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, encompassing 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 finally explains the ins and outs of this in details. However, it still 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 introduced the controversial Downfall Timeline, where Link fails his objective in Ocarina of Time and leads to the Imprisoning War.
- Artifact Title: Specifically pointed out for Link's Awakening and Majora's Mask, in that Zelda was in neither.
- Ascended Fridge Horror: The timeline not only canonizes the Alternate Timeline theories that had been floating around in the fanbase, it adds a possibility that hadn't been considered: one where Link challenges Ganon and loses.
- Canon Discontinuity: The book makes absolutely no mention of The Legend Of Zelda CDI Games. Being that they were American and European exclusive, not directly written, directed, supervised, or even approved by Nintendo (other than allowing them to be made), and the fandom's general ire towards them, it's no big surprise.
- 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: 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: 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 finally establishes one for the series.