The following article is a theory article which reflects the opinions of the writer and not ZeldaInformer as a whole. With that said, enjoy the read.
Over the years, Nintendo has been proven to be increasingly fond of giving heroes and heroines evil doppelgangers. The Metroid series is home to two creatures formed from parasites bonding with Samus’ old suits: the SA-X and Dark Samus. Nintendo’s most prolific franchise, the Mario series, also introduced Shadow Mario as Bowser Jr.‘s disguise. It therefore comes as no surprise that a series such as Zelda has also been given the same thematic treatment.
Unlike the dark characters of other series, however, the true nature of Zelda‘s Dark Link is shrouded in mystery; every origin hinted at seems to contradict previous implications. It is entirely probable, given more recent appearances showing the existence of more than one Dark Link, that no two occurrences of the character intrinsically imply the same entity. To ascertain exactly what the possibilities of Dark Link’s nature are, it is necessary to examine each incarnation of Dark Link within its own context as well as in comparison with his other appearances.
Adventure of Link
Dark Link’s first appearance was as the final boss in the second Nintendo Entertainment System Zelda game. In spite of his origin as an enemy, indeed one so important as to be the final boss, he is given no explanation either within the game or in the manual, merely serving as the last challenge Link must face.
To understand what he might represent one should familiarize themselves with the relevant sections of the game’s back-story.
“The Triforce of Courage is hidden in the Great Palace in the Valley of Death on the largest island in Hyrule. However, to enter there you must first fight the guardians and undo the “binding force”… There, you must fight the last guardian. And you can obtain the Triforce only by defeating that guardian … At that time Ganon’s underlings were calling up new allies from the Underworld, and were beginning to work devilishly towards the revival of Ganon.” Adventure of Link manual, pages 10-11
These excerpts show that there are at least two possibilities to the nature of every monster in the game, not only Dark Link. Any monster one fights can either be a minion of Ganon looking to spill Link’s blood or a test set by the previous wielder of the Triforce of Courage to ensure only the truest are able to reach the final treasure. It is sensible to assume, in the context of the game, that the overworld enemies, such as the moblins, are Ganon’s followers whereas those which reside in the palaces are more likely to be the guardians of which the scroll writer spoke.
Using this logic it is assumed that the Dark Link of this game is a creation of the previous wielder of Courage set as a final test to the new hero. Supporting this idea is that it can be interpreted that the Old Man, who resides in the final room of the Great Palace, summons the enemy in that room. He appears to be the one on vigil to guard the Triforce and it is reasonable to assume that he is the source of the magic that summons Dark Link forth. The reason for this summoning could be one of many. Two common theories are that this game’s Dark Link acts as the literal evil part of Link, and that all Link’s less than holy emotions are given form so that he might symbolically defeat them: purifying his soul in readiness to obtain the full relic. The imagery of this is undeniably powerful, but there is little in-game evidence to support it. The second theory, one much more linked with the little evidence we are given, is that Dark Link fulfills the role of the last guardian to which the scroll referred. Link must defeat this guardian simply as a test before reaching the Triforce, Dark Link being a spell of the previous wielder of Courage or perhaps the old man who appears to act as its sentinel.
However, it should be noted that the scroll referred only of the last guardian: only one great guardian of the Great Palace before one is deemed worthy enough to take hold of the Triforce in the eyes of the scroll-writer. The boss battle of the Great Palace which fulfills the role of the other guardians is Thunderbird. In a manner typical of the other Palaces’ Guardians, the Thunderbird Battle takes place in a pillared room, employs the use of a recent spell or ability and, upon its defeat, provides experience and a key.
This beast appears to be the true guardian of this palace and that to which the scroll refers; the surprise appearance of Dark Link as a boss straight afterwards is, therefore, made slightly confusing. Could this enemy really be the last guardian to whom the letter writer referred or is his appearance a mystery even to them? In the context of this battle, rather than Dark Link, the enemy sprite is known as Link’s Shadow, and he appears from that very place: Link’s own shadow. It is entirely possible that the enemy resided in this patch of darkness the entire game due to the fact the player is never shown the enemy enter Link’s shadow, yet he is there to leap out shortly before the end of the game. We can compare the behavior of this enemy with that of two other figures in Zelda lore: The Magician from the back-story of Adventure of Link and Midna of Twilight Princess.
