With 20 games making up the entire storyline, it's no secret that the Legend of Zelda timeline is a bit difficult to follow.
Though many video game franchises will release games in chronological order, the Legend of Zelda series has never followed any rhyme or reason with its release schedule. In fact, there are actually three different timelines comprised of different games, with all of them converging with Breath of the Wild.
With Tears of the Kingdom set to release this month, the timeline is bound to shift a little bit as Link and Zelda go on another journey to save Hyrule. In case you're still confused as to where this newest installment fits into the overall timeline, here's a breakdown.
The first game in the official Zelda timeline in 'Skyward Sword.'
After the creation of the Hyrule realm, Skyward Sword is actually the first title in the timeline, despite not being released until 2011 for the Wii (with a remake for the Switch released in 2021).
This is followed by The Minish Cap, where the evil Vaati comes to the scene. This game was released in 2004 for the Game Boy Advance.
Four Swords takes place immediately after The Minish Cap, despite coming out earlier the same year for the Game Boy Advance.
Ocarina of Time is the last game in the universal timeline and shapes the subsequent games greatly. In this one, Ganondorf becomes Ganon (who appears in subsequent titles) and Link has to save Hyrule from total destruction.
The timeline splits after 'Ocarina of Time.'
Following the events in Ocarina of Time, the Zelda timeline splits depending on the outcome. Of course, the only way to complete the game is to defeat Ganondorf, but the timeline offers a hypothetical scenario for if the "Hero is Defeated" versus if you're "Triumphant."
A Link to the Past is the first title in the Hero-Defeated timeline and the third ever for the Zelda franchise. It was originally released for the SNES in 1991.
Link's Awakening is next, following Link as he finds himself stranded on Koholint Island. This title got a remake for the Nintendo Switch in 2019 (though the original was released for the Game Boy).
Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons come next, both released in 2001 for the Game Boy Color. These two can be played in any order, but to complete the full adventure, a player will need to work through both.
A Link Between Worlds (2013 for the Nintendo 3DS) follows, taking Link on an adventure to save Zelda from the evil sorcerer Yufa. The events in Tri-Force Heroes (2015 for the 3DS) is a multiplayer installment with events happening immediately after A Link Between Worlds.
The Legend of Zelda and The Adventure of Link are the final installments in this timeline and the first two games released. Legend of Zelda was released in 1986 for the NES (though is now playable on the Switch with a Nintendo Online subscription) with The Adventure of Link released in 1987 for the same system.
The Hero-Triumphant timeline also splits into two. In the Child Era, Zelda returns Link to his childhood after defeating Ganondorf to live out his days as though the villain never existed, while the Adult Era explores the reality Link left behind.
The Child Era consists of Majora's Mask (N64), Twilight Princess (GameCube), and Four Swords Adventures (GameCube) while the Adult Era has The Wind Waker (GameCube), Phantom Hourglass (Wii U and DS), and Spirit Tracks (Wii U and DS).
Where does 'Tears of the Kingdom' fall on the 'Legend of Zelda' timeline?
Through some series of events that has not quite been revealed, all three of these timelines apparently converge with Breath of the Wild, bringing the franchise back to one consistent timeline. Knowing this, Tears of the Kingdom, which releases May 12, will follow directly behind Breath of the Wild in the tale's timeline.
There have been a variety of theories circulating the internet, with some believing that the game is actually a prequel and not a direct sequel (though those theories were quickly disproved). There are also some who believe that Tears of the Kingdom will be the last Legend of Zelda game, especially if the title closes the timeline and connects back to Skyward Sword.
All that said, though, at this time these are only theories. For now, it's assumed that Tears of the Kingdom is the latest installment in the franchise's long and confusing timeline, coming directly after the events of Breath of the Wild.