It’s amazing to think that a game which started out as a very basic action RPG on the NES has morphed into one of gaming’s most enduring and famous properties, sparking everything from emotional debate to hushed reverence whenever its name is uttered. The Legend of Zelda series - apparently inspired by creator Shigeru Miyamoto’s love of exploration rather than a desire to tell an epic tale - spans 25 years and has sold millions of copies worldwide across a range of different consoles. Hyrule Historia is an attempt to celebrate that vibrant and expansive past, and it’s almost entirely successful.
Comprised of 276 lush pages, Hyrule Historia was originally released in Japan in 2011, but US publisher Dark Horse - famous for its comic books - has kindly translated the tome for English-speaking audiences this year. Inside you’ll find a plentiful supply of official artwork (both final and concept-based), a thorough history of Hyrule and the character of Link, design details relating to each instalment and even a manga prequel to The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, illustrated by A. Honda and S. Nagano (better known by the collective pseudonym of Akira Himekawa).
If you consider yourself to be an ardent Zelda aficionado, then it’s hard to see how you can’t fail to lose your head at the quality of content on offer here. Hyrule Historia isn’t your typical cash-in publication produced by a disinterested team of hacks working on a tight budget and deadline; it feels as if Nintendo has opened up its vaults and made available every single shred of information regarding the franchise, allowing it to be pieced together by a group of passionate people who live and breath this series.
Granted, it’s slightly odd that some games in the bloodline are given more coverage than others - The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks gets several pages, but The Legend of Zelda: A Link To the Past is afforded only a couple of sheets. We imagine this probably has something to do with the availability of assets; the DS games are quite recent and therefore materials will be easy to track down, whereas Link To the Past is 20 years old - and was produced before companies began storing images digitally. We would also guess that the production team was smaller, which means less supporting artwork would have been produced.
The timeline constructed by Nintendo is likely to settle (and start) a few arguments as well, but just reading it and trying to get your head around the various concepts and tangents is thrilling and engaging; it’s also a testament to Nintendo’s talent that each tale in the Zelda lineage is simultaneously the same, but also different to all of the others. Even if you’re of the opinion that all Zelda games are near-identical, Hyrule Historia lends fresh perspective by dividing the timeline into segments, making you appreciate the individual stories in a slightly different light than before.
Packed with information and lavishly produced, Hyrule Historia was always going to be a standout publication. However, its depth and detail have surprised even us. Few video game franchises could ever hope to support such a weighty and significant book, and even if you’ve only a passing interest in the adventures of Link, this should be a permanent addition to your coffee table or bookshelf. Our fingers are crossed that the same treatment can be offered to other key Nintendo properties in the future.