Review: The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia

The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule HistoriaThe Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia by Shigeru Miyamoto

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I first heard of the existence of Hyrule Historia and its inevitable translation and release in Western markets I was as ecstatic as any fan could be. To give you an idea, scanlations from the original Japanese edition were unleashed to the thirsty hordes of Zelda enthusiasts within a matter of hours after release in Nipponia. Finally! A Zelda tribute to end Zelda tributes; a book strictly for the fans; an official behind-the-scenes, anthology, retrospective, together with the manga prelude to Skyward Sword, all presented with high quality illustrations, colour and printing and, perhaps most importantly, THE TIMELINE!

Now that eyebrows have had the time to be lowered and discussion on the three timeline theory, which like it or not is now obviously canon, has subsided, it’s time for the admission part: the part where I look into the cold, hard facts of being a maturing Zelda fan. I hope you’re ready.

In the last pages of the book there’s a Thank You note from Eiji Aonuma, director and designer of many of the most recent additions to the series and to many the visionary and overseer of the Zelda franchise as a whole ever since Majora’s Mask was released. This is part of what he had to say:

“The History of Hyrule” allows players to determine where each Zelda game is positioned in the chronology of the series. One thing to bear in mind, however, is that the question the developers of the Legend of Zelda series asked themselves before starting on a game was, “What kind of game play should we focus on?” rather than “What kind of story should we write?” For example, the theme of Ocarina of Time , the first Zelda game I was involved with, was, “What kind of responsive game play will we be able to create in a 3-D environment? […]

“Because the games were developed in such a manner, it could be said that Zelda‘s story lines were afterthoughts. As a result, I feel that even the story of “The Legend Begins” in Skyward Sword was something that simply came about by chance.

“Flipping through the pages of “The History of Hyrule“, you may even find a few inconsistencies. However, peoples such as the Mogma tribe and items such as the Beetle that appear in Skyward Sword may show up again in other eras. Thus, it is my hope that the fans will be broad minded enough to take into consideration that this is simply how Zelda is made.”

I remember reading years ago that the official timeline of the series was a confidential document kept deep inside the Nintendo headquarters in Kyoto… As the years passed and new titles that made little sense when put in the big picture were added to the chronology, such as Twilight Princess, the connecting story started looking like either a lie too disappointing to reveal, or if it really was there, just a little bit too simplistic, i.e. is the great overarching story of the Legend of Zelda just a tale of many Links, many Zeldas, many Ganons and a terribly uninteresting tale of a prophecy never fulfilled? I slowly joined the disappointed doubters, those that questioned the relevancy of the timeline or even the very existence of it.

This confirmation by Aonuma sealed the deal: it was Nintendo’s way of saying “you wanted it so badly, so here it is, but you’re looking too much into it; go out more would you, you buncha nerds!” and I think it would indeed be sound advice for people still arguing on forums whether the official timeline is in fact real or not, suggesting that their own version of the timeline makes a lot more sense! The denial there is in the world…

I must admit that expecting a big closure from Skyward Sword, the “aha!” moment that would put every little piece of the puzzle in its place and it never really coming but instead getting the much-advertised prelude to Ocarina of Time with more unresolved new directions, brand new deities (as if there weren’t enough already), characters and hint-dropping, left me with a sour taste in my mouth. It is obvious that if you really want to enjoy Zelda and avoid such disappointments it would be a good idea to be “broad-minded enough” as Aonuma-san suggested, to turn your thinking brain off and take it as Nintendo delivers it. Willing as I am, I just can’t do that. I can’t create connection between the stories when the connective links (get it?) are so vague, each time raise more questions than they answer–for sequels’ sake– and often feel as arbitrary as Star Wars Episode III.

As Zelda games are changing to cater for new audience and are at least trying to get with the times, I feel more and more that they’re just not for me, that Nintendo has long stopped trying to cater for my ilk and that in reality they can’t even do it anymore. I can already see with my mind’s eye Nintendo fanboys who never broke away listing the “hardcore” games Nintendo has released in recent years that would supposedly dispute my argument. What they don’t realise themselves is that Nintendo of old, the Nintendo that dominated my childhood, was revolutionary, it wasn’t just the franchises and the games. It was innovative, it created demand, it didn’t just respond to fans. Now it’s like Fidel Castro or Chavez – only the blind and misled still see revolution where there’s nothing left but allusion to and revering of the good ole days.

Maybe it’s the gaming culture I’ve grown out of, or even a gaming culture I can’t grow into anymore. Maybe it’s just the simple fact that people change, or, as I’ve observed time and time again, that people heavily tend to single out the Zelda title they first played as the pinnacle of the series that can never be bested, and what of course follows is unrealistic expectations of newer games that they will finally be the ones that emulate the feelings they had when they played their first Zelda when they were 9. Is it possible that when a game becomes an enduring legend, the greatest enemy it has to face is its own legacy? Newer players seem to love games such as Spirit Tracks or the new Link Between Worlds, games I really can’t see myself getting into for the simple reason that I just grew up differently. It’s a pity, but so is the nature of the world: as series reach their maturity and endure for more than 25 years in a field which is barely older than that itself, so do players. Funny how people don’t have similar expectations from other media, such as fairytales or children’s animation movies.

Nevertheless, Hyrule Historia is safe from all the above because it’s made for my own personal nostalgia, it only exists in the past. It’s like a photo album with pictures from your childhood: it remains valuable no matter what. Apart from the older ones like me, I can also see the young ones taking an interest in it, those who love Spirit Tracks and Wind Waker HD and who never had the chance to grow up with the older games (same with me and the original NES Zelda) but are still interested in the series as a whole and think I’m a snob hipster 20-something gamer elitist, the very same feelings I had for those who thought Ocarina of Time was crap because according to them Link to the Past was the best. Don’t worry kids, you’re up next.

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