A lot of game series, both classic and more recent, tend to rely on changing up their settings between sequels to help keep things fresh as they progress through new iterations. The Mario Brothers, for instance, have gone from slogging through sewers, to various sections of the Mushroom Kingdom, dinosaur-infested archipelagos, and even into the depths of Mario's mind and the unforgiving vacuum of outer space. Samus Aran's ship's taken her all over her own galaxy, as have the adventures of Master Chief Petty Officer John-117. Every game in the Final Fantasy
series, despite recycling names and concepts on a regular basis, has avoided reuse of exact locations (outside of the growing trend of direct FF sequels, anyway).
However, one legendary land has managed to expand, both in geographical size and narrative depth, over and over throughout the years, while retaining the core elements that helped it stick in the hearts and minds of gamers when it was first laid out onscreen. The kingdom of Hyrule, despite regular overhauls and upheavals, has remained essentially the same for the duration of its in-game existence, which is a testament to the enduring power of the Legend of Zelda.
Even in its earliest form, Hyrule was not afraid to try and bill itself as an established realm. Unlike some of its contemporaries, which rarely went further than numbering their different regions, places in Hyrule had legitimate names. Ask a gamer about Death Mountain, Spectacle Rock, or the Lost Woods, and chances are, they'll be familiar with those locales in at least one form or another.
, despite being an oft-debated step in the series in regards to its quality and impact on the canon, took enormous strides toward establishing Hyrule as a land where people other than the creepy, cave-dwelling elderly and a handful of greedy merchants lived, introducing full-fledged towns into the mix. The game itself begins in an entirely new area, but eventually, things progress to reveal that the Hyrule players of the first game knew and loved comprises, in slightly different form, the southern half of The Adventure Of Link
's map. Death Mountain returns as a key trial, as Link needs to pass through it from the north this time around on his quest to awaken the comatose Zelda. The second Zelda
game also began to more clearly define the different biomes present in Hyrule; forests, fields, caves, beaches, and a few other realms all had distinctly different backgrounds during enemy encounters, fleshing out a world that started as just trees, rocks, water, and a bit of graveyard territory.
A Link To The Past
's leap to a new generation on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, actually went back to basics in many ways, opting to build upon some of the established locations and make so much more of them rather than expanding the realm even further. Death Mountain returned to its classic position at the northernmost point of the world map, and the idea of Hyrule Castle as a central hub for everything else, as introduced in Zelda II
, was reiterated, establishing a trend that would carry on for the rest of the series. The many villages present in LttP
's predecessor were condensed down to the iconic Kakariko, and the clearly defined biomes were even more distinguished, with the introduction of swamps, navigable riverlands, and the expansive Lake Hylia came with the first instances of relevantly-themed, elemental dungeons, which have become a series staple.
That's not to say the Hyrule of A Link To The Past
was overly condensed; in order to trim the fat a bit and provide players with enough room to explore, the game introduced a mirror version of the overworld in the form of the Dark World, which featured its own unique reflections of familiar, Light World locations while still managing to be new enough in most respects to avoid feeling like a replay of the game's first half. The Dark World, formerly the Golden Land, was so well-established that it would see revisitations of its own further down the line, from Ocarina Of Time
's grim, Ganondorf-run future, to the Twilight Realm in Twilight Princess
With the next big leap for the series, from top-down 2D wanderings to wide-ranging, 3D exploration, Ocarina Of Time
was forced to reinvent Hyrule entirely with the change of view. Thankfully, Nintendo managed to do so without losing any of the charm or history Hyrule had already built for itself, and in many ways, blew the Hyrule we'd grown up with out of the water. Returning were the centerpiece of Hyrule Castle, circumscribed by icons such as Lake Hylia, Death Mountain, Kakariko Village, and we saw expanded versions of familiar places as well. The river where Link acquired his flippers in Link To The Past
was expanded into a full-fledged Zora kingdom, and the Desert Of Mystery was rechristened the Gerudo Desert, another name that has persisted to this day.
Hyrule Castle also spawned a town area of its own, providing a home for more friendly characters than just the villagers of Kakariko, and the introduction of the Gorons on Death Mountain and a much more agreeable race of Zoras introduced a great deal more diversity, both racially and in personality, to the land, making it feel much more like a living, breathing place.
Moving on to the Gamecube, Nintendo took some huge risks with Wind Waker
. Not only did they make a highly controversial choice in the use of cel-shaded graphics, but they took the entirety of Hyrule and drowned it
. The seas of Wind Waker
were the first world clearly disconnected from the Hyrule of yore (not counting realms such as Koholint Island and Termina, which both appeared in somewhat-connected sequels and mentioned Hyrule right off the bat as being from where Link had arrived), but still managed to integrate some familiar elements of their predecessors. Spectacle Rock reappeared in the form of Spectacle Island, and the Great Fairy fountains Link found various boosts in before got their own islands as well. It wasn't until the game's finale that players learned they were actually sailing above
the Hyrule they grew up with, finding themselves in the magically sealed castle that'd been the seat of the kingdom for so long.
, at the end of Gamecube's run (or the advent of the Wii, depending on which version you picked up) made a similar move to Link to The Past
in that it returned to a slightly more condensed, and very much-more land-based take on Hyrule, jumping back two console-debut Zelda
s to the Hyrule of Ocarina Of Time
much like LttP
basically overhauled the first Legend Of Zelda
's setting. Despite relying a lot on this sort of revisitation, TP
did a nice job of making all the old realms feel new and unique, and even foreshadowed the setting of its successor, Skyward Sword
, by introducing a small island realm in the sky toward the latter part of the game.
Similarly, Skyward Sword
took one step forward while stepping two games back; rather than flooding Hyrule in water, the islands of the most recent Zelda
game float above a sea of clouds. Below those clouds lurk elements familiar to many an afficionado, what with the staple, nature-elemental dungeons and enemies we've all seen plenty of times before. Despite being a rather radical take on the Zelda
norm, the Hyrule of Skyward Sword
manages to retain enough of its predecessors' familiarity to feel just as homey as any other take on the land.
While it may seem I've spent the bulk of my time so far focusing mostly on the visual consistency of Hyrule's reinterpretations over the years, many of Link's haunts have also built an aural legacy. So many locations in Hyrule have established their own theme music, with core elements that have returned over and over as their assigned homelands have returned. Also recurring are the tasks Link has needed to perform in many of those locations, both in the form of overworld quests and in regards to the dungeons to explore there. These elements have lent even more persistence to Hyrule as a whole, and subsequently the the Zelda
series en masse.
There are few game settings out there that have endured for a quarter of a century as Hyrule has, which is a testament to how much work has gone into preserving the essentials of the land Link and Zelda call home. Knowing they can come home to such a familiar kingdom is likely one of the Zelda
games have had such staying power with long-time fans and draw for neophytes, keeping the franchise thriving regardless of the occasional missteps made with the games. That fans swore and fought for years over the likelihood of an established series timeline, even in the face of repeated denials on Nintendo's part up until their recent acquiescence, also lends creedence to the enduring permanence of Hyrulian landmarks and of the kingdom as a whole.
Knowing now that the timeline and interconnections we all thought existed were truly there all along makes it clear that great care has been taken over the years to maintain Hyrule as a locale, and in some respects, a character in and of itself, and it leads one to hope Nintendo will continue to keep up the good groundskeeping as long as Zelda
games continue to be made. Hyrule's been a home away from home for me for quite some time, and I don't know what I'd do if it suddenly wasn't there to come back to.
LOOK WHO CAME: