Zelda Wii Needs an Anti-Hero

Article by TheWolfess

Many of us who were children when Ocarina of Time the Great came out are, sadly, either in college or finishing college and jumping into the working world. I am no exception, and as such I just completed my student teaching internship, where I taught a four-week unit on Good vs. Evil. I have spent the last week putting all of my materials together in a portfolio for the exit interview, and while I was looking over my material I starting thinking about our favorite Hero and the Zelda series itself.

In the first week of my unit I taught the 9th grade high school class about Idealistic Good and Evil, the ideas of “pure good” and “pure evil” and why they are not realistic, and how all of that relates to the Heroic Archetype. The second week was spent debunking the idea of pure good and evil, and introducing what is called an “Anti-Hero”.

If you’re asking yourself what all of this has to do with Zelda Wii, I’m getting there in just a moment. Let me fill you in on the basic terms I’ll be using in the article:

Idealism is:  “A theory that professes that reality exists only in ideas. It also states that ideally everything and everyone should be perfect and flawless.”

Archetypes are: “Universal patterns in all stories and mythologies regardless of culture or historical period. They can be characters, symbols, or situations.”

The “Heroic Archetype” states: “The Hero is a protagonist whose life is a series of well-marked adventures. The circumstances of his birth are unusual, and he is raised by a guardian. He will have to leave his kingdom, only to return to it upon reaching manhood. Characterized by courage, strength, and honor, the hero will endure hardship, even risk his life for the good of all. Leaves the familiar to enter an unfamiliar and challenging world.”

Let me pause here and discuss how these terms relate to Zelda. What we have in the Zelda formula is your traditional fairytale. It is an idealistic world where good is pure good with no faults, and evil is pure evil with no positive attributes. The NPCs, mainly the townspeople, may be a little quirky but ultimately they are good and should be protected as well. The monsters are evil and should be killed, no questions asked. Zelda is also ripe with every kind of archetype.

"Our hero fits perfectly into the mold of the 'Heroic Archetype'."

For example, our hero fits perfectly into the mold of the “Heroic Archetype”. Read the definition again and think about Link: his life is a series of adventures, we usually know either nothing or little about his birth and he is always raised by guardians. He leaves the place of his birth to go out into a strange, unfamiliar world full of challenges, where he endures hardship and even death for the good of all (no other reason needed). At the end of his adventure he returns home. “Courage, strength, and honor” are the perfect words to describe him. Our hero fits so perfectly into this mold he could be the poster boy.

There is, I found, a problem with archetypal heroes and idealistic worlds: though they sound good, we cannot relate to them. When I taught this part of the unit a strange thing happened in my class. I used the Wizard of Oz and Dracula to teach these concepts, and although these pieces of literature are fun and creative, my students couldn’t relate to it no matter what we tried. They soon began to lose interest. It didn’t matter how creative the activities we did were, the fact was that the characters and the situations themselves seemed flat and pointless to them. They checked out, although the activities would have been fun and engaging if they were interested in the topic.

Let’s talk about The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. We waited in anticipation, suspense, and most of us will admit that we thoroughly enjoyed our first play through. Once it was over, however, many of us did not feel the desire to play it again. We felt very disappointed. The game felt flat and lifeless somehow, leaving us with a faint feeling of needing something more. I argue that the same phenomena that took place in my classroom has taken place in the Zelda series with Twilight Princess. It’s too idealistic and ultimately we cannot relate to it.

The characters in Twilight Princess look very realistic, and many secondary characters are imperfect.

Why did this happen with Twilight Princess, but hasn’t been a problem in previous titles and in titles since? I’ve been thinking about that as well, and I believe that it is because Twilight Princess is the most realistic Zelda title to date. The characters look very realistic, and many secondary characters (such as Midna and King Bulbin) are imperfect. They are lifelike in that they have good and negative qualities, which is rare for Zelda. The best example I can think of from past Zelda titles is Skull Kid from Majora’s Mask.

No Zelda before or since, including Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, looks so lifelike, dark, and mature. This creates a different expectation and desire in the player, which Nintendo tried to fulfill with secondary characters. The problem they did not foresee is that the main character himself is un-relatable. He’s perfect, flawless, pure good. He makes no mistakes, and has no character flaws. This is a problem because this Link had the most realistic and expressive features of all of them. His face and his eyes spoke volumes in those cut-scenes, but Link himself was two-dimensional. We needed three dimensions.

Although the ideas of pure good and pure evil are great for fairytales and good ideas, they are not realistic or practical. In real life we never see a pure good hero or a pure evil villain. What we have is a world full of good people who have some bad characteristics, or flaws, and bad people who may have some good characteristics. In literature these people are called “Anti-Heroes”.

An Anti-Hero is: generally considered to be a protagonist whose character is at least in some regards conspicuously contrary to that of the archetypal hero, and is in some instances its opposite. The anti-hero is often a reluctant hero who does not consider himself capable of accomplishing the goal. He might be selfish, addicted, corrupt, sullen or disaffected. By the end of the journey the anti-hero typically transforms into a fuller, happier or more complete person due to the struggles he or she endures.

Zelda Wii is just around the corner, and the official art tells us that it will keep the realistic style of Twilight Princess. Most likely it will look even more realistic than its predecessor. For Zelda Wii to succeed, it needs a hero that can carry the weight of his own story. The secondary characters and NPCs can never fulfill the player’s need for a three-dimensional protagonist they can relate to. The secondary characters cannot carry the story—Link himself needs to be able to. That doesn’t mean that Link needs to be evil, or even drastically changed. Just giving him some negative attributes, some faults, some misgivings would suffice to turn him into the Anti-Hero we need.

