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While theorists tend to agree that Link's Awakening remains a sequel to A Link to the Past, as it was originally intended, it is still the source of conflicting debate. When a full linked Oracle Series (Oracle of Ages, Oracle of Seasons) is completed, the credits end with a shot of Link sailing away from the land in a one-man sailboat. The opening of Link's Awakening showcases Link battling a storm in a ship. Some fans correlate these events and conclude that Link's Awakening is the sequel to the Oracle Series, and that Link's adventures in Holodrum and Labrynna constitute the "quest for englightenment" mentioned as the basis of Link's travels. However, there is much evidence that suggests the contrary.
Why must Link's Awakening be the sequel to A Link to the Past?
The primary argument for the placement of Link's Awakening is one of intent. Link's Awakening was the fourth canonical Zelda produced, and touted as the "continuation" of A Link to the Past at the time of its release. It has much in common with A Link to the Past including art styles (official and in game), enemies, and gameplay. Despite some uncertainty, it is commonly believed that Link's Awakening follows A Link to the Past, and Nintendo's official Japanese site for the game still states this as a fact.
For those who do not respect developer intent, there exists a canonical argument. The prequel to Link's Awakening must meet a number of storyline requirements found in the prologue of the instruction manual:
- "Though [Link] fulfilled the Hyrulean prophecy of the Legendary Hero"
- "Destroyed the evil tyrant Ganon"
- "Who knows what threats may arise from Ganon's ashes?" the restless people murmured"
- In A Link to the Past, the people of Hyrule knew of Ganon and his passing. The people of the Hyrule spoken of in the Oracles did not.
It should be noted, however, that these details come from additions made by Nintendo of America in their translation of the manual. They may be based on official information from Nintendo, if that was conveyed to the writers, as Nintendo of America's translators usually say that this is part of the translation process, but their status as canon is questionable. The Japanese version is far less blunt in its implication of the game's placement. It merely states that Link "regained the peace of Hyrule from the demonic hands of the king of evil, Ganon" -- which would still appear to be unlike the plot of the Oracle games, as Ganon's resurrection was short-lived and the trouble was caused by Ganon's minions, rather than himself.
Further evidence may be drawn from Kodai no Sekiban, the Japanese AlttP sequel. In this game, Sahasrahla and Zelda needed to track down a new hero, as their AlttP ally had left Hyrule on a journey of enlightenment, just as LA's manual describes. There is also one line of dialogue specifically referencing the hero being unable to leave the "dream".
Could LA be the sequel to both the Oracles and AlttP?
A common attempt at reconciling these differences is the suggestion that the same Link is involved in all 4 games (Timeline: ALttP/OoS/OoA/LA). This could be refuted by OoX's princess Zelda who, upon meeting Link, introduces herself. (This line is likely to be the same in both games in the Japanese versions.)
- My name is Zelda. You must be Link. I knew it at first glance. (OoS, if played second)
- My name is Zelda. You are Link, right? I knew it at first glance. (OoA, if played second)
Had OoX been a direct sequel to ALttP, Link would not have needed any introduction. Similarly, Impa would have known who the hero of Hyrule was. It could be interpreted as Zelda wanting to be sure that it really was Link, but there is no implication of familiarity between them, only that Zelda was in contact with Impa previously and had heard of Link's exploits. "I knew it at first glance" wouldn't make sense if she had even seen him before.
Furthermore, ALttP Link set out on a journey because he wanted to, of his own free will, according to the manual of LA. In OoX, however, the Triforce whisks Link away on some mysterious quest, seemingly without his prior knowledge or approval.
Finally, in OoX, Impa notices a Triforce mark on Oracle Link's hand. ALttP Link doesn't have one.
Can there be a perfect Oracle placement?
For a particular spot in the timeline to accommodate the Oracle series, it should meet two main conditions: Ganon must be dead, and the Triforce must be whole in Hyrule Castle. This occurs only once in the series.
These two prerequisites suggest OoX most likely occurs after TAoL, and features a different Link. Both use the Triforce mark on the back of Link's hand as a symbol of a fated hero, instead of possession of a Triforce piece, both involve an attempt by Ganon's minions to revive a dead Ganon, both have Impa, and TAoL ends with the reuniting of the Triforce, as it is shown in OoX's opening.
Some believe OoX may occur after ALttP, and probably Link's Awakening, if OoX is assumed to have a separate Link. They share stylistic elements, similar items, and ALttP easily meets the "Dead Ganon, Whole Triforce" condition.
Others believe OoX may even occur shortly after TWW, as it too ends with a dead Ganon and a whole Triforce. But it should be noted that the intro scenes of both OoX games show a castle that is in a field, not underwater, and that Ganondorf in TWW did not have the Trident and never became Beast Ganon.
The latter two scenarios are unlikely due to one main issue, which is the Triforce's residence in Hyrule Castle. The cutscene before the final fight against Ganon in TWW (and to a lesser degree, the credits and post-credits of ALttP) show us that once someone touches the Triforce and makes a wish, the three Sacred Triangles float off, presumably to return to their resting place in the Sacred Realm, waiting for the next person to find them. At the end of both TWW and ALttP, the Triforce is used to make a wish. Thus, it returns to the Sacred Realm.
This is not the case at the end of TAoL. At the end of that game, the only certainty is that the Triforces of Wisdom, Power, and Courage are in possession of the Royal Family. Nothing is ever mentioned about the three being united, or a wish being made. At the beginning of a non-linked play of either OoS or OoA, players see all three Triforce pieces in the same castle, but on separate pedestals. They are not fully united.
It is not a large leap to deduce that, after the events of TAoL, the Royal Family would have housed the Triforce in Hyrule Castle. Any attempt to explain how the Triforce would have come to reside in Hyrule Castle after the events of ALttP or TWW is pure speculation. Thus, OoX fits best in the timeline as the next game(s) after TAoL.
For a final note, true canonical placement of the individual Oracle games is likely impossible, as the games can be played and linked in either order, producing two eventualities in which Link fights Twinrova and then Ganon either in Labrynna or Holodrum. Suggestions that one takes place in the Child Timeline, and the other takes place at the exact same point in the Adult Timeline, and that the two timelines somehow merge through a linked game are nothing but pure and utterly unsupported speculation.