The Legend of Zelda timeline is confusing from an outsider’s perspective, but what in life isn’t? Whether it’s from reading the Hyrule Historia or simply paying attention to the games themselves, it isn’t too difficult to pin down the Zelda timeline. Of course, it’s perhaps more convoluted than it should be, but it’s also deceptively simple.
While not every game is connected in terms of narrative, all games are connected thematically and through lore. Each Legend of Zelda title has a clear role in the timeline, even if it’s just to introduce one new concept or theme to the series. With three branching timelines, it might be difficult to order the series chronologically, but difficult doesn’t mean impossible.
15 Skyward Sword
The first game chronologically in the series, Skyward Sword will likely be the title to remain so. It goes back further than any other entry in the franchise, more or less serving as the entire Zelda universe's origin point. Link and Zelda’s dynamic, the reincarnation cycle, the Master Sword, and Hyrule all get their origins here. It, in turn, becomes very difficult to take the series any further back in time.
All that said, Skyward Sword seems to reference a Link before the main Link who died protecting Hylia. While it may not work as a game, this bit of lore was adapted into a now non-canonical one-off manga.
14 The Minish Cap & Four Swords
Before Hyrule Historia, the only things that helped place The Minish Cap were Nintendo’s comments on it and the fact that it originates Link’s cap, only for Skyward Sword to retcon that bit of trivia. Much like how Skyward Sword is an origin story for the Master Sword, The Minish Cap is an origin story for the Four Sword.
Interestingly, The Minish Cap takes places generations before Four Swords, but Four Swords doesn’t take place far enough in the future for there to be games between them. Just like with The Minish Cap, there’s nothing that helps place Four Swords other than the Hyrule Historia and Nintendo’s comments.
13 Ocarina Of Time
The game that gave The Legend of Zelda its timeline split, Ocarina of Time simultaneously takes place in the Child and Adult timelines. Of note, Ocarina of Time marks the first time that Link and Zelda confront Ganondorf, beginning their eternal rivalry.
Originally, the game was meant to cover the Imprisoning War, but that thread was lost during development. At the end of the game, Princess Zelda ends up creating two timelines after sending Link back to the past. This changes the course of Zelda history entirely, branching the franchise into two distinct timelines that run parallel to the series’ original timeline. But more on that last bit later.
12 Child Timeline: Majora’s Mask
After being sent back to the past by Princess Zelda, the Hero of Time spends six months in Hyrule only to leave the kingdom behind on a personal quest. It’s strongly implied that Link left Hyrule to search for Navi, kicking off the events of Majora’s Mask where Link is trapped in a perpetual three-day time loop.
It’s not established how much time Link actually spends inside the loop, but it’s long enough for him to solve every single major problem in Termina. After the events of Majora’s Mask, Link comes home, joins the Hylian army, presumably marries Malon, and settles down with some farmland of his own.
11 Child Timeline: Twilight Princess
Twilight Princess is in a rather interesting position chronologically, as it’s the only game to allow two different Links to interact with one another. Granted, the Hero of Time is long dead by the events of TP, but his spirit lingers on so that he may mentor the new Link, his implied great-great-grandson.
Twilight Princess is also a unique game for being the only game where Link very clearly and blatantly kills Ganondorf. He doesn’t turn to stone, he doesn’t sink into Hyrule, and he isn’t sealed away: he dies. This results in Ganondorf reincarnating for the first time into Ganondorf II, the main villain of Four Swords Adventures.
10 Child Timeline: Four Swords Adventures
The chronologically latest game in the Child timeline for now, Four Swords Adventures marks the end of the Four Sword arc, the death of Vaati, and the introduction of Ganondorf II, Ganon’s first major reincarnation in the series.
Four Swords Adventures is also notable as being one of the harder games to place in the series. Before the Hyrule Historia, it was very strongly hinted that it was in continuity with A Link to the Past, lifting rather heavy from that game both thematically and visually. The reveal that it was a Child timeline game all along and closest in proximity to Twilight Princess shows a major change in Hyrule between TP and FSA.
9 Adult Timeline: The Wind Waker
Taking place centuries after Zelda sent Link back in time, The Wind Waker focuses on the timeline Link left behind. Here, because the Spirit of the Hero was gone, there was no one to stop Ganon when he came back. The Goddesses responded by flooding Hyrule and locking it beneath the seas.
This makes for one of the series’ more unique stories, one that actively comments on the legacy of Hyrule, ultimately coming to the conclusion that Link and Tetra need to move on from the past and build their own future. It’s a poignant and mature theme that The Wind Waker handles incredibly well.
