Ocarina of Time is all about change. When Link wakes up in the Hyrule of the future, he finds that Ganondorf has taken over and that the peace he restored throughout the land has shattered. He must learn to accept these changes – embracing the pleasant differences and dealing with the difficult ones. As we follow him throughout his quest, we are invited to journey through the various dimensions of that state of transition in order to make our own peace with the turbulent nature of time.
Looking back on our examination of Link’s Awakening‘s deeper message, the message at work in Ocarina of Time seem almost like a natural thematic evolution. We last ended with Link accepting the necessity of moving on from the innocence of childhood. Now, Ocarina of Time sets the scenario into even sharper focus as it literally displaces him from the world for seven years, forcing him to assume the form of an adult. Unlike his departure from Koholint Island, however, the story doesn’t finish there. We actually journey with Link into that brave new world and through the strange and often harsh realities that come with it.
Change – Growing Up
The flow of time is always cruel. Its speed seems different for each person, but no one can change it. A thing that doesn’t change with time is a memory of younger days.
Kokiri Forest is a child’s paradise, an idyllic fairy-world where everybody lives in trees and nobody has to grow up. Ancient precepts bar them from stepping outside its bounds, lest they perish. Mirroring the status of Koholint Island as a place where everything is trapped in time, we see that leaving the forest invites the inevitable reality of age and adulthood and, eventually, even death. The quote above, from Sheik, says that time moves differently for each person – for the Kokiri, time does not move at all.
The Deku Tree’s curse throws that precious equilibrium out of whack, forcing Link to accept his destiny and journey into the outside world, away from that state of stasis and into the harsh world of change and growth. And yet he did not have to do so – he could have chosen instead to stay behind and remain in the confines of the forest. But the world of Hyrule seems to reject such attempts to circumvent destiny, as we see most strongly in the Skull Kid:
Is this what happens to kids who wander into the forest? It looks like he doesn’t like grownups.
Skull Kid, the child with no face who shuns adults, represents the refusal to grow up. The Skull Kid refuses to leave the confines of his childhood state, but discovers the terrors of trying to remain in such a condition – the peace and safety of the Kokiri Forest gives way to the danger-filled and maze-like Lost Woods. But the effects of his decision do not end there: because he cannot accept the inevitable passage of time, he takes on a twisted, non-human form. I think we are to see in Skull Kid that trying to remain in place as time passes has its consequences.
In this way, even though the Kokiri Forest evokes the same sentiments first set down in Link’s Awakening about coming out of childhood, it takes them one step further, showing us that not only does refusing to grow up keep us from reality, but it also makes us vulnerable to the dangers of the adult world. Indeed, when Link returns to the forest as an adult, he finds the Kokiri hiding in their homes from the monsters lurking in the village, incapable of fighting back.
But while time stands still for the Kokiri, Link has just been thrust into adulthood, carried literally seven years into the future. He however has broken out of the illusion of eternal youth and taken on the tools of adulthood, the greatest of which is the Master Sword. We are to understand from all this that age is inevitable – but it is also a blessing rather than a curse. It is only by growing up that Link gains the power to defeat the evils haunting the forest.
There’s another layer to the image, though – we can also see the forest as a representation of Link’s history. Whereas before he existed in tranquility, he eventually had to meet evil face-to-face, culminating in the death of the Deku Tree. His return to the forest and cleansing of the temple show him revisiting these shadows of his past from his newfound adulthood and piercing through them. It’s no accident that the monsters haunting the forest temple are chiefly ghosts and phantoms, or that they are associated with images and illusions. Link is very much at war with the things that keep him from understanding his past in that more adult way. In the end, when the Deku Tree Sprout emerges, he finally learns the secret of his past: how he is a Hylian, not a Kokiri, and how he came to reside in the forest.
In the midst of these illusions and his discovery of the truth is Link’s quest to rescue Saria, his childhood friend. She is his most important connection to his past memories, and as such saving her mirrors the second part of Sheik’s quote. This chapter of the quest represents the fact that we do not have to give up our cherished memories in order to move into that adult understanding. To use a practical example (if a slightly nerdy one), those of us who enjoyed Ocarina of Time as children need not be afraid of the differences the 3DS version will surely offer – they do not render our original experience any less real or valid. At the same time, we must realize that gaming has matured, and that it’s time for the classics to grow up with it.
