No, it’s not that Zelda review. But it’s something!
If you remember 2013’s The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia, then you have the rough idea already: The Legend of Zelda: Art & Artifacts is a book created by Nintendo and published by Dark Horse Comics, and it contains quite a lot of official Zelda-series material. Whereas the Hyrule Historia was a series guide and retrospective, Art & Artifacts is an artbook, plain and simple. And it’s a big one.
Measuring 9.25 by 12.25 by 1.85 inches and weighing every bit of seven pounds, Art & Artifacts is almost definitely poised to be the largest video game artbook in your collection. The cover is the same style and material used in the Hyrule Historia, and is quite sturdy and smooth to the touch. The titles and crest of Hyrule are printed in metallic gold, with the rest of the sparse text in a soft tan color that, while perhaps not the very easiest thing to read on the mottled burgundy background, is aesthetically pleasing. The interior is similarly well constructed, with a sturdy stitched binding that allows the book to lay flat when opened, illustrated front and back panels, and 427 heavyweight, glossy, full-bleed pages packed with official Zelda artwork, covering games from the original Legend of Zelda all the way up to Breath of the Wild. Even Link’s Crossbow Training gets in on the fun!
When I say the pages are packed with artwork, I mean it; the first 371 pages of the book contain no text whatsoever except the text printed in the images themselves, a pair of section headers, and tiny footnotes explaining which game the artwork comes from and occasionally what it represents. This part of the book is divided into two sections, the first of setpiece art (both concept art and promotional pieces), and the second of character art. Each section is further broken up by title, and is absolutely loaded with pictures. If you remember seeing a piece of artwork in a manual, or in Nintendo Power, it’s in this book, in a large, crisp, stunning rendition — sometimes multiple versions of the artwork if it was revised, redrawn, or touched up at some point. If you don’t remember seeing a piece of artwork before, well, that’s in here too. The "characters" section even includes artwork for all the items and spells in the game in question, which section in particular would have been a dream come true for ten-year-old me.
Following the "characters" section is a third section, which is something of a catch-all; it opens with the box art for every game in the series (both the Japanese and the American versions), along with basic information about when the games were released. Following that is a set of sprite sheets for the first three Zelda games — not complete sprite sheets, mind you, but they’re still an awesome addition. It’s always nice to see those old sprites get their due! There is also a "bonus" gallery containing renders and promotional pieces that didn’t find a home elsewhere, a stunning gatefold of that piece of Breath of the Wild promo art (you know the one I mean), and then an interview with four of the men who worked on the Zelda series. This is not the usual Eiji Aonuma interview stuff, though; this is an interview purely with the artists, and entirely about art. It’s stuff you probably haven’t ever heard before, at least.
The first impression one gets of this book is of its sheer size. It is huge and heavy, which befits a proper artbook, but can make it something of a chore to read while sitting on the sofa or in an armchair. This is a book that’s clearly meant to be laid out on a table and examined in detail, and, helpfully, the binding will coöperate if you do so. The images themselves are beautiful, and the printing is flawless; I did not detect so much as a single alignment or bleed issue in the entire book. Even the artwork you’ve seen before, you’ve never seen look this good; whether we’re talking about the artwork from The Legend of Zelda’s manual or the promotional renders from Twilight Princess HD, this is the definitive version. Some people (you know who you are) may complain about the lack of scanlines on the pixel art, but, hey.
If this book has a flaw, it’s that it is literally absolutely nothing but an artbook. If you’re looking for any historical context on the Zelda series, any information about the games other than what the concept art looks like (and, I guess, the release dates), or any reminiscence about the games outside of the one interview with the art staff, this is not the book for you. This is a wall of artwork from start to finish. If the book is limited in scope, however, it is brilliant in execution; if you like artwork, and you like Zelda, this is basically a must-have.
Overall, I give The Legend of Zelda: Art & Artifacts my highest recommendation to anyone who likes video game artbooks. If you’re not that guy (and you don’t have a hot yen for Zelda), nothing here will change your mind; this is the video game artbook in its purest form. If you are, however, this is well worth its quite modest price.
The Legend of Zelda: Art & Artifacts is available in hardcover for $23.99 or in a Kindle edition for $21.99 from Amazon.