- Zonai Guide: Unlocking the Mystery - August 1, 2022
- Zelda Cosplay Ideas for Beginners and Pros - June 22, 2022
- Is Zelda Sheik: The Mysterious Connection Between Two Iconic Characters - May 30, 2022
Could an Extinct Tribe From the Past Hold the Key to the Series’s Future?
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild had a lot riding on it when it was released in 2017. Serving a dual purpose as the Wii U’s swan song and the Switch’s grand introduction, Nintendo knew they had to shake up the formula after the divisive original release of Skyward Sword on the Wii. While SS took players back in time and served as an origin story, BotW did the opposite and put players further into the future than any game within the series had done before.
Breath of the Wild features sprawling “open-air” environments, new survival-based gameplay in weapon durability and food crafting, and a limited cast in which the overworld of Hyrule was the show’s real star. It is a masterclass in environmental storytelling, and as such, lots of its intricacies can be lost if players aren’t observant and honed in on the details.
One of the most puzzling details is the inclusion of the Zonai tribe. While the tribe is never seen, as they had gone extinct before the events of the game, their influence is felt all over Hyrule.
The Significance of the Zonai
Nintendo doesn’t just do things for the sake of doing them. Every race, tribe, symbol, item, and so forth within the Legend of Zelda series has some concrete meaning or reason for being there. Even when they elect to be mysterious, there is a purpose. Zelda is the kind of series that has had fans scratching their heads and debating theories ever since its inception in the 1980s, and the Zonai are no different.
While details are scarce, they are very significant to the lore of the series and will only further be elaborated on when the sequel to Breath of the Wild is released in 2023. To fully digest what information we have now, what theories may be true, and how they potentially tie into other games in the series, is to walk into the latest game with a fuller understanding of the world it takes place in, Nintendo’s artistic vision, and helps celebrate just what makes the Zelda series so memorable.
Origins and Iconography
Right out the gate, something that makes the Zonai so fascinating is the fact that not a single character within BotW mentions them. There is no gentle nudge to motivate players to learn more about them via an off-hand comment from Impa or Zelda. Instead, the prehistoric tribe of warlocks past is left to the player to discover.
BotW has a vast overworld, and players are encouraged to visit all quadrants of it throughout their quest. Nintendo encourages this by dotting the landscape with various rewards. Perhaps players will find a weapon or armor more to their liking? Or maybe they’ll complete a side quest for an NPC? The best way to unlock the most effective armor and weapons is by thoroughly combing each and every environment, and players are encouraged to do so at their own pace.
So, what do we know about the Zonai? We know that their existence predates history, that they were formidable with weapons and magic, and it is heavily implied via environmental storytelling that they worshipped a water dragon deity. The Zonai draw parallels to the real-world civilization of The Aztecs, with much of their legacy preserved by advancements in architecture.
The Zonai style is so distinct that all of their locations within BotW stick out compared to most of the game’s destroyed ruins. Another noteworthy feature of the Zonai is their unique crest.
The Zonai Crest: Something Familiar, Yet Different
For players that have played Skyword Sword, the Zonai Crest might look a bit familiar. That’s because an inverted version of it can be found in SS‘s Lanayru Desert section. This coincidence alone opens up many doors. As mentioned earlier, both games take place on opposite ends of the Zelda timeline, but Nintendo isn’t one to throw something cryptic into a game for no reason. Could the ancestors of the Zonai have once called the Lanayru Desert home? Anything is possible when it comes to Nintendo, and it wouldn’t be the first time they’ve dropped seemingly meaningless symbols that become more significant and developed as later games are released. A telltale sign of the Zonai values and legacy can be gleaned by simply wearing their armor set.
It’s in the Clothes
While perhaps not the best attire from a defensive standpoint, the Zonai armor (aptly named the Barbarian Set) already gives us a lot to work with. Piggybacking off the established fact that the Zonai were beyond skilled in magic, the armor is designed to keep the wearer able to move briskly while thickly padding their vitals.
When you’re that good at spellcraft, you don’t necessarily need to get up close to your enemy, and on the off chance they manage to close the gap, your speed won’t be compromised, and your most accessible areas to strike will be protected. The only way to hit the wearer’s heart would be to perfectly stab them between the circlet, a challenging task unless the enemy possesses quite a bit of skill.
