I had a really hard time figuring out what to write for this blog topic, in celebration of The Legend of Zelda’s 35th anniversary. Do I write specifically about one of the series’ games? Do I discuss about how things could be improved for a future title (like Breath of the Wild and having legitimate dungeons for its sequel)? Do I write about what I want out of Zelda this year? That last one seemed a bit too greedy, maybe (and I did want a little more out of that Direct from a few days ago – I’m sad that Wind Waker HD and Twilight Princess HD remain stranded on the Wii U).
In the end, I’d just like to take a little bit of time to look back and appreciate some of the special moments and people, significant or otherwise, that I’ve met and experienced throughout my time playing these games that have really stuck with me through the years.
Spoiler warning in case you haven’t played some of these games.
A Link to the Past: The Flute Boy
A Link to the Past was one of the games I had played in my early days as a gamer with the Game Boy Advance port. It wasn’t until years later that I recognized its significance as a landmark title on the SNES and its lasting effects as a foundation for future 2D Zelda games.
One of the most memorable and mysterious moments in the game was entering an empty grove, with just a lone boy looking like Link playing the flute and surrounded by a captivated audience of forest critters. Every time you got close, the animals would run away, and the boy would vanish.
Once I got to the Dark World and I visited the same location did I realize what was going on – the flute boy was actually trapped in the Dark World (the realm changes you into a reflection of what’s in your heart and mind) as this weird tree-like creature. He asks you to grab his flute which appears to have been projecting his spirit in the Light World. The flute boy requests that you to play it for him one last time, as he’s no longer able to play it himself in his Dark World form. He fully turns into a tree afterword.
The flute boy never asks for any help with his current predicament – he just wants to be reminded of happier times and seems to accept his fate in his final moments.
The Ocarina of Time: The Master Craftsman’s Son and the Biggoron’s Sword Trading Sequence
The Master Craftsman of Kakariko Village has a sort of deadbeat son who appears to hate everything and everyone, thinking they’re all disgusting. That’s all Link sees of him as a child.
But then, if you go through the trading quest to get the Biggoron’s Sword, Link will encounter the craftsman’s son once again as an adult in the Lost Woods. When you show him the Cucco you obtain from his sister, he thinks Link is a nice guy. He gives Link a mushroom and asks him to give it to the Potion Shop Lady in Kakariko. Upon completing that request, the lady calls him a “bum” and “a fool” for going into the woods, giving Link a potion for him, but noting that the potion won’t work on a monster.
When you return to where the craftsman’s son was, you only find Fado, one of Link’s childhood Kokiri friends, in his place. She tells Link that the son isn’t there anymore, and that anyone who isn’t a Kokiri that come into the forest end up lost and become Stalfos. She wonders if Link will turn into one, too.
This part of the sequence is particularly haunting to me, leaving a lot of unanswered questions. Just what was the son doing in the forest? And what do these ramifications mean for Link?
Majora’s Mask: The Milk Bar Owner at the End of Day 3
If there’s a pattern I can call out about these first three entries in the list, it’s that the Zelda series is effective at creating and presenting characters that oftentimes make the most of their limited screen time. The memorable characters, I feel, grow out of their NPC role, and come off more like you’re seeing a snapshot of these people at a certain point in their lives.
Majora’s Mask is literally the perfect encapsulation of that last statement – where you’re seeing tons of people live out their lives with the looming threat of a crashing moon over them. I could go on and on about how alive these characters feel through the repeating three days, but instead, I’ll just focus on one such character in the game: the bartender.
On the final day before the moon crashes, the milk bar opens as usual at 10PM, eight hours before doomsday. If you visit the bar for one last glass of that sweet, sweet liquor known as milk, you can talk to the bartender, Mr. Barten. He’ll tell you that his other customers have already attempted to hide or find shelter from the moon, but he’s decided to stick it out, especially in the hopes that “one of [his] favorite customers will appear…”
The Wind Waker: Link gets shot into a fortress
The Wind Waker was the first 3D Zelda game that I had ever played, and so it left quite an impression on me as a kid. Not only was the art style super appealing (and reminded me of another favorite, cel-shaded title of mine: Jet Grind Radio), it managed to infuse a very kid-friendly appearance with some mature themes and an incredible feeling of adventure.
