Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
Ryan Woodrow

Every game in the Legend of Zelda timeline explained

There have been many games in The Legend of Zelda series released since the very first game released in 1986, but not all of them are part of the official Zelda timeline. In total, 22 of the games are included in the official canon, with most spin-off titles being disregarded. To make things more confusing, the order in which the games were released has nothing to do with where they place in the timeline, with the games often hopping around wherever they please.

While not essential to know everything that’s happened if you want to play the upcoming Tears of the Kingdom, it is fun to see the vast and wonderful universe the series has created over the course of more than 35 years.

To help you understand it all we’re going through game by game and summarising the plot.

The Hero of Time timeline

The first thing you need to understand about the Zelda timeline is that it’s actually five timelines. This is not a simple series.

You must also understand that the Link, Zelda, and Ganon in each game aren’t always the same people. It’s far too complicated to explain in full, but in short, they are different instances or reincarnations of these figures, chosen by the gods.

This first section is nice and straightforward though, as all of the branching happens at the end of this timeline.

Skyward Sword

This game starts as our first incarnations of Link and Zelda are living in Skyloft, a town floating above the clouds. Eventually, it all goes wrong though, and Girahim kidnaps Zelda – remember this, it’s going to happen a lot –  to use her power to revive Demise, this game’s antagonist. Link sets out on a quest to rescue her and finds a sentient sword along the way known as the Goddess Sword.

Through some time travel shenanigans Link eventually upgrades the Goddess Sword into the iconic Master Sword, defeats Demise, and recovers the Triforce – an ancient artifact made by the gods with wish-granting powers. Following this, Zelda and Link establish the Kindom of Hyrule, where most future games take place.

Minish Cap

This story introduces us to a secondary antagonist in the series, Vaati. Once a knight, Vaati destroyed a precious artifact known as the Picori Sword and unleashed monsters upon Hyrule, turning Zelda to stone in the process. Link sets out to save her, reforming the Picori Sword and imbuing it with the four elements, turning it into the Four Sword.

Vaati extracts all the light energy from Zelda to become all-powerful and demonic – until Link defeats him and sets everything back to normal, of course.

Four Swords

After being sealed away in Minish Cap, Vaati’s spirit breaks free of its bonds. Link returns to the Four Sword, and this time it creates copies of himself to adventure alongside. The four Links rescue the Great Fairies who help them seal Vaati’s spirit inside of the Four Sword – for now.

Ocarina of Time

The first 3D game in the series and one of the most beloved games of all time, Ocarina of Time is also one of the most important in the Zelda timeline.

Ganondorf officially makes his debut in the timeline as he acquires the Triforce, throwing the world into ruin. Link must travel in time, changing between his child and adult selves to undo the damage Ganondorf has done before eventually confronting him and fighting for the fate of the world.

Now here is where the timeline splits into three branches. We have:

  • The Child timeline – Where Link defeats Ganondorf as a child
  • The Adult timeline – Where Link defeats Ganondorf as an adult
  • The Fallen Hero timeline – Where Link loses the final battle with Ganondorf

That’s right, there’s a timeline where Link loses.

The Child timeline

Despite our hero winning the day and just being a child, this is arguably the darkest of all the timelines, with games that touch on some rather deep and disturbing ideas.

Majora’s Mask

Searching for his companion Navi following the end of Ocarina of Time, Link is contacted by two fairies who need his help to recover Majora’s Mask, which has been stolen by Skull Kid. Skull Kid’s heavy heart combined with the mask’s evil power to create the land of Termina, which is set to be destroyed in 72 hours by a moon crashing into it.

Link sets out on a quest to recover Majora’s Mask, using the power of the Ocarina of Time to constantly rewind time before the 72-hour deadline is up. Link frees a race of giants who help hold the moon up and prevent it from crashing, however, Majora’s Mask eventually abandons skull kid and goes inside the moon.

After a climactic battle, the mask is defeated, drained of its power, and the moon disappears, Termina officially safe.

Twilight Princess

A new incarnation of Link is out on adventures when he gets pulled into the Twilight dimension, where he’s transformed into a wolf…for some reason. A creature of the realm known as Midna forces Link to help her in exchange for helping Link out of the realm.

After finding Zelda, she tells Link that an evil sorcerer called Zant invaded Hyrule and enveloped it in Twilight. After much adventuring and picking up the Master Sword along the way, Link defeats Zant, who reveals that Midna is actually the titular Twilight Princess, who should be the ruler of the Twilight realm.

However, Zant’s defeat doesn’t end things as – surprise! It was actually Ganondorf the whole time. They have another duel for the fate of the world (thankfully this one doesn’t split the timeline again). Link is eventually victorious, Midna’s true form is restored and she shatters the Mirror of Twilight, sealing the Twilight realm off from Hyrule forever.

Four Swords Adventures

A while after the original Four Swords game, Link and Zelda return to the sword in an attempt to strengthen the slowly weakening seal on Vaati. They fail and Vaati’s spirit is unleashed upon the world once more. Link pulls the Four Sword from its plinth and is split into four once more. Adventure ensues and Vaati is defeated, except, wait, there’s another villain behind the scenes. They’ve been pulling the strings this whole time! Who could be?

It’s Ganon. Obviously.

They have a fight, Link wins, and the Four Sword is sealed away – for good this time, and that’s where the Child timeline currently ends.

The Adult timeline

While this timeline still has its fair share of calamity, the Adult timeline is much lighter in tone. The games are much more about fun adventures than the crushing weight of dark realms and the stages of grief. The Link from this timeline would come to be known as “Toon Link”, after all.

Wind Waker

In the aftermath of Ocarina of Time, the land of Hyrule eventually flooded and became known as the Great Sea. Our new incarnation of Link sets off from his home island to rescue his sister, who was captured as she resembles an ancient princess. Link teams up with the pirate Tetra along the way, retrieving the Master Sword – though it is depleted of its power.

The two of them eventually come face to face with Ganondorf, only for Ganon to realize that Tetra has actually been Princess Zelda, who he’s been looking for the whole time. In order to stop Ganon, Link goes out to restore the Master Sword’s power and recover the broken fragments of the Triforce. Along the way, he is blessed as the successor to the Hero of Time – known to us as the version of Link from Ocarina of Time.

After a climactic battle, Link and Tetra defeat Ganon, with the old king of Hyrule sacrificing himself to wash Ganon from the world forever. The pair then sail off to new adventures.

Phantom Hourglass

Following on directly from Wind Waker, the same incarnation of Link and Tetra board a mysterious ghost ship. As Tetra falls into danger, Link is cast off into the ocean and wakes up on an island where he finds the Phantom Hourglass that temporarily protects him from a life-draining curse. He gets himself a new boat and must once again sail the Great Sea.

Link eventually locates the ghost ship and encounters Bellum, a monster that feeds on people’s life forces, who turned Tetra to stone. Link eventually finds a way to recover Tetra and defeat Bellum, with everything going back to how it was. Link and Tetra awaken on Tetra’s ship, the crew insisting their adventure was all a dream – however, Link is still in possession of the now-empty Phantom Hourglass.

Spirit Tracks

Tired of boats? Good, because we’re on to trains. Set one hundred years after Phantom Hourglass, a new version of Link born in “New Hyrule” is about to pass his exam to become a train driver. This is no mere local public transport system though, as the Spirit Tracks are the only way to navigate the world, making it an important position. However, the tracks are starting to disappear and Zelda employs Link to find out why.

As they are on their way to the Tower of Spirits, the tracks vanish and a demon steals Zelda’s body, leaving her spirit behind. This proves useful, as Zelda can now possess phantoms, which aids Link in his quest to restore the tracks and prevent Malladus from using Zelda’s body as a vessel to re-enter the world.

They’re too late though, and must chase Malladus into the Dark realm (different from the Twilight realm) where they have a final fight. Malladus is expelled from Zelda’s body and the two fight to put him down for good – marking the end of the Adult timeline.

