Posted on June 02 2015 by James Evans
Last week, I discussed how the Zelda series could potentially work as an RPG. While a number of the elements were either agreed upon or ignored, one point that really stuck out and caused some great debate was the customization of the main protagonist, Link. I have to say, there were some great points on either side of the argument, some of which got me thinking heavily about this concept as a part of the series.
So what would this entail? A single addition to the game could open up a whole new world for some players, while others would boycott the series for even making it an option. Is it really that big of a deal? Could this one concept really have that much of an impact on the series as a whole? I plan to take a thorough look at both sides of this coin in an attempt to find what is best for the franchise without being murdered by the Internet.
For starters, who is Link? We all know that he’s the Hero of legend and the holder of the Trifoce of Courage, but who does he represent? He is the “link” between the player and the game, but in which direction does the characterization flow? Is Link supposed to be the embodiment of us or are we supposed to embody him? I believe that the beauty in it is that this can be interpreted either way.
There Can Only Be One
The topic of customizing Link’s appearance really tends to light some fires under a number of fans. While some respond to the idea with clear disagreement, others (as I stated earlier) are willing to abandon the franchise solely based on the existence of customization. I’m not going to lie; my eyes were opened up to a few new viewpoints that make a lot of sense.
Link has not only become an icon, but a symbol of Nintendo. A number of people who know little to nothing about the video game industry still know Link when they see him. Sure, they may call him “Zelda”, but the fact remains that his appearance has become etched into the history of gaming. Think of the faces of the gaming industry in terms of memorable characters: Mario, Samus, Master Chief, Kratos, Lara Croft, Donkey Kong. All of these characters are known by the entire gaming community based solely on their appearance, and Link is right up there with the most recognizable of them.
Even outside of the iconic nature of Link as a character, does the concept of customizability really fit in the Zelda series? As technology has developed, we have been able to see a clearer picture of Link’s characteristics. Blonde hair and blue eyes are a given, but the facial features, body type, and even his accessories are equally important to the visual representation of the character. Giving the player any kind of freedom to change that appearance could detract from the realization of his role in the prophecy and theoretically “kill” the legend.
With these ideas in mind, we are to embody the Hero just as he is. Playing these games allows us to escape into another reality – a reality where we are not ourselves. The idea behind the evolution of Link is to make him near perfect in every way. He’s adventurous, courageous, athletic, exciting, mysterious, and just too darn sexy for Hyrule’s own good. These are all things many of us want to be, but often can’t because real life sucks, most of the time. “Don’t worry. You’re all still awesome and sexy in my eyes, but you get the point.” He’s more than we could ever be and is living a life we all desire to live. Do we really want to be us in that situation? Maybe not. Maybe we want to lose ourselves for a moment in the fantasy. Why change something that has worked for the last thirty years, anyway?
But What About Me?
On the other hand, what if we want to play as ourselves? What if we crave a story where the protagonist is actually flawed. This is where some would argue, “Then go play a different game”, but here’s the thing: we don’t want to play a different game. We want to solve the puzzles that we know only the
Zelda series can deliver, but as a character representing us rather than the other way around. Those who fall into this category understand that Link is an icon, and he can never be. However, as Link’s appearance has changed mildly throughout the series, why can’t more options be made available at once to choose from? They will all still look like Link, but the minor details would be selected to allow the player to invoke some personal creativity into the character.
Who’s to say that we can’t change Link’s hairstyle, while it still remains blonde? Can we not alter his resting face as long as the options available maintain it’s boyish blue eyed charm? What if we prefer Link to be shorter? Taller? More muscular? More lean? These are small changes that still hold the overall characterization of the hero we all know and love, but allow for some individualism. It would be like comparing the Links of
Twilight Princess and A Link to the Past. There is a visible change in appearance, but the key notes of the character are still present.
Those who fall under this ideology want the hero to embody themselves. They want to be immersed in a world outside of their own, but as themselves. They want to feel like they have the opportunity to be all of those things I described previously. Most, if not all, of these people understand who Link is as a character and aren’t looking to completely alter him to their own appearance. What they are looking for is a chance to validate their own traits as something of worth.
Someone who is shorter than their peers may want to play as a short Link to give pride to their stature. A young woman may find that she feels more empowered by playing as a female character. I’m not saying any of these things are bad, nor am I saying that everyone who falls into these categories feel this way. What I am saying is that it would allow the character to speak to players on a more personal level, and that’s what character customization is all about.
It’s What’s On the Inside
Outside of physical appearances, there is another aspect of customization that is often overlooked: Link’s personality. He has always been the ideal hero. Without hesitation, he accepts his calling and jumps in to save the people of Hyrule. Everyone he meets immediately trusts and adores him. Again, he is perfection. So why would this even be a topic when it comes to customization? Isn’t this about how Link looks? Why would we want him to be any less than perfect? The answer seems to lie in defining Link’s character, beyond his appearance, and giving players a chance to turn this ideal hero into a more imperfect one.
