As a Nintendo kid of the 90’s, I remember blowing out the imagined dust from my hand-me-down Ocarina of Time cartridge and the awe of walking out into Hyrule Field for the first time. In that moment, the world seemed endless, full of danger and promise. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen in a game.
This year I repossessed the actually dusty GameCube in my parents’ basement to play some of the Zelda games I’d neglected as a teenager. After the opening hour of Twilight Princess, I finally stepped out into the overworld and saw that familiar name fade in: Hyrule Field. But the name was the only thing worthy of recognition. It felt flat, lifeless, uninspiring. But it did, at least, inspire me to reflect on what made that first encounter so magical.
A good Zelda overworld, in my admittedly nostalgia-colored opinion, is one whose size and beauty are jaw-dropping at first glance but reveals more secrets and adventure every time you return. And so, I present here a ranking of these spaces central to our adventures in Hyrule.
8. Twilight Princess
The Hyrule Field of Twilight Princess is the drab, empty monstrosity that inspired this list. When I first saw it, I knew that it was inarguably the worst. It attempts to replicate the Hyrule Field of Ocarina of Time with the washed out colors of Twilight Princess, and instead of making Hyrule Field better, it’s just larger.
It’s a huge, open space I’m expected to traverse a number of times and there aren’t any roses to stop and smell. Despite its use throughout the game as a stage for inventive combat encounters, the field itself lacks any secrets to uncover. Even when galloping across it protecting a carriage from horse-riding moblins, it feels desolate. As the console Zelda game directly following Wind Waker — and yeah, the ocean is not Hyrule Field — I expected more mystery and excitement hiding under the sickly skin of Twilight.
7. The Minish Cap
In Minish Cap, Hyrule Field is split into North and South locations, sandwiching Hyrule Castle. Link and his grandfather Smith live in South Hyrule Field, making that the best analog to Ocarina of Time‘s Hyrule Field. South Hyrule Field is the first part of the overworld you see when leaving Link’s house at the beginning of the game. It’s brightly colored and charming. The shadows of clouds drifting by overhead can be seen on the ground. Despite its cute face, it’s tiny and quaint and not what I would call jaw dropping. South Hyrule Field, like Twilight Princess’ field, is just a place to get through on the way to real destinations.
6. A Link To The Past
A Link To The Past actually predates the first appearance of the proper Hyrule Field. Link’s house is here, which we know from Minish Cap technically makes it South Hyrule Field, even if there isn’t a sign that conveniently says so. Like Minish Cap, LttP’s field is the first overworld location you see. It’s also not much to look at, being less cute than its Game Boy Advance counterpart’s. Again, it’s not a destination that deserves exploring on its own merit. What gives it a boost is that there are two versions of it to check out: the light world and dark world. In the dark world, Link’s House is actually the bomb shop. Classic Link.
5. Hyrule Warriors
Hyrule Warriors’ first stage takes place in Hyrule Field after Link — a seemingly average member of Hyrule’s military — ditches the other recruits to help save the castle from a gigantic horde of moblins. Unlike any other Zelda game, Link is able to slice through tens of enemies at once.
The first stage in Hyrule Warriors is all about dicing up bosses from other Zelda games and feeling like a god while doing it. More moblins? Yes, divine beast Link needs dessert. It’s not the prettiest rendition of Hyrule field, but it does manage to turn my expectations on their head by breaking the field I recognize from Ocarina of Time up into different shapes. Hyrule Warriors is quite guided, meaning that exploring isn’t really at your own pace, but it’s a new use for an old space and I can respect that.
4. Four Swords Adventures
When Four Swords Adventures came out in 2004 I was short on friends but overrun with siblings to co-op with. By the time you get to stage four, named “Near The Field,” you’re already quite used to picking up your unruly Player 3 to drag them to the next area and shouting directions at Player 2 for not paying attention.
In the off-brand Hyrule Field of Four Swords, you escort Malon through a gauntlet of cannon-fire (don’t ask why) back to her father Talon. As a reward, you get to ride around on horses, a faster way to beat up on all your younger players. Horse combat is great and therefore so is the field in Four Swords. Like the rest of the game, the field is full of holes hiding beneath rocks, caves to ditch your friends while you explore, and so many rupees. It doesn’t inspire awe when you first step into it, but it’s worth crawling all over and exploring anyway.
3. Ocarina of Time
The Hyrule Field of 1998 is the prototype for all Hyrule Fields that follow after it. Skeletons crawl out of the dirt at night to chase Link around. Secret holes lead to treasures for the most curious adventurers. On each of its sides are paths leading to every other major region of the game. It’s the glue that holds this version of Hyrule together.
Despite having to stomp across it day and night all throughout the game, there are new surprises waiting every time you return. You can chase down the mailman, blow up rocks and jump down holes after getting your first bombs, and hunt poes as an adult. Walking over the hill from the Kokiri Forest to see Death Mountain and Hyrule Castle looming above you for the first time is a moment full of promise that few other Zelda games can achieve.
2. Breath of the Wild
You thought Breath of the Wild was going to be number one, right? There’s no debating that the newest, shiniest, lens-flare-iest Zelda game has a vast and lovely representation of Hyrule that makes you want to run through the individually rendered blades of grass singing “the hills are alive.” But no matter how bright and impressive Breath of the Wild is the first time you step out into that vast overworld, the actual Hyrule Field portion of the map is one of the least interesting areas.
The first view of corrupted Hyrule Castle and Death Mountain in the distance instantly calls back Ocarina of Time memories and is a moment worthy of stopping to appreciate. But after that, I found myself chasing down secrets in every corner of the map but Hyrule Field. It updates the space in a loving, detailed fashion but doesn’t entice me to ever return.
1. Majora’s Mask
Yes, Termina Field isn’t actually in Hyrule. Nintendo has already proven that the Zelda series has an open relationship to the concept of “canon” and since Termina Field serves the same function as its Hyrule counterparts, it qualifies. Majora’s Mask is a feat of commitment in that it took all the game models from Ocarina of Time, rolled out that tiny handful of remaining cookie dough, and managed to cut out one last perfect shape. Majora’s Mask says “forget you” to Hyrule Field and makes its own lovely overworld map.
Termina Field has four distinctly designed areas: the swamp, coast, mountain, and canyon, each of which is home to familiar folks like Gorons and Zora. It isn’t just a portal to better places though, it has its own secrets in the same way Ocarina of Time’s field does. Some small rewards can’t be reached until Link has the ability to carry bombs or use deku flowers to fly through the air. Instead of item-gating fun secrets in other zones, Termina Field itself is a destination worthy of returning to. It also contains the Astral Observatory and Professor Shikashi — and anyone who doesn’t love that old wizard and his song can fight me.