Breath of the Wild has a right-handed Link. Of all the breaks from Zelda tradition that Nintendo has employed for the upcoming game, this one came out of left field (pun intended) and is one of the more puzzling changes. Voice acting? Many would agree it’s overdue. The open, non-linear world? A welcome return to the series’ roots. Technology instead of magic? Aonuma wanted the technology to balance out the wild and ruined world and has hinted that it will be important to the story. But why make their traditionally left-handed hero a righty after all this time when there are no motion controls or any other good reason to do so? It gives rise to the question: Is Link’s sword hand actually important? The answer is no — it does not affect the game or story in any way. But with a rich history of left-handed Links in the Zelda series, we may be looking at the end of an era.
Breath of the Wild will not actually be the first time that Link has appeared as a righty in a Zelda game, but it’s the first time that there hasn’t been a need for it. Up until now, there’s always been some sort of technological limitation for the other instances when it’s occurred. There have been multiple incarnations of Link and while there’s nothing that states anywhere that each one must be left-handed, he’s always intended to be a southpaw. Before Breath of the Wild, I would have said that Link’s left-handedness was as much a defining feature of his character as the green tunic and pointed ears. The creator of Zelda Shigeru Miyamoto favors his left hand so it was almost certainly his intention for Link to share this attribute and possibly even become something of a role model for left-handed gamers.
A left-handed hero was the right idea
As far back as Zelda’s early days on the NES, it quickly became clear that Link was intended to be left-handed. Interestingly enough though, the first game’s official artwork depicts him as a righty, while the in-game sprites are left-handed — with the exception of the right-facing sprite, which is a mirror of the left-facing sprite. This was done so that Nintendo didn’t need to make a separate sprite, which would have taken up precious memory as, back then, memory was a highly limited resource of which sprites took up the bulk of. It wasn’t just Link’s sprite that was mirrored; it was most of the enemy sprites as well. It wasn’t something that was unique to Zelda either; it was common game design practice for 2D games and was done in all of the traditional 2D Zeldas.
Why then was the original Legend of Zelda instruction manual full of artwork of a right-handed Link? It was almost certainly an oversight. The Legend of Zelda was a brand new property with no precedents. The artist was probably told something like, “Our hero has a green tunic, brown hair, pointed ears, and carries a sword and shield.” Maybe they were shown a little game footage too, but a lot of people don’t notice that Link is left-handed unless they look carefully. Nintendo seems to have taken extra steps to affirm Link’s handedness in Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. In its instruction manual not only is Link drawn as a lefty, it’s even highlighted in the story: “Impa implored Link… ‘Please, Link. Unite the Triforce and save the princess. And bring back peace to Hyrule.’ Link nodded silently in approval, [sic] and left the room after taking a long glance at the altar. Then with a magical sword in his left hand and a magical shield in his right, he set off alone on his long travels” (p.12).
Link’s left-handedness was reaffirmed in the A Link to the Past Player’s Guide (p.143), Nintendo’s official strategy book for the third Zelda game. Since then, Link remained clearly left-handed (even in the CD-i games) – up until Nintendo encountered another technology-related problem. Twilight Princess was originally developed for the GameCube and not surprisingly featured a left-handed Link, just like usual. But delays in the game’s development meant that its release would come toward the end of the GameCube’s life, and Nintendo had another new console the Wii in the works. Nintendo decided to port Twilight Princess over to the Wii as a launch title for the console while also releasing it on GameCube as originally planned. The Wii, however, introduced a complication that Nintendo had probably never considered when they first decided to give their hero a mean left hook: motion controls.
Motion controls were the defining feature of the Wii, and what better way to show them off than to let players feel like they were actually swinging a sword? When Nintendo realized that the majority of gamers would hold the Wiimote in their right hands to control the sword, they thought that it would be confusing for them to see Link swing with his left on screen. They didn’t have time to redesign the entire game and instead found an easy solution: flip the game horizontally so that it became a mirror image of its GameCube counterpart. This was the first time that a Link was properly right-handed. He remained a lefty in the GameCube version and all official artwork. And when Twilight Princess HD was released on the Wii U, it dropped the motion controls and the default game mode is the same as the GameCube version. Therefore one could argue that the Link in Twilight Princess is still canonically left-handed.
Mirroring Twilight Princess to accommodate the Wii’s motion controls was somewhat of a quick fix, but five years later the second Zelda game for the Wii came along. Skyward Sword promised an even greater motion control experience through the use of the Wii MotionPlus. The question of Link’s dexterity quickly became a hot topic, but it didn’t come as a huge surprise when Eiji Aonuma revealed that Link would be right-handed for the same reason he was in Twilight Princess on Wii. What did surprise fans was that there wasn’t an option to accommodate left-handed gamers, minority they may be. At the time, Aonuma said: “It’s really hard [to make a lefty option]. You have to change all the models – you have to make two of everything. So really you’re making two complete games, one left-handed version and one right-handed version. We just can’t do that.” Thus Skyward Sword featured the first officially right-handed Link, but if you look closely you’ll see that he uses the bow and slingshot left-handed.