Why must our heroes be so perfect? Why can’t we control their decisions even a little bit? Stop being so friendly to that punk of a kid and put him in his place. Every choice has been guided by a “yes” or “no”, with the incorrect answer prompting either a “Haha, you’re silly” or a complete repeat of the story all over again. There is no pain like hammering the A-button to quickly push through dialogue, just to have Kaepora Gaebora default to “Yes, please, I want to hear your absurdly long speech repeatedly until my ears implode.”
What if we were actually given the option to say something else, solidifying our personification of the character? Want to be the perfect hero? “Thank you for your wise words, my friend.” Want to be the mysteriously serious and overconfident version of Link? Select “…..” and the text prompts Link to stare at him with the look of “see what happens” in his eyes. The dialogue need only change slightly, keeping the context of every interaction largely the same.
Is this carrying the creativity too far? Should Link continue to be the perfect hero or should his choices weigh on the player? The outcome and ultimate path of the game doesn’t need to be changed or affected, but giving the player options to vary
how Link responds could open up his characterization without the need to impact his appearance. In fact, maybe this is a direction that the series could take in and of itself.
A Different Point of View
Another one of the ideas that was brought up last week has really stuck with me. What if there was a way to have both of these things? What if we could have Link stay the same, but have the chance to play as something different. Think
Hyrule Warriors meets Sonic Adventure 2. The idea is that it’s possible to play as different characters to experience different stories. Imagine a scenario where instead of threatening Hyrule with the capture of Princess Zelda, some evil is aware of the hero’s birth and takes him before he is of age. Zelda has become aware of this and takes up the royal sword as only the power of her Triforce of Wisdom is capable of taking on this new threat. All of this plays out, of course, only after choosing to play through the game as Zelda instead of Link.
Here’s an idea that I have come up with that I think would satisfy everyone. Without taking too much from
Hyrule Warriors, Ganon is no longer interested in capturing the wielders of the Triforce. He uses the Triforce of Power to amass an army to instead destroy Hyrule entirely. The player is allowed to choose between Link and Zelda, either of which will traverse dungeons and solve puzzles via the standard Zelda format, in an attempt to awaken the goddesses as their only hope for victory. You could even allow for interchangeability throughout the game, selecting the hero best suited for the puzzle at hand at any time. This would allow for players to have some choice in who they play as throughout the adventure while also maintaining the iconic character base.
This would also open up opportunities for alternate stories and campaigns based on the characters selected. While Link is off doing what he does best, Zelda may stay back to lead her army against the opposition, taking the puzzle aspect and building a strategy based side-quest or mini-game. It could be a fun little addition that wasn’t necessary for the completion of the game, but allowed players to experience playing as someone else.
My Final Thoughts
All things said, I am growing more and more interested in the possibilities that are spawning from this debate. Do I think any one side is wrong? No. Do I care which path the series takes on this matter? No. Do I think that either direction could ruin the franchise? No. The fact of the matter is that the
Zelda series will always remain special to me and I will continue to play everything that the team puts out there. Not because it’s exactly the game that I want it to be, but because it always ends up being the game that I didn’t know I wanted.
For example, I remember hating
Zelda II when I was younger, solely because of its difficulty. However, I’ve since gone back and played it again, and it quickly became one of my favorite games of all time. Why is that? How could a game like that do a 180 on me? Could it be that what I once thought was too different from the norm to be classified as a Zelda game was actually a breath of fresh air from the standard format? I’m not the only person who has undergone this “transformation” in franchise history, either. In fact, this is happening a lot recently.
Majora’s Mask, Wind Waker, and Skyward Sword all took new steps in the transformation of the series and were hated for it. Even Twilight Princess was once branded as the worst Zelda game ever made by the majority, and it just won our 2015 ZVS Best Zelda Game Tournament. These games that once put bad tastes in our mouths for trying something new are now being hailed as some of the best games ever made. Why the change of heart? Could it be that we are afraid of change until we realize that change and evolution can be two different things?
Maybe I don’t know what I want out of the next
Zelda. Maybe I don’t know what’s best for the series. What I do know for certain is that the team will continue to push out products that do the series justice and stand the test of time. One thing that Zelda has that few, if any, other series’ can attest for is that even now, in the prime of gaming technology, it is still just as fun to go back and play a classic as it is to play the newest version. For that reason alone, the Zelda series will not only hold itself as icon of gaming, but will also continue to meet our individual standards of a true “Legend”.
Fan Art Sources: