The Legend of Zelda series is predominantly a medieval fantasy setting as depicted in the many iterations of Hyrule. As with traditional fantasy, the series takes inspirations from medieval European culture, particularly medieval Western/Northwestern European culture, and tales by featuring elven creatures, fairies, dragons, wizards, enchanted forests, castles, knights, as well as many other elements. Throughout the centuries and different timelines, the Kingdom of Hyrule often remains in a technological stasis with iconic medieval weapons, structures, and other elements recurring. Concurrently, the varying settings explored in the series occasionally deviate from such elements with technological advancements. These advancements have become more apparent since entries such as Skyward Sword and Breath of the Wild.
Below is a list of items throughout the Zelda games where samples of medieval elements and other fantasy elements (either in Hyrule or in some other land) have been noticed.
Hyrule Castle is designed much like the typical medieval castle. Its exterior is composed of many stone bricks. The walls and towers of the castle feature merlons and crenels along the edges. The interior relies on torches for lighting and has paintings, tapestries, suits of armor and royal statues along the wall, while the stone floor is draped in carpets. Surrounding the castle is the courtyard contained within the inner walls. Beyond that lies the Castle Town generally. Snowpeak Ruins, a mansion, shares the same stone structural qualities as Hyrule Castle in both exterior and interior.
The Temple of Time is designed identically to a church of the Middle Ages, made of stone bricks and filled with many structural arches and a few small towers with a steeple. The temple holds religious significance as it is the gateway to the Sacred Realm.
Many of the villages such as Kakariko Village have traditional medieval inspired homes designed with timber frames coating the exterior and tend to be the same color with little to no variation. Kakariko Village in particular has a windmill, which were used in the medieval europe to mill grain or pump water. The villages of Hyrule often have taverns, the Milk Bar and Telma's Bar are prime examples.
Twilight Princess features the Great Hylian Bridge and the Bridge of Eldin. These stone bridges feature merlons, crenels and two turrets at each side much like the design of a castle. The Great Hylian Bridge in Breath of the Wild appears to have more prominent and numerous crenels than its previous iteration.
Some buildings are based on Roman, Romanesque or Greek architecture, like Arbiter's Grounds from Twilight Princess and Coliseum Ruins which based on the Colosseum in Rome or the Dungeons in The Adventure of Link, the springs from Skyward Sword and Breath of the Wild and the Ancient Columns which based on Greek temples.
Warfare and Combat
The Soldiers and Knights of Hyrule often wear steel plate armour and chainmail underneath with a variety of helmets (such as loose interpretations of the galea, armet, norman, and barbute). Swords, Shields, Spears, Flails, Bows and Arrows, and Crossbows are common weapons used across Hyrule and other lands. These medieval weapons serve as the primary method for combat alongside Magic in the Legend of Zelda universe. These weapons and armour are not only limited to Hylians. Darknuts are knights in particular, that wear heavy plate armor with armet helmets armed with large sword and shields. Lizalfos, Bulblins and Bokoblins tend to wear leather armor with leather caps instead and are armed with bows, spears, clubs and swords. King Bulblin in particular uses a large battle axe for combat. Notably, Link's shield in The Legend of Zelda had a red cross on it, strikingly similar to the red cross depicted on the shield of Knights during the crusades.
Horseback combat is also prominent in Hyrule as well as other lands, and it serves as a recurring gameplay element. In Twilight Princess, Link jousts against King Bulblin on the Bridge of Eldin. In The Adventure of Link, Rebonacks also joust using lances while riding on floating horse statues. The Gerudo value horseback riding and have a Horseback Archery Range.
Magic based combat encompasses the fantasy aspect of the series. Link uses magical wands such as the Fire Rod and Ice Rod as to attack foes, while foes such as Wizzrobes have offensive magical capabilities as well.
The society of Hyrule varies from culture to culture. Hylians wear tunics or dresses with aprons and bonnets, common in style of the medieval era. Many citizens of the various iterations of Hyrule Castle Town and Kakariko Village can be seen dressed in such garb. The Kokiri of the forest wear tunics as well. The protagonist, Link, wears a tunic originating from different backgrounds in each adventure. Sometimes his tunic has chainmail underneath and often he wears tights which were common amongst men in the medieval era.
