding the ancient civilization of the Hylians. It’s in the crazy theorization, the wild speculation, and the mad experimentation. I earnestly believe that those who care for it like I do have found this to be the case… yet some have since then abandoned this creative endeavor in order to defend their timeline as correct and declare all others as incorrect. That, I believe, to be an exercise in futility.

It isn’t about nor should it be about who is right or who is wrong. After all, only Nintendo could ever truly be right. And, if my experiences in the industry ring true, the Theory of Relativity says that Nintendo probably doesn’t have it completely right either.

  • wrong

  • Bubba

    Not a bad article, but there are definitely some facts that you need to check. These are the ones I caught on the first read. First, the tracks that you refer to in the Oracles games also appear in The Minish Cap, which does take place in Hyrule. Second, (and probably the most glaring) is the fact that the Master Sword doesn't stay in Ganondorf's stomach at the end of Twilight Princess. If you continue watching the end scene, it shows Link standing at the mirror with Midna and Zelda, with the Master Sword sheathed on his back.

    Also, in the oracle games, Twinrova may not have succeeded in resurrecting the Ganon they wanted, but it kept in our minds the idea that he could be resurrected (just like in Zelda II). And technically Ganon/dorf can only be said to have really "died" in at most 4 games (LoZ, LttP, WW, and TP). But again, everything is debatable.

  • MM

    hi there, great article. it is fun reading and contains many many good points. but: it is “auf Wiedersehen” and not what you wrote 😉

    cu MM

    • The Missing Link

      German, alas, not my forte. I was a Spanish and Japanese student. Thanks, though. 🙂

  • The Missing Link

    I could be devious and say that then we can rule out MC from ever being before OoT as a result… 😉 But I will yield both of the points in your first paragraph, though neither I would argue defeats the true crux of the point… (So many minutiae in this series; so hard to remember everything!)

    I'm not arguing that Ganondorf can't be resurrected. I stated as much in my point. However, the only actual resurrection of Ganondorf as of yet is the Oracle series, which was correspondingly thwarted (and provable from the canon). From here, the difficulty is as follows. If you do assume that TP's Ganondorf is dead in the endgame (which we have no evidence to the contrary, mind), every corresponding resurrection of Ganon — so long as Ganondorf is summarily killed in the next game — merely trades one problem for another instead of outright solving problems. It's in that frame of reference where, unless Nintendo just comes out and says, "Here's our grand plan," the timeline will never be truly solved.

    • Bubba

      oh, I wasn't intending to defeat any points. I was simply making sure you keep up on your Zelda trivia to give your article more credibility. =)

      Also, I'm not saying that any problems are solved with the idea of resurrection, just that it is an important part of Zelda-lore, since the idea has existed since the second game. My opinion isn't that this solves anything timeline-wise, but simply that it should never be overlooked, since it seems as though the developers wanted us to know it was possible from the beginning. And while you did state that developer intent can shift up until the very last minute, the fact that the idea of resurrection was brought back in the Oracle games shows that they didn't want it to be forgotten.

    • Approaching the bit about there being no evidence to contradict the notion that Ganondorf dies at the end of TP: What's up with that little clip of Zant? It could be anything, making it pretty suspicious.

  • med

    not to be more of a buzz kill than buzz killington, but didn't nintendo recently say that there is no set timeline for all the games, that every game in the series doesn't have a specific spot in the whole grand scheme of the zelda universe. heck, there could be separate universes unrelated to one another with subtle similarities.

    • Cody

      One Nintendo of America e-mail response guy said that, but nobody pays attention to them because they're completely unrelated to the game. The actual Japanese developers are the ones who said there's a timeline.

  • Job

    Weee! Giant wall-text of doom!

    But indeed most, if not all of your claims seems (at first glance, haven't had the time to go into this topic myself) logical and correct. Inb4 a flame-war starts I'd like to say that, even though there were a lot of the text irrelevant to the topic which could have been deleted for the sake of a not-so-huge-wall-text, I agree with what you wrote, but still it would have been fun to be able to place the "loose" games into some sort of system without that annoying thought that it's impossible in the back of my head…

    …Wonder wether the new Zelda game for the Wii will fit into a storyline…(my personal guess: according to the concept art I believe this might be the game in which the Master Sword is made, placing it at least before OoT, or I could be mistaken).

