Over 25 years ago, kids all over the globe who would grow up into what we now call gamers got their first taste of video games' greatest fantasy franchise. From its gameplay and iconography right down to its theme music, "The Legend of Zelda" was an instant, groundbreaking success. And over the intervening years, the Nintendo franchise has spawned nearly 20 distinct games on multiple systems, and its story has evolved into an epic fatalistic fantasy.
But in all that time, fans of the game never had a definitive guidebook to bring together the various legends of Link, Zelda and the evil Ganon under one umbrella -- until now.
Shipping next week to American shores from Dark Horse Comics is Nintendo's "The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia," a 276-page art book and story guide that covers everything from "Majora's Mask" to "Ocarina of Time" and beyond. The book is already a runaway best-seller even before its release due to advance orders that sent it to the #1 spot on Amazon's sales chart, unseating the best-selling S&M phenomenon "50 Shades of Grey."
Originally released in Japan as a tie in to the Wii game "Skyward Sword," the project's American release was overseen by Dark Horse Editor Patrick Thorpe. "I have been pursuing or had been pursuing a relationship with Nintendo for about four years before they approached us about 'Hyrule Historia,'" he told CBR News. "We'd started doing some video game art books as well as art books based on other licenses like 'Avatar,' and one of my favorite video games of all time is 'Legend of Zelda.' So I approached Nintendo about doing a historical art book on the franchise before I'd even heard of 'Hyrule Historia.' They got back to me saying there was such a book being put together in Japan, and I sort of off-handedly said, 'Well, we also do localizations. So if it ever comes to that, keep us in mind.' About a year ago, they approached us to see if we'd be interested in doing that localization."
Thorpe explained how the book's creations alongside "Skyward Sword" was to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the franchise -- an event that expanded the boundaries of "Zelda" lore in ways that had never been done before. "They had so much material surrounding 'Skyward Sword' -- the amount of art and character designs and locations. And a big thing for them was making sure they used the Wii and the Wiimote as novelly as possible. They were really excited about the game, and to them it was the culmination of cutting edge technology on the Wii and with the characters of 'Zelda.' So they decided to put all that material into one book to celebrate the 25th anniversary. It was a look at, 'Here's our very humble beginnings, and here's how we pushed video games in a new direction with every single game.' It's very much a look back at the whole franchise."
Chief amongst the "Historia's" features for many fans is the "Zelda" timeline -- a definitive guide that explains how every game ever released under the banner fits together as the hero Link is awoken again and again to save the titular princess. "That's actually only one chapter of the book that's about 60 pages of the whole, and it does read like a history book," said Thorpe, adding that the chapter rolls out the stories in precise detail. "'This comes first. This comes next. This is the cyclical history of Hyrule, and here's where things fit together. Here's where they don't. Here's where stories branch off.' I know that a lot of fans are very, very interested in that timeline. It's been something fans have speculated about for years and years, so it's nice to finally have that official timeline. But there are several other sections of the book that are great. That's something that's a draw to more casual fans of the games -- people who played the original but not the new ones or vice versa. They can just jump into those sections and check out the development and production art to relive that nostalgic feeling. There's something for everybody in here, but definitely the timeline is the section that's generating the most discussion at the moment."
Oo course, organizing and translating the different pieces took an extra amount of effort on the part of Dark Horse. "The timeline for this book was pretty short in terms of going from the initial pitch from Nintendo to when we wanted to get it out," Thorpe said. "At any one point, we had 20 to 25 people working on the book -- three to five designers and six translators. There was myself, a proofreader doing copyediting and an in-house translator retranslating passages so it all sounded like it had one voice. We had the licensing team on it and the marketing team on it, so it was a real team effort all the way through, and that was really rewarding. There were great ideas coming from all different angles."
Included on the team was fan translator Aria Tanner, who took the initiative to contact the publisher and introduce herself once she learned they had gained the rights to publish "Hyrule Historia" in the U.S. "She could not have been more helpful. It was one of those things where she'd already started working on the book as a fan translation, and she had a really excellent knowledge of Zelda in general. She became this huge resource for us, so we were very, very lucky she contacted us."
A Limited Edition of the book already sold out a 4,000-copy print run, but Thorpe promises that Dark Horse is printing enough copies of the standard edition to keep fans up to their pointy ears in Zelda lore. And since the book is already a major sales success, he hopes that this isn't the end of the publisher's relationship with the video game giant.
"It is something we are discussing with Nintendo right now," the editor stated. "This went so well. Nintendo is a great licensor, and we worked really well together. We're hoping to keep that relationship going and to come out with some more art books based on characters and video game franchises they already own -- maybe even do some original comic books as well. But at this point, we're only discussing it so there's nothing finalized."
"The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia" ships next week from Dark Horse.