The Ocarina of Time Conjecture

May 3rd, 2006 at 11:10 pm by The Missing Link

The Timeline Mysteries — Part III

Well, here we are. It’s the last edition of The Timeline Mysteries. Fans of this little blog mini-series will be cheering that I’m finally going to get to the crux of timeline theory; haters of this mini-series will be cheering that I’m finally done with it. (As a result, this gives me some pretty good odds that everyone will love this article!) But before we get to the nitty gritty, I want to make sure that those of you with a slightly shorter memory span than my own are up to speed, so let’s recap on what we’ve covered so far.

Part I was a discussion about paradox within the Zelda series. What happened there was that we are given too many details about the “Zelda timeline” such that no possible timeline could ever dot all the i’s and cross the t’s. As such, facts must be changed in order to arrive at a timeline. In short, that which is canon cannot be absolutely trusted.

Then in Part II, I showed what happened when the opposite happened, when there wasn’t enough data in the games, producing ambiguity. What we saw there was that it was impossible to determine the correct timeline from among a handful of timelines based strictly upon canon because the games are not specific enough to tell us what exactly happened. In short, the sum of canon is not complete.

Now we go for the coup d’grace in Part III and put the final nail in the coffin of timeline theory, so to speak. We will show the greatest weakness of the Zelda canon, that canon is inherently relative. We’ll do this by looking at what is likely for most people to be “the big three” in the Zelda series: Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, and Wind Waker.

Perhaps the biggest debate on timeline topics and forums across the community is the ending of Ocarina of Time. If I had a rupee for every time this topic came up, well, I’d still only have 500 rupees because of that accursed Wallet Monster. But seriously, for years people have debated the handful of scenes that we saw in the endgame sequence of Ocarina. To this day, the debate still rages on with such ferocity that even Ganondorf would run away, crying for his mommies.

Despite the ongoing debate, however, there is one thing that everyone seems to agree upon. At the end of Ocarina, Link finally delivers a Linkwhopin’ to Ganon, meets the princess, and hands over the Ocarina of Time to her, thus getting sent back in time. From there, Link resumes the life of a plucky little ten-year-old, going to live once again with the Kokiri or whomever he chose to live with. Yet adventure continues to follow him, and off he goes in search of his friend in Majora’s Mask.

But once you get past that, well… the battle lines are drawn. All similarity ends right there because, guess what… we forgot a part of the story! We left a plot thread hanging! The story isn’t over just because Link went off to fight in another adventure. What happened to Zelda after she sent Link back in time?! It’s a scandal to forget that part! It’s horribly important!

And thus those who cared about such began to debate and argue over the facts pertaining to Zelda’s life post-Ganon, and the peasants did not rejoice because of the mass confusion and hysteria that followed. However, fear not, for all was not lost… for the masses were able to narrow the possibilities of what happened to two major theories. It would’ve seemed that this would have been a wonderment and that everyone could have been happy with these tidings; however, alas! the story would not end there as the two theories had consequences so starkly divergent from one another that the grand timeline debate could not continue until this question was solved.

Dramatic, no? You honestly could make a soap opera out of this. I can see it now: The Days of Our Timeline. Charming, yes? but I digress. Well, I suppose if we’re going to talk about the problem, we might as well explore the two major theories attempt to solve it. So let’s get crackin’ and look at the possibilities!

The first theory involves, more or less, that the future story of Ocarina was eradicated by a changing of the past. When Zelda sends Link back, Link comes back to the Temple of Time and plops the Master Sword back into place and closes the Door of Time, thus sealing Ganondorf within the Sacred-now-Evil Realm after he went in to get the Triforce. And hey, Chrono Trigger, the de facto video game authority on timelines, suggests this to be true; going back in time to alter the present is perfectly legal and is done on more than one occasion, most notably to save Crono’s life. Thus, the timeline proceeds quite happily through Majora’s Mask, frolicking along until the timeline’s end. This is known by many as the STT, or Single Timeline Theory.