The villages have windmills, blacksmiths and taverns which serve Hyrule’s citizens much like in medieval Europe. In Minish Cap, Link and his Grandfather work as blacksmiths and create a sword as a prize for the sword-fighting contest at the Picori Festival. In A Link to the Past, the Dwarven Swordsmiths can temper Link’s sword. In A Link Between Worlds, Link works as an apprentice for the Blacksmith and his family, and can have the Master Sword tempered by him.
Land travel is dependent on horses and carriages. In Twilight Princess, Link escorts a carriage. Ilia, Telma, and Prince Ralis ride the carriage to Kakariko Village, while Link fends off the monsters attacking it. In Breath of the Wild several broken carriages can be found in the remnants of Hyrule Kingdom.
Hyrule follows the same social hierarchy as medieval Europe. The Royal Family rules over Hyrule, with the King generally in charge, and if not present then the prince or princess assumes rule. Beneath the Royal Family were nobles and Knights. The Knights of Hyrule were tasked with protecting the Royal Family and more specifically guarding the Royal Jewels in Four Swords Adventures. The Knights of Hyrule are also descended from the legendary hero's spiritual successors and Link is usually born from the knightly bloodline like European noble families. Similar to the knights of Hyrule, the royal family also claims the descent from Hylia or the first Zelda, there was something similar in the Middle East with Muhammed, with the Japanese, with the Mongols (Genghis Khan), but also in Europe with many Germanic peoples on Odin even after the Christianization or the Origo gentis of many medieval dynasties and people. At the bottom were the peasants who would make a living off of farm labor, many residents of Ordon Village assumed such duty by harvesting crops and wrangling goats.
The primary religion of the Legend of Zelda series was initially Christianity, as it was prevalent during the Middle Ages, which the series drew inspiration from. In the Japanese version of The Legend of Zelda, the Book of Magic was known as the Bible. In The Adventure of Link, the Cross was an item. In both respective games, Link's Shield and the Darknuts' Shield both beared crosses akin to the medieval knights of the holy Crusades. In addition, Link was explicitly depicted kneeling and praying to a statue of Jesus Christ inside of a church in A Link to the Past's initial concept art.
While Christianity is no longer prevalent in games released after A Link to the Past, remnants of its influence remain, as religion still plays a large role in the Hyrule Kingdom akin to its prevalence in medieval Europe. Throughout the land of Hyrule, many statues and structures can be found depicting various religious figures, the most prominent religion being the tale of the Golden Goddesses. In Hylian Mythology, the world was created through the combined efforts of Din, Nayru and Farore. Din created the physical world, Nayru gave the world law and order, and Farore created life to exist on the world. Tapestries and stained glass windows inside temples and Hyrule Castle depict these goddesses and other legendary figures, much like medieval Europe did for Christianity. Twilight Princess in particular used real world medieval and Renaissance artwork in Castle Town to set the aesthetic. Statues of Saint Antoninus and Abundantia can be found there, as well as a painting of Leeds Castle and another castle called Vaux-le-Vicomte.
In A Link to the Past, Link can be seen performing the sign of the cross and praying after using the Book of Mudora.
The concept of the Master Sword being pulled out of its pedestal was inspired by the Arthurian Legend of Excalibur and The Sword in the Stone. Link is chosen by the Goddesses, thus given the power to draw the Master Sword from its pedestal. This parallels how King Arthur was divinely chosen and was able to draw Excalibur from the stone.
Many songs in the Zelda games use instruments such as the flute, lute, snare drum, violin, and harp which create a medieval vibe as they are instruments of that era. The older games simulated sounds of these instruments with MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface). Castle Town's theme from Ocarina of Time, emulates the sound of a lute to set the atmosphere. The Legendary Hero from Wind Waker and the Minigame theme from A Link Between Worlds are prime example of the use of a flute, it creates a medieval feel. The theme in Minish Woods and certain iterations of Zelda's lullaby emulates the sound of a harp creating a whimsical fairy tale vibe. Certain iterations of Hyrule Castle's theme heavily feature the use of snare drums which create a warlike, militaristic, feeling representing Hyrule's army.
