Out in Japan since late 2011, The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia is now available in North America. Check out our review to see if this hardcover history of the fan-favorite series is worth your time and money (spoiler: it is).
The Legend of Zelda is one of gaming’s most beloved series, and it’s not hard to imagine why. The fact that it’s been around for so long certainly factors into it; like most gamers in their twenties who started out with an NES, I can’t even remember a time when Zelda didn’t exist. Then there’s the sense of wonder and exploration and adventure that each new game manages to convey, and that the similarities between each game’s characters and stories are comfortingly familiar, not tediously repetitive. There are many reasons that Zelda is a longtime fan favorite, and The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia is a love letter to those fans. Originally released in Japan in 2011, the Historia has finally made its way to North America thanks to Nintendo and Dark Horse. A fascinating compendium collecting 25 years of artwork, information, and the much-debated chronology, Hyrule Historia is well worth the wait.
The sturdy hardcover begins with a letter from series creator and industry legend Shigeru Miyamoto celebrating The Legend of Zelda‘s 25th anniversary, then dives into the first section featuring artwork from Skyward Sword. Though Skyward Sword is the most recent Zelda game to be released, it’s the first chronologically, and the pages and pages of character designs, maps, Loftwing sketches, and creator ideas paint a vivid picture of how this legend began.
A highlight for many fans is sure to be the second section, “The History of Hyrule: A Chronology.” For years, fans have discussed and debated the order of Zelda games, and with no official guideline from Nintendo before the Historia, it was never explicitly clear. The book is sure to note that the timeline, while comprehensive, is also fluid–Zelda games are still being made, after all, and who knows when the recently announced Wii U Zelda game (and every subsequent one) will fit into the series’ chronology.
Disclaimer aside, the timeline is fascinating, and pieces together a wonderful story that starts with Skyward Sword and ends (for now!) with the splitting of timelines creating three different outcomes, thanks to Link’s time-traveling shenanigans in Ocarina of Time. I don’t want to spoil too much, but there’s a place in the chronology for every Legend of Zelda game (minus the regrettable CD-i entries), and it’s a delightful read.
Following the timeline is “Creative Footprints,” which documents 25 years of Legend of Zelda artwork. This goes all the way back to Miyamoto’s development materials for the first game; there are early sketches of Link, enemy designs, dungeon layouts, and various concept art. The only problem is that the pages are crowded, with some containing multiple pieces of art, which in turn have been scaled down to fit. It would have been nice to see full-page dungeon layouts, for example, instead of having that crammed on a single page along with various other development materials.
That issue isn’t as present for the rest of this portion, which moves on from The Legend of Zelda to every other game in the series (again, only those on Nintendo consoles). Particularly interesting are the pages devoted to the evolving character designs of Link, Zelda, and Ganon, showing how they’ve changed from game to game. Though this portion is mostly artwork, there are some notes and great gems of information in there, which I won’t spoil. There’s also a game catalog that lists the Zelda games by year of release, noting each re-release as well. This straightforward catalog still manages to be nostalgia-inducing, giving just a quick glimpse at the series’ proliferation.
After a letter from series producer Eiji Aonuma, Hyrule Historia wraps up with a 32-page manga from longtime Zelda manga artists A. Honda and S. Nagano, who go by the pseudonym Akira Himekawa. The manga, which must be read back to front, Japanese style, serves as an entertaining companion piece to Skyward Sword, and adds variety to the Historia‘s content.
The treasure trove of art and information in Hyrule Historia makes this one of the best–and most easily obtainable–collector’s items for longtime Zelda fans. With so much content produced with great attention to detail and production values, it’s really hard to believe this is only $35 (though some retailers are selling it for around $20) and readily available online and at local comic shops. The opening letter from Shigeru Miyamoto is only two pages long, but the celebration of The Legend of Zelda goes on for the entirety of Hyrule Historia‘s nearly 300 pages. Without a doubt, The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia is a necessary addition to any Zelda fan’s collection.