I’ve been wanting to write a series of articles on my favorite game characters, partially because I want to analyze why I like them in the first place. What is it about these simple avatars that resonates with me? Is it their designs? Their personalities? Or did I simply enjoy the games they were in and appreciated the characters by association? I think it’s a little different for every case.
I’m starting off with an odd choice: Link from Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda series. I say it’s an odd choice because, frankly, Link isn’t much of a character. It’s been discussed how he’s mainly a blank slate without much of a personality of his own so that the player may imprint his/her own interpretation on him. Even his name, “Link,” is meant to indicate the connection between the player and the game world. Furthermore, Link is technically not even a single character, but a series of characters with similar traits.
And yet, something about him sticks with me. It’s hard to describe, as Link is ultimately a fairly generic elf-like character with a green tunic and pointy hat, the likes of which have been seen several times before and since. But there’s something distinct about Link. Something that makes him strongly identifiable, despite his many incarnations and redesigns.
However, the fact that the character is ever changing is one of the things I love most about him. Core elements like the aforementioned tunic stay the same, but the character is incredibly versatile in the way he is continually re-imagined. From the slightly dorky Link with the epic quaff from the earlier games, to the highly stylized Toon Link who looks like he escaped from a Hayao Miyazaki film, to “hot anime dude” Link who seems to have the broadest appeal. Link’s redesigns are something I look forward to with each new Zelda game. (And in case you’re wondering, no, I don’t count the Link from the CD-i games, but I do kinda like the “excuuuse me” Link from the old cartoon series.)
On a basic level, I think Link embodies two things: youth and courage. Link is always either a child or a teenager, but never depicted as an adult (unless you count the Hero’s Shade from Twilight Princess). This, I think, is meant to reflect the sense of wonder the player experiences as he/she explores the game world. Link is wide-eyed and innocent, and it makes the player feel young to share his adventures.
As for courage, well, Link symbolizes the Triforce of Courage. Simple enough. But more than that, Link gives off an air of determination. He is a quintessential hero, and rises to meet whatever challenge is before him. Sure, he can blow it off for a while to go fishing or indulge some other diversion, but to finish the game, he must explore the depths and face unspeakable horrors. Inherently, Link never backs down.
Do I have a favorite version of Link? Not specifically. As I mentioned earlier, I like how the character is always changing, and so I tend to appreciate each one for individual reasons. Of course, they also inherently tie in with the games that they’re in. Link is defined by his adventures.
Maybe that’s the key. Link doesn’t get stale because he is always changing, and his experiences are our experiences. It creates a literal “link” between me and the character.
So, is my preference skewed from imposing my own interpretation on him? Perhaps. But then, that’s what Link was made for.