Music plays a role in the universe itself as many games feature instruments that Link can use, the most iconic being the Ocarina. The Ocarina's precursor, the Gemshorn was created in medieval Europe carved out of goat horns.
In A Link Between Worlds, the Milk Bar has two musicians that play music on a lute and flute. The music from these instruments, as well as the setting evoke the vibe of taverns in medieval Europe.
Middle Eastern inspirations
The Gerudo are strongly influenced by the medieval Middle East, specifically the medieval Arabian civilization. The Gerudo Desert drew inspiration from the deserts near the Arabian Peninsula, which were a pilgrimage destination during the Crusades. The Gerudo's original crest was based on the Islamic star and crescent but was later changed along with the music in the Fire Temple, which originally sampled a group of men singing Islamic prayer.[note 1] In the Haunted Wasteland red banners appear similar to the early Islamic flags.
The Gerudo also draw inspiration from the Egyptians. The Spirit Temple's first room has two giant snake sculptures which resembles the Egyptian Uraeus. The entrance of the Desert Colossus, and similar statues found in the Spirit Temple and Arbiter's Grounds, are (rock-cut) colossi similar to those in Egypt like in Abu Simbel. The statues either wear a head similar to the Khepresh or to the Nemes. The Pyramid in Four Swords Adventures is based on the ones from Egypt.
Like the Amazons, the Gerudo are a tribe of female warriors. Modern scholars often identifies the Amazons with the Scythians in the Eurasian Steppe or with Lycia in Anatolia.
East Asian inspirations
The Sheikah are inspired by the shinobi of medieval Japan. Kakariko Village in Breath of the Wild has an aesthetic reminiscent of several feudal periods of Japan, such as the Asuka and Sengoku periods and the Sheikah wear traditional Japanese clothing. A branch of the Sheikah, the Yiga Clan share a strong resemblance to Ninjas. The Monks seem to be based on real-world Buddhist mummies, which are monks who, succeeded in preserving their bodies through death. More specifically, they seem to be based on the Japanese act of Sokushinbutsu (即身仏), wherein monks practice austerity to the point of death and self-induced mummification.
The architecture of the Ancient Cistern greatly reflects that of far-eastern temples. The statue head in the main room, the Blessed Idol key, and even Koloktos bear a striking resemblance to Buddha and the dungeon often displays many Lotus Flowers. The Dungeon appears to be based on the Buddhist short story, The Spider's Thread. In alignment with the Ancient Cistern's apparently Buddhist theme, Koloktos's overall design seems to take inspiration from the deity Asura like having multiple arms which is a common feature of Hinduist deities.
The Adventure of Link
The game features many knights, dragons, and wizards. Link can find friendly Knights who teach him new attacks. There are also several enemy knights like Blue Fokka, Doomknockers who use spiked clubs, and the Iron Knuckle. There are three distinct knight bosses as well, Horsehead, Jermafenser who fences, and Rebonack who jousts on horseback. Old men dressed as wizards teach Link magical spells. There are also standard wizard enemies, and a wizard boss called Carock. One boss in the game, Barba, is a dragon.
The North Castle serves as the main castle in the game.
The Wind Waker
Despite being set in the Great Sea with a different culture than Hyrule proper, when Link enters Hyrule Castle under the ocean, the traditional elements return.
Hyrule Castle's exterior is made of stone brick and has visible crenels on it's walls. Inside the main hall there are many tapestries, statues and paintings. The Master Sword is held in a hidden chamber of the castle, surrounded by colossal statues of the Knights of Hyrule. The remnant of King Daphnes Nohansen Hyrule remains in the derelict castle.
Breath of the Wild
In Breath of the Wild, Hyrule Kingdom remains medieval as evident of swords, shields, bows, castles and knights. Upon discovering the ancient technology from their distant ancestors, the kingdom began to study it up until its collapse with the return of the Calamity Ganon. Unfamiliar with technology so advanced, Princess Zelda comments that they have much to learn and how shocking it feels knowing that the Guardians and Divine Beasts were actually created by people.
