The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Page Count: 274
Release Date: 01/29/2013
Get it Here: Dark Horse Comics
My friends, it has often been said that I like The Legend of Zelda. Friends, I like The Legend of Zelda. No, friends, I love The Legend of Zelda! I love Link. I love the Wind Fish. I love the Master Sword. I love bombs, bows and arrows, I love saving the princess and killing Mad Scrubs. Adventures across the Lost Woods, in Lake Hylia, in the Underworld, in the Lost Hills, on Ice Ring Isle, through Death Mountain, in the Twilight Realm, in Skyloft, I love every adventure that can occur in the series. I love hitting Hardhat Beetles into pits with my sword in order to get to the chest with the compass to the dungeon. My heart leaps with joy whenever I obtain the Mirror Shield so that I shall never again worry about Like Likes, and there is nothing like magical boomerang searing through the air in order to hit an enemy or turn a spark into a fairy. The feeling that comes when Trinrova, General Onox, and Ganon fall, screaming from the agonizing pain I’ve just inflicted upon them after having collected all eight Essences of Time and eight Essences of Nature, is such an exquisite feeling. Like when ranks of Bubbles rush at me from all directions. It moves me deep within my heart to continue slicing at a boss over and over as its body flickers with the intense pain of defeat.
Okay, okay, enough emulating The Major from Hellsing Ultimate.
I really like The Legend of Zelda, though. I’ve played almost all of them, and those that I haven’t played are in my backlog. So when I got The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia this past Valentine’s Day, I was stoked. I was able to see the art from one of my favorite franchises and explore the creative process. The book boasts full-color pages chock full of concept art and an exclusive 32-page comic by Akira Himekawa. For those who are more historically inclined, the book also has the full history of Hyrule and the official chronology of the games, with notes from various designers, like Hisada and Iwamoto.
So let’s talk about what’s in the book. First, we’ve got a letter from Shigeru Miyamoto on the 25th Anniversary of The Legend of Zelda, where he gives a brief history about the birth of the series and what they’ve accomplished in the twenty-five years since the series began. We then get about sixty pages on Skyward Sword, the most recent Zelda release at the time of print. In these fifty pages, we see design drafts for Link, Loftwing, Zelda, Fi, Ghirahim, Impa, The Imprisoned, and Demise. We also see illustrations and discarded plans for Eldin Volcano, Lanayru Desert, Skyloft, Faron Woods, and the Sealed Grounds. We see the plans for the Knight Academy, the Bazaar, the Goddess Statue, Pumpkin Landing, and the different characters (some of which are unused in the actual game) that reside in Skyloft and the Sky Islands. Along the bottom of the pages, we see various bits of trivia. For example: “The pool of characters in the Zelda games is incredibly deep. They leave an impression, probably because each character has many layers that can be seen even in the unused characters. The famous Tingle may have been born from one of these unused backup characters.”
We also see concept art for the Thunderhead and Levias while reading about plans for boss fights and the three crests. Next, they cover Faron Woods, Lake Floria, Eldin Volcano and the Earth Temple, Lanayru Desert, the Ancient Harbor, Skipper’s Retreat, the Shipyard, the Pirate Stronghold, and the Sandship. We see drawings and concept comments on the design for the bosses and the link between the Timeshift Stones and the Ocarina of Time. Many of the drawings have notes on them, emphasizing certain design choices. Finally, the pages on the Silent Realm include drawings of various Keese, the Hrok and Guay, and other monsters. The designers wanted to reference aspects of Twilight Princess with this area.
Before moving on to the History of Hyrule, we see a special illustration created for the twenty-fifth anniversary of the series (pictured above). It includes various forms Link has taken on over the years. It’s definitely something that would make a good poster.
The next roughly seventy pages cover the definitive The Legend of Zelda timeline, starting with Skyward Sword, traveling through The Minish Cap and Four Swords, and braking off into three other timelines after Ocarina of Time. If Link is defeated, the game jumps to A Link to the Past and goes through Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons, Link’s Awakening, The Legend of Zelda, and The Adventure of Link. If he is triumphant and seals away Ganon as a child, he returns in Majora’s Mask, goes through Twilight Princess, and ends with Four Swords Adventures. If he is triumphant and Ganondorf is sealed away, the timeline begins with The Wind Waker, goes through Phantom Hourglass, and ends with Spirit Tracks.
This is quite possibly the most interesting part of the book. Almost every Zelda fan has, at some point, wondered how all the games fit together, and if the designers had any plan for how this would all turn out. While it’s still not sure that the game designers have an actual timeline planned out for the games, it is nice to see it organized in this fashion. I found it interesting and somewhat amusing that the book leaves the timeline open to future edits: “This chronicle merely collects information that is believed to be true at this time, and there are many obscured and unanswered secrets that still lie within the tale. As the stories and storytellers of Hyrule change, so, too, does its history. Hyrule’s history is a continuously woven tapestry of events. Changes that seem inconsequential, disregarded without even a shrug, could evolve at some point to hatch new legends and, perhaps, change this tapestry of history itself.” Hey, if you’re leaving it open to more games, I’m game.
