Timeline theories are back! For the next months Zelda fans all over the world will quarrel about the timeline placement of Breath of the Wild and what the game possibly could do to the timeline.
And Nintendo already did a good job of confusing the fans again, because the clues are all over the timeline. A hero in stasis for 100 years, Koroks and talk of an "ancient sea", the Sheikah, bridge structures akin to Twilight Princess, ruins from Ocarina of Time and scenery from the classic Zelda games. Anything after Ocarina of Time could be possible! This blog already gave an overview of timeline theories right after the first E3 presentations, but let us deepen our thoughts here.
The arguably biggest Zelda games after the original The Legend of Zelda on the NES have been A Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, The Wind Waker, Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword. And all of these games represent a strong pillar inside the timelines. Skyward Sword got to be the first game, a story about how the cycle of good and evil in Hyrule began. Ocarina of Time was not only one of the most revolutionary games of all times, it also is the center point for the timeline split, where the stories of Zelda divide into three branches, where the other big games unfold...
Now, some theories put Breath of the Wild between Ocarina of Time and one of the pillars of the three branches: A Link to the Past, The Wind Waker or Twilight Princess, even theorizing that the hero in stasis might be the legendary Hero of Time. However, this would put the new game in the shadow of the old ones. Especially Ocarina of Time has been overshadowing the series ever since and with Breath of the Wild you want something monumental and new, something that leads into a new era of Zelda, away from the conventions of Ocarina of Time that accompanied us for nearly two decades. If instead it just does a transition from one known Zelda game to the other, this new step for Zelda will feel quite meaningless, because storywise it would just end in the usual status quo of the series.
Others therefore have speculated that this game will create a new branch on its own, e.g. a timeline, where Ganondorf gets his wish at the end of The Wind Waker. But splitting the timeline further wouldn't only make it more complicated, it would also destroy the current pattern of the timeline.
What pattern? The way the timeline got divided into three branches follows the symbolism of Triforce. It's in Ocarina of Time, where the Triforce gets split into three pieces for the first time and it's also in Ocarina of Time, where the timeline gets split into three pieces and from where further stories unfold. Each branch of the timeline even could possibly represent a Piece of Triforce with its stories and in meaning.
- The Adult Timeline represents the Triforce of Wisdom, since Zelda in the form of Tetra and that of a ghost is more active than usual, while both Ganon and the Hero have been absent for a very long time.
- The Child Timeline represents the Triforce of Courage with Link's solo adventure into the scary and twisted world of Termina, as well as the overall dark tone of the following games in the Era of Twilight and Shadows (where both Ganon and Zelda like to take a backseat).
- The Downfall Timeline represents the Triforce of Power with Ganon's rise to power and an overall big focus on the villain of the series. It's also the branch, where you directly take the Triforce of Power from Ganon in the first game.
A different interpretation of this might lie in the way the timeline got split: Ganondorf defeating Link represents Power, Link triumphing represents Courage and Zelda preventing it all from happening represents Wisdom. In that case the Child Timeline would follow Wisdom and the Adult Timeline follow Courage. It's a different, but the main idea is the same: the timeline split symbolizes the split of the Triforce one way or another.
Of course this is just a hypothesis and not confirmed, but it should be clear that Nintendo introduced a third branch to the timeline for reasons of aesthetics and meaning. And for the placement of a new Zelda game inside the timeline this has become as important as ingame facts. Zelda games that were released on the same system and that share the same visuals usually end up sharing a spot on the timeline as well, much like Tri Force Heroes became a sequel to A Link Between Worlds, even though the new multiplayer game could have easily fit somewhere else.
And with Breath of the Wild they want to open new doors. If this game is a success, they should immediately want to work on a NX sequel, instead of spending five years on the next iteration. Breath of the Wild opens a new era, where Sheikah technology is a thing and where we have the largest Hyrule that we've ever seen. New games in the new formula should follow Breath of the Wild in the timeline. And this is why Breath of the Wild is best placed at the end, where it has room to breath and to create something new, far away from the shadows of the previous 3D games.
The most promising point probably would be after the NES Classics in the Downfall Timeline. Zelda II - The Adventure of Link already introduced a massive Hyrule and we never have returned there ever since, while the new game really wants to return to the roots. Breath of the Wild even uses the artworks of the classic Zelda games as a big source of inspiration, bringing both the original view of Hyrule and the traditional resting place of the Master Sword to life. And it's also the timeline, where Ganon constantly has been a large threat and the theme of resurrection has been central. It's even entirely possible that the Temple of Time survived somewhere in Hyrule over the span of the Downfall Timeline, since we never really see all of Hyrule in one game.
But also the Adult Timeline looks like an interesting candidate, where it's possible that the Koroks have succeeded in their mission and new lands were created. Some even speculate that the Old Man from the demo is the King of Hyrule, maybe even Daphnes Nohansen Hyrule, who somehow survived. It's possible that the new Hyrule from Spirit Tracks and the new lands together formed a much larger, newer Hyrule. Otherwise this timeline looks more like a dead end, where you either need another game world covered in rails or where you have to explain, why the rails have vanished.
