Disclaimer: This article does not actually express my true feelings on the subject. While I still believe there is an overall chronology, or at least the potential to create one, this article explores the possibility of the Legend Theory; the theory that each game is not an actual historical account, but literally a legend. Enjoy with an open mind.
The history of Hyrule may be the most mysterious and clouded history in all of the fantasy world. Many a frustrated Zelda theorist has tried in vain to convince others that he has found the true timeline; the true chronology of the events of Hyrulean history. The lack of a clear timeline, coupled with the similarities present throughout most of the games, has given birth to the “Legend Theory”. This theory states that the confusion about the timeline is because there is no true overall chronology. Instead, each new game is a different version of the same story; a series of legends. Barring obvious sequels and side-stories that deviate from the main plot, there is only one true story of the clash between Link and Ganondorf.
The biggest problem facing the Legend Theory is that each game that features Ganon has, to some extent, a backstory detailing a previous rise to power by the Evil King. If we are to believe that the games are just legendary accounts of the same event, they must all stem from a common backstory then. Each game’s preface must be referring to a common game, a common true origin story, and that origin is Ocarina of Time.
Ocarina of Time has the obvious feel of an origin story. It chronicles the events of Ganondorf’s rise to power and transformation into Ganon, the first breach of the Sacred Realm and the Triforce, and the actions of Seven Sages, inspiring other tales throughout the series.
Perhaps most importantly, because the game featured a Hero travelling between two different time periods in order to defeat Ganon, the story has two different endings in two different times. As every other game represents a distorted “what happened next” scenario, the existence of two timelines allows for sequel legends after both endings; a liberty that Zelda directors Shigeru Miyamoto and Eiji Aonuma have obviously taken.
Each one of these sequel legends appears to focus on a single element of the original story, and distort the sequel legend to make that element more important than the others. So what are these elements, and how does each new story relate to the original? The best place to begin is the first Zelda story to ever be told.
One day, the Great Demon King Ganon, who planned to rule the world with darkness and fear, led an evil army corps and invaded the kingdom and snatched the Triforce of Power. ~The Legend of Zelda manual, Japanese1
The main backstory of the original Legend of Zelda is short, sweet, and to the point. Ganon, the Great Demon King, snatched the Triforce of Power. Why does this sound familiar?
Ocarina of Time featured Ganondorf invading Hyrule with an army and snatching the Triforce of Power. Upon his acquisition of this sacred power, several people in the game begin referring to him as the Great Demon King, just as in The Legend of Zelda’s backstory. Finally, in the game’s adult ending, he uses the Triforce of Power to transform from Ganondorf the Gerudo into Ganon the pig monster.
Upon his defeat, Ganon warned that he would return, “As long as the Triforce of Power is in my hand….” In The Legend of Zelda, Ganon fulfilled that warning, and returned, Triforce of Power in hand, to recover the lost pieces, and obtain the entire Triforce for his dark desires. The Triforce of Courage is absent from this legend, although it surfaces “a few seasons later” in Adventure of Link. It is then revealed that the Triforce of Courage was hidden away to keep it from falling into the hands of evil. Similarly, in The Legend of Zelda, the Triforce of Wisdom was broken up into eight pieces to make it more difficult for Ganon to acquire it.
The original Legend of Zelda ignored the Sealing that happened in Ocarina of Time’s adult ending and instead focused on Ganon’s attempts to acquire the Triforce.
So the king commanded seven sages to seal the gate to the land of the Golden Power. ~A Link to the Past
But when these events were obscured by the mists of time, and became legend… ~A Link to the Past
A Link to the Past is clearly based on Ocarina of Time’s adult ending. The entire story revolves around a story about Seven Sages sealing away the Sacred Realm. In Ocarina of Time’s adult ending, Ganon is banished to the Sacred Realm, and sealed inside it by Seven Sages with the help of Link.
Ganon spends most of the story attempting to escape his imprisonment in the corrupted Sacred Realm so that he can return and conquer Hyrule. In contrast to the original Legend of Zelda, the focus is on the Seal, and not the Triforce. While The Legend of Zelda showed Ganon’s attempts to recover the Triforce and ignored the Seal, A Link to the Past begins with the complete Triforce in his possession, locked away behind the Sacred Realm Seal. However, no Hero is mentioned to have been involved in the Sealing; only the Seven Sages.
