Okay, this week we are doing something different. Here at SWG we believe that video gaming is the greatest of expressive mediums. A good video game has the attention to detail afforded by books, the organic flow of oral storytelling, the freedom of individual expression offered only by theater and the heart pounding spectacle afforded by television and cinema. Some day Virtual Reality will hit it’s stride and video games will be overshadowed as the most expressive medium but, for today, video gaming is the absolute greatest expressive medium.
That being said, we are young, very young. Compared to the other mediums we are in our infancy and, by extension, are running headlong into the issues that every other medium ran into. When film was first invented people would shy away from the movies out of the fear that cameras steal your soul. In ancient Rome actors were not allowed to vote or testify in court because it was believed that actors were trained and compulsive liars. Lets not even start on music. Every 10 years, whenever a new genre comes out, people freak out over how Jazz clouds the mind, how hip hop encourages promiscuity or how Rock and Roll encourages devil worship. Now it’s our turn. It is our turn to proudly withstand the barrage or crumble.
So how do I plan on doing such? Well, across the history of this blog I have talked about how we need to improve this or that in the future. Now I plan to turn the scalpel inwards. Us video gamers have our own mythology. Just as the oral tradition has Beowulf and theatre has the assorted works of Shakespere, we have Samus Aran and Gordon Freeman. However, just as film would not be taken seriously until they turned their critical gaze inwards, we will not come into our own until we do the same. We must examine our shortcomings now or forever be the province of children. This is why I am continuing The Truth Behind. I plan on looking at what we’ve done wrong (or right) and the messages we are sending forward with our writings. Without further ado, let us begin The Truth Behind Legend of Zelda.
Link was born and raised on one of a series of floating islands called Skyloft. He and his best friend, Zelda spent their days frolicking as kids do. They trained alongside their Loftwings, practicing for the day he would become a knight and she, as daughter of the mayor, would present diplomas to the knights in training. However, the day of his graduation ceremony, a fel wind rose from beneath the clouds and threw the priestess from her Loftwing. As far as the people of Skyloft knew there was nothing below the clouds so when Zelda fell through was declared lost until Link drew the Skyward Sword and pierced the clouds. It was soon revealed that, for reasons unknown, Zelda had some importance to a creature named Girahim.
Link, before long, discovered that Zelda was the mortal proxy (that is to say, the form through which a deity walks the world) for Hylia. Girahim needed Hylia’s proxy to revive his master, Demise. Demise is described as “shapeless”, taking a new form with every incarnation and even with every viewing. One massive bokoblin battle later (literally, there were hundreds of them) Link strikes down Girahim and charges forth to engage Demise, God of Endings, in the space between worlds.
Now, here comes the important part. Skyward Sword is one of the most recent games to come out so we all know by now what happens when Link decides to charge in. However, Skyward Sword, as far as the history of Hyrule goes, is the first entry of the series (to elaborate, mom, it’s just like how The Phantom Menace is one of the most recent Star Wars movies, despite it being the first chronologically). Upon striking his signature final blow to Demise, the Demon King makes a pronouncement: “… this is not the end. My hate… never perishes. It is born anew in a cycle with no end! I will rise again! Those like you… Those who share the blood of the goddess and the spirit of the hero.. they are eternallly bound to this curse. An incarnation of my hatred shall ever follow your kind, dooming them to wander in a blood-soaked sea of darkness for all time!”. Let us break that quote down a bit. It is already known from the preceding lore that Demise is an exemplar of endings. I think I’ve already gone over what an exemplar is, but for the sake of brevity, an exemplar is an eternal, sentient expression of a universal constant. So, we already know that any curse Demise is probably capable of exercising any curse he makes. On top of that, he promises to haunt all who possess the blood of the goddess and the spirit of the hero. Note the fact that he didn’t say “blood of the hero” as this will become important later.
