For some reason, I’ve always been fascinated with the subtle and not-so-subtle changes that Link has gone through over the years. Maybe it’s the way that despite his changes, he still manages to retain his core essence. It’s not always easy for a character to do this. If they don’t change, they become obsolete, but if they change to much, fans may reject them. The only time Link has ever really tread the latter territory was when he became cell-shaded for The Wind Waker, but even that has been ultimately accepted, and perhaps it has allowed him to be even more versatile in the years since.
Comparing the original Link from 1986’s The Legend of Zelda with the current Link from Skyward Sword does little to betray the journey he took to get here. By direct contrast, the most obvious change may be the addition of pants (completely overstepping his in/famous tights). He is also now right-handed, supposedly compensating for how the majority of players will wield the Wii Remote (although it could be argued that the original sprite was ambidextrous). Other than that, the devil is in the details, with the current Link having more elaborate clothing and hair, the additions of chain mail and gloves, and a different colored undershirt. But as always, he retains his instantly recognizable green tunic and pointy hat.
Looking at the original NES sprite next to his fully polygonal, cell-shaded Wii self makes me wonder if I should have called this feature “How Far We’ve Come.” But aside from technical issues, it seems that it’s the short, stubby Link from the first game that evolved into “Young Link” and “Toon Link,”, while the older Link from Zelda II would be the basis for teenage Link (or “Grown-up Link”).
Although the artwork here doesn’t really convey it, it’s somewhat funny to note that Link used to look a little bit nerdy, as is more prominent in his artwork from Zelda II and A Link to the Past. The more popular vision of him these days is as a cool, dashing hero, with Toon Link perhaps being more faithful to the original spirit.
And through it all, Link has remained the silent hero, only vocalizing grunts and yells, and his only (canonical) spoken dialog being “Come on!” from The Wind Waker.
But maybe it’s because Link has managed to maintain his spirit over the years that makes us feel comfortable with him, and always ready to join him on another adventure.