Yet, as you could guess, several people don’t like this theory for a few reasons.

  1. Ocarina, Where Art Thou? — So Link gives Zelda the Ocarina to send him back in time, so obviously he doesn’t have it when he comes back. But Zelda doesn’t have it either because Link picked it up from the moat before going forward in time. Yet Zelda is able to give it back to Link prior to Majora’s Mask. Wait, you been filtching stuff from my pockets, Princess?
  2. Restaurant at the End of the Universe — But what about Wind Waker? Waker clearly mentions events from Ocarina’s time, so it can’t take place too far after Ocarina, yet how can any game happen after it since Hyrule is destroyed? (See Rule I for your counterargument.)

So the opponents of the STT went and made their own theory; obviously they needed a catchy name that embodied their beliefs. Thus, the MTT, or Multiple Timeline Theory, was born. This says that Zelda’s choice in sending Link back in time created a fork in the timelines, thus inadvertently creating a second timeline. That second timeline would be the one where Link was frolicking forever as a 10-year-old boy (well okay, not forever), while the existing one would continue in a ruined Hyrule where Zelda would conceivably try to restore the once great realm that was. This of course had advantages; Waker could easily be shoved into one of the two timelines (usually the Ruined Hyrule one) and still allow the rest of the games to be based on Ocarina while not having to worry about Hyrule’s ultimate cataclysm in Waker. Almost immediately, fans of the Chrono Trigger theory will mention Chrono Cross; that game had multiple timelines, and thus this theory should be good!

Yet this theory too had its share of problems:

  1. Oh Snap! — Link still doesn’t have the Ocarina to give back to Zelda for Majora’s Mask.
  2. I Now Present Exhibit… Uh… Uh… — There’s zero evidence in any of the Zelda games to suggest a timeline fork… and there never will be. After all, how can the backstory of a kingdom or a game reference a timeline fork? It’s not something that is directly observable because their perceptions are constrained to their own flow of time! So thus it can never be written in a history book. Nor will Nintendo ever mention it. Ever. (But see Rule II for the counter-counterargument.)

The problem here isn’t a problem about paradox (despite the Ocarina’s magical reappearance) nor ambiguity (despite the two possible theories). In both of those problems, we had data–hints and clues in the game–with which to base a theory upon. In this case, what game gives us hints as to what happened at the end of Ocarina of Time? Ocarina sure didn’t tell us much, and no game since has clarified the meaning of the game’s ending. So the answer is none of them. There’s no game that gives direct nor indirect testimony as to the outcome of Link’s adventure into the future, and there is likely to never be a firm statemtn which speaks to that. This isn’t about having an overdetermined or underdetermined system, where we either have too many or too few clues to find the single, correct timeline.

This is about having no clues. All we have are guesses.

Sure, they are educated guesses based upon how we link the games together (which is arbitrary because of Rule II), but they are quite simply nothing more than a guess, or, if you’d like, an added assumption (which can be done because of Rule I). Even real life will yield no clues on this because going back in time, should you believe renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, is impossible. (The argument goes that if time travel backwards is possible, why then haven’t we met anyone from the future?)

As such, we are completely defenseless in order to solve a variant of the Grandfather paradox: Link goes forward in time so as to defeat Ganon(dorf), and inevitably he is successful; as such, Zelda takes the Ocarina and sends Link back in time to seal Ganondorf in the Sacred Realm while going for the Triforce, but this keeps Ganondorf from ever escaping the Sacred Realm, which in turn prohibits him from taking over Hyrule, which eliminates the need for Link to defeat him in the future, which means that Link won’t meet Zelda on the battlefield after the battle with Ganon, which means that Zelda won’t send Link back in time, which means that Ganondorf can escape from the Sacred Realm… et cetera, et cetera.

