Book Review: The Legend Of Zelda: Hyrule Historia

The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia
Written by Shigeru Miyamoto, Akira Himekawa, Eiji Aonuma
Art by Akira Himekawa
Dark Horse Comics
Release Date: January 29, 2013
Cover Price: $34.99

I’m starting feeling a little old these days. AMC regularly features movies from my childhood. My favorite songs while growing up are now considered “classic rock.” And now, as if to drive the point home, the Legend of Zelda is celebrating its 25th anniversary. Dark Horse Comics and Nintendo have teamed up to celebrate the occasion with a compendium of Zelda knowledge titled The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia.

This tome is instantly the supreme information source for all things Zelda. It’s all here, NES through Wii, in unimaginable exquisite detail. Hyrule Historia covers the background of each Zelda game and then slots them into an overarching timeline that brings order to the story. And before you ask, no, the dreadful Phillips CD-i games are not included or even acknowledged. If you’ve ever had the misfortune of playing the CD-i games, then we’re probably in agreement that these games must be forgotten or else we’ll have to someday send a Terminator back to, uh, prevent that from ever happening.

Hyrule Historia is divided into four separate sections. The book opens with Shigeru Miyamoto’s introduction that discusses the origins of Zelda on the Famicom Disk System and the franchise’s evolution.

The first section, “The Legend Begins,” provides in-depth background information on Skyward Sword, which is considered the first game in the Zelda timeline. This section is exactly what you’d expect from a Collector’s Edition release of the Wii game with concept art, behind the scenes information, and tons of backstory for the game’s major players. I haven’t played through Skyward Sword, but this background section and the manga comic at the end have definitely whet my appetite for some Master Sword swinging goodness on my Wii.

The next section, “The History of Hyrule,” is undoubtedly the main attraction of the book. Every Zelda game ever released on a Nintendo system is meticulously weaved an overarching story narrative. The timeline is linear from Skyward Sword, The Minish Cap, Four Swords, and Ocarina of Time. However, it branches off into alternate timelines based on the ending of Ocarina of Time.

As an 80’s nostalgia junkie, I was fascinated with the placement of the two NES games into the bad ending scenario. The book labels this timeline as the decline of Hyrule and even explains the original Legend of Zelda’s overbearing sense of isolation in comparison to all the other Zelda releases. Beyond the one page diagram of the timeline, Hyrule Historia covers the events in each game and ties them into a coherent history. Each game feature also includes little sidebars filled with nuggets of information that are just as intriguing as the timeline coverage. Overall, this section would’ve easily been worth the price of admission. But wait! There’s more!

The third section, “Creative Footprints,” presents concept art for most of the games in the series. Some of the images in this section are presented publicly for the first time ever. Again, as old school NES gamer, I was mesmerized by Shigeru Miyamoto’s development materials for The Legend of Zelda. These images simply have to be seen to be properly appreciated. Perhaps the coolest part of this section is simply seeing the design progression of Link, Zelda, Ganon, and others for each game. It’s especially intriguing with the Wind Waker where the series made its controversial turn towards cartoony, cel-shaded visuals. While presenting early design drawings, even the book muses how Wind Waker may have appeared if the designers went with a more traditional, anime-styled Link instead of chibi-Link.

Following the concept art is an afterword by series producer Eiji Aonuma who has been involved with Zelda since 1998. He makes a startling revelation that all Zelda games focused on game mechanics first; the stories were almost an “afterthought.” For a universe as rich as The Legend of Zelda’s, it’s impressive that such a patchwork method of storytelling has been this successful. He is almost apologetic for some inconsistencies that a few anal-retentives might uncover in Hyrule Historia. Pish-posh! These creators demonstrated an unparalleled passion for this franchise by making this book a reality; to pick any nits would be downright uncouth. Uncouth, I say.

The book concludes with Akira Himekawa’s produced a beautifully illustrated prequel to Skyward Sword, which is the first game in the timeline. This 33 page manga tells the origin of The Legend of Zelda’s entire premise: in times of great need, Link and Zelda will be reincarnated to fight back the impending doom. Any fan of the Zelda’s storyline will be thrilled with this concise and entertaining look at how it all started. As per usual with manga, it must be read back-to-front and right-to-left.

The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia deserves a prominent spot on every Zelda fan’s bookshelf. This book is a fittingly incredible celebration of one of gaming’s greatest franchises. Even if you’ve cooled on Zelda games or haven’t played since Ocarina of Time, let this book reignite that smoldering ember of Zelda fandom lurking in your heart.

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