A Treatise on The Legend of Zelda's "Split Timeline" Theory

Eiji Aonuma put out the statements that gave birth to the split timeline theory when The Wind Waker came out, and the Zelda community has both accepted, and hotly contested the idea ever since.

Since the split timeline theory deals with the ending of Ocarina of Time, I took a look at all the evidence provided by Ocarina of Time to gain a better understanding of the ending of the game actually intended to express.

Most of the commonly used support for the split timeline comes not from Ocarina of Time itself, but from Aounma’s statements in Issue 165 of Nintendo Power Magazine, and his own obvious support for the idea.

While comments from those involved in the development of the series are among our most valuable resources for insight to the inner workings of the Zelda continuity, they are subject to error and obsolescence.

For example, Miyamoto once stated that Link to the Past took place after the original Legend of Zelda and its sequel, Adventure of Link, a statement which despite coming from an obviously credible source, has nearly universally been disregarded given the long established and deeply respected notion that Link to the Past took place centuries before the two NES Zelda titles.

The only information we can undeniably consider canon is what is actually in the games, and in the manuals for the games, specifically, the most recent version of the games. This is because the games are the most direct way the creators have displayed their intentions for the events and storylines.

Any retcons they decide to put into the scripts of older games for re-releases to make it all blend together better can be considered canon as well, but until a re-release is issued we can only be truly certain of what is inside the games themselves in their present state.

Let us take a look at Aounma’s statement and understand it in detail.

“If you think back to the end of Ocarina of Time,
there were two endings in that game in different time periods.”


Simple enough, but is this even true? 

To find out, we need to understand the nature of time travel as it was illustrated and executed during Link’s adventure in Ocarina of Time.

Let's consider the state of Hyrule at the time Link first sets off into Hyrule Field.

Young Link’s world has everything sealed up like it was intended to be. The Sage’s temples throughout Hyrule are unoccupied, as they are not presently needed.

The door between Hyrule and the Sacred Realm has been sealed, shut off by the magical barrier created when the Master Sword was enshrined at the pedestal inside the Temple of Time centuries before Ocarina of Time took place.

Zelda and Link gather the keys required to access the Master Sword chamber, and Link breaks the seal by removing the Master Sword. Ganondorf is instantly able to enter the sacred realm and touch the Triforce, breaking it into it’s three elements.

It’s important to note that at this point time in Hyrule continues to flow normally. Over the course of the next seven years Ganondorf, with the power granted by his Triforce piece, overthrows the king, sacks the castle city and builds his Tower.

While only the Master Sword has the ability to repel Ganondorf’s dark magic, its master, Link, is simply too young to wield it effectively. The light Sage Rauru puts Link into a magical sleep immediately after he broke the seal, and woke him up when he felt that he was ready to be the Hero of Time, which happened to be seven years later.

From Link (and the players) perspective, he has leapt seven years forward in time, but it’s important to understand that at this point all that is happened is that seven years have passed naturally and normally, during which Link was simply not awake for.

After awakening Saria as a Sage, Adult Link returns to the Temple of Time, where Princess Zelda (disguised as Sheik) teaches him that by placing the sword back in the pedestal, he can return to the the era of his childhood.

What comes next is crucial to understanding the time travel mechanism as it is represented in the game.

It can be agreed upon that the Temple of Time has the capacity to alter the flow of time, and that when Adult Link returns the Master Sword to the pedestal for the first time, he finds that the world has returned to how it would have been immediately after he first broke the seal.

This is no longer exactly the world Young Link lived in previously, because two conditions for the eventual future have already taken place and can not be undone.

First, the seal on the Sacred Realm is broken, Ganondorf has already entered the sacred realm and has taken the Triforce of Power.

Second, Ganondorf will overthrow Hyrule Castle and create the unrest that will unfold over the next seven years. There is nothing Link can do to stop this because he needs the Master Sword to do so, and removing it will repeat the process in which he advances seven years forward in time.

Now, let's carefully consider what this means.

I’m sure Rauru would love nothing more than to go back in time and completely prevent the seal from even being broken to begin with. The Temple of Time and Rauru’s magic are strong, but seemingly not strong enough for this simple solution to be reached.

This is likely because the Temple of Time’s power to regress and advance time is limited to the time after the seal was first broken.

Once back in the era of his childhood it is possible in theory for Link to have waited around, allowing days, weeks, months and eventually years to pass, and see for himself the events he had been asleep for the first time around, such as Ganondorf destroying Hyrule Castle, imprisoning the Gorons, freezing Zora’s Domain, and so on, seeing as the basic conditions for these events have already been set into motion.

Of course, Ocarina of Time’s game design simply does not allow this to happen for practical reasons. We can however assume that within the context of the storyline Young Link simply never allowed that much time to pass before returning to the future.

In fact, there are no more than two instances in which the storyline actually demands that Link go back in time, so regardless of how the player actually used the time travel ability, we may even assume that Link used the time traveling abilities of the Temple of Time only when absolutely necessary.

