“And here I was thinking Hyrule was empty of men of valor.”
Ashei makes that remark midway through the adventure in Twilight Princess, just after the Secret Society has learned of Link and his feats in the struggle to save Hyrule from certain doom. By the end of the journey, Link and many other characters prove that her cynicism was far from accurate, although it was not completely unfounded. At the start of Twilight Princess, Ashei’s comment seen above is actually spot-on.
Hyrule, or any land which Link visits, always seems to be in danger of some dark force. But unlike in other Zelda games, Twilight Princess strongly suggests that its setting was in rough shape long before the evil enemy arrives in the forms of Zant and Ganondorf.
A gallop around the land on Epona will provide plenty of examples of how far the glorious land has fallen. Ruins of once beautiful structures seem to lay everywhere, whether they’re in a remote part of Hyrule where few dwell or right next to the epicenter of society like Castle Town. Landmarks which carry sanctified significance, such as the Arbiter’s Grounds, the Secret Village and the Sacred Grove, are all shown to be decrepit from time’s wear. Even a place that many Hyrulians call home, Kakariko Village, struggles to remain standing beneath the unforgiving surface of Death Mountain.
But that’s not even the worst of it; the citizens of Hyrule have completely lost their spirit.
Castle Town excessively demonstrates how repulsive the character is in so many of Hyrule’s inhabitants. You’re not allowed to enter a shop because your boots are said to be too dirty. Prices on just about any good are ludicrously expensive. The local doctor scoffs at those who treat others for no fee and apparently discriminates against certain races different from Hylians. One man, Jovani, was turned into a statue as part of a curse for how greedy he was.
The vast majority of residents of Castle Town are not the warm, friendly people seen in past Zelda games; they’re cowardly, vain, arrogant, covetous, two-faced, self-centered, just about every bad adjective in the book. The only ones who seem to have a level head are a handful of shopkeepers, many of which are only visiting to sell their wares.
It really says a lot that Agitha, a somewhat absentminded young girl with an affinity for bugs, might be the most genuine of all people in Castle Town.
To disparage only Castle Town is unfair, however, because Twilight Princess shows that it’s more than just the rich socialites of the Hylian race who are devoid of fortitude. The trouble with Hyrule’s population becomes painfully evident when the Twilight rolls in, and everyone seems to crack under the pressure.
And it’s not just the living, breathing population which is in trouble, either. We come to find out that, prior to when Zant and Ganondorf’s evil plot is set into motion, Hyrule had several other-worldly powers in place intended to protect the land, and they all failed miserably. The Light Spirits did their part ages ago to seal away the Interlopers and, after they’re restored through Link and Midna’s efforts, provide invaluable aid to the heroes. But in the face of Zant and his darkness, they’re powerless on their own. The player gets a full display of this when Lanayru attempts to combat Zant in his spring after Link has cleared the Lakebed Temple, where Zant effortlessly thwarts the Light Spirit’s attack.
Most troubling is the futility of the Sages. The Sages in Twilight Princess are presumed to have the same role as those from Ocarina of Time, given that there are six of them like before, and that they wear the design of one of the Medallions from the original six Sages on their robes. Perhaps more interesting is how Auru explains that they once served the Royal Family of Hyrule, and acted as tutors to Princess Zelda when she was young.
Yet the same Sages, who are successors to the likes of Darunia, Impa and Rauruand essentially are the first line of defense against any evil which may emerge from the Mirror of Twilight, seriously stumble in their work to protect Hyrule. In a way, much of the conflict in Twilight Princess is traced back to them when they erroneously believed that they could deal with Ganondorf on their own. After one of them is actually destroyed by the King of Evil, they’re forced to trap the warlord away in the Twilight Realm, metaphorically putting a bandage on the wound rather than treating it altogether.
As the aforementioned cinematic shows, the Sages know that they made a grave error right then and there. And instead of trying to correct their fault, the game suggests that they ran and hid from their mistake. Even later on, they offer no resistance when Zant breaks the Mirror of Twilight, temporarily putting Link and Midna’s progress on hold.
“I hope you can find it in yourself to forgive our carelessness,” one of them bawls when the player first meets them.
Who in the world imagined that one of the six Sages of Hyrule would ever utter something like that?
