Speaking of the branching timeline of The Legend of Zelda, boy howdy is it a lot to take in. Here's the very basic gist of it, though. The time travel shenanigans in Ocarina of Time create three alternate timelines: one where Ganondorf whoops Link's ass and two where Link whoops his. The latter two are then split into a universe where Link stayed an adult and one where he returned to the "present" to remain a kid.
If that doesn't make sense, well, feel free to knock yourself out looking over the timeline(s). Otherwise just know that Ocarina of Time leads into Majora's Mask, which leads into Twilight Princess. All of which assume that Link kicked Gandondorf's sandy behind and returned to his child form to live out his days protecting Hyrule.
Ostensibly, it should be the happiest of the timelines. Except we just got done talking about how creepy and bad things get in Majora's Mask and Twilight Princess. So what gives? Honestly, we've got no idea. Except something clearly happened to erase Ocarina of Time Link's good deeds from the annals of history. We know this because he says as much to another Link in a later game.
Said game is Twilight Princess. Between all the other awful stuff happening in that game, the player is accosted by a decrepit skeleton of a man who claims to have actually once been a hero. Hyrule Historia specifies that this is this timeline's Link from Ocarina. Except he died, forgotten, without any new hero to pass on his legacy to in the interim. Which is why he spends the rest of Twilight Princess teaching this new Link several of the combat skills he picked up during whatever happened after Majora's Mask.
You could argue that the Hero of Time's specter eventually did pass on a new legacy to Twilight Princess's Link. You could also argue that this is ultimately a happy conclusion to the events of that timeline (not including Four Swords Adventures, which comes after Twilight Princess). That doesn't change the fact that things went awfully, awfully wrong.
During some hidden part of the post-Majora's Mask timeline this version of Link -- one who by all accounts stayed around to be a hero for longer than most of his incarnations -- was totally erased by history. He certainly didn't seem happy about how things turned out, anyway. The spirit tells his reincarnation as much during their many training sessions.
Given what little we know about that Link's search for a lost friend, and the fact that he learned a boatload of new combat techniques, it's not hard to imagine whatever happened wasn't pleasant.
It figures that in one of the only Zelda games where Ganon isn't the big bad Nintendo would make you, the player, feel like the biggest asshole of all.Said guilt trip comes courtesy of the oft-forgotten Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening (and Link's Awakening DX if you were cool enough to play it on Game Boy Color). Which, at first blush, doesn't seem like the kind of game for it.
Link's Awakening takes itself about as seriously as a political endorsement from Deadpool. The portable entry includes cameo appearances from Mario characters, Kirby, and that green-haired guy advisor from the SNES version of SimCity. The game's eclectic design breaks the fourth wall in other ways, too. Such as when characters explain gameplay mechanics like navigation to the player while having no idea what they're talking about.
It's as if Hideo Kojima slipped into Nintendo's offices one night, left them a storyboard, and developers just sort of shrugged and rolled with it.
There are other, more meat-and-potatoes changes as well. The game isn't set in Hyrule, for one, but on the isolated island of Koholint. Which is extremely important in the context of the game's ending. More than that, Link doesn't collect pieces of the Triforce or his usual bag of tricks. Instead, the player's quest is to gather a collection of instruments that will be able to wake the all-important Wind Fish.
Over the course of the game Link makes friends with Koholint's inhabitants who point him towards vital instruments. Little do they know that they're actually aiding in their own extinction. See, over the course of the game, Link discovers the entire island and its people are collective manifestations of his and the Wind Fish's dreams. Leaving Koholint means waking himself and the Wind Fish up from said dreams, thereby "killing" everyone on the island.
Which is exactly what Link does. Adding insult to murder, Link even gets guilted by the game's final boss, Dethl. The creature is a conglomeration of nightmares reveals its totally super evil plan to be... keeping the Wind Fish asleep forever, so that the island inhabitants can go on living. None of this would mean much if the citizens of Koholint weren't technically "real." They are just dreams after all.
Except that goes right out the window if you're shit-hot at Zelda games. See, beating Link's Awakening without dying once reveals a stinger scene at the end. In it a girl named Marin -- who cared for Link when he first washed up on Koholint and expressed a driving desire to see the rest of the world -- is shown breaking free of the dream, albeit forever transformed into a seagull. Which is almost a nice little consolation prize, sure, but it cements that all the other people on the island are definitely super, duper dead. But hey, congratulations to the Hero of Time...?