Both of these characters, the Magician and Midna, show fondness for hiding in the shadows; Midna herself is from the realm of shadows known as the Twilight Realm. They share the same coloring in their grey-teal skin and their clothing of a much darker grey. They also share the feature of red eyes. Though these games were released a decade apart, it is interesting to note the similarities that they share with each other and Dark Link.
Ocarina of Time
Dark Link in Ocarina of Time is the version from whom the name Dark Link is derived. In this game, Link is confronted by the enemy in a misty and mirage-like room, and he appears from the misty ground near a tree in the center of the room, seemingly from Link’s own reflection.
His actions are similar to his previous incarnation; he appears unable to attack without any active momentum from the player, relying only on reactions rather than direct attacks. His attack pattern is, however, noticeably more flawed than his two-dimensional counterpart. Link’s Shadow of Adventure of Link has the ability to adjust his attacks and movements in regards to Link’s own position and requires only movement from the player to fight well. In this battle, however, Dark Link is limited only to attacking when the hero himself attacks. This makes it much easier to anticipate his attacks and even to use the mimicry to an advantage.
Being the first three-dimensional game in the Zelda series, and one which is admitted to having been filled with hints and nods to the games prior, Dark Link’s appearance could be simply down to fan service. On the other hand, Ocarina of Time was created to provide a prequel to the existing games and it could show deliberate developer intent as to the evolution of the character. As Dark Link’s first chronological use, according to commonly accepted aspects of timeline theory, the Water Temple battle could be claimed to show the beginning of a trend in Ganon’s minions: one that shows Ganon’s first attempt at summoning such a creature from the Dark World to combat the hero. It could be quite rationally reasoned, therefore, that this enemy serves as a prototype both for the developers’ use of the character and Ganon’s use of him as a minion.
However, just as in Adventure of Link, there are other ways of interpreting the evidence which could class Dark Link to be of entirely different origin. He appears in a room of illusion, mirrors and reflection and could merely be the result of an evil spell to mimic the combatant, not intrinsically being Link-like in shape. Moreover, this form is the only version of the enemy not to have a link with the word Shadow and the only version not to be entirely black but to have a more shimmery, transparent form. He could also, once more akin to Adventure of Link, be interpreted to be not evil but a guardian set to ensure only those worthy are able to traverse the holy Water Temple using the treasure the enemy guards.
Interestingly, Ocarina of Time introduced a second doppelganger that would soon become a staple of the series: Phantom Ganon. This means Dark Link is no longer alone as a shadowy form of an existing character. It also cements the idea that Ganondorf himself is able to mould his creations to be as he desires, thus could easily manufacture himself a minion shaped as Link should the situation require such magic or technique.
Oracle of Ages
Before continuing by analyzing Oracle of Ages, some clarification needs to be made about the nature of the Dark World, as this section will relate to it in a more subjective degree than previously.
In Adventure of Link and Ocarina of Time the world from which the monsters come is called Makai in the original Japanese. This is a portmanteau of the words Maou, meaning demon king or devil, and Sekai, meaning world. Makai therefore roughly translates to Demon World: specifically one in possession of a Maou to be in charge and often a Mazoku: a tribe or army of lesser evil who inhabit the world. In Ocarina of Time it is stated that the role of Maou is fulfilled by Ganondorf as Daimaou (Great Demon King) and that the location of the Makai is the corrupted Sacred Realm.
In the Oracle games, however, this world is called Yami no Sekai. It is a far less prescriptive form of what we call Dark World and literally means only world of darkness with no prerequisite for a Maou to be in charge as there is no demonic presence required, only a literal lack of light.
