The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is one of the most highly-anticipated Nintendo games in years, and Nintendo has been keeping the hype strong with regular video teasers that highlight its features. One area that Nintendo hasn’t spent much time on thus far is Breath of the Wild‘s story, especially in relation to previous games. While there are plenty of theories floating around based on the footage we’ve seen so far, Nintendo hasn’t revealed the next Zelda adventure’s place in the timeline.
This has been a nice change of pace, as figuring out where each new game falls into the overall series chronology is a key part of the Zelda experience for many longtime fans, and most recent entries have had their timeline placement revealed well ahead of launch. In the absence of an official announcement, fans have been pouring over every detail in each new trailer to try to piece together the correct placement, and it’s been fun to see just how much diversity of opinion there is and just how much mystery remains.
The footage we’ve seen so far contains numerous references to the Goddess Hylia, indicating a connection of some sort to Skyward Sword at the beginning of the overall series timeline. The game also features Koroks, a race that previously only existed in The Wind Waker on the “Adult Timeline” of events. The most recent trailer featured ruins that almost identically match a fountain found in Twilight Princess on the “Child Timeline” of events, and the depiction of the Master Sword perfectly matches its location in the “Downfall Timeline” and A Link to the Past.
Breath of the Wild seems to be drawing from all over the history of Hyrule for its characters, locations, and themes. This makes its place in the timeline nearly impossible to pinpoint with any degree of certainty, and it also gives it the potential to be the most lore-rich entry in the history of the franchise. That’s a combination that could give Breath of the Wild a sense of adventure and discovery like Zelda hasn’t seen since the original game on NES.
Zelda creator Shigeru Miyamoto has emphasized that Breath of the Wild is all about giving the player freedom to go out and explore the world. While Skyward Sword relied heavily on its story to drive the gameplay, Breath of the Wild‘s story is a bit “vague.”
“This game has a heavy focus on experience and also freedom. It’s not really story heavy. You can choose to do all of the tasks and all of the missions and you’ll still get to the end, or you could choose not to do all of them, and you can still get to the end. The story isn’t as clear cut as it was in the past with the existence of Ganon, Link, and Zelda. With this one it’s a little bit more vague. You’ll kind of feel what Ganon is, and you’re going to feel maybe this is what Zelda is like, or this is what Link is like. It’s really Link’s adventure in discovering all of that.”
— Shigeru Miyamoto
Producer Eiji Aonuma has made similar statements, and he’s even gone so far as to say that his goal is to create a Zelda game where the story is created by the player’s actions rather than being set in stone.
“What I really, really want to create, what my ultimate hope or goal is, to create a game without a story – not to say that the story is nonexistent, but it’s a story that isn’t already created. It’s a story that the player, in interacting with the space or environment, creates. So, a story that is defined by the player, not one that is already prepared, and a game that just kind of follows that path, if that makes sense.”
— Eiji Aonuma
Leaving Breath of the Wild‘s timeline placement as an unknown takes this philosophy of player-created story experiences one step further. While it’s likely that we’ll learn the truth about Calamity Ganon and Link’s long sleep during the course of the game, there’s no reason for the game (or its developers) to draw concrete connections to previous events in Hyrule. Just as Breath of the Wild will ask players to interact with the world around them to create their own stories in the present, they should do the same to piece together Hyrule’s history.
If Breath of the Wild proves to be as popular as its impressive showing at E3 indicates, it could be the first Zelda game many people play. When they encounter a Goron or step into the Water Temple, it will be for the first time. They’ll be forming their own vision of Hyrulean lore with each new discovery, hopefully without too much exposition about events from games they haven’t played. While I can’t hope for that same completely fresh experience (unless Link’s amnesia somehow transfers to me through the game), Nintendo can still make every discovery a mystery for veteran players.
Every time I come across a new temple, village, or Hyrulean race, I want it to be up to me to learn from the environment and create my own history of Hyrule. Can I find clues linking this Kakariko Village to the one in A Link to the Past or Ocarina of Time, or does it predate all of them? Did the Koroks succeed in their quest to create a new land, or did some calamity cause them to evolve for entirely different reasons on a timeline where the Great Flood never happened? Was that the Bridge of Eldin I just crossed?
These are the kinds of questions that are best left up to the players to answer for themselves. The Zelda timeline is a complicated and often convoluted web of history, and any attempt to wedge Breath of the Wild into it will require some elaborate explanations to avoid (further) contradictions. So don’t tell us, Nintendo. Design a world that compels us to search every corner of Hyrule for answers, and let us tell our own legends to fill in the cracks.
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