A famous contemporary author named Flannery O’Connor is celebrated throughout the literary world for her amazing anti-hero protagonists. According to her book on writing, Mystery and Manners, she creates them by assigning each of her protagonists one of the seven deadly sins. Theses are:

  1. Lust: Excessive thoughts or desires of a sexual nature. Also, excessive love of others rendering your devotion to God (for our purposes, “your destiny”) as secondary.
  2. Gluttony: The over-indulgence and over-consumption of anything to the point of waste. Specifically thought of in terms of food.
  3. Greed: Excessive or rapacious desire and pursuit of wealth, status, and power.
  4. Sloth: Laziness, indifference, and the failure to utilize one’s talents and gifts.
  5. Wrath: Inordinate and uncontrolled feelings of hatred and anger.
  6. Envy: An insatiable desire for your neighbor’s belongings. Resenting that another person has something you perceive yourself as lacking, and wishing the other person to be deprived of it.
  7. Pride: A desire to be more important or attractive than others, failing to acknowledge the good work of others, and excessive love of self (especially holding self out of proper position toward God).

What I end up wonder as I read this list is what would Link be like if given a Deadly Sin? Let’s go down the list and speculate.

First we have “Lust”. Its opposite, the Heavenly Virtue “Chastity”, is what our Link usually has. There is no in-game evidence that Link ever engages in serious romantic or sexual endeavors. He is the Hero and belongs to the world, and therefore he may not love or lust. What would happen, however, if our hero fell in love? What if he became obsessed with one person, physically and/or emotionally, and saving the world became his second priority? This would set up a perfect opportunity for him to have to decide between the woman he loves’ life, and the fate of the world. What if he made the wrong choice, and his love surives but the world falls to ruin? What if he makes the right choice, and although he saves the world, his love is dead and he is heartbroken for the rest of his life?

Second is “Gluttony”. Its counterpart Heavenly Virtue is “Temperance”, referring to self-control, justice, and honor. Since we never see Link eat in the games, period, it’s pretty obvious that he is normally characterized by the Virtue. What if he overindulge in food, and started out his adventure out of shape and overweight? We would have to start the game by getting Link in shape before he could save anyone. I don’t think giving Link this deadly sin would be as interesting as some of the others.

The third sin, “Greed”, is paired with the virtue “Charity”. Link is always doing things to serve others, and only receives payment for his deeds if they offer it. He never asks for payment. Giving Link this deadly sin would characterize our hero with the pursuit of money, status, and power. This would make him a lot like Ganondorf himself—in fact, if I were to pick one deadly sin that the King of Evil is cursed with it would be greed. A greedy Link would be “saving the world” and killing Ganondorf for the sake of his own advancement, his own gain. His intentions would not be pure at all.

The fourth, “Sloth”, is paired with “Diligence”. Diligence involves persistence, effort, and ethics. Link is certainly not lazy in saving the world—the man never sleeps—and he uses his natural talents very well, and for a worthy cause. If he were slothful, however, he might sleep through important cut scenes, or not use his talents for the purpose they’re given to him for. This sets up a scenario where Link’s slothfulness results in the capture of his loved ones, or some manner of enemy success and advancement. He would be riddled with guilt, knowing that it was because of him that Hyrule and his loved ones fell to evil, and might carry that guilt around throughout the entire game.

The fifth sin, “Wrath” is paired with “Patience”, and gives us particularly interesting possibilities. Many Dark Link fans write fan fictions whose main character is a Wrathful Link, called Dark Link. Their choice to give the evil entity positive characteristics as well as negative ones make him a perfect Anti-Hero form of Link. A wrathful Link might lose his temper and kill someone, causing him to go on the run. He might learn how to kill simply for the love of killing and bloodlust. This Link might have frequent outbursts, and we might wonder if he should be trusted to save the world, or if he was one of the monsters we should be frightened of. Some of my favorite fan fictions feature a wrathful Link, and it’s fascinating to watch his character grow.

The sixth sin is “Envy”, and its opposite is “Kindness”. Again, it is rather obvious which of the two our hero normally features. An envious Link might be a thief. Talented, sure, but a swindler, a sneak, and a thief. He might save the world, but he’ll rob the palace on his way out. Another possibility is that an envious Link might want something non-material that another person has, such as a woman or a title. Who knows what an envious, obsessed Link might do to obtain that desired object/person? How might the action of obtaining it affect the storyline?

“Pride” is the seventh and last sin, paired with the virtue “Humility”. Often considered the most serious of the deadly sins, and the cause of all the rest of them, a prideful Link would be very interesting to observe. For one, a prideful Link would have no sidekick because he would be too proud to admit he needed help. He might be very vain, “in love with himself” so to say, or perhaps a prideful Link would be out to make himself more important in the eyes of all around him. He would glory in his position of “hero” and welcome the attentions of the world. He would make sure everyone knew what he had done. The praise would have been his reason for the saving the world, not concern for the people.

Should Link remain perfect?

Each of these possible Links would create a very interesting story for Zelda Wii. They would also take the Zelda series in a very different direction. What do you think? Should Zelda stick to its traditional child-like formula and storytelling style? Should its hero remain the perfect virtuous archetype he has been? If that is the case, what should change about Zelda Wii to accommodate it? Or, should Zelda Wii keep its realistic style, and should Link evolve as a person and as a character? Should he be assigned one of the Seven Deadly Sins, and which one? How would the game be different with that Link? Please comment with your thoughts and opinions.