Age of Calamity defied expectations in many ways. Breath of the Wild fans expected the game to be a straight-up prequel, but as players advanced through the age, it became clear that Age of Calamity was… something else. So we unleashed our resident Zelda lore expert (me, hello) to trace the divergent threads between the two games.
Warning: everything from here on out contains major spoilers for both Age of Calamity and Breath of the Wild.
Also, take into consideration that Age of Calamity is not yet officially canon. Spin-off games are usually not canon, but considering Nintendo’s close collaboration with Koei Tecmo for Age of Calamity, most fans are anticipating that Nintendo will confirm the game is canon whenever they feel up to it.
What’s Going on, and Why? (AKA, Let’s Talk about Zelda and Time Travel)
Players went into Age of Calamity expecting the events that occurred one hundred years prior to Breath of the Wild to play out note-for-note. This meant that the game would ultimately end in failure – the Champions would lose to the Blight Ganons, Akkala Fortress would fall, and Zelda’s sealing powers would awaken at the last second to save an exhausted Link outside Fort Hateno.
But as Age of Calamity unfolds, these things… don’t happen. That means that Breath of the Wild and Age of Calamity unfold on two different timelines.
The idea of different-yet-connected timelines is not new to the Zelda franchise. In fact, it’s the reason that the canonical Zelda timelines give the uninitiated a migraine. But to sum up the concept briefly:
The time-hopping events of Ocarina of Time split The Legend of Zelda franchise into three timelines. In the game, Link takes a nice, long seven-year slumber and uses the Ocarina of Time to bounce between the present day and the pre-slumber, pre-Ganon time. The end of Ocarina of Time – where Link defeats Ganon in the “present day” and Zelda seals him away – is called the “Adult Timeline.” But then Zelda opts to send Link back to relive his childhood, and in doing so creates the “Child Timeline,” where the still-human Ganondorf is preemptively seized. Lastly, there’s also the “Fallen Hero” timeline, to honor how many times you allowed Link to die in the final battle of Ocarina.
Where Breath of the Wild falls on the timeline is still contentious. A previously widespread hypothesis said that it’s so far in the future that it represents the merging of all three timelines. But by adding a second possible timeline to the events in Breath of the Wild, Age of Calamity now begs an interesting question for Zelda fans: does it create a new timeline, or were Breath of the Wild and Age of Calamity running on parallel timelines to begin with?
Either way, there’s one major actor that instigates this whole divergent split: Terrako, that cute little Guardian.
Unpacking the Opening Cinematic
In the first minutes of Age of Calamity, we see a familiar sight: Hyrule Castle being bombarded by Guardians and Calamity Ganon. This is Breath of the Wild’s timeline.
However, Zelda’s sealing power and the general ruckus dislodge a box from a high shelf in Zelda’s room, awakening Terrako. Terrako, seemingly soul-bound to Zelda in some capacity, immediately recognizes something very, very bad has happened, and travels back in time to try to change the outcome. This jump transports Terrako to Age of Calamity’s timeline.
Now, here’s the really interesting bit. We learn much later on that, in the Age of Calamity timeline, King Rhoam confiscated Terrako when Zelda was a child, believing it was a “toy” and therefore a “distraction” to Zelda attaining her sealing powers. Yet, in Breath of the Wild’s timeline, Terrako is in Zelda’s room.
This tiny-yet-crucial detail suggests that Breath of the Wild and Age of Calamity were already on separate timelines – because King Rhoam acted differently in each timeline, long before Terrako’s time travel would’ve started any divergent effects. The fact that King Rhoam, Hyrule’s Shittiest Dad, did not confiscate Terrako in BotW’s timeline saved AoC’s timeline from a similar fate.
Another key understated detail in the opening cinematic is that little bits of Calamity Ganon’s Malice follow Terrako into the AoC timeline. These little bits possess the Rhoam-confiscated, inactive Terrako of the AoC timeline and become Harbinger Ganon. This means that Ganon kills this Terrako. Please pause for a moment to consider how sad and messed up that is.
The Astor Situation
Harbinger Ganon finds Astor shortly thereafter. Astor has ostensibly already been super into the whole “Calamity Ganon” thing, and uses Harbinger Ganon to set a new plan into motion. We know absolutely nothing about Astor’s role in the BotW timeline, but there is mention in Creating a Champion (the BotW companion book) of a fortune teller who prophesied the return of Calamity Ganon to King Rhoam. It’s possible that Astor is this fortune teller, or else was an apprentice. If he was either, he obviously defected.
With nothing to compare AoC’s Astor to, we can’t say exactly what affect the arrival of Harbinger Ganon had on Astor. But it does seem clear that his presence made Astor a much more central figure, given that we never even heard about him in BotW.
Harbinger Ganon’s arrival would also explain why AoC’s Ganon battle is arguably more difficult than BotW’s: because Ganon ultimately devours Astor and uses his power as mere fodder.
The Astor situation also raises the question of what catalysed Link to retrieve the Master Sword in BotW’s timeline, since he snagged it in direct response to Astor in AoC – and after all the other Champions had been chosen. But Creating a Hero has something interesting to say for the BotW timeline: “The details of how Link obtained the sword a hundred years ago have been lost to the mists of time, but since he was in possession of it for a number of years prior to becoming a Champion, he was likely around twelve or thirteen years old when it happened.”
Interesting. More evidence that BotW and AoC happen on parallel timelines.
But what butterfly effects occur once Calamity Ganon is properly on the scene? To investigate that, we’ll need a Part 2.