The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is almost here, and from the looks of it, the enigmatic faction called the Zonai may play a big role in the sequel after mostly existing in the background of Breath of the Wild. If you’re feeling like you’re walking in on something or like you missed a big plot beat in the last game, don’t worry. Despite a lot of theory crafting over the years, even the biggest Zelda fans don’t have a lot of concrete details as to who or what the Zonai were. But let’s break down what we do know and why fans think the Zonai are being primed as a key player in Tears of the Kingdom.
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What do we already know about the Zonai?
In Breath of the Wild, the Zonai are described as a tribe that no longer exists within Hyrule, but their nature is seemingly up for debate within the game’s world. They’re described both as a savage tribe of barbarians, as well as powerful magic users who worship animals, specifically Farosh, a water dragon that can be found in places like the Gerudo Highlands. Traces of their existence are visible in places like the Zonai Ruins in the southern area of the map, with long-abandoned architecture hinting at their reverence for Hyrule’s wildlife. In the lore and art book The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – Creating a Champion, it’s revealed the animals prominently featured in what’s left of the Zonai’s home reference the three pieces of the Triforce: a dragon for Courage, an owl for Wisdom, and a boar for Power. Beyond the animals, the Zonai also have their own crest resembling a spiral, which is seen on architecture associated with the tribe.
Beyond that, Link can acquire a Barbarian armor set in Breath of the Wild believed to be worn by members of the Zonai long ago after navigating specific labyrinths implied to have been built by the tribe. While it all fits together, much of what we know about the tribe is speculation fostered by the game’s ambient storytelling. It’s a very minimalistic, FromSoftware-style approach to world-building and largely rewards those who want to explore the game’s big world. However, it might be paying off for all of us in Tears of the Kingdom.
Why do fans think Tears of the Kingdom will involve the Zonai?
Theories that the Zonai would be a major player in Tears of the Kingdom have been prevalent since the game’s reveal in 2019 because of the focus on the spiral motif central to Zonai architecture. However, the connection is much more concrete now thanks to the most recent gameplay showcase. During this stream, Nintendo revealed the Zonai are tied to the events of Tears of the Kingdom through a piece of loot. In the 10-minute gameplay trailer, Link defeats an enemy in the floating sky islands, and it drops an item called a Zonai Charge. The video doesn’t linger on the item, but it clearly has the same green energy seen to power the machine-like enemies Link is fighting, the (broken) seal around Ganondorf seen in the original trailer, and Link’s corrupted, glowing arm.
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Will we meet the Zonai in Tears of the Kingdom?
Given how quiet Nintendo has been regarding Tears of the Kingdom’s story, it’s hard to say whether or not Link will actually come across a member of the Zonai tribe. Given the group seems to have been entirely gone from Hyrule in Breath of the Wild, with the only information we have on them coming from theories and their remaining architecture, it seems most logical that the Zonai have been wiped out or have gone into hiding. But even so, their technology and magic are still present and causing trouble for our hero in Tears of the Kingdom. All that being said, it’s not entirely out of the question that some may have survived and have been waiting for the events of this game to reveal themselves. The series is also no stranger to time travel, with it being a key pillar to games like Ocarina of Time and Oracle of Ages. So there’s a chance Link could come face-to-face with the Zonai during their prime, but that’s not confirmed.
Wait, how does Twilight Princess play into all this?
Like most of the possibilities discussed here, the connection between The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and Tears of the Kingdom is still speculation, but fans believe they’ve found connections between the Zonai and the Twili, who were introduced in Twilight Princess. Breath of the Wild incorporates several tribes and species from the series’ lifetime from the Sheikah to the Zora. The Twili, however, are notably absent, but given the similarities to architecture and magic seen in Tears of the Kingdom and that of the Twili, fans speculate that the Zonai could be the original race that was turned into monsters by Zant in Twilight Princess. There are even some breakdowns of iconography and sigils throughout Breath of the Wild that do closely resemble imagery in Twilight Princess. It’s all theory crafting at this point, and Breath of the Wild itself doesn’t do much on its own to directly make this possible tie-in apparent. So don’t feel like you completely missed out on a potential connection. This is all fan interpretation, for now.
Whatever the Zonai are, it does seem like they will be at least part of Tears of the Kingdom’s larger setup. Whether we actually meet one remains to be seen, but we’ll find out when the game comes to Switch on May 12.