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The ending of Ocarina of Time has long been considered the cornerstone of the Zelda Timeline, as the presence of the Hero who went back and forth in time generated a fork in history, dividing Hyrule’s chronology. The official timeline describes the ending of Ocarina of Time as creating three parallel timelines:
- The Downfall timeline is the timeline in which Link, the Hero of Time, despite his best efforts, was defeated by Ganondorf in the final battle. This turn of events created the timeline containing A Link to the Past, Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages, Link's Awakening, A Link Between Worlds, Tri Force Heroes, The Legend of Zelda, and The Adventure of Link.
- The Child timeline is the timeline that follows Link after being sent back to his original time to warn Zelda, following the Hero of Time's defeat of Ganondorf in the final battle. This turn of events created the timeline containing Majora's Mask, Twilight Princess, and Four Swords Adventures.
- The Adult timeline is the timeline that follows the events after Link is being sent back to his original time, following the Hero of Time's defeat of Ganondorf in the final battle. Ganondorf is sealed within the Sacred Realm by the Seven Sages but with Link sent back in time, the world is left without a Hero. This turn of events created the timeline containing The Wind Waker, Phantom Hourglass, and Spirit Tracks.
In Ocarina of Time, Link meets up with Princess Zelda in the courtyard of Hyrule Castle as a child; Zelda and Link look through the window and see Ganondorf bowing before her father, Hyrule’s unnamed king. Zelda notes to Link that she had a dream that prophesied Ganondorf’s takeover of Hyrule, but her father did not believe her story. Zelda sends Link to the Temple of Time to pull the Master Sword in order to prevent Ganondorf’s plans. As Link pulls the Master Sword, Ganondorf is able to get into the newly-opened door to the Sacred Realm, touch the Triforce, and split it into its component parts.
As an adult, in the future, Link witnesses Hyrule succumb to Ganondorf’s rule; just as Zelda’s dream predicted, Ganondorf usurped the Hylian throne and sent the world into darkness using the Triforce of Power. Link confronts Ganondorf, defeats him, and then the Sages seal him in the Sacred Realm.
Link is sent back in time to his childhood, before his original conversation with Princess Zelda. He tells Princess Zelda of his exploits in the future and the legitimacy of her dream. This information from the now alternate future, in conjunction with Ganondorf's overconfidence, led eventually to his capture according to the backstory of Twilight Princess, creating a new future where Ganondorf doesn't take over.
In the subsequent analysis section, there will be several terms used that are integral to the understanding of the ending of Ocarina of Time.
- Old Past: the time period in which Link and Zelda are children, up to the point where Link pulls the Master Sword, and Ganondorf assumes the Triforce of Power.
- New Past: the time period in which Link and Zelda are children, Link returns from the future, and Ganondorf's wish to conquer Hyrule is not fulfilled.
- Future: the time period in which Link and Zelda are adults, Ganondorf is defeated and sealed in the Sacred Realm, and Link disappears from this era upon returning to his childhood.
When is the "Child" timeline created?
The "Child" timeline is created when Zelda, using the Ocarina of Time and her powers as a Sage, sends Link back in time in order to reclaim the years he lost. Since the time travel occurs through the Sacred Realm, Link returns again to the Temple of Time. More specifically, Link returns around the time of their original meeting. He proceeds to find Zelda at the same spot, spying at Ganondorf through the window.
It's interesting to note what a hypothetical observer would see at the point where the split occurs. If the observer followed Link in the new past, he would see him vanishing and appearing again in the Temple of Time. Although this happens at an instant, the difference is radical. Link, before vanishing, hasn't acquired the Triforce of Courage yet, and is not aware of the consequences of drawing the Master Sword from its Pedestal at his age. When Link reappears (from the observer's perspective always), he now bears the Triforce of Courage and knows that if he draws the Master Sword his spirit will be sealed for seven years.
The last journey Link makes, when Zelda sends him back, can be considered unique. Previously, Link traveled several times in the past using the Master Sword, but no alternate timelines were created. As it seems, the Ocarina of Time coupled with Zelda's powers, had the ability to do that.
Why is there an Adult Timeline Split at all?
