As a series, the Legend of Zelda has many defining features. The Triforce and the power struggle surrounding it. Link’s repertoire of tools and weapons. Dungeon and enemy design. But one of the foremost that adds so much personality to the world is the various peoples that populate Hyrule.
The races across the many games twist and change constantly, with Hylians and Gorons being some of the only ones to appear in most games consistently, though the Zora and Rito are just as iconic. However, the history of Hyrule is deep and filled with many more cultures than those that appear most frequently.
The Common Races Of Hyrule
From time immemorial, the land of what would be Hyrule has been populated. Over the millenniums that have passed since its foundation many of these races have changed or simply disappeared, with only a few persisting into the modern age. These races are as follows.
Hylians are the most common of all races in Hyrule, most akin to real Humans though with pointed ears. They are the ones who rule over Hyrule as their monarchs and are the most spread throughout the land. Hylians also exist as part of the Sheikah tribe who live in relative isolation but serve to protect both the royal family and the goddess Hylia.
Though frequently called Humans and Hylians interchangeably in the games, they are called just Hylians here for consistency.
The Zora are an aquatic race that resemble humans in shape but with many more fish-like features. They typically dwell in a single area of Hyrule due to the necessity of wet conditions for their existence. They are great craftsmen in fine arts and are incredibly long-lived compared to most other races of Hyrule.
The Rito are, in the grand scheme of things, a relatively new race. They are said to have evolved from the Zora in a time when Hyrule flooded, ironic as that all sounds. They are an avian race, though dramatically alter in appearance per game. In Wind Waker, they appear like Hylians but with wings, while in Breath of the Wild they feature a much more bird-like physique. They are more distributed than other races, but still keep close communities in high-altitude locations.
The Goron are one of the oldest races of Hyrule having undergone next to no evolution since their earliest appearance in Skyward Sword. They are a simple, unisex people who typically deep to warm, rugged locations though can also be seen frequently travelling. What they lack in architectural finesse they make up for with superior smithing and body painting.
The Gerudo are one of the most elusive races of Hyrule, existing in almost total isolation from the rest of Hyrule, typically relegated to deserts. They are also the group from which Ganondorf is born every 100 years and becomes their king, making their isolation an unfortunate boon for all peoples. They are born all women, Ganondorf being the sole exception, and are very strict about allowing men to enter their villages.
The Culture Before The Founding Of Hyrule
Much of our knowledge of the races and cultures of Hyrule comes from a period post its formal foundation. Before this, the land was only known by what the Hylians living in the clouds called it — The Surface. As such, Hylians are who we have the most detailed information on. They lived in the clouds in a collection of floating islands known as Skyloft. This area was originally part of the Surface, though was risen up by Hylia to defend her people from the wrath of Demise. As such, those in Skyloft are trained primarily in combat and defence for their inevitable confrontation with Demise.
The culture in Skyloft is built around storytelling. Tales are passed on from generation to generation to preserve their history, and as such has created a very poetic people. They are also closely associated with Loftwings, the flying birds that have become both companions and sports animals for them, as much a part of their culture as combat and myths.
For the cultures of the Surface, we see this primarily from the perspective of Link and Fi during their travels. Even at this point, before the formal declaration of Hyrule, the Goron are one of the most advanced races on the Surface. They are seen frequently throughout Link’s journey, cataloguing the Surface and mapping it out. They have little in the way of established settlements at this point in time, they are easily the most widespread of the people on the Surface.
Every other race of the Surface, to our understanding, was nomadic at this point in time. They did not form settlements nor did many of them share a common language or culture. They existed primarily in their own specific regions. For example, the Parella exist almost exclusively in Lake Floria as protectors of the dragon Faron. As such, we do not have exceptionally deep insight into their culture.
Aside from this are the Sheikah, a race of Hylians from the time before Skyloft was uplifted. They stayed on the surface to protect the dragons Faron, Eldin and Lanayru as well as the temple of the goddess. Over time, they dwindled dramatically until Impa was one of the few remaining members. As such, even their culture, and that of the Hylians before the formation of Skyloft, is vague.
The Sheikah, though of the same race as Hylians, are seen as distinct enough culturally that they are often regarded as a different race altogether.
The Ancient Cultures
Across the vast history of Hyrule, many races have dwelled within, beneath and above it. Many of these existed prior to Hyrule as a nation when it was just a landmass known as The Surface. As much of history is told from the perspective of the more common Hyrulean races, the details of these other races, be they reclusive or extinct, can be hard to come by.
Introduced in Twilight Princess as the Oocca, they are frankly a terrifying race of people. They’re a bit unsettling to look at, though you don’t have to look at many of them as only two remain by the time of the game. They dwell in the City in the Sky They are a pale head similar to that of a Hylian though with a body more similar to a chicken and a long, speckled neck.
They are said to be one of the oldest races of the world, closest of all to the Golden Goddesses and created the Spirit Realm. They have their own language and distinctive culture and architecture seen throughout their singular floating city. They also created an object known as the Dominion Rod that allowed them to communicate with the surface-dwelling races below.