The Fallen Hero timeline

As you might expect, the timeline in which Ganon wins the final battle of Ocarina of Time is a complex one, with a lot of bad news for the people of Hyrule. It’s no surprise then that this is by far the longest timeline, featuring eight games.

A Link to the Past

Many years after Ocarina of Time, Hyrule is ruled by an evil king. Ganon, who was sealed in the Sacred Realm and has reverted to a beastly form, is currently nowhere to be found, but his evil desires have infected the world.

The dark wizard Agahnim is employed by the king, but locks away Zelda in an attempt to free Ganon from his prison. Zelda telepathically reaches out to Link, who now sets off on an adventure. He succeeds and takes Zelda to a sanctuary, where a priest tells him he must gather three pendants to stop Agahnim.

He does this and is now able to wield the Master Sword. He confronts Agahnim but fails. Link and Zelda are sent into the Dark World (again, different from both the Twilight realm and the Dark realm), where Link is also transformed into a rabbit, briefly. Link saves the Seven Sages, returns to Hyrule, defeats Agahnim and Ganon, then uses the Triforce to revive his uncle, the priest, and restore the rightful king of Hryule to the throne. Peace achieved.

Link’s Awakening

With the world safe and sound, our hero sets off on a journey across the seas, but a storm wrecks his ship. He awakes on a strange island with residents who know nothing of Link or Hyrule, and there are even enemies from the Mario series about the place.

In order to return home, Link is told he must wake the Wind Fish, whos giant egg sits atop a mountain. Never one to pass up an adventure, Link does so, and confronts an evil shadow known as Dethl. This shadowy figure takes the form of many of Link’s past enemies, though he eventually wins the day.

That’s when the helpful owl spirit that has aided him on his quest reveals that this is all a dream. The island and all of its residence slowly disappear as Link awakens, with the Wind Fish proving to be the only thing that was real, as they created the world to save Link’s life.

Oracle of Seasons

The next two games are interesting, as Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages were released at the same time, and playing one after the other would unlock a secret ending.

In Oracle of Seasons, the Triforce draws Link into the world of Holodrum where Onox, the general of darkness, takes Din, the oracle of seasons, hostage. Link must now navigate a world where the seasons are thrown into chaos on a quest to rescue Din. He does so, but Din ominously warns him that he will face a new trial soon.

Then a mysterious figure called Twinrova states that all this chaos has fuelled the Flames of Destruction – no points for guessing what they do.

Oracle of Ages

The Triforce once again calls to Link, taking him to the land of Labrynna where he finds the oracle of ages, Nayru. After saving them from some monsters, Nayru is possessed by the evil Veran, and the flow of time is thrown into chaos. Link does his series of heroics and saves the day, as Twinrova once again watches on, claiming the Flames of Sorrow have been lit.

Now, if you enter a passcode from the end of one game into the other, you will get to play the final chapter.

Twinrova finally appears and kidnaps Zelda to light the Flames of Despair. With all three flames lit, Twinrova attempts to revive Ganon, but it doesn’t quite work and an empty shell of the beast is unleashed. Link defeats them both and saves the day once again.

A Link Between Worlds

Another new version of Link is a blacksmith’s son. As he delivers a sword to Hyrule Castle, he gets caught in trouble as Yuga turns one of the Seven Sages (from A Link to the Past) into a painting. After getting beaten up, Link finds Zelda, who tells him to seek out the Master Sword. Along the way, Yuga transforms Link into a painting, but thanks to a magic bracelet that contains the curse, Link can now merge between 2D and 3D dimensions whenever he likes.

Yuga captures the Seven Sages and opens a portal to Lorule (get it?), where Ganon is resurrected. The ruler of Lorule, Hilda, helps Link save the Sages and recover the Triforce, only for Hilda to steal it in an attempt to use Hyrule’s Triforce to undo the ruin that has fallen upon Lorule. However, Yuga betrays Hilda and takes the Triforce for themselves.

Link eventually fights and defeats Yuga. Hilda apologizes and Link uses his Triforce wish to restore Lorule’s own Triforce, giving a happy ending for all.

