The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (opens in new tab) is only a few weeks off and we already know quite a bit about it: how it's played, what you do, and some of the characters you'll meet. One major question that remains for dedicated fans is where Breath of the Wild fits in the official Zelda timeline (opens in new tab). I understand the curiosity, but I really, really hope Nintendo takes this opportunity to take a scalpel to the fibrous mass that is the Zelda timeline before it roots itself any deeper.
If you're not sure why I'm getting so mad online, well, look. I'm no narrative designer but I'm pretty sure this isn't what you want your overarching story structure to look like.
Nintendo first introduced the timeline in the Hyrule Historia companion book for Skyward Sword, where it was followed by dozens of pages dedicated to explaining how all these games that clearly weren't intended to fit together (with a few exceptions) all do, in fact, fit together. But since Skyward Sword fills out many recurring elements of Zelda lore - the role of the Goddess(es), the origin of the Master Sword, why the Hylian Crest has a dang bird on it - Nintendo decided to set it as the starting point on a new timeline and dangle all the pre-existing games below it like a madly trifurcating kinetic sculpture.
After 27 years, I have THE answer for Zelda fans. Tezuka confirmed twice there wasn't a "timeline" from the start -- made up later. #gte3June 13, 2013
Again, I get the timeline's appeal. It feels gratifying to say, "ah-ha, Ganon was sealed in this game so he came back in that game and not in the other game". But if you remember the hoops that Nintendo jumped through at the end of Skyward Sword to establish some narrative pretense for Link and Zelda fighting Ganon in perpetuity ("Darn, you beat me! I'll curse you and your descendants forever!") you can already see why this isn't such a great idea.
Really, though, where does Breath of the Wild fit in the Zelda timeline? It's a question that doesn't need to be asked because a more elegant explanation was in the title all along. It's The Legend of Zelda. A legend is a story told many times by many people over many years. It changes a little every time because it's recited from memory, and each teller may expand certain parts or omit others. The people who hear these unique versions of the legend go on to do the same. There you go. That's why there's always a hero and a princess and an evil king, not because of some after-thought curse and that gangly bastard of a three-tined fork up there.
Ok, I really do like the idea that the Hero's Shade in Twilight Princess is the unfulfilled spirit of Child Link from Ocarina of Time (who undid most of his heroic deeds in the process of halting Ganondorf's evil reign from ever occurring). But the rest of it's rubbish.
Breath of the Wild dismantles many of the trappings Zelda has accumulated over the years: a linear dungeon-to-item-to-dungeon path, the good guy wearing green, annoying companion characters shrieking endless tutorials at you. That's why I'm more excited for it than any Zelda game since Wind Waker. It feels like both fresh air for a series that has dwelled too long in its own history and a fulfillment of A Link Between Worlds' iconoclastic promise - which managed to turn the whole thing upside down just by saying "screw it, you can buy all the items whenever".
Let the official timeline remain behind as one of Breath of the Wild's cast-offs, a promotional tool for a five-year-old game that has long since outlived its usefulness.