Last time on Mysteries of Hyrule, we talked about the first of two major mysteries pushed deep underwater when goddesses flooded the entire land of Hyrule. Specifically, I mentioned that it seemed entirely uncharacteristic for the goddesses to intervene in the fate of Hyrule given that their Triforce doesn’t seem to play favorites when it comes to that eternal conflict of good vs. evil. By jumping across the timelines to see why they might have done so, we found that Hyrule Historia causes quite a stir when attempting to explain what actually happened in the Child Timeline leading through Twilight Princess.
So with that squared away in last week’s article, today we’re going to look at the various races introduced by Aonuma’s The Wind Waker. The Wind Waker introduces a couple of races within this game, making them quite the centerpiece really, only to promptly discard them the moment that the game is done, never reusing them even once across all the timelines. So today, let’s take a dive into the bloodlines of both the Koroks and the Rito.
This piece of artwork was made by Hylian Dragon Catty and can be found here.
All things considered, the Koroks are actually pretty easy to suss out. They’re so easily explained that it barely even merits mentioning them, though I think their story also serves as a good counterpoint for how complicated the other race goes. The Wind Waker practically outright says that the Koroks are just evolved Kokiri. “Once upon a time, the Koroks took on human forms,” the Great Deku Tree tells us, “but when they came to live on the sea, they took these shapes” (The Wind Waker).
The reference is obvious to anyone familiar with Ocarina of Time, and any such person can guess at the reasons why the race had to evolve to live on the sea. One of the Kokiri guards in Ocarina tells Link, “You’re not allowed to leave the forest! The Great Deku Tree said that if a Kokiri leaves the woods, he or she will die!” (Ocarina of Time). If you don’t mind that there are Kokiri outside the forest in the ending credits, that point is hammered home pretty loudly on multiple occasions. One of the Kokiri girls speculates in this manner: “… [T]he Great Deku Tree is our father, the forest guardian, and he gave life to all us Kokiri! I wonder if the Great Deku Tree gave life to everything in the forest, I mean in addition to us Kokiri?” (Ocarina of Time). While this is posed as a question instead of a direct fact, it seems like a set of pretty logical jumps from A to B. In fact, the Deku Tree himself in part alludes to it; “For so long, the Kokiri Forest, the source of life, has stood as a barrier, deterring outsiders and maintaining the order of this world” (Ocarina of Time), making it clear that his presence in some way is a stabilizing force across Hyrule.
If the Deku Tree created the Kokiri and the forest, it seems logical that he could create a codependency between the forest and the Kokiri themselves; and without the protective forest above the waves, it became necessary to have a backup plan to protect the Kokiri. Simple, short, and sweet, just like timeline enthusiasts would have it.
Solving the case for the Rito, however, is a bit trickier, even if the correct answer is still staring at us in the face. Just as the Kokiri turned into Koroks, so too did the Zora turn into Rito. Just as the former Wind Sage Fado, a Kokiri, passed on his legacy to the Korok Makar, the Zora Laruto passed on the role of Earth Sage to her blood descendent Medli. Hyrule Historia isn’t shy about proclaiming this link as well, and if there’s a blood link between fish and bird, well, there’s got to be some evolution somewhere that transfigured the race.
In fact, this evolution seems to be pretty common knowledge to the race. Once Link meets up with Medli and Valoo in Dragon Roost Cavern, Medli hands Link the grappling hook so that he can make his way down from the mountain summit, claiming that “it’s a device we Rito used before we evolved wings” (Medli, The Wind Waker). In that quote, there’s this implication that, for a decent period of time, the Rito—in their evolution from Zora—had no capability whatsoever of flight. For that matter, the Rito themselves are technically incapable of flight until traveling to Valoo for one of his scales; “it is this scale that enables the Rito to grow his or her wings” (Rito Chieftain, The Wind Waker). In some ways, some might claim with sufficient strength that the Rito haven’t fully finished their evolution as they’re not winged from birth.
So if that’s the case, then what’s the problem with evolution?
Unlike the Koroks and the Kokiri, who both seem to have a strong connection to the forest or the woods, the Rito and the Zora are pretty far apart in terms of races. One takes to the skies, and one takes to the seas. And for a world that was completely deluged by water with the Great Sea, it seems rather curious that a race that should theoretically have thrived evolved into a species that shunned the very waves.
Scouring the breadth of our in-game and extracanonical sources doesn’t leave us with really all that much to go on. There’s really nothing other than cursory information and circumstantial evidence for describing why the transformation occurred outside of it being strictly for game mechanics. For what it’s worth, it is suggested that the Rito were specifically created for game mechanics directly, as it is mentioned that “the wings of the Rito were smaller in early development. However, once it became necessary for them to fly to various places, their design was changed to emphasize their wings” (Hyrule Historia 158).
