Since the very first game in The Legend of Zelda series, the Zora have played an important role in most of the mainline games as Hyrule’s preeminent water-dwelling species. Although they initially appear as enemies (and Flipper salesmen) to Link in their earliest appearances, Ocarina of Time establishes the Zora Tribe as a friendly race of aquatic creatures with a unique culture and history. Since their development in Ocarina of Time, the Zora continue to play an important role in nearly every mainline 3D Zelda game.
Interestingly, the Zelda series’ complex and intricate timeline (which features multiple branching realities and a chronological order of events contrary to the release of the games in the real-world) tells a tale of a once great civilization doomed to decline as a result of Link, Zelda, and Ganon’s eternal conflict. The most recent appearances of the Zora, courtesy of their incarnation in Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom, see the tribe return to their previous status within Hyrule, including the recognizing of some of their warriors as valuable companions to Link.
The Legend of Zelda/A Link to the Past
The earliest appearances of the Zora introduce them as enemies who continually emerge from bodies of water to spit fireballs at Link. Primarily found around Lake Hylia and the edges of the map where lakes and rivers reside, these Zora do not communicate with Link and have a decidedly more amphibian-like appearance than their later counterparts. In The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Link learns that the Zora King will sell humans the valuable Flippers, granting them the ability to swim in deep waters. After making his way to the northeast corner of Hyrule, Link can converse with the king of the Zora and purchase the Flippers for the hefty sum of 500 Rupees. These unfriendly and devolved versions of the Zora appear in the timeline after an era of decline in Hyrule and preclude the tribe’s resurgence in the Age of Calamity.
Ocarina of Time/Majora’s Mask
The Zora’s modern, more humanoid appearance and presence as a friendly tribe of Hyrule comes to players courtesy of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Taking place hundreds of years prior to the events of the original Legend of Zelda where the Zora have devolved into mindless enemies, Ocarina of Time instead introduces an intelligent race of amphibious fish-people with tail fins on their heads, fins on their arms and legs, and telltale white/blueish skin.
Link first encounters these Zora while attempting to find the final Spirit Stone, learning that the Zora’s patron deity Jabu Jabu has swallowed it and the Zora princess in the process. Link rescues Princess Ruto of the Zora, who then goes on to be the Sage of Water after Link retrieves the Master Sword and jumps forward in time 7 years. The Zora also make a classic appearance in Majora’s Mask as the band the Indigo-gos.
Oracle of Ages
Oracle of Ages‘ storyline is unique in the larger Zelda canon thanks to its inclusion of both the intelligent and the devolved forms of the Zora. Link will interact with the king of the Zora and other friendly members of the Zora tribe throughout his time in Labrynna, but he will also encounter more classic-style Zora enemies out in the overworld map. In order to distinguish the intelligent and kind Zora Tribe members from the mindless enemies Link encounters in rivers and lakes, these other creatures are referred to as the “River Zora”. The friendly Zora, the “Sea Zora”, reside in a village in the southern part of Labrynna, and they even make an appearance in Oracle of Seasons if players have already completed Oracle of Ages and play a linked game.
The Wind Waker
Thanks to the kingdom of Hyrule being sunken beneath the Great Sea in the centuries prior to the events of Wind Waker, the Zora Tribe have since evolved into the airborne Ruto by the time the game takes place. Still, Link does interact with a member of the tribe via the spirit of Laruto, the former princess and Sage of Earth. Laruto’s prayers are part of what give the Master Sword its power, and Ganondorf had his minions eliminate Laruto to diminish the blade’s usefulness. Link encounters Laruto during his time in the Earth Temple, and she passes on the mantle of Sage of Earrth to the young Ruto Medli. Laruto also appears in Wind Waker‘s Hyrule Castle, depicted in one of the stained glass windows showing each of the Sages.
Twilight Princess‘ version of the iconic Zora live upstream from Lake Hylia in the out-of-the-way Zora’s Domain. They are much more humanoid than previous appearances, and their male warriors appear to be more intimidating and even wear special fish-shaped helmets to instill fear in enemies. When Link first arrives in the Zora’s Domain area, he discovers that it’s completely frozen over and encounters the young Zora prince on death’s door. Completing the requisite quest to heal the prince and return him to Queen Rutela will see Link become a hero of the tribe and also receive the Zora Armor, which allows him to finally reach and clear the Lakebed Temple.
Breath of the Wild/Tears of the Kingdom
The Zora are unique in both of the Age of Calamity games in that their domain remains largely untouched by the effects of Ganon’s destruction as a result of the Great Calamity. Like their incarnations in Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, the Zora of Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom have a wide range of physical features and appearance despite all largely resembling some type of aquatic humanoid. Sidon, the warrior prince of the Zora, will plead with Link for help and guide him to do battle with the Divine Beast Vah Ruta in Breath of the Wild. When Link heads to the Lanayru region once again in Tears of the Kingdom, an important side quest awaits which will reward him with their armor set, allowing him to swim directly up waterfalls and attack while swimming.