If there’s one word to describe this stage of maturity, it’s acceptance – acceptance of the changes that come with the passage of time. But we know, of course, that accepting change is not all there is to growing up. And, indeed, though Link fights an incarnation of Ganon in the forest temple, the real Ganondorf reminds him that dealing with the phantoms of change is only the first step…
Responsibility – Building Trust
It is something that grows over time, a true friendship. A feeling in the heart that becomes stronger over time. The passion of friendship will soon blossom into a righteous power and through it, you will know which way to go.
Link’s adventure eventually brings him to Death Mountain, the home of the Gorons, where he meets their troubled patriarch, Darunia. He couldn’t have arrived at a worse time – Ganondorf has come and sealed off the Gorons’ food source, the Dodongo’s Cavern. Without access to nourishment, the Gorons will eventually all perish, and naturally the responsibility of taking care of the situation rests on Darunia’s shoulders.
Ever the hero, Link offers to help, but is quickly rebuffed due to his age and his outsider status:
You’re just a little kid… This is a Goron problem! We don’t need any help from strangers!
He endured a similar attitude earlier in the story, when Mido, the boss of the Kokiri, tries to stop him from approaching the Deku Tree due to preconceived prejudices:
Hey you! “Mr. No Fairy!” What’s your business with the Great Deku Tree? Without a fairy, you’re not even a real man!
Because Link does not have a fairy, Mido considers him incapable of being a true Kokiri, and of being a “real man.” Behind this scenario is the implication that to be a “man” – or more broadly to be an adult capable of handling responsibility – one must fit in with society. For Link, being a Hylian in the Kokiri’s world cuts him out in the sense that we can literally distinguish him from the other members of his clan due to his lack of a fairy. Without that connection, Mido refuses to recognize his summons to see the Deku Tree as legitimate.
This sentiment plays a large role in our sense of responsibility in the real world. In order to be elected President in the United States, one must be a U.S.-born citizen. Immigrants need not apply, even if they have resided in the States for most of their lives. Though this may on the surface appear to be an arbitrary distinction, the underlying idea that responsibility should not be handed to outsiders has some merit. We can see throughout history that people all over the world often run into conflict with actions taken by governments that poorly represent the public’s views and interests. Some degree of trust between those who take on great responsibility and their constituencies is a must for a harmonious society.
Even though Mido was clearly out-of-line in the way he deals with Link, we can’t quite say the same for Darunia. It’s only natural that he should be wary of Link. There’s a lot more at stake there, and the trouble Ganondorf wrought shows us the potential risks of permitting the interference of outsiders. Mido represents an incomplete, fragmented picture of what it is like to be a responsible man, whereas Darunia is a bit closer to the mark.
To be seen as responsible, Link needs to win Darunia’s trust, which he achieves by extending the initial hand of friendship through his performance of Saria’s Song – a tune representing the connection between friends. It’s only a conditional trust, however:
Why don’t you go destroy the monsters inside of the Dodongo’s Cavern and prove you’re a real man? That way, everybody will be happy again! If you do it, I will give you anything you want, even the Spiritual Stone!
Here the phrase “real man” comes up yet again, as Darunia charges Link with taking out the monsters in the cave. The difference between this instance and the encounter with Mido, however, is that Darunia is trying to affirm Link whereas Mido rejected him. Link of course defeats the monsters, and as a reward Darunia grants him the highest honor of friendship, marking his true entry into Goron society and his trustworthiness among them:
You risked your life for us… Kid, I like you! How about you and I become Sworn Brothers?!
Years later, he returns to right the wrongs wrought in his absence. This time, he finds that the Goron city is completely empty, save for one lone defender: Darunia’s son, Link the Goron. At first, the young Goron is afraid that Link might be one of Ganondorf’s followers, but when Link reveals his name he is instantly recognized. Link the Goron shows him the way to the fire temple, and he and Darunia work together to battle the evils there. It is through their combined efforts that Link is able to recover the Megaton Hammer – the symbol of “righteous power” – and use it to defeat the demon wyrm Volvagia.
Link’s adventures on Death Mountain serve to teach us the secret to pursuing adult responsibilities as well as the importance of living up to them. Like Link, we must seek to build trust with others, to demonstrate our kinship with them, if we expect to be treated with respect. But we have to do more than build that confidence – we have to maintain it by following through on the expectations others place on us.
