The word Zonai is a play on the Japanese word nazo, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild senior lead artist Makoto Yonezu said in the Breath of the Wild — Creating a Champion art book. And the word — nazo — means mystery, naturally.
Breath of the Wild embedded the mystery of a race of people called the Zonai into some players’ minds, and ever since, those players have been grasping at details to piece together the riddle of the little-known group. There are small hints of the Zonai in Breath of the Wild that are easily overlooked, and most players likely haven’t given them a second thought. But for the people who’ve been pulled into the mystery, those details are everything — and they lead to a prominent Zonai presence in the upcoming The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom.
For years, Zonai-obsessed players have been working off miniscule scraps of information. But as Tears of the Kingdom approaches, a flood of knowledge has been opened. And just as the diehard Zonai theorists had inferred, the Zonai and their technology play a massive role in Tears of the Kingdom. Here’s everything you need to know before heading into the Breath of the Wild sequel.
Who are the Zonai?
The Creating a Champion book has a short section on the mysterious Zonai, in which it describes rumors they were “a savage tribe,” a group that’s only spoken about in “hushed whispers” due to their powerful magic. The Zonai worship a water dragon, likely Farosh from Breath of the Wild, with their dedication seen in their carvings and ancient structures. Indeed, the Spring of Courage is called out specifically in the art book, which is where Farosh’s scale can be submitted as an offering in Breath of the Wild. It’s said the group suddenly disappeared thousands of years before Breath of the Wild.
You don’t actually meet any of the Zonai in Breath of the Wild, but Hyrule is populated by remnants of their civilization, now just crumbling ruins. The Zonai ruins are concentrated in Faron, but there are similar structures spread more sparingly across Hyrule. There’s no explanation for them, except for a small detail in the item description for the Barbarian Armor set: “armor once favored by an ancient warlike tribe from the Faron region.”
In describing the Zonai relics, Yonezu said Nintendo was looking to show pieces of a lost world, to “make the world feel more real” — like something with a history. He noted that the ruins have an animal theme: dragons, owls, and boars. These are symbolic, relating to the three points of the Triforce — courage, wisdom, and power, respectively. Zonai Towers are mentioned on the next page of the book, their purpose “an utter mystery.” Nintendo points out that they’re “looming about the surrounding terrain” — perhaps a reference to the eventual creation of Tears of the Kingdom’s sky islands. “They remain one of the things that lend Hyrule’s past an air of mystery,” the book reads (emphasis added).
What’s the role of the Zonai in Tears of the Kingdom?
There’s a lot we don’t know ahead of Tears of the Kingdom’s release date on May 12, but earlier trailers and an April preview give us a lot of information to work with. We now know that the Zonai are definitely in Tears of the Kingdom; a gameplay preview in March showed Link battling an enemy called a Construct on a sky island. Once the Construct is defeated, it drops an item called a Zonai charge. Nintendo’s April preview provided more answers about what the Zonai charge can do: It powers up all the things Link can make with the Ultrahand ability.
In fact, all the items that can be welded together to make vehicles and other inventions are Zonai items. It’s technology the Zonai created, and has since been strewn around Hyrule.
With this in mind, you can look back at the older Tears of the Kingdom trailers and see the Zonai influence everywhere: A whole bunch of enemies are clearly Constructs with their Zonai charges, and there are even hints in the Tears of the Kingdom logo that pulls from Breath of the Wild’s Zonai ruins.
It seems likely that Link’s mysteriously altered arm, which lets him use Zonai items, uses some sort of technology that’s tied to the group. So much of the imagery around the game looks heavily pulled from the ancient race, as well. That imagery dates back to when Tears of the Kingdom didn’t even have a name, and was called simply the sequel to Breath of the Wild. There are Zonai swirls and Construct technology — including a massive Construct! — all in plain sight.
Are there other theories?
There’s one huge mystery that’s inspired some players to believe Tears of the Kingdom may be, in some way, related to The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Zelda theorists have noticed striking similarities between the Interlopers in Twilight Princess and the Zonai. One Reddit user outlined the theory, noting that both groups seemingly disappeared suddenly — the Interlopers were banished to the Twilight Realm because of their forbidden magic. That lines up with what we know of the Zonai: They were also magic-wielders and then vanished suddenly.
There’s also some similarity in the two groups’ imagery, notably the glowing green things. The Reddit user pointed to Twilight Princess’ Fused Shadow, which is an item that holds dark magic power. It has the same sort of spirals we’ve associated with the Zonai, as do the Twili (who are descendants of the Interlopers) and Zant, the big bad guy from Twilight Princess. A Tumblr user pulled together a major comparison to demonstrate the likenesses. The Zonai’s stuff just looks like it’s come straight from the Twilight Realm.