The Chronology itself explains the basic story line of each game and how it fits into the overarching chronology. Along the sides and the bottoms of the pages are notes about things like the three Goddesses (Din, Nayru, and Farore), the Triforce, Hylia, and various important characters like Epona, Zelda, Ganon, and Impa. Drawings and screenshots from games are sprinkled around the text, bringing up memories for those of us who have had the pleasure of playing the games. After getting to the end of Ocarina of Time, the book explains: “A cyclical tale arose from an ancient battle… The life of the time-traveling hero caused the chain of history to branch off in multiple directions. From this point onward, the chronology of Hyrule diverges dramatically. This marks the end of ‘The Legend of the Gods and the Hero of Time.'” If Link lost, we get to “The Decline of Hyrule and the Last Hero.” If Link wins and goes back to his original time, we get “The Twilight Realm and the Legacy of the Hero.” If he wins and stays an adult as he goes home, we get “The Hero of Winds and a New World.”
The art in this book is astounding, and the comments by various designers are amusing and enlightening. The tidbits about various games, including discussion of the Wizard (Zelda’s older brother), Impa, and the importance of Epona, are also very interesting. We see an entire map of Lesser Hyrule and the writing system in the Era of the Great Sea. We get to read a bit about the customs of Outset Island. We read about the four regions of Termina. We see information on the spirits that guard the pearls of the goddesses. There really is plenty of material here for any Zelda fan. At the end of the chronology, we’re left basically begging for more games to further flesh out the timeline.
Between the Chronology and the next section, Creative Footprints, we see a page outlining commemorative merchandise for the 25th anniversary. We see The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Anniversary Edition, a Nintendo Private Card, a set of playing cards, and the Legend of Zelda 25th Anniversary Edition Nintendo 3DS, which I did an embarrassing unboxing of back in the day.
The Creative Footprints section spans 100 pages and gives us all 25 years of The Legend of Zelda design. Throughout this section, we’re privy to character design, sketches, concept art, stained glass designs, tidbits about which designs were created first and the evolution of different race designs, notes on what designers had requested for changes, comments on age differences in characters throughout time, and transformations of armor and other characteristics throughout games. Some of it is in color and some of it is raw sketches. It’s a bit overwhelming to see just how much time and effort goes into illustrating all this art, figuring out how parts are supposed to work together, and how all the levels and backgrounds need to be laid out so that they are the most effective or most breathtaking. The race sketches (Zora, Goron, etc.) and location concept art for Twilight Princess are especially awe-inspiring, though the ship designs for Phantom Hourglass are also pretty wonderful and envy-inducing. The last sections of the Creative Footprints include changes in character design for Link, Zelda, and Ganon over the years and a game catalog with information about release dates and unique aspects of the game. This game catalog is especially helpful for The Legend of Zelda memorabilia collectors, as it includes elusive and rare Zelda titles. Finally, we get a wrap-up letter from Eiji Aonuma, who is the series producer for The Legend of Zelda. If you’re really interested in the manga at the end of the book, you’ll need to flip to the very end of the book and read it right-to-left, like traditional Japanese manga. I recommend giving it a read, as it’s very beautifully illustrated and compellingly written.
My one disappointment with the book is that there wasn’t very much, in comparison, about Link’s Awakening, which is my favorite Zelda game of all time, hands-down. I did, however, like that they mentioned this fun little tidbit in the chronology: “Though Link the Hero had once rescued Hyrule, it came to pass that he was also responsible for the annihilation of the dream world,” and describes the decision Link has to make as bitter. The ending of Link’s Awakening was one of the most meaningful endings to a game in my childhood. When I realized what Link had to do in order to go home, I remember sitting my Game Boy Color down and being astounded. So while I enjoyed the bits that were in there, one page of storyboards seemed a bit cheap compared to several pages of varying art on Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages, and especially sixty pages of Skyward Sword commentary. I understand that since it is an earlier game, doesn’t take place in Hyrule and Zelda isn’t in it, there probably isn’t much to talk about, at least in comparison to the newer games, but it did kind of feel like a disservice to the game, because it really is a great title. There are other games that maybe don’t get as much coverage as they could have, but because this was my favorite title, I was probably a bit more aware of it than I would have otherwise been.
Also, and this is probably because the music in Link’s Awakening is probably the best in the series (if you disagree, you’re probably wrong), I noticed there wasn’t really any discussion of the music of the games. While I get that this is a book, and an art book at that, some discussion of the games’ music (especially in games like, oh, I don’t know, Ocarina of Time or Link’s Awakening, where music is either important to the gameplay or the story) would not have been out of place. Perhaps they’re saving that for another time.
Other than that, though, this book is totally worth it. Hyrule Historia is a beautifully illustrated book that offers much to the Zelda fan interested in knowing the inner workings of the world Link, Zelda, and Ganon inhabit. I can definitely see myself referencing this for years to come and rereading it as time allows. If you’re a Zelda fan and an avid collector, you should already own this. If not, it should be a purchase made in the near future.
Short Attention Span Summary
The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia is a timeless piece that offers you insight into the minds of the developers of a much-loved franchise. It gives fans a chronology and designs to reference, beautifully illustrated art featuring characters and backgrounds, detailed maps, and more. While some games (especially a few older ones) don’t get as much coverage as many of the newer games, the book is comprehensive and chock-full of information. It’s a must-have for any Zelda franchise fan, young or old.
Basically, this book screams, “Hey! Read me!”