- The Era Of The Hero Of Time
When it comes to a series as enduring as The Legend of Zelda, it’s a given that the Zelda timeline of events might get shaken up after nearly 40 years of content. What began as a simple adventure game in 1986 has spun a twisted web of high-fantasy lore that, while exciting to learn and piece together, can be a little complicated to un-jumble.
Since the story of the series doesn’t follow the real-life chronology of the games’ releases, if you want to understand the Zelda timeline, you’ll need to untangle it a little. Luckily, untangling is kind of our specialty.
Updated on November 13, 2023: Now that Tears of the Kingdom has had a few months to establish itself, we’re back to update our Zelda timeline explainer with a few more links and fun facts about Tears of the Kingdom itself as well as the Zelda timeline as a whole.
The Legend of Zelda timeline begins with three Golden Goddesses creating the world as Hylians would come to know it. Din, the Goddess of Power, created the planet, while Nayru, the Goddess of Wisdom, imbued it with a sense of order. Finally, Farore, the Goddess of Courage, made life. When their work was finished, they ascended into the heavens and left behind the Triforce, symbolizing their strengths.
But where there is order, disorder tends to follow. The Triforce was entrusted to Hylia, another goddess, who protected it closely until The Demon King Demise and his army sought to ruin the peace. She herded some survivors of Demise’s onslaught, sending them to safety beyond the cloud barrier she made and entrusting them with the safety of the Triforce; Hylia returned her attention to Earth once again.
Demise was defeated and sealed away, but not before mortally wounding Hylia. In her dying moments, the goddess renounced her divine powers in the hopes of her soul being reborn into a mortal, able to wield the Triforce again when Demise inevitably returned. Before passing away, she created the Goddess Sword and its keeper, Fi, to help whatever hero would aid Hylia’s future mortal self in banishing Demise again.
The Sky Era
After thousands of years, Hylia was reborn as Zelda in Skyloft. Ghirahim was a person of authority on Earth and a staunch devotee of Demise, and he enacted a plot to use Zelda’s spirit to bring the Demon King back.
This kicks off the events of Skyward Sword; wherein Link awakens to his destiny and ventures into the world below to temper the Goddess Sword into the Master Sword, capable of defeating evil. Zelda, meanwhile, has gone through the Gate of Time back to the Era of Hylia, putting herself into a thousand-year sleep to ensure Demise’s seal is intact, but she’s kidnapped by Ghirahim right after she awakens.
Link, meanwhile, is successful in his mission to make the Master Sword, referred to throughout the series as “the sword of evil’s bane,” and uses it and the Triforce to defeat Demise. As the Demon King is defeated, he utters that his hatred and malice will live on, forever following “those who share the blood of the goddess and the spirit of the hero.”
Fi is sealed inside the Master Sword, which Link leaves in the pedestal within the Sealed Temple. From there, he, Zelda, and many others from Skyloft move down to Earth.
After The Sky Era
Two eras occur before the next game in the Zelda timeline: the Era of Chaos and the Era of Prosperity.
During the Era of Chaos, as word spread about the Triforce, renegade sorcerers attempted to claim it but were banished to the Twilight Realm for their attempts. Aware that the Triforce needed more protecting, sage Rauru had the Temple of Time built around the pedestal that contained the Master Sword, sealing it, himself, and the Triforce within the Sacred Realm.
The Era of Prosperity began after things calmed down again. Hyrule Castle was built during this time, and all princesses born into the Royal Family were named Zelda in honor of the goddess’ reincarnation.
The Force Era
When Hyrule was attacked by evil again, the Minish – which the Hylians called the Picori – came from the sky to help them, providing the Picori Blade to help seal the evil into the Bound Chest. As thanks, the Hylians held an annual Picori Festival that gave the best swordsman present the bragging right of touching the sacred Picori Blade.
This is fine until Vaati wins, as he breaks the Picori Blade and opens the Bound Chest, unleashing evil back into Hyrule, kidnapping Zelda, and bringing about the events of The Minish Cap. Link, a blacksmith at this time, is tasked with imbuing the sword with the Four Elements, transforming it into the Four Sword. He uses this to defeat Vaati, and Hyrule returns to normal.
But Vaati reappeared before long, and he was promptly sealed within the Four Sword by the Hero but broke out. Pulling the Four Sword splits Link into four versions of himself, and the quartet works together to find the keys to Vaati’s Palace in the events of Four Swords. After defeating Vaati, they save Zelda and return the sword to its pedestal, reuniting Link back into one person.
The Era Of The Hero Of Time
Ocarina of Time is responsible for splintering the Zelda timeline, ending with three distinct possibilities. Zelda and Link are kids when they meet, both realizing that they’ve had visions of Ganondorf being evil, learning that he’s attempting to open the Door of Time to access the Sacred Realm. They beat him there, but Link is sealed away in the Chamber of Sages for seven years.
