So you can truly immerse yourself
From an outside perspective, every Legend of Zelda game seems to have a completely different story, with only a few constants, such as the appearance of Link and Zelda in every game.
However, each game is connected through the background lore, and there is a true order you can play the games that follows the storyline of the games. This is different from the order of release.
This article will outline where the canonically correct order came from, as well as how to play the games in this way.
The True Order of the Legend of Zelda Games
In 2011, Nintendo released the Hyrule Historia book, which detailed the master timeline of all the Legend of Zelda games. In this timeline, Link and Zelda are essentially reincarnated for hundreds of years into each of the game’s storylines.
The timeline begins with the backstory of the three Golden Goddesses, who, after bringing order to the world of Hyrule, created the Triforce (another recurring motif in the games) that can grant its holder their heart’s desire. They entrusted the protection of the Triforce to the goddess Hylia.
Eventually, a demon king called Demise rose to power against Hyrule. Hylia took the remaining humans of the world and brought them to a land in the sky, called Skyloft. She also hid the Triforce there.
After sealing away Demise, Hylia created the Goddess Sword and the spirit Fi to bring a chosen hero to it as a precaution for when the demon king’s seal broke. Then, in order to continue to protect the Triforce, she transferred her soul into a human, who would be Zelda.
After these events is when the first game in this timeline begins.
This game is the very beginning and starts when Link is led by Fi to draw the Goddess Sword. Zelda also regains her memories as the goddess Hylia. Link seeks out the Special Flames in order to temper his sword into the Master Sword, which he eventually uses to travel to the past through the Gates of Time to take down Demise.
The Minish Cap
As word about the Triforce gets out, many groups and individuals begin to seek it out. However, beings known as the Picori came from the sky to protect Hyrule from evil beings. They used the Picori Blade to do so and the evil was sealed away in the Bound Chest.
In this game, a corrupted Picori known as Vaati takes the Picori Blade and opens the Bound Chest again, unleashing the evil, breaking the blade, and turning Zelda to stone. Link, reincarnated as a blacksmith in the game, is enlisted by the king of Hyrule to reforge the Picori Blade and break the curse on Zelda.
Vaati reappears in this game, kidnapping Zelda and keeping her in the Palace of Winds. Link then draws the Four Swords, splitting him into four separate Links. They gather keys throughout the land to enter the palace and save Zelda.
Ocarina of Time
Ganondorf appears in this game, attempting to obtain the Triforce. In order to do this, he curses the Deku Tree of Kokiri Forest in an attempt to gain the Kokiri’s Emerald. As he is dying, the Deku Tree sends out Link and the fairy Navi to stop Ganondorf.
Link eventually meets Zelda, and the two decide to travel through the Door of Time to get to the Triforce before Ganon. Link draws the Master Sword from the Pedestal of Time, but is trapped for seven years, to reawaken as the Hero of Time. During those years, Ganondorf brought the land of Hyrule into darkness. However, he was only able to obtain one portion of the Triforce.
Link and Zelda obtain the other two pieces and are able to eventually seal Ganondorf away in the Evil Realm.
During the events of Ocarina of Time, the timeline is split three different ways. The first is the Fallen Hero timeline when Link is defeated by Ganon. The other two take place where Link does defeat Ganon, yet are split further into Child and Adult timelines, due to Zelda sending Link back in time to his childhood during Ocarina of Time.
The Hero Is Defeated
In this timeline, Ganondorf obtains the entire Triforce and defeats Link. However, Zelda and the Seven Sages are able to seal Ganondorf into the Sacred Realm for a short time.
A Link to the Past
After Hyrule undergoes many hardships, the king begins to seek out anyone who can put an end to it. The wizard Agahnim comes forward and mysteriously brings order to Hyrule, and the king appoints Agahnim as chief advisor and priest. Using this power, the wizard brainwashes Hyrule’s knights and rids of the king, in an attempt to break Ganon’s seal.
He puts Zelda in a cell, where she calls out to Link telepathically. He rescues her and brings her to a sanctuary to keep her safe. However, Agahnim eventually finds her and kidnaps her. Link, now with the Master Sword, finds Agahnim, who turns into Ganon, and defeats him.
Link now decides to train in order to be ready for future troubles. However, during a journey on a boat, he runs into a storm and gets stuck on an island. He meets Marin here, who resembles Zelda.
Link discovers that in order to leave the island he must wake the Wind Fish, who upon waking would cause the island to disappear as though it were just the Wind Fish’s own dream. Link eventually does so and wakes up on a piece of driftwood of his old ship.
Oracle of Seasons & Oracle of Ages
When Link one day touches the Triforce in Hyrule Castle, it sends him to the land of Holodrum. Meanwhile, two witches named Twinrova plot to revive Ganon once more using three special flames and a human sacrifice.
In Holodrum, Link adventures to save the Oracle of Ages and Seasons in order to prevent the flames from being lit. However, two of them are lit, and Twinrova captures Princess Zelda in order to light the third flame. Link finds them and defeats them, as well as defeating Ganon’s half-resurrected form to bring peace back to the land.
A Link Between Worlds
A dark wizard named Yuga turns the Seven Sages into paintings and steals them, as well as kidnapping Zelda. He is able to resurrect some of Ganon’s power and uses it to fight against Link. However, Link is able to defeat him.
