Tears of the Kingdom May Finally Solve Zelda’s Zonai Mystery

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild set up the mystery of the Zonai, and Tears of the Kingdom might answer many of our questions about them.

Legend of Zelda Tears of the Kingdom
Photo: Nintendo

The land of Hyrule is full of iconic races, but every now and then, Nintendo introduces a new race to the series’ canon. Usually, these newcomers are right in your face, but Nintendo tried something different with the Zonai. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild set up a fascinating mystery involving the Zonai, and Tears of the Kingdom might finally help solve it.

For those who need a refresher, the Zonai were a prehistoric tribe of barbarians introduced in Breath of the Wild. The only remnants players can find of their existence are ruins located around Faron (most notably the titular Zonai Ruins). There’s also the Barbarian Set of armor which, according to the game, was “once worn by the warriors of an ancient warlike tribe from the Faron region.” While those ruins and items are treated as little more than set dressing, they still introduced a mystery that left players obsessed. What did the Zonai look like? Why aren’t they around anymore? Well, the latest Tears of the Kingdom trailer may hint at the answers to some of those questions.

Actually, the Zonai have been front and center in Tears of the Kingdom’s marketing ever since Nintendo announced the game in 2019. In the game’s first look trailer (released before Tears of the Kingdom even had a proper name), you can see Link and Zelda wandering underground ruins with telltale Zonai wall paintings scattered about. The Zonai are apparently so important to the narrative of Tears of the Kingdom that the tribe’s stylized depiction of dragons is part of the game’s logo. More recent videos have confirmed the Zonai will be front and center in the game, but they also suggest that everything we know about the tribe might be challenged.

For example, take a look at the popular gameplay demonstration that Tears of the Kingdom’s producer, Eiji Aonuma, provided. If you look carefully at the video’s sky islands, you will notice that Zonai architecture, especially the tribe’s depictions of dragons, litter those anti-gravitational locations. Even more telling are the Construct enemies shown in the demonstration. They are clearly far more advanced than Breath of the Wild’s Guardians, yet they share a similar tribal aesthetic.

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So what ties the Constructs to the Zonai? Well, when Aonuma defeated the Construct in that footage, he looted two items: a Soldier Construct Horn and a Zonai charge. The latter item clearly confirms that the Zonai constructed, um, the Constructs, which doesn’t really track with prior beliefs that the Zonai were a tribe of barbarians. Perhaps the Zonai progressed past their barbarian phase, regressed to it, or fought an unrelated tribe of barbarians and Hylian archaeologists conflated the two. All decent possibilities, but we may never know the answer unless we interview a Zonai, which we might actually get to do.

Earlier today, Nintendo released yet another trailer for Tears of the Kingdom that featured quite a few surprise faces (most notably a revived Ganondorf). Quite frankly, I was hoping to fight a desiccated Ganondorf lich (a Ganon-corpse, if you will), but that’s neither here nor there. What really has the internet’s attention is a dragon-like lady at 1:40, a mysterious man with a blackened hand at 2:04, and a tan woman with very long ears at 3:09. Any one of these characters is a potential candidate for a Zonai, although most people think the tan woman is actually the goddess Hylia. Not the reincarnation of Hylia (aka. Princess Zelda) but Hylia herself.

Interestingly, the tan woman is wearing the same clothes as Zelda in the trailer, and her earrings (which Zelda also seemingly wears) match some of the egg-shaped lights in a functioning Zonai temple. It’s just another example of Zonai imagery appearing in the Tears of the Kingdom previews, and it all seems to connect some of those key characters. It could even suggest the mysterious tan woman is really a Zonai (or even that Hylia is a Zonai). Is that a stretch? Maybe, but that’s my theory and I’m sticking to it.

Assuming these observations are correct, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom might finally get a snapshot of what Hyrule was like before it was Hyrule, or even before it was only known as “the Surface” in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.