    But I have to disagree on the "since the timeline with young Link is filled with peace they should have experienced some sort of renneisance" part: wrong, the renneisance is the rebirth of the ancient greek philosophy shifting focus from God to man, and it came after a dark age. Except from the war Hyrule didn't experience a dark age, there was nothing to look backwards to, they didn't need to remake Hyrule town or anything else; thus they had no need to reinvent their culture, nor did they need to invent new techonolgies at the same pace as in the Wind Waker timeline.

  • calc84maniac

    New Ganondorf in Four Swords Adventures. That is all.

    • The Missing Link

      Second Law of Timelinedynamics. (In other words, do you have proof?) Especially in light of this:

      [Zelda, from Four Swords Adventures]
      Ganon… this beast was once of the Gerudo… Once human. He was called Ganondorf! King of Darkness, ancient demon **reborn**. The wielder of the trident!! [emphasis mine]

      Try again. 🙂

      • They have different backstories. OoT Ganondorf is hailed as a god by the Gerudo, while FSA Ganondorf was hated and eventually exiled.

        • The Missing Link

          That's not necessarily proof in the pudding. If you consider the Ganondorfs from OoT, TP, and WW — which we all know to be the same one, they have rather different personalities, and senses of style. Being that Ganondorf is semi-immortal given his longevity through the century span after OoT, to refuse to thing that a character can have a drastic change of pace is… well… quite limited, wouldn't you agree?

      • Ganondorf

        Yes, **reborn** meaning a reincarnation of Ganondorf!

        calc84maniac's got it right.

        I'm thinking maybe you ARE one of those who are just 'desperately trying to hold on to the way things were years ago.' I read your article, but it didn't convince me one bit, and quite a few of your points, if you really think about it, made only as much sense (maybe less) as everybody else's thoughts about the series.

  • LuX

    I'm a split timeline kind of person but i also think there is no timeline, imagine if for the most part, Zelda is a library of storys myths and legends old wives tales folklore, this could mean the games we play never happened they were indeed just stories, or at least some of them could be stories.

    I know this idea seems like abit of a cop out but think about how WW starts telling the story of OoT and i dont know if anyone else noticed but that stroy isnt actually 100% accurate…I mean it could be translation but it states "a boy garbed in green" hold on wasn't he ADULT Link? So not a boy. And what about the fact nobody saw what happened in the final battle? was OoT just a tale? is this why the Hero of TIme never appeared in WW?

    anyway the timeline is messed up enough with out me.

  • Layke

    Umm, just because Zelda and Link had a talk, doesn't mean that peace insued.

    All Anuoma says is that their relationship with Ganon takes a different course. Quite probably, there was some war and strife, as Ganondorf is ordered to be executed by the sages in the Arbiter Grounds, a place never mentioned in OoT and also, the sages never have been awakened in the child timeline.

    • The Missing Link

      A good point, and I do suppose that could easily come into play at some point. Of course, this adds yet another possibility for the Imprisoning War story… 🙂

  • Abe Froman

    Your an idiot in any timeline. 😉

  • A Long-Time Fanficcer

    Quoth TML:
    “My passion in the timeline is not the pursuit of ultimate discovery but in the gradual world building of the Zelda universe. Being one that has written scores of fanfics and a writer by nature, extrapolating upon the world of Hyrule and filling in the details with my own personal touch has been what has drawn me to the concept of the timeline. My sole desire is to be able to have the creative license to play with it to my heart’s content, to do something different if it feels right enough or, better yet, just to experiment.”

    You, sir, have spoken the words that are in my heart.

