For the past 25 years, nearly every entry in The Legend of Zelda series has followed the same basic formula: there's a hero named Link who saves a princess named Zelda from a villain named Ganondorf. But with the exception of a few direct sequels and spin-offs, the Link in one game isn't the same as in the next. Sometimes Zelda is a helpless princess in need of rescue, while in others she's the leader of a band of seafaring pirates (who then turns into a princess). How these games and stories fit together has always been murky, but with the book Hyrule Historia, available in Japan since 2011, Nintendo has finally revealed the timeline that connects each game in the series. The company has since partnered with Dark Horse to launch the book in North America starting today, and while the timeline is the big draw, there's a lot more here for longtime fans of the series to enjoy.
"An experience akin to losing themselves in the depths of adventure."
Dark Horse originally approached Nintendo about working on a project together around four years ago, and eventually Nintendo got back to the publisher about doing an English version of Hyrule Historia. However, editor Patrick Thorpe believes that in spite of his own persistence in pitching ideas to Nintendo, it was actually the community that ultimately convinced the company to localize the book. "I think the fans deserve a lot of the credit in bringing this book to an English speaking audience," he says. "They were passionate, and their voices were heard." Thorpe describes himself as a fan, saying that the original Legend of Zelda was one of the very first video games he ever played — he counts A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time as his favorites. "When Nintendo e-mailed me to see if Dark Horse was interested in doing the English localization, being a fan myself, I could not say yes fast enough," he explained.
The book was originally released to coincide with the series' 25th anniversary, and came out the same year as the most recent Zelda game, Skyward Sword for the Wii. Because of this, the first chapter — which follows a brief introduction by series creator and video game legend Shigeru Miyamoto — is dedicated to the making of the game. It's an in-depth look at everything from character and location designs to concept art for things that never even made it into the final product. Meanwhile, a subsequent chapter touches on older games. You can see some of Miyamoto's hand-drawn dungeon designs for the very first Legend of Zelda on NES, as well as the many possibilities the artists dreamed up for Midna, Link's impish helper in Twilight Princess.
"Staff members were kind enough to go hunting through stacks of ancient documents," writes series producer Eiji Aonuma, "an experience akin to losing themselves in the depths of adventure." Even without the timeline there's a lot to dig into. Pages are crammed with details as small as how the characters of the Hylian language correlate to Japanese or how minor enemies evolved and changed from one game to the next.
Because the book has already been available in Japan for quite some time, details of the timeline have leaked out — if you want to know whether Wind Waker took place before or after Majora's Mask, you can find that information online. But the book provides a much more detailed look at how the games connect, and, as you might imagine, the history of a series that's spanned a quarter of a century gets a bit complicated. At one point the timeline even splits into three different realities depending on how the events of Ocarina of Time unfold. It's certainly an interesting and engaging read, though the murkiness of the chronology does raise an important question: does the Legend of Zelda even need a timeline?
"Who doesn't want to see a 'Metroid' book?"
"I think that every single game in the Zelda series can stand on its own and be a delightful adventure," says Thorpe. "What the timeline does is enrich the experience. Once you start seeing the links between the different games, you get a fuller experience." Nintendo even hedges the timeline by saying that "this chronicle merely collects information that is believed to be true at this time," and that "there are many obscured and unanswered secrets that still lie within the tale." So as new games inevitably come out, the chronology could change.
Aside from the obvious English translation, not much has changed in terms of content when it comes to the North American version of Hyrule Historia, though Thorpe says it's slightly bigger than its Japanese counterpart: "We really wanted the art to shine and give the reader a version where they could pore over every detail." But that doesn't mean that it wasn't a whole lot of work bringing the book out in English. According to Thorpe, at any given moment there were six people working on the translation and three people tackling design, along with Thorpe himself overseeing the project and additional staff working on aspects like proofreading and digital art and production. The biggest challenge was simply getting it all done in time. "There wasn't enough of it in the day!" says Thorpe of the lack of time. "We translated every hand written production note, every design note, and fact checked every word."
Fortunately, this process doesn’t appeared to have been slowed down much, if at all, by Nintendo’s approval process. Thorpe says that the company was very easy to work with, providing plenty of help and material, and just generally letting the team at Dark Horse "do our own thing." And while Nintendo ultimately had final say when it came to making decisions, "they gave us an incredible amount of freedom to make this the absolute best book we could possibly make it," says Thorpe.
All of that hard work has led to a 276-page tome that serious Zelda fans will definitely want to check out. Not only is it a great experience in its own right, but Thorpe hopes that its success could lead the traditionally-secretive Nintendo to open up a bit more when it comes to the history of its other revered franchises. "I mean, who doesn't want to see a Metroid book?"