While I am hardly an avid Legend of Zelda player, I am a deep fan of the lore and the truly awe-inspiring quality of the latest Breath of the Wild game deserves special recognition. However, I write this post not because of that, but rather because the game illustrates – and animates – a Fantasy world-building point of mine.
As any Fantasy reader worth the name knows, Fantasy literature draws much of its inspiration from myth and legend, both of which are empowered with wonder and mystery. Robin Hood and his Merry Men (green clad archers of the forest who defend the common people) inspired Rangers such as Aragorn son of Arathorn (from The Lord of the Rings) and Halt of Araluen (from Ranger's Apprentice). Merlin is the archetypal wizard in flowing robes and bearing a staff. And Druids and Bards are subjects of proven history in addition to folklore.
And these do not even touch upon the classic tales of medieval knights and dragons, kings and princesses, that is one of the most common elements found in the High Fantasy.
Yet one notices that these stories of yore are all European based; all these tales rooted in the ancestral knowing of the West. Of course there is nothing wrong with this per se, but I am a big believer in experimentation and have a particular fondness for unique Fantasies that in some manner defy standard conventions. Fantasies that draw off other tales from other cultures.
Which brings me back to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which draws much inspiration from the little known Jōmon period – from Japanese prehistory – in regards to the power of the Shiekah clan. The creators of the game explain such in the video clip below.
The point I, and this game, makes is that the lore of Eastern cultures remains a largely untapped goldmine within the Fantasy genre. A goldmine that, when used, tends to immense popularity. Take the justifiably famous anime T.V. series Avatar: The Last Airbender. In the Avatar Universe, each nation has its own natural element, on which it bases its society, and within each nation exist people known as "benders" who have the innate power and ability to control and manipulate the eponymous element of their nation. The show's creators assigned each bending art its own style of martial arts, causing it to inherit the advantages and weaknesses of the martial arts it was assigned.
Bryan Konietzko, the co-creator and executive producer of the show, said that he and his counterpart "were really interested in other epic Legends & Lore properties, like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, but we knew that we wanted to take a different approach to that type of genre. Our love for Japanese Anime, Hong Kong action & Kung Fu cinema, yoga, and Eastern philosophies led us to the initial inspiration for Avatar."
As one can see from the image featuring the original members of Team Avatar, namely from their clothing and the architecture of the town, this unutterably popular show drew its strength from the untapped goldmine I mentioned (and came out with more than a few gold bars for their trouble).
Sadly though, it is mostly TV and video games that puts Eastern lore to use, for in my extensive reading I have barely ever found it touched upon, and even then usually in a light manner.