    I was also drawn to timeline theory through fanfic. I’ve done singles, splits, and even ones that split and then later merge again. Some of them do involve me being intentionally obtuse (like one one where I decided that the answer to all the larger timeline problems was Termina), but nevertheless I’ve been consistently shocked at how vicious the retaliation from some timeliners has been. I’ve torn asunder the worlds of many a game, book, and show, and in no other fandom have I had my head put on the chopping block nearly so often.

    All I’ve ever wanted out of Zelda timelining is to just be able to write some fanfic without people tearing at my throat. I feel as though this article has expressed basically the same desire, though more eloquently, and for that I thank you.

  • Hayabusa

    Excellent article! After reading a lot of different ideas, I’m kind of left the search of the “official” time-line for one reason: Nobody can’t plan this things for such time ahead.

    It’s true that some games have a direct relation, like the first 3 Zelda games, the Four Swords saga and Ocarina of Time split saga. But, with the information we got today I also think is impossible to connect all in one grand time-line.

    But the fun of this searching is knowing the game you love to the point you have to know everything related to it, even if some times is those little things are just fan service.

    The mystery of The Legend of Zelda series relays on the love of its fans, and the greatness of its aventures!

  • Cukeman

    I see why you think the timeline can't be done, but you never got to the title of the article. Why is it linear? Just because it makes as much sense as anything else? you didn't tell us how TP can take place on the same timeline as WW. Your article instead suggests that there is no timeline at all. Not that the timeline is linear… It's not a perfect timeline (of course), and every theorist admits to this for the most part. That is why many of us go with central themes being more important than all the nitpicking details.

    And if you tell me the timeline is linear, I want to see your order.
    That's what your article makes me expect, and doesn't deliver,
    well written though it is, it comes off more as a gripe that the
    developers CAN'T make a timeline despite their strongest efforts…

    …unless you just think there are several linear timelines.

    I'm not trying to be rude, I just don't know what you are trying to accomplish.

    • The Missing Link

      The title of the article is really only a "Bam! Hit you hit the head!" kind of moment where I can get your attention… but that isn't the huge takeaway from it. Truth be told, I was a Linearist way back, and I invested a lot into that mentality. While I accept that the creators are certainly going in the direction of a Split Timeline, my heart remains where it is. The whole idea that "Linearism is alive and well" really is more of an emotional appeal that says that the timeline can really be however we want to interpret it… unless you're actually trying to deduce what Nintendo's trying to do with it (although I'd argue that there are more important things to take away from it if we're going to analyse it to death!). 🙂 It's really the interpretive freedom to let it be whatever we want it to be… because, if Nintendo really doesn't have everything completely planned out, what keeps us from having to follow their lead all the time?

      I do have a linear timeline in mind, although it's quite legacy (i.e., from roughly before the release of TP), and I haven't really put the leagues of effort into maintaining it in order to coordinate the story in its entirety. Part of it is that I add — through creative license — a lot of the glue to bind the games together, and to me that serves my purpose. It's certainly not the direction Nintendo seems to be going, but I'd argue that it's as justifiable a timeline as any other.

    • The Missing Link

      The title of the article is really only a "Bam! Hit you hit the head!" kind of moment where I can get your attention… but that isn't the huge takeaway from it. Truth be told, I was a Linearist way back, and I invested a lot into that mentality. While I accept that the creators are certainly going in the direction of a Split Timeline, my heart remains where it is. The whole idea that "Linearism is alive and well" really is more of an emotional appeal that says that the timeline can really be however we want to interpret it… unless you're actually trying to deduce what Nintendo's trying to do with it (although I'd argue that there are more important things to take away from it if we're going to analyse it to death!). 🙂 It's really the interpretive freedom to let it be whatever we want it to be… because, if Nintendo really doesn't have everything completely planned out, what keeps us from having to follow their lead all the time?

      I do have a linear timeline in mind, although it's quite legacy (i.e., from roughly before the release of TP), and I haven't really put the leagues of effort into maintaining it in order to coordinate the story in its entirety. Part of it is that I add — through creative license — a lot of the glue to bind the games together, and to me that serves my purpose. It's certainly not the direction Nintendo seems to be going, but I'd argue that it's as justifiable a timeline as any other.

  • zeldafan

    what is canon?

