The Zelda timeline has long been a hot topic of debate among fans and I remember the many passionate discussions I had on fan sites and the wikia about all our crazy theories. How could you possibly hope to tie together this many video games that all have their own, autonomous story, with little to no references to each other. It’s absurd and many said it couldn’t be done, yet following the release of Skyward Sword, Nintendo made the curious decision to finally pitch in. After years of silence and arguing that storytelling wasn’t their focus, the big N reconsidered and released the Hyrule Historia.
Marketed as a definitive answer to many of the lingering questions of the series, this giant, hardcover tome was a day 1 purchase for me. It’s effectively divided into segments, with the first being kind of a major letdown. The first half of the book is a tediously complete collection of art assets for Skyward Sword, the then most recent entry in the franchise. While a lot of is really neat, like seeing all the designs they considered for various main characters, the book makes a point of going into detail on every area, every minor side-character, and overall it just feels like a lame attempt to promote the game.
This wouldn’t be an issue in and of itself, if it didn’t feel like it was at the cost of every other game in the series. All the other entries get a pitiful few drawings in the third segment with a lot less fun insight into how designs came to be. While a recent title like Twilight Princess at least gets some details, games like Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, and even the older games are just rushed. I know I was pretty disappointed when I found my favorite character, Saria, and all she got was a sketch of her final design with notes explaining what she is wearing… which you can already clearly see. I sure hope Stian didn’t buy this book, because his beloved A Link to the Past is combined with Zelda II and together they barely manage to fill up two pages.
Seeing how the franchise and its character evolved is one of the core appeals of a book like this and it’s such a massive failure in this regard that you are better off finding information on this stuff on the fan-made wiki.
In-between the art assets for Skyward Sword and the rest of the series is the book’s main selling point, Nintendo’s official timeline. I think they handled it pretty well, detailing in what order the games should go and then providing a summary of the game’s events. Even then I did notice a number of statements that made little sense. For example, the timeline places the Oracle games after Ocarina of Time and then proceeds to explain that the former is about Twinrova trying to ressurect a defeated Ganon… ignoring the fact that by the end of Ocarina of Time Twinrova is dead. Inconsistencies like these were bound to happen considering a timeline has only just now become a concern for Nintendo.
Having a concise summary of all the games is also useful if you haven’t played all of them or want a recap on some, but again, the book fails to shine much light on theories. While sometimes the book delivers, like clarifying that the Hero’s Shade is indeed a previous incarnation of Link, a lot of other disputes are left untouched, like the identity of the Poe Collector from Ocarina of Time.
While its contents are a mixed bag, the book itself is really nice. It’s large and has a hard cover that doesn’t damage easily, and its dark-green with gold color scheme really makes it stand out. The pages all look great with an effective layout, you really get the feeling that this is a collector’s item on top of an interesting book. It’s nice to leaf through every once in a while, but in my eyes that doesn’t excuse it from not delivering on the maximum potential. Either Nintendo doesn’t meddle in theories and let’s the community discuss it themselves or they go out there and reveal everything; don’t charge me 30 euros for a half-assed attempt.
For Zelda fans it’s definitely worth looking into, but consider waiting until the The Legend of Zelda Encyclopedia hits in April.