The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s sequel got a vague mood-setting teaser at E3, so naturally, fans are doing their best to decipher what the follow-up will be about. There are theories about playable characters, potential new abilities, and even the inevitable villain. But one of the most interesting conversations revolves around the Zonai, a mysterious tribe whose work is visible all around Hyrule.
Hyrule, as we know, is home to a number of ruins that point toward the existence of ancient peoples. The one we know most about has to be the Sheikah, advanced peoples who built much of the tech you interact with in Breath of the Wild (runes, your motorcycle).
But the Sheikah didn’t live alone in Hyrule. It’s easy to miss, but some of the ambient storytelling in Hyrule also points toward the existence of another tribe (thanks for pointing this out, Swiffy22!). If you venture into the labyrinths, you are rewarded with a piece of the barbarian armor set. Each piece refers to a warmongering group hailing from the Faron region — the implication is that they built these labyrinths. And If you visit the Faron region, you’ll encounter the Zonai ruins. Players started calling the tribe from Faron the Zonai, as the official Breath of the Wild: Creating a Champion book says the ruins belong to a group of people by the same name. The curious thing about them is that this group has a very specific type of calling card. You’ve probably seen it all over without realizing what it meant.
The Zonai ruins seem to venerate Farosh, one of the dragons you can encounter in the game — this is evidenced by the fact that their ruins have serpent-like statues and patterns reminiscent of Aztec art. (They also seem to pay respects to a bird-like creature, but dragons seem to be their number one thing.) This artwork can be seen in a variety of places, including pillars embedded into the ground, as well as some of the Korok puzzles that have you complete a picture. Broadly, it kind of looks like this:
It’s a little hard to make out, especially because the teaser is erratic, but these symbols, markings, and patterns have a resemblance to the dungeon that Link and Zelda go into in the Breath of the Wild sequel teaser. It’s the same sort of Aztec-inspired art that seems to depict a serpent or dragon.
The thing is, we don’t know what happened to the Zonai. What we do know is that the Thyphlo Ruins, which is bursting with Zonai architecture, is shrouded in darkness. The working theory is that this locale used to be a Zonai city. Curiously, this area holds a shrine which, even after clearing, won’t necessarily undo the darkness enveloping the area. It’s one of the spookiest, yet completely unexplained regions in Breath of the Wild. Fortunately, modders have allowed us to get a closer look at the seemingly cursed region:
Broadly, hardcore Zelda fans seem to agree that Breath of the Wild’s sequel will have some sort of tie to the Zonai, but things get a little messy from there. We know that Breath of the Wild 2 hints heavily toward a connection with Twilight Princess, thanks to the blue magic present throughout the trailer, among other finer details.
And what do we know about Twilight Princess? That game revolves around the story of the Twili, which the Zelda Wiki refers to as “shadow race” who are “condemned to the Twilight Realm” after they tried to claim the Triforce using magic. That is, they are a group who exist in a different dimension than the one we see — one shrouded in darkness.
Could this perhaps be what happened to the Zonai? After all, they are nowhere to be found now. Their home seems to be shrouded in darkness. A translation of the official Breath of the Wild: Master Works book, which was originally published in Japanese, refers to the Zonai magic users as folks who disappeared due to “a powerful curse,” which sure sounds like what happened to the Twili. That same book, which contains designer notes from Zelda developers, calls the disappearance of the Zonai “the greatest mystery in Hyrule that hasn’t yet been solved!”
Maybe people are reading too much into this, and Breath of the Wild’s developers are just playing with the iconography they’ve already developed. But the thing is, while Breath of the Wild may never outright bring attention to the ruins stretching across the land, it’s clear that they play a big role in the mind of the developers. Early concept art of Breath of the Wild shows Link trying to decipher ruins:
And the Master Works book even makes a point to highlight the types of ruins that can be found in Breath of the Wild. It must mean something, right?
Perhaps we’ll get to unravel the greatest mystery in Hyrule in the Breath of the Wild sequel? Time will tell. Until then, we have theories and tinfoil hats.