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Bellarius takes a look into video game literature with the 25th anniversary The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia by Miyamoto Shigeru, Aonuma Eiji and Himekawa Akira.
“A book which shows why Zelda truly is a Legend among video games” - The Founding Fields
The Legend of Zelda is one of those video game genres which is one of the biggest still standing names among franchises. Along with Mega Man, Final Fantasy, Super Mario and many others; it was a pillar of the industry back in the days of the SNES and is one of a handful to remain so today. Not only earning multiple acclaimed sequels and a solid fandom, but remaining loyal to its old ideas without suffocating innovation in the right areas.
However, for all it’s long history the timeline of Zelda and its past is one of the big mysteries of the series. There have been multiple Links, multiple Zeldas and so many contradicting landscapes of Hyrule that any true continuity seems to be impossible. The Hyrule Historia is Nintendo’s answer to the cryptic idea of the series’ development, origins and mythology along with a celebration of its 25 year run.
Going right into this it’s clear that this is something big. It truly does feel within the opening paragraphs and images of just a few pages like it’s a true record of the game’s history. Right from Miyamoto Shigeru’s introduction, covering the history of the game’s development to the 66th page, a full image showing every one of Link’s incarnations united in one painting you are given the impression of its legacy. Every page is crafted from designer images and notes, concept art and details which show how the series has grown both in development and between titles. Moving from the Don Bluth styled cartoonish looks of the early games to the outlandishly animated Wind Waker and Skyward Sword. Though thankfully skipping the CD-i titles in their entirety and pretending they never happened, an attitude all too welcome here.
Relying heavily upon its visuals, words are kept to a minimum with only brief notes no more than a paragraph at the most making up each page. Even the timeline itself is farily minimal, not going into extensive outlines of events or even the specifics of that era. Beyond the intro and outro delivered by Miyamoto and Aonuma Eiji respectively, it allows the reader’s views of the designs to read about the games for themselves. Allowing for a more personal opinion and connection than if there had been an extensive description to every sequence, detail and event. This assists in preventing any single game from overshadowing the others for much of the book, something all too easily done when a series contains Ocarina of time, but it there was likely a second reason.
Many people buying this were doing so out of a personal connection, that they had their own memories of games to call back upon and it seems like the writers understood this. The basic information here is minimal enough those memories to be rekindled in the games readers had played, while remaining extensive enough for anyone who had not button mashed their way through titles.
Yes, I know Zelda games don’t involved button mashing, I just don’t get to use that term nearly enough.
While the explanation of the timeline is ultimately what Hyrule Historia will likely be remembered for, it’s the conclusion which feels the most meaningful. For the most part the book keeps away from expanding upon the lore or meddling in details, save for the manga in the final pages. Done by the same duo behind the Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask manga adaptations, it outlines the series’ beginnings. Giving not only a legitimate reason for very similar versions of characters to exist without history, but a direct link between them and the goddesses of Hyrule.
With such an old franchise, reshaping the history to such an extensive degree would be difficult to accomplish to any satisfying degree. In the hands of the wrong person it could easily contradict many fan ideas, upset a segment of the loyal fanbase or betray the ideas behind one of the many games. Despite this the writers handled it competently only going as far as they had to with their ideas and explanations but no further. Leaving room for personal feelings and ideas while displaying the origins of the master sword, Hyrule itself and giving an impression of the demon king’s long standing influence. While by no means perfect due to a limited page number, it nevertheless portrays a satisfactory answer to questions about how everything began.
If there is one real criticism to be held against the book, it’s a slight bias towards Skyward Sword. While not arising to any great degree, it did effect things such as the page order and felt early on like it was giving more attention to the game than it deserve. Putting its art ahead of even the history of Hyrule, making up the pages directly following the introduction no less. The book definitely would have felt much stronger had it been saved until later.
As said before, this is definitely one for the fans. Those with no personal history or connection with the Zelda franchise will feel little need to look this up, but it’s intended more for those who have stuck with the series for so long. It’s definitely more of a coffeetable book than a true expansion of the lore, but one worthy of the anniversary.
If you recognise those symbols on the cover and have memories stirred by the the triforce, buy this without regret.