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Analyzing the Various Theories Explaining BOTW’s Timeline Placement

MapelSerup

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“Video games, not just Zelda, can go much, much further! We got a lot of responses from adult players who said they felt the same way playing this game as they did when they used to be hooked on video games when they were younger," Aonuma says within new book Zelda: Breath of the Wild - Creating a Champion, as transcribed by Nintendo Insider. "We made this game with the intention of returning to our roots, so the response from players about feeling the same as they had when they were young is promising.

"In books like the recently released The Legend of Zelda Encyclopedia, we revealed where each Zelda game fell on a timeline and how their stories related, but we didn't do that for Breath of the Wild. There is a reason for that. With this game, we saw just how many players were playing in their own way and had those reactions I just mentioned.

"We realised that people were enjoying imagining the story that emerged from the fragmentary imagery we were providing. If we defined a restricted timeline, then there would be a definitive story, and it would eliminate the room for imagination, which wouldn't be as fun.

"We want players to be able to continue having fun imagining this world even after they are finished with the game, so, this time, we decided that we would avoid making clarifications. I hope that everyone can find their own answer, in their own way."
-Eiji Aonuma on the decision to not designate a spot in the timeline

BOTW’s placement in the story is a hotly debated topic. With no real input from the developers besides it being at the end of the timeline, it’s specific situation is up for debate. I’d like to compile all the evidence we have for each timeline in order to compare them. Also, due to the massive time gap, most of the evidence here could easily have changed with the time. I’ll also try to avoid basing evidence on factors that have varied sporadically in the past, like Hyrule’s layout. I will refer to them, but only if a pattern seems to arise with the timeline. Finally, I’ll try to include things that could be seen as evidence, even if they are just references. Also, NO DLC COSTUMES will be addressed as they are not canon.

There are many references to previous games in location names. I’ll try to only use these as evidence if the location is referred to by the exact same name.

The Downfall Timeline
Evidence:
  • Zelda states that Calamity Ganon has “given up on reincarnation” in BOTW. Ganon has reincarnated or revived 0 times in the Adult timeline, 1 time in the Child timeline, and 4 times plus 1 failed attempt in the Downfall timeline. He has also remained as a mindless beast. (This could possibly be a mistranslation, see Moblinking’s post)
  • The stripe around the bottom of Link’s hat, which is in BOTW, has only ever been present in games in the Downfall Timeline.
  • There is a rock formation resembling Spectacle Rock from the Downfall Timeline.
  • While the “Subdued Ceremony” memory refers to Twilight Princess using the Japanese word “Towairaito (twilight)”, it’s actually “tasogare”, a Japanese word used to refer Sacred Realm in ALttP’s manual. However, most Japanese players believe this to be referring to Twilight Princess as well (Source).
  • There are many references to the Seven Sages of OoT. While they are present in every timeline, they have been remembered the longes in the Downfall timeline based on AoL’s town names.
  • BOTW was designed to “return to the roots” of the Zelda series, much of which is in the Downfall Timeline.
  • The Master Sword is in the Lost Woods, and BOTW references the flower placement around the sword from ALttP.
  • See all counter-evidence against other timelines
Counter-evidence:
  • None of the friendly races seen in BOTW have been passive or present since at least OoT, minus the Gorons in the Oracle series.
  • See all evidence for other timelines
Child Timeline
Evidence:
  • The “Subdued Ceremony” memory references Twilight Princess: “steeped in the glowing embers of twilight...”
  • Ganon has been reincarnated once in this timeline.
  • Twilight Princess’s Hyrule looks fairly similar to BOTW.
  • The Gerudo and sea Zora are present as friendly races, unlike in other timelines.
  • The ruins of the Arbiter’s Grounds can be found in the Gerudo Desert. There is almost nothing left, however.
  • The Faron Woods are present, only previously appearing in SS and TP.
  • See all counter-evidence against other timelines
Counter-evidence:
  • The many references to the events of OoT were made null due to Link returning to his timeline and Ganondorf never reaching power.
  • I have chosen to assume the sages in OoT were awakened regardless of OoT’s events not fully taking place. However, if TP’s sages are different, all references to the sages by name don’t work.
  • See all evidence for other timelines
Adult Timeline
Evidence:
  • Large amounts of sea salt from “an ancient sea” can be found in BOTW.
  • The Rito specifically evolved from Zora due to the flood and emergence of the Great Sea, them no longer being able to swim in it. They are only present in the Adult Timeline and BOTW.
  • The Japanese version of the “Subdued Ceremony” memory references a sea.
  • The Koroks are only present in the Adult Timeline and BOTW as well, minus a picture in ALBW, having transformed from the Kokiri. Note that the Kokiri are not present in any other timeline.
  • See all counter-evidence against other timelines
Counter-evidence:
  • The entirety of Hyrule is destroyed at the end of WW, meaning any references to its locations like the Temple of Time are null.
  • The Triforce is not in the possession of the Royal Family like it is in BOTW.
  • The concept of a camera is new to the Hylians despite pictographs existing in The Adult Timeline (WW).
  • None of the technology from New Hyrule such as trains are present in BOTW, as well as nothing left over from the Lokomo tribe being present.
  • See al evidence for other timelines
Other Theories
  • Predestination Theory
    • This theory states that due to the massive time gap since the rest of the Zelda series all the timelines experience events that lead to BOTW. It’s supported by the fact that BOTW has evidence pointing to all three timelines. This would require many major events to occur outside the main games. This could possibly be confined to two timelines instead of three.
  • Convergence Theory
    • The convergence theory is the belief that at some point the three timelines were converged into one through the power of the Triforce or some other means. There is no evidence to suggest that anyone is aware of the multiple timelines Also, the fact that the Downfall and other two timelines cannot mutually exist makes this theory unlikely.

