If there’s one recurring element in the Zelda franchise that I love the most, it would have to be the Lost Woods. The lore surrounding them is always spooky and somewhat dark, often resulting in unsuspecting travelers becoming — y’know — lost, or transformed forever.
Examples include the Skull Kid in Majora’s Mask, the Kokiri’s fear of the woods, the mischievous Koroks, and the hiding place of important objects or temples. The Lost Woods point towards a wilder, mysterious, and uncontrolled side of the lore.
However, it is interesting to me that the Lost Woods are so often fairly benign places. Whatever your initial feelings toward the woods are, it’s quickly apparent that there’s a sense of order and friendliness in the place. Memorize the path in Ocarina of Time or Link to the Past, and you’re good to go!
With such a missed opportunity in previous games, I find it refreshing that the Lost Woods in Breath of the Wild are not quite the same. While they’re still a safe haven for Link and the Master Sword, there’s still an air of mystery. When I came across this picture, I finally recognized why I like Breath of the Wild‘s version of the Lost Woods more than any other depiction in the series so far.
If you’ve seen Princess Mononoke by Studio Ghibli (and if you haven’t, why not?), you’ll immediately recognize the Forest Spirit in this wonderful mashup with the Breath of the Wild Korok. Really, the two characters are so similar, I’m surprised I’ve never seen the two compared before.
In Princess Mononoke, the woods feel the way the Lost Woods should feel in Zelda. They’re vast, untamed, helpful, dense, spooky. All in all, they feel unsettling. A lot of that is conveyed through the untamed and mischievous nature of creatures that inhabit the forest. I did some poking around the internet and found similarities between different representations of the Korok/Forest Spirit-like imps, the most prominent being the Japanese Kodama.
The Kodama are tree spirits that will curse you when you cut them down. Inherently they carry a bit of mystery and spookiness, especially when you don’t know which tree is a Kodama, and which is just a normal tree. They’re not necessarily benevolent spirits, but they’re not evil either.
This brings us back to the Lost Woods. As players, we often treat the Lost Woods as a temporary obstacle to get through, but to treat the area as such diminishes the respect we should have for it. There’s power, history, and an inherently untamed nature hidden within the woods. To treat them as an obstacle to get past is to gimp their storytelling impact.
The Lost Woods in Breath of The Wild are the closest I’ve seen to maintaining their inherently mysterious flare. The undocumented nature of the supernatural woods, the mischievous nature of the Koroks, and the untamed and unknown depths of the woods are all aspects that make them as ominous as they should be.
Here’s to hoping Nintendo keeps making the woods unnaturally spooky in future iterations.