A Two-Faced Legend

Guest Article By Jeff

When someone thinks of the Legend of Zelda, it’s hard to believe that they have one definitive image in their head. When you envision the franchise, do you really see an individual representation of it? More than likely, you imagine a wide range of depictions, being that the series has grown to a grand level with over a dozen titles. A second reason, and arguably the greatest one, is something that a lot of fans probably haven’t given much thought to over the course of the series; Zelda doesn’t adhere to just one style, in any regard. To say the least, the world you see in one game is going to be completely different from another game.

It becomes apparent that the franchise is features multiple tones as soon as you try to describe its genre. Sure, it’s fantasy, alright, but what kind of fantasy? Zelda has very much ventured in several realms of the fantasy category, never maintaining a single attitude over its twenty-some year history. Generally the series has been colorful, not really becoming too grim or too severe in the way it looks and feels. In some cases, it’s appeared almost childish, such as with the highly vibrant visuals of the Windwaker and Phantom Hourglass. Those games featured a lot of whimsical touches to them, more than what’s usual for the series as a whole. They’re very much the “Disney” entries of the franchise.

Yet, even with all that, Zelda has occasionally taken a dip into more serious designs. Majora’s Mask may not have been a horror story, but it definitely had elements of the genre, along with some from Mystery and Apocalyptic. On the other end, the adventure that was Link’s Awakening undoubtedly had a poetic vibe to it, giving us an experience that was (no pun intended) dream-like and far more about the imagination than what was immediately in front of us.

Then you start going into the traditional fantasy themes, like what is seen in Ocarina of Time or Twilight Princess, that ‘epic’ kind of journey. The events feel widespread and large scale as opposed to being subjected to a contained area, and it’s made clear that these are not just personal sagas for Link. Those two games in particular feature the largest casts of characters that are directly involved in main storyline, giving them a Lord of the Rings-esque flavor.

Ironically, though, is that the player still sees Link as the ultimate hero in the two games, as well as any other. No matter how many characters he has backing him up, Link is always made out as the savior, especially because the player is allowed to do so much with him. This is an element representative of Heroic Fantasy, or Sword and Sorcery as some may know it. Link is essentially a more youthful, less savage version of Conan the Barbarian or Kull of Atlantis; he can save the day all by himself with only the slightest bit of aid from his allies.

So, even when one fantasy genre is evident in a game, another one is bound to rear its head somewhere. The Legend of Zelda is such a complex universe that one category isn’t big enough to describe it. There’s also the visual part of it, which creates an even more diverse picture for the franchise.

Anyone who has ever taken a gander at the official artwork will know that in the imagery department, Zelda’s been everywhere. Like many of the industry’s long-running franchises, Zelda has not stuck with just one style when it comes to its visuals. Similar to Castlevania or Final Fantasy, it has dabbled in all kinds of techniques and fashions over the years, often times appointing a specific trait to an entire game’s artwork. As previously mentioned, the Windwaker and Phantom Hourglass both utilized a very cartoony look to them, with bright colors and somewhat goofy imagery. When first revealed, WW got all kinds of heat, but over time the style became loved by fans in both the Gamecube and DS releases.

At the same time, the fan base immensely enjoys the realism that the other 3D titles used. Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask and Twilight Princess all maintained plenty of color while still keeping some sense of seriousness in their visuals. In these games, expressions weren’t as exaggerated, color shades were bolder, shapes were narrower, and character designs weren’t as disproportioned. This isn’t to say that every character in them would make perfect sense in real life, but when you compare their casts to those of the Cel-Shaded adventures, it’s clear which ones are more ‘far-out’. After all, not too many games in general feature so many wacky bodily features; characters with heads bigger than their chests (Niko), beards down to their abs (Orca), or chins that would put Jay Leno to shame (Deku Tree).

And as any fan will know, the series doesn’t just include the opposite ends of the spectrum in this regard. Several of the games, particularly A Link to the Past, Link’s Awakening and the Oracle Duolgy feature art styles that blend the two tones to create a very creative mix of the childish and mature looks from the other titles. What you see is the- generally -older and more realistic character designs that still are given plenty of goofy and humorous touches that make them quite distinct.

Identical to that is how age is handled in the Legend of Zelda; you get everything from one side of the scale to the other. In just about every entry to the series, the cast is always all over the place when it comes to their ages. We regularly see little kids who most likely should still be in preschool, we see young teens, young adults, middle-aged folk, and plenty of elders who are way past retirement.

This is probably the most unsung aspect of the characters that Zelda presents us, which is unfortunate because it creates unparalleled diversity. The player is allowed to see the populations of the various kingdoms in all kinds of different lights, from the young to the old. Not only does this make it possible to identify with more characters and easily remember them, but it also creates so many opportunities for varied storylines. Clearly, a thirteen year old kid and a thirty year old adult won’t have the same problems or viewpoints, so if the games featured an overabundance of one age group, we’d be missing out on an untold number of interactions. By properly including different generations, the series ensures that we get all kinds of unique experiences when meeting with the NPCs, and more than just one angle on the adventure at hand.

However, as one may expect, the two icons in the franchise that benefit the most from this aspect are none other than Link and Zelda themselves. Throughout its some fourteen (cannon) stories, fans have been able to witness the heroes overcome all obstacles no matter what age they are. Whether they were little kids like in Wind Waker or Majora’s Mask, teens like in the Oracles, young adults in Twilight Princess, or a combination as found in Ocarina of Time, Link and Zelda have never been exclusive to just one age group. Undeniably, it’s this fact that has helped the series appeal to such a gigantic audience, young and old alike. At times it creates a fairytale-esque image for the titles, what with pre-teens defeating some vile warlord and his evil minions. Other times, it’s like any other high-fantasy epic, with grand heroics and courageous coalitions. In the end, though, it shows one thing, and it’s the Zelda world’s greatest theme; heroism knows no boundaries.

Just the same, neither does the franchise itself.

  • Waker of Winds

    Nice Post, I can't choose which Link I prefer. I like all of them equally, exept for AoL Link which I like the least.

    • Hero of Winds 2

      Yeah, I would agree, only because it's hard to even see him, but he sort of looks like an elf and a tree dwarf… with pink hair. It's kind interesting character design.

  • BloodBeast

    Very well written. It gives a lot to think about. I hope to see more articles from the writer 😛

  • Darkstar

    All of the Links are great in their owns ways. We've seen Link as a child in most of the games, so iIm happy that we're getting to see Link grow up a bit more in each of the newer games (TP and the upcoming zelda wii). It's about time we see the hero of time save hyrule as an adult again.

    • Hero of Winds 2

      Yeah, that's one thing that I am looking forward to in Skyward Sword. I like older Links because they usually make the game more serious, but not horror. (I suppose Majora's Mask is the exception though)

  • ogichiichigo

    The way you explained it, it seems he has more than just two faces, or two sides of Link. There are many different Links (not only including 4-swords) and each of them have there own feel to the game, but still keeping the genre.

    Very well written. It's good to see things like this every once in a while.

  • former fro

    Wind Waker link is probably my favorite, because he shows humor and somewhat of a personality, which is rare among the Zelda franchise.

    • Hero of Winds 2

      Yeah, Wind Waker's Link had the most personality, and you could really see the light-hearted yet fierce character in him. Ocarina of Time's Link was sort of emotionless and cold (because of technical limitations.) But I am looking forward to knowing more of his personality in the 3DS remake.

    • Bitf Adict

      Whoa, your saying most Zelda games lack a personality? Have you played Twilight Princess or Ocarina of Time or… ANY other Zelda game?

      • OnABoat!

        I believe he's just saying that Wind Waker's Link was the only one with a somewhat present personality of his own. That would probably be due to the number of faces he makes throughout the game. You just don't have that kind of ridiculous behavior from Twilight Princess (who is supposed to look more serious) nor Ocarina of Time (whose face you can't really see). On that note, have you played Wind Waker? If you did, you would probably notice it. His faces make him my favorite Link as well.

  • zeldafan4040

    What a beautiful article. Live on, Zelda~ ! 🙂

  • Very good article. Opens up a lot of ideas on the dual aspects of 2D and 3D titles.

    My favorite Links are the 3D ones, namely from Twilight Princess because that is, to me, the best representation of how Link should look as a hero. Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask come close in second, through, with Toon Link in third and the "classic" Links tied for fourth.