The Adult Timeline exists because Link is transported into a real future, given the foundational events in the old past. Since this would have been the natural progression of time, the people living in this time period are real as well, and go on living even through Ganondorf’s takeover of Hyrule as if their seven years had gone by naturally. Link is the only one that is not present for the span of time between the release of the Master Sword and his arrival in the future, so only he (and by extension, Zelda and Navi) is aware of the apparent time difference. One must remember that during the seven years of Ganondorf's takeover, Link's spirit was withheld in the Sacred Realm, as he was not of age to become the Hero of Time when he initially drew the Master Sword. When Link travels back to the old past, it is also only he that disappears from the “future”, and only he that has a recollection of the “future” – Zelda and Ganon do not travel back in time, and appear as they are as if Link had never left. Because Link returns to the new past after defeating Ganon, this plotline of the future continues in which there is no hero to face Ganon after he finds a way to escape from the Sacred Realm pre-The Wind Waker.
In the end, the future, though initially founded in the “old past”, is only spiritually related to that time period; however, the inhabitants of the future are unaware a timeline split was even created. Only Link and Zelda are fully aware of the breaches in time, though only Link experienced it. This aspect of timeline theory is integral to the split timeline – because we experience Ocarina of Time vicariously through Link, the player is also objectively aware of the split timeline; to any other character in the game, it would seem as if life occurs linearly – there’s no evidence to suggest any other NPC, outside of those mentioned earlier, knows that Link actually traveled in space and time to their “present”.
How is the "Downfall" timeline created?
While the "Child" timeline is the result of Link returning to his original time at the end of the game, the creation of the "Downfall" split is not a result of a time-travel. Instead, in a similar fashion to how the cells multiply (one splits into two, each one then is divided further etc.), from an original universe which contained the events up to Link challenging Ganondorf in battle, two parallel universes were created: one in which Link was victorious and another where Link is defeated, giving Ganon the chance to obtain the complete Triforce, which leads to his subsequent sealing within the corrupted Sacred Realm by the seven Sages and later to the Imprisoning War.
It is possible that the Zelda universe is actually composed of many more parallel universes/realities than those included in the official timeline, all of them together forming a "multiverse". According to this view, there is nothing special about the point where Link challenges Ganondorf. Instead, it is just one of the many branching points in the history of Hyrule. The reason we don't see the multiverse in its entirety is because:
- it would be practically impossible for all the parallel universes to be included due to their very large number, and
- there aren't currently any games taking place in them.
It should be noted that in fictional works at least, this type of multiverse does not necessarily contain every conceivable outcome. Those deemed unrealistic, such as Link being defeated by weak enemies, can be omitted.
At the moment Link returns to the Temple of Time in the new past, two alternate universes are created in which:
- Ganon is defeated and sealed in the Sacred Realm, Link disappears, the Triforce is still split into its component parts.
- Ganon's true intentions are now known to the King, Link and Zelda are children, the Triforce is split into its component parts. The latter is evident in the scene near the ending when Link's Triforce mark glows. It seems that Link had to keep his piece when he traveled back in time. Each piece is bound to its own branch of the timeline though, so in order for Link to retain the Triforce of Courage, when he arrived in the Temple of Time, the Triforce in this branch of the timeline split and as a side-effect Ganon acquired the Triforce of Power.
The first postulate is the foundation for the Adult Timeline Split that leads into The Wind Waker. The opening story of The Wind Waker describes the triumph of the Hero of Time from Ocarina of Time, and how Ganon was able to return to Hyrule, unopposed, after adult Link returned to his own childhood. Two other games are confirmed to take place during this timeline: Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks, both being sequels to The Wind Waker.
The second postulate is the foundation for the Child Timeline Split that leads into Majora's Mask and Twilight Princess. Majora’s Mask occurs several months after Ocarina of Time and describes how Link’s childhood search for his fairy companion, Navi, led him into an alternate world, Termina. The scene in Twilight Princess which depicts Ganon's execution occurs several years later.
Ganon acquired the Triforce of Power in both branches of the timeline, but in different ways. In the Adult Timeline Split, he entered the Sacred Realm and since he witnessed the Triforce splitting, he was aware that he got the Triforce of Power. In the Child Timeline Split, Ganon was unaware that he had it, up to the point where the Triforce activated and revived him after being stabbed by the Sages.
In the Adult Timeline, Ganondorf, unlike Link and Princess Zelda, was not a chosen bearer, rather he obtained a Triforce piece simply because he touched the Triforce.
