The Missing Link
The Timeline Mysteries — Part II
I’m sure several of you wanted to believe that I had forgotten about the timeline stuff by now, but I assure you… I very much haven’t. For those of you who do have memories worse than mine (which is really hard to come by), last time we talked about The Four Swords Paradox. I mentioned that the problem in taking the Zelda games at its face value as canon–the stuff we use as so-called “undisputable” timeline fodder. Doing so would lead to paradoxical logic that will inevitably defeat any timeline. (You can thank Nintendo for that blunder. Let’s just hope they don’t get involved in a land war with Asia. Oh wait, too late, they already did.) The solution was that canon cannot be treated as absolute gospel; rather, canon can, and must, be twisted and distorted, rationalised and broken, added to and subtracted from in order to create a “perfect” timeline. (But of course, that is paradoxical itself since doing that makes the timeline inherently imperfect, but we’ll just label that as unimportant triviality, if you don’t mind! Otherwise, we’ll be here all day on the merry-go-round of circular logic, and none of you want that.)
Just remember the First Rule of Zelda Timelines:
So let’s shift gears away from Four Swords and get to something slightly more interesting, something a little more… mainstream in the continuity debates. It’s time to go in depth into my personal favourite among the games: A Link to the Past.
Very few people actually have a problem with Past. The game is by popular opinion the best of the 2D Zelda games (at least so says the little voices in my head), and it was the first Zelda game that had some quasi-plot mixed into the actual in-game experience. (Yes, Virginia, some games have no plot. Believe it or not.) The dungeons were rather challenging, filled with brutal puzzles. And Zelda finally became a true blue character in the game. (I mean, imagine that, a game where you can actually go and talk matters over with the girl the game is named after. What was Nintendo thinking when they came up with that idea!?) It was, in a way, the second breaking out of Zelda, a reinvention of the Legend of Zelda… and for wackos like me, it will be the best Zelda likely until the day we die. (Or at least until Twilight comes out finally in the year 2256.)
The funny part about Past is that its controversiality in the timeline arena doesn’t stem from the game itself… but from the game’s manual. (Non-timeline people, go ahead and shake your heads. You know you want to.)
Out of all the Zelda games’ manuals, Past has I believe the longest background story found in any of them… and it would definitely compete with the likes of many of the Final Fantasy manuals as well. There are five entire pages of mice-type text that explains in gory detail how Hyrule was created, the origins of the character Ganon, and how Agahnim came into the story. Personally, I think this is a small portion of what endeared me to Past at the time; they didn’t just gloss over the game as if it were inconsequential history; they tried to show you the world as much as possible. (I think that games need to return to this as well, but we’re talking timeline, so let me get back to the point.)
The divide in the timeline debates comes from an event in the backstory called the Imprisoning War–or the Seal War according to the Japanese flavour of the text. The Imprisoning War essentially came about with Ganondorf Dragmire, the leader of a band of thieves, obtaining the Triforce from the Golden Realm. The Wise Men caught word of this and immediately sought to advise the king. The king knew that Ganon would come to fight, and so he sent the Knights of Hyrule to greet Ganon’s army while the Seven Wise Men attempted to send Ganondorf back to the Golden Land, locking him within it forever. The Knights suffered incredible losses, their number dwindling to so few that you could probably count them on both your hands, but they were successful, and thus Ganon lost yet again. Poor thing.
Gee… kind of sounds pretty similar to another story. Let me lay this on you for size…
Using his evil magic, Ganondorf, leader of a band of thieves, attacks Hyrule Castle, killing guards and driving the princess away into exile. (There’s nothing either way that suggests whether the king is alive or dead at this point, so let’s assume, for sanity’s sake, that he is.) Though he doesn’t have the Triforce yet, he does manage to follow Link into the Sacred Realm and steal the Triforce… which he then uses to attack the Knights of Hyrule… only to be defeated in the end by the Seven Sages, who seal him into the Sacred Realm, which becomes the Evil Realm, a world of darkness.
