a part of The Missing Link series of articles
Article By Bastian
In nearly every The Legend of Zelda video game we explore a vast landscape, usually called “Hyrule”, and yet no two Hyrules are ever identical.
Are we meant to believe that Hyrule is constantly suffering cataclysmic natural disasters which are dramatically changing its features? Or are we to assume that there are many different lands all called Hyrule within the same world? Or possibly worlds? Or should we believe that somehow all of these lands called Hyrule are in fact one in the same?
I fancy the latter, myself, and my aim is to show how this can be possible, despite the contrasting popular opinion.
In the Beginning…
Let’s travel back in time to the beginning, to the earliest documentation of this magical land. In the instruction manual for The Legend of Zelda, it indicates that this game takes place “in a little kingdom in the land of Hyrule.” As we discover in the direct sequel, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, such a description couldn’t be more accurate. In this sequel we are presented with a tiny representation of the vast landscape we traversed in the first game. Clearly we are to believe that Hyrule as we knew it in The Legend of Zelda is but one tiny piece of a grand land.
I assert that nearly every video game that takes place within “Hyrule” actually takes place within the same vague area of Hyrule seen in The Legend of Zelda.
A Story and a Map
In each Zelda video game we are provided with two important documents: a legend regarding the history preceding the story of the game, usually entitled “Story,” and a rough map of the geography that Link will discover in that particular adventure.
Sometimes these two artifacts are very accurate and detailed in accordance with the particular adventure at hand, but more often than not these documents are so vague that they border on impressionistic.
Take, for instance, the original The Legend of Zelda: in the instruction manual we are presented with a highly detailed clay representation of the landscape matching almost identically the geography we see in the 8-bit game.
Now consider the map provided in Ocarina of Time: while it unquestionably gives an accurate notion of the geography, it is by no means one-to-one indentical.
Are we then to believe that The Legend of Zelda’s blocky clay map of Hyrule is more accurate than Ocarina’s merely because it better matches the in-game landscape of its game? Certainly not. It would be absurd to believe that geometric series of square features could ever naturally exist as a landscape. We must then assume that “Hyrule” as depicted in The Legend of Zelda is an impression, only. If we take both the instruction manual map and in-game landscape as impressionistic for The Legend of Zelda, why then should we take any other representation of Hyrule any more literally?
In The Adventure of Link we are presented with two seperate maps, both rather vague when it comes to comparing the landscape with that presented in the videogame, and yet very different each from the other.
I take this varying degree of vagueness in the hand-drawn cartography, along with the “legendary” verbage of the prehistory provided as “story” (but that’s another topic for another time) as the key to this controversial approach to the accuracy of Hyrule’s geography in comparison to its cartographies.
Many insist that all of these Hyrules cannot possibly be the same Hyrule because the geography is wildly changing and transforming between games. I assert that the geography is not changing at all (or, at least not all that dramatically). The actual problem instead stems from the degree of accuracy of the cartography presented both in-game and via the map provided.
Ancient Maps of Earth
When we consider antique maps of our own world, we are often surprised at the shapes and sizes of the continents. We wonder at the seemingly arbitrary position of the major geographic features we are all so familiar with. How can they have thought North America was so tiny? Why is China shaped like a boomerang? Where is Greenland?
These antique maps display vastly different shapes and sizes of landmasses than we know today. Why the dramatic difference? We know, of course, that these continents and their features have not radically transformed since that era. The true transformation is found in the improved accuracy of cartography tools and theories. When we look at these antique maps and see the shapes and proportions and complete juxtaposition of features we do not assume we are looking at a different Earth. No, we understand that these are simply archaic understandings of what Earth was thought to look like at that time.
All Hyrules Are One Hyrule
The notion that each game takes place in a different Hyrule is as absurd to me as the Columbus-era idea that the Americas were actually the Orient. Clearly each videogame deals with the same continents collectively known as “Hyrule.”
The majority of the Zelda games take place in the region I term “Southern Hyrule.” Beginning with the original The Legend of Zelda, then A Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, The Wind Waker, The Minish Cap, Four Swords/Adventures, and Twilight Princess. Even The Adventure of Link utilizes “Southern Hyrule,” albeit limitedly in a miniturized rendition to give scope to the vastness of what I term “Northern Hyrule” (the land just north of Death Mountains) and “Eastern Hyrule” (the continent to the east of North/South Hyrule). It is my belief that Phantom Hourglass also takes place in a flooded Northern and Eastern Hyrule.
So how can all these different landscapes be one and the same when their geographies are so extremely different? It is because we are intended to take these cartographies with a grain of salt. Sometimes it is as simple as “up is NOT north, north is to the right” (as is the case in The Minish Cap).
Similarly: with Ocarina of Time we find north to have shifted about 45 degrees counter-clockwise. As long as we orient Death Mountain at the top of the map, we find the basic major features orient themselves in roughly the same areas.
The only thing changing in the geographies is the cartographer’s understanding or impression of it. It is then unsuprising when we take a simplified snapshot of a portion of Southern Hyrule in each of these cartographies that we always find the Death Mountain(s) to the north, Hyrule Castle just south of that, an enormous lake to the east, and an equally large desert to the west.
The Moving Village and Castle
What of Kakariko Village? It seems to be leaping about the landscape wildly. If the other major geographic features are fairly static map-to-map why then does it seem as if Kakariko and Hyrule Castle can never stay in the same place in each game? This can be explained in two very different ways:
- As these maps are highly impressionistic, the village remains in the same place throughout history, but each cartographer’s notion of where it existed is different (consider legendary Camelot and the debate concerning the three different argued locations of Cadbury, Camelford, and Caerleon).
- The Kakariko Village presented in Ocarina of Time has been destroyed/deserted (and thus is the “hidden town” found in Twilight Princess) with a New Kakariko having been built further west.
Along that same line: could it also be possible that an earlier Hyrule Castle (presented in Ocarina of Time) has been destroyed at some point prior to Twilight Princess, with a new Hyrule Castle having been built farther east, closer to where Lon Lon Ranch once stood? If so, this could explain the ruins found all throughout Twilight Princess‘ Lost Woods, including the ruins of the Temple of Time. Later, then, we would find that these are the same Lost Woods found in A Link to the Past and that the only thing left of the ruins of the Temple of Time is the dias and pedestal where Link discovers the Master Sword. In this A Link to the Past-era Hyrule, Kakariko now stands just south of the ruins of the Temple of Time/Lost Woods… precicely where the ancient Hyrule Castle from Ocarina-era stood.
Then again, perhaps these are all simply misinterpretations or slightly different notions according to each cartographer.
The True Map
So which of all the maps is the most accurate? That remains to be seen. Perhaps they are each equally accurate/inaccurate. Or maybe it stands to reason that the most recent telling (Twilight Princess) is the most accurate; as our Nintendo staff cartographers’ tools (advancement of realism of graphics) improve, so too does the accuracy of the geography. If the rumors of Eiji Aonuma’s desire to release a 3D A Link to the Past ever comes to fruition, it will be exciting to see how this cartography compares to that of it’s 16-bit predecesor.
One thing remains certain, however: regardless of its geography, Hyrule never ceases to prove full of fun and adventure. And, really, that’s all that matters in the end.