Triforce Heroes

Following the same Link from A Link Between Worlds (although it may not look it), Link lands in the fashion-obsessed world of Hytopia where the princess, Styla, has been cursed to wear only a brown jumpsuit. Link fits the description of a prophesied hero who would come to save her, but there are three of them. They set off on their adventure, defeat the antagonist, known simply as “The Lady”, and lift the curse.

The Legend of Zelda

That’s right, we’ve finally got to the first game that was ever released in the series. Bet you didn’t expect it to be so far down the timeline.

Ganon is back thanks to undisclosed means and he’s bringing chaos and destruction to Hyrule, having stole part of the Triforce. Zelda breaks her section of the Triforce into eight fragments to stop Ganon from obtaining it but is eventually captured. Link ventures into eight dungeons restores the Triforce, and enters the final battle with Ganon, slaying him and saving the day.

The Adventure of Link

This sequel to the original games sets up a little context as to why there are so many princesses called Zelda. The original princess was placed under a sleeping spell by an evil wizard hundreds of years ago, and so the royal line always calls their princesses Zelda in remembrance of the tragedy. Exactly when this happened compared to the rest of the timeline is unknown, but it’s nice that it’s there.

Link is chosen by fate to be the one to awaken this original princess Zelda. He ventures into six temples, eventually battling the Thunderbird to recover the third and final piece of the Triforce. He uses the wish granted to him by the Triforce to awaken the sleeping princess – a happy end to the Fallen Hero timeline.

The Great Calamity timeline

So here’s where the waters get a little bit murky. When Breath of the Wild was released, it was confirmed by Nintendo to take place at the end of all three branches of the timeline, which raises some strange interpretations.

That could mean that all timelines inexorably move towards the Great Calamity no matter what, or this could be a separate timeline from all the rest, branching off from a point we don’t yet know about.

Either way, we’re treating it as its own thing to make it easy to understand, as this is the branch that is most relevant to the upcoming Tears of the Kingdom.

Hyrule Warriors

We have to address the Hyrule Warriors games, which are a bit messy.

While they are technically part of the timeline, with Age of Calamity being a prequel to Breath of the Wild, they are non-canonical, as Age of Calamity’s ending would’ve prevented Breath of the Wild from even happening.

Like everything in this series, it’s complicated, but we’re not including Hyrule Warriors as an official part of the timeline for that reason.

Breath of the Wild

Ten thousand years ago, Hyrule was a technologically advanced civilization, but a creature known as Calamity Ganon tore it to shreds. One hundred years before Breath of the Wild starts, it is discovered that Calamity Ganon is awakening once more.

While Zelda trains to learn the sealing magic required to keep Calamity Ganon at bay, four ancient machines known as Divine Beasts are uncovered and reactivated, with champions assigned to control them. Link is chosen as Zelda’s knight as he can wield the Master Sword.

However, it all goes wrong and, on Zelda’s birthday no less, Calamity Ganon awakens. He possesses the Divine Beasts and turns them against Hyrule, killing all four champions. Link was severely wounded in an attempt to protect Zelda, forcing Zelda to hide Link away for one hundred years so he could heal. She sealed herself and Ganon inside Hyrule Castle, waiting for Link’s return.

Link awakens with his memories lost, but he wastes no time setting out to free the Divine Beasts and assign them new champions along the way. He succeeds and recovers his memories along the way. Eventually, he travels to Hyrule Castle and faces Calamity Ganon in a final fight. With the help of Zelda and the Divine Beasts, Link defeats the monster and Zelda successfully seals him away.

Tears of the Kingdom

And so we come to this game, which is yet to be released. If the final trailer is any indication, there is going to be a very meaty story to dig into in this game, but we’re left in the dark as to what direction it will take.

We know that Ganondorf is back in his regular form, and is no doubt seeking to bring Hyrule to ruin, as he always does. There are even hints that the god from the very start of the timeline may return, with figures resembling Demise and Hylia being spotted by fans in trailers.

No matter what, it’s sure to be an ordeal for Link of epic proportions.

Written by GLHF.

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.