The Legend of Zelda's timeline finally makes sense
The Legend of Zelda has been one of Nintendo's most beloved and prolific series, with 16 games bearing this familiar brand over the past 27 years. What started as the humble adventure of a green-clad elf-boy fighting octopodes has since escalated to Lord of the Rings levels of grandeur. Not surprisingly, the last decade has seen countless fans trying to arrange Link's many escapades into a very Tolkienesque chronology.
Thankfully, Nintendo eventually stepped in to clear the air of conjecture, with 2011's Hyrule Historia finally delivering an officially sanctioned timeline which stitched together the stories of each and every real Legend of Zelda game (CD-i Link obviously isnt canon). This chronology might not have the most elegant execution--the Historia notes its timeline is subject to change--but weve arranged each game from eariliest to most recent canonically, even finding room for the recent 3DS entry, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. And, because the timeline covers the events of every Zelda game, Spoiler Warning for anyone thats yet to have finished titles like Skyward Sword and Wind Waker.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
In the beginning, the world was created by three goddesses: Din, Nayru, and Farore, who represented power, wisdom, and courage, respectively. The goddesses then gave the deity Hylia the land and left behind the Triforce, a holy artifact with the power to grant wishes to those who carry an even balance of the goddesses' traits. The Demon King Demise soon rose to oppose Hylia and capture the Triforce, forcing humans to relocate to a land above the clouds while war raged below. In the end, Hylia renounced her divinity in order to use the Triforce, which sealed away Demise's evil power.
Skyward Sword begins with Zelda--the reincarnation of Hylia--being snatched away to the surface by Ghirahim, one of Demise's followers who seeks to resurrect his dark lord. After falling to the earth and being rescued by an old woman named Impa, Zelda learns of her connection to Hylia and begins a pilgrimage to purify herself, with Link following closely behind. Zelda eventually learns the only way to strengthen Demise's seal is to slumber for 1000 years, so she returns to the distant past while Link sets out on a number of trials to prove his worth to the goddesses. When Zelda awakens, Ghirahim takes Zelda back in time, where he resurrects Demise; after a lengthy battle, Link seals Ghirahims evil power away in the Master Sword, and humanity returns to settle the demon-free earth beneath them.
The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap
Following the events of Skyward Sword, the newly named land of Hyrule once again fell victim to the forces of evil. Just as things were at their darkest, a tiny Picori descended from the sky carrying a golden light and sword, which he used to seal the evil beings away in the Bound Chest. The hero's "Picori Blade" would feature heavily into the Picori Festival, a celebration giving thanks to this pint-sized race of people, whose land is said to reveal itself to outsiders every 100 years.
The Minish Cap opens at the Picori Festival, with a mysterious swordsman named Vaati winning the fighting tournament to gain access to the symbolic Picori Blade. Vaati breaks the blade to gain access to the contents of the Bound Chest, but doesn't find the Light Force inside. With evil now unleashed upon the world, Link begins his quest to restore the sacred Picori Blade's power and bring peace to the land once again. After accomplishing this task, Link gains the power to split into four identical clones of himself, and learns that the Light Force Vaati seeks has been within Princess Zelda all along. Before Vaati can fully sap Zelda's energy, Link defeats him, and the Princess uses the remaining power of the Light Force to restore Hyrule to its former state. No longer trapped in chapeau form, the sage Elzo gives Link his familiar green cap before returning forever to the Minish Village.
The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords
The peace brought about by Vaati's demise did not last long, as the evil swordsman unexpectedly returned to Hyrule generations later, kidnapping the maidens of the land--including Princess Zelda. After witnessing Vaati's resurrection, Link is compelled to remove the Four Sword from its resting place by The Great Fairies, and sets out on a journey to prove himself.
After collecting rupees from the Sea of Trees, the Talus Cave, and Death Mountain, Vaati's Palace appears and Link uses the power of the Four Sword to imprison him once more. Vaati finds himself sealed within the Four Sword, which is returned to its resting place and once again placed under the protection of the people of Hyrule.
The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time (part 1)
In the many years between Four Swords and Ocarina, rumors of the Triforce's power led to a great battle, with many forces vying for the indescribable power of this mystical relic. In an attempt to end this conflict, Rauru, the Sage of Light constructed the Temple of Time, which held the only possible path to the Triforce's home of the Sacred Realm, and sealed the door to the Master Sword with the power of three medallions, guarded by their respective owners.
War rages on, and, fleeing from the horrors of battle, a dying woman escapes to the Forbidden Forest, leaving her infant son--later known as Link--to be raised by the elfin Kokori tribe. A fairy named Navi awakens Link from nightmares about a man in black, and Navi implores Link to visit the Deku tree. Link undergoes a test of courage, and with its dying breath, the Deku Tree tells Link to leave his home and seek out Princess Zelda, who resides in Hyrule Castle.
