If replaying an entire Zelda game seems like a daunting task, may I suggest reading a book to prepare for The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom instead?
The Legend of Zelda Encyclopedia, published by Dark Horse Comics, is the closest thing to an official and comprehensive compendium of Zelda knowledge fans have, and it’s a veritable trove of the creatures and curiosities that make up the land of Hyrule. For me, reading the tome has been an illuminating experience that’s allowed me to refresh my general Zelda knowledge and even kick that knowledge up a notch.
Encyclopedias are the original reading choice for modern-day people who love to sit on a couch and get lost in reading Wikipedia entries. Nothing beats the weight of a coffee table book on your lap as you devour details about all the confusing lore details of a fictional world. The Zelda encyclopedia starts off with a comprehensive explanation and graphic that describes the Zelda timeline. While it’s not necessary, I recommend learning the general gist of that timeline before you dive into the rest of the book, since many of the entries reference it. Otherwise, you can simply pick and choose the sections that interest you.
There are practical reasons to read the book before Tears of the Kingdom. Unfortunately, it does not contain extensive information on Breath of the Wild because that game and the encyclopedia were released around the same time. However, reading this book has allowed me to brush up on the general synopsis of games like Skyward Sword, which might connect to Tears of the Kingdom, according to some theories. Similarly, I’ve used it to get concrete answers about hard or ambiguous concepts, like the several dark worlds that exist parallel to Hyrule, or just learn more about characters I don’t understand as well, like Demise, the antagonist of Skyward Sword. Beyond brushing up on old details of other games, I’ve appreciated reading the book for the way it allows to illuminate a wider history of Hyrule.
Since it takes an archival approach to organize information, rather than a narrative, The Legend of Zelda Encyclopedia allows the reader to home in on particular aspects of the series that might get missed when playing the games or in reading general narrative explanations of games. For instance, the timeline is generally explained via larger events that take place in the world shared between Ganondorf, Zelda, and Link, and their struggle for the Triforce. This makes sense because, by and large, that’s what fans need to know about. However, in this encyclopedia, we get to read more precise histories of Hyrule. The entry on Zelda explains where she is and what she’s doing in each branch of the timeline, as shown in different games. There are even entries for loads of other characters, like the lesser-loved grunt enemies called Blins, placed in timelines of their own as well.
This has all widened my view of what’s important and why. Zelda games often dispense information about lesser-known characters or monsters via piecemeal conversations or interactions in the world. I love this approach to world-building in a game; the histories we see or don’t see tend to reflect the values of the world. But one consequence of this is that we might learn more or less about a topic depending on various characters’ knowledge, or the relevance of a character to the main plot. By reading the encyclopedia, I have been able to learn about the characters who exist on the margins of Hyrule but have played important roles in its history.
Before picking up the encyclopedia, I actually never considered this fact, or the historical origins or cultural practices of Blins, despite them appearing in the vast majority of Zelda games. Little details, like the fact that they live a communal lifestyle and tend to eat extremely rich food, get lost as I play to beat them. Reading the encyclopedia has reminded me that every monster, town, and object has its own history, and I’m excited to take my new knowledge and mindset as I explore Tears of the Kingdom’s world.