There is a pair of quotes, however, from a different game that might give us one small clue. In the Capcom-developed Oracle of Ages, we finally discover the secret difference between the Zora and the Zola, two very different creatures that have the unfortunate problem of having identical names in Japanese; they’re both called ゾラ (transliteration: zora) due to the fact that the English l and r are indistinguishable sounds to a native Japanese speaker. This difference in English while there not being a difference in Japanese created a very interesting situation, one that would be exploited in the Capcom games. Perhaps seeing a place where they could evolve the Zelda series in an interesting way, they not only made a strong distinction between the two, they made OoA to be one of the few games to feature both of the creatures together. And once you arrive in the underwater Zora city, you discover exactly why.
“Don’t think us noble sea Zoras the same as those savage, vulgar river Zoras!” (Zora, Oracle of Ages) is one complaint. One other tells Link, “You’re in the wrong place if you want to complain about being attacked by a river Zora” (Oracle of Ages), suggesting that perhaps Link should levy his complaints against those who are actually persecuting them. In Oracle of Ages, these river Zora are identical to the Zola enemies from the original Legend of Zelda while the sea Zora are similar in appearance to the Ocarina of Time Zora.
But wait! All this seems to further suggest that the Great Sea should prove to be a warm and welcoming environment for Zora. The sea Zora were just fine in their habitat, and that’s what we’re full of now, right? Is there something amiss here, some deeper connection? Well, possibly, though the connection is weak at best. The Zoras of Hyrule, at least insofar that we know, however, wouldn’t be sea Zoras. Looking at Hyrule’s world map from Ocarina of Time, it’s plain to see that Hyrule is a completely landlocked country. The only water-contiguous places where the Zora are able to go are Zora’s Domain, Zora River, Lake Hylia, and the river that passes through Gerudo Valley. And generally speaking, rivers and lakes remain freshwater sources, not saltwater ones. Granted, there are hyper-saline lakes such as the Dead Sea and the Great Salt Lake, though these aren’t excessively common in the real world compared to freshwater lakes.
So could it be that the goddesses, when flooding the world, knew that these Zora wouldn’t thrive and instead decided to evolve them into a different creature? It’s a possibility, but I mentioned before that this was a fairly weak point. First and foremost, it’s oddly omitted where Jabu-Jabu departed to during the adult portion of Ocarina; perhaps there is a secret connection beyond the map borders that takes us to the saltwater depths of the ocean.
Secondly, though technically considered canonical and made with coordination with NCL, the Oracle games were made by Capcom instead of Nintendo EAD, making it not the most shining sample of canon-correctness in the book. Furthermore, while the Oracle games were brought to the US before Wind Waker, the opposite was true in Japan; Wind Waker came out there while we were playing the Oracles, and then we traded places several months later. So this Zora/Zola distinction is something that could have been brought to bear later, and since Zora weren’t going to appear in The Wind Waker, it probably wasn’t deeply considered to affect that canon all that much. So, whether or not this is truly relevant is questionable.
However, there’s one other weird aspect to consider, and that’s the result of the Zoras switching divine affinities. Once again–unlike the Kokiri and Koroks, both associated with the Great Deku Tree–the Zora and Rito serve under mismatched deities. According to Hyrule Historia, “Even after the land of Hyrule was sealed away, the guardian spirits of the three pearls of the goddesses remain. [Valoo, the Deku Tree, and Jabun] are thought to be descended from Volvagia, the Deku Tree, and Jabu-Jabu, spirits that exited during the Hero of Time” (127). So in many ways, the Deku Tree is once again associated with the forest, Valoo is associated with fire just like Volvagia was, and Jabun—in both namesake and appearance—becomes the water spirit like Jabu-Jabu.
Yet one might note that Zora were Jabu-Jabu’s water creatures whereas the Rito are Valoo’s fire creatures. This is despite the fact that the Gorons, who had strong associations with Volvagia during Ocarina of Time, yet make an appearance, albeit muted, in The Wind Waker. Even Hyrule Historia suggests that “the Goron tribe has not undergone much change, but its members wander the earth as vagabonds” (128). So if the Gorons yet live, and the Gorons were the progeny of Din’s hand, why suddenly did they become eclipsed to the Zora after becoming Rito? Why didn’t the goddesses just poof their river Zoras into sea Zoras and make everyone live happily on afterward?