8 Adult Timeline: Phantom Hourglass
That said, The Wind Waker isn’t so open and shut. The game actually ends with Link and Tetra sailing off to find their new kingdom. Naturally, Link attracts trouble, and he’s left shipwrecked.
Phantom Hourglass is an interesting game in that it has no real impact on the timeline. It’s simply a mini-adventure Link went on after The Wind Waker. Phantom Hourglass’ lore contributions are also fairly debatable considering how most of the game takes place within a dream.
It's worth noting that Nintendo originally intended for the game that became Twilight Princess to be The Wind Waker’s direct sequel, but reception to TWW’s tone forced them to change gears.
7 Adult Timeline: Spirit Tracks
Taking place 100 years or so after the end of Phantom Hourglass, Spirit Tracks picks up in New Hyrule with Link and Tetra’s descendants. Interestingly, it’s not suggested that Link and Tetra ended up together. Spirit Tracks also marks the first main game to feature a playable Zelda along with a new reincarnation of evil.
With Ganondorf beneath the waves and a statue, his soul has reincarnated into Cole, Spirit Tracks’ main antagonist. Malladus even looks exactly like Ganon when possessing Cole, strongly indicating that this is the same evil soul waiting to be defeated. As of now, Spirit Tracks marks the end of the Adult timeline.
6 Fallen Timeline: A Link To The Past
The franchise’s first prequel, A Link to the Past, has wound up one of the later entries in the series thanks to the constantly growing roster of prequels and sequels. Notably, A Link to the Past is the game that occurs when Link dies in an unseen Ocarina of Time ending, forcing the sages to hastily seal Ganon.
It’s implied that Link’s wish at the end of A Link to the Past ends up creating a new timeline. By touching the Triforce, Link’s heart fixes all that Ganon made wrong, including the death of the Hero of Time. This creates a new timeline for Ocarina of Time to exist in.
5 Fallen Timeline: Oracle Of Ages & Seasons
Hyrule Encyclopedia ended up messing up some of the series’ canon, but, outside of a minor piece of dialogue at the end of the game, everything seems to indicate that Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons takes place immediately after A Link to the Past and feature the exact same Link.
As evidenced in both games, this is a Link who’s already touched the Triforce. He’s a Link who already has experience and has defeated Ganon at least once. The duology even ends with Link sailing off into a new adventure: Link’s Awakening. Zelda may not recognize Link, but who knows what his Triforce wish changed?
4 Fallen Timeline: Link’s Awakening
Although Link’s Awakening was developed as a direct sequel to A Link to the Past and is still considered as such, Nintendo’s vision for the game was that of a sequel that could take place with any Link, at any time, so long as said Link had fought and defeated Ganon in the past once before. It’s an interesting premise to take a sequel.
Regardless, though, it makes sense. Link’s Awakening is a far more introspective and meditative game. Its grand narrative isn’t the draw so much as its world. Players are meant to linger on the little moments and not worry about how it fits into the greater Legend of Zelda canon.
3 Fallen Timeline: A Link Between Worlds & Tri-Force Heroes
A Link Between Worlds very interestingly comments on the nature of the Zelda canon, offering an in-universe historical account that mixes information from multiple games. The title outright acknowledges how history twists with time, ensuring that perceived continuity errors might just be the passage of time eroding information.
On the flip side, there’s Triforce Heroes, which doesn’t say anything rather meaningful about the timeline. Of the direct sequels, it’s the most irreverent, mainly doing its own thing. Triforce Heroes is so unique, in fact, that many fans don’t even consider it to be a mainline installment in the series.
2 Fallen Timeline: The Hyrule Fantasy & Adventure Of Link
The games that started it all are as close to the bottom of the timeline as they can possibly be. It’s hard to forget, but the original Legend of Zelda (The Hyrule Fantasy) actually takes place in something of a post-apocalyptic Hyrule. The people have left the land behind, and only monsters roam as Link hunts for the Triforce.
Fast forward to the events of Zelda II just three years later, and Hyrule’s population is much healthier. No game has directly surpassed Zelda II in the timeline yet, but many theorize that Breath of the Wild takes place thousands of years after it in the Fallen Hero branch. If nothing else, Breath of the Wild takes place at the end of one of the three branches.
1 Breath Of The Wild
Breath of the Wild most heavily lifts from the original Legend of Zelda and A Link to the Past in terms of lore and aesthetic, even going so far as to place the Master Sword in the Lost Woods. It’s also a game that features Ganon at his most corrupt. Given that he’s dead in both the Adult and Child timelines, that really only leaves the Fallen Hero timeline.