All this means is that we use our own science fiction theories about time to get around the grandfather paradox. But the problem is that there are many such theories because it is science fiction. Thus, each one creates a different perception of what Hyrule is and how it works. In essence, everyone’s perspective of Hyrule is different, and Hyrule becomes what we think Hyrule should be. Therefore, Hyrule’s timeline is purely a function of how we the players perceive the laws of Hyrule…

…which makes all of the facts in the games relative to our own personal beliefs. Every fact is now filtered through our own perceptions, analysed for whatever we want to make of it. And this means that canon, battered and bruised as it already is from Parts I and II, is now completely shattered, broken into a zillion pieces.

This isn’t exactly what you timeline folk wanted to hear, I’m sure.

So, what we have here is that the Zelda timeline is nothing more than our personal perceptions of Hyrule. Let’s face it, as I’ve been told time and time again, The Legend of Zelda affects us all in very, very different ways. Many of you have agreed with my articles over the span of the ‘Blog, but not all of you. Even those who have agreed sometimes believe that a point more important than the one I present exists. And I say to that, “Wonderful!” After all, we all know that Zelda is a personal experience. If we didn’t think so passionately about the series, well, you wouldn’t be coming to ZeldaBlog to read about Zelda, would you? (Say “no.” Good.) Inevitably, what’s important here is not the timeline itself… but the experience found and connection attained through playing the game.

Does that make the timeline irrelevant? Hardly so. Timeline is, despite its failings, still an important part to the personal experiences that comprise Zelda. Not everyone cares about timeline, and that’s alright. But those who do love the timeline because it is personal; it is special and meaningful. And the diversity of thought into the implementation of timelines is even more proof of just how much the personal relationships we share with Zelda influence what we love about the game.

What I’m basically saying is that though our perspectives differ on timeline… and even the relevance of timeline, we shouldn’t be scoffing at one another for our likes or debating points. The timeline of Zelda will not save the world from some evil disaster, true, but it is inevitably an enjoyable part of the game to explore.

And there’s nothing wrong in that.

Filed under Timeline, Editorials, Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask, Wind Waker

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27 Messages from the Gossip Stones about “The Ocarina of Time Conjecture”


    Bravo, that was a great article Missing Link!

    I do have to point out that if you watched to the end of the credits in OoT, it shows Link walking up to Zelda in the garden again. So, if Link had the Ocarina as a kid, then he could have given it to Zelda then.

    Just felt like mentioning that scene…I’ve always wondered about it.

    Anyway, great article! You’re right, Zelda -including timeline- is a very personal experience for everyone. That’s part of what makes it great. I really enjoy your articles, by the way. ^_^

    There’s zero evidence in any of the Zelda games to suggest a timeline fork…

    Or alternatively, all the games, being games, can result in many possible endings in which Link fails and one in which he succeeds. And in constructing a timeline one conventionally takes success to be the ‘correct’ ending in every case—although Zelda II’s ‘Return of Ganon’ screen does offer convenient potential for a resurgent Ganon should one’s theory require one.

    Not that this approach necessarily does make timeline theorising any easier…

    The Wolfess said:

    I do have to point out that if you watched to the end of the credits in OoT, it shows Link walking up to Zelda in the garden again. So, if Link had the Ocarina as a kid, then he could have given it to Zelda then.

    But he didn’t have the Ocarina then because moments before, seven years in the future, he gave the Ocarina of Time away… ;) And before we go into a discussion on causality, if you get a bottle in the future, you are allowed to take it back to the past, so that means your inventory carries over through the time jump, thus meaning that Link doesn’t have the Ocarina when meeting Zelda as a child in the garden.

    Maybe Zelda had a spare Ocarina just in case she lost one, I have a dozen spare keys because im always losing them, lol.

    BTW the new series of “Lost” is absolutely brilliant but I was thinking that wouldnt it have been funny if Link had ended up on an island like the one in “Lost” in “Link’s Awakening”, lol.

