The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the most expansive entry to the series thus far and continues to surprise players with new discoveries and mysteries. That said, it has also been a huge headache for fans trying to figure out where it falls on the series’ timeline. Thanks to being made retroactively, nothing in the timeline fits together as well as many might like it to and no entry in the series is more representative of this than Breath of the Wild.
The Legend of Zelda timeline, to those unfamiliar, begins with Skyward Sword and splits into three separate timelines after Ocarina of Time. There’s the “Adult Timeline,” which describes the history that Zelda moves forward with after returning Link to his childhood, the “Child Timeline,” which is the time following Link’s return to his childhood, and the “Downfall Timeline,” which sees Link being defeated by the overwhelming power of Ganon. The only known thing about Breath of the Wild’s placement is that it is currently sitting at the end of one of the timelines.
What makes determining its placement so difficult is that Breath of the Wild has characters, monsters, and locations that are otherwise exclusive to each of the respective timelines. For example, the Lionels are exclusive to the Downfall Timeline, while the Lazalfos are exclusive to the Child Timeline. However, the Hinox is present in all three. While there is more evidence that leans toward a particular timeline, the inclusion of all these elements makes it really hard to claim anything with absolute certainty – and this isn’t by accident.
The Legend of Zelda is developed under a “mechanics first” design philosophy. Series producer Eiji Aonuma talked about this in an interview with PureNintendo, in which he said that each game begins with a story outline well before it’s made, but if the tools and mechanics they enjoy during development require the story to be altered in order to use, then they will alter the story. Nintendo’s focus is less about creating a cohesive timeline, choosing instead to focus on creating fun and solid individual games that happen to be connected. Even the connections are an afterthought, as Aonuma closed this subject by saying that he also believes setting Skyward Sword as the ‘first story “was merely a coincidence.“
When viewed with this perspective, it becomes fairly clear as to why Breath of the Wild has so many contradictions. In order to set it in the open world, developers wanted and craft the story they wanted to tell, and the team needed as much to work with as possible. This led to bringing in monsters and places and references that the developers liked and felt fit into the world nicely because that enjoyment, according to Aonuma, is more important to Nintendo than how cleanly it fits the timeline.