Over the weekend yet another fascinating page of Hyrule Historia was translated by GlitterBerri and her team–an afterword in which Zelda series producer Eiji Aonuma reminds fans of something that he (and creator Shigeru Miyamoto) has said many times now: Zelda games are built on game mechanics first and a story is added after the fact to fit the gameplay.
Unfortunately, it seems that this statement has been misinterpreted around the web as meaning that the timeline presented in the book is not valid, with GamesRadar claiming:
“Eiji Aonuma has announced that the official Zelda timeline found in the limited edition Zelda book ‘Hyrule Historia’ that was sold in Japan recently may not be totally canonical.”
Kotaku took this a step further, writing that “it’s a timeline, sort of, but only in so far as it’s what they’ve thrown together and casually arranged after the fact.“
Neither of these claims seem to match up with the quotes that they are supposedly taken from. Let’s look at Mr. Aonuma’s exact quote.
“Chapter 2, “The Full History of Hyrule,” arranges the series in chronological order so it’s easier to understand, but from the very beginning, Zelda games have been developed with the top priority of focusing on the game mechanics rather than the story. For example, in Ocarina of Time, the first installment of the series I was involved in, the main theme was how to create a game with pleasant controls in a 3D world. Or in the DS game, Phantom Hourglass, the focus was having comfortable stylus controls. Finally, in the most recent game, Skyward Sword, we focused on an easy way to swing the sword using the Wii motion plus.
Thinking of that way of developing the games, it may be correct to say that the story is an appendix to that. I even think that setting Skyward Sword as the “first story,” was merely a coincidence.
While reading over “The Full History of Hyrule,” it’s possible that some parts may look contradictory. For instance, the Mogma race or the beetle item that appear on the very first story do not appear on any other game that takes place in the future. I’d like to ask everyone just to enjoy the book and to be broad-minded, and to think that those parts are the way they are because of the way Zelda games are developed.”
While several large gaming sites, including IGN and Kotaku, have taken this to mean that Aonuma was offering a disclaimer on the accuracy of the timeline, we can see that he was instead talking about the way that the story of Zelda games is created around the game mechanics. A feature of one game, like a new race or a new item, might not appear in another game considered to be later in the timeline, and Aonuma realized that this could cause a bit of confusion to someone looking through the Hyrule Historia chapter “The Full History of Hyrule” who might be wondering for example why the Subrosians–who were in the previous game on the list–are now nowhere to be seen.
In other words, things like your choice of items in a game aren’t arranged based on the timeline, but are instead considered a matter of the game’s mechanics/gameplay, which the story is then created around. However, nothing in that statement renders any part of the timeline incorrect or suggests that it is not the official canon.
This is an important distinction, as the answer Aonuma gave does not suggest that all of the issues people have with the timeline’s story can simply be dismissed because there are a “lot of contradictions” caused by adding the games together, whereas several sites have claimed this to be the case. For example, IGN, after suggesting that the timeline was inaccurate because the Link from the Oracles games seemingly doesn’t know the Zelda from A Link to the Past, then said that this doesn’t matter because the timeline has been declared not entirely reliable, which is not something that Aonuma stated.
As for Kotaku’s statement that it’s a timeline “only in so far as it’s what they’ve thrown together and casually arranged after the fact,” this also misinterprets Aonuma’s words. There’s nothing in Aonuma’s quote to suggest that the timeline in Hyrule Historia was invented for the sole purpose of Hyrule Historia. It’s been made clear several times before that Nintendo has long kept track of the relationships between their Zelda games with a timeline document, and it would seem the timeline presented in Hyrule Historia is that very document.
Hyrule Historia translation source: GlitterBerri