Hyrule Historia was released in Japan to round out the year of

celebration for Zelda’s 25th

anniversary in 2011. For those of us in the west, the English translation just

arrived here in time for Zelda’s 27th anniversary, as yesterday

marked 27 years since the original Legend

of Zelda was released in Japan.

For those

interested in the artwork of the series there are hundreds of pages full of

concept designs and sketches. For those who enjoy Akira Himekawa’s Zelda manga adaptions, there is also

some of that. Hyrule Historia is also

full of facts about the series and makes an excellent resource.

By far the

book’s best section is “The History of

Hyrule,” which provides the official series chronology in great detail.

Back in 2011 it seemed like a drastic turn-around for Nintendo to suddenly

release the timeline out of no-where, when for a quarter of a century they had

left it for fan interpretation.

Regardless of

people’s opinions on the actual theory and layout of the timeline, one thing is

for sure: Nintendo did an excellent job at conveying the nature of the timeline

itself.

For the first

couple of releases into the series, the timeline was by no means complex, but

as more and more titles were released, then the timeline became a matter of

debate. However, when prompted with questions on the timeline in the past both

Eiji Aonuma and Shigeru Miyamoto have said that there is a timeline, but it’s a

secret.

“For every Zelda game we tell a new story, but we

actually have an enormous document that explains how the game relates to the

others, and bind them together. But to be honest, they are not that important

to us.” – Shigeru Miyamoto

“Yes, there is a master timeline, but it is a

confidential document!… The only people that have access to the document are

myself, Mr. Miyamoto, and the director of the title. We can’t share it with

anyone else!” – Eiji Aonuma

Hyrule Historia seemingly provided fans with that very document,

or at least a version of it, to our surprise. My biggest concern for releasing

the official timeline was how it may affect the player’s freedom to forge their

own legend while they play as the hero himself.

It seemed as if

Hyrule Historia could potentially rob

fans of their freedom to speculate and theorize, as they’d been encouraged to

do for decades beforehand. However, those concerns are invalid, as Hyrule Historia does a great job of

conveying the timeline’s nature of not being absolute.

While the book

is full of factoids and information that confirm long-held theories, such as

Rauru taking on the form of Kapeora Gaebora, it still successfully leaves many

things ambiguous, even highlighting other tidbits such as the relationship

between the Loftwings of Skyward Sword

and the Oocca of Twilight Princess as

unknown.

Though very

carefully selected and translated words and phrases such as “it is said that,” facts can be presented

without entirely destroying fans’ freedom to think otherwise and entertain

alternate theories. That freedom of thought is something that has come to be

important to Legend of Zelda fans,

and even the official timeline release manages not to completely destroy that.

In his

concluding remarks for Hyrule Historia,

Aonuma cleverly wraps up the nature of the overall Zelda storyline by talking

about the development process, and how stories are a device that arise to

facilitate the gameplay themes tackled in each title. Aonuma stresses that

although the plot lines may appeal a lot to fans, they are, after all, more of

an afterthought than a driving factor.


In this regard

Aonuma asks fans to keep an open mind, because inconsistencies run rampant

throughout the series. Below is Aonuma’s full statement. The emphasis is mine:

“The History of Hyrule”

allows players to determine where each Zelda game is positioned in the

chronology of the series. One thing to bear in mind, however, is that the question the developers of the Legend

of Zelda series asked themselves before starting on a title was, “What kind of

game play should we focus on?” rather than “What kind of story should we

write?” For example, the theme of

Ocarina of Time, the first Zelda game I was involved with, was, “What kind of

responsive game play will we be able to create in a 3-D environment?” The Theme

of Phantom Hourglass, which I helped develop for the Nintendo DS, was, “How can

we make the game comfortable to control using the stylus?” Lastly, the theme of

Skyward Sword, the latest entry in the series, was, “How can we use the Wii

Remote Plus to allow players to freely manipulate the sword?”