The Triforce, however, was split as Ganondorf tried to claim it for himself, leaving him with only the Triforce of Power. As they had also opened the door, Link wound up with the Triforce of Courage, while Zelda gained the Triforce of Knowledge. While Link is sealed, Ganondorf uses his power to wrest control of Hyrule, transforming the Sacred Realm into the Evil Realm.
Link’s task in this game is to awaken the Sages for assistance in defeating Ganondorf and sealing him back into the Evil Realm. The Legend of Zelda timeline splits from here, depending on whether he was successful and whether he remained as an adult or returned to his childhood after winning, if he did.
The Hero Is Defeated
This Legend of Zelda timeline is canonically considered an alternate one, as it begins with Link perishing during his battle with Ganondorf. In it, Ganondorf takes all the pieces of the Triforce and completes it before Zelda and the Sages banish him to the Dark World.
Nintendo has revised this Zelda timeline, meaning Link’s Awakening happens either after the Oracle games or before them, depending on where you look. This Explainer will refer to the Legend of Zelda timeline as it was presented in the official Hyrule Historia.
The Era Of Light And Dark
When misfortune descended on Hyrule, the dark wizard, Agahnim, ended these troubles and became the chief advisor to the King of Hyrule. Using this position, he deposed the King and made the descendants of the Seven Sages disappear into the Dark World in an attempt to break Ganon’s seal.
Link awakens to his destiny once again, and the events of A Link to the Past begin. Link ventures to claim the Master Sword from the Lost Woods, but he is too late to stop Agahnim from taking Zelda to the Dark World. After rescuing the Sage’s descendants, Link defeats Agahnim, only to realize this was merely Ganon’s alter ego. Defeating the real Ganon puts the Triforce in Link’s possession, which he uses to restore peace to Hyrule.
While sailing home after a period of training, Link’s boat capsizes in rough weather, and he washes ashore on Koholint Island. He learns his only hope of getting back to Hyrule is to awaken the Wind Fish, which he does in Link’s Awakening. After completing the adventure, we learn that the game has merely been a dream.
Meanwhile, Twinrova, Ganon’s surrogate mothers, were determined to reincarnate him but would need to send their minions to go light three flames to do so. During this time, Link touches the Triforce and is transported to Holodrum to complete the adventure in Oracle of Seasons.
Link saved the Oracle of Seasons and defeated Twinrova’s minion, Onox, but not before Onox lit the flame in Holodrum. Link then wakes up in Labryanna, where the Oracle of Ages is also under attack. The events play out as they had the last time – he saves the Oracle, but the flame had been lit before he could prevent it. He stops the full ritual by defeating Twinrova before they can light the final flame.
Centuries pass before a wizard named Yuga invades and transforms the Sages into paintings, which he steals before retreating to Lorule. Yuga reawakens Ganon with this power, and Zelda’s Lorulean counterpart, Hilda, tasks Link with taking on the adventures of A Link Between Worlds to rescue the scattered Sages. Turns out, though, that she was the one who sent Yuga to take the Light World’s Triforce, as her ancestors had destroyed the one in the Dark World.
Link and Zelda defeat Yuga and make Hilda see the error of her ways. Upon their return to Hyrule, Link wishes for the Triforce in the Dark World to return, bringing about an age of prosperity for both kingdoms. He makes a detour in Tri Force Heroes to help save Princess Styla of Hytopia, teaming up with more lookalikes to defeat Lady Maud, who’d cursed Styla.
With the Triforce in Hyrule, the kingdom experiences a Golden Age until one of its Kings doubts the worthiness of his son in receiving the Triforce of Courage. The King hides it before his death and shares its location with his daughter, Zelda. After their father’s death, her brother wants the location, but Zelda refuses to give it, and her brother curses her to an eternal slumber.
The kingdom dwindles without the Triforce being complete, and years pass before Ganon is revived and leads an army to steal the Triforce. To keep the Triforce of Wisdom safe, Zelda splits into eight pieces and hides throughout Hyrule, confident that only the Hero can reassemble her. This Hero is the Link you play as in The Legend of Zelda, who defeats Ganon once again.
But although Ganon is gone, his minions remain. Link awakens on his 16th birthday with the mark of the Triforce of Courage on his hand and discovers the still-slumbering original Princess Zelda in the castle. After completing The Adventure of Link and reassembling the Triforce, the sleeping Zelda reawakens, and peace returns to Hyrule.
The Child Timeline
The second branch of the Zelda timeline begins with Link defeating Ganon in Ocarina of Time and, after its events, returning to his original time. Here, he warns the Royal Family about Ganondorf, preventing his rise to power.