The color palette allows the wearer to camouflage well with more mountainous and muddy surroundings. The skull serves a dual purpose: To strike fear in the opponent’s heart and help the Zonai blend in with the remains of other dead livestock. The thick spikes on the gauntlets allow for doable blocking when wielding a two-handed weapon or fighting without a shield, and the nails would also do a lot of damage if an opponent were stricken by one.
This all pinpoints to a brutal combat style focusing on eliminating enemies from afar and being able to make short work of them up close The Zonai Crest is also on the armor. Still, it is slightly different and inadvertently looks more like the inverted version of it that was seen in Skyward Sword. Perhaps at one point in the Zonai’s history, they flipped the crest to mark a stark departure from their roots, maybe magic was initially seen as something forbidden, and the “new” Zonai embraced it, flipping their values on their head and carving a different path forward.
Hopefully, the sequel to Breath of the Wild will explore their history in more detail.
Locations in BotW
The Zonai Ruins
The Zonai called the Faron region their home before disappearing from the world, and for eager players looking to see some of their legacies for themselves, one of the best places to start is by combing through the Faron Woods.
Start by exiting the Pagos Woods on a road that intersects with the Floria River. You’re on the right track if you notice a small wooden bridge. Interestingly, you may encounter a couple of different NPCs in/around this area who will mention mysterious ruins. Still, they won’t address the Zonai by name and will never be seen within the ruins themselves.
If you spot two stone statues, you’re in the right place. The ruins are a decently sized area and are home to quite a few enemies and a monster stronghold. Defeating the combatants and exploring can reward the player with a sapphire, some ore deposits, and a fishing spot. A Blupee can appear at night.
Most fascinating is that the Zonai ruins also lead to a much larger complex of ruins that follow the route of the Dracozu River. Perhaps these ruins and the secrets underneath them could be explored in a future game? Until Nintendo confirms such, that will have to be mere speculation.
Here is a concrete list of the creatures, enemies, and items that the ruins hold:
- Blupee (Nighttime only)
- Blue-Winged Heron
- Hyrule Bass
- Restless Cricket
- Wood Pigeon
- Blue Bokoblin
- Electric Wizrobe
- Big Hearty Radish
- Hearty Durian
- Hylian Shroom
- Mighty Thistle
- Spicy Pepper
- Ore Deposits
Lomei Labyrinth Island
Located just offshore from the North Akalla Beach, the Lomei Labyrinth Island is a telltale sign of the Zonai’s advanced architecture and one of the three labyrinths players must explore if they want to score the Barbarian armor set, among other goodies. The Labyrinth Island is no joke. From the get-go, three Guardian Skywatchers patrol it, and the strong winds prevent crafty players from simply landing in the center of it. Instead, you’ll have to use your map, wits, Magnesis ability, and best combat skills to best the variety of enemies that populate it and find all the hidden items the island holds.
The Zonai didn’t want just anybody taking their treasure, and they went to advanced lengths to keep it concealed. Eventually, after a festive bout of puzzle solving and combat, players will discover the Tu Ka’Loh Shrine. Upon completing the shrine, players will get the Barbarian Helm armor piece and discover a pathway that can provide them with a diamond circlet if they defeat four decayed guardians.
A complete list of enemies and items that can be found here is as follows:
- Guardian Skywatcher
- Decayed Guardians
- Guardian Stalker
- Electric Chuchu
- Fire Chuchu
- Diamond Circlet
- Barbarian Helm
- Travel Medallion (DLC Only)
- Silver Rupee
- Royal Broadsword
- Great Flameblade
- Knights Broadsword
- Thunderstorm Rod
- Knights Shield
- Knights Halberd
- Knights Bow
North Lomei Labyrinth
The North Lomei Labyrinth is a bit of a different beast. While still very much mazelike in structure, navigation isn’t as straightforward as on the previous island. Located in the Hebra Mountains, players will find themselves climbing walls to avoid Pools of Malace that cover portions of the labyrinth floor. Players will eventually discover the Quaza Tokki shrine and, upon successfully completing a puzzle involving portcullises and careful navigation, will reap the rewards within.
A complete list of enemies and items is as follows:
- Electric Chuchu
- Pools of Malice
- Treasure Octorok
- Barbarian Leg Wraps
- Ice Arrows
- Enhanced Lizal Spear
- Meteor Rod
- Hunters Shield
- Knights Sheild
- Hunters Bow
- Edge of Duality
- Silver Rupee
- Gold Rupee
South Lomei Labyrinth
Home to the Dilla Maag Shrine and a few good treasures, this gigantic maze is located in the Gerudo region right by Daval Peak. Once again, players must be wary of the Pools of Malice and resort to climbing walls. Eagle-eyed players can use their Magnesis rune to get some quality weapons.