The Temple of Time makes a return, albeit in a ruined state. Hyrule Castle and Hyrule Castle Town appear as well except the latter is mostly destroyed. This iteration of the castle contains all the staple locations of a traditional medieval castle: a dining hall, gatehouse, armory, dungeon, library, balcony, bedroom, and throne room.
Combat in Breath of the Wild provides Link with a large variety of medieval weaponry and armor in this adventure. In addition, magical staves make a return providing Link with magic based combat.
Hyrule Warriors focuses on the armies of Hyrule fighting wars. Medieval warfare is present as the gameplay revolves around taking keeps and killing the opposing army. The protagonist is accompanied by an army of soldiers along with captains.
King Tuft, a royal king.
Princess Hilda, a royal princess.
Syrup, a witch.
Aquamentus, a dragon.
Argorok, a dragon.
King Bulblin, based on orcs.
Gleeok, based on Hydra
Hinox, based on a Cyclops
Lynel, based on a centaur
- The first part of the Arabic samples were deciphered as "Sal-Allahu-alayhi-wa-alik" which means "May God grant peace and honor him (Muhammad) and his family.", followed by "Dhul-Galali-wal-ikram," meaning "The Lord of Majesty and Generosity". The second part of Arabic samples was deciphered as the Basmala; meaning "In the name of God, the Most Gracious, Most Merciful", followed by the Takbir; literally meaning "God is Great".
- Iwata Asks: A Sword & Sorcery Tale Admired Worldwide "And I was really happy that we here in Japan could make a medieval tale of sword and sorcery liked by the people of the world.", Shigeru Miyamoto
- "Hylian Building Ruins -Romanesque style (thick walls, small windows)." (Creating a Champion pg. 341)
- "Ages ago, we ancient Sages built the Temple of Time to protect the entrance to the Sacred Realm..." — Rauru (Ocarina of Time)
- "Some time ago, before the King of Hyrule unified this country, there was a fierce war in our world. One day, to escape from the fires of the war, a Hylian mother and her baby boy entered this forbidden forest. The mother was gravely injured... Her only choice was to entrust the child to the Deku Tree, the guardian spirit of the forest. The Deku Tree could sense that this was a child of destiny, whose fate would affect the entire world, so he took him into the forest. After the mother passed away, the baby was raised as a Kokiri. And now, finally, the day of destiny has come!" — Deku Tree Sprout (Ocarina of Time)
- "That yearning for the Triforce soon turned to lust for power, which in turn led to the spilling of blood. Soon the only motive left among those searching for the Triforce was pure greed." (A Link to the Past manual, pg. 5)
- Opening, (A Link to the Past)
- "In Gerudo society, those who have great skill in horseback riding and archery are well respected. How about trying horseback archery at the Gerudo's Fortress? If you have a horse, a Gerudo from the fortress will set up your challenge." — Carpenter (Ocarina of Time)
- "Master Smith is here as well. He's come to see His Majesty the king." — N/A (The Minish Cap)
- "Instead of getting an earful, you've got an errand, Link. Take that sword and hurry after the captain." — Blacksmith (A Link Between Worlds)
- "Looks like we've got one young swordsman left! And not only that, but it looks like this brave young man will escort us, so get ready to go, honey. Pronto!" — Telma (Twilight Princess)
- Hyrule Historia (Dark Horse Books) pg. 93
- Hyrule Historia (Dark Horse Books) pg. 68
- Legends of Localization, page 151
- Hyrule Castle, (Wind Waker)
- Help Identify Mysterious Statues From Malo Mart in Twilight Princess, Zelda Universe
- Malo Mart, (Twilight Princess)
- Zelda and Mythology Arthurian Legend, Zelda Dungeon
- "You got the Master Sword! Only the true hero can wield this legendary weapon!" — N/A (Twilight Princess)
- Cucco Ranch, (A Link Between Worlds)
- Minish Woods, (Minish Cap)
- The gemshorn: a (necessarily) short history, Early Music Muse
- "From there, the connection between ancient Japan and shinobi was folded into a Sheikah village, which led to the concept behind Kakariko Village." (Creating a Champion pg. 257)
- "However, it is still apparent we have much more to learn. But to think, that Divine Beast was actually built by people..." — Princess Zelda (Breath of the Wild)