As Peter Pan concludes, Wendy has to let go of Neverland and return home to a heartsick mother, just as Alice has to say goodbye to Wonderland, and Dorothy has to leave Oz behind her. It is quite similar to how Koholint fades away once the Wind Fish is awoken, or how Link and Tetra have to leave the World of the Ocean King. Then there’s how Link leaves behind Termina, Koholint and Holodrum once his quests are over, or how the connection to the Twilight Realm is severed once Hyrule is saved. Are you getting the idea? Lands of legendary and mythical stories don’t usually last. Just like Troy – they vanish. So why is it that after so long, Hyrule still remains strong? Perhaps it is time to let go of Hyrule. Let the controversy ensue.
As Zelda fans, we’ve all really come to love Hyrule, and understandably, how could we not? It is the home to our favorite gaming hotspots like Death Mountain, and our beloved characters like Princess Zelda. We’ve grown to know the land as it has played a prominent role in 11 of the 16 Zelda titles. That’s if you describe containing the whole game and story as merely a ‘prominent role’. Nevertheless, as much as we love it, at times we as players can also long for something more, for something beyond.
It wouldn’t be fair to say that we haven’t got somewhere else on occasion, because five games do lack Hyrule, but we always come back to it. Many would say that it isn’t a problem, which it very well may not be, however I do feel that there is a stage where something is so overdone that it becomes a negative thing. My concern with the continuous usage of Hyrule, however, isn’t driven by fanboyism. Rather, it is a genuine concern for how our gaming experience is being hindered by Hyrule’s long life.
The ability of the developers to freelance, and to have open creativity, is limited to an extent. The game designers get the freedom to design a new Death Mountain, but they must adhere to what is established. Wouldn’t they much prefer to design a new mountain? Even us gamers, we approach the games with the attitude of “I wonder what Lake Hylia will look like this time”, as opposed to exploring new and mysterious territory. Wasn’t the whole exploring experience and locating of new areas around his home what inspired Miyamoto to create The Legend of Zelda? That sentiment, I fear, is lost.
Remaining in Hyrule has also lead to various types of expansion. There has been the simple redesigns and expansions of areas, like Hyrule Field from Ocarina of Time to Twilight Princess. There has also been somewhat linear expansion, such as in Twilight Princess where the whole new area of Ordon was added, however it is debatable as to whether Ordon is truly a part of Hyrule – at least Hyrule proper. This sort of expansion also occurred from the original to The Adventure of Link, where the map expanded and we could see locations beyond the previous borders. Then there’s the third type of expansion – upwards. Run out of room below, so stash some levels up in the sky. There’s the Oocca in the City in the Sky, The Wind Tribe in the clouds, and now Skyloft in Skyward Sword. Then there’s also the tag along expansion of the Twilight Realm to add some size to Twilight Princess.
For more seasoned Zelda players, these can hardly be seen as stimulating game expansions. “Yep, just add a little more down there. Oh yeah, and make the Gerudo Desert six times larger than it was last time. And if you need more, just whack them up in the sky, or make another Realm.” It is in ways Nintendo’s attempt to expand upon their established basis and still capture the exploring feeling that there’s always more to find. But am I the only one that thinks it is time to move on when the land becomes so full – so detailed even? Does the necessity for these expansions to Hyrule suggest that the story is too weak to hold interest within the classic locations? Story is the next point.
Remaining bound to Hyrule also means that we are bound to the iconic elements and stories of the Zelda series’ past. Along with Hyrule comes the age old Ganon conflict. Along with that then comes the Triforce, The Master Sword and a story that we’ve played time and time again. To many, that isn’t a bad thing. For many, these iconic elements are the very things that they play for. Others, well we see the potential for expansion to Zelda gaming that isn’t limited by Hyrule’s boundaries.
Perhaps the point about Hyrule that is already far beyond redemption is geography. Changing maps, unexplainable inconsistencies – the works. Is the Death Mountain of the original even the same as in Ocarina of Time? How does the whole Temple of Time in the Forest work in Twilight Princess after Ocarina of Time? The reason it’s like that is because of the creative desires of the designers, but for those with the desire of theorists, you find yourself with an unexplainable and ever changing landscape. In 2003 I thought that there was a solution to this – it was called The Wind Waker. A game where we saw Hyrule being washed away. That was Nintendo’s chance to move on to a new land; a land that has some consistency. A land without limitations and boundaries. Regardless, Hyrule lived on, and now we are left with the responsibility of understanding both pre and post flood Hyrules. That’s not even mentioning the split either.
There are plenty of other lands that Link has visited, but never for more than one game. He always returns to Hyrule. If you were paying attention, all of the aforementioned lands like Oz, Neverland and Wonderland were all places that the protagonists left their homes for. Those lands faded because they returned home, which is true for every other quest Link embarked on outside of Hyrule. Is that the reason Hyrule thrives? It is the home, the base, the mainland. I am by no means wanting Hyrule to disappear forever, but as I’ve carefully worded, ‘fade’. The difference? Fade simply means being less prominent than previously. Can’t we expand into a new land that lasts for more than a game? Is Hyrule truly the whole world? Do all other lands visited have to be parallel and magical worlds? Why can’t Link go on a boat and sail on over to another kingdom of earth? Is that possible? It could be, and it opens up Nintendo’s creative license.
Other lands around Hyrule allow for storylines that are not completely disjoint to the fate of Hyrule, but that are not bound to it. In this way, we don’t lose Hyrule, but we get something more. Hyrule and beyond. What about a map that combines sailing to little islands and large continents, of which Hyrule is only one of many? Just like in Pokémon where Ash has to move on from Kanto, Zelda should move on from Hyrule. And just like Kanto isn’t gone for Ash, he can visit there any time really, Hyrule shouldn’t vanish completely. It’s a matter of looking beyond and seeing the potential. For so long Mario had stayed based in the Mushroom Kingdom, but look what happened when he expanded into the Galaxy. Then look what happened when that place and concept was stuck with with for another game. The Mushroom Kingdom still had relevance, but we weren’t bound to its limits. Zelda can take a lesson from this.
Majora’s Mask remains to be the only main console release that does not occur in Hyrule, and honestly, I think Nintendo lacks to guts to make such a title outside of the confines of Hyrule anymore. Skyward Sword will be yet another Hyrule based journey, but there is potential in the future. Nintendo, I challenge you to look beyond Hyrule and consider the possibilities. I implore you to see that letting go is not the same thing as deserting. Hyrule can and will remain central to Zelda, nothing will change that, but through letting go of Hyrule, Zelda can be enhanced without further renovations of the classic land, creating further inconsistencies. Hyrule has its part to play, but the bigger picture is missed by staying forever focused on one location and the hero’s occasional journeys away from it. It’s time for Link to save the world – not just a continent, or a kingdom, or whatever Hyrule is.