The answer to this really lies with the most mysterious island of all in Wind Waker. After meeting the King of Red Lions, Link finds he has three primary objectives: visiting the Rito and Valoo on Dragon Roost Isle, going to see the Deku Tree and Koroks at the Forest Haven… and then doing something with Jabun over at Greatfish Isle. However, as the plot goes, by the time Link manages to make it there, calamity has befallen the island, practically uprooting it, tearing it apart, and tossing it haphazardly back into the sea. Clearly Ganondorf is not a man of subtlety.
Yet a more thorough inspection of Greatfish Isle, thanks to a lone seagull flying about the island, shows very clear signs that it was inhabited before Ganondorf rudely came in to water on their charcoal. Atop the largest chunk of land is some broken half of a hut and a ruined canoe. Another canoe rests on the beach next to a few barrels and a raft just offshore. A stone walkway covering the entire island is clearly evident. So in true honesty, there was something meant to be here. Or perhaps more specifically, there was someone beyond Jabun that was meant to be here.
Adding further fuel to the fire is that, as we reported to you, some number of dungeons was cut from The Wind Waker before it was launched. Aonuma told Eurogamer in an interview that, “Quite honestly, those dungeons we removed we used in other games, so we can’t use them in [Wind Waker HD].” While there’s no guarantee that Greatfish Isle was home to one of the missing dungeons, there nevertheless is the possibility that Jabun made you prove your worth before simply handing over Nayru’s Pearl in some early draft of the game.
So, if someone was supposed to be here, then who? Part of me wants to laugh a little bit and suggest that it was the Gorons—after all, one of the three Gorons in the game can be found at Greatfish Isle(!)—but not only is that rather unrealistic, it also doesn’t make sense. One of the remaining Gorons can be found at Bomb Island, making him able to be visited en route from Dragon Roost to the Forest Haven. While the disaster at Greatfish could have happened earlier, the King of Red Lions seems legitimately shocked by this turn of events, and it couldn’t have happened too much earlier. After all, Tetra is only just now getting to “persuading” Cannon to “sell” her some of his bombs. “You’re all fools, do you know that? You saw that demolished island! You saw the senseless destruction. We have to hurry on to Outset, or the same thing could happen there!” (Tetra, The Wind Waker). However, if we’re really being honest, the sad, possible truth is that whoever inhabited the island was a brand new race in its own right.
The great thing about Hyrule Historia is that you get to see a lot of the ideas that never went into making the games, and on page 158 we see two races—one looking practically like round, bushy-faced cavemen covered in fur and the other being little lima-bean-shaped humanoids that have a long vine-like apparatus growing out of their head. But neither of these sound like very water-based or water-associated species, especially considering that Greatfish Isle, at least as we see it in the final game, doesn’t appear to have much in the way of caves or trees. So there is one last possibility, and that’s the possibility that the Zora themselves were to be the third race that appeared on Greatfish.
Could it be possible that the connection between Rito and Zora wasn’t initially planned at first but only developed later after dungeons had to be cut from the game? I would argue that it is entirely possible. It’s especially possible if you consider that one of the dungeons cut from the game might have included Link guiding around yet another Sage of Something around a dungeon, and perhaps the reason that it was cut was because it would probably include underwater swimming segments, something Wind Waker didn’t let Link do? It seems like a reasonable feature to have eliminated from the game to cut down on dev costs. And if that’s the case, perhaps the Rito were originally Hylians… or Gerudo… or Sheikah, and that their evolution wasn’t so drastic as fish to bird but instead simply human to bird, growing wings thanks to Valoo’s magic scales, just as Link could breathe underwater with fish scales in Ocarina.
The Wind Waker brought about a fair number of drastic changes to the universe of Zelda as we know it. Hyrule was drowned, never to be against restored as such in one entire timeline outside of the establishment of a brand new Hyrule. One iconic race of that continues to recur time and time again was practically shoved to the background to make room for an entirely new race. Normally stoic and uncaring goddesses were brought to the forefront of a series that tends to refer to them only as creators. And The Wind Waker bedazzled the minds of those who entered the halls of a greyscale Hyrule Castle, only to have our minds racing to try to figure out just what was going on.
Unfortunately, while there may be some hints of a greater world mythos just beyond our grasp, Nintendo remains coy in its endeavor to reveal it. Yet answers to the most puzzling of riddles are just beyond our grasp, only hinted at but never revealed by the masterminds in Nintendo HQ. The flood really changed the landscape of Hyrule, yet there really aren’t any significant hints as to a greater story behind the events. Perhaps it’s no surprise; Miyamoto has been quoted many times as saying he wants us to come up with our own story, filling in all the gaps with our own theories and speculations.
While we can never know if our theories are completely correct, one thing that we do get is the fact that we will always be searching for the truth, just as archaeologists piece together clues from ancient civilizations. Next time on Mysteries of Hyrule? We’ll be talking about the Seven Sages.