Belated Impressions of Hyrule Historia

I started really late in reading this, but it was well worth it.

Looking back at my recent blog and forum history, I’ve written an unusual volume about Zelda lately. But it’s kind of hard for me not to, what with A Link Between Worlds being an excellent game and Hyrule Warriors looking like a Zelda game that was designed specifically for me in mind. Given that I’ve barely touched a Zelda game otherwise in recent memory, it’s been a very peculiar month in that regard.

To go along with all of this, I decided to finally sit down and read through Hyrule Historia, the combination art book/Zelda chronology that was published in English close to a year ago. I actually bought a copy of the book when it was first released, but other than glance at some of the artwork, I hadn’t actually read through it until recently. So yes, I am late to the party on that.

That being said, Hyrule Historia is also the most comprehensive compilation of information on The Legend of Zelda from an official source you’re going to find anywhere. Fans had speculated for years on the existence and make-up of an official Zelda timeline, and the news did make the rounds when it turned out that Nintendo does have an official Zelda timeline that they had kept internally for some period of time. What’s surprising upon reading the book is just how much thought was actually put into making the timeline fit together, even when it does that three-way split with Ocarina of Time’s time travel shenanigans.

Of course, before the book even touches upon the chronology, it dedicates a substantial portion to Skyward Sword, in particular. This makes sense, given that when the book was published, it was it was still the newest title, and there’s an absolute wealth of Skyward Sword artwork included, from character and monster concepts to weapon, landscapes, and interiors. And it’s all annotated with insightful commentary into the game’s artistic design process. And you know? Reading this book really makes me wish I was more comfortable playing Skyward Sword, but being a lefty, the motion controls just didn't click with me when I tried them. Which is really a shame, because this book makes the plot sound fantastic.

Following this is the chronology, which is, as I said before, incredibly detailed. Though it acknowledges up front that not every Zelda game is considered canonical (naming Link’s Crossbow Training and BS The Legend of Zelda as examples; no, it doesn't make any mention at any point of the CD-i games. Why are you even asking that?), there’s still fifteen games listed as a part of the timeline. And the book doesn’t simply describe events game by game, but by the actual chronology; for example, it starts off with the creation of Hyrule as told in Ocarina of Time before moving on to Skyward Sword, then talks about some more of the history as divulged in Ocarina of Time before moving on to the events of The Minish Cap and Four Swords. And then it discusses the “present” events of Ocarina of Time in detail. Throughout, the book points out little details here and there that connect the games here and there, like recurring symbols and other representation.

Hyrule's history is a lot darker than some might expect.

Most importantly, this detail doesn’t get mired as the timeline splits. It handles one branch at a time, and does a great job of detailing how the histories of each game weave together. There are times when it’s evident that some connections or explanations are reaching, and certainly some continuity inconsistencies, but on the whole, anyone that has an appreciation for the storylines in Zelda or for fictional histories in general would probably get a kick out of the presentation. Also, just to anyone that's lamented the lack of a "dark" Zelda: Shut up and read this book. There are plenty of dark elements in Zelda's history, and Hyrule Historia makes no attempt to sugarcoat it. It also raises some interesting questions that aren't discussed in the text, like whatever became of Lorule and Termina in the timelines in which they haven't been explored.

Following the chronology, there’s a collection of artwork and production materials from throughout the series. It’s unfortunate, but understandable, that not every game is represented equally here. There are very few surviving designs from some games, and Link’s Awakening in particular is limited to a collection of sheets depicting design concepts for the game’s opening, which are all displayed on a single page. On the other hand, it also reveals a certain lighter side to the development; there are a couple of rough Zelda sketches from A Link to the Past that depict her dressed in a goofy 80s/early 90s-style of sci-fi anime costume.

The newer games, with their larger scopes and more recent development, have a much greater wealth of material to pull from. There are thirty pages of artwork from Twilight Princess alone. And like the opening section on Skyward Sword, it’s all given thoughtful annotation.

All of the above are bookended by a foreword and afterword by Shigeru Miyamoto and Eiji Aonuma, respectively. And then as an added bonus, there’s a short-story manga prequel to Skyward Sword at the very back written and drawn by a pair that have been adapting Zelda games into manga for over a decade. It’s very well drawn, and an interesting short-story (Holy shit, Link talks, and he doesn't sound like someone that ate paint chips as a toddler!), and in retrospect, might actually have a few hints at things to come in Hyrule Warriors.

So I guess the end result of all of this is, I wish I had actually sat down to read Hyrule Historia sooner. It goes above and beyond the usual art book to present a lot of very detailed information that a hardcore Zelda fan would eat up and even casual fans should find interesting. It’s just as interesting as a historical work on the series and its development as it is as a book of pretty pictures.

