The Overworld is the vastest area that Link must explore in each game of the series. The most common example of an Overworld location would be the land of Hyrule, but others include Termina, the Great Sea, and Koholint. It is through the Overworld that Link can access other areas such as caves and dungeons. The Overworld mostly consists of locations above ground, and it is separate from Dungeons. In contrast to Dungeons, which are isolated and explored from a beginning to an end point, the Overworld is much larger with more open-ended exploration. Since Ocarina of Time, it has been common for the Overworld of a title to include a type of hub most Overworld areas connect to, such as Hyrule Field. As mentioned, there are multiple Overworld settings to be explored with many ways to traverse their varying topography.
Overworlds in The Legend of Zelda Series
There are numerous locations of the Overworld throughout the Legend of Zelda series, and each has its own unique qualities. Most games have one Overworld, but a few have two.
- Main article: Hyrule
Unlike other Overworlds, Hyrule has been the setting of multiple titles in the series, including the first three Legend of Zelda games, but its appearance differs greatly between each one. However, some names of key locations are often consistent in many of its incarnations, albeit sometimes in completely different areas. Recurring locations in Hyrule include Kakariko Village, Lake Hylia, Death Mountain, Hyrule Castle, and many others. Hyrule’s changing layout can be credited to its recurrence in the series being so frequent, and it is not always the same exact place though it may share the name. For example, the Hyrule in Spirit Tracks is founded as a new Hyrule.
Hyrule has been shown to have alternate worlds beside it, which have often been fully explorable Overworlds. The first alternate dimension to appear in the series was the Dark World in A Link to the Past, a warped version of Hyrule with changed environments. Dungeons in this world were also different. A Dark World or Realm of Hyrule has been referred to in other titles; Four Swords Adventures also contains another Dark World to explore, though very different from the one shown in A Link to the Past. In Spirit Tracks, there is a portal to a Dark Realm, though it is not a full overworld. In Twilight Princess, Link could travel through the Twilight Realm, which has curtained over Hyrule. Aside from the colorful hues of the lighting, this realm does not very much change the appearance of the land. The Silent Realm in Skyward Sword is also very similar the original state of Hyrule but with all blue tones and slight changes to layout. Lorule can be accessed in A Link Between Worlds through various fissures after the attack on Hyrule Castle, what is an alternate universe similar to Hyrule and the Dark World, but covered in numerous cracks in the earth to prevent travel. Lorule also seems to have iconic locations to have opposite characteristics to Hyrule, for example Death Mountain is covered in snow with a constant blizzard, a clear contrast to the usual active volcano.
- Main article: Koholint
Appearing only in Link's Awakening, Koholint is an isolated island with no other land around it as far as any can see. It has mostly standard landforms, like mountains, a swamp, and a forest, but it also features unique places. One such place is mountaintop characterized by a giant speckled egg atop it, and a couple others are labyrinths of bottomless pits or ring-shaped stones. In fact, most of Koholint’s topography is very mazelike; more so than any other Overworld before it.
- Main article: Termina
Termina is the setting of Majora's Mask, and it is believed to be in a dimension parallel to Hyrule. The most notable property of this Overworld is the ominous moon slowly falling down upon it. In the very center of this land is Clock Town, and around the lies a Termina Field, which connects to four varying environments in Termina. To the south is a swamp, in the north are mountains, the ocean is in the west, and the canyon is in the east. These four area are mostly inhabited by Deku Scrubs, Gorons, Zoras, and undead respectively, and it can be said that they are mostly traveled by their primary denizens.
- Main article: Holodrum
The main Overworld of Oracle of Seasons is Holodrum, a land wracked by constantly changing seasons. The layout of certain areas of Holodrum can change drastically from season to season, with mounds of snow blocking paths in winter or high waters flooding the way in summer. The nature of these seasons can be an advantage or disadvantage depending on how they affect the Overworld. The Natzu region mysteriously changes according to whose Strange Flute Link possesses. Underneath Holodrum is a subterranean, volcanic underworld called Subrosia. Despite being unground, it has an Overworld map and layout, so it is much a part of it. The biggest obstacle here is the prominent amount of lava, and the currency is even different.
- Main article: Labrynna
Labrynna, the Overworld in Oracle of Ages, is unique because Link can visit in it two different eras in the past and present, which are 400 years apart from each other. Naturally, Labrynna in the past is very different from the land in the present. A village in the past progresses into a city. Some landforms are altered by the elements; Link’s actions can sometimes affect the appearance of these places in both eras. Labrynna, in the past and present, exhibits the Black Tower near the center of its map. The Nuun Highlands change depending on which Strange Flute Link is given.
- Main article: Great Sea
The Great Sea is an vast expanse of ocean water that makes up much of The Wind Waker’s Overworld, along with the many islands scattered throughout its waters. This sea is actually Hyrule after it had been flooded by the gods to stop an even worse distaster. For traveling across this sea, a boat is obviously necessary for those without the ability to fly. The Great Sea is mostly empty, with occasional submarines and towers than can be boarded. The islands themselves are far livelier, with villages on a few of the key islands. Some even have forests or volcanoes.
World of the Ocean King
- Main article: World of the Ocean King
In Phantom Hourglass, the world of the Ocean King, as it is referred to by Servant Spirits, is much like the Great Sea, as it consists of ocean and many islands. It is not known where this world takes place, but it is implied that it exists in a dimension separate from the Great Sea. It is much smaller than the Great Sea of The Wind Waker, and its islands are fewer and spaced more closely together. Again, exploration requires the use of a boat. Many of the islands are reminiscent of returning elements in the Legend of Zelda series; many of the islands have villages or a prominent theme like fire or ice.
- Main article: The Sky
This Sky is where the story of Skyward Sword begins. The goddess Hylia suspended many floating islands in the sky above ancient Hyrule to protect the people living on them from a great war. Below these floating islands is a cloud barrier that separates them from the surface below. Only a few of the islands in the Sky are inhabited, with Skyloft having the only town. A thunderhead covers a large portion of the explorable Sky. To travel across the Sky, the people are blessed with Loftwings, large birds said to be gifts from Hylia. Large pillars of light designate opening in the cloud barriers through which locations on the surface can be entered.
In the original Legend of Zelda, most of the Overworld was open to explore at the start of Link’s adventure. Only a few areas were closed off without the aid of certain items. Link had the option of visiting regions and dungeons meant to be challenged later in his journey. In The Adventure of Link, exploration is much more focused, limiting Link to a small portion of the Overworld until he acquires an item or ability necessary to reach new regions. As the series progressed, Overworld exploration has continued to be more focused, eventually allowing Link to explore any part of the land desired.
Exploration of the Overworld involves looking around at immediate surroundings for opens paths or objects that may be manipulated to venture farther. The World Map, which Link is often in possession of, is handy for viewing places have or have not been explored, and it is sometimes marked with Link’s next destination, providing direction of where to go next. Another way of determining the next objective is simply to talk to any people in the area; they will often give information about the land which may serve as a clue. Link’s partners, such as Navi and Ezlo, will also give suggestions about what to do when needed.
The Overworld is often the only place that Link can use certain modes of transportation, some of which are crucial to traversing the lands. While Epona, a horse that appears in numerous titles, is not required to venture across Hyrule Field, she does allow for much quicker travel. On the other hand, the King of Red Lions, a small boat, is the only way Link can travel from one island to another in the Great Sea. Also, if the option is available, Link can warp to many locations of the Overworld through many different means.
- Art & Artifacts (Dark Horse Books) pg. 409 (TLoZ)