Because the games were

developed in such a manner, it could be said that Zelda’s story lines were afterthoughts. As a result, I feel that

even the story of “The Legend Begins” in Skyward Sword was simply something that came about by chance.

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

fans will be broad minded enough to take into consideration that this is simply

how Zelda is made.

Aonuma’s

sentiment is largely expressed also in the introduction to Hyrule Historia’s

Chronology. While presenting an official timeline, it is done in such a way as

to not become the be-all end-all, which is frankly necessary for an

ever-evolving game series.

The following

extracts are taken from the chronology’s introduction, and further highlight

the nature of the timeline as evolving, not absolute. They stress for the

readers the nature of the timeline as a legend. They stress it’s nature as one

of a constantly changing mythology. Again, the emphasis is mine.

“This is an introduction

to the history of Hyrule, told chronologically, which weaves together the

numerous Legend of Zelda stories. Is it

a legend? Is it an accurate history of a cycle of rebirth? There is evidence

that the story of The Legend of Zelda begins with Skyward Sword. Up to this

point, the legends of Zelda have been surrounded by myth and mystery, but now,

with the help of the following information, you will be able to discover for

yourself the real history of Hyrule.”

This chronicle merely collects information that is believed to be true

at this time, and there are many obscured and unanswered secrets that lie

within the tale. As the stories and storytellers of Hyrule change, so, too,

does its history. Hyrule’s history is a

continuously woven tapestry of events. Changes that seem inconsequential,

disregarded without even a shrug, could evolve at some point to hatch new

legends and, perhaps, change this tapestry of history itself.”

“The heroes of these

chronicles all share the name Link. These Links might have been the same person, a series of familial descendants,

or a number of heroes with different names entirely. The Links of certain eras may also have been named after the

legendary hero. Hylian princesses bearing the name Zelda have also appeared

throughout the history of Hyrule. It is

likely that the name was handed down through the generations.”

An accurate way

to describe Nintendo’s portrayal of the timeline is as open. As Hyrule Historia details each of the

three splits of the timeline, it concludes with comments to leave everything

nicely open for the series to develop and advance, which, again, makes sense as

a gaming franchise.

Following “The Decline of

Hyrule and the Last Hero arc: “Did generations pass, full of peace and

the light of prosperity? Or did the curtain rise on an age of darkness, when

people quarreled in their search for power? The future of this timeline has yet

to be unraveled.”

Following “The Twilight

Realm and The Legacy of the Hero” Arc: “Will the

Light World never be free of the threat of darkness? There may come a time when

the land will have need of the Four Sword once again.”

Following “Hero of Winds

and a New World” Arc: “With the lineage of the gods not yet

exhausted, who can say what successive generations will bring. The story will

continue to unfold.”


With the

chronology revealed in Hyrule Historia,

it is satisfying to finally be able to say “this is the timeline,” but at the

same time we have the freedom to consider alternatives. We know that it can

change and alter, that time will not only provide additions, but alterations.

Due to the focus of gameplay over story, the plot will always be up for

interpretation with an open mind.

Hyrule Historia does provide a great amount of detail about the

games and their backstories, but it does not make everything black and white.

It may provide the timeframe of when the Interlopers of Twilight Princess attempted to invade the Sacred Realm, but it does

not confirm their identity. There is still room for interpretation in the

complexities of Zelda.

Of course there

are contradictions and things that can’t fully be explained without some pretty

out-there theories, but Aonuma asks that we understand that and gives us the

freedom to try and explain them. Even with the chronology said and done we must

accept that they are just legends, even hypotheticals based upon whether a given

Link succeeds or fails.

I am glad that

at the end of the day, that even with an official timeline, we still must

remember that each tale is “but one of

the legends of which the people speak.” Each story is “obscured by the mists of time and became legend.” Even with

everything seemingly laid out on the table, Zelda

is still just a collection of myths. It remains, in essence, a collection of ambiguous

legends about Link, Zelda and Demise’s lingering curse.

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