The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time (part 2)
When Link meets Zelda, she tells him of her premonition about the mysterious Ganondorf, who she believes seeks the power of the Triforce. Link sets out on a quest to open the door to the Sacred Realm first, but when he obtains the final Spiritual Stone, Ganondorf kidnaps the Princess, who tosses Link the titular Ocarina of Time. With the Stones and Master Sword in his possession, Link unwittingly opens the door to the Sacred Realm for Ganondorf and finds himself sealed away for seven years, while Ganondorf uses the Triforce of Power (the other two pieces being sent to two people of the Goddess' choosing due to Ganondorf's evil nature) to begin his harsh rule over Hyrule.
While Link slumbers, Princess Zelda goes into hiding as the enigmatic Sheik, who later assists Link in breaking the curses of the six Sages to build up the power necessary to take down Ganondorf. After Sheik reveals her true identity and possession of the Triforce of Wisdom, Link uses his own Triforce of Courage and the power of the Sages to seal away Ganondorf once and for all. This extant ending of Ocarina of Time is just one of three possible timelines, which each hinging on Ocarina of Time's ending playing out in a different way.
Child Timeline - The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask
With Ganon defeated in Ocarina of Time, Link finds himself back in his child form, and leaves the peaceful Hyrule on the back of Epona to find his companion, Navi, after being given the famous Ocarina by Princess Zelda. On his journey, the masked Skull Kid spooks Link's trusty steed, steals his musical instrument, and transforms his body into that of a Deku. Dick move.
Link finds himself trapped in the land of Termina, doomed to be obliterated by the impact of its ever-approaching moon. After retrieving the Ocarina once again, Link uses his time-traveling powers to stop the sinister power of Majora's Mask and save the land of Termina from its fate. After saving the day for the once-doomed populace, Link leaves this formerly cursed locale, with his future whereabouts unknown.
Child Timeline - The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (part 1)
Ages ago, the land of Hyrule saw the rise of mages who attempted to control the realm with their dark magic. With the power of the Mirror of Twilight, four Light Spirits dispatched from The Gods banished these usurpers to the Twilight Realm, and sealed their magic into Fused Shadows. Shortly before the events of Twilight Princess, Zelda, knowing of Ganondorf's power and evil intentions thanks to the events of Ocarina of Time, went forth with plans to banish him to the Twilight Realm, with the Mirror of Twilight being his only escape.
In the Twilight realm, Ganondorf found a minion in Zant, and granted his servant powers as part of his plan to unite the Light World and Twilight Realm into a single realm known as the Dark World. The titular Twilight Princess, Midna, opposed this plan, but soon found herself cursed and fleeing to the Light World in search of assistance. Zant invades the Light World and forces Zelda to surrender her realm to him, while Midna tracks down the Hero of Time, a young man living in a remote village named Ordon.
Child Timeline - The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (part 2)
After getting temporarily transformed into a wolf, Midna and Link team up to destroy the Twilight Realm's influence over the World of Light, and collect the Mirror of Twilight's broken shards, which will give the two access to Zant. Throughout this journey, Link is guided by the Hero of Time--actually the adult version of Link from Ocarina of Time -- whose deeds were wiped from the history of this timeline.
Zant's defeat reveals Ganondorf as his puppetmaster, and Link and Zelda once again use their combined power to vanquish their longtime foe. Midna destroys the only entrance to the Twilight Realm, Link returns the Master Sword to its resting place, and Hyrule is at peace once again--but the land's exposure to the Twilight Realm casts a shadow that won't fade easily.
Child Timeline - The Legend of Zelda: Four Sword Adventures
Time passes, and peace returns to land, causing Gerudo Village and Hyrule to mend their broken relationship. However, another Ganondorf is born in Gerudo, and the new form of this familiar villain steals two important artifacts to cover Hyrule in darkness: a Trident, and the Dark Mirror--possibly related to the Twilight Mirror--which once imprisoned the invading Dark Tribe. Noticing a disturbance in the Kingdom, Zelda travels with Link to ensure Vaati hasn't broken free from his seal. When the two reach the Elemental Sanctuary, a clone of Link created by the Dark Mirror scatters the Sanctuary Maidens to the ends of the earth, causing the Hero of Time to once again draw the Four Sword to save the day--which, unfortunately, also releases Vaati from his prison.
The four Links travel across Hyrule, rescuing the captured Sanctuary Maidens, powering up the Four Sword, and liberating the Knights of Hyrule, who were transformed into demons by Ganondorf's Trident. Upon reaching the Palace of Winds, the Four Links defeat Vaati, recover the Dark Mirror, and vanquish Ganondorf in his pig-creature form known as Ganon. The Four Sword sleeps once again, bringing this timeline to a close, but the threat of yet another Ganondorf rising to power still lingers.