If the attack button is on the right…
It’s been another five years since the release of Skyward Sword, which means that Nintendo’s now had ten years to think about dexterity and different control options. Breath of the Wild will not have motion controls, yet Link is right-handed once again. With the attention to detail that Nintendo is clearly putting into the game, this decision almost certainly would not have been taken lightly. When Aonuma was asked why Link is right-handed in Breath of the Wild, he said it’s because players use their right hand to initiate attacks on the Wii U GamePad. In other words, the button to swing the sword (or pitchfork or whatever item Link happens to be holding) is on the right side of the controller.
Wait a second.
Was Aonuma in his right mind when he came up with that? Almost every single Zelda game has the attack button on the right side of the controller and it’s been this way from the very start. All, that is, except the motion-controlled Wii games and the two DS ones, which utilized stylus controls instead of buttons (and for that matter gave players the option to play left- or right-handed when they started the game). But we’re looking at the majority of Zelda games here, including the highly-acclaimed Ocarina of Time and the GameCube version of Twilight Princess, and I don’t think anyone ever had a problem with the fact that they used their right thumb to push a button that makes Link use his left hand on screen. If Nintendo seriously thinks that this is suddenly an issue, they are severely underestimating the entire gaming community. According to this logic, not only should left-handed playable characters no longer exist, but we should have a special foot controller for games like Super Mario Bros. so we can use our feet to initiate Mario’s jumps.
If Nintendo seriously thinks that this is suddenly an issue, they are severely underestimating the entire gaming community.
Regardless of whether you personally care about which hand Link uses or not, it’s a dumb reason. It actually makes me wonder if that was the real reason. Maybe Nintendo simply wanted Link to be right-handed this time around and there was no reason more than that. But in that case, why not just say so? It doesn’t affect the gameplay nor will it affect the story. As long as Link can use his sword to slay Ganon or any other calamity that threatens Hyrule, it doesn’t really matter which hand he wields it in. Yes, some fans will be upset about the change no matter what, but why are they really upset?
What does it really mean for Link to be left-handed?
For the last 30 years, Link’s left-handedness has been tradition, and breaks from tradition aren’t always easy to swallow. Being left-handed is a trait that made Link a little more unique than most video game characters. Roughly 10 percent of the population is left-handed but the proportion of left-handed game characters is far less than that. Every left-handed person grows up in this right-handed world knowing that they are a little different. For them it’s rather special to see a character who’s also a little different go on to save the world. And that, in my opinion, is the real reason why it is a shame that Breath of the Wild’s Link is just another generic righty.
Being left-handed made Link a little more unique than most video game characters.
Link’s handedness may not affect the actual gameplay, but, if you were to delve a little deeper and think about what it would be like for Link himself, being left-handed would almost certainly serve as an advantage for him in combat. If 10 percent of Hyrule’s population is left-handed like ours, both righties and lefties will spend 90% of their time fighting right-handed opponents. But when a right-hander faces off against a left-hander, they will be less used to attacks coming from the opposite site and find themselves at a disadvantage. Whereas when a left-hander does encounter another lefty, they’ll be on a similar level; they may no longer have an advantage but they certainly won’t be disadvantaged. This is why a higher proportion of lefties often dominate certain sports like tennis, boxing, and fencing. It may not prove advantageous against all types of monsters, but, when fighting enemies that wield swords and other weapons, Link needs all the help he can get!
There’s also a scientific theory that left-handers are on average smarter and more creative than right-handers, and Link definitely needs smarts for all of the puzzles he has to solve. There’s no actual scientific evidence to support this — scientists also still don’t know why some people are born left-handed — but an above-average number of history’s greatest minds, artists, and musicians have been left-handed individuals. To name just a few: Isaac Newton, Alan Turing, Bill Gates, Paul McCartney, Jimi Hendrix, Mahatma Gandhi, Helen Keller, Oprah Winfrey, and H. G. Wells. In fact, five of the last seven US presidents have been left-handed, including Barack Obama.
Overall, I’d say that being left-handed gives Link a small edge, even if he doesn’t need to be. It’s also nice for left-handed gamers to see that they have something in common with their favorite hero. We don’t know if Breath of the Wild’s Link will be an exception or if we’re entering a new era where Link has become Nintendo’s newest right-hand man. When you get right down to it, it won’t affect how the game turns out. Being left-handed was a small thing that made Link just a little bit more special. But because there was no good reason to change it in Breath of the Wild, it seems a shame to break the tradition after all this time.