When Adult Link returns to the past and becomes Young Link, he no longer has the items he would go on to acquire as an adult. However, when he once again progresses into the future, he finds that he has these tools and weapons once more.

What does this mean?

To put it as simply as possible, the moment in time which Adult Link returns to, proceeds the moment at which Adult Link last left the future to return to the past. If this were not true, Link would be forced to complete the temples and acquire his adult items each time he returns to the future.

Since this is not the case, it can be said that Adult Link’s own previous actions during the future era have already taken place by the time he returns.

The picture this evidence paints to is not one of a parallel “past” and “future” Hyrule existing simultaneously, but of a single Hyrule, in which Link is able to fast-forward or rewind the chronological setting of at will between two pre determined points.

One of these points would, be set progressively (with each occurrence) after when Rauru first returned him to the Temple of Time as an adult, and the other set progressively (with each occurrence) after Link first drew the Master Sword from the Temple of Time.

As I mentioned previously, the concept of time travel this demonstrates can be compared to fast forwarding or rewinding through a video tape, with only the moment being viewed on screen actually existing at any given point.

Now, lets take a critical look at the ending of Ocarina of Time, and also take a look Aonuma’s statements in Nintendo Power.

“If you think back to the end of Ocarina of Time,
there were two endings in that game in different time periods.”


With our new understanding of how the Temple of Time works in relation to the development of Ocarina of Time’s gameplay and story, there is simply no reason Ocarina of Time should end with two parallel Hyrules existing in different time periods, as it is breaks the established parameters already discussed.

However, it’s not that simple.

After Ganondorf is sealed away at the end of the game, Adult Link and Adult Zelda stand in the clouds. Zelda then delivers the final dialogue seen in the game.

“Now it is time for me to make up for my mistakes.
You must lay the Master Sword to rest and close the Door of Time.”

        -Princess Zelda

Okay, so Zelda wants to make things right again for Link. She instructs Link to return the Master Sword in the Temple of Time, and then close the Door of Time.

Note that by Door of Time, Zelda means the actual stone door which sealed the Master Sword chamber, not the passage to the Sacred Realm itself.

“However, by doing this, the road between times will be closed…”
        -Princess Zelda

By sealing the Master Sword in the chamber and closing the Door of Time, Link can no longer use the time traveling abilities of the Temple of Time because he can no longer access the Master Sword.

“Link. Give the Ocarina to me… As a Sage I can return you to your original time with it.
When peace returns to Hyrule... it will be time for us to say good-bye.”

        -Princess Zelda

This is where things begin to get a little nebulous. The phrasing of Zelda’s dialogue can drastically affect the implications it has on the nature of the ending.

When Zelda says that “as a Sage”, she can return link to his original time, it may mean one of two things.

1. Zelda is merely reminding link that she is a Sage.


2. Zelda is indirectly stating that she currently is a Sage, but soon will no longer have these powers because when time is turned back, she will go back to being a child along with Link.

“Now, go home Link. Regain your lost time.
Home… where you are supposed to be… how you are supposed to be…”

        -Princess Zelda

Zelda then plays Zelda’s Lullaby on the Ocarina, and Link vanishes in a blue light, but we can’t see explicitly to where.

After the Lon Lon Ranch party scene, we see five of the seven Sages looking down from Death Mountain, Rauru seems absent, but was always seemingly different from the “newly awakened” Sages, as his was the only temple outside of Hyrule proper and he also seemed somewhat “immortal” in his nature, unlike the others who we first met as ordinary people of Hyrule.

What exactly did Zelda do by playing Zelda’s Lullaby on the Ocarina? Did she send Link back in time using the song? Based on the sequence of what we see, it could be taken that Link was warped back to the Temple of Time.

We see him again as a boy with a blue light fading from around him, we can basically assume that he had just placed the Master Sword back into the pedestal.

This in turn raises the question, why did Zelda specifically state that she as a Sage (the Sage of Wisdom) had the power to send Link back to his own time with the Ocarina? Did Zelda send Link back to the Temple of Time already as a child in the past era (seven years ago) to inter the Master Sword and close the Door of Time?

Zelda did clearly specify “how you were supposed to be”, possibly meaning already in his childhood state. If this is true, than it actually supports the parallel past/future theory (and therefore the split timeline theory), as this sort of time travel may have occurred differently from the rules we established earlier regarding how the Temple of Time works.

But what if Zelda simply warped Adult Link back to the Temple of Time in the “future” era for him to return the Master Sword and go through the regular time traveling process as experienced during gameplay? If this is the case, than this is solid evidence for the singular timeline theory, as Zelda would have returned to being a child, and possibly no longer a Sage, as suggested by the second interpretation of Adult Zelda’s dialogue during the ending.

If Zelda simply used the Ocarina to return Adult Link to the Temple of Time in the “present” (future) for him to return to the past on his own using the established time travel process, what is the importance of her playing Zelda’s Lullaby?

