But when it comes to Nintendo employees making things confusing, Aonuma takes top honors for introducing the idea of a branching timeline in an interview in 2002. When talking about where Wind Waker sat in relation to other games, Aonuma revealed that Nintendo thought of Ocarina of Time as having two endings: One ending saw Link as a child, stopping Ganon before he could throw his evil scheme into high gear, while the other saw Link as an adult, defeating Ganon after he'd taken over Hyrule. Aonuma said that Wind Waker was set around a century after Ganon's defeat by the adult Link. This prompted a great deal of heated debate over just how many timelines there were, which only subsided - although not completely - when Aonuma confirmed that there were two timelines in another interview in 2006.
As Ocarina of Time is likely the earliest game in the timeline - at least until Skyward Sword comes out, which Aonuma has confirmed comes before it - every other game needed to be assigned a place in one of the branches. Majora's Mask and Twilight Princess make up the Child branch, while the Adult branch is made up of Wind Waker, Phantom Hourglass, and Spirit Tracks. This order not only has the official thumbs up from Nintendo - Aonuma had previously placed Wind Waker, and also confirmed that Twilight Princess was part of the Child branch - but also holds up to the scrutiny of fans.
When it comes to the rest of the games, things get a little trickier, although there are several instances in the series where one game very clearly follows on from the other. Zelda II: Adventure of Link, is a direct sequel to the original Legend of Zelda, for example, and Majora's Mask follows Ocarina of Time. These short chains, usually just two, or occasionally three, games long, create little sections where the timeline is pretty much set in stone. The order that these chains go in is still the stuff of guesswork and assumptions, but they do at least keep the number of timeline entries down to something manageable.
It's possible to organize the games into a rough order, using information gleaned from plots, back stories, and implied links. What's more, it seems that the rest of the games belong to the child timeline. The back story to A Link to the Past provides clues about where Minish Cap, Four Swords, and Four Swords Adventure - which all feature the wizard Vaati as their main villain - are placed. The plot of the last game in the chain, Four Swords Adventure, bears a striking resemblance to the legends about how Ganon became a monster and created the Dark World that appear at the beginning of A Link to the Past. The two stories don't match up exactly, but Shigeru Miyamoto changed Four Swords Adventure's story late in its development, which would account for many of the discrepancies. With this in mind, it seems reasonable to assume that the entire chain comes after Twilight Princess, when Ganon is still a man - most of the time, anyway - and A Link to the Past, where he's a giant pig monster.