    Good article, I never really understood the ending of OoT especially when he met Zelda in the castle courtyard at the end…

    good article TML.I dont think its possible for there to be two timelines though,since 10 year old link has to grow up eventually…and when he does…well….by all acounts,there would be two of him :) .so since this didint happen (unless nintendo is going to suprise us with a game like that some day) that would meen that all events in the future disapear exept for in the sacred realm since its a different dimension (or world or something).ganondorf would remain sealed and link and the people of hyrule would live there lives normally,untill ganondorf breaks free and ruins everything.

    Lauren said:

    Good article, I never really understood the ending of OoT especially when he met Zelda in the castle courtyard at the end…

    Maybe Link had to kiss up with Zelda and to tell her that her future self took it, or Zelda in Future whilst sending
    Link back, stuffs the Ocarina in his pocket (Tetra did the same with the Pirate’s Stone) And finds it when he sits down, or Zelda does have spares.Congrats on another wonderful article, TML.Either that or Link used the fairy ocarina and painted it so it looks like the Ocarina of Time, then Zelda gives it back when Link left for Termina (add a “l” and guess what?) And we know that Ganondorf and Ganon are split, how else is there a Ganon w/ his human ego?

    Wonderful, TML. This Timeline Mysteries series reminds me of history class…only much, much better ^__^.

    Originally, I planned to type out my entire theory to the end of OoT…but complexion and strangeness would stretch it to make me ramble longer than I normally do. So thus, I’m just going to leave it at me being a supporter of the STT.

    Remember we have Twilight Princess and Phantom Hourglass coming out, and hopefully both of them will explain a few things (especially since we know TP comes in between OoT and WW).

    *anxiety for E3 grows…*

    Still, I enjoy theorizing the chronology. It’s so fun to try to link all the games together, and seeing how other people do it. I hope that when all is said and done, they leave the timeline unexplained so that we fans can continue creating our own hypotheses.

    Robert-UK said:

    Maybe Zelda had a spare Ocarina just in case she lost one, I have a dozen spare keys because im always losing them, lol.

    I do belive that the Ocarina was some sort of… oh, I dunno… Sacred ONE OF A KIND magical artifact passed down from generation to generation of the royal family.

    So I highly doubt she has a bag of Spare Ocarina’s of Time collecting dust in her room. Just throwing that out there.

    im confused

    I got confused. :| . I have a theory in which TP will solve our problems…

    This is a good article and I’m glad you took the time to really think it through. However, there is a third theory you have neglected consider: the theory that no time displacement occurred at the end of OoT. I know it sounds ludicrous but here me out. What if (and believe you me this is a big “what if”) at the end of OoT the power of the Goddesses was able to reform Hyrule as it once was with it’s people as they once were (age and all) while at the same time retaining all the memories of the seven years prior. Not only would this solve a great deal of mysteries, such as the amazing disappearing/reappearing Ocarina you so kindly pointed out, but it would also provide a much more nuanced and agreeable theory as many of the hotly debated paradoxes would cease to exist.

    Now, as much as I would like to claim ownership over this theory, the credit cannot go to me. And even though I did have vague notions of this idea for some time the true bones of this idea belongs to Davogones over at Zelda Legends. I believe he puts it in a much better perspective than I ever could regardless of who came up with it first.

    A link to the article can be found here: http://www.zeldalegends.net/index.php?n=article_20

    Take a gander at it. Even if you don’t agree with it, it might still wield a few interesting things.

    thabto said:

    Not only would this solve a great deal of mysteries, such as the amazing disappearing/reappearing Ocarina you so kindly pointed out, but it would also provide a much more nuanced and agreeable theory as many of the hotly debated paradoxes would cease to exist.

    Well, the theory is neither provable nor unprovable (isn’t timeline theory grand!?), so all I can say is that personally that theory seems a little too deus ex machina–too over the top, you might say–for me to really be a strong proponent of. Though such things have occurred as noted in the Waker backstory, in the Hyrule-verse I’m something of a Deist, but I guess that’s because there are few reports over the games that goddesses actually got involved with Hyrule directly.