The backstory is described as being a legend “obscured by the mists of time”. This fits perfectly with the Legend Theory, and shows that A Link to the Past is also a follow-up story to a distorted version of the original, true account, taking place after the adult ending.
“But then, when all hope had died, and the hour of doom seemed at hand…
Wielding the blade of evil’s bane, he sealed the dark one away and gave the land light.” ~The Wind Waker
“This is but one of the legends of which the people speak…” ~The Wind Waker
In contrast to A Link to the Past, The Wind Waker’s intro only speaks of a young boy’s efforts to seal away “the dark one”, ignoring any involvement by the Sages. The event still clearly refers to Ocarina of Time, giving us another example of a sequel legend. Wind Waker’s backstory lends itself particularly well to the Legend Theory as the very first line in the game implies there many different legends, or perhaps versions of the story, of what really happened.
As the story progresses, more of the plot unwinds and it’s revealed that, through some unknown means, Ganon managed to escape the Seal and return to wreak his revenge on Hyrule. The people prayed for the Hero of Time to return, but to no avail, and eventually they fled to the mountaintops. Their prayers were not completely in vain, however, as the goddesses intervened once the people had safely reached the mountaintops. Freezing the kingdom of Hyrule in time, the goddesses unleashed a flood, trapping the land, and Ganon, beneath the Great Sea, locking away the ancient evil, and giving the people a new hope. The sacred Master Sword was left behind as the key to this divine seal.
Through the use of his evil followers, Ganon managed to kill the two Sages responsible for the empowerment of the Master Sword. With the seal weakened, Ganon used his Triforce of Power to escape the Seal, and again set out to regain the complete Triforce, in a similar fashion to the original Legend of Zelda.
While this legend closely parallels A Link to the Past, it clearly borrows elements from the original Legend of Zelda as well, showing how stories become “obscured by the mists of time”. As in the original, Ganon is on a mission to acquire the lost Triforce pieces. The state of the Triforce is also similar to the original legend’s tale. The Triforce of Courage is again hidden to keep it away from evil. This time, however, it is broken up into eight pieces and hidden, just as the Triforce of Wisdom was in the original.
Because Ocarina of Time’s adult ending shows Zelda returning Link to his original time, and thus removing him from that timeline, we know why the Hero of Time failed to return. In this aspect, A Link to the Past and Wind Waker are very likely sequels to a distorted version of the same story. In A Link to the Past’s account of the Sealing, there was no Hero involved, thus explaining why Ganon got the whole Triforce. The Hero didn’t arrive until Ganon attempted to escape that Seal, and he prevented him from doing so.
Conversely, in The Wind Waker, an emphasis is placed on the Hero’s involvement in the Sealing, even to the point of excluding the Sages. Since the Hero intervened, Ganon was only able to get one piece of the Triforce. However, because this Hero left the time period, when Ganon attempted to escape the Seal later on, no one could stop him, and he was successful.
This tale places an emphasis on the Link of Wind Waker becoming a true Hero. Daphnes, the former King of Hyrule, doubts his heroism, and at one point says he has “no connection” to the Hero of Time. Yet Link perseveres, and eventually proves that he is a true Hero. Even Ganondorf senses this, and remarks “Surely you are the Hero of Time reborn”. Though he was not the one the people prayed for, his courage proved him to be the Chosen One, and he was able to kill Ganondorf in the end; a feat not even the Hero of Time accomplished.
Having fulfilled his destiny, the Hero of Time travelled back into the timeline of his childhood, and parted ways with Navi, his fairy companion. A few months later, after setting out on a journey to reunite with her, Link finds himself in a mysterious land called Termina. Described as a parallel world to his own, Link finds himself in oddly familiar surroundings. Nearly every person that Link encountered in Hyrule has a “mirror” in Termina, making Link feel strangely at home in a foreign land. However, Ganondorf lacks a mirror, and instead, Link battles an entity known as Majora’s Mask.