With Link’s fairy friend, Navi, flying away after Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask begins with Link searching for her. He’s assaulted by Skull Kid and falls into the alternate reality world of Termina, which is a scant three days from an apocalypse when he arrives. He ventures through the land, freeing the Four Giants, who then hold The Moon in the sky, preventing it from destroying the earth.
Back in the real world, Ganondorf is being banished to the Twilight Realm for his crimes against the kingdom. After a botched banishing, Ganondorf finds Zant, a servant of the Twili royal family, and gives him the power to usurp Midna, the Twilight Princess, who flees to the Light World for help.
Link turns into a wolf in the Twilight due to the Triforce of Courage, while he and Midna reassemble the pieces of the Fused Shadow, the source of power in the Twilight Realm. Zant steals the Fused Shadow and mortally wounds Midna, into whom Zelda pours her spirit to save her life. Finding The Master Sword allows Link to become human again, and he can better find the pieces of the Mirror of Twilight and use them to get into the Twilight Realm, defeating the evil there.
Hundreds of years pass here, and the Hylians enjoy peace with the Gerudo until a new Ganondorf is born into their tribe. This new King of Darkness was set on releasing Vaati from the Four Sword, and cleverly scatters the Maidens in charge of keeping Vaati sealed. Link again takes the Four Sword and splits into the quartet you play to defeat Vaati and Ganon in Four Swords Adventure. This Zelda timeline ends with Vaati destroyed, and Ganon sealed within the Four Sword.
The Adult Timeline
In this final branch, Link vanished from Hyrule after going back in time and beating Ganon in Ocarina of Time. The King of Darkness is sealed in what remains of the Sacred Realm with the Triforce of Power, though Zelda retains the Triforce of Wisdom.
During Link’s absence, Ganon’s seal broke, and he escaped from the Sacred Realm to bring darkness again.The gods answered the prayers of the Hylian peoples with a Great Flood, in which the gods chose people to bring about a new world on the mountaintops and flooded the old one, creating The Great Sea. Hyrule was frozen in time beneath the water, with its King, Daphnes Nohansen Hyrule, keeping half of the Triforce of Wisdom and his daughter taking the other half to the world above.
Ganondorf escapes again after hundreds of years and commands the Helmaroc King to kidnap girls with pointed ears, searching for Zelda. Link sets off in the adventures of The Wind Waker after the Helmaroc King steals his little sister. He’s joined by the pirate, Tetra, and guided by his boat, The King of Red Lions.
The King of Red Lions reveals himself to be Daphnes Nohansen Hyrule. He says Tetra is the reincarnation of Zelda, and Tetra confirms she’s got the Triforce piece, awakening to Zelda’s spirit. When she and Link go to defeat Ganon, the three of them being present means that the Triforce is complete. Daphnes wishes for the kingdom to be washed away again, and Link and Tetra set sail to find a new continent.
They’re sidelined in Phantom Hourglass after Tetra boards a Ghost Ship and is taken away, and Link falls overboard trying to save her, washing up on Mercay Island. He quests to find the Ghost Ship and succeeds, realizing that Bellum, the game’s boss, has drained Tetra’s Life Force. Link finds the Pure Metals required to forge the Phantom Sword, which he uses to defeat Bellum and save Tetra, so they can continue their journey.
The pair were successful in their search for new land. It was called New Hyrule, and the Spirit Tracks spanned the country. There’s a Demon King here too, though – Malladus – who is sealed in a tower at the center of the continent. After a hundred years of prosperity, the Spirit Tracks begin to vanish, and Link and Zelda discover that Zelda’s advisor, Cole, is trying to revive Malladus.
After restoring the Spirit Tracks, Link discovers he’s just too late to stop Malladus from returning. Link pursues the Demon King to the Dark Realm, where he defeats Malladus to end this Zelda timeline.
Beyond The Historia
With the beloved Hyrule Historia formally laying out the Legend of Zelda timeline following the release of Skyward Sword, longtime fans have naturally wondered where the newest games – 2017’s Breath of the Wild and its 2023 sequel, Tears of the Kingdom – fall in the Zelda timeline.
Famitsu, a video game publication in Japan, asked series producer Eiji Aonuma and director Hidemaro Fujibayashi where the game falls, but their responses gave more questions than answers. Aonuma confirmed that it’s “of course at the very end,” and Fujibayashi followed this up by declaring that the placement of the game is “up to the players’ imagination.”
And with Tears of the Kingdom a direct sequel to Breath of the Wild, this only serves as confirmation of the notion. You’ll learn plenty of new history that falls entirely outside the Zelda timeline as it was established in the Hyrule Historia, lending stronger credibility to Fujibayashi’s response for Breath of the Wild.
Whether Nintendo will revise the official Legend of Zelda timeline to reflect these two main series titles following the publication of the Historia is yet to be announced.
NEXT: Legend Of Zelda: Everything You Need To Know About The Calamity