After playing both Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess, I immediately saw a connection between Malon and Ilia. I was much fonder of Malon as she didn’t yell at Link for riding his horse to save people, but petty bitterness aside, I would never have guessed that originally Ilia may have had more of a connection to Navi instead.
In Hyrule Historia, we find many pieces of original concept art, but Ilia’s stood out to me the most. In not one, but five of her earlier designs, Ilia has a tribal marking of a fairy across her forehead. In one of these sketches, there is an annotation that reads “Navi?” The author also comments in a short paragraph about this connection, stating “I’d be really curious to know what they were planning with that.”
Perhaps Ilia was supposed to be a character equivalent to Navi, though I’d assume Midna was planned to be Link’s partner right from the start. Maybe if not as a partner, as a similar friend archetype — perhaps even from a romantic perspective. There have been rumors floating around that Navi was originally supposed to have fallen for Link near the end of Ocarina of Time, though she knew that the two could never be. At the end of the Twilight Princess’ credits, Link rides off to Hyrule Castle, leaving behind a saddened Ilia. Could this tragic love story have been the original intent of her creation?
Of course, I could be reading too much into it, as Mayor Bo also has a mark upon his brow in the original art as well. His brand is labeled as “some sort of nature design”. Perhaps Ordon was meant to have more of a connection to nature as even some of the villagers, including Ilia, incorporate leaves into their garments in their concept sketches. The mayor and his daughter could have had these marks to indicate their leadership in a more tribal setting. I mean, Ordon is right next to a fairy spring, so perhaps Ilia was meant to have a strong bond with them?
Regardless of my little theories, I suppose we may never know the true intent behind the fairy’s mark on Ilia’s original design. However, I do hope that we get to see a few of these character designs in a future game, as I think they are very cute and could make for an interesting concept for a brand new tribe, or even a new interpretation of the Kokiri. Hey, that’s something else they could have been going for with this design!
As previously mentioned, Hyrule Historia is filled to the brim with many original art concepts for Zelda games we know and love, and perhaps someday soon we’ll stumble back into the book and uncover some new mysterious details such as Ilia’s vague connection with Navi.