After playing all of the wonderful Zelda games and studying all the maps of Hyrule, a very good question might cross your mind: "Why does Hyrule look completely different in each game?" It's very easy to dismiss this question on the grounds that Miyamoto created the Zelda games to be fun, not consistent, or that the land of Hyrule simply changed drastically in the short geological span of several hundred years.
I have never been able to answer this question myself until, very recently, I had an epiphany, or a realization, of sorts. I was reading the same passage from the "Legend of Zelda" manual that I've read many other times before:
- A long, long time ago the World was in an age of Chaos. In the middle
of this chaos, in a little kingdom in the land of Hyrule...
Suddenly I realized: in LoZ, Link travels through a little kingdom in the larger land of Hyrule! Could it be true that in all the Zelda games we've ever played, the action takes place not in Hyrule, but in a little kingdom within Hyrule? What, then, is this Hyrule? Is it a continent? After all, America takes the same name as its own continent. Could it be that the name Hyrule is used to denote both a larger area and a smaller kingdom within that area?
Then, by pure chance I came upon this quote in the ALttP manual:
- A small but powerful portion of the essence of the gods was held in this
mighty artifact [the Triforce], which was to guide the intelligent life on the world
The world of Hyrule! Indeed, the name Hyrule can refer both to the entire World and to a small kingdom ruled by Hylian kings! It is now very clear: a map of Hyrule doesn't necessarily show the same geographic area each time. It can show important features, like Death Mountain, or it can leave out portions of the world that aren't important. Also important to note is that not all the maps are accurate. Because the maps in Zelda 1 and 3 were restricted to rectangles, portions of the map probably got distorted.
Keeping this in mind, let us inspect the earliest known map of "Hyrule," that from OoT. If you have the OoT manual, if would be very helpful to get it out now and flip to the map on pp.7-8 to visualize this better. If you don't have the manual, click on this link to see an image of the map scanned and edited by zelda-element.com. You will notice that this map is in 3/4 view, not top-down, so, despite what the compass on the map says, true north lies in Death Mountain (in the area above Kakariko Village, behind the clouds) and true south is between Gerudo Valley and Lake Hylia. You can sort of turn the map in the OoT manual to see this. Looking at the map this way, you can see the following: Death Mountain is in the north, Hyrule Castle and City are to the west of Death Mountain, the entrance to Zora's Domain is on a mountain to the east of Death Mountain, the Lost Woods are in the east, Lake Hylia is in the southeast, and Gerudo Valley is in the southwest.
Okay, now let's inspect the ALttP map. You can look at your own map if you have it, or you can click right here to open mine in a new window. Everything is where it should be, with some major exceptions. The Lost Woods are now in the northwest instead of the east. There is a good explanation for this: there is an eastern Lost Woods, which includes Kokiri Forest, and a northwestern Lost Woods, which can be partially be seen behind Hyrule Castle in the OoT map. Over the centuries, the Lost Woods grew more to the south, like in ALttP. In ALttP, the eastern Lost Woods are cut off the map because they are not important to the story. They are still off to the east somewhere off the map.
Hyrule Castle and Kakariko Village have been moved to the center of Hyrule, where Lon Lon Ranch used to be. This was for strategic reasons; the Knights of Hyrule lost so many lives defending the castle in the Imprisoning War because of the castle's position. In OoT the moat around Hyrule City came from the waters of Zora's Domain; now the waters of Zora's Domain and Lake Hylia are connected, and form a moat around the new castle. The river that used to feed Lake Hylia, the great river cutting Gerudo Valley off from the rest of Hyrule, has been diverted, and is somewhere south off the map. Thanks in part to the restricted flow of water, lake Hylia is a bit farther north than before. Further cutting off Gerudo Valley from the kingdom of Hyrule is the hidden entrance, which is off the map. The Desert of Mystery, which is covered with clouds on the OoT map, is featured on the ALttP map.
Now, centuries later, we come to the LoZ map of Hyrule. Click here to see a map of the overworld. Notice how the eastern Lost Woods, and even beyond that to the sea, is shown on the map, while the northwestern Lost Woods are off the map. Sadly, Hyrule Castle has been destroyed by Ganon's army, and all that is left is the ruins of the moat in central Hyrule. The waters from Zora's Domain still feed this moat, as well as the waters from Lake Hylia, but Lake Hylia is southwards off the map. Thus, the Desert of Mystery is also cut off the map. Kakariko Village is west off the map, but to the east of it is a large graveyard, testament to Ganon's destruction during this age of chaos. Death Mountain and the mountain that feeds Zora's Domain still flank the north of Hyrule.
The map of Hyrule from AoL, the last game chronologically in the series, takes a drastic departure from all the other maps we've looked at. For starters, Death Mountain is in the southwest of the map! In the context that the word "Hyrule" refers to a larger area of land, the explanation for this phenomenon is quite simple: this map shows the northernmost area of the kingdom of Hyrule, an area that is featured in no other game! Indeed, in the beginning of the game Link goes to see Impa (presumably in the rebuilt Hyrule Castle), and Impa takes him to the North Palace. This North Palace is in Northern Hyrule, an entirely different area. All the towns were named after Sages after the Imprisoning War took place.
This map of Hyrule from the game, provided by Hyrule: The Land of Zelda, speaks for itself. You can also look at this incomplete map from the manual (in Spanish), or this map from the NES Game Atlas, to get a general idea of what the area looks like. I think that the portion of Death Mountain shown is a portion that's not shown in any other game. This is because the entrance to Zora's Domain is always to the east of the portion of Death Mountain shown in all the other games. Thus, it is my belief that in AoL this portion of Death Mountain is that part which extends north of Zora's Domain.
To conclude this article, and perhaps to clarify things a bit, I have made a rough sketch of the Kingdom of Hyrule, dated from between LoZ and AoL, in Photoshop. Koholint Island from "Link's Awakening" is not included because I have no idea where it is, and besides by this time it has been gone for centuries. Also not included is the land of Calatia, because it is non-canon, only appearing in comic books, and I have no idea where it might be or what it might look like. Click here to see the rough sketch.