The following article is philosophically focused and therefore expresses certain views of religion, life and especially death.
Please also note that while the following article is centered on The Legend of Zelda, it also draws heavily from wider culture for further perspective. References to media other than The Legend of Zelda are made in such a way that the only prerequisite remains your passion for the Zelda series.
This article is dedicated to all of the missed opportunities: to the people in our pasts who we should have taken the time to get to know better.
The Legend of Zelda is often said to be much more than a mere collection of games, but the phrase has become so overused that its true significance is seldom appreciated. Behind this cliché lies an accurate encapsulation of what the essence of the Zelda series truly is. Behind the graphics, the gameplay, and the plot lies the heart of the Zelda franchise: inspiration and hope.
What many fail to realize when they refer to Nintendo’s action-adventure series as more than mere games is just how truly important the Zelda series can become to an individual. How it can become an integral part of our personal perspectives on life and even beyond.
This article will explore themes primarily from Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess in the context of our wider culture. References will be made to films such as The Matrix Trilogy; books such as the works of J.R.R. Tolkien; television series such as Bones; and music such as that of Bon Jovi.
On a surface level the title “Destined to Fade” will not come across as very inspiring. Indeed, at first glance it is not very optimistic to think of our lives as fleeting, finite and destined for death. However, accepting that nothing lasts forever and coming to terms with our own inevitable death is a significant milestone in life.
It is important that we take life as it is now, with the ups and downs, over illusions of eternity. Accepting that everything is destined to fade has profoundly significant and optimistic implications for how you live your life today.
The cyclical story of The Matrix film trilogy, and especially Neo’s quest as “The One,” is a journey about coming to terms with the inevitable end. Agent Smith is not wrong in his assertion that “the purpose of life is to end,” in the sense that the only guaranteed occurrence for any living organism is its demise.
The one true destiny for us all is to end. Neo experiences this very directly, through the human experiences of love and loss, before he must accept that his own death is both inevitable and necessary for the balance of the world. As the Oracle foretells: “everything that has a beginning has an end.”
What can often become lost in the complexities and action sequences of The Matrix trilogy is especially apparent in both Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask. The Nintendo 64 classics reinforce that everything changes, nothing is forever and that death will come sooner or later.
In Ocarina of Time Link is thrust out of his childhood abode of Kokiri Forest where he had the protection of the Kokiri and the Great Deku Tree. Upon returning to the forest as an adult Link finds only the harsh truth that there is no going back. His childhood sanctuary had faded and become the dwelling place of monsters.
Sheik soon reminds Link that what “doesn’t change with time is a memory of younger days.” It is only our memories of the past that remain through time. Following Ocarina of Time’s conclusion, Link is still unable to return to the forest because it is no longer that same haven to him. He therefore embarks on a quest in search of a “beloved and invaluable friend,” generally considered to be Navi.
His search leads him into Termina, a land with a name derived from the Latin word “terminus,” which means “end.” In Spanish and Portugese the word “termina” literally means “it ends,” and we are all familiar with the English word “terminate.” In Termina, Link’s adventure leads him into the Southern Swamp where he encounters the owl Kaepora Gaebora.
The words of the owl echo the sentiment expressed in Ocarina of Time’s Sun’s Song, that “the rising sun will eventually set” and “a newborn’s life will fade.” Everything in life fades and changes. For Link, he is abruptly robbed of his childhood and must accept the end of his immediate relationships with Saria, Navi and even Zelda. As the Happy Mask Salesman puts it, “whenever there is a meeting, a parting is sure to follow.”
Link had to remember that “time passes” and “people move,” as Sheik once said to him, and that he can only move forward. He had to accept that the past had faded beyond retrieval and so too will the future. He could not cling to nostalgia, but rather had to make the most of what time remained. Upon this realization Link heads back home to Hyrule and to his friends, instead of wasting time away in Termina.
The Biblical verse James 4:14, from the New King James Version, reads: “For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” It is a stark reminder that in addition to the past having already vanished, except in memory, the future will also soon fade away.
Regardless of our personal beliefs of what lies beyond death, for this life we only have now. There is no going back, only forward. For all objective purposes there is no forever; the end is inevitable. Our own death is simply a matter of time.
The notion that you will die should not be something to dread, but rather, something you embrace. Accepting the inevitable is about making the most with what time you have left. After cautioning Link that Termina is destined to fade, Kaepora Gaebora goes on to say, “if you have the courage and determination to proceed in the face of destiny, then I shall teach you something useful.”
The owl teaches Link to soar. Through the Song of Soaring, Link can travel swiftly throughout Termina without wasting the measly 72 hours he has. Likewise, we must soar in the time we have left, and not waste our days away. If we do not soar, then life will soar us by. As the Latin maxim “carpe diem” says, we must “seize the day.” We cannot fear death and change because it is the result of life. To live is to die.
Like Neo in the Matrix, we are given the choice between the blue pill and the red pill. In one hand is the delusion of having forever, and in the other is the truth that our life is finite. As the character Morpheus puts it, “all I’m offering is the truth. Nothing more.” You must make the choice to either embrace fading or to resist it. “Belief or disbelief rests with you.”
The above passage comes from J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous fictional mythology of which the widely known The Lord of the Rings is but a small part. A constant theme in Tolkien’s work is the clash between the immortal Eldar, or Elves, and mortal man. Each race envies the “gift of god” bestowed upon the other race. The immortal Elves wish for respite and rest in death, while mortal man desires a longer life.
Within his mythology, Tolkien embraces the inevitable death as a gift of man. Death is highlighted as an end that frees man from the lingering worry of eternity. Whereas immortality is unchanging, the mortal life requires you to accept the end and seize life today while it lasts.
The Legend of Zelda cautions us of what becomes of those who cling to life and resist fading. The Sun’s Song is about embracing change and not clinging to eternity: “from sun to moon, moon to sun . . . Give peaceful rest to the living dead… Restless souls wander where they don’t belong, bring them calm with the Sun’s Song.”
These restless souls, the living dead, are those who cling to life due to an unfulfilled past. It is this regret that causes us to linger in hope where our opportunities have long faded instead of living for the time that remains. These souls need to be calmed through accepting the change of the Sun’s Song.
Within Majora’s Mask’s Kingdom of Ikana, there are numerous lingering spirits. The Poe Collector describes Ikana as “a place where troubled, regretful spirits gather.” Regretful spirits such as the Composer Brother Sharp, who dreams of reviving the Royal Family, or spirits such as the Gibdos in the well, who come to bear “no remorse” once Link gifts them with what they individually desire.
There are regretful spirits like those of the Garos and Stalfos who linger to fight the petty war that consumed their very lives. Pamela’s father warns of the emptiness that comes with a regretful existence when he speaks of the Garo.
The examples of the Ikana Kingdom show us that a life spent worrying about the past can very easily consume the future as well. There is no time to wallow in regret when you are a mortal. Accepting that the past fades away and overcoming your regrets is crucial to living for the now.
Link’s travels throughout Termina are largely based around aiding people to escape from the shadows of their past. The Song of Healing is a melody that eases the suffering of lingering spirits and allows Link to don their masks to remedy their regretful pasts.
Link assists the Goron warrior Darmani, who died trying to save his village from Snowhead’s devastating winter. Through the Goron Mask, Link traverses Snowhead and breaks Goht’s curse, bringing the long winter to an end.
In the Great Bay, Link eases the regrets of Mikau, the Zora Guitarist, who was left for dead by the Gerudo Pirates as he fought to recover his partner’s stolen eggs. With the Zora Mask, Link recovers the eggs and watches them hatch into Zora children.
The Song of Healing has a clear message for us: life cannot be lived consumed by regret. We never know when our lives will end so we must live it to the full now. We cannot linger in emptiness. We cannot waste away the days we have left assuming that we have forever to make things right.
This very message serves as the basis for the story of The Wind Waker, as seen through the woe of King Daphnes Nohansen Hyrule. Daphnes is another lingering spirit who clings to existence because of his regrets about Ganondorf and the destruction of his kingdom through the divine deluge. By aiding Link to overcome Ganondorf in The Wind Waker, Daphnes eases his regrets and embraces fading.
It is regret that makes us unwilling to embrace fading. We wish for just one more chance and can’t move on to accept that there will not be another opportunity. This is why we must take every chance, why we must live for the individual moments.
Accepting your inevitable death and not resisting it due to regret is how we can live a life that seizes opportunity. The past is gone and your mortal future will fade, but that is what makes today and the time that remains all the more important. Yesterday has nothing for you, but today and the future have potential.
You cannot spend your life wishing that you “should’ve when you could’ve,” as Skillet’s song by that very title declares. We need to take the chance and not assume that we have forever. We cannot procrastinate and dwell on missed opportunities, for then we will only miss what the future has in store. We need to accept that a mortal life means we only have a limited number of chances.
The delusion of immortality causes inaction today and takes away the motivation of a mortal. In Peter Jackson’s film adaption of The Lord of the Rings, the immortal Arwen declares that she “would rather share one lifetime” with her mortal love Aragorn “than face all of the ages of this world alone.” Arwen chooses “a mortal life,” because she realizes that she can either take her chance or be left to “regret it forever.”
Arwen learns the worth of seizing the mortal opportunities before they are gone. Likewise, we must live for today and not for a tomorrow that may never come. We must live for the future, yes, but the future that remains, not a perceived eternity of time. There is only now, not forever. As another popular Latin maxim reads: “momento mori,” which in English runs, “remember that you are mortal.”
This quote is also taken from Tolkien’s fictional mythology, but comes from an early draft to the creation story of his world. Tolkien’s creation story involves the rebellion of Melkor, a Valar or angel-like being, whose actions bring evil into the world. However, Eru Ilúvatar, or God, does not remove these seeds planted by Melkor as the misery and suffering now present bring a unique beauty to the experience of life.
According to the philosophy of many religions, immortal life comes with promises of perfection and joy. Yet these eternities are set, and not necessarily the heaven individuals define within their own minds. As for the mortal life, it comes with ups and downs, but that is what makes it worth living.
Agent Smith from The Matrix comments that the mind struggles to accept the “perfect world” because “human beings define their existence through suffering and misery.” The human experience is one comprised of both happiness and sadness. We live in a world of balance. A world where there are right choices, wrong choices, perfections and imperfections.
While the story of The Matrix is based in a world where balance is crucial down to very literal equations, The Legend of Zelda maintains a constant theme of natural balance within the world. The divine relic of the Triforce is, according to Sheik, “a balance that weighs the three forces” of power, wisdom and courage. To obtain the True Force, the Triforce in its entirety, it is necessary to have a heart that “has all three forces in balance.”
Even the three wielders of the Triforce, Link, Zelda and Ganondorf, “are always born into this world in perfect balance.” Whenever there is a meeting there is also a parting. Where there is belief there is also disbelief. Where there is a world of light, there is a world of shadow. A world of balance is one that contains both suffering and joy.
To many people, the age-old philosophical question is the classic “if there is a God, why does he let people suffer?” Thinking of the world as one of balance provides a simple answer. As Princess Zelda says later in Twilight Princess, “shadow and light are two sides of the same coin… one cannot exist without the other.”
If there was not suffering, we would not possess the ability to be happy. Without one extreme, there is not the other. A world comprised only of joy would not be joyful; it would be a mere constant normality. As humans, we define our existence through suffering because only through this can we be aware of the good times. There is no happy without sad; no love without hate; no companionship without loneliness; no successful relationship without another broken heart.
This is the very reason that life is worth living. The hypothetical eternal bliss is a boring constant. There is no success and nothing to achieve. Like the dwelling of the children on the moon in Majora’s Mask, immortality is just an illusion, not reality. Even they begin to question the wider world, realizing that their heaven is only a façade. It is just like Link’s humble beginning in Ocarina of Time’s abode of Kokiri Forest which was also only temporary.
With the protection of the Great Deku Tree and the friendship of Saria, there was no suffering in Kokiri Forest, but there was also no hero. There was no potential to achieve greater until Link departed from the sanctuary. To seize opportunity, to be able to become the people we want to be, we must go through trials and we must overcome them. Tribulation defines our existence. It shapes who we are.
