Teasing something properly can be difficult. Give too much away, and you’re spoiling the fun ahead of time. Withhold too much, and you might kill off excitement before it even begins. This is certainly the dilemma Nintendo execs are facing when it comes to The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. The sequel to 2017’s smash hit Breath of the Wild might be one of the most anticipated games in a long while, but it wasn’t until just a few weeks ago that we finally saw gameplay footage for the first time.
The trailer lifted the lid on several different features the game had to offer that had only been teased before. A new weapon-crafting system, a snazzy OLED console, and the new Ultrahand building mechanic were all revealed. But as exciting as all that was, it was something else that shot my hype through the roof for Link’s newest high-flying adventure. A blink-and-you-miss-it moment most probably didn’t even register. It was this moment here:
Do you see it? No? Well, I don’t blame you – there’s really not a lot going on in this image, to be honest. The aftermath of an exploding mushroom dust cloud doesn’t make for the best visual. But that’s not what I’ve been obsessing over for weeks. It’s the name of the item drop Link has just picked up—The Zonai Charge—and what it means for Zelda lore that has me losing my mind.
To explain why, we need to go back to Breath of the Wild. The name Zonai only appears once in the entire game, as the name of the withered structures within the Faron region’s jungle—the Zonai Ruins. These structures are fascinating in their own right, housing the Spring of Courage, and bearing some impressive architecture and imagery. However, the influence of the Zonai extends far beyond just this area, and, potentially, far beyond just Breath of the Wild and its sequel.
Who are the Zonai in Breath of the Wild?
Just from the name of the Ruins alone, it’s not clear really what the Zonai are. Without the right context, you might not even realize that the Zonai is a who, not a what. In Breath of the Wild, there are tiny pieces of Zelda lore that help point us in the right direction regarding the Zonai. The imagery most associated with them is of a swirl design ending in a flattened point. This symbol decorates the Hylian landscape and adorns some of the game’s most impressive structures.
Of course, this symbol adorns the Ruins named for them, but they also adorn other notable locations within the game. These locations include the three massive labyrinths, Thunder Plateau, and the Shattered Monument. In fact, most of the game’s impressive monuments that aren’t Sheikah ones bear this mark. Their presence is all over Hyrule, but their only direct reference is their self-named ruins. What gives?
The few clues we have about the Zonai and their absence exist in the game’s art book, and the descriptions of a specific armor set. The artbook, Creating a Champion, contains the following quote: “The Zonai themselves are spoken of in hushed whispers as strong magic wielders who disappeared thousands of years ago.” Meanwhile, the Barbarian armor set, its three pieces fittingly obtained within the three Zonai-associated labyrinths, refers to “an ancient warlike tribe from the Faron region”, which is exactly where the Zonai Ruins lay.
So from what little official Zelda lore we have about the Zonai, we get the following picture of them: they were an ancient tribe of warlike magic wielders, who “disappeared” long before the events of Breath of the Wild. Considering they’re not mentioned during the game’s 10,000-year-old legend, chances are their disappearance predates even the events depicted there.
And yet, their culture remains, scattered across some of Hyrule’s most notable relics and monuments. And now, the Zonai Charge item seems to confirm these mysterious people are involved in the sequel, tied to the sky islands’ constructs.
Who are the Zonai in the Zelda lore?
But what if I told you that the Zonai were more involved in the series than just Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom? That their influence may be casting a shadow over the entire franchise, stretching all the way back to the beginning of the timeline?
Here it is: the Zonai symbol, emblazoned on the doors of the Sandship in Skyward Sword, canonically the earliest game in the Zelda timeline. The Sandship which, in ancient times in Skyward Sword, was crewed by a species of sentient robots, the LD series. Another species of living automatons, much like the constructs seen in Tears of the Kingdom’s sky islands. They credit their origin to an even older, mysterious race whose name goes unmentioned in Skyward Sword.
But this is far from the most exciting tie the Zonai have to older games – just the furthest back in the timeline. The most exciting ties to them exist in not one past game but two – Twilight Princess and Majora’s Mask.
Both games contain references to an ancient, mysterious group of beings who set the events of both games into motion. One of Twilight Princess’ most memorable cutscenes is where the Light Spirit Lanayru details the “Interlopers.” They’re the ones responsible for the creation of the Fused Shadow.
They also “excelled in sorcery” and tried to “govern the Sacred Realm with their powerful magic.” After learning about their mission, Eldrin, Faron, and Lanayru banished the Interlopers to the Twilight Realm.
Meanwhile, Majora’s Mask refers to the titular mask’s creators as “an ancient tribe” who used it in “hexing rituals.” But, as stated in the game, “that tribe from the legend has vanished.”
If these descriptions sound familiar to you, then you’re coming to the same realization that I and other Zelda lore fanatics have come to. These descriptions perfectly match those of the mysterious Zonai—an impossibly ancient race defined by its warlike nature and magical aptitude who disappeared suddenly without a trace. Almost as if they were erased on purpose.
And now, Tears of the Kingdom has casually dropped (literally, as in an item drop) that the Zonai are directly involved with the sky constructs. Of course, this could end up being nothing but another sly reference to one of the series’ most mysterious of races. However, if they’re heavily involved in Tears of the Kingdom’s story, we may be finally getting the answers to some of the biggest burning questions Zelda lore fanatics have had for decades.
The answer to the creators of Majora’s Mask, the identity of the Interlopers, and the history of the series predating Skyward Sword—they may all lie with the Zonai. In one month, we may finally have all those answers. All teased by the tiniest of details—a simple item name.