Call him Fairy Boy. Or the Hero of Winds. Hell, you can even get away with Grasshopper. But for the love of Din, please don’t call him “Zelda.” When you play a video game, if a character’s name is in the title, it’s usually safe to assume it’s the protagonist’s. Not here it ain’t.
Unless you’ve just discovered what video games are — and even then you’d need to have lived a life largely without technology — you can probably recognize the green tunic, pointy-yet-droopy elf hat and glowing blue blade as that of The Legend of Zelda series’ protagonist, Link.
The franchise is tied together by the Triforce, three golden triangles with the power to grant the wish of anyone who touches it and we’ve already delved into Zelda’s wisdom and Ganon’s power, but there’s one thing missing. And that’s courage.
Although Link shares this connection with Zelda and Ganon, there’s one aspect to the character that sets him apart from the wielders of the Triforces of Wisdom and Power: He hardly ever changes.
Link may start the game as a resident of Kokiri Forest. Or Ordon Village. Hell, sometimes he’s just living with his uncle in a shack south of Hyrule Castle. Though his circumstances change with nearly every new Zelda game, the character’s motivations largely remain the same.
If there’s one thing we all share it’s that we start our lives with the future in mind. We grow up with an idea of what it is we want to become and dream of how we can attain what we see in our minds. You may not have everything you need to complete those objectives at first, but neither does Link.
The thing our hero has on his side is that pesky Triforce of Courage. But before the invention of that little plot device, Shigeru Miyamoto and company merely called it
Motivation is such an aggravation
The original Legend of Zelda on the NES offers little motivation to complete the quest the player aside from the fact that you’re playing a video game and the opening crawl tells you there’s a princess who needs saving. Then some guy in a cave gives you a sword and it’s full steam ahead until you fight Ganon inside Spectacle Rock.
The sequel begins right where the first game left off. You saved the princess once, might as well do it again, right? Yes, Link obtains the Triforce of Courage after defeating six temple guardians, but it’s not his to begin with. He earns it.
A Link to the Past opens with our hero sleeping soundly — a trend that continues through every game thereafter — before being awakened by a call to adventure. It’s when he finds his wounded uncle in the sewers of Hyrule Castle that he learns Zelda is his …
Alfon — this is Link’s uncle’s name in the radio drama adaptation of the game — never finishes that sentence. So what is Princess Zelda to Link in A Link to the Past? His sister? His density destiny? Maybe she’s the galaxy’s only hope. Regardless, it’s this little mystery, never fully revealed through the course of the game, which tells the player there’s something about this kid to believe in.
Later in the quest, we learn our hero is also the last in the line of the once-revered Knights of Hyrule. These elite warriors played an integral role in the ancient war to seal Ganon in the Dark World prior to the events of A Link to the Past. For the first time, there’s something special about the kid. Plus, there are few things more motivating than the last line every rescued maiden gives Link before he moves on to the next dungeon: “May the way of the Hero lead to the Triforce.”
I don’t wanna grow up
In the series’ Nintendo 64 debut, Link just happens to be an orphaned Hylian living among the forest people before being asked to embark on a quest to help Zelda by the Great Deku Tree. Once he collects the three relics necessary to obtain the Master Sword and retrieves it, he gets locked away for seven years while Ganondorf runs amok and warps Hyrule into a twisted reflection of what it once was. If it weren’t for Link opening the door to the Sacred Realm, Ganon may never have attained full power. It’s that sense of fault more than anything that keeps you invested in the quest.
But when Link retrieves the six sage medallions and meets Zelda again, something special happens. During their first interaction as children, the princess tells Link of the origins of the Triforce, as seen in the video below (another of my top Zelda moments of all time.)
Because Ganondorf sought to rule Hyrule, he is given the Triforce of Power. Zelda’s bloodline makes her heir to the Triforce of Wisdom. And Link? While there are theories to support fate or destiny grant our hero the Triforce of Courage, I’d like to think it’s the hard work he puts in prior to this revelation.
Think about it: what motivation does Link and, by extension, the player, have to help Zelda and Hyrule? He could just as easily drop everything and leave the task to somebody else. But he doesn’t. Despite the Dodongo burns, the jellyfish stings and countless unpleasant trips inside Like Likes’ mouths, he pushes forward to do the right thing.
Just as in Zelda II, Link earns the right to command the Triforce of Courage.