The obligatory question: Where does Breath of the Wild fit in the timeline?
by on June 17, 2016

A new era of The Legend of Zelda is upon us! And with that comes widespread speculation about the details of the game, the secrets of its plot, and its placement within the entire universe of Hyrule. So many details have been unveiled about Breath of the Wild this week—indeed, we’ve seen six hours of live coverage by Nintendo’s Treehouse at E3 and many more from news outlets across the globe—that it almost seems crazy that we know oh so little about the game. Nintendo has done their best to keep as many of Breath of the Wild’s story secrets out of the demo and away from the public’s eyes.

Yet naturally they have given us just a few secrets via winks, nods, and smiles to give us a small helping hand in placing this game amongst the 17 other games within of the sprawling Zelda triply-forked timeline. And we’re going to need all the help we can get to figure out exactly where this new game for Wii U and Nintendo NX might fit amongst all the resurrections of Ganon and the timeline gotchas.

The calamity of Ganon

Before we start trying to figure out where Breath of the Wild fits into the increasingly complicated Zelda timeline, the first sensible thing to do is to figure out where it doesn’t fit. With four segments of the timeline to choose from (naturally counting the pre-Ocarina of Time segment before the three-way split transpires), the ability to rule out one or more segments makes it much easier to sort through all the details.

Thankfully, there is one easy segment that we can absolutely eliminate from the equation: Breath of the Wild must take place sometime after Ocarina of Time.

The new Zelda game contains over 100 shrines that dot the landscape. During the first day of Nintendo’s E3 livestream, Nintendo’s Treehouse showed gameplay of six of the shrines—including the “first” four shrines that exist within the Great Plateau. (Shrines technically can be done in any order, but these four are the “first” ones if only because they’re the ones Link can reach first.) Each of these shrines contains a specific trial, and completing that trial allows you to meet the monk who created that trial for the hero. Each of them will tell Link, upon meeting him, “I am a humble monk, blessed with the sight of Goddess Hylia and dedicated to helping those who seek to defeat Ganon.”

monk

This mention of Ganon is of incredible importance. First off, it identifies that Ganon must be the big bad villain that’s behind the ills of the kingdom of Hyrule in Breath of the Wild, giving us a hint as to the direction of the game’s plot. But second off, from a more timeline-oriented perspective, it practically eliminates the pre-Ocarina of Time branch of the timeline as Ocarina serves as Ganondorf’s origin story and includes his ultimate transformation into the Demon King Ganon (Hyrule Historia p.69). The only two methods by which Breath of the Wild can possibly mention Ganon—especially as a reference to him being the major antagonist of the kingdom—would either be that it takes place in one of the timeline forks or, even worse, a retcon of the entire series. I think, for the sake of sanity, it’s safer to assume the former.

Of course, there is one wrinkle that could make this neat assumption fall apart, and that’s the specific nature in which the Old Man that Link meets upon the Great Plateau talks about Ganon. He calls it “the Calamity Ganon” and subsequently refers to the swirling black cloud of gloom that surrounds Hyrule Castle as it instead of he, as one would naturally do when addressing a particular figure. There is two distinct possibilities that would resolve this paradox were the game to take place before Ocarina of Time.

It is possible for "Calamity Ganon" to be wholly different from Ganondorf, but that might be a stretch of logic.

It is possible for “Calamity Ganon” to be wholly different from Ganondorf, but that might be a stretch of logic.

That possibility is that word Ganon itself refers to more than just a person but is, perhaps, a Sheikah or Hylian word that refers to some sort of tragedy that befalls entire lands or even a dark beast of porcine nature. This could be why the tower Ganondorf constructs in Ocarina of Time is called Ganon’s Tower instead of Ganondorf’s Tower, even though the much more likely option is that generally players might have heard of Ganon from prior games or assumed it was a nickname for Ganondorf. It could make the name of Ganondorf something akin to an omen or a prophecy in some ways.

Or, quite possibly, this could be a different Ganon than the one that Ocarina of Time introduces, quite possibly a distinctly different expression of the curse Demise cast over Hyrule at the end of Skyward Sword.

However, to assume that either of these are true would mean that we’d have to break the obvious connection point with Ganon, and Ganon tends to be a fairly big and integral part to the series as a whole, especially now that we have an actual official timeline. It’s technically possible, but it’s a dubious possibility.

So thus, we have to look forward into the future and turn our attention towards the three timeline forks.

The connection to the Koroks

The first timeline segment was perhaps the easiest to eliminate. The second one requires a bit more creativity and perhaps a little guesswork. To be honest, Nintendo has done well to hide almost all of the story details of the game away from the public eye. However, despite all of the towns and most of the characters beying beyond the scope of the Great Plateau demo area, what few characters Link can come across do give us a small hint about the nature of the game’s plot. And one of the more mysterious inclusions in Breath of the Wild is the Koroks.

Until now, Koroks, as you might remember, have only appeared in a single game: The Wind Waker. When you reach the Great Deku Tree on the Forest Haven in the southeastern part of the Great Sea, you’ll find their settlement as they live in harmony with one another. The Koroks, as the Great Deku Tree explains, are “spirits of the forest” and “little children of the woods.” Moreover, the Great Deku Tree considers them to be his “cherished little children.” However, the most telling line of dialogue relating their identity is that, “Once upon a time, long ago, the Koroks took on human forms, but when they came to live on the sea, they took these shapes.” In other words, the Kokiri, the forest children of Ocarina of Time eventually become the Koroks of The Wind Waker.

The Koroks in the new Zelda game are, admittedly, a little bit shy. They don’t just come out and greet you willy-nilly, though of course it remains to be seen whether or not Link might come across a settlement of Korok elsewhere in Hyrule later in the game. Instead, within the bounds of the demo area, Koroks can only be found by stumbling upon a mysterious flurry of leaves, petals, and sparkles within the world. Examining these bundles of greenery will cause a Korok to appear. However, once they do appear, they don’t exactly provide much in the way of context. Instead, after a small greeting, you’re handed a Korok Seed, with the subtext that something magical might happen if you collect a lot of them.

Until now, Koroks have only appeared in The Wind Waker. It’s easy to suggest then that Breath of the Wild must take place around there.

It might be easy to suggest then that, because of the Koroks, Breath of the Wild must take place somewhere around The Wind Waker or at least some place during the Adult Timeline that follows from Ocarina of Time. It seems, in fact, natural.

However, there’s a strong reason why I don’t believe this to be the case. First and foremost, the Great Deku Tree tells us that the Kokiri didn’t become Koroks until they came to live on the sea. In this timeline, it is strictly because of the great flood that sealed away Hyrule that the Koroks exist in their current form. Therefore, if Breath of the Wild takes place on the Adult Timeline, it would have to take place after The Wind Waker.

However, one thing we do know about the world of the soon-to-come Zelda title is a very casual reference that was dropped by Eiji Aonuma during the last parts of the first day of Nintendo’s Treehouse livestream. He mentions that, “When we created this huge world, we made sure that we added… elements from the old Hyrule world and… put them in [the game].” It’s around this moment in time where Bill Trinen starts to list off a heap of locations that are familiar to most Zelda veterans: the great volcano which is likely Death Mountain, a castle in the distance that happens to be Hyrule Castle, the ruins of the former Temple of Time, a large lake which could be Lake Hylia, and the twin peaks of a mountain range that very closely resemble mountains from an piece of official artwork found in The Legend of Zelda’s manual.

Hyrule Castle was of course rebuilt during the 100-year span between Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks, and so its presence on the land would indicate that, at the very least, we’re looking at a timeline placement that would have to come after Spirit Tracks within New Hyrule.

However, the remaining points of interest would not likely be found within the new land founded by Tetra and Link. The Temple of Time would no doubt still be residing at the bottom of the Great Sea; though it could have been built anew upon the new continent, it seems rather unlikely that another one would be built since the Master Sword and Ganondorf would be resting at the bottom of the sea, never to be awoken again (at least presumably). Even so, if the Temple of Time isn’t suggestion enough, geographic features like the mountains and the lakes can’t be moved and would not be able to be recreated (at least all that plausibly).

What we can deduce from this is that it’s actually rather unlikely that this game takes place during the Adult Timeline. While it cannot be ruled out entirely, if it does take place within this fragment of the timeline, it would have to be far into the future beyond Spirit Tracks.

