With over 25 years of history behind it the Zelda franchise has come a long way from the sprites that made up the original Legend of Zelda. Having evolved many times over since then then there have been nearly as many different art designs as titles, each with their own style and character. In The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia these 25 years of everything from rough sketches, landscapes, and alternate depictions have been gathered into one epic volume. There are a lot of special notes, but the first one is the Introduction by Shigeru Miyamoto!
So, twenty-five years have passed, and we have made a lot of Zelda titles. In the beginning, Link was just a bunch of pixelated dots, and now he is a hero who appears fearless, capable of realistic and free movement. Ganon has turned into a powerful archvillain, and Zelda, an incredibly beautiful woman.
Within the pages of Hyrule Historia lay many designs of characters, weapons, armors and locations. Alongside the more recognizable artwork are sketches not seen in final games. These sketches could be rough drafts or alternate designs of characters and costumes. Main characters such as Link, Zelda and Ganon get their own sections to explore their various incarnations from Legend of Zelda to Skyward Sword. Spread throughout the many section of games are the secondary and minor characters, some have more details than others. There is even a section “Who is Tinkle?” that some will be thrilled for, others will avoid.
One of the most remarkable sections of Hyrule Historia lies in the History of Hyrule, which is given a sequential story-line across pages 70 to 138. This section does a great job of explaining the history and linking the games together. It’s a murky concept, and at times strains its tenuous grasp, but given the right amount of acceptance it at least attempts to make sense of some of the more deviating entries in the series.
With over 25 years of artwork in Hyrule Historia there are plenty of examples to explore. There are some great entries with concept art and development materials from the earlier entries in the Legend of Zelda franchise. Some costumes and outfits in the concept art is never used in a final product – like one particularly sci-fi themed outfit Princess Zelda sadly never got the chance to wear. One concept art has the Legend of Zelda cast standing alongside another cast of iconic Nintendo characters – the Mario Brothers and a toadstool. This is the “meat” of Hyrule Historia, where most people will spend their time after reading the over 60 pages of history.
The contents of the games are not the only thing on display in Hyrule Historia. There is a section completely devoted to the historic game catalog. There are a number of rare and unique game cartridges and special editions that most fans won’t even have known existed. While they might be out of reach for the vast majority of fans, it is still a rare treat. There is also a page devoted solely to the commemorative merchandise, many pieces most people wouldn’t know about.
Overall the Hyrule Historia offers a rare and captivating glimpse into the not just the art of The Legend of Zelda, but the mindset and creative process that has allows this series to evolve over time. The art is fantastic, the history engrossing and even the confusing timeline can be believable with enough leap-of-faith. If Hyrule Historia has one major flaw it would be the lack of larger imprints. While there were a few section dividers with full page images, the overall experience left me feeling like there was too many small pieces thrown together on a single page. I would have liked to have seen more full-page size artwork. If not as its own section, then at least spread out through the book.
Since Shigeru Miyamoto opened Hyrule Historia it is fitting that Eiji Aonuma gives his thoughts in the end. Though touching, one portion stood out to sum the feeling of inconsistencies and missing parts:
“Flipping through the pages of “The History of Hyrule,” you may even find a few inconsistencies. However, peoples such as the Mogma tribe and items such as the Beetle that appear in Skyward Sword may show up again in other eras. Thus, it is my hope that the fans will be broad minded enough to take into consideration that this is simply how Zelda is made.”
Essentially, we have learned the evolution of Zelda has been a flowing and changing experience. Through it all though, there lies a common sense of exploration and discovery that have tied the series together and will continue to gather old and new fans alike.
ADDED BONUS: The final pages of Hyrule Historia have been set aside to contain a special edition The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword comic by Akira Himekawa. This full issue length comic features gorgeous artwork and a story that makes me wish they would publish the comic separately and continue the series. It alone nearly makes the book a must-have for die-hard fans.
Fans of Zelda might also like our Video Game Symphonic Melodies #1 – The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening with their Hyrule Historia.