Any Zelda fan will know that the new official encyclopaedia, Hyrule Historia, is a pretty big deal. Not only does it mark the first time I’ve ever seen a trailer for a book, it shook the very core of decades of speculation of the series. It finally gave fans the official timeline, linking all games together chronologically when it released in Japan last year and inevitably got fan-translated.
When I received the book, it was bigger, shinier and more intimidating than I’d expected. The hardback cover is solid and sports a beautiful, iconic design of Skyward Sword‘s Gate of Time that really makes you feel that you’re holding something important, mysterious, and magical.
Hyrule Historia is much more than a simple history book, however. After an introduction and foreword by series creator, Shigeru Miyamoto, you will be greeted to concept art, illustrations, design plans and official artwork of the latest game in the series, Skyward Sword. This section, with over 60 pages, covers approximately the first quarter of the book. This may be an issue for some people, considering that Skyward Sword was one of the more divisive entries in the franchise among fans.
As someone who adores the game, however, I found this section fascinating. Whatever your opinion is of the game, it does deserve to have many pages dedicated to it; marking the series’ 25th anniversary and being set right at the beginning of the chronology. I have always associated the series with the utmost high quality, but one thing this book achieves consistently throughout is making you really appreciate the effort that goes into video game design – something that is more than evident in this section.
It’s interesting to see how characters and enemies have developed, and how they could have been designed. There are even rejected characters. The notes on the design documents go into incredible detail, keeping very specific about things you may not have even noticed during the game. At times, this becomes quite humourous. One particular character, designed as a cleaner for Skyloft, was not only given different designs for his tongs and trash can, but also specific instructions that his pinkie finger should never bend, in order to “give him feminine hands without emphasizing the extended-pinkie stereotype”. Yeah.
It’s not all about Skyward Sword though, as each game has its fair share of coverage. The next section is an in-depth chronology of Hyrule that, not only provides a clear visual timeline, but breaks down the significance in each game in order to give a detailed, easy-to-understand summary of the ongoing legend of Hyrule.
Each game is then given more concept art, in order of release. Everyone has their favourite Zelda game, and the prospect of seeing 25 years worth of never before seen artwork marks one of the most exciting parts of the book. I got very giddy seeing the initial designs for the King of Red Lions from Wind Waker, and was intrigued by an early sketch of a futuristic, sci-fi-themed Princess Zelda for A Link to the Past.
Sadly, some games are disappointingly more lacking than others. While Twilight Princess receives 32 pages of concept art, Link’s Awakening gets a single page of extremely bare-bones and dull storyboards. As my personal first Zelda game, I was hoping for much more – though it’s understandable that some designs may no longer be available after many years.
Before a brief reflection of the series and a hearty thank you to all fans from director/producer Eiji Aonuma, Hyrule Historia closes with a captivating manga comic. This serves as a prequel to , laying down the origins of the series and explaining why Link’s, Zelda’s and Ganon’s spirits are constantly reincarnated throughout the ages. Illustrated by artist Akira Himekawa, the manga is very well-drawn and beautiful.
Books aren’t always very high on the priority lists of gamers, and the price tag may seem a little steep. But for Zelda fans, Hyrule Historia is a must-have. Each of its 276 pages are crammed with beautiful art, fascinating information and exclusive content that is sure to please even series veterans. It truly is a love letter to the everyone who loves Zelda, as well as to one of the most beloved, important and genre-defining franchises in video game history.