Nintendo didn’t bring to E3 the boatload of games that PlayStation or Xbox had to offer, but the Wii U manufacturer only needed one game to steal the show. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the first new console entry in the masterful series in over five years, and it wowed folks with how much it changed the adventure franchise’s formula for combat and exploration. The stripped-down presentation and mysterious style made Breath of the Wild an easy choice for many to name it Game of the Show.
Even with hours of gameplay footage out there for the game, there are dozens of lingering questions about Breath of the Wild. And there's one query that's paramount to some of the series' most inquisitive fans: Where does Breath of the Wild fit in the Legend of Zelda timeline?
Fans had wondered for decades how exactly each Zelda game was connected, but it wasn't until 2011 that Nintendo finally confirmed what many had suspected. Every mainline Legend of Zelda was connected in one way or another, though the official timeline also revealed that many classic games were split off into alternate histories thanks to the time travel plot of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. It's a bit of a mess, and one Nintendo isn't always ready to explain more when asked about it.
That official timeline also causes issues every single time a new Zelda game is announced, as fans want to immediately place it somewhere in the above flow chart. Unfortunately for those in search of answers, most Zelda games reveal when they take place as part of the game. That was the case with Skyward Sword and I wouldn't be surprised if the same were true in this newest console game. But that doesn't mean we can't make some informed guesses about where Breath of the Wild fits in. And the overwhelming feeling is…
Breath of the Wild Takes Place After Wind Waker
There's more evidence that Breath of the Wild comes after The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, starting with the very suspect appearance of a Korok in many of the game's E3 2016 demos. The tiny woodland sprites were first introduced in Wind Waker, and they evolved from the Kokiri race of woodland elves. This is their first appearance since Wind Waker, so what's going on?
This is Exhibit A in the case for Breath of the Wild's timeline placement. Thinking anthropologically, Koroks evolved they way they did because of the great flood that precedes Wind Waker, which is in turn caused by the split timeline in Ocarina where big bad Ganon is sealed away, breaks out, and then Hyrule is flooded to stop him. Koroks can seemingly only exist in that timeline thanks to the storyline circumstances, making this an easy link to Breath of the Wild.
You may be asking yourself "Wait, what happened to all the water in Wind Waker? The world of Breath of the Wild barely has any water?" The most compelling explanation is that a yet-to-be-revealed calamity not only wiped out most of the population of Hyrule but also dried up most of the water. The water spotted in the demo were small lakes and puddles, and when coupled with all the devastation and the lack of people, implies some force cleaned out the land of both water and living things.
Multiple objects in the Breath of the Wild demo point to that possibility as well, including the appearance of Rock Salt, a mineral that the in-game description says was left behind by an ancient sea that's no longer around. And then there's the fact that the old man in the opening looks A LOT like Wind Waker's version of Hyrule's lost king.
That still leaves the question of where Breath of the Wild takes place in relation to Wind Waker's sequels Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks. My personal theory is that it takes place in the loooooong stretch of time between the drying out after Phantom Hourglass, though I also wouldn't be shocked if the developers simply ignored those games and added an alternate timeline within the flood history.
We'll likely have to wait till the game's release to get our answers, when The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild hits Wii U and NX in early 2017.