Everyone loves a good mystery, right? And doubly, everyone loves a good Zelda game. Is it any surprise then that one of the most feverishly debated topics among the more obsessive ranks of the Nintendo faithful is exactly where each of Link's adventures fit in an over-arching Zelda timeline?
At first glance, it might seem like a fairly straightforward exercise, but delve a little deeper and you'll find that the labyrinthine twists, turns and contradictions of the Zelda mythology add up to one hell of a head scratcher.
Is there one Link, or a whole lineage of heroes? What's the 'earliest' Zelda game? Is Majora's Mask a direct sequel to Ocarina Of Time? Or is it actually Wind Waker? Are Nintendo making it up as they go along?
Type 'Zelda timeline' into Google and you'll be met with countless fansites and forums dedicated to picking apart the tiniest, most obscure intricacies of Zelda lore. Heck, there's a thread on our very own forum that is currently a staggering 87 web pages long. To save you from wading through the senseless ramblings of these passionate-but-unhinged enthusiasts, we've done our best to get to the bottom of the mystery.
Out Of Line
First up, let's throw out the two most logical assumptions - that the games line up chronologically in the order in which they were released, or that all the games feature the same incarnation of Link. Sorry, but that would just be too easy. A cursory examination of the various games' instruction books, plots and quotes from Nintendo themselves immediately discount the possibility.
The games' stories dart back and forth like a Quentin Tarantino movie at its most obtuse and convoluted. Almost every Zelda game (with a couple of exceptions) tells the story of a different Link and Zelda in a different time period.
It's widely accepted that certain chunks of the franchise slot together neatly, as follows:
The Adventure Of Link (NES) is a direct sequel to The Legend Of Zelda (NES).
Link's Awakening (Game Boy) follows on from A Link To The Past (SNES).
Ocarina Of Time (N64) precedes Majora's Mask (N64) which precedes Twilight Princess (Wii).
The Minish Gap (GBA) precedes Four Swords (GBA), which itself precedes Four Sword Adventures (GameCube).
Spirit Tracks (DS) follows Phantom Hourglass (DS) which is a sequel to Wind Waker (Wii).
Oracle Of Ages and Oracle Of Seasons (both GBC) fit together as one.
All that is left is to slot these chunks together. Easy, right? Series producer Eiji Aonuma stated upon its release that Four Swords is the earliest game in the timeline. That game, and its direct sequel, Four Swords Adventures, featured the evil Vaati as Link's primary adversary. Seeing as The Minish Cap tells the story of how Vaati came into being, we can therefore assume that it's a prequel and the earliest game in the timeline.
In The Beginning
Before Four Swords was released, Miyamoto and Aonuma insisted that Ocarina Of Time was Link's first adventure. Surely then, Ocarina comes next, followed by its oddball sequel, Majora's Mask. This is where things start to get complicated. When Twilight Princess came out Aonuma had this to say, "In Ocarina of Time, Link flew forward seven years in time, he beat Ganon and went back to being a kid, remember? Twilight Princess takes place in the world of Ocarina of Time, a hundred and something years after the peace returned to child Link's time. In the last scene of Ocarina of Time, child Link and Zelda have a little talk, and as a consequence of that talk, their relationship with Ganon takes a whole new direction."