Soon after Majora’s Mask was released, two more tales of a similar nature were also told. Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages tell of Link’s adventures in the foreign lands of Holodrum and Labrynna.
From the very start, the two stories draw heavily from Ocarina of Time. A fairly young Link rides out of the forest on a horse, and approaches Hyrule Castle. Inside Hyrule Castle, the Triforce rests in its entirety, apparently moved there from the Sacred Realm by the Royal Family. The Triforce beckons Link to accept its quest, and Link is soon transported to one of the two lands.
As in Termina, though these lands are not Hyrule, many familiar people and places are present. Characters like Malon and Talon, Tingle, the windmill man, and Twinrova all appear in these stories. The tales go so far as to bring back not only the Zora deity Jabu-Jabu, and the “Maku” Tree, but also to personify the three golden goddesses, Din, Nayru, and Farore, as the Oracles.
In re-using popular characters, but in a new setting, this tale is quite similar to Majora’s Mask. However, unlike Majora’s Mask, the Oracles feature a plot to revive Ganon from the dead. While it is likely not the same Link and Zelda from Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, the story seems to be a continuation of the Majora’s Mask concepts, but this time, with the new element of Ganon’s involvement. Instead of travelling to Termina and fighting Majora’s Mask, Link travels to Holodrum and Labrynna to fight the minions of Ganon. In both scenarios, he receives the help of familiar faces in a foreign land.
“His name is…Ganondorf. He was the leader of a band of thieves who invaded Hyrule in the hopes of establishing dominion over the Sacred Realm.
He was known as a demon thief, an evil-magic wielder renowned for his ruthlessness…
But he was blind… In all of his fury and might, he was blind to any danger, and thus was he exposed, subdued, and brought to justice.” ~Sages
Following the child ending of Ocarina of Time, history took a much different course than what Ganondorf had in mind. Whether Ganondorf’s attempts upon entry into the Sacred Realm were successful or not is a gray area in the legend, but we know that for some reason he was blessed with the power of the gods: the Triforce of Power. However, unlike Ocarina of Time’s events, Ganondorf does not succeed to conquer Hyrule. Instead, he is subdued by the Sages of Hyrule, and banished to the Twilight Realm.
The Twilight Realm had served as a prison of sorts to Hyrule in ancient times. When an evil group of magic wielders attempted to establish dominion over the Sacred Realm, they were cast into it, and only one portal between the two worlds was left: the Twilight Mirror. This same mirror served as the instrument of Ganondorf’s imprisonment. However, Ganondorf was not content to rot away in this forsaken realm.
With the help of Zant, the usurper king of the Twilight Realm, Ganondorf escaped. Combining the power of twilight with his Triforce piece, Ganondorf manipulated Zant into draining Hyrule of its light, leaving it as only a land of shadows. Unlike other legends, though Ganondorf possesses one Triforce piece, he has no interest in procuring the others. He seems content to use the single piece he has in combination with his newly acquired twilight powers.
“This was once the land where the power of the gods was said to slumber. This was once the kingdom of Hyrule. But that blessed kingdom has been transformed by the king that rules the twilight…” ~Zelda
Throughout the story, Zant appears to be the main antagonist; the king of twilight. He is only a pawn in Ganondorf’s evil plans, however, even referring to Ganondorf as his god.
Though he chooses to let Zant do most of the dirty work, in Twilight Princess, the most in-depth portrayal of Ganondorf’s conquest of Hyrule is shown. Unlike The Legend of Zelda, which begins with Hyrule already under Ganon’s control, A Link to the Past, where Ganon never manages to enter Hyrule proper, Ocarina of Time, which merely informs us that he conquered Hyrule during Link’s seven year sleep, or The Wind Waker, where the details are vague and no Hero is present, Twilight Princess features Ganondorf and his minions actively assaulting Hyrule, with the Hero right in the midst of it.
Rather than preventing a catastrophe or repairing one, the Hero of Twilight Princess is there to watch as Ganondorf’s plan unfolds almost perfectly. Though it’s a sequel legend to the child ending, rather than the adult, Twilight Princess is the only legend to put an emphasis on what Ganondorf does next after his defeat in Ocarina of Time.