However, looking elsewhere means that we do have to explain why Koroks might suddenly appear in an entirely divergent game. One possible rationale, of course, is that—in a fashion similar to The Wind Waker—the Lost Woods vanished through alternative means, possibly through deforestation or war, forcing the Kokiri to either move or change form for survival. Given that the Kokiri have only been directly referenced by Ocarina of Time and within the historical ties to The Wind Waker, any bets on the Kokiri are entirely open for interpretation.

Sheikah plateau has the secret

With one timeline branch down, that leaves two more to investigate. Those branches are the Child Timeline containing Majora’s MaskTwilight Princess, and Four Swords Adventures and the Fallen Hero Timeline that contains practically everything else. It’s choosing between these two timelines where the going gets tough.

“Aonuma pointed to his T-shirt with a variation of the Sheikah eye symbol. ‘Make of that what you will,’ said Aonuma with a sly smile.”

We do have one major clue that might help us narrow down our selection, and this one comes from Aonuma himself. During an interview with Time magazine, Aonuma gave a few details regarding the overall plot behind Breath of the Wild. Time mentions that “Aonuma confirmed this version of Link has been snoozing for 100 years” after waking up in the Shrine of Resurrection at the beginning of the game. Furthermore, when asked about how this new game fits into the timeline, “Aonuma pointed to the T-shirt he came wearing, inscribed with a variation of the Sheikah eye symbol that’s appeared in Zelda games since Ocarina of Time. ‘Make of that what you will,’ [sic] said Aonuma with a sly smile.”

Clearly this is intended as a big hint. It doesn’t tell us anything incredibly specific, but it does give us a small indication of where to look for clues. The secret is contained within the lore of the Sheikah. And when you start looking for the sign of the Sheikah within Breath of the Wild, you find it everywhere. And given that Link’s Sheikah Slate is essentially an iPad that can cast magic spells (or at least sufficiently technological feats that might be interpreted as magic), one can clearly see just how advanced the Sheikah civilization was, especially given that Hyrule is typically portrayed with medieval flair.

Unfortunately for us, however, the Sheikah are perhaps one of the most secretive of all the races in all of Hyrule, even more secretive than the Kokiri despite the fact that the Sheikah have made many more appearances than the Kokiri. Even the Gerudo have more explanation than the Sheikah despite both having incredible importance to the role of the Triforce throughout time. Much of this mystery exists because the Sheikah remain relatively elusive and hidden away from the world, keeping the secrets of their race (or tribe? or culture?) hidden with them.

Besides, discounting Sheik who only portrayed a Sheikah as a guise to fool Ganondorf, there’s only been two (or as many as five, depending upon how you count Impa) known Sheikah in existence, and all of them are named some variation of Impa.

But perhaps ironically (or perhaps luckily), the Sheikah civilization pokes their heads in both of the remaining timeline branches. Naturally, the story of the Sheikah as we know it has its roots back in Skyward Sword with the warrior Impa who guides both Link and Zelda simultaneously on their quest to defeat Ghirahim and entrap Demise. That legacy carries forward all the way to Ocarina of Time, where (presumably) a later Impa takes on the dual role of Princess Zelda’s nursemaid and the Sage of Shadow.

From there, things diverge a little more interestingly.

Twilight Princess never outright says the word “Sheikah,” but then it also never directly references the “Triforce” in any of the text either. Instead, there’s an allusion to the role of the Sheikah after the defeat and exile of Ganon decades prior. Along Link’s mission to reach the City in the Sky, Link will come across the Hidden Village tucked away within the mountains. According to the Goron Gor Coron, the Hidden Village “belonged to the tribe that protected the Hylian royal family long ago. They worked in secret, so they lived in a lonely, forgotten place. But I heard that tribe dwindled in the prolonged wars….” In fact, when Link finally makes it to the Hidden Village, there’s only a sole remaining resident, the elderly woman Impaz.

The Hidden Village belonged to the tribe that protected the Hylian royal family. But that tribe dwindled in the prolonged wars…

It’s never suggested whether or not Impaz is a descendent of the Sheikah or not. However, one thing is for sure: a tribe of them certainly existed at one point in time, and as such they must have been a reasonably powerful force in numbers, at least in the days before the wars that have plagued Hyrule. But it seems reasonable to suggest that Impaz was the last Sheikah to ever exist.