One of the benefits from the cartoonish look was that we got a very expressive Link – for the first time, he wasn’t just a stoic avatar for the player. We saw him sleepy, uncomfortable, annoyed, upset, saddened, and generally emoting in other ways that we’d just never seen our green-clothed hero do before, and that made him a much more personable figure to identify with.
There’s a fantastic representation of this, where Link joins the captain Tetra and her merry band of pirates to storm the Forsaken Fortress, where his sister is being kept after being kidnapped. To infiltrate fortress, Tetra comes up with the great idea to put Link into a barrel and launch him right into the structure.
Link freaks out at being trapped in a barrel at first, but during the countdown before the launch, steels himself for the inevitable with a bunch of amazing facial expressions in-between. It’s such a wonderful sequence that really made this particular Link one of my favorites.
Twilight Princess: The Hero’s Spirit
Link follows the trail of a white wolf and ends up in a realm where the wolf becomes a Stalfos-like creature. The creature gets into a battle stance, and when Link tries to take it head-on, he’s immediately tossed to the ground, signifying the difference in skill between the two. The creature offers to teach Link moves only meant for those with “the blood of the hero.”
The figure is initially mysterious, but from the songs you use to summon him, you can infer that he’s related to the Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask eras. The Hyrule Historia confirms that this Hero’s Spirit, or Hero’s Shade, is the Hero of Time. But since he had been transferred back to his childhood, humanity would never remember him as such. Upon learning the final sword technique, he admits to this: “Although I accepted life as the hero, I could not convey the lessons of that life to those who came after.”
This is such a fascinating character because this is the only instance where a previous Link directly speaks to another. It raises questions about what happens when you’ve fought the big bad, what do you do then? What do you do when your heroic deeds aren’t remembered? While teaching the TP Link sword moves helps to ease his regrets, there’s something greatly wistful about knowing the fate of our former hero.
Phantom Hourglass: Linebeck’s Courage
Linebeck was very much the sidekick of Phantom Hourglass. He works with Link to get to the Ghost Ship to rescue Tetra, but he’s not looking to save Tetra – he just wants the treasure in the Ghost Ship.
While Linebeck presents himself as an adventurer type, he’s very much on the sidelines a lot of the time. He doesn’t even get past the first floor of the temple where you initially meet him. He’s more of a coward than a fearless, valiant sailor. Despite staying cowardly and greedy most of the way, he does warm up to Link and eventually even becomes a friend.
That’s what makes the final confrontation so special. As Link and the others become incapacitated by the villain, Bellum, Linebeck picks up Link’s sword and attempts to fight back despite visibly shaking the entire time. It’s enough to free Link from Bellum’s grasp and he does a sick sword toss to Link before becoming possessed by Bellum himself.
This raises the stakes of the final match to be less of a worldly one and more of a personal one – are you willing to fight your friend? It’s one of the better final boss fights in the series, and definitely one of the best final boss fights among the handheld titles.
Skyward Sword: Vs. Koloktos
Skyward Sword was the first 3D Zelda game that I actually completed from beginning to end. Despite feeling a bit overextended by the end, it really was fun to play through. And as mixed as people are about the motion controls, you can’t deny that when it worked, it really worked.
Koloktos is a perfect showcase of when everything comes together – the music, the controls, the mechanics, the gameplay – everything. That’s when you think to yourself, “So this is Skyward Sword.” And when you realize sheer breadth of the scale and ambition of the game – despite its faults – it is something to be admired.
One of the bosses that actively guarded its weak spot, you must dodge and navigate past its spinning blades and tear off its arms one by one. It’s so visceral and the feedback is extremely satisfying for a Zelda boss. And that second phase? Awesome.
A Link Between Worlds: Ravio
What if Link and Zelda had counterparts in an alternate dimension? A Link Between Worlds explores this concept to great effect. Ravio’s a strange, mysterious character at first. He randomly barged into your house, sets up shop, and sells you the weapons and items you need to progress through your adventure.
The twist is what really makes the character sing. Finding out that Ravio was, in fact, Link’s Lorule counterpart was always being hinted at. All the initial pieces were in place – Ravio places you in what he thinks is a vacant house (it’s actually his house in Lorule, and Link’s house in Hyrule). He mentions how “the world looks so different from here.” Even his costume is a reference to Link’s form in the Dark World from A Link to the Past (it was a bunny).
