Link has been the protagonist of The Legend of Zelda since the very beginning, appearing in every game in the series as protagonist and hero. The series primarily follows different iterations of a destined hero named Link attempting to save the kingdom of Hyrule from destruction at the hands of Ganon, though he sometimes travels to other regions. Every entry has had Link at the helm, though they are not all different, with some direct Zelda sequels featuring a Link reprising his role.
To date, players have taken control of 12 different Links in The Legend of Zelda. The series started off with a good run of recurring Links, with only three different versions of Link appearing in the first eight games. This early Zelda era also featured the most well-traveled Link, who left Hyrule after A Link to the Past and visited Koholint Island, Holodrum, and Labrynna.
Following Majora’s Mask, the series largely moves away from repeated Links, and generally has a unique iteration of Hyrule’s destined hero in each game. There are a couple of exceptions for additional direct sequels, but Nintendo has continuously jumped around the complete Legend of Zelda timeline, more recently exploring both the earliest and latest iterations of Link chronologically. Links may vary, but the iconic Zelda protagonist has remained silently courageous throughout the series, and every version of him is outlined below.
The first two games in the series share a Link, separated by roughly six years. In The Legend of Zelda, Princess Zelda’s nursemaid Impa is sent to find a worthy hero after Ganon’s armies invade Hyrule. Just as she was beset upon by Ganon’s minions, a boy named Link arrived to save her. Link would go on to delve into eight underground labyrinths, recovering all eight shards of the Triforce of Wisdom, and climb Death Mountain to face Ganon.
Oddly, while The Adventure of Link features the same Link, it has a different Zelda. When Link finds a glowing Triforce on the back of his palm, Impa shows him an ancient, magically slumbering Zelda, who can only be awoken by a wish granted from reuniting the three Triforces. Link then sets out on a quest to retrieve the Triforce of Courage, with the culmination of his journey taking place in the Great Palace. Link’s final test before being granted the Triforce of Courage is to defeat his own shadow in single combat.
A Link to the Past is a prequel to its two predecessors, taking place ages prior in an earlier Hyrule. Link appears less as a wandering youth, and more as a young citizen of the kingdom, living near Hyrule Castle with his uncle. An advisor to the king, a wizard named Agahnim, usurps the throne and opens the Dark World in order to resurrect Ganon. Link fights through A Link to the Past‘s dungeons in both Hyrule and the Dark World multiple times to defeat Agahnim, and ultimately confront Ganon.
Following his exploits in ALttP, Link leaves Hyrule by ship, where he’s seen in the opening cutscene of Link’s Awakening. A storm destroys his ship and he’s left unconscious on the beaches of Koholint Island. Link awakens to find the only way to leave the island is to gather the Instruments of the Sirens and play them to rouse the Wind Fish. Link comes to learn that the reasoning behind this lies in Koholint only existing inside of the Wind Fish’s dream, where he’s become trapped.
Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages immediately follow ALttP and LA in the Zelda timeline, featuring the same Link after freeing himself from the Wind Fish’s dream. Seasons takes Link to the land of Holodrum, where the eponymous Oracle, Din, is captured by a General Onox, throwing the seasons into erratic chaos. Soon after Seasons, Link travels to Labrynna in Ages were a similar catastrophe has occurred. Link must save the Oracle of Ages, Nayru, and defeat the sorceress Veran by traveling through different eras of Labrynna.
Releasing after Link’s Awakening, Ocarina of Time once again moves backwards in time, featuring a Link in the earliest time period yet. Ocarina of Time brought the series into the 3D era, and began its penchant for time travel, which two of the three following games – Majora’s Mask and Ages – would continue. The celebrated N64 masterpiece is also responsible for the splits in the Zelda timeline, with its possible conclusions leading to three separate branches, one of which depicts the continued adventures of Ocarina‘s Link in Majora’s Mask.
After Link successfully seals Ganondorf in the Sacred Realm once again, Zelda returns him to the past where he can live out his lost childhood. Sometime before he outgrows his Kokiri neighbors, Link leaves the forest and travels with Epona to the land of Termina, where Epona is stolen by a Skull Kid. The Skull Kid has also ambushed the Happy Mask Salesman and taken Majora’s Mask, which he is using to bring the moon out of orbit. After saving both Termina and Hyrule, this Link is saddened by the fact that the plethora of time travel results in his heroics being unrecognized.
When Four Swords launched bundled with a Game Boy Advance re-release of A Link to the Past, it once again moved backwards on the timeline, taking place before Ocarina of Time. Four Swords is the first multiplayer game of the series, requiring at least two people to play, who control the four Links split by the Four Sword, a game mechanic created even earlier by a board game called The Hyrule Fantasy. The game also did not employ the typical Zelda-style adventure, instead having players complete randomly generated stages in order to defeat the Wind Sorcerer named Vaati, who would return as a main villain in subsequent games. Though Vaati reprises his role in different eras, the Link in Four Swords only appeared in this one title.
Like Majora’s Mask, The Wind Waker takes place following Ganondorf’s defeat in Ocarina. With the Hero of Time sent back to his childhood, there is no one to stop Ganon’s return at a later time, and the gods flood Hyrule to seal his magic under the waves. Wind Waker‘s Link lives on Outset Island, and is pulled into his sea-faring adventure with the King of Red Lions by a search for his sister, who was kidnapped by Ganondorf’s flying beast after being mistaken for Zelda. Link’s culture in Wind Waker has great reverence for the Hero of Time, and Link is given his green tunic to commemorate the ancient victory over Ganon.