At the very least, their mentoring of Zelda appears to have crafted the eventual ruler into a wise, noble woman. But unfortunately it is only her wisdom and her nobility that Zelda is able to use for much of the adventure to preserve her kingdom. She’s taken out of the picture early when Zant launches his assault on Hyrule Castle, and she is forced to take on a role very similar to Obi-Wan Kenobi’s of the original Star Wars trilogy. Zelda offers prudent guidance and motivation to Link and Midna but, for the most part, cannot directly confront Zant or Ganondorf.
Another connection to Obi-Wan Kenobi is that her ‘sacrifice’ midway through the story is done so that the other heroes, specifically Midna, can continue on with the quest with greater power than before. Although Zelda does not literally ‘die,’ she makes the decision to remove herself from the world so that Midna may continue functioning after she’s incapacitated by Zant. One of the most touching scenes in the story shows that Zelda understands what she can and can’t do, and who can achieve more than she can. By instilling her form into Midna, Zelda tells her that she unreservedly trusts in Midna and Link to proceed with the goal of saving Hyrule above anyone else.
It’s a situation similar to the attack on Hyrule Castle, where Zelda decides that discretion is the better part of valor, and chooses to surrender to Zant rather than see any further decimation. Between that event and when she infuses herself into Midna, Zelda proves how preservation is just as important as confrontation in the fight to protect the kingdom.
Unfortunately for Zelda, the Hylian military isn’t well preserved after Zant’s initial assault on the Castle. We’re led to believe that most of the Hylian soldiers were either killed or perhaps turned into hideous beasts, leaving only the cowardly bums who march throughout Castle Town proudly yet drop their weapons and run at the sight of Link’s wolf form. The soldiers’ uselessness is a running gag throughout the game, as they’re regularly criticized by Telma and even some of the average residents on the streets.
The other races don’t fare much better under the stress of the Twilight. The Gorons, who have always been among the most affable characters throughout the Zelda series, become distrusting and hostile to anyone in their sights, even to the point where they isolate themselves from the rest of Hyrule and attack unfamiliar intruders. The Zora tribe also isolates itself after Queen Rutela is killed and Prince Ralis goes missing. Rather than actually search for him, the Zoras hold up at Zora Domain and mope over their tragedy.
For a while, valor actually is absent in all of Hyrule, and it’s only when sheer chaos threatens to overtake Hyrule that the real heroes start to emerge. And those heroes are not merely Link and Midna.
In the vast majority of cases throughout the Zelda series, Link’s allies possess some kind of mystical power. Although completely average beings have occasionally lent a hand, they’ve been few and far between and often provide basic aid such as giving Link or item or telling him where to find the next dungeon, item, important person etc. What’s more, those same characters are almost never fully aware of what Link is hoping to accomplish and do not take an active role in the defeating the antagonist themselves.
Twilight Princess crafted its cast of characters to contain far more drive than previously in the series. As it’s made clear, the higher powers in Hyrule are incapable of protecting the land, which means that so many of Link allies don’t turn out to be a group of ‘chosen ones’ who eventually prove powerful enough to seal away an evil warlord through magical abilities.
On the contrary, most of Link’s help comes from a wide array of everyday, ordinary characters with no mystical attributes whatsoever. The Secret Society should first come to mind, what with being a ragtag covey in every sense of the phrase: a genuine swordsman in Rusl, an elderly man in Auru (although he’s a heck of a shot with a musket), a warrior girl from the isolated, frozen regions of Hyrule in Ashei, and a scholarly bookworm in Shad.
Those four are obviously very proactive in the conflict; they’re consciously working to safeguard Hyrule and all who dwell within it. Prince Ralis is another character who exhibits what it means to take on responsibility for his surroundings. As it’s explained, he was the only Zora who fled the Domain to seek help after it was attacked by Zant and his own mother was killed. Ralis understandably has a bit of a breakdown later on and does not quite seem to comprehend the peril that Hyrule faces, but the youthful ruler eventually demonstrates tremendous resolve by taking up his parents’ role as a leader of the entire Zora race despite all of the tragic events he’s witnessed.
Other characters, including but certainly not limited to Telma, Renado, Gor Coron and Darbus, recognize precisely that there is a prominent threat to Hyrule, and they knowingly act in opposition to it.
Recognition of the problem is a big part of what sets apart Twilight Princess’ completely mortal characters from the others in the franchise. There’s a bunch to be found in Majora’s Mask, for example, but it’s hard to say that any of their actions actively combat the danger of the Moon or Majora. Wind Waker also contained a handful, but Quill is really the only one who has an understanding of exactly what jeopardized the Great Sea. The Pirates only help to rescue Aryll because of the reward money that goes with rescuing the other kidnapped girls, while important characters like Tetra, Medli and Makar all are eventually found to bear a mystical identity as a Sage or, in Tetra’s case, Princess Zelda.
One of Twilight Princess’ hallmarks is the level of cooperation amongst the various races who call Hyrule home. Normally in Zelda games, the different races, and groups of characters in general operate only alongside Link. In Twilight Princess, there are countless instances where the inhabitants of Hyrule come together to solve Hyrule’s problems as a group instead of simply aiding Link along his quest as isolated individuals.
The Secret Society again should naturally come to mind, but there are so many others to consider: Telma organizing the transport of Ralis to Kakariko Village, Ilia’s persistent care for him and, subsequently, the care given to him by the Ordon Children and Kakariko residents, Renado’s harboring of any refugee in his village, the Gorons coming down to help rebuild Kakariko Village, and of course nearly every named character getting involved with the quest to restore Ilia’s memory and get Link to the City in the Sky.
“It is times like these that we must come to one another’s aid,” Darbus states when the Gorons join the cause to restore Ilia’s memory.
There are many indications that collaboration between the races was prominent even long before any of the events in Twilight Princess. The Gorons themselves are a prime example as they seem to be found just about everywhere in Hyrule. They’re regularly hawking their wares at market in Hyrule Castle town, clearing roads and building bridges in Hyrule Field, and making frequent visits to Kakariko Village.
The Zoras, normally a secluded race in the Zelda series save for the Indigo-Gos in Majora’s Mask, venture out of the Domain quite a bit. A female Zora is seen as a business partner and good friend to Iza, and several Zoras can be found enjoying the Death Mountain hot springs in company with the Gorons. One particular Zora implies that their species has been making that trip for some time, in fact.
Ordon is, for whatever reason, considered a foreign province, but there are more than enough connections between the Ordonians and Hyrulians that it may as well be included in “Hyrule proper,” as Shad puts it. Cash crops like the Ordon pumpkins and their prized livestock, the Ordon goats, are several materials in trading relationships, while key figures in the Ordonian population like Rusl and Bo are frequently in contact with others from Hyrule. One of the more interesting cases is the longstanding friendship that both Gor Coron and Renado have with the Mayor of Ordon. Gor Coron even mentions at one point that he knew Ilia’s mother very well before her passing.
“Nothing could bring me greater joy than to aid the daughter of an old friend,” Renado says in reference to Ilia and Bo, respectively.
If there is a counterexample to this, it’s Midna. The Twilight Princess herself is one of the most magically-gifted characters ever to be seen in the Zelda series, and once the Fused Shadows are collected, she’s one of the most powerful. With only a fragment of her ability, she literally ‘pops’ Zant, and when she fully utilizes the Fused Shadows, shatters Ganondorf’s barrier about Hyrule Castle—something not even the Master Sword could accomplish.
But just like Princess Zelda, the Light Spirits and the Sages, Midna’s power, although incalculable, can’t finish the job. When face to face with Ganondorf, the King of Evil comes out on top in dominate fashion. Even though she possesses strength that no other character in the adventure or perhaps the entire franchise can even hope to equal, it’s not Midna who strikes the decisive blow.
That honor belongs to none other than Link—a totally ordinary human being with no special powers or mystic essence of any kind. Granted, he wields the Master Sword, the legendary Sword of Evil’s bane, as he topples Ganondorf, but Twilight Princess downplays the weapon’s spiritual nature considerably in comparison to previous Zeldas, with Ganondorf even making the pompous statement that it is “[a]n impressive blade, but nothing more.” Regardless, it’s not because the Master Sword is a blessed weapon that Link overcomes Ganondorf’s dark might; it is ultimately because of his courage and willpower that he manages to save Hyrule at long last.
“Surely you can restore Hyrule to its stature of yore as the chosen land of the gods,” the Hero’s Shade says to Link during one of their meetings.
Link certainly accomplishes that, but it’s primarily because he is able to draw out the valor and spirit from the rest of Hyrule’s inhabitants. After the land’s mystic guardians fail, it seemed as though there was no magic left to be found in Hyrule. Link and his many allies eventually went on to prove that the ordinary beings of Hyrule bore their own magic, and it became the greatest magic of all.