It is known that Zelda’s Lullaby has great magic within it, but if she only intends to send Link back to the Temple of Time in the “present”, why not simply instruct Link to play the Prelude of Light? The Prelude of Light is a song that Zelda herself taught Link which allows him to warp to the Temple of Time at will.

This brings me to ponder Zelda’s own status as a Sage. Despite being the Sage of Wisdom, Zelda has no temple to her name or elemental affinity. Even the mysterious Rauru has a Temple of Light, despite being unplayable in the game it is mentioned by name, and is a very important location as Link sleeps for seven years inside it, and also receives the Sage’s medallions within it.

Zelda, disguised as Sheik, knows the whereabouts of each of the Sages’ temples in Hyrule. The events directly leading up to the ending reveal that Zelda is actually the Sage of Wisdom, but the dialogue is slightly ambiguous as to whether Zelda herself was fully aware of this fact previously.

At any rate, Zelda seems to be some sort of interesting exception to the other five Sages Link saves or assists during Ocarina of Time, as she is not seen with the other Sages at Death Mountain during the ending, and is the only one seen reverting (at least in terms of age) to or existing in her pre-Sage state at the very end when Young Link returns to Young Zelda in the courtyard, presumably to get the Ocarina of Time back so Ocarina of Time's direct sequel, Majora’s Mask can take place, which would once again support the second interpretation of Zelda’s “as a Sage” comment.

Okay, so where do the other Zelda games play into this?

Some split timeline theories place Wind Waker after the “Young Link” ending of Ocarina of Time, in which Link leaves Hyrule for the paralell universe of Termina, splitting the Triforce of Courage (which found fragmented in Wind Waker) and causing Link to “disappear” from that timeline, allowing Ganondorf come close to nearly take over completely and forcing the gods to flood Hyrule, leading to Wind Waker.

This is actually contrary Aonuma’s statement that Wind Waker takes place 100 years after the Adult Link’s ending, but that notion is incongruent with the King of Hyrule’s retelling of Majora’s Mask in Wind Waker, not to mention Tingle’s account in Wind Waker of the “legend” of the original Tingle from Majora’s Mask.

That would paint an image of two timelines both with heroes fighting to protect the same Triforce, which may be divided in any number of ways at any point during the timelines, which creates more problems than it solves for those seeking a coherent timeline.

Whether one places Wind Waker after the "Adult" or "Child" ending of Ocarina of Time I have a hard time believing that the Sages, particularly the exceedingly wise and powerful Zelda and Rauru, would allow Hyrule to be left in such a state that we have parallel versions of Hyrule, one of which is saved during Ocarina of Time, and the other of which is destroyed by Ganondorf, all seemingly for the sake of being nice to Link by letting him live out his childhood.

For this theory to have played out, Ganondorf would possibly have been required to be in two places at once, being sealed in one timeline and raining death and havoc in another.

One would assume that there is only one Sacred Realm (and all its subdivisions), and therefore but one Ganon sealed within it. Since Ganon leaves Ocarina of Time with his slice of the Triforce intact, it would make it necessary perhaps to have two Triforce of Powers (Trifri?) to go along with the powers multiple Ganons demonstrate in games supposedly taking place at the same time in paralell timelines. 

Were exactly is the Master Sword in the split timeline? If Link places the sword in the pedestal at the end of the Ocarina of Time, and the Temple of Time exists in both alleged paralell Hyrules,  is the Master Sword in Hyrule A with Link and Zelda as children, or in Hyrule B with an Adult Zelda staying behind in the future and Link being sent back to Hyrule A to live as a child?
This problem can be solved in a number of ways.

One could place all the Master Sword related games in Hyrule A or B and then work out the many, many potential kinks from there, or they could try to work out a way for the Master Sword to be “split” for each timeline, which creates more than a few problems of it’s own, including the ending of Link to the Past, which would now have an ending ambiguous as to which Master Sword was being laid to rest forever.

Another problem I have is the idea that Link returned to the past, leaving the “future” Hyrule to carry on without him. The gameplay already illustrates that things Link does in the past, like planting Bean Sprouts, will effect the future Hyrule.

Since logically a “future” Hyrule’s (Hyrule B) state and continuity would be dependent on a simultaneously existing “past” (Hyrule A) in which Link, Zelda, and others are capable of doing things which are inconsistent with the Hyrule B which already exists, than Hyrule B must be a volatile, unpredictable, and chaotic realm which would give the goddesses an almighty headache. Perhaps we could even go as far as to imagine that Termnia, the bizarre altenrate reality of Ocarina of Time's Hyrule which is the setting for Majora's Mask, is the result of the chronological confusion crated by a simutaniously existing past and future.

As interesting as this idea may be, I don’t think the Sages and deities would allow the past to exist simultaneously with the future, as this would almost certainly collapse into chaos.

Ultimately I can’t provide a definitive answer for most of the questions which I bring up.

I do however hope that this will spark a far deeper and critical examination of the fundamentals of the split timeline theory, and lead timeline theorists to a better understanding of what actually happened during Ocarina of Time’s ending and its implications on the Legend of Zelda chronology.

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