A Link to the Past confuses the trend, however, as what is to be believed is the same Makai of Ocarina of Time, the corrupted Sacred Realm with Ganon as ruler, is in this game called Yami no Sekai. This implies that the two terms are interchangeable, and this concept is furthered by Four Swords Adventures in which the translated Dark World is called both Yami no Sekai and Makai at different points in the Japanese game; the same is true of Ocarina of Time. Whereas this does not prove that a World of Darkness always equals a Demon World or vice versa, there is enough link between natures to consider them as being able to have very similar, if not the same, natures.
For a more in-depth discussion of the nature of what we translate as ‘Dark World’, I recommend Ben Lamoreux’s article: A New Perspective: The Nature of the Dark Realm.
The self professed Sorceress of Shadow, Veran, is said in game, along with her cohort Onox, to have been summoned by Twinrova from the Dark World. She shares the same grey-teal skin of those mentioned previously in comparison with Link’s Shadow of Adventure of Link as well as Midna’s shocking orange hair and the characteristic red eyes. Veran is described in-game as having extended the darkness of the world thus presumably having good control over this darkness, and she is capable of possessing people by taking a shadowy form and hiding within them. Her appearance and behavior seems logically comparable to Midna, the Magician and indeed Link’s Shadow himself. In the final battle she is shown to be able to summon four Dark Links to fight alongside her.
In practice these Dark Links appear to serve merely as obstacles, they move as arm-mimics and are actually a boon to the player if low on life as they guarantee a recovery heart. It is important, however, that Veran should be able to summon these creatures when examining the nature of the enemy. All monsters in the Oracle games are said to have come from the Dark World by way of either Twinrova’s magic or Veran and Onox’s own individual plots; this would imply that Veran, the Sorceress of Shadow, has some control over the calling upon of Dark Links from the realm beyond.
This has several implications. It strengthens the concept that previous versions of Dark Link were also products of the Dark World as well as drawing many parallels between the many Dark Worlds from which these creatures are able to be called and in which they and, presumably, Veran and Onox reside. Perhaps most importantly to the quality of this study, it also confirms that the entity of Dark Link consists of more than an individual, a fact that will play a greater part in his next appearance.
Four Swords Adventures
Four Swords Adventures features the Dark Links as very important enemies in regards to the main storyline and provides more input as to their origin than any other game to date. In this game they are referred to as Shadow Link rather than Dark Link. This brings them into a number of parallels with the incarnations of Dark Links examined thus far. In this game, the Shadow Links form the most elite of Ganon’s henchmen. They are put in charge of causing all the mischief in the game: burning down villages, hiding important items and even releasing Vaati in order that Ganondorf might take hold of the Trident undeterred.
“Long ago, a dark tribe invaded Hyrule. They were defeated and imprisoned within the mirror … Shadow Link!! Could he be your evil reflection, cast by the Dark Mirror? If that were the motive of the mirror’s thief… This is disastrous! If we don’t get the mirror back, Hyrule will be overrun with evil Shadow Links.” White Maiden, Four Swords Adventures
When considering what is said in this game, we can induce the following plot points only by assuming that the characters in the game interpret the evidence correctly themselves. If we do accept this, we know that the mirror is, in essence, a prison for an ancient Dark Tribe. In addition, for the first time in the series a possible explanation is given as to why the enemy takes the form of Link; the White Maiden hypothesizes that he could be Link’s evil reflection brought about by the Dark Mirror; Zelda herself explains that Ganon brought forth Shadow Link from the Dark Mirror. Assuming all Dark Links are of similar origin, the claims that Ganon himself is responsible for the Dark Links strengthens the suspicion that Link’s Shadow of Adventure of Link was of Ganon origin rather than of a guardian-like nature.
If we draw parallels between the concept of the Mirror as a prison, and the Shadow Links as the physical forms of its ancient Dark Tribe, a good reason is given as to why Link’s Shadow in Adventure of Link may have felt such loyalty towards the Demon King and bore such desire to resurrect his master. If Ganon was the one to free the Shadow Links from their prison then they would certainly feel indebted towards their savior and offer him allegiance and servitude. Moreover, the concept of Shadow Link as the second-in-command, elite squad of Ganon in Four Swords Adventures gives good reason for Link’s Shadow seemingly to be the leader of Ganon’s henchmen in the Demon King’s absence during Adventure of Link , leading the attempt to resurrect him. Four Swords Adventures certainly sets the scene for Dark Link to be given such a position.
