Zelda‘s many games don’t always take place in Hyrule. Especially in the games that don’t feature the Link-Zelda-Ganon trinity, our green-clad hero ventures somewhere different, like in Majora’s Mask, Link’s Awakening, and the excellent Oracle games. It’s also nice that even if most of the games are set in Hyrule, each game presents the familiar land in different ways, given how each one is set in a different place on the timeline (we’re not even going to talk about the complex timeline here). Here’s some of our favorite worlds!
Termina (Majora’s Mask)
By Stephanie Sybydlo
Termina is a busy place of strange and frantic folk that are largely too preoccupied with personal problems to see that the sky is literally falling. The crux of Majora’s Mask‘s gameplay is the ability to loop back in time three days before the Moon crashes and destroys everything in sight. However, Termina will likely be terminated many, many times before you can properly save it. Even if you can return the lost princess to the Deku Palace, reunite the estranged couple, or help the songstress find her voice, your efforts are erased as the bell tolls, signifying the restart of yet another cataclysmic cycle. Termina is always sitting on the edge of an emotional “eleventh hour” situation, and Majora’s Mask explores the depths of despair and fear, and of course, the power of love as it is exceptionally explored and yet still incredibly nuanced.
Hyrule Field (Twilight Princess)
By Gino DiGioia
When Breath of the Wild was announced, people couldn’t believe how big it was in scale and compared it to games like Skyrim and The Witcher. No one could believe that a major Zelda game would actually become this large. “The only Zelda game that came close was The Wind Waker! How can a game be this big but have so much to do in it?” Well, funny enough, while The Wind Waker has the title for the second largest overworld, it was mostly ocean. Twilight Princess‘ overworld, on the other hand, was vast. With four main areas, multiple portions of Hyrule Field, and several towns and points of interest, there was a lot to do. It could be easy to miss mini-games like the fishing hole, the cucco drop, the downstream river, and more. But that’s what made it fun. Looking for these hidden places on a map as big as Twilight Princess‘ was fun and exciting.
Holodrum (Oracle of Seasons)
By Michael Sollosi
The pair of Oracle games from 2001 aren’t the most celebrated Zelda titles, but they both brought some interesting gameplay ideas to the table. The world map of Holodrum from Oracle of Seasons has the persistent feature of seasonal changes, with Link able to switch the season from spring to summer to autumn to winter and back to spring with a swing of the Rod of Seasons. Bridging gaps with snowbanks, climbing cliffs with summer ivy, and causing flora to both bloom and vanish are fun and colorful forms of gatekeeping across the overworld. Even if it wrecks environmental havoc on Holodrum itself: think of all the confused migratory birds!
Hyrule Overworld (The Legend of Zelda)
By Patrick Gann
Who could forget the original? 16 screens wide and 8 screens tall, the world map for The Legend of Zelda is filled with secrets. Long before the term “Metroidvania” was invented, there were many regions on this map that remained inaccessible until Link obtained the correct equipment. Feel the need to grind rupees? It’s not too grueling an experience when you’re first finding your way around: you earn money as you discover new areas on the map. More importantly, the “Second/Master Quest” allowed players to experience the Overworld all over again, having to unlearn and relearn the entrance of virtually every indoor location — dungeons and otherwise. Decades later, fans would take this concept to a whole new level with the concept of “Randomizer” ROM hacks.
Hyrule (Breath of the Wild)
By Rob Rogan
Breath of the Wild‘s Hyrule is, by far, the largest world map the series has thrown at players to date. In fact, it’s 12x the size of Twilight Princess‘ map and one of the largest maps seen in a video game in general. It’s tough to describe just how massive the world is without experiencing it yourself, but once you glide off of the Great Plateau that first time, the sheer scale of Hyrule’s latest incarnation starts to register. The overworld is broken into large regions that are broken down further into sub-regions, each with their own distinct charm, dangers, and mysteries to solve. As you traverse the devastated, broken world that is BotW‘s Hyrule, you come to understand the destruction that laid waste to the land years before the game’s outset through its displaced peoples and battle-scarred locales. Exploring the lands and unlocking their mysteries is an absolute joy, and Nintendo did a fantastic job of leveraging fast travel, horseback, and the glider to ensure exploration never feels tedious or a chore.
Koholint Island (Link’s Awakening)
By Mike Salbato
Link’s Awakening is the first game that made a young Mike cry. Sure, I played Final Fantasy IV before this and those character deaths got to me, but I wasn’t ready for a real emotional experience in Zelda. The cast of Link’s Awakening has a charm that’s up there with the best of the series: It begins with Marin, resuscitating Link after he washes up on the beach. There’s the vengeful shopkeep, the lady keeping a Chain Chomp as a pet, and some guy who only talks to you via the phone (wait, telephones in Zelda?). The Animal Village is as adorable as it sounds, too. Oh, and there’s a giant, tapestry-draped flying whale asleep in an egg atop a mountain. Did I mention that? All of these wondrous characters and scenarios are only possible because of the fleeting nature of Koholint Island itself. That none of its inhabitants know the truth except Link and his owl guide make interacting with everyone more and more emotionally wrought as you progress, and the wistful music at the end carries an undertone of sadness and longing that just crushed little me. And it’s exactly why Link’s Awakening is a must-play.