But more importantly, it makes you think – Link’s predominant trait is his courage. What if you took that away? Ravio is considered a coward for running away from Lorule, but like Linebeck, he confronts his fears in his own way. He finds Link, who he considers a real hero, and helps him as much as he can throughout his journey, saying that’s what he’s here for – to assist heroes. And in the end, Ravio is the one to convince Hilda to stop trying to steal the Triforce. In his own way, he was a hero, too.
Breath of the Wild: Vs. Divine Beast Vah Ruta
I had a heck of a time with Breath of the Wild. I played the crap out of that game at launch, spending most of my spring break doing nothing but exploring and adventuring through this new Hyrule when I should have admittedly been working on some class assignments. Do I regret it? Not really.
Open-world games have become overwhelming for me with the immense amount of missions and side-quests that they often put in front of you. It’s hard not to feel forced or compelled to complete all of them, lest you feel incomplete for not clearing the map. Breath of the Wild (for the most part) minimized or removed those elements unless you happened upon those instances yourself. Not having to see 50+ quest markers on the map made for a less “I need to get this, this, and that done” type of journey and more of a stress/anxiety-free “I’m free to go wherever I wish” type of adventure that was lovely.
As I wandered my way around the land to one of the recommended destinations on the map, I happened into the area leading to Zora’s Domain and met the absolute chad, Sidon. The entire Zora segment of the adventure was awesome, with moments like playing with a Lizal Boomerang for the first time or finding stone tablets expanding on Link’s past.
But it was the sequence where you confront Divine Beast Vah Ruta to infiltrate the beast’s inner sanctum that really solidified this as a truly special title in my eyes. Everything about the fight – repelling the many ice spikes and cubes to climb up the waterfalls and strike at the elephant’s orbs to disable it was so exciting. And the incredible music that swelled throughout was the cherry on top of a magnificent experience.
Link’s Awakening: Marin at the Beach
I wrote about the genius of the story of Link’s Awakening a few years back (my first blog!), and it’s still a post I’m quite proud of. There is so much depth to be found in the game’s simplicity – a type of magic that’s a bit harder to find, nowadays.
Rewatching this sequence is bittersweet. It’s a quiet moment, after Link has encountered numerous dungeons and challenges up to this point in an effort to wake the Wind Fish. He sits with Marin, who has grown quite attached to Link. She’s fascinated by him as an outsider. “I want to know everything about you,” she says. It’s hard not to feel attached to her, too. Marin talks about wanting to see the outside world, past Koholint Island, to be able to sing for others. She ponders wishing to the Wind Fish.
What makes this moment so impactful is that it’s right before the revelation – Koholint Island and its inhabitants are all a dream and that this dream will go away when you wake up the Wind Fish. Are you willing to let go of everyone? Are you willing to let go of Marin?
I absolutely missed a bunch of other highlights throughout the series (and a few titles): stealing from the shopkeeper (you know the one), Anju and Kafei’s sidequest, Toilet Hand, Queen Ambi’s backstory, the Cursed Sea sequence, Salvatore, the King Bulblin battle, the cat village minigame, Phoeni, the Koloktos fight, the Lord of the Mountain, Hestu’s….gift – just to name a few (okay, maybe a bit more than “a few”).
Shigeru Miyamoto drew inspiration from his days venturing through the countryside, into woods and caves. I think, in the process, he and the wonderful developers like Eiji Aonuma, Takashi Tezuka, Yoshiaki Koizumi, Hidemaro Fujibayashi, and the rest of the team have able to imbue those feelings into the players that have played The Legend of Zelda. And that’s genuinely an incredible thing to do.
In my first blog about Link’s Awakening, I wrote that games are like dreams. They can be an incredible escape from reality. But eventually, they must end, sometime. Back then, I wrote that even if the dream ends, the memory remains.
That’s what this post is, I think. It’s an appreciation of the memories I’ve made with The Legend of Zelda. And I look forward to the years of memories to come and sharing it with others.
Thanks for reading, y’all. What’s your favorite moment or character in The Legend of Zelda?