    • The Missing Link

      Canon is the concept of "official materials which are widely accepted to be true." For instance, in Star Wars, the movies are your primary canon, followed secondarily by a lot of other books that seem to support it quite well. Once you start diverging from that, then it's basically unofficial and not really worthy of being seriously considered to be legitimate parts of the universe.

      In our case, it's primarily the Zelda games as they are presented to us.

  • Alpha

    Awesome article, TML – as a fellow timeline theorist I love reading about stuff like this, no matter how supportive or critical they are to my own ideas and theories. Have to agree with you on the idea of making our own Hyrule – in the fanfic I'm currently writing, my timeline actually places ALttP first among the games, which has proven to be very interesting (yet it works surprisingly well!).

    Agree wholeheartedly with your statement about Nintendo is making it up as they go along, and it probably changes to some degree with every new title they develop. So until they completely rule out the possibility in a Zelda game (I struggle to figure out how they could do so, but I don't doubt it's possible), I'm all for the Single Timeline Theory, even if I personally prefer the Split version. Zelda should inspire creativity in the masses, and blinding holding fast to one timeline that probably isn't right (and even if it is now, probably won't be after a few more games are released) stifles that creativity. I say, power to the creative amongst our ranks!

  • GenoKID

    Appreciate the article, it does reflect the truth. One cannot create a timeline where all the facts add up, or without adding any on the way. Besides, isn't a split timeline in accordance with the "Second Law" too?

    I actually thought the idea of a split timeline was bogus (I was Newtonian) until basic quantum theory (physics) confirms htis as a possibility. However, linearism is still alive in me, and I'm sure it is in vast corners of the Earth and the rest of Hyrule.

    • The Missing Link

      The Third Law (as in the idea of the Split Timeline) is indeed an extension of the Second Law. The only difference between the two really is that the Second Law accounts for things "that you don't know" and the Third Law accounts for things "that you can't know" (that is, without a little bit of help!).

  • DigificWriter

    Hey TML. Interesting article. I respect your opinion, even if I disagree with it, but would like to point a couple of things out:

    1) as per an interview from last year, we have a pretty strong indication that The Legend of Zelda and its sequel The Adventure of Link occur – or are meant to occur – on the adult side of the timeline, demonstrating that, although it's happening slowly, we ARE getting somewhere with regards to the official LoZ timeline.

    2) although the developers have commented on the status of the official LoZ timeline many times in the past, it hasn't actually been until very recently that their comments have been reflected in the actual gameplay and design of the games. This means that, although there may not have been an official timeline before (regardless of what was being said by the developers), there clearly is now, and we are starting to get more and more of a sense of how that timeline shakes out as more and more time passes and more and more games are released. It (the timeline) probably isn't ever going to be 'perfect', but most things rarely are.

    • The Missing Link

      Hey Digific –

      1) I will admit that I haven't been fully aware of all of the quotes of late, just the ones that I happened to gloss over whilst reading through the RSSes of Joystiq and whatnot, so I haven't seen the quote you're referring to (or at least realised it yet). So I can't really say one way or the other on things… except to say that LoZ/AoL is going to be one of the hardest arcs to connect given that LoZ has everyone practically living in caves. This is a very different Hyrule we're talking about (due to the nature of it being very early in the series creation-wise), and that complicates a coherent story quite a bit. If Nintendo can link that in, more power to them. 🙂

      2) If they are changing behind the scenes, then that spells an eventual likely disproof of the Theory of Timeline Relativity. I do believe that the developers could in theory fix up the timeline by laying it all out there; I just don't think it'll be likely any time soon. They have been the way of slow, gradual changes… and about not limiting themselves too much so that they can still be very creative about where the series goes from there. I think it'll take a while — at the very least — in order for any true confirmation of the entire timeline to occur… if that ever happens. 🙂

  • Sun-Wukong

    regarding the lack of progress in the Majora's Mask/Twilight Princess Timeline, maybe progress was made in the parallel timeline for the very purpose of rebuilding after Ganondorf wrecked everything, while Hyrule at large didn't feel as much a need for progress when everything was going swimmingly? Just a thought.