Relationships – Finding Love
Time passes, people move. Like a river’s flow, it never ends. A childish mind will turn to noble ambition. Young love will become deep affection. The clear water’s surface reflects growth.
When Princess Ruto of the Zoras first meets Link in Jabu-Jabu’s belly, she seems to harbor – shall we call it an intense dislike of his presence there, his meddling in her affairs, his belief that she needs saving. By the end of Link’s gauntlet through the twisting, writhing digestive tract of the cursed guardian god, however, she has developed some degree of affection and admiration of him. All right, that’s the understatement of the century – she’s blushing intensely after he takes down Barinade and proposes marriage as soon as they escape from the great fish’s bowels.
Surely this is the “young love” of which Sheik speaks – this childlike, paradoxical sort of love, where little girls and boys are angry at and disgusted by one another one second but lovey-dovey and fancy-free the next.
After Link awakens from his Sacred Realm slumber seven years later, it seems that that childhood crush has advanced to something much deeper. Ruto betrays to Link during their meeting in the water temple that she has been waiting (im)patiently for him to come back and fulfill his promise to marry her. But Link, having been displaced from his childhood into the adult world, isn’t quite sure how to react. Nonetheless, we can see in Ruto’s progression from primitive puppy love to endless pining another hallmark of growing up: the transition from young infatuation to a more adult relationship.
It’s admittedly pretty difficult to elaborate much further on Link and Ruto’s relationship due to Nintendo doing a masterful job at leaving romance in the Zelda series entirely up to the player’s imagination, but we can see similar developments happening with Malon, the ranch girl.
Malon’s initial impression of Link is superficial: she regards him as a “fairy boy” due to his outlandish clothing and his winged companion. When Link returns as an adult to investigate the state of the ranch, however, she barely even recognizes him. Her age and maturity allow her to reconcile that image of Link as the “fairy boy” with his more adult appearance and presence.
It’s much the same process that lovers go through: there’s the initial stage of excitement, where everything about the other seems all sunshine and roses; as time passes we begin to see the other for who he or she really is; in the end, however, a relationship that’s meant to last will still cherish the other even after the rosy-tinted lenses dissolve. In Malon’s case, Link becomes much more than just a “fairy boy,” he fulfills her desire for a knight in shining armor to swoop in and save the day. In the same way, many lovers who complete the cycle find themselves more in love than they were to begin with.
The biggest difference maturity brings to any human relationship is trust and with it responsibility – as we touched on earlier – which culminate in the concept of commitment. Ruto is prepared to follow-through on her promise to marry Link, enacted in her bestowal of the Zora’s Engagement Ring. So even though this particular factor in the grand scheme of growing up is kind of lost on Link, it’s an important part of the story nonetheless.
Transition – Becoming a “Real Man”
When all of these forces of adulthood come together, Link is finally able to confront Ganondorf and rescue Hyrule. Awakening all of the sages allows the Master Sword, the symbol of Link’s maturity, to reach its full power. By this time he has earned many more heroic weapons that he will use in his struggle: the Light Arrows and the Megaton Hammer foremost among them. Their presence in the final battle serves as a reminder that we must always be aware of and be willing to make use of what we have gained in our temporal transitions.
The answer to the recurring question of what it takes to be a “real man” can be summed up as follows:
You will encounter many hardships ahead… That is your fate. Don’t feel discouraged, even during the toughest times!
This persistence, this will to carry on even when we don’t want to, when it seems like we don’t belong, when we’re not quite sure what’s going on, is what allows children to grow up into “real men.” Just as it depicts Link coming to grips with the passage of time, the changes that have racked his beloved Hyrule as well as his friends and loved ones, Ocarina of Time calls us to consider our own progress towards a mature existence. Are we willing to grow up? To build trust in our communities? To engage in adult relationships?
It’s my hope that, even if it’s not today, we will all be able to proudly answer these questions with a resounding “yes.”
Themes in Motion is a regular article series that plans to cover the major story themes of every game in the Zelda series. As you read, please consider your own reactions to the games’ stories and feel free to reply in the comment sections with any thoughts you may have that differ from or go beyond what is explained in the article. Entries in the series will release every other Tuesday, each covering a different theme.