The Child Timeline doesn't look as promising as the other two, primarily because we've already seen the Temple of Time completely ruined and overgrown by the Sacred Grove in Twilight Princess. Also, Ganon got sealed within the Four Sword at the current end of this timeline, which feels like another dead end. It was probably supposed to lead the way to another Four Swords game, but this never happened and with Tri Force Heroes they seemingly abandoned the Four Swords idea for multiplayer. The bridge structures similar to the Great Bridge of Hylia and Bridge of Eldin could have existed in other timelines as well, e.g. there's this huge bridge in Zelda II over a part of the ocean. And while Wolf Link makes a beautiful cameo here, it's probably not considered as canon.
There is, however, something else to consider: the stories of the Zelda games are usually written around the gameplay ideas. A Hyrule covered in rails was the product of a game, where Link was supposed to travel by train. The Twilight Realm and Midna exist, because they wanted Link to transform into a wolf. While the new main "hook" of Breath of the Wild seems to be the Sheikah technology, it's not as simple with this game as having one new gimmick... This goes back to some rumors that Hyrule Blog shared last year about this being the Ultimate Zelda Game in development, where they looked at all Zelda games to bring back all the best gameplay features, as well include many references to the different games.
And from what we've seen, these rumors may come true. We saw the Koroks from the Wind Waker and it was even hinted that Breath of the Wild will have its own ocean segment. We get the snowboarding, Bomb Arrows and Wolf Link from Twilight Princess. We have the Adventure Pouch, Stamina Meter and treasure collecting from Skyward Sword. We even can spot some island flying in the sky in the distance. We have the ruined Temple of Time and Hyrule Castle (Town) from Ocarina of Time. We have the classic Old Man, who may as well be some King of Hyrule. We have the Master Sword pedestal from A Link to the Past. And we have the classic view on Hyrule from The Legend of Zelda.
That's not even all and there's probably much more. Maybe there's a section in the game world, where you still have rails and can ride the infamous Spirit Train. Maybe there are towns named after the sages, much like in The Adventure of Link. Maybe we get to see Gorons, Zora, Rito, Mogma and all the races. Maybe it's all coming together in one gigantic Zelda experience.
And if this is their approach to Breath of the Wild, the timeline placement needs to be equally meaningful. A story, where everything is coming together. A story, where the timelines finally get merged again.
In terms of symbolism this would be perfect. With Ocarina of Time the timeline split into three fragments, much like Triforce. And with Breath of the Wild these fragments will finally be reunited, forming one giant Hyrule spanning all the Hyrules from past games.
How would this be realized? A clue could be hidden within the game's villain, "Calamity Ganon". That's not just the Ganon as we knew him, it's something new, something that can take many forms...
Ganon is the reincarnation of Demise and someone, who gets resurrected multiple times throughout the ages. It's possible that he became aware of his other reincarnations in other universes and that he somehow got his hands on the Triforce again, where he made the wish that he not only wanted to rule over all Hyrule, but also wanted to become the ultimate version of himself.
These wishes can have side effects, as we know from the backstory of A Link to the Past, where Ganon wished to rule over Hyrule and the Sacred Realm turned into a dark version of Hyrule instead. This time it could have had the side effect that not only the Ganon of all times, but also the different versions of Hyrule got merged into one, forming both "Calamity Ganon" and the largest Hyrule that we have ever seen, filled with elements from all the different games...
A simpler approach would be, where he found out about other Hyrules in parallel worlds and wished to reign over them all, which then caused the merge of both Hyrule and Ganon. In any case, Calamity Ganon tried to rule over the newly formed Hyrule with the Triforce, but ultimately got sealed by the Sheikah and their technology (which may have been influenced by the technology of the Thunder Dragon) inside Hyrule Castle, together with the Triforce...
There's an interesting observation from Geek.com, where the Triforce symbol is nowhere to be found within the demo, except on the ruins of past structures, like the Temple of Time. Otherwise it's only symbols of the Goddess Hylia without the Triforce between the wings and the symbol of the Sheikah. And this may add up, if we entered a new era, where the three Goddesses of the Triforce are no longer viewed as a symbol of religion, after they allowed Ganon's rise to power and the creation of this new Hyrule. The only hope now lies within the Goddess Hylia and the legendary Hero.
There are other possible scenarios, of course. With Hylia being so prominent, she could even be the one responsible for creating this new Hyrule. It's possible that she is the Goddess of Time from Majora's Mask and has power over time. Maybe the unified timelines is something that made Hyrule prosper at first, even led to the creation of the Sheikah technology. The creation of Calamity Ganon could have been an unforeseen side effect.
Well, these are just examples of how things could play out, but the idea remains the same: with Breath of the Wild the Zelda series enters a new era with a massive game, where everything is coming together. And such a game shouldn't just be another chapter somewhere on the timeline, it should open a new chapter for Zelda, where the timelines are coming back together as well.
The old timelines wouldn't go away and if Nintendo wants to do another traditional Zelda, for example a follow-up to Four Swords Adventures, that's still possible. The timeline merge would create an entirely new timeline without further splitting the existing one. It would also create a new universe for Zelda, where they are free of all the previous boundaries. Where everything is coming together.