Important to the concept of the nature of the Dark World, if we assume all Dark Links are from the same realm of origin, it means that the realm beyond the Dark Mirror in Four Swords Adventures either is, was or will be in the future deserving of the term Makai. It is also said that part of the mischief of the Dark Links is spreading the effects of the Dark World throughout Hyrule; this is another ability shared with Veran who, as already said, extended the Dark World’s reach.
Dark Link’s appearance in Twilight Princess itself is, realistically, no more than a cameo. A number of the enemies represent the ancestors of the Twili in Lanayru’s historical vision of the Prolonged Wars which the spirit imparted to Link. This merely is shown to provide a visual metaphor for the extent to which desire for the Golden Power was able to corrupt the most innocent and pure of souls. It is, however, a very powerful piece of imagery which we can relate to Shadow Link in Four Swords Adventures.
The concept of Four Swords Adventures’ Mirror prison from which the Dark Links are summoned connects massively in theme to the Dark Interlopers, who take the visual allegory of Dark Links, being trapped in the Mirror of Twilight. Just as the Twili are said to be the descendents of a dark tribe banished to the Twilight Realm via the Mirror of Twilight, so too are the Shadow Links in Four Swords Adventures, coming from the Dark Mirror prison, implied to be of some relation to the dark tribe referred to in that game trapped in the Mirror ages ago. This could imply intention and meaning in Lanayru’s vision beyond mere symbolism and show the possibility that the inhabitants of the mirror can take, have taken or will someday take the form of Dark Link.
When considering the original Link’s Shadow with regards to the combined evidence and implications of Dark Link’s many appearances since, a number of new ideas occur as well as several existing theories are strengthened to a point of near confirmation. We know that in Adventure of Link Ganon’s servants were summoning monsters from the Makai to destroy Link. We also know that the Dark Links of Adventure of Link, Oracle of Ages and Four Swords Adventures all have strong links to a Dark World. Finally, we can tell that the forms of Dark Link in Four Swords Adventures are worthy of the status of Ganon’s second-in-command and key henchmen.
In conclusion, therefore, it would seem that the final boss of Adventure of Link is Ganon’s most loyal follower and one of the inhabitants of the Dark World from which many of the series’ monsters are summoned: the same demon world from which Veran hailed and the other incarnations of Dark Link are shown to have resided. He is a character who longs for the resurrection of his master in repayment for the existence and freedom he himself received thanks to the Evil King by his release from the Dark Mirror. He hides in Link’s shadow throughout the game waiting for the moment to strike. He finds this moment when Link is weakest having just fought the most powerful of the Palace Guardians. There is the added bonus that upon Link’s defeat Shadow Link has been led to the resting place of the Triforce of Courage and may then take the piece for himself and return it to his master, bringing him one step closer to the whole Triforce of his dreams. Indeed, upon Shadow Link’s appearance in the approach to the Triforce, the entire room appears to be taken over by the Dark World and become inverted and dark.
It would appear Dark Link’s status increases as the games move on, although this does rely on the existing arrangement of one’s personal timeline to some degree. In Ocarina of Time the character is a once seen enemy who poses only as a mini-boss. In his next appearance in Oracle of Ages the enemy takes a larger role as four iterations summoned in the final boss battle of the game. Four Swords Adventures gives him a starring role as Ganon’s main follower and key cause of much of the game’s trouble and finally, in Adventure of Link he is elevated to the role of final boss and presumed leader of the Mazoku in Ganon’s absence.
Whatever the case may be, due both to the popularity of the character and the pervading mystery which surrounds him, it would be a surprise if we’ve seen the last of Link’s evil double. In the mean time one can easily speculate and attempt to predict how future games may provide a more concrete account of his relation to the Ganon, Link, the Dark World and the plethora of mirrors scattered throughout the series. Of course this day may never come and Dark Link may never be truly explained; Nintendo, instead, preferring to maintain the status of one of its most popular bad guys as a true enigma!