  • Someguy

    Wow, this guy likes to hear himself talk. Can anyone provide a tl;dr version of this? It seems like he's just quoting things everyone already knows with extra walls of text about nothing thrown in between.

  • Very good article! Like said before, you never really gave us your timeline or how you think it should be placed in order.

    • The Missing Link

      I told someone else that I have something of an experimental timeline that I dabble with, but I haven't REALLY played with it of late to see just how badly it would break apart if I seriously positioned it. The timeline I had back in the days of MC went something like OoT-MM, WW, LttP-FS-OoA-OoS-LA-FSA, MC, LoZ-AoL; this was written pre-Twilight Princess and I think tells a compelling narrative, although I do realise that you have to use a decent bit of creative license to get there (which, at some level, everyone is going to have to do). I've considered placing TP after WW, but I really don't know just how nasty that would be… and so I've never actually closed the door on that one.

  • Lucas

    Wow, its like no one even read the article. selfish idiots need to read it before they start bashing it. Arguing in the comments isn't going to do anyone any good either. I agree some, and I disagree some. Not really my place to flame though. Great article!

  • Ben Cairns

    You forgot that Ganondorf doesn't have to be the same person in all the games.
    Also in the credits of Twilight Princess the master sword is back in the pedestal in the lost woods. Finally I think it's interesting that the Master sword was in a pedestal in the lost woods also in ALTTP but that may be a coincidence or it comes after Twilight Princess.

    • The Missing Link

      Someone has already mentioned both points, and they are quite true. The first is an interesting thought experiment to consider (although we honestly don't know just how many Ganondorfs there are or aren't), and the second was just a lapse in memory since I've only played TP once through to date… though I intend to do so again soon!

      Though it is curious that the Master Sword goes back to the Lost Woods. If only the Lost Woods would lose themselves near a non-empty Kakariko, it'd make things rather convenient… although I suppose that's the Developer's Dilemma for you. 🙂

  • Sparty

    Yes, just like Cukeman, I'd like to see what this linear timeline you believe in looks like. And remember, just because you believe it, it doesn't make it any more true. I'm sure that's partially what you were getting at in your article, but why propose a timeline at all if you give it as little as a grain of salt?

    Also, chill with the whole digressing into irrelevancies thing you had going on. If your article reflects your writing style overall, to include your fanfics, I'd be pretty scared to begin reading them. Just sayin'.

    • The Missing Link

      Oh I do realise that I really don't have any right to say that "my timeline" is the right one. Especially considering that my preference for linearism is in direct conflict with the developers' preference for splitism.

      As far as why I write the way I do, no, that's not my writing style overall. Part of why I write in this fashion is because I realise a lot of people are not fond of timeline discussions… often because they usually result in rather intense debates. This writing style — which I often employed on ZeldaBlog when I wrote there — is used primarily to soften what could be mistaken as seriousness if I did not. I'm really trying to write for a more general audience, not just someone who is "in the know."

  • Radox

    BWAHAHAHAHAHAAA! Oh man, this article is just comedy to me. *wipes eyes* I don't know what's funnier: The sheer amount of false assumptions this guy makes to base everything he's saying on. Or the arrogant smug way he present it all. This dude truly believes he'd ropiing a bombshell on people here. Oh man…. hahahaa!

    If you're wondering what I mean by presumptions, then a good example is the nature of trying to compare technological levels between timelines. (This has already been disproved since we know that the Spirit Tracks aren't of human origin, though it was shaky to begin with anyway.)

    Another example is the assumption (Pulled from nowhere) that the timelines are self-contained so that the Imprisoning War story can't possible exist in the Child Timeline…. oh wait. But that's exactly what they imprison Ganondorf thus starting the entirity of Twilight Princess in the first place. Obviously they know about the events of the Adult Timeline, else Ganondorf wouldn't be chained to a rock.

