One Legend to (Hy)Rule Them All: Celebrating Zelda
Today is a great day for video game fans in the United States: after over a year, the fervently anticipated and debated The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia is at last available in English (and, as of this writing, it’s currently #1 on our bestseller list in all of Books). Originally released in its native language in Japan, the oversized tome—a love letter to Hyrule, the fictional realm where much of the series takes place—was sought after, imported, scanned, and pored over worldwide by fans. At last, here it is in all its translated glory—fret not, Zelda fans. This one is worth all the hype.
In February 1986, The Legend of Zelda video game premiered in Japan, followed by a US port on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1987. Over 68 million units of that adventure game have since sold worldwide—and there were 15 (or so) more games to follow in the franchise.
It’s important to note that most of Hyrule Historia is not a behind-the-scenes look at the making of these individual games, rather it’s a history of the fictional world they inhabit. It opens with an introduction by series creator Shigeru Miyamoto and then immediately gets serious with the chronology, opening to a long look at the “first” game in the series’ in-world history, Skyward Sword. Then it’s off to a 60-page study of “The History of Hyrule.” This section attempts to make sense of 16 games’ worth of cyclical plots, villains, heroes, princesses, and lore. It’s a complex, daunting, and brow-furrowing read, and I loved every page.
I suspect more studious fans will debate and contest this official timeline, but Nintendo (who created the book) wisely states: “This chronicle merely collects information that is believed to be true at the time…As the stories and storytellers of Hyrule change, so too does its history.” My suggestion is to appreciate the effort on the first two pages in this section but dwell more on the wonderfully unspooled history in the following 58 pages. There’s “The Legend of the Three Goddesses and the Hero,” a translation of Hylian writing, character bios (highlighting the various forms of series villain Ganondorf), a look at the Master Sword, character resurrections, the Princess, and—maybe I should stop. There’s so much covered in this section, and so much of it brought back memories that I do not want to spoil the experience for fresh readers. I will note that there is a significant amount of information in this section that is new to me (or maybe I’ve forgotten it), and I consider myself a relatively big Legend of Zelda fan.
The “Creative Footprints” chapter looks at over 80 pages of character sketches, concept art, weapons, maps, “spirit crests,” and settings throughout the series. I especially liked the reproductions of images from the original game manual, where series hero Link is much more impish than the stalwart man of action that he is today. There is also a catalog of all the games (including cover art for foreign editions) and it features plot summaries and factoids throughout.
Hyrule Historia closes with an afterword by series producer Eiji Aonuma and an original manga by Akira Himekawa, produced exclusively for the book. After about 20 minutes with this collector's item, I gave up trying to read it without a nostalgic bias. This is a book built upon nostalgia! Hyrule Historia deserves all the fan clamor it has generated and the accolades it will receive. Nintendo and US publisher Dark Horse have treated the series with love and its fans to a package that is as valuable as any rare item found in the games.
P.S. “It’s dangerous to go alone! Take this.” (I had to, folks.)