Zelda’s Recurring Side Characters

I’ve always loved seeing memorable side characters return in new Zelda games. The series is known for its recurring characters, with iconic ones like Link, Ganon, and Zelda herself, but many of its recurring characters aren’t at all important to the overall storyline, nor are they iconic (with the possible exception of Tingle, especially now that he has his own games).

These recurring side characters are virtually a staple of the series now. It really started back with Ocarina of Time, which pretty much recycled the Marin and Tarin and Owl character concepts into Malon, Talon, and Kaepora Gaebora. Then Majora’s Mask ended up as a huge collection of recurring characters, though that was because of Nintendo recycling resources and was also explained away as being an alternate dimension thing. Continuing with the Oracle games and The Wind Waker, there were yet more recurrences, and it’s stayed that way ever since. The few games that do seem to depart from having recurring characters, such as Twilight Princess, end up re-using archetypes or general character designs: Purlo is like Tingle, Dr. Borville looks like the Lake Scientist, and Gor Ebizo looks like the Goron Elder from Majora’s Mask. Skyward Sword, also, made references to prior Zelda characters in its character designs, such as with Gaepora, but more to the point I’m about to make, the game featured Beedle from the toon-style games.

As I said, I’ve always loved seeing these characters. While I don’t in any way mind the idea of a Zelda game sticking to a new cast of characters, seeing the familiar faces of amusing people in the Zelda world — even if it defies logical explanation — is fun, nostalgic, and inviting for anyone familiar with the series. I’ve talked before about how much I love Tingle as a humorous character, and I’ve loved seeing him again in every game he’s shown up in. When we saw Beedle in Skyward Sword, I took this as insurance that we’d see a few more familiar faces in the game and, in particular, was certain they wouldn’t skip Tingle this time. But not only did they skip Tingle… they skipped having any minor recurring characters at all besides Beedle.

I think if a game is going to bother to include familiar characters like that at all, then it should be a more notable aspect of the game. I don’t like the idea of Zelda games where Nintendo just throws characters they’ve used before into the cast just for the sake of doing so; these characters have their own charms that work in certain situations, and as I’ve said they help generate appeal for existing Zelda fans. But if you just throw them in without thought, it cheapens the character and the game’s cast overall. Think about it… why is Beedle in Skyward Sword? He is the lone recurring side character in the game and he barely matters within it at all and could have easily been replaced. It would have made more sense if more of the cast were familiar.

Maybe it’s hypocritical for me to be bothered by this since I like Tingle, and his reappearance in The Wind Waker was a very similar case in that Tingle was the only recurring character in the game, but The Wind Waker is also largely responsible for the modern identity of the character. It expanded off his debut in Majora’s Mask so much that it’s hard to criticize the game for including him… because it defines him. Maybe Skyward Sword does that with Beedle by showing the difference between his “business” and “casual” speech patterns… but it still doesn’t feel to me like they really put any effort into including Beedle in Skyward Sword or even intended to in the first place.

Recurring characters are awesome, but if you don’t handle it well it just becomes lame fanservice, and excessive fanservice doesn’t do much more than cheapen the experience. I think that Skyward Sword’s actions on this front should be avoided in the future, and instead Nintendo mimic their more successful examples of reintroducing old faces. Ocarina of Time and The Wind Waker reused character concepts and redesigned them into their more popular forms. The Oracle games and The Minish Cap introduced familiar faces into a totally new perspective — 2D overhead — and succeeded in creating a novelty appeal in doing so. And Twilight Princess creatively reused character designs and turned them into entirely new characters.

These are my examples of good ways to handle reappearing characters. I’m not saying I hated Beedle in Skyward Sword, he just seemed a little pointless to me and deserved better. Zelda has many great characters, and while I’d love to see them all again, it’s got to be done in a way that shows respect to not only the characters or the series as a whole, but their fans too. It’s also refreshing to occasionally see a game that does little more than invent entirely new characters, although hopefully when those games come along it won’t be a long wait until we see familiar faces again.

So what about you? Do you like seeing recurring characters like these? Do you think some Zelda games have handled it better than others? How about Beedle in Skyward Sword? Or do you just prefer brand-new characters instead? Tell me your thoughts in the comments!