[Review] The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia
25 years of lore, adventure, nostalgia, and green tunics have been packed together into a single volume known as The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia. Nintendo has compiled truckloads of concept art and information as well as the long-anticipated and speculated series timeline and served it in the form a beautiful hardcover book, sure to make most hardcore Zelda fans clawshot their way into unbridled gamer bliss. Decades in the making, find out if Hyrule Historia is worthy of your purchase.
The Book Itself
We have a pretty solid idea of what is on the inside, but on the outside of this weighty text, it’s certainly a work of beauty. Here, you can see the front cover, adorned with a marvelous design with the majestic Triforce and symbols of the goddesses surrounded by a beautiful pattern that is sure to be a new tattoo idea for fans everywhere. While the cover feels very smooth, it’s not really as antiquated and soft as you might imagine it being when you first look at a picture of it. It’s still quite a sight to behold though. Just as well, every page feels heavy and satisfying with every turn. Quality-wise, you’re getting your money’s worth. Still, while it’s pretty and all, that’s not the primary reason you’d be buying this book.
The Legend Begins: The World of Skyward Sword
Shigeru Miyamoto starts off with a personal introduction with information about The Legend of Zelda’s initial creation, back in the mid-80s. Subsequently, we get to the meat and potatoes, starting with an extensive, in-depth look at concept art for the latest entry in the series, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. This actually takes up the entire first quarter of the volume, but it is certainly a very interesting first quarter. It should be noted that Skyward Sword is not my favorite Zelda game, nor is it a top favorite in the community, but seeing a lot of these concepts actually breathed a new life into the artwork and effort put into this game. Often, you will see something that shows a direct correlation from this newest installment and its predecessors. This book does that a lot actually. In that sense, it blows your mind pretty often, revealing things you had not noticed before and discrediting certain theories, especially about the timeline, but I certainly won’t spoil any of it for you guys and girls. Alas, when you look at it all as a whole, it’s almost as if Skyward Sword was Nintendo’s love letter to the entire franchise, in terms of details and certain plot elements. As the less appreciated runt of the litter, this was definitely needed.
Conversely, though, by looking at some of the concepts, you might check out a few that look like they nearly made it into the game, worse they were not included, in favor of some of the more questionable choices that you now see in the final product. Nevertheless, it’s a grand time to see the fruits of their labor making the whole thing come together, whether you liked it or not.
Still, there seemed like there were a couple of things missing every now and then as there was a ton of art for nearly everyone and everything except for the Imprisoned and Demise, who are/is kind of a huge deal for the game. I’m sure they went through multiple drafts, especially for Demise, but there’s no sign of that here for whatever reason. Also, I would have enjoyed reading more on the themes and allegories present in certain levels, specifically the Ancient Cistern, from the makers themselves. Still, this section is a fine inclusion.
The History of Hyrule: A Chronology
The next quarter of the book is, in my opinion, the reason to get Hyrule Historia in the first place. After years of speculation and theories, many are finally put to rest as Nintendo has created an official timeline for the entire series—time travel and all. The chronology splits up at the conclusion of Ocarina of Time into three separate timelines: One in which the Hero of Time is defeated by Ganondorf, one where he wins and goes back to his childhood seven years before, and one of the land of Hyrule without a hero as he has returned to his own time. It gets a little wild in some parts, on account of all the time travel, but they actually do a great job of condensing it and simplifying it as well as they can, complete with a one-page timeline and then a 64-page timeline in detail (Now that I think about it, they might have done that on purpose).
Very often, you might come across a sentence describing something from the series and then they’ll end their little paragraph with a sort of “HMMM THIS MIGHT BE RELATED TO THIS,” prompting you to go “DAMMIT I KNEW IT.” It’s a ton of fun. It even feels like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book when you reach the time-split and you’re given the page numbers to the results of each different scenario. It all works best when you read through it without skimming too quickly, or you might be really confused when suddenly you’ve skipped from A Link to the Past to The Wind Waker with no warning (both of which are on entirely different timelines).
Eiji Aonuma’s “epilogue” of sorts does refer to the timeline and developmental process for creating the games, stating that the story is usually one of the last things they get around to concocting, so don’t really worry too hard if you encounter any minor inconsistencies in the chronology. I mean come on, it’s time travel.
Creative Footprints: Documenting 25 Years of Artwork
Following the timeline comes a section containing concept art for every other game in the series. Some games have more than others; the older they are, the less artwork there seems to be showcased. Regardless, there’s a few really interesting scans of development materials like blueprints and charts, exposing the skeleton of some of video game history’s biggest landmarks. Personally, I thought the Twilight Princess sketches were actually the most interesting as there were nearly a dozen different concepts for Midna, each one very different, but it’s still a very intriguing look into the creative process.
There are also little notes on every page saying something about the designs, either revealing a secret about them or just design decisions. This section actually takes up the majority of the book, leaving the last 32 pages for something quite unexpected.
Hyrule Historia concludes with an exclusive manga by Akira Himekawa based on Skyward Sword. It was a little awkward to see that Link actually sort of spoke and everything was pretty overly dramatic in an expected manga-type fashion. In spite of that, it was a surprisingly good read, portraying a major plot point that is merely mentioned, but never actually shown in the games: the battle between the goddess Hylia and the demon king, essentially Ganondorf, which sets up the cycle for every game in the franchise.
In all, this is a pretty spectacular package, and I’d say it’s a must-have for any hardcore fan of The Legend of Zelda. Filled to the brim with mythology and peeks into the production behind the games that practically raised multiple generations of gamers, this is quite a treat for nearly anyone familiar with the franchise or with an interest in the design and evolution of a now major form of media. Plus, it’ll look fabulous on your book shelf.
You can order your copy of The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia on Amazon here!