Could it be that Breath of the Wild takes place at some point well beyond Twilight Princess, in a time when the Sheikah have been exterminated and only a fragment of their civilization remains via the clues they left behind? It’s certainly possible. Twilight Princess shows very well that there was a Sheikah civilization at one point in time, and who’s to say that the winds of time have buried their memory only to be uncovered by Breath of the Wild long after the events of Four Swords Adventures?

After all, Wolf Link does make a cameo appearance! (Not that I expect that many people are taking that too seriously…)

However, despite the fact that there seems to be decent alignment within the Child Era of the timeline, I cannot help but feel that the Fallen Hero Timeline is a much stronger fit for the game. Instead of Impaz, we get to see the continued references to Impa over the course of the years. Impa shows up in both Oracle games, though this time she’s depicted as a much pudgier yet more youthful variation of herself. However, the word Sheikah is never used here; she continues to only be referred to as Zelda’s nursemaid.

However, her next appearance in A Link Between Worlds does give her a role as one of the Seven Sages; while it doesn’t strongly tie her in with the Sheikah clan of ancient times, it certainly implies that she is hugely important to the happenings in these later Hyrulean days. If indeed Impa is a Sheikah, it is possible—especially considering how old the Impa of Skyward Sword grows to be—that the Impa of the Oracles transitions through A Link Between Worlds to The Legend of Zelda and The Adventure of Link, where an aged woman beseeches Link to rescue not one but two Zeldas ensorcelled by Ganon’s insidious influence.

Sheikah or not, we can almost certainly assume that the Hidden Village that existed in Twilight Princess would have to exist offscreen somewhere within this timeline; after all, it would be a waste for the Sheikah to become so very powerful only to be decimated by wars within the small amount of time between Majora’s Mask and Twilight Princess. So quite possibly, the Sheikah, once a powerful force back during the days of Four Swords and The Minish Cap are slowly whittled away over time to leave just Impa as the last.

What truly makes the Fallen Hero Timeline a shoo-in is that it is thematically perfect for Breath of the Wild.

The story of the Sheikah in the Fallen Hero Timeline seems to fit the story that we get from Breath of the Wild. But wait, there’s more. What truly makes the Fallen Hero Timeline a shoo-in is the fact that they are thematically so perfect for one another.

A kingdom in decline in need of a resurrected hero

Only two of the Child Timeline’s games take place in Hyrule. And yet both Twilight Princess and Four Swords Adventures seem to depict Hyrule in a relatively healthy and wealthy state. While, yes, both of these games involve takeovers of the kingdom of Hyrule by Ganon, Hyrule doesn’t seem that bad off. Just look at the state of Hyrule Castle at the beginning of Twilight Princess; that castle is the most opulent version of that castle shown to date with amazingly sculptures, marbled floors, luxurious artwork, and a sky-high throne of majestic nature five stories up looking out over the plebeians below. Even Four Swords Adventures depicts Hyrule Castle, despite its unfortunate destruction in Twilight‘s finale, as a thriving place.

Much of this, no doubt, is due to the fact that Link is quick on the scene both times Ganon comes to power. Link is already moving towards Hyrule Castle about the time Zant and the Twilight Realm finally make a move on the castle, and Link is already on the scene when Ganon uses the Dark Mirror to release Vaati from his prison. In both cases, there really isn’t much opportunity for Ganondorf to completely wreck up Hyrule’s overall success.

But Breath of the Wild seems to be in a state of relative ruin. Everywhere one looks, there are temples in shambles, broken walls of buildings long fallen, and civilization that has fled to the corners of the kingdom. Ruins exist everywhere upon the Great Plateau and beyond, seeming to suggest that Hyrule has been on hard times for quite some time. And this is exactly what the Fallen Hero Timeline depicts over time.

Ruins are everywhere, reminding us of the civilization that once was.

Ruins are everywhere, reminding us of the civilization that once was.

First, Hyrule has had to suffer the death of the Hero of Time which subsequently led to “the kingdom [falling] into ruin during the Imprisoning War, and the bloodline of the Hylians weakened with the ages, until their existence was naught but a thing of the past. The sages’ power also waned, and Hyrule, once called the Kingdom of the Gods, became nothing more than an ancient legend” (Hyrule Historia p.93). Then, generations later, a corrupt prince later allowed a wizard to cast a spell upon his sister, the Princess Zelda. As such, “no one appeared who was able to wield the Triforce, and Hyrule divided again and again, continuing to shrink. The proud kingdom of Hyrule had once covered a vast area of land, but the passage of the ages saw its decline, and it eventually shrank into a single, small kingdom” (p.105).

