After years of anticipation, Nintendo finally revealed the title for Breath of the Wild's sequel during a September 2022 Direct. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is set to release in May 2023 (assuming no further delays), and its latest teaser leans into the airborne potential of floating islands by showing Link dive onto a mysterious glider. While the terrestrial races of Hyrule will have to use new methods to explore, this may be a great excuse to give the Rito more prominence.
In Breath of the Wild, Link can run straight toward Hyrule Castle and battle Calamity Ganon after completing the Great Plateau. Yet the in-universe narrative clearly intends for Link to rescue each of Hyrule's four major races (the Zora, Goron, Rito, and Gerudo) from corruption afflicting their Divine Beasts. Tears of the Kingdom's past trailers have highlighted the Master Sword, suggesting it is also canon that Link collects his legendary blade, which means Hyrule's residents will all need brand-new challenges to tackle. The flying Rito will undoubtedly have the easiest time adapting to their changed surroundings.
The Underutilized Rito in Zelda History
Zelda's Rito are the latest addition of those aforementioned races, first appearing in 2002's The Wind Waker on GameCube. They're also among the least utilized races across the franchise, only showing up in The Wind Waker, Breath of the Wild, and now Tears of the Kingdom. The avian race even skipped The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, despite a large portion of that adventure taking place in the skies above Hyrule.
The likely reason for this is because The Wind Waker establishes the Rito as descendants of the Zora, specifically in the "Adult" era of Ocarina of Time following Link's victory against Ganondorf. The Rito should only exist in one branch of the Zelda timeline, and Link's companion Medli is shown to be a blood relative of the Zora sage Laruto. Though it seems counterintuitive for aquatic characters to evolve into birds as a result of the world flooding, the Rito's capacity for flight makes them better equipped to visit individual islands across the Great Sea as mail carriers.
Zora and Rito living in Hyrule together for Breath of the Wild is explained away by the Zelda timeline's branches effectively merging in the far future. It's a messy solution for some, but one that gave Nintendo the chance to really experiment with unique character designs. Just about every Zora that players encounter in Breath of the Wild is inspired by a different sea creature, from Mipha sporting a dolphin tail to the elder Muzu having a head shaped like a manta ray. The Rito have a similar design philosophy, ranging from the parrot-like traveling musician Kass to the wizened owl Kaneli, chief of Rito Village.
Where Breath of the Wild Leaves the Rito
Calamity Ganon is an ever-present threat to the world by the time Breath of the Wild rolls around, with Link being one member of the team tasked with stopping the destruction. He and Zelda work alongside the four Champions of Hyrule; Mipha, Daruk, Revali, and Urbosa; who pilot the Divine Beasts that were built by ancient Sheikah to combat the Calamity. Their failure 100 years prior to the events of the game result in Link waking up with amnesia, forced to correct the mistakes of the past and build a better future.
The Rito Champion Revali's defeat at the hands of Windblight Ganon results in the eagle-shaped Divine Beast Vah Medoh circling Rito Village endlessly for 100 years. As a result, the Rito have effectively been restricted from flying too high for fear of being shot down. After a century, Link teams up with Teba to destroy Vah Medoh's cannons from midair so that the hero can safely land, defeat Windblight Ganon, and free the spirit of Revali. As the Divine Beasts are no longer present at landmarks like Death Mountain in Tears of the Kingdom trailers, it's safe to assume the mechanical marvel is no longer a threat.
How Rito can Expand Their Role in Tears of the Kingdom
Whatever threat Hyrule faces in Tears of the Kingdom isn't entirely clear. The earliest teaser from E3 2019 shows a mummified figure (assumed to be Ganondorf) whose magic is so powerful it can lift chunks of the continent into the air after being unsealed. Much of the footage released since then has involved Link traveling across these floating islands, moving between them with his paraglider, and rising up from the ground using new abilities. A brief clip released when the sequel was delayed this March also shows the Master Sword seemingly torn to shreds by dark magic.
Some of Hyrule's inhabitants will have to deal with specific problems arising from this power, for example the latest Tears of the Kingdom trailer seems to show Death Mountain erupting with Malice - a potentially huge concern for the Gorons. Many homes and stables will be displaced, and it's possible the Gerudo will be isolated from the rest of Hyrule if the main path out of Gerudo Desert is replaced by a chasm. But this poses less of an issue for the Rito.
Assuming they can fly high enough without Divine Beast Vah Medoh, the Rito are most likely to be exploring Hyrule's floating islands. Any new settlements or shops being established at altitude would be run by the only people who can reach such a height without having to use a paraglider or ancient platform to cross between islands. This also opens a perfect opportunity for the Rito to reprise their role as couriers from The Wind Waker, crossing empty spaces left on the ground and bringing supplies to the Goron or Zora who are suddenly stranded in midair.
Beyond the narrative potential that comes with adapting an avian race to more vertical world, the Rito could also mechanically assist Link. If players have to unlock new upgrades for their Stasis rune, for example, certain floating islands could be reached with the help of a character like Teba. The warrior already carries Link into the sky on his back while storming Divine Beast Vah Medoh in Breath of the Wild, which leaves Nintendo the option of adapting this brief segment into a regular traversal option. Hopefully Tears of the Kingdom gives the Rito their time to shine regardless of how they're incorporated.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is scheduled to release for Nintendo Switch on May 12, 2023.