What are your thoughts? I just wanted to compile what evidence I’m aware of for easy discussion. Please inform me of anything I forgot or other theories you have and I’ll edit it into the post with your username. Thanks to @Moblinking5000 for pointing out some stuff I missed.
 
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Chevywolf30

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Alternate universe from OoT: The hero stays.
Link refuses to be sent back by Zelda to live out his childhood. Knowing that Ganon is only sealed away, not destroyed, he and Zelda urge the Sheikah to prepare for his return, prompting the creation of the Divine Beasts and Guardians. Ganon breaks back out of the Sacred Realm as Calamity Ganon, and is sealed away for 10,000 years.

Evidence for:
Temple of Time on the Great Plateau.
Koroks
My headcanon is that Link stayed partially because he was attached to Zelda. Not necessarily romantic, but he still wanted to stay with her. If you consider the tapestry and Impa's story making the bearer of the sword a sort of right hand man to Zelda, as Link is in the memories, this would seem to be what HoT Link became to Zelda.

Evidence against, and counterclaims:
No Rito in OoT- Just because they're not in the game doesn't mean they're not there.
 

MapelSerup

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Alternate universe from OoT: The hero stays.
Link refuses to be sent back by Zelda to live out his childhood. Knowing that Ganon is only sealed away, not destroyed, he and Zelda urge the Sheikah to prepare for his return, prompting the creation of the Divine Beasts and Guardians. Ganon breaks back out of the Sacred Realm as Calamity Ganon, and is sealed away for 10,000 years.

Evidence for:
Temple of Time on the Great Plateau.
Koroks
My headcanon is that Link stayed partially because he was attached to Zelda. Not necessarily romantic, but he still wanted to stay with her. If you consider the tapestry and Impa's story making the bearer of the sword a sort of right hand man to Zelda, as Link is in the memories, this would seem to be what HoT Link became to Zelda.

Evidence against, and counterclaims:
No Rito in OoT- Just because they're not in the game doesn't mean they're not there.
Not sure how the Koroks are evidence for this. The Rito canonically did not exist in OoT because we know they were transformed in WW.
This is a great headcanon, but I wouldn’t count i as another theory. It has very little evidence for or against it due to us not having anything to indicate there being a third split.
 

Chevywolf30

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Not sure how the Koroks are evidence for this
There's Kokiri in OoT, they transformed
The Rito canonically did not exist in OoT because we know they were transformed in WW.
Didn't think this through 100%
This is a great headcanon, but I wouldn’t count i as another theory. It has very little evidence for or against it due to us not having anything to indicate there being a third split.
That's just the thing. You can't pin BotW down to one timeline, they made sure of that, so I feel you have to get creative to place it. Sure, there's no evidence for HoT Link staying but that doesn't mean it couldn't have happened.
 

Uwu_Oocoo2

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There's Kokiri in OoT, they transformed
I'm pretty sure that the official reason the kokiri transformed was because they needed a way to fly over the great sea (not sure how turning into a tree helps, but whatever. Seems like it would have been easier just to get korok leafs like Link has in WW).

  • The entirety of Hyrule is destroyed at the end of WW, meaning any references to its locations is null.
  • The Triforce is not in the possession of the Royal Family like it is in BOTW..
  • The concept of a camera is new to the Hylians despite pictographs existing in The Adult Timeline (WW).
  • None of the technology from New Hyrule such as trains are present in BOTW, as well as nothing left over from the Lokomo tribe being present.
  • See al evidence for other timelines
If anything, I feel like the existence of trains and whatnot is a point towards it being the Adult Timeline. By the end of the DT they are in an almost medieval era with basically no technology at all. The CT is more advanced, but not nearly to the extent that we see in BotW. In ST we see larger land masses developing and technology such as trains forming. Trains could have been abandoned as they found new and more renewable energy sources- like the blue energy we see in BotW. I don't think it takes place in the CT, but I definitely believe that trains are a point towards it.
 

217ChristmasAngels

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First off, Uwu, trains are nowhere near like the tech in botw.

