"That guy isn't here anymore. Anybody who comes into the forest will be lost. Everybody will become a Stalfos. Everybody, Stalfos." — Fado (Ocarina of Time)
The Lost Woods is Legend of Zelda’s most famous recurring Overworld region next to Death Mountain. Debuting in the original Legend of Zelda, The Lost Woods is most notable for its’ various Maze like qualities and appears in nearly every core Zelda title. The player often has to navigate through the maze in a very specific counterintuitive manner or risk being “Lost”, which usually entail being returned to beginning of the Maze. Other less common regions known as the Lost Hills and Maze Island and a few dungeons use many of the same navigational puzzle maze conceits, but have largely disappeared from the series.
The Lost Woods is usually depicted as a heavily overgrown mysterious dark wood, with giant deciduous trees and mossy undergrowth. It is reminiscent of fairy forests in European folklore. Once in the forest, the player will notice very little light or visibility to the rest of Hyrule. The Lost Woods is almost always completely devoid of any human (or Hylian in Zelda-verse) population or any sign of human civilization save for ancient ruins in its’ deepest depths. It is implied in many games that the citizens of Hyrule are deathly afraid of these woods. In some appearances the forest itself resembles the design of a dungeon more than an overworld feature (with pockets of forest essentially forming rooms). It is typically near the midpoint of most Zelda games and often serves as the location of the Master Sword, the legendary sword Link often seeks to defeat Ganon (or another substitute villain). The woods itself often features heavily into the series mythology and in some games has been depicted as an extension of Kokiri Forest. Often when Link ventures into the Woods he learns some of Hyrule’s creation myth. This was most explicitly seen in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time where the Lost Woods led to the first dungeon in Adult Link’s quest, the Forest Temple.
The Lost Woods, seems to inexplicably shift around the World map between game to game, as do other prominent geographic features in the Legend of Zelda. It has been found on the extremity of the World map in every direction save due North, which is typically occupied by Death Mountain.
Due to its’ prominence in individual game stories and its frequent appearance in the series, the Lost Woods is often cited by armchair Zelda Chronologists as evidence for their theories in trying to ascertain what order to put the games in. The location of the Lost Woods is considered highly controversial as its’ spatial relationship to other prominent geographic regions (such as Lake Hylia and Hyrule Castle) is perhaps the least consistent from game to game.
In December 2011 Nintendo released the Hyrule Historia series bible (currently only available in Japan), which officially canonized the concept of a Zelda timeline for the first time. The Book however shed no light as to why the Lost Woods (and Kakariko Village) moves around the World Map.
Appearances and Depictions in the Series
The debut of the region and the series , the Lost Woods and its’ mountainous twin the Lost Hills were a source of considerable excitement for players as they were fairly novel concepts in gaming at the time. The Lost Woods quickly became one of Legend of Zelda's defining features in popular culture.
The Lost Woods appeared almost due west of Link’s starting point. Consisting essentially of just one screen with four paths in an offset cross pattern, the player had to traverse over the screen several times in a certain cardinal direction order to be able to access the Graveyard. If the player just attempts to guess which direction to head they will just stay in the maze. At any time if the players heads east they exit the maze at the start. In game the only hint to getting through the Woods can be obtained by paying one of the various Old Women scattered across the map (who not so cryptically states “pay Me and I’ll Talk”) for the information. This navigational puzzle template would serve as the basis for most future versions of the Lost Woods maze.
To successfully navigate the maze, go north, then west, then south, then west once more.
In its’ next appearance the Lost Woods is much larger. Occupying nearly one quarter of the World map, The Lost Woods occupies the Northwest quadrant of Hyrule just north of Kakariko Village. This version of the Lost Woods has gotten rid of the cardinal direction respawning maze and is just a long twisting Fog-covered overworld dungeon with lots of backtracking through fallen tree trunk tunnels. For the first time in series, the Woods hosts the Master Sword. Link must navigate his way through the forest and find the real master sword (the woods is littered with fake swords) in its’ serene grotto. Once he does so, the mist is removed, but the maze remains.
This version of the Woods is also the most populated in the series. Some Lumberjacks and a Fortune Teller live on its’ outskirts. The Woods also is home to a gang of thieves who will attempt to steal Link’s consumable possessions (arrows, bombs and rupees) and the their hideout which has a gambling game Link can play. The side quest item the Magic Mushroom , is also found in the woods.
Perhaps the most defining appearance to date of the Woods, this time the woods is on the eastern Half of the map and is due North of Kokiri Forest. This version is hybrid of the previous two versions, while retaining the size and variety of the Link to the Past version, but the maze like quality of the original version. It is most noticeably the first 3D depiction of the forest. If the player chooses the wrong path Link is returned to the entrance. Kaepora Gaebora informs Link that only by listening for Saria’s Song through the various Tree trunk tunnels can the player determine the correct path (the path playing music is correct). Astute players may also notice that the correct path will always be a pitch black tree trunk, trunks with a small beam of light inside will lead back to the entrance.
It is home to several prominent characters and places in the game. Link’s friend (and Sage of the Forest) Saria’s Sacred Forest Meadow is here as well as the Forest Temple dungeon. There are also warp portals to Goron City and the Zora’s Domain. Business Scrubs provide Link with shopping opportunities and a Deku Stick capacity upgrade and there is a shooting challenge which Link can enter to win a Deku Seeds Bullet Bag upgrade. Wearing masks in the Deku Scrub meadow can net Link another Deku Stick capacity upgrade. Link will also encounter Grog , on a couple sidequests. If Link finds Saria in her meadow, she will teach him Saria’s Song for the Ocarina.