    While Davogones is correct that the theory does have stronger aspects with regards to time travel, there are definite weaker aspects too, the biggest being the huge leap of faith required to believe it since there is no and can be no direct clues that point to this. The crux of the theory relies upon twisting phrases around and applying assorted assumptions here and there to make it work.

    Granted, that’s all legal because of Rule I. But Rule I is a harsh mistress, and the razor cuts both ways; Rule I leads directly to Rule II, which allows the weaknesses of the other theories to be easily compensated for so as to make them equal theories with Davo’s. ;)

    I think that Link got sent back to a time just before he started his journey as a kid and then met up with Zelda who knew some things about him from her dreams, then she sent him away for a while with the Ocarina and he ended up in Termina (for about three or four days, lol) and saved that world. Then he went back to Hyrule, gave Zelda her Ocarina back so the could give it to the alternate Link and then he went in hideing for seven years by travelling around the world (ending up on Koholint for a while). Afterwards he journeyed back to Hyrule and got back just in time to enjoy the party in Lon Lon Ranch.

    ahhhhhhhhhhhhh my brain hurts

    Ya know, I never found the MTT logical. But, ya know there is this little theory some scientists have come up with about dimensions. It states that for each possibility of choice or chance there is a dimension.

    Lets just say that the Legend of Zelda uses this theory, there would be a lot of dimensions in the hyrule by now, for example there is a dimension for if Link didn’t believe Zelda in OoT and just went back to kokiri forest or Link not deciding to follow his uncle in aLttP.

    In reality there would even be dimensions in which the Meteorite never hit Earth 65,000,000 years ago and there would be more developped Dinosaurs ruling this planet. of course this is all speculation.

    Thats an interesting theory and its one ive heard before, there could even be one where we play as Ganondorf who is trying to stop the evil warrior Link from gaining the Triforce and conquering Hyrule, lol.

    BTW Considering the amount of time Dinosaurs were around for compared to the amount of time Humans have been around for so far I think that the genetics of the Dinosaurs would have come to an end due to the fact that nature seems to favour symetry and considering that fact that Dinosaurs never really amounted to anything by the way of them not developing real intelligence or self awareness its logical to deduce that they would have died out due to asymetry sooner or later.

    I didn’t say that would be the dinosaurs that we know of, of course they’ll evolve…

    Oh boy, people are starting to bring in evolution into a MAGIC and FANTASY subject (former better left unspoken of here) and there are words here I never heard of, but since there’s the use of science, time to go scientific! Its as simple as it can get (just felt like saying that) I believe in the STT since many weapons are used over and over, and only get different looks in each timezone (aka the games)and the bloodline of Link and Zelda (and the Sages, and the ranchers, and the horse, and the players of the game) continues on, no matter what, and Ganon will always be in the shadows, waiting to be revived, behind every nook and “Granny” (in his case, his surrogant mothers) and is always breathing down the heros’ necks waiting to get his grimy, blistered, damaged claws, and thus ruling Hyrule.You know, what would make a Timeline more interesting if we know the true beginning of Hyrule, because I have a gut feeling that Ganon was around before Link I was around, considering that Koume and Kotake kidnapped him and used him as a vessel to revive Ganon, so there might be a game before OoT, but what that would be, may never exsist…unless TML actually becomes a Nintendo man or someone else here does, then they make a game that predates OoT, and we will know the origin of Ganon.

    You know, if you added in the other games in the series, though, you might be able to come up with a rough draft of a timeline.

    See, at the end of Wind Waker Link sets off to find a new Hyrule, so you group them by these three catagories and then piece them together.

    It would be something along the lines of this…

    Catagory 1: Old Hyrule
    1. Ocarina of Time - Link seals Ganon away. 2. Majora’s Mask - Since Link did go back in time, he haf the Ocarina back then to give back to the Princess when he goes to meet her at the very end of Ocarina.

