The book is divided into three main sections. The first covers a hefty amount of material that went into Skyward Sword, including scrapped designs for almost every character in the game, as well as characters that didn't make the cut. The third section covers the production of previous games in the series, but with far less content due to much of the production notes and artwork being lost in backroom filing cabinets, desk drawers, and simply being destroyed. The most anticipated (and controversial), though, is the middle part of the book. The long debated Legend of Zelda timeline was finally released in its entirety, confirming many theories while debunking others. The kicker, though, was the inclusion of a third branch to the otherwise agreed-upon split following Ocarina of Time: created from a hypothetical scenario where Ganondorf successfully defeats Link in Ocarina of Time, this "Downfall Timeline" encompasses the classic series (original through Link's Awakening) plus the two Game Boy Color titles.
The standard release version of the book included a single chapter Skyward Sword manga which, surprisingly, does not cover anything from the game itself, but instead shows the prehistory of the game's world from before Skyloft's ascension, along with the first incarnation of the Hero's Spirit. The original Link, born thousands of years before Skyward Sword, has gone from a champion of the kingdom to a framed prisoner who must save the kingdom from Demise's army with the divine Master Sword at the cost of his own life, putting the cycle of the series into motion. The Limited Edition, bizarrely enough, omits this despite otherwise having all of the same content of the original but with a leather-bound cover. It should be noted though, that whether this story is canonical or not is heavily disputed, at best.
Hyrule Historia would be the first of the Goddess Collection artbook trilogy, with Art and Artifacts and Encyclopedia being released a few years later. At the end of 2018, a Breath of the Wild-focused follow-up, Breath of the Wild — Creating a Champion, was also released.
Due to the nature of the book's content, there are a lot of spoilers. For the purposes of this article, many will be unmarked.
This book provides examples of:
- Alliterative Title: Hyrule Historia
- All There in the Manual: This is the manual, or at the very least is made up of pieces of them.
- Alternate Timeline: Hyrule Historia explains the ins and outs of this in details. However, it notes that this is simply how Nintendo has been treating the series as it has been developed thus far, and it might change if a more compelling one is presented or if new games in the series make reconciling the events of the series better. In particular, it introduces the Downfall Timeline, where Link fails his objective in Ocarina of Time and leads to the Imprisoning War.
- Arc Welding: The official timeline establishes a continuity between the various games of the series; many of these already had loose links to one another, but several others were largely standalone titles and no overarching continuity had been officially present.
- Artifact Title: Specifically pointed out for Link's Awakening and Majora's Mask, in that Zelda was in neither.
- The Bad Guy Wins: The Downfall Timeline, encompassing the pre-Ocarina of Time games and most of the other top-down titles, is formed when Link falls in battle against Ganondorf in Ocarina of Time. Under normal gameplay circumstances, the fact that Link wins in Ocarina of Time is a Foregone Conclusion, which essentially turns the Downfall Timeline into an Alternate Universe separate from the Child and Adult Timelines.
- Canon Discontinuity: The book makes no mention of any game outside of the main The Legend of Zelda titles, including the The Legend of Zelda CD-i Games and the Tingle spinoff games.
- Continuity Snarl: The officially released timeline attempts to fix this. Whether it does or if it just creates more of one is up to debate.
- Dummied Out: The Historia includes mentions of several features that were meant for inclusion but scrapped, including some that remain locked away in the game's code.
- Famous Last Words: The original Link's last words are quite prophetic. Speaking to his friends who escaped on the ascending Skyloft:Link: My spirit... will always... be with you...
- Flip-Flop of God: The timeline section includes a disclaimer that it's subject to change and can be invalidated by a future Zelda game.
- Retcon: While some continuity connections between games were well-established earlier,note this is the first time the pieces were all fit together into a whole. In particular, the inclusion of the Downfall Timeline was never mentioned or even alluded to until Hyrule Historia included it, with production staff only publicly acknowledging the Adult and Child Timelines before that.
- Ret-Gone: According to the Downfall Timeline, this is one possibility as to how it occurred. The exact details of Link's failure to stop the King of Evil are vague, leading to lots of Wild Mass Guessing. One theory is that by placing the Master Sword back in the Temple of Time, it created a timeline where Adult Link never emerged in the first place, or that it's a result of the player losing; in either case, it means that the Hero of Time simply doesn't exist anymore.
- Rewatch Bonus: The manual can provide this, since specific context of certain events can change the way that the story is viewed by the player.
- Universe Chronology: Hyrule Historia establishes the first official one for the series, providing a specific sequence and relationships between the various games.