by Ryan Kuhn
Hello, and welcome to today’s history lesson on the Zora! No, please stay! I was only joking--this will be way more fun than history class. I am going to dive in and talk about the Zora and how they have changed over the series, and, man, are there changes. We are also going to talk about main characters and the impact they have made over the years in Hyrule and beyond.
The Zora were first introduced in the Zelda series in the very first Legend of Zelda, but, canonically, they go way back to Ocarina of Time. There are also two different kinds of Zora: the Zora Tribe (or Sea Zora), which is seen in games like Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, and Breath of the Wild, and the group most often called the River Zora (also called Swamp Zora or Evil Zora) in games like A Link to the Past, Link’s Awakening, and the original Legend of Zelda.
Why are they so different? Well, you will need to talk to the designers, but my theory is pollution. More industry happens near the rivers, and with that comes waste that is dumped in the rivers, making the Zora there not happy. The Ocean Zora have less industry on the beaches and instead live in harmony with the fishers and boaters who live there. Granted, this theory only works for the one game both types are found in, Oracle of Ages, but I am going to stand by it. The next theory I have when there is only one type relates to where we are in the timelines. Depending on the timeline, you see the changes in the Zora following the events in Ocarina of Time. With my trusty Hyrule Historia in my hand (some of you may have it, too), I can tell you there are three timelines that break off. There is the line when the hero is defeated and then two different timelines when the hero is triumphant. In the timelines where the hero wins, there are no River Zora, but in the timeline where the hero loses, the River Zora appear. With the evil going into the world as the hero loses to Ganon, the evil affects some of the Zora living in their domain and changes them--not just how they feel about Hylians but their whole look as well.
Left you on a cliff hanger with that last paragraph, huh? Let's talk about the River Zora. As stated, they are in games like Link’s Awakening and A Link to the Past and are known to attack you if you get too close to them, either in the water or on land close to the water. They usually shoot fireballs at you if you are in range. They also look very similar to the Creature from the Black Lagoon, as they are slightly humanoid, are usually green with red eyes, and are more lizard-like than fish-like (and these guys have a nasty temper if you get too close to them, though there is the occasional River Zora who is nice enough to sell you flippers for 500 rupees). As you go through this timeline where the hero was defeated, the Zora continue to be this way and are considered enemies that will attack you, except for the pocket of Sea Zora in Oracle of Ages where both types of Zora exist. The Sea Zora call the River Zora “savage,” which shows that there is a huge disconnect between the two.
The Sea Zora, or the Zora Tribe, are the same ones seen in Ocarina of Time, and they continue down the timeline where the hero won (one of them at least, but we will discuss that later). In the timeline with Majora’s Mask and Twilight Princess, the Zora still reside in Zora’s Domain and prosper with an alliance with the Hylians. This then continues in Breath of the Wild.
Now, if you are thinking to yourself, “Well, this all makes sense since the hero loses and evil takes over. They become bad and vice versa when the hero wins,” here comes the curve ball. In the other timeline when the hero wins that leads to The Wind Waker (you know, the timeline where there is a great flood), we have the Zora evolve to the Rito--even though the world is mostly water. The theory around this is that they evolved due to evil creatures that inhabited the water (though there is one Zora who does make an appearance as the previous Sage of Earth--what?!?). The Rito then continue on this timeline and rejoin the Zora in Breath of the Wild.
Now, the Zora have been major contributors to the stories of each game: you have the Water Sage Ruto, aka your fiancée in Ocarina of Time; the Earth Sage in The Wind Waker who teaches Medli to be the new Earth Sage; and Mipha, one of the four Champions in Breath of the Wild, to name a few. The Zora are also important in most of the games as they have a strong alliance with the king of Hyrule and make sure that the water sources in Hyrule are protected. Without them, there would have been a lot of issues throughout the ages in Hyrule and beyond.
I hope you enjoyed this! It was fun to research and learn a little bit to try to understand some of the changes made with the Zora. If you were hoping to hear more about the Rito since they are descendants of the Zora, that will be for a different blog--but don’t worry; it will come. If you want to discuss more about Zora, you can reach out to me on Twitter @rambokuhn, and if you want to “drink” like a Zora, you can check out my podcast I do with my brother-in-law called Brewthers-in-Law. We actually did an episode with Celeste, David, and Shane where we brewed Zelda-themed beer for its 35th anniversary. You can find us on Twitter @brewthersinlaw or our website www.brewthersinlaw.com. Cheers!