The forest’s mythology is more deeply developed in this version. This is the first appearance of the Skull Kids, which are the forest’s primary inhabitants along with the Deku. According to game mythology, any child Hylian who enters the forest without a fairy will become lost and turn into a Skull Kid. Adult Hylians attempting the same will instead suffer the fate of becoming a Stalfos. In the forest temple Link will learn some of Ganondorf’s backstory and motivations after defeating Phantom Ganon.
The first time the exact same version of the Woods has appeared twice, The Woods from Ocarina of Time returns in a cameo appearance. The Woods is the only part of Hyrule to appear in the game and only appears in cinematics which Link is searching for his lost fairy Navi and various Skull Kid episodes. It is heavily implied that the Lost Woods has portal to Termina in it.
There is a playable version of the Lost Woods concept in Majora’s mask called the Woods of Mystery (and occupies the Southern part of the map), but as with everything else in Majora’s Mask is named differently and is a reimagining. This Swamp version of the maze utilizes Majora’s Mask day mechanic by having the correct path changing daily in a three day rotation. The clues are given in similar manner to Ocarina of Time, however Saria’s Song has been replaced by a monkey’s screeching. Once the Woodfall temple is cleared, the maze path will stay locked.
Once again the Lost Woods appears near Kakariko village, however this time it’s a full fledged dungeon as the first stage of the fifth level (Four Swords unlike other Zelda games is broken into sequentially placed levels). The Lost aspect of this version is merely due to the similar look each screen has although none repeat and no cardinal direction maze is present, akin to the Link to the Past version.
The Deku Scrubs present in this version of the Woods suggest to Link that like Skull Kids, and Stalfos, that they too were lost Hylian who were transformed by the forest. Also they further suggest that the Woods themselves will blanket Hyrule if Ganon’s darkness is left unchecked.
The Woods is home to four important items for Link’s tool kit, the Roc’s Feather, the Shovel, Power Bracelet and the Pegasus Boots. This version is notable for having a Dark Link encounter. Once Link traverses the Woods, he can proceed to Kakariko Village.
There is a cardinal direction version of the Lost Woods located in the Royal Valley in the Northern part of the map. Unlike previous depictions, this version of the Lost Woods is populated by dead trees. Link must traverse the woods to reach the Royal Crypt. Also unlike Previous versions there are signs that tell the player precisely where to go. There is also for the first time a second solution to the maze which leads to a treasure chest. The Gravekeeper Dampe can tell Link most of the way to the treasure although he forgets the last turn, and the player must guess what it is on their own.
Solution 1 - north, west, west, north, east, north.
Solution 2 - west, west, west, north, north, north, north
This version of the Lost Woods takes the maze concept in a new direction. Unlike previous games Link traverses the Woods by vehicle, in this case by train. After failing the maze once, Link can learn from the residents of nearby Whittleton that the maze can be navigated by following the directions leaning trees point, with the exception of the fourth and final tree whose direction Link must invert. Also specific to this version, once completed the maze is permanently solved and is never seen again in the game.
Possible Other Versions and Inspired versions
The Lost Woods navigational puzzle concept is a popular one in Zelda related games. While there is some debate how related to the canonical Lost Woods the following may be, there is no doubt they draw upon the same basic idea.
In the GBA classic there is a small forest in the western portion of Koholint Island, in which a raccoon keeps leading Link to a random wrong screen until Link uses magic powder to restore the racoon to human form.
These satellaview remakes of Legend of Zelda and Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past feature the same worldmaps of those games (despite slightly different scenarios). Given their odd character choice ("mascot" a male or female character that represented the Satellaview), their canonical role is questionable.
The Oracle series of games takes place in two new lands which are both very similar to Hyrule (Labrynna in Oracle of Ages and Holodrum in Oracle of Seasons). In a manner similar to Majora’s Mask Link encounters many people and places similar to but not the same as those found in Hyrule. The Faeire Woods shift around in a similar manner to the original Legend of Zelda Lost Woods puzzle, until Link completes a game of Hide N’Seek with three fairies of the Forest.
Found in the Tarm Ruins part of Holodrum time the Woods puzzle has returned to its’ single screen format last seen in the original Legend of Zelda and again is host to a powerful sword (in this case the Noble sword which can be combined into the Master Sword in a linked game with Oracle of Ages). The player can learn the correct path from a Deku Scrub and must follow those directions plus use the Rod of Seasons item to pass through.
There is an island that contains an island called the Forbidden Woods which is the second dungeon (Link find the Boomerang inside). The Great Deku tree, which is found in the Kokiri Forest in Ocarina of Time, is also found very near here on the Forest Haven island. The Korok people (which may be future versions of the Kokiri) claim the Forbidden Woods used to be their home. Inside the dungeon Link encounters the ghost of a Kokiri Sage named Fado. There is little to no maze qualities to the dungeon beyond standard Zelda fare.
The Sacred Grove shares many similarities to the Lost Woods. The music theme is the same, the Skull Kid can be found here, a guide is required to get through the forest (and by following flashes of light from the Skull Kid’s lantern) and there is a familiar looking glade holding the Master Sword. The ruins of the Forest Temple can be found here as well.
In this spinoff featuring the Tingle character from Majora’s Mask and Wind Waker, there is a forest called the Deku Forest (which also is a name of a locale in Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages )which contains a classic Lost Woods style forest maze. The forest also contains a Great Deku Tree.