Now, I won’t go over the fine details of Zelda’s bloodline. Let us just say that very few members of the Hyrule Royal Family meet pleasant ends. There are bloody coups, wars, and one instance of a princess being stricken with an un-waking coma. What I would like to discuss is the land of Hyrule itself. Notice that, barring one direct sequel (Link Between Worlds) Hyrule is a vastly different land every time the adventure begins. How could such a case be? I understand that trying to copy geometry from a 2D world (such as the Oracle Saga) to a 3D world (such as the Hero of Time Saga) is impossible to pull off without ruining flow, but seriously. In Link to the Past, Death Mountain is the northernmost point in Hyrule, the Lost Woods are in the north west, Lake Hylia is in the south east, the desert is in the southwest, Kakariko is directly west of the castle with Castle Town being directly in the center. In Ocarina of Time, Death mountain is directly east of Castle Town with Kakariko being right at the foot, the desert is in the north west, lake Hylia is in the south west, the Lost Wood is the easternmost point of Hyrule. The only thing that stays in place is Zora’s Domain. Flash over to Twilight Princess. Lost Wood is the southernmost point of Hyrule, Lake Hylia is directly southwest of the castle, Death Mountain is the easternmost point with Kakariko at the foot of the mount, the desert is back in the southwest with Zora’s domain now occupying the space polar opposite of Lake Hylia. Jump all the way back to Skyward Sword. Lake Hylia is now the southeastern most point directly adjacent to the Lost Wood, Death Mountain is back in the north, the desert is in the west with the landberg that would become Castle Town dead center. When you take into account the fact that certain landmarks have identical parallels in different countries (Death Mountain has a direct parallel in the north of Labrynnia) and even alternate realities (Termina’s infamous Clock Town and the swamp at Woodfall being analogues of the Castle Town and Lost Woods respectively) there can be only 2 conclusions. Either Tingle is incompetent (a worthy argument) or Hyrule is in some sort of universe that changes shape and size in accordance with whoever observes it (not unlike Demise, whom is never observed to be the same shape to two people, even when being viewed simultaneously).
Let us move onto the cast. There are the obvious two (Link and Zelda) but as we continue in the series we get additions to the regular cast like Impa, Jabu-Jabu, Ruto, Darunia, Epona. Biggoron and that one castle guard that always gets red-shirted sometime in act one (seriously, check it, every single Zelda since Link to the Past has a nameless guard that gets owned just to up the tension, in LttP it was your uncle, you may not have noticed, its a secret to everybody).
Now, I notice that not every game has an Epona or Darunia and that there are three causal paths. I also know that not every single game that takes place after a given cast member’s debut contains that cast member but if you look at the timeline put forth in Hyrule Historia you will notice that most of the games (excluding the Wind Waker continuity) follow a pretty solid curve concerning participation of returning characters. That would normally be a completely normal thing until you keep in mind the fact that a few thousand years pass between Skyward Sword and Spirit Tracks/Zelda II/Four Sword Adventures. Some fantasy settings assume that the main cast (somehow) lives forever but the fact that a continuity exists wherein Link dies (and yet the continuity picks up with Link a few centuries later) indicates that at -least- Link is multi-incarnate (that is to say, he keeps coming back).
Lets bring it back a bit. So, how was Link’s upbringing? For that matter, how old is he? Skyward Sword says 17, Ocarina of Time says 9/16 (depending on if you are in the present or the future) Twilight Princess says 15. I could go on, there’s absolutely no consistency from the beginning of the series to the end concerning Link’s age. Zelda is always around 16 (excluding, obviously, child era OoT). As for his upbringing. That’s a very interesting bit. Let’s go over all the games that actually cover Link’s pre-adventure life. Skyward Sword lists him as a knight in training. His skill is… average at best, but the quality that really makes him stand out is his uncanny empathy. Note the bit about his combat training in Skyward Sword, as this is actually the anomaly in our pattern. Let us continue chronologically. Minish cap, he has no sword training. Four Swords is the sequel of a game that hasn’t been released yet. Ocarina of time, the Kokiri (Link’s tribe) has no word for violence and only one weapon to share amongst the entire community. Link to the Past, Link is a teenage layabout. Majora’s Mask is a direct sequel. Wind Waker, Link comes from an island that has never known violence or invasion. I could go on. The only game in which Link has formal combat training is Skyward Sword, and yet, every time he picks up a sword he is automatically proficient, in some cases he’s already masterful with a variety of weapon systems (who else remembers going through almost every dungeon in Wind Waker with a club taller than Link). Keep this in mind for later.
Before I get onto my point, let us go over the story. I know, the storyline of each individual game, at times, resembles the most mindless of pornography (in fact, Link even delivers fast food a few times). Regardless of this, I would like to go over the story of each game. So, every game starts with innocent young Link (except Skyward Sword, if Zelda wasn’t already riding that pony she had clearly brought the saddle out of the barn) getting tasked with a great cause (except the CDI Hero of Cocaine storyline that Nintendo, along with the rest of us, pretends didn’t happen). Link completes his quest just to learn that the real villain is Demise’s avatar and he’s been doing nothing of importance (seriously, what did Link think would happen when he turned the Fused Shadow against the King of Twilight?). Either that or he discovers that he’s been helping the big bad all along (anyone realize that Ganondorf would have never become Ganon and the whole 3 universe arc wouldn’t have happened if Link had just stayed in the forest?). At that point, Link begins his true quest, gets some nice powerups (which, with the exception of Skyward Sword never actually figure into the gameplay. I’ve always considered them symbols of personal growth) and engages Demise’s avatar (be it Maladus, Vaati, Ganon, Majora, whoever) for the sake of the universe. The lost are mourned and the hero wanders into the sunset.
