When it comes to gameplay in The Legend of Zelda, one of the most prominent features is item usage. Not only is Link courageous, willing to explore perilous dungeons and face fearsome beasts, but he is clever and versatile; he’s almost automatically an expert with any new piece of equipment he comes across and finds limitless possibilities for even the most insignificant trinket. No matter the circumstances, the Hero of Hyrule is always ready to pull out his sword, shield, bow, bombs, hookshot, three different tunics, three separate pairs of boots, several magic rods, a few different instruments, 24 masks, a few books…
The nearly limitless depth of Link’s inventory is as comical as it is useful. The idea of this great hero doing all kinds of impossible feats while at the same time lugging a pack several times heavier than he is makes us wonder what they’re feeding those cows on Lon Lon Ranch. But considering both the number of items, and the actual logistics of carrying them around, one can’t help but question how a “normal” person would be able to travel with such an extensive inventory.
Behold! My utility belt!
Surprisingly, there are a few cases in which the impossible is not just possible but feasible. In the original Zelda for the NES, your inventory totaled to 14 items, but your actual arsenal only involved eight interchangeable items, all of which could be carried on Link’s immediate person with no real detriment to his abilities. This idea does get a little impractical when adding the raft and ladder, but it still isn’t outside the realm of possibility. While items like the bow would need to be large enough to do damage, most items could be re-imagined to be a bit smaller than is normally conceived and still work just as well. Thus, creating a hero who actually has all tools at his immediate disposal.
This idea becomes even more plausible in The Adventure of Link, where your item use has been minimized in favor of magic spells. You only have eight items, two of them (the Power Glove and Magic Boots) can be worn, and the most awkward item – the Raft – is only used in in one location, and can therefore be imagined to just sit at port until you come and use it. In Link’s Awakening as well, your ten items are all very portable and is actually the most convenient set in the series (if you discount the full orchestra you’re supposedly lugging around). In Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages you also have pretty manageable item sets, and the collected essences are spiritual manifestations and most likely would not take up any physical space.
It’s really only when you’re collecting an insane amount of items that Link’s ability to transport comes into question. Hauling 24 masks around or a massive Ball and Chain certainly requires a suspension of disbelief, but once those major outliers are removed from the equation, it usually isn’t all that impossible to see the adventure play out exactly as it’s shown on the screen. The trick is finding a believable way to remove those outliers.
And out of this hat, I shall pull…
Probably the easiest (and most likely) explanation to Link’s bottomless bag is exactly what most people think: there isn’t one. We’re dealing with a series of video games and associated stories based in a fictional universe. Consequently, there are much more important things on the storyteller’s mind than how every single aspect of a story can feasibly fit together, and the game designers are much more concerned with creating puzzles for items than how the character could actually bring all of them with him.
So instead of thinking up complex luggage or a specialized delivery system, the story just lets the item materialize out of nowhere. It’s a literary tool known as the magic satchel, and has been in use at least as far back as the middle ages. In many cases, particularly in fantasy games such as Dragon Age, World of Warcraft, and The Legend of Zelda, the concept is only present in principle, allowing the hero to carry whatever items he may find on his journey. There is no direct mention of the items repeatedly being brought out of thin air. It’s simply understood that such things are part of the adventuring experience.
When the emphasis is on story and not practicality, it isn’t important to spell out every UNNECESSARY detail
However, there are plenty of other cases where the sheer scale or the hilarity of an impossible inventory is too much to pass up, from the magic bags of Mary Poppins and Harry Potter to the TARDIS of Doctor Who that is scientifically “bigger on the inside,” and even Deadpool who probably just doesn’t care. Granted, the overall tone and gameplay of Zelda usually prevents such fourth wall breaks, but there are a few nods to this impossibility.
Hold this for me
Only once has a Zelda game effectively solved the issue of item interchange, size, and weight, all in one action. And the interesting thing is, most players probably never noticed it. Near the beginning of Twilight Princess, Midna gets Link to help her overthrow Zant. As part of that, she wants a sword and shield for her to use. After obtaining them and returning to the Twilight, it’s clear that Midna has absolutely no idea how to use them effectively. Instead, she decides to hold on to them for you, and they magically…vanish… just dissolved in a flurry of twilight particles.
She did it once; why can’t she do it again? Why can’t she do it for every item in your arsenal, even those Iron Boots, massive Ball and Chain, and entire suit of armor that can only be energized (somehow) by your wallet? While not particularly magical yourself, the use of a companion, particularly those who have some affiliation towards the magical arts, explains perfectly how any number of items can be brought along on your adventure. True, this explanation doesn’t fit into the natural world as we know it, but in a universe of giant monsters, light spirits, and shadow beasts from a parallel dimension, this truly magical satchel fits in with the lore seamlessly.
And this possibility doesn’t have to be limited to Midna. Ezlo from The Minish Cap, as a master magician, would most likely have no trouble creating a system for carrying items, assuming he had enough access to his magic power. There is similarly a possibility in connection to the fairies, Navi and Tatl. Since we are given very limited information as to the extent of fairy magic, it isn’t necessarily out of the question that they could provide the transport necessary for Link’s immense load. This is especially true of Navi, who was commissioned specifically to be a companion for a quest, and would therefore be given specific fairy abilities to aid in that endeavor.
Carrying the load
Of course, what it all boils down to is game mechanics. The Legend of Zelda series is based on exploration and puzzle solving; even the enemies and bosses require a level of critical thinking and strategy. Most often, each situation requires a specific tool to get the job done, and while Link is not necessarily the most brilliant of persons, he is gifted with adapting to any situation and working with whatever materials he has on hand. From swords and shields to things enemies just leave lying on the ground, there is little that can’t be used. While certain tools have become more recognizable and iconic, we always look forward to seeing new ways in which we can open doors, defeat new enemies, and eventually once again take our rightful place as the hero chosen by the Gods.
Because apparently, lugging around that tremendous load isn’t impressive enough.