12 Comments
12 Comments
Posted by crithon

hehe, yeah I own lots of art books and tend to forget to read them also. I found it interesting A Link Between Two Worlds ends on a visual from A Link to the Past's concept art of the dark would on page 97. That's something you'd imagine they would have forgotten but then show it and don't beat you over the head going "Ah ah ah ah see what we did there, it's from blah blah."

Man those NES Zelda concept art looks beautiful, I wish that was an 80s anime with terrible dub work.

Posted by Slag

I've read excerpted bits but not the actual book, one thing I've wondered is whether the book reveals when the timeline came into existence?

When the series more or less rebooted the story with A Link to the Past, I just assumed they were all remakes more or less. It wasn't till much later I even heard about the reincarnation angle (maybe say 2004-5 ish or so).

I have assumed the earliest it probably might have been conceived was OoT, but my guess it may be a even more recent retcon. I figure by Wind Waker, given the ending, Nintendo had to at least some rudimentary concept of it...

Posted by Hailinel

@slag said:

I've read excerpted bits but not the actual book, one thing I've wondered is whether the book reveals when the timeline came into existence?

When the series more or less rebooted the story with A Link to the Past, I just assumed they were all remakes more or less. It wasn't till much later I even heard about the reincarnation angle (maybe say 2004-5 ish or so).

I have assumed the earliest it probably might have been conceived was OoT, but my guess it may be a even more recent retcon. I figure by Wind Waker, given the ending, Nintendo had to at least some rudimentary concept of it...

Well, A Link to the Past wasn't a reboot to begin with. Even when it was released, its events were considered those of a Link and Zelda that predated those in the Zelda/Zelda II era. The concept of a Zelda timeline, at least in some rudimentary form, has been in mind for a very long time. So the book doesn't really reveal when the timeline came into existence, because it's existed in some form seemingly from the start.

Posted by ArbitraryWater
@crithon said:

Man those NES Zelda concept art looks beautiful, I wish that was an 80s anime with terrible dub work.

To be fair, the 80s Zelda cartoon is about on the level of most 80s anime adaptions in terms of quality and fantastic voice acting.

Posted by crithon

@crithon said:

Man those NES Zelda concept art looks beautiful, I wish that was an 80s anime with terrible dub work.

To be fair, the 80s Zelda cartoon is about on the level of most 80s anime adaptions in terms of quality and fantastic voice acting.

hmmmmmm..... I don't believe so. I'm thinking more along the lines of Voltron when I was thinking of some voice acting. Right now going through Casshen when was 70s, but I don't know how the animation would have looked like, it does looks really beautiful the concept work so no I wouldn't think of 80s zelda, that was a bit of that overly designed 80s cartoon shows with dragon's lair or heman style backgrounds. There's an elegant simplicity to those concept work.... man some of this sailing art in the original nes concept art, wow.

maybe something like record of the lodoss wars, that was 90s though.

Posted by LiquidPrince

Awesome read man. I've been on the fence about getting this, but now I'm super interested. I just wish so many of the Zelda game didn't have such BS control schemes. I would have finished all the portable games as well as Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword if they just had standard controls. I mean I own all of them...

Edited by crithon

@liquidprince said:

Awesome read man. I've been on the fence about getting this, but now I'm super interested. I just wish so many of the Zelda game didn't have such BS control schemes. I would have finished all the portable games as well as Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword if they just had standard controls. I mean I own all of them...

actually there's a price drop on it, like 17 bucks. I got it for 20 this past summer it's in beautiful condition. Kinda surprised there's less Minish Cap art, I'm not joking, the amount of color and design in that game I'm facinated it's down to less then a page.

Edited by StarvingGamer

Thanks for reminding me. It's been sitting next to me for months. I need to read this.

Posted by BisonHero
Posted by Hailinel
Posted by gokaired

I think I read that book for 2 weeks, It was fun. I managed to spend my eating money for the limited Edition faux-leather one. Worth It.

It's spurring me on to buy the Zelda guide book sets.

Posted by Superkenon

Yup, it's a great book. Looks dang nice wherever you put it, too.

I'm in favor of all the timeline shenanigans, as I feel they serve to make the Zelda universe infinitely more interesting. They were smart about the way they laid it down too -- giving us a solid outline to gawk at and muse over, simultaneously validating years of fan theorization and speculation while not just stopping the debates cold either. Left a lot more room for interpretation, and even a note or two saying "hey, nothing's set in stone." So the rampant speculation can continue, but now it's got more of a starting point. Already, trying to fit A Link Between Worlds into it is a bit of a puzzler, haha.

Also, I like the page that's just a mess of every illustration of every iteration of Link.