Shortly after the conclusion of Wind Waker, Link rejoins Tetra’s pirate crew and Phantom Hourglass opens with them chasing down a ghost ship. Link’s adventure in Phantom Hourglass brings him to an archipelago known as the World of the Ocean King, a neighboring region of WW‘s Great Sea. At the end of Phantom Hourglass, it’s suggested that Link and Tetra’s quest in the Ocean King’s realm was just a dream, like in Link’s Awakening, but Link appears certain that it was real. He presumably returns to the Great Sea after the events of Phantom Hourglass.
Four Swords Adventures released on the Nintendo GameCube and has similar mechanics to Four Swords, but features a different Link. It once again deals with the Wind Sorcerer Vaati escaping from his seal, but is far away from Four Swords in the Zelda timeline. Link once again joins Princess Zelda and the Seven Maidens to try and belay Vaati’s escape from the Four Sword, which adds to some of the Zelda series’ timeline confusion, but Four Swords Adventures takes place at the end of the branch started by Majora’s Mask, and not before Ocarina like its spiritual predecessor.
Released shortly after Four Swords Adventures, The Minish Cap deals with the rise of Vaati, though it takes place even before his first appearance in Four Swords. Thus, The Minish Cap has its own unique iteration of Link. Much like ALttP, Link in The Minish Cap lives as a citizen of the kingdom with his uncle, the blacksmith in Hyrule Town. After Vaati appears and turns Princess Zelda (this Link’s childhood friend) to stone, Link journeys into the Minish Woods to find a way to reforge the Picori Blade. This Link is joined on his quest by the hat, Ezlo, who can shrink Link to the size of the Minish people.
The incarnation of Link in Twilight Princess is separate from other games, but he is directly connected to Ocarina’s Hero of Time, who appears as the Hero’s Shade to teach Link valuable techniques. Mirroring the Hero of Time’s childhood outside of Hyrule, Twilight Princess‘ Link grows up in Ordon Village, far to the south of Hyrule Castle. Though he has no depicted family members in TP, his mentor Rusl instructs him in the basics of sword fighting. This Link travels all over Hyrule and even enters the Twilight Realm to defeat Zant and Ganondorf. Twilight Princess‘ conclusion sees Link once again leaving Ordon Village, but the only game in this timeline following is Four Swords Adventures.
Spirit Tracks rounds out the Adult Era timeline following Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass but features a different Link roughly 100 years later. This Link lives with Niko, the last and now aged member of Tetra’s pirate crew, who gives Link the Shield of Antiquity that once belonged to the Link of WW and PH. Spirit Tracks takes place in New Hyrule established on a landmass with greater room than the islands of the Great Sea. There has yet to be another game set in New Hyrule, and Spirit Tracks Link has likewise not made another appearance.
The Link of Skyward Sword is the earliest chronologically, since the game takes place prior to the founding of Hyrule Kingdom on the earth’s surface. This Link has a close relationship with Zelda on their floating home of Skyloft, and his exploits throughout the game delineate the predestined role of Link throughout the ages in Hyrule. Skyward Sword‘s Link is responsible for the creation of the Master Sword, and his defeat of the Demon King Demise results in the curse that will forever require the spirit of the hero to battle against Ganon.
A Link Between Worlds takes place in a Hyrule that is incredibly similar to that of A Link to the Past, but takes place later in the timeline, thus involving a different Link than the one that also traveled to Koholint Island, Holodrum, and Labrynna. The parallels between ALttP and ALBW extend to its depiction of Hyrule as well, though ALBW‘s mirrored kingdom is called Lorule instead of A Link to the Past’s familiar Dark World. After an adventure culminating in the defeat of ALBW antagonists Yuga and Ganon, this Link follows in the footsteps of his spiritual predecessor and leaves Hyrule for the kingdom of Hytopia.
Hytopia is the setting of Tri Force Heroes, a fashion-centric kingdom that allows this Link to wear a multitude of outfits. Following ALBW, Link attempts to hide his identity as Hyrule’s hero by shirking his signature green tunic, though he’s quickly thrust into a new adventure in Hytopia. Link fits the description of Hytopia’s prophesied hero, destined to save Princess Styla from her curse of a truly horrific, immovable outfit. The original The Legend of Zelda follows Tri Force Heroes in this branch of the timeline, so it’s unclear what happens to this Link following his time in Hytopia.
Breath of the Wild‘s timeline placement is unspecific, largely due to its backstory which tells of the Shiekah tribe’s fight against Calamity Ganon 10,000 years earlier. This means that BOTW most likely takes place far in the future, and features a brand-new Link. Prior to his memory loss that serves as a narrative impetus in the game, this Link was a Knight of Hyrule and served as attendant to Princess Zelda before the Second Great Calamity. Princess Zelda mentions that Link’s father was also a Knight, but none of his family is seen in Breath of the Wild. Additionally, this Link’s silence is canonically explained in Zelda’s journal, where she says his great burdens as her Knight attendant has molded him into stoicism and quietness.
It is presumed that this version of Link will reprise his role in an immediate sequel, though there are competing theories for Breath of the Wild 2. If these theories prove to have substance, the still-untitled Breath of the Wild 2 might feature the thirteenth version of Link to be seen for the first time in The Legend of Zelda. This may be a possibility if the game’s design calls for it, since the series has always put game mechanics as a priority, operating without an official timeline for over 20 years.