    • Darkstar

      I agree with TP Link being the best representation. Also, Hyrule's realism and expanded fields added onto the "epic Zelda experience" and really brought me into that world full of nostalgia.

  • Link's hat

    Wheter Link would be a todler or a grandpa, they'll find a way to make him awesome.
    And as for windwaker Link…
    HE CAN DO WHAT HE WANTS, COS A PIRATE IS FREE!
    HE IS A PIRATE!

    • MrFlox888

      Yeah but nobody wants to play or see a grandpa fighting monsters or solving puzzles or playing (fighting) Ganondorf in a Chess game.

      • QueenxLink

        What? That'd be hilarious!

        • Banooru

          Someone should make a vid for that!Or even better, an app for that.

      • Punnutty

        Old Link would be Like Gandalf, that would be the coolest Zelda game ever.

  • MrFlox888

    If only they pay people to write articles…

    • MrFlox888

      It's fun anyway, especially if it's about something you like!

      • QueenxLink

        And if you have a lot to write about… Cuz if you have brain farts then you're screwed.

  • mario_master

    nice article which makes me think. what tone can they set with a moving painting? that could be both serious and humorous. i guess we will have to see.

  • Moriquendi

    Excellent article! A good, thoughtful read 🙂

  • I like this article. I can now see where you are coming from with the different genres of Zelda. If it were up to me, I would say that Zelda was its own genre! Preferably I would choose Twilight Princess, Majora's Mask, and Ocarina of Time's theme of serious darkness.

    • Peter

      Hero Of Time Link is the best!!!

      • OoXed!

        Herp-Derp of Time needs some huge remodeling done, though, let me tell you! He looks like a bisexual tomcat…just like you. So is he you?

        • You have obviously been studying him. Ocarina of Time Link is better looking than you'll ever be in your whole life so stop complaining about one of the best games in gaming history!

        • ISNOT A ZELDA FAN

          .

  • TriAuz64

    Link from Oot is the best link, Oot is the best game and I like his story the most.
    P.S. this is all my opinion.

  • TriAuz64

    i’m bored right now so ill post my third comment ever on this site.

    OoXed!, what is your problem? people can like whatever link they want.

    BTW…I cant wait till Skyward sword comes out!

  • Jeff

    Wow, re-reading this has really shown me how much my writing has improved since two years ago.

    I think I'm going to delve back into some Zelda-related editorials.

  • Bitf Adict

    PUT THAT SCOWL IN A TOWEL.

  • goronbot

    my absolute favorite is the one released on my birthday
    Ocarina of Time : )

    • Curse

      Mine too! 🙂 Turned 8 that year and got it on my birthday. My favorite zelda to date still

  • Spork

    "…never maintaining a single attitude over its twenty-some year history." Twenty-some? It's the 25th anniversary of Zelda this year. Come on now.

    • Jeff

      I wrote that article over two years ago.

      • Spork

        Is it a re-post?

        • Jeff

          It is, although I have no idea who, specifically, resposted it. Not that I'm complaining.

          • Spork

            Well, that explains it then. My apologies.

    • Anylinde

      Either way, twenty-some sounds better than 25.

  • Bitf Adict

    …It's Zelda's 25th anniversary? Damn, I need to get on track…

  • KilledbyCuccos

    I agree with Sithlordcole. Really, you made Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass sound relatively poor in quality compared to the other Zelda games. I guess it's only opinion, but I always felt that the ocean was much more open than the linear fields in Twilight Princess. I'm being biased though, seeing that I prefer Wind Waker to Twilight Princess in…essentially all areas. That and you wrote the article such a long time ago.

  • Jeff

    For those that thought I was bashing Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass…

    I wasn't. None of what I was describing was about gameplay; it was strictly an analysis of the artstyles, tones, age variations, genres etc. And using words like "childish", "vibrant" and "whimsical" aren't particularly critical, or at least meant to be.

    • Korok12

      It was an insightful article. I often feel adamant about people not giving any of the Wind Waker style games a chance because of the art style. The holistic approach to your article really reflects what's really great about these games: the slight nuances and art styles that keep the series fresh. Thanks for writing :p

  • Normally I don’t learn article on blogs, but I would like to say that this write-up very forced me to take a look at and do so! Your writing style has been amazed me. Thanks, very nice post.

  • Really you’ve motivated me strongly in my new project by this article.

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