The Legend of Zelda: The Hero in All of Us
With news breaking that there will be a new open-world The Legend of Zelda game released on the Wii U, now seems to be the appropriate time to look back at what can be considered Nintendo’s premier franchise and one of the more influential games of all time. There are a great many reasons that The Legend of Zelda is considered by gaming fans worldwide as being in the pantheon of revolutionary and exceptional video games. The franchise has helped define the last four generations of video games spanning from the original Nintendo Entertainment System to today’s Wii U. The story of Hyrule’s battle between good and evil demonstrates the pinnacle of story-telling and action. It has reimagined how the video game hero should be portrayed by creating a mute vessel that can be occupied by the player. The franchise forces the player to evolve and grow throughout their games, presenting new challenges that constantly force their players to actively adapt.
The upcoming entry to The Legend of Zelda franchise is scheduled to arrive in 2015 for the Wii U, and will feature an open world to explore similar to Wind Waker’s Great Sea. Using cel-shading graphics that look like a cross between Wind Waker and Twilight Princess, this newest adventure looks both vibrant and aesthetically pleasing. The demo released prior to and during this year’s E3 conference gave players a look into the Wii U’s graphical abilities. Rumors have abounded that the newest incarnation of The Hero will not even be Link at all, as images from the game’s demo have led some to believe that this Hero will be a girl – perhaps Zelda herself. During an interview with Jason Schreier of Kotaku at E3, series producer Eiji Aonuma hinted that the upcoming game will be different from its predecessors in that The Hero will have to make choices that will impact the world around him one way or the other, “As a player progresses through any game, they’re making choices. They’re making hopefully logical choices to progress them in the game…But I feel like making those logical choices and taking information that you received previously and making decisions based on that can also be problem-solving.” As long as players do not have to carry a Zora through a giant fish’s belly, it will be interesting to see the changes the franchise makes with their ambitious new project.
The Legend of Zelda has always been praised for its ability to create an epic fantasy world where the player takes the role of the classic archetype of The Hero, a lone character who must save the world from some unspeakable disaster. The Heroes of these games are known as Link, generally portrayed as a young man who is charged by fate to defeat an embodiment of evil. Furthermore, these responsibilities are thrust upon Link without his choice; they represent every young person’s personal responsibilities as they get older. It is easy to associate with Link’s dilemma; in many of the franchise’s titles, including the critically-acclaimed Ocarina of Time, Wind Waker, and Link’s Awakening, the dire situations around The Hero are forced upon him. Outside forces, even the forces of gods and fate, conspire against Link and place him in a position where he is required to grow and gain strength to restore order to Hyrule.
The Hero himself is a silent protagonist, which allows players to place themselves in Link’s position. His lack of a voice forces the players to think of how they would answer a question or a request for help, with simple yes-or-no prompts as available answers. This is not simply a lazy ploy by writers of voice actors, as the silence of The Hero causes the player to relate to Link on a deeper level, giving Link a voice and a personality that reflects the player’s own. The player becomes The Hero, providing their own personal answers and making simple choices that impact the world of The Legend of Zelda. The silent protagonist allows the game developers to transmit Link across multiple ages and universes; most games feature different Links, but are all a mixture of the character and the player’s personality. Although the silent protagonist is not an invention of The Legend of Zelda franchise, it certainly helped popularize the idea that a game’s central character can interact with their surrounding environment without a script.
Link acts alone through most of his travels, but he is often accompanied by a helpful guide. Whether it is the Minish Cap in the eponymous franchise entry, Navi in Ocarina of Time, Midna in Twilight Princess, The King of Red Lions in Wind Waker, or Fi from Skyward Sword, The Hero always has a helpful companion to point the way for him. The importance of Link’s companions is demonstrated in the direct sequel to Ocarina of Time – Majora’s Mask. Link embarks on a dangerous quest to recover his lost companion Navi after she vanishes following the events of Ocarina of Time. This enforces a key lesson in life that was taught in The Legend of Zelda – it’s too dangerous to go alone, bring someone with you for strength and guidance. Although the hero acts alone, his actions extend far beyond his personal existence. Throughout the franchise, Link has saved not only the Princess Zelda, but also the realms of Hyrule, Ordona, and the Great Sea, as well as entire parallel dimensions in the Twilight realm. The life of Link extends existentially beyond himself, reaching out to soothe the world around him. Some would claim that this is human nature, to try and reach out to make the world a better place, which highlights the ability for Link’s journey to connect with fans so deeply. Link is who the player would be if they were a Hero.
The story-telling of The Legend of Zelda is unique for the early Nintendo franchise to which Zelda is compared. Although a convoluted history of parallel storylines and generational gaps, Link and Zelda’s tale can be viewed as a massive story. They represent the battle between good and evil, and the ability for good to always triumph. The story forced the player to follow a story, where other titles at the time such as Super Mario Bros. and Donkey Kong were far shallower. Shingeru Miyamoto, one of the leaders of Nintendo at the time of Zelda’s development, spoke on the game’s origin, “The Legend of Zelda was our first game that forced the players to think about what they should do next…It was these elements that made the game so popular.” The history of gamers shows that newer and harder challenges will always be craved, and The Legend of Zelda has often succeeded in offering a fulfilling and enriching challenge with a deep backstory.
Another characteristic that distinguishes The Legend of Zelda franchise from the vast majority of gaming is the incorporation of music into the game’s central mechanics. Prior to games like Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker, music was simply a background that accompanied the mood of the game. These titles, however, and their subsequent sequels added music as a means of controlling the environment around Link as far as offering the ability to change the direction of the wind and alternating between day and night. Many of the melodies throughout the franchise’s history have become some of the more recognizable tunes in the industry. Modern games such as Journey and Child of Eden have taken this to new levels, integrating music into the very DNA of the games themselves to the point where the music is almost a constant companion.
The challenges within the franchise’s titles also offer the player a series of obstacles that require thought and adaptability to overcome. Massive sprawling worlds like Hyrule and the Great Sea offer an opportunity to explore an open universe full of items, dungeons, and enemies to experience. In an era where most games had a linear world, and only supplied items randomly like the Question Boxes in Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda forces the player to switch items on the fly as a means of overcoming dungeons and monsters. Weapons such as a Boomerang, Grappling Hook, Bow and Arrows, Hookshot, and Roc’s Feather allow the player to reach new areas of the world that were previously inaccessible. This is seen prominently in games like Link’s Awakening and Wind Waker, where dungeons and islands respectively need a specific item found in the world in order to be explored. Rather than monotonously plow through levels to simply move on to the next one, The Legend of Zelda makes players feel as if Link is evolving as a character as he works through the game.
Link’s actions can be seen as serving a deeper and more existential purpose. Link exists in a world where God (or in the Hyrulian universe, gods) has abandoned the world after the start of Creation. Throughout the game, The Hero acquires the power of these gods and uses them to combat the forces of evil. Din, Farore, and Nayru serve as the creators of the Triforce, the ultimate embodiment of wisdom, power, and courage that are the three key traits of the Zelda universe. The absence of the gods is made apparent to the player, which can be understood as true freedom for the Hylians. Their creators have long since left their world behind, allowing them to grow and act on their own terms. Link’s aforementioned lack of freedom as he’s thrown into conflict by fate, along with the rest of Hyrule’s free will and known separation from their deities, further cement Link as a unique individual who the player can relate to.
The Legend of Zelda has long served as the benchmark for not only Nintendo but for the video game industry as a whole. With 67 million copies sold since 1986, Link’s tale has touched the lives of gamers across the world. Link stands alongside names like Gordon Freeman, Chell, Jack Ryan, and Samus Aran as characters who embody the player’s characteristics and traits. Complex gameplay, immersive storytelling, as well as pioneering in graphics and its willingness to experiment place The Legend of Zelda at the forefront of gaming over 25 years since its inception. Link is the Hero we wish we could be in our own lives, and serves as the conduit for our own desire of making the world a better place.
 Cuddy, Luke, ed. The Legend of Zelda: I Link Therefore I Am (Open Court, 2008) Chicago and LaSalle, Illinois. Chapter 4, pg 3.
 Lindquist, Joshua. “Defining the Legend of Zelda: Examining the Basics”April 12, 2012
 Cuddy, Luke, ed. The Legend of Zelda: I Link Therefore I Am (Open Court, 2008) Chicago and LaSalle, Illinois. Chapter 4, pg 5.
 Barczak, Gloria and David Wesley, Innovation and Marketing in the Video Games Industry: Avoiding The Performance Trap (Ashgate Publishing Company, 2010) Burlington, Vermont. pg 17
 Wolf, Mark J. P., ed. Encyclopedia of Video Games: The Culture, Technology, and Art of Gaming Vol. 1 (ABC-CLIO, 2012) Santa Barbara, California. 363
 Zeldapedia “Golden Goddesses” Accessed June 13, 2014 http://zelda.wikia.com/wiki/Golden_Goddesses
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