To see only the good in the world is a childish delusion that we all must overcome at some stage in our development. We must see the good and the bad, make choices, and endure the consequences. It is as Three Days Grace sing in their song ‘Pain,’ “I’d rather feel pain than nothing at all,” because that is what makes us human. Or, as Marilyn Manson asserts in his song ‘President Dead,’ “we don’t want to live forever . . . we know that suffering is so much better.”
Only through suffering can we persevere to seize opportunity and experience times of happiness. If there is no struggle, then there is no success. If there is only a constant bliss, then there is no potential for misery or happiness. Avoiding negative emotions is the very thing that motivates us to try, so that we can be happy when we succeed.
In our mortal world, we may be destined to die, but we at least have the opportunity to define our own destinies and our own happiness before that time comes.
To the pessimist reading between selected lines, this article has done little but claim that the only guarantees in life are that you will suffer and die. It is a gloomy outlook, and precisely how Macbeth feels in the famous Shakespearean soliloquy above. However, it is how you handle the truth of your suffering and eventual death that defines you as a person. Charles R. Swindoll once wrote “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”
Do you let the reality of life bring you down like Macbeth, or do you strive to shine with the time you have left? What is the point of trying if everything is destined to fade? Either you give up or you fulfill your dreams before its too late. Whatever this fleeting life is, shouldn’t its brevity motivate us to make the most of it now, while we can?
As young Link is just beginning his adventure in Ocarina of Time, he is counseled by Kaepora Gaebora that he should not let his struggles get him down. “You will encounter many hardships ahead. . . That is your fate. Don’t feel discouraged, even during the toughest times!” In the face of self-doubt and adversity you must continue to press onwards.
It isn’t always easy to keep your perspective optimistic, which is considered in The Wind Waker by Daphnes when he tells Link and Zelda to “live for the future.” The King goes on to say, “There may be nothing left for you. But despite that, you must look forward and walk a path of hope, trusting that it will sustain you when darkness comes.” Similar words can also be heard on Three Days Grace’s recent album ‘Transit of Venus:’
Daphnes asserts that he has “scattered the seeds of the future,” but it is your perspective that decides what this means, either pessimistic or optimistic. Either the seeds of your future have been dispersed beyond retrieval, or they have already been sown and you need only to reap them.
How you live your life is entirely a matter of perspective. Perspective asks you why get a new pet when, in time, it will die and leave you devastated? Perspective asks why start dating when it will end with tears in several months, years or decades? By accepting that everything is destined to fade, we take these chances for the moments, for the joyous times that come before the inevitable end. With a new pet, or in a relationship, there is much to make of them while they still last.
Take the young Rito Prince Komali from The Wind Waker who, after one “horrible experience,” gives up and confines himself to his bedchamber. Komali was unable to obtain his wings from the Sky Spirit Valoo, as is his tribe’s custom, due to interference from the creature Gohma. Through Link’s example of courage, Komali is inspired to let go of the past and try once more to obtain his wings.
Komali is the prime example of perspective. Either we let the truth of reality consume our lives in sorrow, or we get up, get our wings, and soar, as Komali comes to. You are in control of which direction you will go. You may be destined to fade, but you hold your destiny until then in your own very hands.
We are going to die, but let’s not become the living dead prematurely like in the Kingdom of Ikana. It is better to have tried than to have given up without trying. As Alfred Lord Tennyson put it in his Poem ‘Memoriam,’ “’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” We cannot fear taking a chance or else the chance will pass us by.
In a world balanced with ups and downs, we cannot afford to focus solely on the negatives. If we try hard enough, there is a good life to be lived. Just remember that to have a smile, there must first be tears. We are born into this world crying and then given our whole lives to turn that around.
We can become depressed like Dekadin in Oracle of Ages or change our outlook. We can sulk about unrequited love like Kamo in The Wind Waker, or we can be sure to seize the next opportunity. We can let darkness and loneliness ensnare us like Majora’s Mask consumes Skull Kid, or we can shine.
We can live the nightmare of becoming a lingering spirit, just as Pamela’s father is cursed to become a Gibdo, or we can wake up to the reality that there is no time to waste. The choice is ours. We must heal our sorrows and afflictions. We must break free from the bandages that hold us back.
