Open your eyes…wake up, Link…there’s a new Zelda art book…
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild–Creating a Champion is the latest coffee-table ready Legend of Zelda tome from Dark Horse in the style of the Hyrule Historia or Art & Artifacts books. The book sports hundreds of pages of art, lore, and interviews and is sure to be on the radar of any hardcore Zelda collector. Is this latest doorstopper from Nintendo worth your hard-earned rupees?
For me, the main takeaway from this book is that I wish Nintendo could somehow put out a book of this caliber for every first-party game they make. I’m far from an art book collector, but even having perused my share, I have never come across an art book or companion piece to a game that is so exhaustively thorough. Every enemy, weapon type, ingredient, and character is represented here in a collection of stunning artwork with lots of text from developers and artists providing little insights into the design process of the game. Not only are there some pages showing artwork for a character like Zelda, for example, but concept art is included breaking down exactly how her hair is braided and sits on her head or how a champion’s accessories are layered into their costume design. While playing the game, I never once wondered what was under the robes of the frolicking Wizrobes. Thanks to this book, I now possess this knowledge of a Wizrobe disrobed. Some of the notes from developers and artists which accompanies the artwork is very small and hard to read if you can’t zoom in on a digital copy, but there is tons of trivia to be mined in these notes that made me better appreciate the design process.
The book’s formatting divides each section with a page made to look like the Breath of the Wild loading screens, adding a Divine Beast the further into the book you go, just as the loading screen changed as you played through the game. A nice touch as the book brings me to the sections detailing the Divine Beasts themselves. Each beast has several pages dedicated to it which show how intricately they were designed to serve both aesthetically and functionally. This section left the biggest impression on me as someone who breezed through the Divine Beasts relatively quickly. Because of how quickly I solved the beasts’ puzzles, I never appreciated how well the interlocking parts of the beasts manage to change up the gameplay within the dungeons while maintaining their aesthetic as creatures designed to look “both unsettling and lovable.” The section on the Ancient Shrines are similarly detailed, even including concept art showing pieces of the launchers which shot metal balls through the air disassembled a bit to show their individual parts. Machines and details I never thought twice about are broken down in extensive detail in this book, showing how every single aspect in this game was treated with care.
This art book includes all kinds of details revealing in-universe mechanics I never thought about while playing the game. It never occurred to me that the Sheikah Slate creates bombs through Link pulling out the little handle on the Slate which then becomes the top of the bomb. These pages also have artwork showing earlier designs for the Sheikah Slate. There’s also a screenshot in the book that has to be from an earlier build of the game, because it features a shield meter not seen in the finished game along with low-poly looking rupees in a Shrine, where they wouldn’t normally appear. My favorite of the “could-have-been” designs are the ones for the Guardians which look more akin to Bloodborne bosses than something that feels at home in Hyrule. Every good art book should include concept art like this that shows wild early designs and this one has that in spades.
This book is most lacking when it comes to the later section about Hyrule’s history and the lore of the game. There is detailed timeline of Breath of the Wild‘s history which makes for a great reference piece followed by another timeline breaking down the game’s history from the perspective of each of the major races in the game. These timelines, however, contain large gaps depending on the race, leaving less new information than I’d like. The Rito have no history at all before the events pertaining to Breath of the Wild, even in the parts of the timeline which refer to “myth.” Some of the information in the timeline divided by race simply repeats the text from the larger timeline a few pages prior. In fact, the same information repeats several times throughout the last few sections to varying degrees of word count, like in a section breaking down the images seen in the large tapestry from the game which depicts the conflict between Calamity Ganon and Hyrule. These sections make for good reference material to flip to and look up a specific plot point but are incredibly redundant when reading straight through.
The highlight of the history chapters is the sections which show maps with lines and arrows drawn over them to aid a visual aid to moments in Hyrule’s history like Link and Zelda’s retreat from Hyrule Castle or the battle at Fort Hateno. Reading these sections makes me want to hop into the game and follow the same trails, putting myself in Zelda’s shoes as she made her desperate flight to hide the Master Sword and hold back Ganon. There isn’t a ton of new information to be found in this book, but the history sections make for excellent resource material and have a few features that reorient the map in interesting ways.
The interviews with developers at the end of the book were fun to read, especially the one with game director Hidemaru Fujibayashi. In it, he mentions talking to the voice actor for Princess Zelda and her experience playing the game from the perspective of someone who had experienced the story from the past going forward whereas the player is given the story in the opposite way. Tidbits like add extra layers to the game’s storytelling process and reinforce the idea of everyone getting a little something different from the game.
Overall, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild–Creating a Champion is a book that contains more reference material than new information, but what insights it does offer into the design process are very interesting. Even if there was no text in the book at all, the thorough, exhaustive amount of stunning artwork is worth the price alone.