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.
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:
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.Follow This Entry | Read Other Posts by The Missing Link