When it comes to Zelda games, cartography has always been one of the biggest mysteries. With each iteration that releases, fans try to take the map and compare it to other versions, overlaying them and trying to see how they fit together. In some instances, the maps are very similar and it appears to be their orientation that changes between games, but in other cases the differences are much more extreme.
Thankfully, Nintendo has always been pretty good about putting in some recognizable geography to help give us some sense of familiarity. Places like Death Mountain, Zora’s Domain, Hyrule Field (but which one?), Lake Hylia, and the Gerudo Desert make some sort of appearance in several different titles. However, this might be a bit more deceptive than it seems on the surface. There very well may be cases where it looks like Nintendo is trying to give us a sense of security and familiarity, but this may be false. After all, the history of the kingdom is spread out over what is likely more than a millennium, so towns and cities may rise and fall and even the shape of the landscape may change fairly significantly.
For starters, let’s think about this: in the original Legend of Zelda for the NES, Hyrule is described as a “little kingdom.” Based on the map of the game, it’s a land south of Death Mountain (or the “Death Mountain Area”). This land is filled with lakes, forests, dungeons, a large cemetery, and a mountain range that contains the infamous Spectacle Rock. A large mountain referred to as Death Mountain appears in most all of the games set in Hyrule, but we know this specific mountain range is in four titles: The Legend of Zelda, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (in the far southwest of the map), and Zelda: A Link to the Past, Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. We know this is true because those games contain a place called Spectacle Rock (even though it looks a bit different in A Link to the Past).
Zelda II: The Adventure of Link takes us to some vast lands north of the Death Mountain Area. It’s in this game that we learn that the desolate “little kingdom” we explored in the first game is a drop in the bucket compared to the civilized lands to the north. At this point in the timeline (well, the Fallen Hero Timeline, to be exact), “South Hyrule” has been overrun and all but abandoned, but the Kingdom of Hyrule seems to be alive and well in the lands to the north. Some years before the two NES titles, one of Hyrule’s kings split the Triforce to await someone worthy of using its powers to govern the realm and, since no such person came forward, the kingdom had to be split into two realms because the monarchy no longer had the Triforce’s power to guide the land into prosperity.
Anyway, all of this is kind of a lead in to the crux of this article. The other day, I stumbled across a post from AminoApps that posed a theory that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (coming in March 2017) will actually take us to several different versions of Hyrule. Their article goes into a lot of detail, but its most basic premise boils down to this: the kingdom seen in the original Zelda (as well as AOL, ALTTP, and ALBW) is not the same land seen in Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess, or even Skyward Sword. This means that there are at least three (or four) distinct, vast regions that the Kingdom of Hyrule has centered its government in over the course of its long history.
If this theory is true, it explains a lot. For starters, while many of the games’ maps bear a lot of similarities, there are many cases where the maps are somewhat close, but you need to rotate them a certain way to get them to sort of line up. As I said before, people often use major markers like Death Mountain and Lake Hylia in order to try and line things up, but sometimes the best you can do is come close. But what if the reason that the Lost Woods were in the northwestern part of the map in Zelda: A Link to the Past but in the far south in Zelda: Twilight Princess was because these two games took place in different regions of the land? In other words, both games contained a Lost Woods region, but we were seeing them from a different perspective. The same is likely true of why Death Mountain appears to change in location. We know that the “little kingdom” is south of the mountain range that contains Spectacle Rock, and then there is an entirely separate land to the north of those mountains. In Twilight Princess, Death Mountain is off to the northeast. What if this is actually a different part of the Death Mountain range itself? Or that “Death Mountain” (at least in terms of being, say, an active volcano) changes location from time to time (one volcano goes dormant and another rises)?
The folks at AminoApps believed that the lands seen in the original NES title can be found in the far southeast of the lands seen in Breath of the Wild. Then, north and west of there, players will find the lands that comprised Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess (and possibly more).
Before we go any further, though, let’s take a quick look at The Great Plateau. The plateau, which was stated to be less than 2% of the overall game world (actually, closer to around 1.11%), appears wild, overgrown, and alien at first, but upon closer examination it actually seems to contain several important and familiar landmarks. When fans tried out the demo of the game at E3 2016 (and elsewhere), many came to the same conclusion: The Great Plateau is actually the ruins of Hyrule Castle Town and its immediate surrounding areas from Ocarina of Time. The Temple of Time itself is contained within the plateau, as is the fountain that looks pretty much like the one at the town center. The Eastern Abbey seems to be the ruins of Hyrule Castle itself. As to what “Mount Hylia” is…well, the Hylia River seems to originate from it, and it sort of lines up with the Zora River area from Ocarina of Time. Could it be that the original Zora Domain once existed there? Could Mount Hylia have been another mountain that was once informally referred to as Death Mountain? Or is it something else? Mount Hylia is cold rather than magmatic, so perhaps the people dropped the Death Mountain moniker for it long ago when its volcano went dormant.
In either event, walls surround the plateau, which further lends credence to the theory. The plateau also exists to the north and east of the region speculated to be the “little kingdom” from the original game. We know that in Twilight Princess, the old Castle Town was long since overgrown and fallen into ruins. The Temple of Time still stood in pieces within the Faron Woods, and far to the south of those woods was a region previously unseen before: Ordona Province.
Twilight Princess exists within a different timeline from the original NES Zelda (and it’s speculated that Breath of the Wild takes place after Zelda II), but in its timeline, Castle Town seems to be overgrown and all-but-forgotten. However, beyond the southern woods is the new region of Ordona. When I look at the greater map of Breath of the Wild, it seems to me like the Ordona Region would exist in the far west of “the little kingdom.” In fact, Ordon Village would be in roughly the same location as Kakariko Village was in A Link to the Past. Interesting, don’t you think?
(Click for Full Version)
All of this theorizing sparked some interest in me to bring these theories to life through my love of map-making. Cartography is a lot of fun, and I have to admit that one of my most favorite things about fantasy series is the fictional maps of the world or lands in which they take place.
So, here I took a cleaned-up artistic render of the larger map of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and created several annotated and districted versions of it, trying to show how everything pieces together. A lot of work went into getting this just right, and while they don’t show everything on the map, I wanted to focus mainly on the eastern portion. The resolution is massive: 8082×6234. Please view these at the highest resolution possible!
I had a lot of fun making these, and I hope you find a lot of enjoyment out of viewing and using them!
Enjoy the other three: