In The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, Lorule is the game’s version of the Dark World from A Link to the Past—a dark reflection of the land of Hyrule. For instance, the space occupied by a brilliant cathedral in Hyrule, known as the Sanctuary, is, in Lorule, a lonely cave cloaked in darkness. Inside, a philosopher seeks refuge from uneasy spirits floating about the neighboring graveyard, invisible until Link uses his lantern to light a single torch near the portal between worlds from which he entered. Light, to this man, is as foreign and perplexing as a new face.
“Nobody bothers coming to this place anymore,” he admits, “but even I must wonder, have we abandoned the gods… or have they abandoned us?”
Don’t get too excited, though. You’re not going to see a Lorule Historia anytime soon. Unfortunately, the lost kingdom’s lore isn’t as intricate as Hyrule’s, which has been built up over centuries. In fact, you won’t hear more than a passing reference towards how it met such a terrible fate until near the end of the game’s story. Still, I loved the layered humor in putting a dark and brooding philosopher in an equally dark cave, figuratively and literally alone with his thoughts. It’s discoveries like this that make Lorule my favorite overworld map in any Legend of Zelda game to date.
There’s something tucked away in every corner of Lorule. In your travels, you’ll come across things like a baseball mini-game starring an Octorok with a mean fastball and a devilish girl who invites you to partake in the baddy-bashing gauntlets of the Treacherous Tower. To call Lorule its own overworld map, though, would be a half-truth. It is so intimately connected to Hyrule that it’s impossible to mention one without detailing the other. This link between worlds is at the core of, well, A Link Between Worlds, more so than any other element of the game, and it’s the structural relationship between Hyrule and Lorule that ultimately defines the game.
For the first few hours, the experience is pretty straightforward. The game tells you where you need to go (hint: the same places you went in A Link to the Past—the Tower of Hera and the Eastern Palace), and the overworld map is wholly navigable. With the help of a snarky young witch, you can move from place to place quickly as you discover weather vanes spread across the map. This single-world-mindedness changes after confronting Yuga, who’s kidnapped the Seven Sages to summon Ganon, and who inadvertently grants Link the ability to morph into walls by becoming a painting.
With this ability, you pursue Yuga and discover Lorule—a kingdom that exists in Hyrule’s shadow—and the ability to warp in and out of it completely changes the game. Let’s talk about that.
First, it’s important to note that A Link Between Worlds is streamlined for exploration. Unlike Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks, in which the top screen was used for navigation purposes, the bottom screen now serves as a hub for your adventure. It displays an overworld map which you can examine closely using the zoom button. The game gives you 40 pins—20 for each world—which you can drag over areas of interest you may encounter throughout your Journey. You can’t leave notes for yourself or draw on the map as you could in previous handheld Zelda titles, but you can change the color of the pin. Red, blue, and yellow leaves you just enough room to mark mini-games, heart pieces, and Maiamai locations. Don’t worry if you don’t know what a Maiamai is. We’ll cover those in a separate report.
The map is an ever-present entity in A Link Between Worlds. Cast aside is the notion of collecting a map in every dungeon. The game throws away tedious necessity in favor of discovery and experimentation. The map is there to help you navigate, but it’s you who has to ultimately make sense of the world. How it is you get from one place to the next isn’t answered with a cursory glance at the bottom screen. It takes some thinking—what some might call “Zelda logic”—to navigate the world effectively. This is especially true for finding your way in and out of both kingdoms, which brings me to my next point.
Unlike Hyrule, which is a single, fluidly-connected overworld, Lorule is physically divided into seven different regions by mountains and chasms. These roughly correspond to the nine regions delineated by Maiamai locations on Hyrule’s map. Each of the seven sections of Lorule houses one dungeon—the Ice Palace to the north, the Swamp Palace to the west, Dark Palace to the east, and so on—but because they cannot be reached through Lorule alone, you must scour the same region in Hyrule for a portal that will take you there. Oftentimes, there are multiple portals, some bringing you to secret locations, others to necessary points of departure.
This is where A Link Between Worlds takes a page out of Skyward Sword’s book.
Every section of Lorule’s overworld is, in of itself, a dungeon of sorts. Oftentimes, you’ll need particular items to bypass certain obstacles. To get to the Swamp Palace, for example, you need to use the Sand Rod (one of my favorite Zelda items of all time that does NOT lose its usefulness mapped onto a button) to traverse the overworld in Hyrule. Just as you completed the Spirit Temple by visiting it in the present and the past in Ocarina of Time, you will need to bounce in and out of the game’s two kingdoms to reach and defeat the boss of the Great Swamp.
To get to the Dark Palace, you need to bypass a series of religious fanatics who worship the Helmasaur King. This brief portion of the game is a callback to stealth scenarios in Majora’s Mask (the Deku Palace) and Skyward Sword (Eldin Volcano). Each area of Lorule has a preliminary puzzle or challenge that you must overcome to proceed. Finding weather vanes will help you “open up” Lorule, so you may return to areas previously visited without hunting for portals. So why, then, does this have me so excited?
Unlike A Link to the Past, or any other Zelda game for that matter, you get to choose how to experience A Link Between Worlds yourself. You can take the unintentional-impractical approach like me and not find the Pegasus Boots or Titan’s Mitt until after the sixth dungeon, barring you from dashing speedily and lifting large boulders for most of the game, or you can just follow your sense of adventure—going to whichever area piques your interest the most.
In the end, the great thing about A Link Between Worlds is that everyone will experience it differently, but equally. The game has some unavoidable structure to it—for example, you will always need to find the sand rod before visiting the Swamp Palace—but only just enough to provide a foundation for your own adventure. You’ll find that Lorule gets bigger and bigger as you discover more of it and begin to stitch its pieces together through weather vanes.
Discovery, in turn, encourages and generates further discovery. It’s magical, and it’s my favorite thing about The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, a new benchmark for excellence in the Zelda franchise. Keep your eyes fixed on Siliconera for more coverage in the days to come.