Yesterday it was announced that Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity will be launching for Nintendo Switch on November 20. Set 100 years prior to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Age of Calamity will explore the catastrophe that devastated that game’s world, shrouding Hyrule Castle in perpetual darkness.
There’s something special about this setup. While it’s pretty well known that the Zelda series is split into three distinct timelines, and the chronological order of each is relatively easy to map out, it’s rare that we’re offered an insight into the events preceding each individual entry. Sure, we know that Majora’s Mask feeds directly into Twilight Princess, and that The Wind Waker goes through Phantom Hourglass in order to arrive at the events of Spirit Tracks — but these trajectories are progressively made as new iterations of Zelda launch alongside the progression of time in the real world.
With Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, we’ve been introduced to the prospect of a major Zelda prequel launching after the game it refers to.
Now, it’s important to note that this isn’t necessarily a strict rule in the Zelda timeline. The Hero of Time chronology is broken up into different sections, which confuses the rule a bit. For example, the Sky Era, which occurred prior to the Force Era, includes 2011’s Skyward Sword. The latter era consists of The Minish Cap and Four Swords, both of which came out before Skyward Sword — in fact, the chronology of this timeline suggests that Minish Cap takes place before Four Swords, despite the fact the game was actually released afterwards.
On top of that, the Era of the Hero of Time — which only features one game, Ocarina of Time — is the last mainline entry in this timeline, despite the fact that Ocarina came out a whopping 13 years prior to its first instalment, Skyward Sword.But none of these were ever marketed as direct prequels, and the events that transpire in each are loosely related at best.
Cases in which these games are self-referential about their connections to one another are few and far between, and are often construed theoretically as opposed to being concretely connected. The fact that Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is being marketed as a direct and distant prequel to Breath of the Wild introduces a new age for Zelda, where finally we will be able to play through the events that led to the current state of the world in a previously released iteration of the series.
For those unacquainted with the plot of Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, here’s a brief breakdown. The Great Calamity that swallowed Hyrule Castle prior to Link’s awakening (get it?) in Breath of the Wild has run rampant for an entire century, plunging the world into a state of uncontrollable chaos. But in Breath of the Wild, that’s our starting point — 100 years in.
Age of Calamity takes us back to right before Calamity Ganon destroyed Hyrule. It offers us the opportunity to occupy the world as it was before the Great Calamity, playing as Link, Zelda, and the Four Champions — Mipha of the Zora, Daruk of the Gorons, Urbosa of the Gerudo, and Revali of the Rito.
As a result, the Great Calamity is no longer just a plot point that is external to the playable parts of the series. In several Zelda games, the world is fine at the beginning and the relevant antagonist reveals themselves in the early hours of the game — take Minish Cap, for example, which begins with a celebratory tournament outside Hyrule Castle. The jovial festivities of this event are quickly interrupted by Vaati, perhaps the Zelda series’ most iconic villain besides Ganondorf. So, everything is fine until it isn’t — it’s a self-contained story that is bookended by a happy beginning and ending.
Breath of the Wild, on the other hand, begins in a world where everything has already gone to shit. You are tasked with figuring out what happened before and eventually attempting to rectify it — but there is no part of the game that allows you to actually play through what happened before. That history is confined to dialogue sequences, cutscenes, and the dilapidated environments you traverse in order to confront Ganon.
Let’s continue using Minish Cap as an example here, because it’s a pretty good one. After meeting Ezlo, who is the game’s eponymous Minish Cap, you learn that Vaati was once a beloved member of the Minish community. However, after being polluted by a drive for power, Vaati turns on his master and begins his conquest to plunge the world into darkness (that happens a lot in Zelda, in case you couldn’t tell).
All we see here is a short cutscene where Vaati steals his master’s cap and turns on the Minish, and we don’t even get that until the game is already significantly underway. It’s a pretty huge story in of itself — a student adored by his master and peers is slowly corrupted, and eventually wrenches himself into a vile antagonist hellbent on destroying Hyrule. His master, ashamed of himself for having failed to anticipate this, is cruelly transformed into an ordinary cap in order to prevent him from meddling with his nefarious ex-student’s plans. Lost in the woods, he has slowly but surely given up hope — then a young boy with blonde hair and a green tunic appears, as he always somehow does.
That’s a pretty brief description, and it works to inform the events of Minish Cap. At the same time, it’s a relentlessly compressed summary of something far more comprehensive. A game addressing the events that occurred prior to Minish Cap could easily contain at least as much narrative potential as it, and would serve to make the story as a whole more complete. And although I’m not sure Nintendo will ever officially license a Minish Cap prequel, the existence of Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity ensures that it’s no longer an impossibility so much as it is an improbability.
It’s worth noting that a direct sequel to Breath of the Wild is also in development at the moment, meaning that Age of Calamity, Breath of the Wild, and the sequel will constitute a self-proclaimed trilogy — something that is utterly unheard of in the Zelda series. Yes, there have been sections of timelines with three interlinked games in them before — but they have never been officially linked in such an explicit and undeniable way.
Breath of the Wild is still the most recent new mainline Zelda game, so Nintendo’s focus on it could be perceived as a desire to change up the series from here on out. But, given its investment in an official prequel for the first time in the series’ history, it’s no longer completely unreasonable to assume that the company will apply a similar treatment to its previous games.
Also — and this is important — Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is being developed by Koei Tecmo (who made the original Hyrule Warriors game in 2014) and published by Nintendo, as opposed to Nintendo spearheading each individual department. Nintendo allowing an external development team to handle a part of the mainline Zelda story carries an immense amount of weight, because it means it can work on Breath of the Wild 2 while outsourcing prequels and sequels to previous titles. That’s strictly theoretical, of course, but it’s not unreasonable or without merit.
Here’s hoping for a Zelda game where Vaati is the good guy, before becoming the absolutely irrefutable baddie we’ve always known him as.
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