[mild spoiler alert]
A while ago my brother and I came up with what we considered to be a very plausible timeline of the Zelda games to date, which went up through the Oracle games (before Wind Waker). Since then, Nintendo has stated that there are three timelines, each spawning from a different outcome of the events in Ocarina of Time, which, for better or worse, involves changing the course of history through time travel – always an iffy plot device even in the coolest story. That’s fine except for one thing: They got it completely wrong.
The Wikipedia article has a diagram of the chronology. It starts with Skyward Sword and goes down through Ocarina of Time without anything objectionable, other than the fact that it includes Four Swords Adventures, which I don’t think should be considered canon due to its lack of Zelda-y-ness (and the fact that I haven’t really played it). After Ocarina of Time, it splits into three branches:
- Link fails in his mission. This, according to Nintendo leads to the classic series. In other words, they’re claiming that Ocarina of Time doesn’t exist in the same continuum as what I consider to be the best games in the series.
- Young Link timeline. When Ocarina of Time ends, Link goes back to the past, where Gannondorf is still out there and Zelda is still in hiding. You’d think this would mean that he eventually conquers the world, since there is no Hero of Time to stop him, but Nintendo is saying that young Link warns the King of Ganondorf’s treachery, and this sets up the events of Twilight Princess. That’s fine, I guess, but not ideal from a story perspective. (Obviously, Majora’s Mask is also in this timeline.)
- Adult Link timeline. You know, the one that’s the whole point of Ocarina of Time – where Link successfully defeats Ganonndorf and the Sages imprison him. According to Nintendo, Gannondorf later breaks out, and Hyrule’s deities flood Hyrule, leading up to The Wind Waker. Now to be clear, Wind Waker definitely happens in a post-apocalyptic setting in which the expected Hero did not appear. In fact, this game pretty much ends whatever “timeline” it’s on as far as Hyrule is concerned, and since I’m not interested in the DS games that follow it, I see it as a stand-alone game (cool though it is). But what Nintendo is saying is that all that trouble you went to to save Hyrule in Ocarina of Time results in the total destruction of Hyrule – in other words, Link would have been better off not beating any levels after encountering Gannondorf and just warning the King instead, then letting other people handle things! This is absolutely ridiculous! You can’t just nullify the value of one of the core Zelda titles just to cram all the others into a neat chronology!
So how should it go? Well first of all, I don’t really see the need to put all the titles together into one continuous story. But if you want to try, then I think the proper ending for Ocarina of Time is for the Sages to keep their memories of the Adult Link timeline when he goes back at the end, and for the seal on Gannondorf to take effect immediately when he returns. Incidentally, I think A Link to the Past needs to go after Zelda 1 & 2, not before.
For details on our interpretation of Ocarina of Time, see our original explanation: [here]
Oh, and one other thing: In Link’s Awakening, I believe that Marin is a real person who was shipwrecked and taken into the Wind Fish’s dream just like Link was. Mabe Village was created out of her memories, just like other areas are reminiscent of places Link had been in the past. I believe that when Link defeats the Nightmares and the Wind Fish wakes up, Marin is also released from the dream, and she and Link return to Hyrule together. This might seem like a lot of artistic license to take, but consider the following facts:
- Marin is the only person on the island who dreams of leaving.
- If you beat the game without any game-overs, you see Marin flying above the “The End” screen. This could be taken as canonical proof that she exists outside of the dream.
- Marin is a lot like Malon in Ocarina of Time. Although just about every girl Link meets in that game flirts with him, Malon is the only one who seems compatible and sensible enough to be a match for Link. (Zelda seems to be his sister, although that’s not explicitly stated.) Since major characters keep popping up in each critical generation (Zelda/Link/Impa), supposing that Link and Malon hook up would also point at Link and Marin being a couple in their own era.
- The story is just too depressing if Marin vanishes when Link wins.