Quick pause here, notice the “lost are mourned” bit. Flash back to Ocarina of Time. Did you guys realize that not one of the sages got out alive? Yeah, you see them in the Spirit Realm where they will “guard the seal for eternity” but you watch every single one of them die just before. You may not have caught it. Saria ran into the Forest Temple unarmed never to be seen again. Darunia went ahead of you to fight Volvogia, but when you got into the throne room he was gone, Volvogia ate him. Ruto was ganked by her shadow in the Dark Link room. Impa died hiding Zelda during the escape from Hyrule Castle (which is why you have to take the Barge of the Dead in the shadow temple to release her). You watch Twinrova fire beams of fire and ice through Naboru’s eye sockets. Rauru was never seen outside of the spirit world (he was probably the head priest of the Temple of Time and he probably got gibbed when Ganondorf discovered he had sealed the Master Sword). Finally, you watch Zelda flop over like a ragdoll after using the binding spell in the final battle (after which she says she “can’t return with you” and “must remain here in the Temple of Light”).
Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let us get to the unified theory. It all comes down to Demise’s final statement before getting locked in The Master Sword. Link will contend with Demise for all of eternity. You see, I have a theory that Link succeeded in putting a permanent end to Demise’s threat. I seriously doubt that the land that was fought over in Skyward Sword was the same land that Link spends the rest of the series fighting over. You see, Zelda and Link never actually propose to name the promised land Hyrule. In fact, nobody seemed to argue with naming it Grooseland. I would argue that upon Link’s death, Demise’s curse kicked in and dragged his soul into the Master Sword and into the Hell that Demise had waiting for him. This wouldn’t be the first story ever written in which the Devil managed to put a soul on the no-fly list for the mere crime of angering him. Supernatural has done it. Diablo has done it (all 3 of the Diablo heroes are demon controlled bosses in D2). Greek mythology is absolutely chock-full of heroes getting punished for no good reason. One of the most famous Greek figures amongst gamers, Prometheus, 10 thousand years later, is still chained to a rock somewhere in Tartarus (Greek hell), getting his eyes and intestines plucked out by ravens for the sin of teaching Man to cook his food (Zeus enjoyed watching Man die of salmonella). The idea that Link was denied Paradise because he angered Demise isn’t that far fetched as far as mythic tradition goes.
Okay, I can hear the Barrens Chat firing off already. “Uh, Author, Legend of Zelda isn’t intended to fit into western tradition” let me stop you right there. Legend of Zelda was intended, above all else, as a western mythic narrative, told through Japanese tradition through an electronic medium. Before Nintendo of America took a stance against religious imagery, the intended religion of Hyrule was Christianity (hence the cross on Link’s shield in Zelda Classic). He used the power of God to seal Ganon. In fact, the only eastern inspiration used in the original Zelda was the Triforce (google Hojo Family Crest if you really want a mind bender). If you really insist, I will write an essay one day about whether or not video games can be used as a narrative medium.
Back to the point. So, Link was denied Paradise after he died and was dragged (likely kicking and screaming, seeing as how he doesn’t seem to know any words besides “Excuse me, princess!”) into Demise’s realm (lets call it Hell, not out of any western-centric idealism, merely because us westerners have an unhealthy obsession with eternal punishment and are the most imaginative when It comes to torture). How can I even be certain that Link’s soul is on this eternal treadmill? Remember that bit I gave you concerning Link’s combat training? Link, in all of his incarnations, has had a preternatural level of skill with every weapon system he’s ever laid his grubbers on. Seriously, in the real world, Shaolin monks spend their entire lives learning to use the grappling hook as a tool and a weapon, yet every single game, Link is swinging that thing around like a boss before Navi has the time to explain it’s uses. Hell, Twilight Princess shows Link straight up learning sword techniques subconsciously through instruction from his past selves. Every Link shares the same soul. That is why the Kokiri, who have no word for violence, managed to produce a greater warrior than all of the clans that participated in the Triforce War (by the way, if that’s the era that Hyrule Warriors covers I will cry great tears of joy, yeah, LttP and LbW covered the opening and closing of a civil war and OoT covered the after years of the great war, but I just want to see what kind of gadgets the Hero of Blood swings around). If Link doesn’t have explicit memories of his past selves he at least has instinctive knowledge.