    Yet another example is his reliance on the Windmill Paradox, where he quickly rules out he idea of somebody else playing the song, to justify his precious 'laws of timelinedynamics'. (Note: The Ocarina of Time isn't what makes magic songs magic. Consider the Sun Song and Fairy Ocarina for example.)

    All in all: Utter Comedy.

  • Linklad

    Just a random comment about the 100 years thing, but is'nt a gerudo born every hundered years, hell there could be more than one Gannondorf

  • NightWolf

    Unfortunately, the Miyamoto-Aonuma Uncertainty Principle irrevocably states you can never accurately tell both a game’s relative position within the Timeline and its relationship to any adjacent games with adequate precision, due to the strange effects of Quantum Game-Development Mechanics.

  • Dylan

    Also you find it illogical for the wartorn Hyrule from the windwaker and phantom hourglass to develop steam power while peacefull twillght princess Hyrule didn't. Even though in reality most technological developments are made during wartime so it actually makes perfect sense. :p

  • Red Leader

    I've recently wondered if Nintendo aren't purposely giving us games with just enough continuity to warrant fans trying to create a timeline, but with enough contradictions to make finding a coherent timeline impossible. The reasons for this are obvious: The timeline is only interesting as long as it is a mystery. If Nintendo ever actually made a few games that cleared up the rest of the timeline… then we wouldn't have any more timeline theories! This could possibly lead to a slight decline of interest among fans.

    Also, can't Ocarina of Time have THREE "splits"? After all, Wind Waker, Twilight Princess and A Link to the Past have all considered Ocarina, at one point or another, to be it's own backstory. Sure, now Four Swords Adventure can fit the "Imprisoning War" of A Link to the Past, BUT this makes me wonder if it's not possible to write up a series of shorter timelines as opposed to one big one.

    Also, according to the logic you present, I can easily make a timeline that DOESN'T include any games I happen to dislike. Isn't this a good thing among fans?

  • Laserkid

    Just a random thought, but couldn't Ganon/'dorf just be revived offscreen? The Superhero comics do it all the time. 😉

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  • Anonymous

    Radox, It seems to me that you do not agree with the theory(s) and thus go "Look at this guy, its ridiculous, hahaha." That, Radox, is ridiculous. Rejecting a theory in that way is stupid and cruel.

    I believe that there is a split timeline, and that some of the games ARE just stories. That is, the oracle games and a few others. I also think that if they ARE true, they occured in different timelines. Thoughts?

  • Anonymous

    Radox, It seems to me that you do not agree with the theory(s) and thus go "Look at this guy, its ridiculous, hahaha." That, Radox, is ridiculous. Rejecting a theory in that way is stupid and cruel.

  • chuck/ tim norris

    i agree with most of this espessially (sorry 1:00 o’clock) the split adult/ child timeline theory, but (yes, but!) many games must have taken place before OoT therefore creating a time line like this -<. all the games before OoT are on the single side but then OoT splits the timeline between adult and child creating the timeline for PH, ST, and WW – and then one for TP, MM, and company. please consider. goodnight.

  • Anon

    Sounds like you're an unconscious supporter of the "literal legend" theory. Good for you.

  • Zarco

    1. Link has the master sword after he kills g-dorf, when midna breaks the mirror. There goes your argument.
    2. The way i heard it, each game brings a new hero,somehow always named link, to kill one of several g-dorfs (one every few games, where it makes sense to kill him off and make a new 1.), every 100 years or so.
    3. I think the developers dont have a timeline out bcause theyre arguing just like all of us.
    4. Split timeline makes sense in terms of oot alone. Theres a world, where over 7 yrs g-dorf destroys much of hyrule. Link stops him and leaves a world to rebuild itself. Then link is brought back to his childhood. In the following 7 yrs there is not, nor will there be, an evil king g-dorf. How can the subsequent hyrule, and so story, be the same?

  • haley

    enjoyable read to find out what the time line is or could or will never be. Loves the game from little kid to now, can't wait for the new releases and thinks Nitendo isn't the best for keeping track but has helped produce wonderful games. Let us just go with the flow.

  • hakkai999

    LOL it already got disproven by official timeline from nintendo