Are there differences? Of course. But look how similar the Imprisoning War backstory is to Ocarina of Time itself. Several details were included almost identically in the general sense. Seven Wise Men and Seven Sages… an attack which wiped out many… Ganondorf weaseling his way to where the Triforce was held… all of it working together to show a big correlation between the two stories. But sceptics would rightly point out that there are name changes from Sage to Wise Men and from Golden Land to Sacred Realm… and that the massacre didn’t happen at the right time… and that the timeline would’ve been forgotten when Link goes back to make things right the last time. Yadda yadda yadda… blah blah blah… this can go on all day if we really want to, but you’ve gotten the idea by now, I presume. Thusly, most certainly it can’t be the same story, right?
As if the debate was bad enough, there’s also major differences between the North American and Japanese manuals, especially within the backstory sections. The Japanese actually use the word “Sage” to refer to the Seven, it implies that the Master Sword was not made in response to Ganon’s obtaining of the Triforce but rather well before, and it produces less conflicting text because it treats the background information extremely objectively… whereas our version tends to make inferences about the game within the manual history. The Japanese version seems to drive the Imprisoning War to be Ocarina because of the many similarities… while the American “translation” seems to suggest that it’s a completely separate event in history. (Yes, there are entire topics devoted to this. It’s about as bad as the geek convention that attended the midnight showings of the prequel Star Wars movies.) However at the same time, if you go over the two stories with a fine-toothed comb, forgetting completely about the Ocarina context and just analysing story against story, you can see that the American version of the manual is really just added and subtracted assumptions off the original source, partially done because of localisation, partially because of artistic license. Sound familiar? Yes, that’s the First Rule of Timelines! (Knew that would come back to haunt you, didn’t ya?) Most people will go around saying that the original Japanese version is the only legal canon there is, yet if you take into account the assumption set the American translator used, you’ll find that it too could be a very surprisingly accurate renindition of the backstory.
But enough of this. You’re getting bored, I can tell. And you’re begging me to answer the $64,000 question: Is it or is it not Ocarina? (No, the question is not “When will this article end?” Sheesh. ) Let’s take a look at both sides, starting with the evidence for:
Yet the argument is definitely weak because… well, let’s face it, there are definite incongruities in the story as well. For starters…
Both arguments are hardly proof in the pudding. Timeliners can go back and forth forever, citing reasons for and against to their hearts’ content. Yet what we have here is a case where there can be no proof of one side over the other. Those arguing for allowing Ocarina and the Imprisoning War to be the same have to accept that the stories aren’t identical; those arguing against have to admit that there are some pretty crazy similarities, and to chalk them all up as coincidence puts the odds against them. Even worse, taking from the lesson of the Four Swords Paradox in Part I, all of the text in both Ocarina and the Past manual is up for speculation anyways. Story can be added, removed, or altered to allow the two sources to align themselves perfectly with one another… or to mangle them so far apart that they aren’t the same story no matter how you look at it.
In short, you can’t prove what happened. The two sides of the issue are at a perfect stalemate. And so the answer is that there is no answer. Or rather there are two very possible answers… thus suggesting (dare I say it?) that we cannot at this time know exactly how the history of Hyrule took place. (”And thus there’s no timeline, right!?” Exactly! There are multiple timelines. Mwahaha.)
Yet… let’s take this one step further. After all, when we come across a statement this big, we can’t exactly just throw the consequences to the winds.
Really, when you think about, linking together all twelve games (nine of you discount the Four Swords bits) is done in a rather arbitrary fashion as is. There’s no direct evidence that any of the games really fit together other than at best vague clues. Sure, one might suggest that they’re going for the most logical or the most sensible structure when they make their timeline decisions, but they only kid ourselves when they say that because they then proceed to ignore all the evidence that runs counter to their objective. Moreover, those timeliners are no different than us after all; none of us here have more detailed knowledge than any other person because, guess what, all the text is freely available to everyone. There aren’t any secrets that Nintendo has shared to one individual that hasn’t been shared to everyone else as well. (Of course, that implies that Nintendo actually shares secrets… ha!)
In the end, no matter where you look, there’s ambiguity everywhere. Not only can a timeline not exist because of paradox, but, even without that, there’s no way to show that any given timeline is “the right one”.
So much for timeliners kicking ass and taking names. (Unless Reggie is a timeliner too. But honestly, he’s pretty special, and even I cannot hope to compete with Mr. Fils-Aime. )
To Be Continued…Follow This Entry | Read Other Posts by The Missing Link