OK, I'mma spitball here, but, I think that BotW may not actually be in any timeline that we know of, so far. I think this because BotW fits all of the timelines... except doesn't. Possibly BotW is an alternate timeline and could even be the start of its timeline!! We get cool lore that can actually suggest that. Kind of like SS, we get an awesome battle background that doesn't match any of the games. Of course, we don't get a creation episode...
 
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I made one of these too: https://zeldadungeon.net/forum/thre...of-botw-and-my-conclusion.60315/#post-1104385

The Downfall Timeline
Evidence:
  • Zelda states that Calamity Ganon has “given up on reincarnation” in BOTW. Ganon has reincarnated or revived 0 times in the Adult timeline, 1 time in the Child timeline, and 4 times plus 1 failed attempt in the Downfall timeline. He has also remained as a mindless beast.
Actually, this is a mistranslation; in the JP, Zelda says that the Dark Beast form is a result of Ganon refusing to give up on revival(NOT reincarnation), not to mention the more general Aonuma statement of BotW being in a world that has many battles with Ganon. The AT has three: OoT, The Great Flood, and TWW. The CT has two: TP and FSA(not even sure if FSA counts, as that's a new Ganon entirely). The DT has seven: OoT, the Imprisoning War, ALttP, OoX, the backstory of ALBW, ALBW itself, and Zelda 1. The DT is the only one that fits with that Aonuma comment.

While the “Subdued Ceremony” memory refers to Twilight Princess using the Japanese word “Towairaito (twilight)”, it’s actually “tasogare”, a Japanese word used to refer Sacred Realm in ALttP’s manual. However, most Japanese players believe this to be referring to Twilight Princess as well

I mean Tasogare is a Japanese word that is used not only in multiple places in Zelda, but in real life, too. What do theyh think about the references to a sea in the same ceremony?

BOTW was designed to “return to the roots” of the Zelda series, much of which is in the Downfall Timeline.

While I'm adamant that BotW is in the DT, this isn't a great reason why. They could've just meant in a gameplay sense.

None of the friendly races seen in BOTW have been passive or present since at least OoT, minus the Gorons in the Oracle series

Why do we need to see any of the other races--friendly or otherwise--appear in consecutive games? The Minish were in TMC, and were going to come back in BotW. While this didn't happen, this proves that Nintendo doesn't care that much about races. The Gerudo weren't in TP, yet they were in FSA. The Zoras are explained; the Zora's Domain in BotW was founded 10,000 years ago, meaning there was no home for the Zora for a specified time.

The “Subdued Ceremony” memory references Twilight Princess: “steeped in the glowing embers of twilight...”
Ganon has been reincarnated once in this timeline.

I addressed this above.

Twilight Princess’s Hyrule looks fairly similar to BOTW. The ruins of the Arbiter’s Grounds can be found in the Gerudo Desert. There is almost nothing left, however. The Faron Woods are present, only previously appearing in SS and TP.

So...geography? That's it?

I have chosen to assume the sages in OoT were awakened regardless of OoT’s events not fully taking place.

Making uneeded assumptions is one of the worst things you can do when theorycrafting, especially when there things going against it(like the events of OoT being forgotten on the CT according to HH and the JP version of the MM intro).

Large amounts of sea salt from “an ancient sea” can be found in BOTW.

There's been TONS of ''ancient seas'' in the series.

The Rito specifically evolved from Zora due to the flood and emergence of the Great Sea, them no longer being able to swim in it. They are only present in the Adult Timeline and BOTW.

And yet, not only do Zoras and Rito coexist in BotW, they can swim around just fine in BotW.

Assuming of course, that the BotW Rito are the same as the TWW Rito when there's plenty of differences between the two, both biological and cultural, that is.

The Koroks are only present in the Adult Timeline and BOTW as well, having transformed from the Kokiri. Note that the Kokiri are not present in any other timeline.

There's a painting of a Korok in ALBW in Link's house, suggesting their existence on the DT.

Both predestination and convergence are inherently flawed because of what you said.
 
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MapelSerup

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Making uneeded assumptions is one of the worst things you can do when theorycrafting, especially when there things going against it(like the events of OoT being forgotten on the CT according to HH and the JP version of the MM intro).
I agree with everything you said and just wanted to clarify on this point, especially that a lot of the evidence we have isn’t great. I was assuming for the Child Timeline to work better that the sages in TP were the same as those in OoT, and they somehow awoke through other means. This does not mean the events of OoT occurred, as they didn’t in this timeline. The only reason I made the assumption here, which is honestly worthy of a discussion in and of itself (and I believe it’s had one), was because if this wasn’t true it wouldn’t mean much besides a little less evidence for the Child Timeline. In an effort to be as complete as possible, I tried to include everything that could realistically be seen as evidence.
 

217ChristmasAngels

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I think the only conclusion we have drawn here about the timeline placement, that we all agree on, is that it happens in the same timeline as OoT.
 

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