It’s impossible to know the scale and scope of Hyrule’s decline in Breath of the Wild given that the E3 demo limits us to exploring a sacred area that is specifically known for not being inhabited by humans. However, the setting of Breath of the Wild seems to fit the theme of the Fallen Hero Timeline.

Resurrection of the hero

All that remains is figuring out where specifically Breath of the Wild takes place. And perhaps the only good way of knowing for sure is by looking at the opening moments of the game. Link awakens in Breath of the Wild after 100 years of slumber. That’s, of course, the information that Aonuma revealed earlier.

But could it be that what Aonuma said isn’t supposed to be taken entirely literally? After all, the name of the place Link wakes up in is called the Shrine of Resurrection, perhaps implying that Link’s 100-year slumber was the slumber of death. Maybe Link wasn’t exactly “sleeping” and instead was waking up from being killed? In other words, could it possibly be that the Link from Ocarina of Time, after being killed by Ganondorf in Ganon’s Tower, is being revived in Breath of the Wild? If that’s the case, then essentially the plot of Breath of the Wild would have to be that of the immediately following Imprisoning War.

It’s certainly a legitimate possibility. But the major down side to this is, of course, that we won’t be outright killing Ganondorf but instead merely sealing him away into the Dark World at the end of the game. But nevertheless, this would also be a retcon of sorts too since it was the Seven Sages, sans Link, that sealed Ganon, only to eventually be defeated by Link in A Link to the Past.

Does this actually depict a 100-year slumber? Or is it actually a revival after 100 years of death?

Does this actually depict a 100-year slumber? Or is it actually a revival after 100 years of death?

So maybe that’s not the case. But if not, then what?

Perhaps the most ideal placement would be somewhere around The Legend of Zelda or The Adventure of Link. After all, Hyrule would have had to face centuries of decline through the scope of the Fallen Hero Timeline. What’s more, given that the Treehouse have been repeatedly mentioning these twin peaks from that piece of The Legend of Zelda artwork over and over again during their livestream of Breath of the Wild could be a significant hint. The potential downside that we have to face here, though, is that Ganon is ultimately defeated after each game he appears in during this branch of the timeline. But if Ganon can be resurrected in the Oracles by Twinrova and in The Legend of Zelda by his minions and then almost resurrected again in The Adventure of Link, well, it’s likely that he could have been resurrected here in this game as well.

Nintendo has referenced this image so many times. Maybe that's a big clue?

Nintendo has referenced this image so many times. Maybe that’s a big clue?

What does that mean for Link, however? What would cause him to take a 100-year nap only to be woken up when the kingdom of Hyrule was once again imperiled? Perhaps a Link from one of the games, after beating Ganon, decided to put himself on ice in order to wait out the inevitable prophetic day when Ganon would return. Could it be that a hero sacrificed the destiny over his future for the purpose of defeating Ganon in a different era when perhaps maybe, just maybe, he could be defeated for good?

By no means is this a conclusive placement, but for me it feels like a best spot in the timeline for the game. For me, there’s just some nice poetry found within the Link, after having undergone two grueling quests to rid the world of Ganon, sacrificing ever so much for the sake of a world he barely knew. And so, despite the fact that the Link of Zelda II is left-handed and the Link of Breath of the Wild is right-handed for the very bizarre reason that the sword buttons are on the right side of the controller (as if it had ever been elsewise), I have to personally conclude for now that the best spot for our new game is perhaps a century after Zelda II: The Adventure of Link.

But really, all that I can figure for certain is that the world of Breath of the Wild seems to take place in the far future, and the far, far right end of one of our three timeline branches. That much seems a reasonably safe bet, and I imagine that most of you could at least agree to that. But perhaps you think that the Adult or Child Timelines are a better spot for our new Zelda game? Perhaps you think you’ve uncovered some subtle connection that more solidly links it to something found in another game? By all means, tell us in the comments where you think it belongs.

David Johnson
David Johnson, a.k.a. "The Missing Link," was once the webmaster of both Zelda: The Grand Adventures and ZeldaBlog. He works as a software engineer in the games industry. David also pontificates about Zelda, writes features and guides for ZU, and obsesses about CD-i.