    Catagory 2: No Hyurle
    1. Wind Waker - Ganon escaped from the sacred realm, he is defeated, but no sealed away again. Link sets out to find a New Hyrule at the end.
    2. Link’s Awakening - That ship? It was Tetra’s Pirate Ship!

    Cataogry 3: New Hyrule
    1. The Legend of Zelda - Wonder why the land has no houses? No castles? They haven’t had time to build them yet when Ganon has found his way to New Hyrule.2. A Link to the Past - Link now has to re-seal the Sacred (now Evil) realm to seal Ganon away for good.
    3. Adventure of Link - With Ganon gone, new foes arise, but is Dark/Shadow Link actually the head honcho this time?
    4. The Minish Cap - Link’s first run in with Vaati, his new foe.
    5. The Four Swords - Vaati’s back and causing more mischif.
    6. Four Swords Adventures - Dark/shadow Link was justa pon to get Link’s attention so long ago.

    That’s my basic idea, anyway. I haven’t really looked to deep at it, but this is just a rought draft, anyway. Aslo, I didn’t inculde the cd-i games. I’ve never played them and don’t know a whole lot, nor do I care to know a whole lot, about them. Also, I haven’t included some of the Jpan only games.. the Tingle one and the Tetra’s Pirates Puzzle thingy. And I don’t know enough about Twilight Princess or the Phantom Hourglass to add them to my list.

    Please, don’t get upset at me for my little idea on the time line. I know everyone has a different opinion about how it goes… this way just seems logical to me, but I’m slightly crazy, too.

    Too much to read. Everyones stuff and all. What I got out of it was just TML saying that there really is no time line. thats my personal zelda(blog) experience. and im happy with it.

    Hmmm Hyrulian Hero raises an interesting theory here, what if Ganondorf or Ganon if you will was actually one of the gods of chaos that existed in the void that was Hyrule before the three golden goddesses appeared… it does seem to make sense, in a way.

    Robert-UK said:

    Hmmm Hyrulian Hero raises an interesting theory here, what if Ganondorf or Ganon if you will was actually one of the gods of chaos that existed in the void that was Hyrule before the three golden goddesses appeared… it does seem to make sense, in a way.

    Is that, someone agreeing with me? *bright lights shines on HH* I duuno *light fades* Anyways, that might be a plausible theory, but then that means he’s actually a demi-god or something along the line.We know that Ganondorf comes from the desert, allianced himself with the king, and he coveted a gentle wind that blows across Hyrule’s green fields (reference to TWW.)And what I think TML is saying (if I’m wrong, David, correct me) is that there are timelines, but we do not know what order they are in, and what is right, and what is wrong, but we shouldn’t get onto each other for something once of us see’s illogical, but get mad at ourself for thinking of flaming them, that way, we can get along better (isn’t that the goal of ZB?) and if you still can’t find it logical, learn about their timeline, and congratulate them for creative thinking, then go work on your own timeline, like play the games over, read the online wlathroughs, whatever.Besides, Z-timelines are mostely fan fictions.

    He could be a lower demi god who is/was in the service of the Gerudo Goddess of the Sands/desert.

    Hey guys check out this link. This guy has made a perfect timeline and which explains nearly everything. If you read his bio he sounds like a Zelda freak but he really knows what he is on about.


    I read somewhere on Jack’s site that, when you first meet Zelda, she says (eventually),

    Hmmm………………….That name sounds familiar

    and when you go back in time after beating Ganon/dorf, Link replaces the Master Sword, he goes to see Zelda, and she gives him the same look for when they first meet, meaning Link had gone so far back, he never obtained the Ocarina of Time.So theoretically, a future Link comes in, while the current Link slips into the Time-Space Continuum, meaning there might not be two timelines.Just a possibility.Just thinking, and becareful with some theories, some fact may one day come up and destroy them.