Posted on January 13 2016 by Alfred Tabaks
What makes a hero? Courage? Wisdom? Power? Or a tri…ad of the three? While these are simple concepts to understand, they are difficult to convey, especially in unknown characters. When telling a story, the author must build the character in such a way that the character is likable, understandable, and replayable. Therein lies the difficulty of telling stories in video games. How does one make the player’s character fit these three molds in a memorable way? While character development takes place over the course of the story, the first hour or so is the most crucial part of the character development. If the audience is adverse to the character at such an early stage, repairing this damaged view of the character will take quite a bit longer.
The character of Link is an interesting one to say the least. While he rarely speaks, he is, in my opinion, one of the most well-developed characters in the history of video games. There are many instances of Link, and while a few of them have not had any story or background, from A Link to the Past on, each Link has been given a unique introduction that has given the character a life of his own. Throughout the years, Link has been recreated in many different ways in many different places, yet, there are a few characteristics that remain the same. These are the essential building blocks of our hero. While the traditional hero is one of the tragic, or flawed, hero, Link is the opposite.
Of course, the first thing that every iteration of Link has had is courage. His piece of the
Triforce, after all, is the Triforce of Courage. However, it is not enough to just say that Link has courage. In order for this fact to be accepted, it must be proved to the audience. One of the most evident instances of this is used in The Wind Waker. This iteration of Link is just a regular boy with no relation to the hero of time whatsoever. After his sister is kidnapped, he sets off on this journey to rescue her. He travels through volcanoes, forests, and temples in order to find her, and to eventually crush the evil that plagues the land. Link must face each of these perils head-on. By no means are any of these trials easy tasks. Because of these courageous actions, he is recognized by the gods and accepted as the Hero of the Winds.
While all of that is easy to say, the creators had to prove this to the audience without this seeming contrived and thrown together. This is where the benefit of Link being the player comes in. As the player, you see each difficulty and experience it firsthand. It only seems natural to you that half way through your journey, you are recognized by the gods. This clever method establishes the kind of cornerstone that only video games can establish. The courage is displayed through the willingness to take on each of these trials. Not only is it seen, but it is also experienced. Each failed attempt and each retry is evidence of this courage that is spoken of countless times.
Skyward Sword, we see Link embrace this same courage. As he seeks to find his friend, he faces unknown territory. Not yet a knight, he embarks on his journey to rescue Zelda. As he jumps into the fray with nary the thought to his safety, the onlooker is given a glimpse into the heroic actions of the protagonist. As he fights his way through each terror and creepy swordsman encounter, he displays his courage and resolve.
Methods like this don’t leave a lot to the imagination. There is no question of Link’s heroics in each and every instance. There is never an instance in which it is questioned. His pure heart that drives him gives him the courage to continue.
I decided to run through
Twilight Princess again out of nostalgia for the game. In the opening “prologue,” we get a glimpse into the life of Link and Ordon Village. While it is a peaceful place, it is not without its troubles. For example, the first thing one must do in order to progress the game is to return a stolen baby basket to a mother. While we, the player, know that there is ultimately some extra gain from helping with this task, Link is oblivious to such pertinent information. Instead, he just does this to help out.
Furthermore, he continues to help by helping a cat fish so it can make amends with its owner, and then get rid of a beehive (to the detriment of half a heart). While the middle “quest” may have its motives, ultimately, all of these tasks are done out of kindness in order to help the troubled villagers. Throughout the game, we get this same picture of Link. All of the side quests, such as helping the Hero’s Shade get rest, or helping Agitha collect bugs, are done in order to help people for the sake of helping them.
This pure heart is one of the traits that continually builds up the heroic characteristics of Link. The key idea is that he does few things for his own gain, but instead for the benefit of others. He helps as many people with their problems as he can, which gives the audience an idea of his character. These crucial moments in the introduction to the game and throughout the game help the player build a structure of who Link is and why he is the hero.
Aside from breaking pots and slashing at
cuccos, Link is shown only doing good. Not only does this make him a likable hero, but it makes him a seemingly perfect hero. This isn’t all that surprising since the whole series revolves around the idea of light VS. darkness. On one hand, we have Ganondorf, or whoever the villain of the game is, who is the ultimate evil. There is no good in him whatsoever. On the other side, there is Link, who is the perfect depiction of light and goodness. This is a risky move in storytelling, however, because it is theoretically impossible to relate to a flawless hero. However, we are usually given one last building block that builds up this image of a hero.
From the get-go, Link always appears independent. Whether it is in the very first Zelda game, where he is completely on his own, or The Wind Waker, where he lives with his grandma and sister, he is typically portrayed with an independent spirit. This is done in different ways in different games, though. For example, in Ocarina of Time, while Link is treated as family by the Kokiri, he is, by all rights, an outcast. He does not belong there and he and everyone else seem to know it. While there is no doubt that his friends, like Saria, care for him, he is ultimately on his own. While this is not a character flaw, it lets us feel for the character. Link typically lives with someone or in some village in each game. However, there are some questions as to how he ended up the way he did.
Even though we are given back story in Ocarina of Time, in most other games, we are not. In A Link to the Past, our hero lives with his uncle, who seemingly dies, leaving Link on his own. While the game never makes a point of this, we are left to wonder about his parents. This trend continues in subsequent games. While he may live in a village or with his grandma, something has happened to his parents. When we take all of these things into account, we cannot help but feel for his character. While this may not necessarily be relating to him, it allows us to have an emotional connection to him.
It is difficult to build a perfect hero while also allowing people to like and relate to him or her. Through these methods, Nintendo manages to accomplish this almost impossible task. The building of such a silent and seemingly blank character has helped make Link, not to mention
The Legend of Zelda series as a whole, a mainstay Nintendo franchise.
Fan Art: Vincent Bisschop