“Now, a new legend . . . stands ready to be revealed. A legend that will be forged by your own hand.” – Fi, Skyward Sword introduction
As a gaming series it goes without saying that The Legend of Zelda is an interactive journey where the experience is entirely at your discretion. However, unlike many other gaming series, the individual experience of Zelda goes beyond how you tackle the gameplay alone.
The Legend of Zelda is completely open-ended; it is what you make it. Even now with a confirmed chronology, it is still up to the individual players precisely how the games connect and how the timeline really holds together. It is for this very reason that even the official timeline release did not quell timeline theorizing.
The Legend of Zelda hints at romance, but it is the players who make the final decisions. There is an abundance of hidden connections, meanings and morals, but it is up to you as the player to discover them, make sense of them and apply them. Even once a Zelda game is over you continue to craft your own experience of the series.
It has long been a staple of basic Zelda knowledge that the protagonist Link is a representation of the player. Not only do you name him, but he also remains largely unemotional because the emotions you feel are what Link feels. He remains voiceless and unspoken because you are his voice.
The very name “Link” denotes the connection between the player and the on-screen character. As series creator Miyamoto puts it in Hyrule Historia, “Link is the player himself . . . the player saves the world.”
Link as the player demonstrates how Zelda is yours to craft within the games, but it is outside of the games where your individually truly shows. The series canon—the games, developer quotes and now Hyrule Historia—all give us the facts, but facts alone are without context, unless you provide it.
Facts may be official, but they are also extremely vague. To use the topical example of the official Zelda timeline, one such fact is that a third arc occurs if Ganon defeats Link in Ocarina of Time’s final battle. Alone, the fact tells fans little, and it must be expanded upon individually to make sense. Zelda’s facts leave much to be imagined, and so, it falls to the fans to imagine them.
The Legend of Zelda is not defined by its limited facts; it is you who is the defining factor. Players, within their own minds, decide how to use the facts and construct their understanding of the Zelda universe. As series Director Eiji Aonuma writes in Hyrule Historia, “we wish for you to touch true adventure with your own hands and try to ascertain it for yourself.”
What you make of The Legend of Zelda is up to you. The gameplay experience, the story and the morals all come down to your interpretation. In one aspect or another, every Zelda title is “obscured by the mists of time” or “one of the legends of which people speak.” Both within the game universe, and without, this ambiguity depends upon you for clarity. It is you that tells the story.
In the online world of Zelda communities it is all too often about being right or wrong, or having the most substantiated argument. While such debate is enjoyable and stimulating to its ends, it also overlooks what Zelda truly is—your legend.
Zelda is what you want it to be. What Zelda means to you is what matters, and it’s that open-ended nature to the series that makes it so great. It is what makes fans of the series so much more dedicated than many other fanbases.
As we read, write and discuss Zelda online, we are forging our interpretations of the series. Those interpretations are the very legend itself. As we share our thoughts we help others to build their own picture of what Zelda is.
Zelda is an experience that through sharing and open discussion we each form our own true version of the legend. Whatever level of sophistication you want Zelda to have, it can. Whether you enjoy the series as a collection of disjointed legends, or are the kind who strives to explain the entire chronology, Zelda is entirely what you make it.
“A legend . . . forged by your own hand.” – Fi, Skyward Sword introduction
About the author: Dathen was a lead writer for Zelda Informer from 2009-2012. He left us for a professional position at the major sports-news website The Bleacher Report, but still writes here on occasion as a guest contributor.