While there are plenty of iconic settings in gaming, few are quite as memorable as Hyrule. The primary location of the esteemed The Legend of Zelda series, it's the home to countless races, fascinating architecture, and gorgeous scenery. Weaved into its landscape are so many engaging characters and plenty of narrative potential. Since the franchise shows no signs of stopping, it's likely that Hyrule will be at the center of most of Link's adventures to come. From the grandness of Hyrule Castle to the tranquility of Lake Hylia, it's been a mainstay for years.

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Of course, with the advancements in hardware technology and the refining of art direction over time, it's obvious that not every incarnation of Hyrule looks the same. While some have subtle differences, others are almost unrecognizable. It's a land that's in a constant state of change. The Legend of Zelda has been going for 36 years, and as both the first and most recent games take place in the same area, it's clear that each entry in the series has something new to offer the Hyrule landscape.

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Hyrule's Humble Beginnings

The Legend of Zelda: The one that started it all, The Legend of Zelda was held back by its hardware, releasing on the NES in 1986. Its version of Hyrule was sadly limited and didn't have the capability to offer diverse landscapes, activities, or presentation quirks. It's a valiant effort to create a grand setting on the first Nintendo home console, and the smattering of trees and blocky coastlines show that Hyrule has so much potential in future games.

Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link:Zelda 2 was a significant gameplay shift from the first game, opting for a side-scrolling perspective rather than a top-down one. It felt more restrictive, but the Hyrule it presented was anything but. It's far larger than the one presented in the first game, and offered more geographic diversity. From the challenge of scaling Death Mountain to exploring each of its distinctive towns, Zelda 2 was the first time that Hyrule truly felt like a living, breathing world.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past: Many believe A Link to the Past to be the first truly great manifestation of Hyrule. Introducing series mainstays like Kakariko Village, Hyrule Castle, and Link's House, it gave Hyrule a true sense of identity that fans loved. Just from an image of the overworld it's so very obvious where it is and which game it's from. A Link to the Past laid the groundwork for later titles to improve upon, implementing essential features that not only make it a blast to play through, but that catapult Hyrule to one of the best settings in gaming.

Zelda in the Third Dimension

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time: Perhaps the most beloved incarnation of Hyrule to date, Ocarina of Time's 3D perspective made Hyrule an absolute joy to explore. From returning areas like Death Mountain and Kakariko Village to the new area of Gerudo Valley welding truly epic scenery and music, the Hyrule presented here was a more refined and purpose-built version of Hyrule. A Link to the Past was something special, but Ocarina of Time did well to install its predecessor's details into a world that felt truly open and expansive. A slight reshuffle was needed, but it made the best elements of A Link to the Past feel all the more iconic.

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass: While it may seem like the Great Sea presented in The Wind Waker (as well as its DS sequel Phantom Hourglass) washes away the magic of Hyrule, this is absolutely not the case. In fact, the series' first title on GameCube wielded perhaps the land's most interesting perspective. As the sea is dotted with land masses, it turns out that the islands used to be Hyrule's mountaintops, which the people fled to when the Goddess flooded Hyrule in an effort to stop Ganon. The land below is spoken of in myths and legends, but glimpses of its history are experienced during Link's journey. Plummeting down to Hyrule Castle in search of the Master Sword is one of the best moments in the entire series, and while the sea can be cumbersome to travel around, it's a different take on Hyrule that feels truly memorable.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess: Taking a darker and more melancholic approach to the Zelda license, Twilight Princess is one of the most divisive entries to date. However, one thing that is almost universally appreciated is its take on Hyrule. Acknowledging but tweaking the version of the setting that Ocarina of Time presented was a stroke of genius, and it makes the area feel draped in history. Lake Hylia, Death Mountain, the Temple of Time, and Gerudo Desert all returned and immediately felt familiar. Twilight Princess' take on Hyrule was faithful to what came before, and ensured that it has locations that shouldn't be discarded.

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Zelda Goes Multiplayer

The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords: Released alongside A Link to the Past when it arrived on the Game Boy Advance in 2002, Four Swords offered something new once again. Perhaps in a bid to differ itself from the aforementioned title, it features some returning locations like Death Mountain but largely does its own thing. Many may believe that Skyward Sword was the first to feature a land in the sky, but Vaati's Palace in Four Swords was first.

The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures: Not to be mistaken for Four Swords, Four Swords Adventures is a completely separate release that also focuses on multiplayer game design. Its take on Hyrule is perhaps the most faithful of all, as it features a plethora of returning locations. It reshuffles the map in comparison to A Link to the Past slightly, but unlike some other titles it truly feels like an adventure set in Hyrule. A Switch port would be welcome, as it's a game and world worth revisiting.

Handheld Hyrule

The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap: A thoroughly overlooked entry in the series, The Minish Cap has only ever released on the Game Boy Advance. Being on a handheld system and releasing just one year after The Wind Waker, it took some risks with its story and setting. Hyrule was missing some essential locations like Kakariko Village and Death Mountain, and in doing so it felt like it wasted the location. However, with Link experiencing the land as a Picori, it would have been strange to see Hyrule from the perspective of an ant-sized character.

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks: While it doesn't take place in the original setting, Spirit Tracks unfolds in a land known as New Hyrule. As such, there are plenty of omissions from old games and new locations on offer like the Tower of Spirits and four distinctive realms to explore. It's a take on Hyrule that's perfect for a handheld system, and while it doesn't have the familiarity of Twilight Princess or Ocarina of Time, it's charming nonetheless.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds: Hearkening back to what made A Link Between Worlds so great, A Link Between Worlds uses a very similar map design. It's almost identical to what came before, which is undoubtedly part of its charm. Lorule does well to make the setting feel fresh, but A Link Between Worlds was initially pitched as a throwback for A Link to the Past fans to satisfy their nostalgia, and to do so it had to revert Hyrule back to how it was in 1991.

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A Modern Take on Hyrule

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword:Skyward Sword provides a starting point for the entire series, and indeed Hyrule itself. Following a Wind Waker-esque introduction, it's shown that the Goddess lifted the remaining humans into the air to save them from the malevolent forces that appeared and destroyed the surface. What was raised became known as Skyloft, and its people lived in harmony there for generations. When Link's quest begins, it's clear that some areas are different from what fans expected. Death Mountain is now known as Eldin Volcano, but Faron Woods remains an essential area of the game. Lanayru feels like the precursor to the Gerudo desert and Lake Floria replaces Lake Hylia.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: Presenting the most expansive and dense version of Hyrule to date, Breath of the Wild puts the setting at the forefront and succeeds because of it. Hyrule is the main character throughout, and becoming one with the land is vital to seeing all the game has to offer. Breath of the Wild introduces new regions and areas like Hateno Village, Akkala, The Great Plateau, and Dueling Peaks, but also pays attention to what came before. Hyrule Castle is directly north of Hyrule Field like it is in Ocarina of Time and the Desert is to the west. In many ways, Breath of the Wild's Hyrule is perfect, providing more areas of intrigue to a setting that is truly familiar.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2releases Spring 2023 for Nintendo Switch.

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