Majora’s Mask takes the concept of death’s inevitability and forces its characters to face the immediacy of that reality. With only 72 hours before the falling moon destroys Termina, people’s perspectives on life are revealed, as are their true identities.
In the face of impending doom there are those who give up entirely, as the ranch sisters Cremia and Romani do. While taking refuge at their ranch, the older sister Cremia states, “We’re not safe here either… That’s how life goes, I guess. There are some things in life that you can’t change no matter how hard you try.” Cremia accepts the inevitable, but gives up on life because of it.
As for the younger sibling Romani, in her final hours she drinks Chateau Romani for the first time. Her sister had always told her to “wait until you’re an adult,” but Romani responds, “why now?” This young ranch girl also gives up on life, adopting the perspective that nothing matters when the world is about to end. While Romani does accept that it’s either now or never, she merely fulfills idle pleasures in her final moments.
In opposition to those who abandon hope in the face of death there are those who resist the approaching end and cling to life. They are the “cowards” as Mutoh calls them. Those like the Postman who flee for their chance at survival. Anju’s Mother considers maintaining life to be of the utmost importance as she tells Link, “just try to survive. Everything else will follow.” However, just like those who give up entirely, those who cling solely to life also waste their final moments.
The third option is neither waiting for death nor running for your life. It is remaining for what truly matters. It is staying true to those you love and making the most of the short time left. As Mayor Dotour proclaims, whether you “stay and guard your family, or if you’d prefer to run far away and seek shelter… That is for people to decide on their own.”
It is your perspective that decides how you live in the time that remains. Both those who give up and those who cling to life fail to seize their final hours. Only by utilizing your remaining time can you truly live. Despite being destined to fade, if you still have the courage to persist in the face of destiny you can soar.
It cannot be denied that how you respond to the fleeting nature of life can either make or break your very existence. You can waste away in despair and fear, or become motivated to “seize the day.” As Bon Jovi’s famous lyrics say, “It’s my life, it’s now or never. I ain’t gonna live forever. I just wanna live while I’m alive.”
As in Peter Jackson’s film adaption of The Lord of the Rings, when the enemy has everyone cornered and all seems hopeless, the characters’ perspectives define who they are. Denethor gives in to despair, muttering that it is “better to die sooner than late, for die we must.”
However Gandalf remains positive that “death is just another path; one that we all must take.” We must come to see the optimism in seizing opportunities despite the pessimism that reminds us we will die. We can either see everything as futile like Macbeth, or see the light as Samwise does in Peter Jackson’s trilogy.
It is a rare occurrence for episodic television dramas to incorporate deeply philosophical themes; however, the ‘Doctor in the Photo’ episode of Bones does exactly that to a level that is truly a work of art. The episode sees the forensic anthropologist Dr. Brennan investigating the death of a victim to whom she cannot help but draw parallels to her own life from.
As the case unravels, Dr. Brennan discovers that the victim was living in loneliness, regret, and wallowing in missed opportunity. Brennan comes to see how mundane daily tasks, such as our jobs, can occupy time so wholly that life passes us by unfulfilled. Realizing that life is destined to fade, Brennan decides to take the chance she has always wanted to.
Despite the outcome of Brennan’s decision to take a chance being unsuccessful, inside she feels alive for taking that chance. As she remarks, “I listened to the universe. I felt something. I’m sad.” To this Brennan’s friend Micah responds, “That’s so much better than dead. Or even dead inside.” To take the chance regardless of the result, that is living. To linger in regret is to be empty inside as in Termina’s Ikana Kingdom.
Even when your world is turned upside down by a failed opportunity, you must adjust and move forward. Do not fear what you will lose when you die, but rather fear having nothing to lose when your time comes. In the face of a finite life Dr. Brennan doesn’t just sit and wait, she seizes the time that remains.
Nothing makes human mortality more apparent than putting a time on it, and that’s exactly the element that Majora’s Mask’s falling moon brings. With only 72 hours, it is now or never. As the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius famously said, “Live not one’s life as though one has a thousand years, but live each day as the last.” That is exactly how Kafei and Anju decide to live as the end of the world approaches.