Upon making your way into the South Lomei Labyrinth, you’ll notice the entrance to the shrine is located on a lower level. This relatively straightforward navigation puzzle per Zelda standards and awards you the central piece to the Barbarian Armor Set. Like other labyrinths, there are different enemies at night, so if you’re trying to avoid some of the combat, a daytime visit is recommended.
A complete list of enemies and items is below.
- Guardian Stalker
- Black Bokoblin
- Pool of Malice
- Silver Rupee
- Gold Rupee
- Gerudo Scimitar
- Gerudo Shield
- Golden Claymore
- Golden Bow
- Barbarian Armor
Key Facts and Theories
- The Zonai’s home region of Faron is the only region in the game to not harbor a Divine Beast.
- The debut trailer for the sequel to Breath of the Wild features Link and Zelda exploring ruins heavily adorned with Zonai symbols.
- The Zonai may have called the Faron region home but also appeared to either command a sprawling empire or have nomadic tendencies due to their labyrinths being all over Hyrule.
- Nobody ever mentions the Zonai by name or even seems to know who or what they are.
- The first trailer for the sequel to Breath of the Wild alludes to Link and Zelda messing around with Zonai artifacts and magic, ultimately resurrecting a great evil and changing Link permanently by imbuing his arm with Zonai magic.
- Majoras Mask occurs before Breath of the Wild, and the game never reveals the origins of the titular mask or the Fierce Deity’s mask. The Zonai may be behind them.
- The Sheikah are another tribe with deft physical combat skills and impressive use of magic. The Sheikah may have had something to do with the Zonai going extinct.
- It’s entirely possible that the Zonai don’t even possess humanoid forms and may be much more mythical in design.
- Impa, as depicted in Skyward Sword, has a different version of the Sheikah crest, and that game also features a rotated version of the Zonai crest. SS is chronologically the first game in the Zelda timeline, and BotW is the last. Something happened between the Sheikah and the Zonai.
Question: Why Should I Care About the Zonai When Nintendo has Revealed so Little?
Answer: It’s no secret that Nintendo is extraordinarily selective and intentional about what they do and do not include in their games. There have been multiple examples of symbols or references in previous Zelda games being referenced and retconned into the universe in a later entry. I firmly believe they’re teasing us about the next game in the series and dropping hints about its story.
Question: Why Does Nobody Mention the Zonai by Name?
Answer: I can think of two reasons. Number one being they have no idea who they are due to written histories being extremely hard to come by after the Great Calamity. Hyrule is also extremely dangerous, with bokoblins, guardians, lynels, and other enemies running around the fields at any given moment. Most NPCs we meet in BotW aren’t proficient in combat, so it’s not safe for them to go out and explore. Alternatively, those that do possess some knowledge about the Zonai might elect not to discuss or name them due to a bad association. They might have a cursed association with them and choose not to examine them. There’s evidence to believe that the Sheikah and Zonai engaged in some conflict, and clearly, only one tribe remained victorious.
Question: Are the Zonai Even Significant to the Series?
Answer: Judging by what little we’ve seen, it’s safe to assume the events of the sequel to Breath of the Wild wouldn’t have occurred if it weren’t for the Zonai, so I’m going to have to give that answer a resounding yes!
The Legend of Zelda is a series that primarily shows, not tells, its stories. From the original game’s simple start featuring Link in the middle of Hyrule Field, to Breath of the Wild‘s masterful use of environmental storytelling, it is an ever-expansive series. Through multiple timelines, the only consistencies are that there is a Link, a Ganon, a Zelda, and a Triforce that holds the balance to the world.
With each entry further growing the lore and universe, it’s no surprise that the franchise has many unanswered questions. Nintendo strategically chose to reveal the Zonai in Breath of the Wild as a device to eventually answer some of them. Much like the series, the Zonai are mysterious, open to interpretation, and have few constants. Understanding them is the significance of Nintendo’s world-class storytelling and why this series is so celebrated and respected.
As we all eagerly await Spring 2023 to play the next entry, I think I will do a new run on BotW and try to see if there’s anything else about the Zonai to be learned. What about you? What’s your favorite unanswered question from the series?