One of my favorite aspects of the Legend of Zelda is the story. Eiji Aonuma and Shigeru Miyamoto have both made it clear on multiple occasions that the various games fit together in a specific chronological order. Eiji Aonuma has also commented that he has a confidential document on his work computer that contains that order, but he has also made it clear that very few people have ever seen that document, and that fact isn’t something likely to change.
I think Nintendo ought to rethink their stance on the Legend of Zelda timeline.
Releasing the Timeline will Create a Better Story
Some of the biggest video game series in the industry today are set in expansive universes with very detailed storylines. More and more video games are expanding into comic books, novels, cartoons, and movies. Video games have been moved into other mediums for years, but they have previously been separate from the video games themselves. Pokémon is a great example of a video game series spanning multiple mediums that have nothing to do with each other. The events of the Pokémon cartoon series and movies are completely unrelated to the events that take place in the various Pokémon games.
It is becoming more common for major video game franchises to have a single cohesive story that spans multiple mediums. I’ve put together some examples:
- The story of Warcraft includes three real-time strategy games, an online game, novels, comic books, manga, and online short stories.
- The Halo series spans multiple video games and also includes comic books and novels. It’s especially worth noting that the novel The Fall of Reach covered the events of the video game Halo: Reach eight years before the game was ever announced.
- The Mass Effect story is currently a trilogy of video games that also includes novels and comic books. A movie is currently planned, and the movie will fit into the existing story.
- Final Fantasy 7 was originally just a single video game, but since then both a prequel and sequel have been released. The prequel is another video game, but the sequel is a movie.
- Star Wars didn’t begin as a video game, but the expansive story now covers every medium imaginable.
The Legend of Zelda deserves this kind of continuous story. It is likely that the story exists, but only in a confidential document. If the story of Hyrule is ever going to compare to the competition then that document must be released.
As it is now, the timeline theorists in the Legend of Zelda community have been able to put together logical timelines for the series using the information Nintendo has provided (both in the games themselves and in interviews). While a few different timelines are the most logical (and therefore the most widely accepted), it still hurts the series when gamers have to guess at how the story goes together (though I will admit I do enjoy debating the timeline from time to time).
Why is the Timeline Confidential?
While I believe releasing the timeline would produce a better story, there are a few reason why Nintendo could continue to keep the timeline a secret. The first is to keep a false-sense of creative freedom.
The idea is that if the timeline is never released, Nintendo has the freedom to do whatever they want with the story. It wouldn’t matter if they completely rearranged things in order to fit one new game in the timeline because only a few people would ever know the change had happened.
Even though Nintendo could change the story on a whim, they never do. While the timeline was mostly a mystery for years, the developers have been much more open about timeline placements recently. For example, I can tell you with absolute certainty (and proof) that Spirit Tracks takes place about one hundred years after Phantom Hourglass, which is a direct sequel to The Wind Waker. I can also tell you that Skyward Sword takes place shortly before Ocarina of Time.
All of these timeline placements have been specifically stated by the developers of the latest Legend of Zelda games. It is clear that Nintendo prefers to keep the story mostly “as is” and add new storyline without interfering with the existing storylines.
Furthermore, even if Nintendo did release the timeline, they are still the writers of the story and have the ability to change events when necessary. This is not an uncommon practice, and it is something I know Blizzard Entertainment has done on multiple occasions when dealing with the massive Warcraft storyline. The downside to changing the existing story is that it sometimes causes confusion or anger among devoted fans. Ultimately, that fear of backlash from fans may be what keeps the timeline confidential.
The actual timeline could make fans angry even if it were released without any changes. There are fans who spend significant amounts of time debating the timeline, but releasing it would end most of those discussions. Those same fans have also put together many different timeline theories, but only one of them (or none of them) could be the correct one. Regardless of what the news is, there are going to be fans who are not pleased with what they hear.
In the end, I think the benefits to the series would far outweigh the possibility of upsetting a niche group of Legend of Zelda fans. One of those benefits is the possibility of expanding beyond video games.
Expanding Beyond the Games
The Legend of Zelda is no stranger to other mediums. The Legend of Zelda series has already had a cartoon and several manga published to elaborate upon the story, but they follow the same philosophy as the Pokémon series in that they are completely separate from the video games canonically. No one considers the cartoon to be a true part of the Legend of Zelda series.
I believe this needs to change if the Legend of Zelda continues to be adapted to other mediums. In the past, the manga have loosely retold the stories of each game, but what if the manga were actually new stories that fit into the series on their own? What if they released a Legend of Zelda novel that served as the backstory for an upcoming Legend of Zelda game?
I’m sure the community will be split on ideas like this, but it is something I would fully support. The Legend of Zelda has a fantastic story, but it could be so much better. For all we know, our timelines are completely wrong and that confidential document could contain a story that we could never imagine. I hope that someday we know for sure.