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Returning to Hyrule feels different this time

When Link woke in the Shrine of Resurrection, he emerged into a world where 100 years had passed without him, in the aftermath of a stalled calamity he and Princess Zelda failed to prevent. This world was faintly familiar to him - a fuzzy mirage of a place called Hyrule that he knew the idea of, but not the specific shape. Like the fallen Champion himself, we as players knew what Hyrule was in the abstract, but we had no specific memory of this place full of wonder, danger, and secrets. Link’s quest in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was one of discovery of that place, and eventually righting the wrongs of the past to finally end the calamity that started 100 years prior. Now with Tears of the Kingdom on the near horizon, Link, and we, face a new chapter.

Sometimes in The Legend of Zelda, new entries in the series exist as a direct sequel to a previous story, set in the same world but at a different place. Link’s Awakening follows A Link to the Past, but is set on the strange Koholint Island. Majora’s Mask explores a land called Termina after young Link leaves Ocarina of Time’s Hyrule. Wind Waker is followed by Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks, where new oceans and lands are explored long after Hyrule is lost to the sea.

A Link Between Worlds, interestingly, takes place in the same space as A Link to the Past, but still wildly reimagined and with a completely different cast and conflict. More often the series resets itself in a wholly new interpretation of Hyrule, with a different incarnation of Link, Zelda, and Ganon playing out the struggle between light and dark. Like actors in a long running stage play reinterpreted again and again over centuries across different cultures - the primary characters clash until eventually light, courage, and wisdom prevail over a lust for power that threatens to smother the world in darkness. And then it happens again, in yet another world called Hyrule that is familiar yet different.

*Side note: yes I’m aware of the official timeline, and that it is all canonically one world with different timelines. What I consider a different world is when a jump between games so radically reshapes it that it may as well be a new entity.

But there is something unique about the current moment of anticipation before we again join Link in a quest across Hyrule. This time (based on what we think we know) this Link is not only the same Link from Breath of the Wild, but our adventure will also take place in largely the same physical space. The map is still the Hyrule with a Great Plateau near the central plains, and Hyrule Castle to the north of that in the shadow of Death Mountain. The twin peaks will probably still stand between the Great Plateau and Kakariko Village, which lies southwest of Zora’s Domain. The peaks of the Hebra Mountains, Gerudo Highlands, and Mount Lanayru will likely still stand tall around the map’s edges. I’m sure there will be numerous changes to the map we explored in Breath of the Wild, not least of which will be the inclusion of the many floating sky islands seen in the trailers, but fundamentally this is meant to be the same space. The same Hyrule.

And like Link, we are returning to that space. We are the same people with all of the memories and familiarity with this Hyrule. The implications of this could be profound in terms of how Tears of the Kingdom decides to treat the relationship between its map and Link (and by extension the players). Will Link start the game with a basic familiarity with the geography? Will we have access to a full basic map from the beginning, missing the details as well as any changes? How many characters will recognize Link from Breath of the Wild? Did Link canonically help with the construction of Tarrey Town, one of Breath of the Wild’s many optional quests? Which of the countless expectations and memories that players arrive with will be honored and which will be somehow forgotten?

What does Nintendo expect players to come to Tears of the Kingdom with, and what story will they tell with Breath of the Wild as the foundation?

There’s an opportunity here for a story unlike any we’ve seen before in The Legend of Zelda. One where Link is the hero of Hyrule from the start, working alongside Zelda to rebuild the kingdom into a prosperous and safe land. When that goes wrong, as the trailer suggests it will, what becomes of these saviors and their allies? This world was theirs, then lost to the calamity, and then reclaimed. What do they do when on the brink of losing it again? I don’t necessarily expect a deep reflection on the nature of heroism - the history of Nintendo’s storytelling suggests that victory will be won by courage and wisdom united by fellowship. But there’s an opening for something different, or at least more.

We are returning to Hyrule - this Hyrule. We will take up the sword and face danger and mystery again as Link - this Link. And if you played Breath of the Wild, you’ll be returning with all of the history that comes from your experience - this You.

Although, maybe not exactly the same You. Time does have a way of changing us.

A lot has happened in the 6 years since we first set foot in this Hyrule. We all have been through a global pandemic, for one. Personally I’ve moved, changed jobs, and had two children during that time. The world is the same, but different, and so are we. The Hyrule we are about to return to will be the same, but different, and Link will be too.

Here’s to changes that create new possibilities. See You in Hyrule.