The story of Kafei and Anju begins when the couple is torn apart by a curse from Skull Kid. Kafei is jinxed to appear as a mere child, which then makes him an easy target for the thief Sakon. Thus it is that Kafei’s ceremonial wedding mask is taken from him, and he cannot return to his fiancée Anju without it, as he had promised.
This predicament climaxes in the dire hours of the moon’s final descent. Time continues to run out, but Kafei persists in regaining his mask and reuniting with Anju: “There’s still time! I must get back to town!” It’s never too late to do what must be done; there’s always time to try. Despite the rumors that Kafei had run off with Cremia, Anju waits for her fiancée.
In the end, Kafei reunites with Anju despite the curse rendering him as a mere child. Anju does not require Kafei’s apology; she simply greets him with the words “welcome home.” The two embrace and spend their final hours together. Whatever happens, they face the dawn happy that they made the most of their limited time. As Anju states, “We are fine here. We shall greet the morning… together.”
Thanks to Link averting the crisis of the falling moon, the curse on Kafei is broken and the couple is married on the dawn of a new day, reminding us that each new day should be a fresh start for our lives.
On Windfall Island in The Wind Waker, there is a woman named Linda who has her eyes on a man named Anton. Every day she dresses up especially, hoping that he will notice her outfit as they pass each other in the street. Anton has already long fancied Linda, but day after day the two merely pass each other by, never taking a chance, never living for the moment.
In this instance it takes Link to play the matchmaker, but how would Linda and Anton have fared in Termina where they would have had to accept the truth that tomorrow may never come? The joy that Linda and Anton eventually share together is yet another example of what can be missed from not seizing every opportunity before it is too late. If you are given one more chance, then take it. Remember, as poet Joseph Addison wrote in ‘Cato,’ “he who hesitates is lost.”
Living a life destined to fade means living for today. It means taking the chance now, because the only guarantee of waiting is death. Don’t wait for the perfect moment; make that moment yourself. If we had forever, then we can take forever, like Linda and Anton would have without Link. When the moon is falling, then we’ve only got now. Let go of forever and embrace the present. Make the change today; turn your life around now. After all, you only live once.
Our triumphs and failures; our potential and feelings; our relationships and our very lives are all passing. Today is the only time to stop hiding behind masks like the Skull Kid; to wait for the one you love like Anju waits for Kafei; and to speak to that person who you see every day like Linda and Anton.
Today is the only time to forgive your friends as Link forgives Skull Kid; to get your wings so that you too can soar like Komali; and to graduate from your humble beginnings to achieve success like Link.
Don’t wait for the moon to fall. Don’t fear death; fear a life unfulfilled. Don’t assume there will be another chance tomorrow. Don’t even assume there will still be a ‘you’ tomorrow. Today is the only time to make your impact like Dr. Brennan, your only chance to be remembered.
The way of Majora’s Mask’s Garo Ninjas is to execute their mission without leaving behind a trace and “to die without leaving a corpse.” It is often all too easy to let life pass us by and to die without a trace like the Garo. That is why we must act now, before our time comes. Leave your mark today so that you will have something to be remembered by once you are no more.
In Ocarina of Time, playing the Sun’s Song ushers in either a new dawn or a new dusk. It is the balance of perspectives. Do you seek for the light of a new day or the darkness of despair, regret and fear? The Sun’s Song can bring a new dawn, a new day, and a new life, to paraphrase Michael Buble’s ‘Feeling Good,’ but it is your choice on how to use the song’s power.
The Sun’s Song is about embracing change, from sunrise to sunset, from sun to moon, and from life to death. It reminds us that our time is finite and that everything is, in the words of Kaepora Gaebora, “destined to fade.” We must let go of forever and “live for the future” that we have.
The Sun’s Song reminds us that we cannot become “restless souls” who wander without direction in regret and despair. We must calm ourselves by living life now, through the ups and downs, and accept that sooner or later we will receive our rest. One day you will be gifted the release of death, but until then all that matters is what you make of the dawn of each new day.
Just as Link is prompted to in Ocarina of Time, so too must you always “keep the Sun’s Song in your heart.”
If you enjoyed this article, you might be interested in ‘A Secret and Personal Journey‘, an article also by Dathen Boccabella on friends, love, loss and the need for companionship throughout The Legend of Zelda series.