What about the supporting cast? How come all of these people keep showing up in later games? Well, here’s an interesting bit. Did you notice that Skyward Sword is the only game in the series that doesn’t have any recurring characters? The only recurring cast members in Skyward Sword are Link and Zelda. In fact, remember the redshirt guard I mentioned earlier? He isn’t even in Skyward sword. I would argue that maybe Link’s unique red Loftwing might be Epona but the only recurring cast members clearly present in the prequel entry are Link and his girlfriend/wife/bestie Zelda (whom, may I add, wasn’t a princess in Skyward Sword). So, how does this fit into the narrative? Well, if you consider the fact that Link’s best friend in the whole world gets captured and tortured in every single entry, it becomes fairly obvious.
So, what’s the pattern to the rest of the supporting cast? If Link is in Hell all of this time then how does he make friends like Ruto and Darunia? How does he have loved ones like Malon? How does he form deep friendships that last centuries and across lifetimes? Any good sociopath (including the Author) can tell you that physical torture only goes so far. Eventually, your victim will just become dulled and listless. If all you do is stick bamboo chutes under someone’s nails and deprive that person of food, eventually the soul will be destroyed and you will have an empty husk that only barely recognizes pain. How do you keep your victim alive? How do you ensure that your victim is completely checked in for every second of exquisite pain? Simple, you take frequent breaks to remind your victim of the life they will be denied. Link is allowed to love and laugh so that his dungeon crawls are that much more harrowing. Every Zelda game is about 30% Link making friends and playing games and 70% getting the life strangled out of him by zombies and getting broadsided by Ganondorf’s Pain Bolt. Link gets just enough time out in the field to explore and have fun before he’s reminded that he can’t explore any further unless he willingly marches into the slaughter houses that Miyamoto tries to pass off as “temples”. “Oh, you don’t like the fact that Talon is abducted on night 1 and spends the rest of the apocalypse mourning her innocence? You want to see her smile one more time before being consumed by the inferno? All you have to do is go into the bitter cold mountain, get seared by Wizrobe, experience the pain of having your body twisted and stretched into a wide variety of shapes, get trampled by a 3 story tall mechanical goat and maybe I’ll let you try to save her. Oh, and I forgot to mention, saving her means your Zora friends are going to boil alive because I took the liberty of cranking up the temperature of the ocean by about 30 degrees. Oh! Also forgot, that engaged couple that you adore so much? Yeah, they’re going to break up if you save that little girl instead of listening to Anju’s sob story in the kitchen at the hotel”. Demise only allows Link to make friends so that he doesn’t mentally check out when it’s pain time.
So, why did I go into detail about the geography of Hyrule at the beginning if it wasn’t central to the point? Well I just wanted to point out the fact that Hyrule is a geographically impossible place. Yes, I know there is such a thing as tectonic movement and that geographical features shift locations all the time, but not at such a rate. For Hyrule Castle to be in the center of the land at one period of time and the northernmost point about 200 years later is impossible. If the real world tectonic activity worked by similar rules then Boston would be half way through Canada by now and the Himalayas would have moved to the north pole then back down to Ecuador. I don’t believe that Hyrule is an entirely physical place (if at all). In most narrative traditions you only see such widely changing geography in an Otherworld.
So here you have it. The Wicked Theory behind LoZ. Link’s soul was captured by Demise upon his death in Skyward Sword. Zelda lived her life and died when time came but Link, thousands of years into the future, still contends with Demise. Hyrule along with Termina, the Great Sea, Labrynna and that weird dream island with chain chomps are all part of the hellish Otherworld constructed by Demise. The Hero of Time/Winds/Ages/Seasons is, in reality, a poor torture subject and plaything belonging to a cosmic wavelength of malevolent intent. Link hasn’t saved anyone in a few thousand years and has likely been forgotten by the people he actually saved. Grooseland is likely well protected under the benevolent rule of Zelda’s descendants and the only actual person who knows what happened to Link is Link. That being said. Link is a great hero whom has saved the world from annihilation. He made the ultimate sacrifice and gained the ultimate reward. He has saved all of creation from the spirit of endings and, tragically, is suffering eternally for his heroism.
So there’s our bit on Zelda. I had a great time lampooning my favourite series and look forward to bashing the rest of the fandoms I am part of. Next week we are going back to the alignment grid. Make sure to check in and let me know what you want to discuss. Shoot us an email if you just want to hang, high-minded arguments aside I am not above showing off my utter scrub-itude in Warframe or Starcraft. Sorry I was late this week, I promise to be on my Wednesday schedule next week. Thanks for reading, see you next time.