The Legend of Zelda
The first Legend of Zelda game ever made actually falls very far along on the true timeline. In this game, Ganon leads an evil army to retrieve the Triforce.
Zelda sends Impa to find someone to defeat Ganon. However, Ganon captures Zelda and sends others to find Impa. Link is eventually discovered by Impa and is sent on a quest to find the eight pieces of the Triforce. He uses this to then defeat Ganon.
Adventure of Link
Ganon’s henchmen continue to cause issues within Hyrule. Link is brought by Impa to North Castle, where Princess Zelda lays in a cursed sleep. Link is sent to find the final piece of the Triforce in the Great Palace in order to wake Zelda.
The Hero Is Successful: Child Era
This part of the timeline split takes place after Ocarina of Time, when Link is sent by Zelda back to childhood at the end of the game. Link leaves Hyrule at this point to search for his fairy, Navi.
During Link’s search, he becomes lost in a forest. He meets Skull Kid, who wears the Majora’s Mask. Skull Kid steals Link’s horse and he chases him into the world of Termina.
Skull Kid plans to destroy Termina with the moon above it, and Link has three days to save the land from this fate. He succeeds by defeating the demon inside the Majora’s Mask, and leaves Termina to continue to look for Navi.
In this game, The Seven Sages have sent Ganondorf to the Twilight Realm. In this realm, he partners with one of the royal servants of the Twili family, Zant, to take the throne from Princess Midna. Midna finds Link in Hyrule and together they go back to the Twilight, which transforms Link into a wolf form.
Together, Midna and Link defeat Zant, and Link defeats Ganon with the Master Sword. Midna returns to the Twilight Realm and breaks the link between the worlds.
Four Swords + Hyrule Adventure
Long after Ganon’s death, Hyrule and the Gerudo tribe have made amends. However, a reincarnation of Ganon was born in the tribe. He plotted to release the ancient evil Vaati from the Four Sword, and created an alter ego of Link called Shadow Link.
Before Zelda could renew the seal on Vaati, Shadow Link released him. The actual Link took the Four Sword and split into four Links, journeying through Hyrule and eventually defeating Vaati and Ganon, and sealing him in the Four Sword.
The Hero Is Successful: Adult Era
This timeline takes place after Ocarina of Time, after Link disappears from Hyrule once Ganon is defeated.
The Wind Waker
Hyrule was submerged in water by the gods in order to seal it and to seal Ganon with it. They moved inhabitants to the mountains, which became islands when Hyrule was flooded. Part of the Triforce, the Triforce of Wisdom, was split in two and given to Hyrule’s king as well as his daughter Zelda.
In the events of Wind Waker, Link meets the pirate Tetra, and finds the Master Sword. He attempts to defeat Ganondorf, but fails. He brings the sword to Hyrule’s king, who fixes it. Link and Tetra then go to defeat Ganondorf again. All the pieces of the Triforce come together, but before Ganon can use it, the king steps in to wish for Hyrule to be flooded forever.
As Link and Tetra set out to explore the land, Tetra is lured onto the Ghost Ship and taken away. Link tries to save her, but becomes lost in the ocean and ends up on Mercay Island, where he meets the fairy Ciela.
Link and Ciela eventually find the Ghost Ship, but find that Tetra has been turned to stone by the demon Bellum. Link journeys to forge the Phantom Sword, and then uses it to defeat Bellum and save Tetra. Link and Tetra continue their journey to find a new land.
Eventually, Link and Tetra discover a land covered in Spirit Tracks, put there by the Lokomo to seal the demon Malladus. Tetra deemed this land as the new Hyrule.
After a hundred years, these Spirit Tracks begin to disappear. Link, in this reincarnation now a Royal Engineer, and Zelda, the descendant of Tetra, travel together to restore the Spirit Tracks.
Thousands of years after the events of these games, and 10,000 years before Breath of the Wild, the Sheikah Tribe worked to prevent Ganon’s next resurrection.
Thousands of years later, another Princess Zelda was born, and she and Link went to stop Calamity Ganon once more. However, Link was injured greatly while trying to help Zelda and had to sleep for 100 years in the Shrine of Resurrection.
Zelda went to stop Calamity Ganon on her own, but in order to do so she had to seal herself with Ganon as well, as she couldn’t fully seal him away without the Master Sword, which only Link can use.
Breath of the Wild
After a hundred years had passed, Zelda’s seal had weakened, but Link was ready to awaken again. Using the Shiekah Slate left by Zelda, Link was able to find the Master Sword, free the Divine Beasts, and injure Calamity Ganon with the sword so that Zelda could finally seal him away fully.
What Order Should You Play Legend of Zelda Games?
The order listed above is best in order for the overarching story behind the games to make the most sense. However, playing them in order of release can be a good way to go, too.
If you play the games in the official order, you might wonder what to do when the timeline split occurs. In that case, you can play either path first, just make sure that when you’re playing through the Hero is Successful path that you play the child era, then the adult era.
If you’re new to the Zelda franchise, I’d definitely advise playing the games in this official order, as it can answer many questions you may have about the series and make for a much more enjoyable playthrough.