Four Swords Adventures is an interesting legend, as it is an exception to the “Ganon always has a backstory” rule. Unlike The Legend of Zelda, which references his stealing of the Triforce of Power, or any of the other stories, which reference the escape of various seals, this seems to be an origin story for Ganon, or rather Ganondorf the Gerudo.
Just as in Ocarina of Time, he begins as a Gerudo, dwelling with his tribe in the desert. However, instead of the Gerudo following him blindly, to the point of deifying him, the Gerudo despise him, and reject him as their leader. Having broken their sacred laws by entering the forbidden pyramid, Ganondorf becomes an outcast. Upon seizing the Trident hidden away in the pyramid, he is transformed into Ganon.
Most of this isn’t revealed to Link until late in his quest, as throughout the story, instead of Ganon, the focus is on a villain known as Vaati. As an evil darkness emanating from the Dark World envelops Hyrule, and an army of Shadow Links, brought forth by a cursed, dark mirror wreak havoc, people blame Vaati, and believe him to be the King of Darkness. While Vaati certainly played his part in the devastation, it is eventually discovered that he is only a puppet in the plan of Ganon, the true King of Darkness.
While there is little to no doubt that Ocarina of Time is the origin story of Ganon, another tale is thought by many to precede it. The Minish Cap tells of Link’s struggles against an evil sorcerer; a sorcerer named Vaati. Given Vaati’s involvement in Four Swords Adventures, and Ganon’s lack of a backstory in that legend, it may very well be that Four Swords Adventures is an alternate origin story for Ganon, or an alternative child timeline fate for him.
Vaati’s rampages in The Minish Cap and Four Swords often involved Maidens, whereas Ganon has often dealt with the Seven Sages of Hyrule. In combining the two stories together, Ganon’s evil powers are countered by Seven Maidens. While Seven Sages sealed him in the Sacred Realm in other legends, Four Swords Adventures depicts the Seven Maidens sealing him inside the Four Sword.
Ganondorf’s metamorphosis into Ganon with the Trident is the only legend of Ganon that doesn’t point to the Triforce as the cause of his transformation. Vaati’s involvement in the legend changes both Ganon’s origins and his original defeat.
Four Swords Adventures could also be viewed as a legend taking place around the same time as Twilight Princess, but without the Triforce backing Ganondorf’s actions. Had he not acquired the Triforce of Power, Ganondorf would have done anything to fulfill his evil desires; even break his tribe’s sacred laws by entering the pyramid.
If, as many believe, The Minish Cap precedes Ocarina of Time, Vaati would at this time be sealed away inside the Four Sword. By manipulating Shadow Link, Ganon freed Vaati, and as a result, gained Vaati’s loyalty.
Whether Ganondorf’s acquisition of the Trident was a new origin story, or an alternate ending to Ocarina of Time’s child events, the legend of Four Swords Adventures was clearly influenced by the stories of Twilight Princess. Dark Mirrors, Dark Tribes, and a spreading darkness play prominent roles in both legends2. Even Ganon’s use of a pawn, falsely believed to be the king of “darkness” or “twilight” appears in both stories. Four Swords Adventures can be seen as a melting pot of legends, combining elements of Vaati’s evil, Ganondorf’s rise to power, and the legends of Twilight Princess.
While Zelda directors Shigeru Miyamoto and Eiji Aonuma claim there is an overall chronology to the series, and that they even have a document detailing it, the specifics remain quite blurry to the average Zelda fan. Even if such a document exists, it is likely to change, as Miyamoto has stated that he won’t let a storyline limit his creative control over the series, and there’s no guarantee it will ever be released anyway.
This doesn’t mean that we, as Zelda theorists, should stop trying to decipher the timeline, but the Legend Theory is a possibility. Perhaps, when it’s all said and done, each new game is just “but one of the legends of which the people speak”. After all, the name of the series is The Legend of Zelda.
1Japanese translation provided by Johan, Zethar II, and David Butler.
2Refer to “The Building Blocks of Twilight Princess”, for a more detailed explanation of this.