Countdown to Skyward Sword Part III: Motivations of a Hero in Training
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.
May the winds of fortune be at your back
The circumstances are much the same in Wind Waker. Although Link starts the game on a quest to save his sister from the Helmaroc King who kidnaps her, he faces a choice similar to that of his Ocarina of Time counterpart. Once he rescues Aryll, why not just lay the sword aside and let the grownups handle this saving the world business?
Because it’s just not in his nature. Once Link hears Ganondorf’s motivation for kidnapping every young blonde girl in the Great Sea, he can’t not act. It’s just not the way he rolls.
Once again, he embarks on a quest to collect three symbols of virtue so he may wield the Master Sword, solidifying his dedication to doing the right thing. And, upon doing so, learns again the history behind the Triforce. This time, however, our young hero really has to earn the Triforce of Courage by collecting its eight shards from different sites among the Great Sea.
While less obvious than in Ocarina of Time, here we see Link earning his stripes as a legendary hero again.
Destined for greatness
Love it or hate it — I know folks in both camps — Twilight Princess does a fair job of mixing things up as far as our hero’s motivations are concerned. After all, what would you do if everyone you loved was kidnapped by a grotesque Bulblin king?
Link’s connection to the Triforce of Courage is evident from the game’s outset. After all, you can see it etched into the back of his hand while you control Link in his farm boy outfit. It’s because of his relationship with the Power of the Gods that Link can travel between the Twilight Realm and Hyrule, albeit as a wolf, and why he’s able to wield the Master Sword halfway through the story.
Once you’re granted the Hero’s Clothes near the beginning of the game, it’s more-or-less an indication that it’s up to you to save the land.
Ultimately, it’s Link’s connection to the Triforce of Courage that allows him to persevere and wield the Blade of Evil’s Bane. Maybe Skyward Sword, as an origin story for the Master Sword, will also shed a bit more light on our hero’s relationship to the Golden Power.
Hyrule’s “Joe the Plumber”
The beautiful thing about The Legend of Zelda is the fact that Link, like the players who control him, begins his quest with little means. At the outset of each title, he’s given nothing but a sword and shield, only to acquire weapons of increasing strength to aid him in his quest. Take the boomerang, for instance. It’s one of the first weapons you find in every game, but its combative qualities are limited. It can stun enemies, but the toughest foe it can dispatch is a Keese.
The only title in which our hero upgrades weapons that serve similar functions is Twilight Princess: That game’s Link obtains the slingshot before graduating to the bow.
That said, aside from the determination to do the right thing, there’s nothing too special about the franchise’s hero. But is this necessarily a negative thing? In Ocarina of Time, Ganondorf admits to having underestimated Link, only to immediately rescind the remark.
“It was not the kid’s power I misjudged, it was the power of the Triforce of Courage!” he says before being slain — or pwned, if you’re into that kind of talk — by Link and the princess.
If there’s nothing that sets Link apart from the other citizens of Hyrule — aside from his tolerance for men in green leotards who wish they were fairies — that must mean anyone can be the legendary hero if they want it enough. To me, that’s the beauty of the series.
Because no matter how much back story each title gives Hyrule, the Sacred Realm or the Master Sword, every Zelda game is ultimately about one thing: How do you face overwhelming odds and do the right thing? You’ve got destiny on your side, but it can only take you so far. That’s why Game Over screens exist.
Well excuuuse me, princess!
While Link’s perseverance is abundant in the franchise’s main series, it’s not really the case in his appearances elsewhere. Take the following clip, for example:
The CD-I game, Link: The Faces of Evil, doesn’t paint a picture that’s much different. You can subject yourself to all the cutscenes here, but I wouldn’t advise it. Unless you want to be able to say “You took seven minutes of my life and I want them back” to your computer.
Link’s appearances on Nintendo’s handheld consoles have done a fair job of telling stories that don’t revolve around the Triforce and the war against Ganon.
Link’s Awakening on the Game Boy is, more than anything, a quest to get home for our hero. He’s stranded on an island and needs to collect eight mythical instruments to wake the sleeping Wind Fish. Over the course of his adventure, he learns the island itself is a dream and that waking its slumbering deity may well eradicate it. Choices.
The Oracle games for the Game Boy Advance are continuations of a previous story in the series. Link’s already an established hero and his adventures in Labrynna and Holodrum are extensions of his duties. The same is true for Phantom Hourglass, a direct sequel to The Wind Waker. Link’s proven himself as a hero. Now it’s up to him and Tetra to find a new land to claim as Hyrule.
Majora’s Mask offers a spine-tingling opening story, even if it’s forgotten nearly immediately in favor of a quest to save the world. The fairy tingle during the game’s opening and the reference to a search for a lost friend is all the player needs to draw the conclusion that the hero from Ocarina of Time is looking for Navi. Regardless of your opinion of Link’s nagging fairy companion, the premise is pretty damn adorable.
The Minish Cap and Spirit Tracks offer instances in which Link and Zelda are acquainted before the main events of either title unfold, and its Link’s friendship with the princess and her determination to regain her body, respectively, that helps the story move forward.
All the cool stuff in between
Link’s definitely a cool name, but what are its origins? Well, as series creator Shigeru Miyamoto has said, the character is the “link” between the player and the adventure, hence the name. So in a Zelda game, players aren’t just jumping into another interactive experience, they are the hero of Hyrule.
How awesome would it be to do a little horseback archery? Wouldn’t you like to explore the depths of a lake without fear of drowning? And who would refuse the opportunity to sumo wrestle a half-naked Goron? Okay, maybe not that last one so much.
Mario games allow you to guide a portly plumber through some of the most treacherous environments Nintendo can create. The Final Fantasy series prides itself on its storytelling, among other things. But The Legend of Zelda gives us something few other games truly can, and that’s the ability to truly put ourselves in its hero’s Pegasus Shoes.
While this is the end of our character profiles in the countdown to The Legend of Skyward Sword, we’ve still got plenty up our sleeves for the days leading up to the game’s release. Tomorrow I’ll leave the series in Emily Putshcer’s hands, and if you want an idea of what she’s got in store for you, take a quick gander at her profile.