Nintendo franchises tend to revolve around a small group of characters who return for countless adventures. All Super Mario the game features the same Italian plumber twins, Mario and Luigi, and metroid the titles all feature the same intergalactic bounty hunter, Samus Aran. Yes The Legend of Zelda followed the same logic, each entry would detail the continuing adventures of the exact same protagonist. The truth is a bit more complicated.
For those who don’t know well The Legend of Zelda, players take control of a hero named Link in each episode. Even though the art styles change between games, each link is a young boy (or sometimes a man) dressed in a green Peter Pan-like tunic. As Link swings his sword in his left hand and holds his shield in his right hand, he occasionally swaps his dominant hand. Additionally, each entry sports a fairly stable weapon roster. Sometimes items are added or removed to mix things up, but you can usually count on Link to save Hyrule with bombs, arrows, boomerangs, and pockets big enough to hold them all. And, most games end with Link facing off against a main villain named Ganon or Ganondorf – the names are somewhat interchangeable, but the villain still has the same end goal. Given these similarities, the uninitiated might assume that Link is the same person throughout the series. A reasonable assumption, but ultimately wrong.
According to the official Zelda timeline (which has to be rewritten every time a new entry comes out), the franchise is set across countless eras. Although the number of years between eras is never disclosed, enough time passes that Hyrule’s geography changes drastically from game to game. Thus, each era has its own Link. Sometimes they are blood relatives from past ties, other times they are spiritual reincarnations. Some Links are Princess Zelda’s childhood friends/potential love interests, others are possibly her brother. Either way, each Link forms a chain of heroes that protects Hyrule from harm.
Chronologically, the very first Link (at the time of writing this article) appeared in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, where he defeated the demon Demise and was later cursed by him. Demise’s death curse is essentially Ganondorf/Ganon and was apparently designed to explain why the King of Thieves always returns from the dead to torment every era’s new bond. While some fans aren’t happy with Demise or her curse, at least the character makes it clear that not all Links are the same. But that doesn’t mean that every incarnation of the hero is relegated to one game, either.