The "Divine Prank"
Due to the fact that the Sages collaborate with the Royal Family, who was informed by Link of the "future" events, they most likely knew that Ganon had acquired the Triforce of Power in the Adult Timeline. In the Child Timeline, they didn't expect that the Triforce of Power would choose Ganondorf as its bearer. The "divine prank" was that ironically, the god-created laws, allowed a man like Ganondorf to obtain a Triforce piece.
|The End of Ocarina of Time|
|The End of Ocarina of Time 3D|
- Hyrule Historia, page 69
- "Amanda Mackay: Now a lot of the music within the Zelda series carries over within different games. Does that mean that they're within the same timeline?
Eiji Aonuma: Yes, all of the games are within one timeline for the entire series, but that timeline is a secret that I cannot reveal." —Eiji Aonuma (GameTrailers, October 2011 interview)
- "I told my father about my dream… However, he didn't believe it was a prophecy... But...I can sense that man's evil intentions! What Ganondorf is after must be nothing less than the Triforce of the Sacred Realm. He must have come to Hyrule to obtain it! And, he wants to conquer Hyrule... no, the entire world!" — Princess Zelda (Ocarina of Time)
- "After you opened the door of time, the Master Sword sealed you away in the Sacred Realm... Your spirit remained in the Sacred Realm...and then the Triforce fell into Ganondorf's hands… The Triforce separated into three parts. Only the Triforce of Power remained in Ganondorf's hand." — Princess Zelda (Ocarina of Time)
- "The six Sages will open the sealed door and lure Ganondorf back into the Sacred Realm. I will then seal the door to the Sacred Realm from this world. Thus, Ganondorf the Evil King will vanish from Hyrule." — Princess Zelda (Ocarina of Time)
- "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." — Sage (Twilight Princess)
- "They say that Ganondorf is not satisfied with ruling only the Gerudo and aims to conquer all of Hyrule!" — Gossip Stone (Ocarina of Time)
- "Link, give the Ocarina to me... As a Sage, I can return you to your original time with it." — Princess Zelda (Ocarina of Time)
- "The Temple of Time is the entrance through which you can enter the Sacred Realm from our world." — Princess Zelda (Ocarina of Time)
- "Princess Zelda used her power to rewind the seven years that Link had spent sleeping, and restored the Hero to his original era. Upon his return, Link wasted no time in making for Hyrule Castle courtyard. There, he found Princess Zelda watching Ganondorf, just as she had been when they first met." (Hyrule Historia (Dark Horse Books) pg. 110)
- "If you want to return to your original time, return the Master Sword to the Pedestal of Time. By doing this, you will travel back in time seven years...." — Sheik (Ocarina of Time)
- "Only one worthy of the title of "Hero of Time" can pull it from the Pedestal of Time.... However, you were too young to be the Hero of Time.... Therefore, your spirit was sealed here for seven years." — Rauru (Ocarina of Time)
- "Hey, mister! I remember you! It's been a long time! How many years has it been? Seven years?! What have you been doing all this time?!" — Fisherman (Ocarina of Time)
- "I never forgot the vows we made to each other seven years ago! You're a terrible man to have kept me waiting for these seven long years..." — Princess Ruto (Ocarina of Time)
- "What?! You've got an ocarina!! What the heck! That reminds me of that time, seven years ago! Back then a mean kid came here and played a strange song. It messed up this windmill!" — Guru-Guru (Ocarina of Time)
- Alternate history: Cross-time stories, Wikipedia.
- "Someday... When this seal is broken.... That is when I will exterminate your descendants!! As long as the Triforce of Power is in my hand...." — Ganondorf (Ocarina of Time)
- "Several months after rescuing Princess Zelda and saving the land of Hyrule, Link set foot into the mysterious world of Termina by chance while in the midst of a new journey." (Majora's Mask manual, pg. 5)
- Nintendo Dream: Eiji Aonuma Interview
- "If the heart of the one who holds the sacred triangle has all three forces in balance, that one will gain the True Force to govern all. But, if that one's heart is not in balance, the Triforce will separate into three parts: Power, Wisdom and Courage. Only one part will remain for the one who touched the Triforce...the part representing the force that one most believes in." — Sheik (Ocarina of Time)
- "Yet...By some divine prank, he, too, had been blessed with the chosen power of the gods." — Sage (Twilight Princess)