Featured first in the Minish Cap, the Minish (known also as Picori by Hylians in the English version of the games) are a race of miniature people that come from their own realm known as the Minish Realm. They appear like mice that can stand upright, alongside the pointed ears that define Hylians.
They are well-regarded in Hyrule, even if they only appear every 100 years and can’t even be seen by the general populace. They gave the Picori Blade and Light Force to the people of Hyrule to defend them against the very same darkness that attacked their home. They speak a unique language that sounds akin to a garbled Hylian, though they themselves also do not speak Hylian. A well-known member of the Minish is Vaati, featured in both the Minish Cap and Four Swords.
Situated within the Faron region of the Surface World, the Kikwi only exist during the period of Skyward Sword. They are small, typically only up to the waist on the average Hylian, though will continually grow throughout their lives. They are a herbivorous people with shrubs upon their backs with the rest of their bodies looking like a brown-and-cream blob.
Though never explicitly stated, it’s very possible the Kikwi evolve to become the Deku.
The Mogma dwell within the Eldin region of the Surface world, only appearing in Skyward Sword. Of the many races of the Surface, the Mogma are likely the most mysterious. Being gifted diggers with tough claws, much of their time is spent underground where no other races can interact with them. According to Hyrule Historia, however, they do actually have a developed culture beneath the surface.
They look quite similar to moles though with much larger bodies that give them a more anthropomorphic look. Of what is known about them, they love to gather prized possessions for themselves.
Of the many races dwelling within the Surface, the Parella are the most singular. They exist exclusively within Lake Floria, though with a slight curiosity for what lies beyond. Their lives are spent in service to the Water Dragon Faron.
In appearance, they look like a cross between a jellyfish and a seahorse, and share many of the simplicities of both. They are also not known for having individual names, furthering the fact that they are not greatly developed as a culture. It is possible that in a future period they evolve to become the Zora.
The Ancient Robots
Located within the Lanayru area of the Surface as a race of Ancient Robots. They serve the Thunder Dragon Lanayru in preserving the now arid region, though in reality, they seem themselves to be remnants of a much older race.
Rather humorously, they have a more defined culture than that of other races of the Surface, likely owing to the fact that they are carrying on the traditions of whatever culture created them. Judging by their powers of time control and self-automation, it is very possible their creators were aware of their own impending extinction.
You found Zonai Ruins in the Faron region in Breath of the Wild, but in Tears of the Kingdom, the Upheaval unearthed even more Zonai ruins from deeper beneath Hyrule. Not only that, but we finally get to meet some of the sheep-like Zonai themselves.
Painted as a “barbarian” tribe by peoples who came after them, the Zonai are surprisingly advanced and high-tech — in fact, you’ll be using their technology all throughout Tears of the Kingdom. Mining Zonaite and using it for high-powered technology gave them access to plenty of powerful gear, which can be seen clearly in the Soldier Constructs that attack you throughout Tears of the Kingdom. They may have been more high-tech than imagined, but the toughness part of their stereotype throughout history is accurate.
Viewed as gods by the Hylians, the Zonai actually worshiped the Triforce as well, ascribing different animals to each of the three pieces: a boar for power, an owl for wisdom, and a dragon for courage. Interestingly, you can find statues of these three statues all throughout the map of Hyrule.
Commonalities In History And Remnants In Modern Hyrule
The Legend of Zelda is written in a cyclical way, with no guarantee that stories told in the past are in any way true or complete. They are legends by their very definition. As such, there can be no way of knowing which races mentioned truly ever existed or if they are simply another story-tellers rendition of other races. However, shared elements exist across many of these races, ancient and modern, thriving and extinct, that lends more credence to their existence and how they may be tied.
Hylians are the simplest to explain, with most of history told from their perspective. They rule over Hyrule as the royal family and claim to be descendants of the goddess Hylia. Such a grand claim is one to be taken with a pinch of salt, though statues of Hylia are shared by many people, always depicted as a Hylian so it is fair to assume as such is true.
A common trait shared by many races, however, is the descent to Hyrule from the skies above. Hylians were originally of the surface until they were uplifted with Skyloft, leaving only the Sheikah behind who still look remarkably similar. However, the Oocca and Zonai also claim to have come from the skies and built great cities above the surface world apart from Hylians. The Oocca had means of staying in contact with the Goddesses, while the Zonai themselves still praised her, perhaps showing a history that occurred after the uplifting of Skyloft but before their eventual descent to form Hyrule.
Another common tale is that of ancient remains. In Skyward Sword we see the Ancient Robots that tend to the Lanayru province with no evidence remaining of their creators. The Zonai also have their own constructs that have far exceeded their own lives that still dwell in Hyrule. In many ways, this could also mean the Ancient Robots of Skyward Sword are another rendition of those created by the Zonai.
By Nintendo’s own admission, the stories of each game are created before considering the timelines, meaning any and all connections across times are typically just conjecture.
NEXT: The Legend Of Zelda Timeline, Explained