This article is part of an ongoing series. The inaugural piece can be found here.
I began my gaming-laced introspection on the notion of time-travelling in order to help me more easily realize the various “epochs” in my own life. What key moments in the past twenty-five years of life do I deem the most worthy? I’m not the type to contemplate what would happen if I could travel freely between them, but I am the type to examine their significance. It’s fascinating to me, but there is one franchise out there whose history my life almost perfectly intertwines with, whose evolution I could almost pinpoint alongside my personal growth.
Without ado, the next chapter:
The Legend of…
I was born within four months or so of The Legend of Zelda’s North American release. It’s not as though I could hold the controller in my hand in infancy (but damn, would it explain a lot if I did), however—I have extremely early memories of the Nintendo Entertainment System, and an interesting take on the idea of…
Who I Can Become
Super Mario Bros/Duck Hunt and The Legend of Zelda are the first games I have real memories of. I spent much more time with Super Mario Bros 3 as time would progress, but…the original Zelda always stuck with me. I couldn’t really understand the plot or the reasons I was progressing in the world, but I was able to struggle aimlessly in Zelda thanks to dungeons being adequately labeled “Level 1”, “Level 2”, and so on. I understood rupees as a currency, even though I couldn’t tell you what they were. The Wallmaster scared the living daylights out of me…
…but my first ever memory as a Legend of Zelda fan was being shown the file select screen, and being asked to enter a name. No one told me what the game was about. I was too lazy to get the manual to try and piece things together for myself. All I was offered was a screen, and a character that had no identity until I gave him one.
I never assumed the main character’s name was Zelda. Didn’t know what the heck his name was supposed to be for the longest time in my younger years, but always understood that Zelda was the legend, and the hero was aspiring to be legendary by saving the world…and his friend. Perhaps the reason I identify so strongly with the series is because of loyalty being instilled in me since birth. I have a twin brother who I was told to always look out for (he was told much the same). The Legend of Zelda is truly a legend of loyalty.
But alas, back to Jon. Jon was a mighty hero, a projection of myself in this crazy world I barely understood. I can’t recall when I figured out Jon’s name was actually supposed to be Link, but I know it was around the same time I actually read the instruction manual cover-to-cover for the first time. When it insisted YOU ARE LINK, I figured calling the hero “Jon” was the right thing to do all along. It helped immerse myself into the world of Hyrule, it was my first true taste of the role-playing experience (and is to this day why I consider Zelda an RPG, but that’s a different editorial for an entirely different day), and…it helped determine my resolve to name every RPG hero ever “Jon”, and his comrades after my friends.
The first game of the series was there during my formative years. As has already been discussed, Link’s Awakening followed it up when I was much older and finally able to understand the (video game) world around me. But because I was never able to finish the first Zelda, had no idea Zelda II existed, and skipped the Super Nintendo in favor of the Sega Channel (more on that here), one of my other major identifying points with the series wasn’t discovered until much, much later… when in 1998, at around age eleven, no less, I was re-introduced to Zelda thanks to The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
Inspirations of the Legend
I had years of gaming under my belt. Sonic 3 & Knuckles, Final Fantasy Legend III, Gunstar Heroes, Mega Bomberman, Streets of Rage, Beyond Oasis, Mario 64, Diddy Kong Racing, even… so many wonderful games had been beaten! But I’d never experienced anything like this. No words can justify the level of amazement…and confusion…I felt when faced with seeing Jon, a character I’d come to know, in this new, fully-realized 3D Hyrule.
But this isn’t so much about how much Ocarina blew my mind, versus how it was the first game to make me cognizant of Princess Zelda, and…why she was so legendary. Link and Marin’s relationship in Link’s Awakening is as imaginary (read: implicit, dreamlike) as the world of Koholint itself. But Ocarina was the first game ever to fully evolve the relationship of Link and Zelda…and to make me realize, and most definitely admire, that Zelda wasn’t nearly as submissive as Princess Toadstool. Realizing that Zelda was Sheik, contemplating what it must have been like to be in disguise for seven years, seeing her completely kick ass when stripped of her royalty—whether you call me naïve or not, the relationship between Link and Zelda (and Zelda’s character in itself) is the reason I was determined, at that age, to find a woman who could think for herself—that this kind of woman was worth protecting, worth seeing as “legendary”, or even as a goddess incarnate.
Plenty of games up to this point had impacted me; I’d already long been sensitive to the true depth that games could provide. But Ocarina was the first game I can honestly say influenced me. It is through my actions as Jon in Hyrule that I learned the basics of heroics, of nobility, and of friendship. This may or may not be considered a bit of a stretch, but… perhaps I am not alone in these sentiments; perhaps many learned the truth intricacies of Ocarina of Time; perhaps these are the reasons this game is considered a “timeless classic”. But, before I tie up the loose ends of this MOSAIC and leave you with a self-portrait of my youth, there is one last noteworthy phenomenon (and game in the franchise) I must discuss, that involves a time much more situated in the present.
I may lose some of you on this one, but to me, The Legend of Zelda has never really been about Hyrule. Sure, the world of Hyrule is truly fascinating, and each game offers a unique breath of life into the land. But if each game’s storyline wasn’t primarily concerned with hero and princess, methinks the franchise would have been deemed The Legend of Hyrule. Each storyline is primarily rooted in the relationship of Link & Zelda. The games cannot expect players to rush off to save the world (or its royalty), if they don’t present the girl and your relationship with her as…worth protecting. Whether Link & Zelda have just met (Twilight Princess), or whether they’ve been friends all along (Skyward Sword), to progress in the game is to watch their friendship extend to new heights.
That’s why… I’ve never really come to expect a story about this epic world or its history. A lot of that is left to player interpretation based on vague back-stories, in order to articulate how Link, Zelda, Impa, and Ganondorf’s relationship, in all its philosophical contexts, has transcended this world, no matter what state it’s in (submerged in water, covered in Twilight, etc), in order to write destiny through the player’s hand.
But this scene… this scene rocked my foundations of Link and Zelda’s relationship, because for the first time in twenty-five years, players were able to see Link’s raw humanity (and Zelda’s too, despite her unique revelations). In all my memories of the franchise, I kind of pictured Link and Zelda to be soul-mates in the same sense as two folks bound by a wedding ring. But, with Skyward Sword bringing Link and Zelda closer then they’ve ever been—I realized how wrong I’ve been this whole time; that Link and Zelda’s is a friendship that transcends the world, and that their story can be told ten times over without romance.
The relationship of Link and Zelda isn’t bound by marriage or anything like it. Regardless of any tension between the two, I’m realizing more and more that Zelda isn’t the girl Link loves the most in these games (in the case of Twilight Princess, the likely candidate is Ilia). But at the same time, as with any friend, Zelda is the girl Link would do anything to protect—just as he would for the rest of the friends he meets, and if given the opportunity, the entire world of Hyrule.
There is a distinct advantage in never giving the hero a voice, despite later games in the franchise defaulting his name to “Link” instead of leaving things blank and allowing newcomers to approach the games in the same way that I did when I was young. The Legend of Zelda is a legend of selflessness, of sacrifice, and ultimately…of loyalty… the kind of friendship that is often confused for romantic love, but can ultimately be seen in every friendship the player (or his avatar, whether he be called Link or Jon) could ever have.
Perhaps the reason I’m a Nintendo fan, much less a fan of The Legend of Zelda, is due to every game in the franchise being so deep-rooted in familiarity that I cannot help but reflect upon the past as I embark on a new adventure. As this MOSAIC is a portrait of my youth, with some traces of adulthood, I wonder how the next Zelda quest will present Jon…a unique projection of me.