Like any self respecting Legend of Zelda fan, my gullet spewed rainbows when Nintendo released Hyrule Historia, their compendium of all things Triforce. And like the rest of my quasi-Kokiri brethren and sistren, when I got my hands on a copy, I immediately flipped to the highly-touted series timeline. Nintendo had finally organized all the Zelda titles into what they claimed was a coherent chronology of each and every epic adventure. However, instead of a linear progression, my brain was scrambled by a timeline that split into three separate branches after just four of the series’ then-15 titles.
For those who haven’t seen it, the timeline progresses in a linear fashion up until it reaches The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. The alternate timelines within the series main timeline have been created thanks to series hero Link’s time traveling capabilities.
To be honest, this was a letdown. While Zelda fans finally had the answers we’d been seeking in terms of the series’ continuity, they came in the form of a jumbled mess. But I guess we should’ve expected as much considering Nintendo’s strength has never been in creating an expansive gaming universes (á la The Elder Scrolls). So if that’s the case, why even try to assign order to the chaos?
The answer lies in the early stages of development of the first installment of the series. When series creator Shigeru Miyamoto and company were creating the concept of Legend of Zelda, their original idea for the game was to create an adventure where a hero travelled back and forth between the past and future (hence the name “Link”). The idea evolved over time into the tried-and-true formula we know and love today, but the idea of time travel never really left the series. And honestly, trying to create a timeline for the Legend of Zelda really only served to confuse a concept that didn’t require a universe or timeline in the first place.
Nintendo is the true king of innovation. Games like Super Mario Galaxy or Pokémon Gold/Silver are perfect examples of games that hold true to their roots, but push the boundaries of what’s acceptable within the universe. However, Nintendo’s innovation comes at the price of continuity. Trying to connect a Zelda game where characters travel via bird with a Zelda game where characters travel by train is difficult. Trying to connect a Mario game where he’s on an Island shooting sludge with a souped-up water gun and a game where he’s laced up his cleats and is playing a full-contact version of soccer with his friend is difficult. At least, in the case of Zelda, the series creators can default to time travel, because there aren’t a lot of other mechanisms they could’ve relied on to justify such huge jumps in narrative.
Some Nintendo franchises lend themselves to a timeline better than others. For instance, Metroid and Star Fox (minus a few forgettable titles) have escaped the sort of haphazard game design to which their peers were subjected. Here, the timelines make sense. But for other series, which involve characters like Mario or Kirby, there’s no point in trying to establish continuity where it doesn’t exist.
Don’t think people have tried to put Mario games in order? Oh sweet summer child. Since the dawn of the internet, forum denizens and bloggers alike have been attempting to arrange the (mis)adventures of everyone’s favorite Italian plumber. Let me be the first to tell you they’re some of the most convoluted catalogues I’ve ever laid eyes on. After Zelda, the possibility of Nintendo releasing an official Mario timeline is a little more plausible. But it’d just be silly, and is honestly better left to the online enthusiasts.
In the end, does the inclusion of a canon timeline in Hyrule Historia really hurt the series all that much? Not in the slightest. But does it make anyone even slightly familiar with the games cock their head and scratch their skull a bit?