A link to the past

I’ve had some mixed reactions to the leaked details of Skyward Sword, the upcoming game in the Legend of Zelda franchise. According to Destructoid, via series producer Eiji Aonuma, the game will be “something like a school drama” with “Link, Zelda and their other friends all go to the same boarding school, and you’ve got teachers and a principal as well.” I’m not sure I like that idea. Where has my Link gone? Where is the mighty warrior and bane of Ganon?

“A boarding school? What are these… children?”

For someone that has tried in several different settings to argue that video games are both serious and can be art, the fact that I get even upset at all about a setting that has Link and Zelda in a school is rather humorous. After all, while I’ve been off pounding the drums of conversion to draw in others, I’ve forgotten what drew me in the first place. While I have grown up with and into the idea of Link of the green-clad sword-welding badass, I’ve forgotten that he had a very humble beginning. He did not start as the man slaying demons, the knight crusader or wandering paladin. He was an innocent once.

A boy. A cave. Endless adventures.

Although it has not gone up yet, I speak about about what I found so fascinating about The Legend of Zelda in Episode 46 of At Play. When I was younger, I explored the neighboring woods around my house. We lived at the end of a road and, if you looked only in one direction, it would appear as we were situated in the middle of a wilderness. It was in these woods that I had my own adventures. With my friends, we explored every nook and cranny finding our own caves, lost objects and once even a gravestone. I would come in from all the adventuring and then sit down to the same actions, only now via the NES. For hours, I would look for all the secrets in the game. With that same tenacity as in reality, I would find the hidden items, caves and, yes, even gravestones in the game. When thinking back over those times, I remembered something very simple: he started with nothing.

It is dangerous to go alone. Take this.

I don’t know when it started, but I have in my mind some image of Link as champion, some dashing do-gooder. It’s wrong. Really wrong. He was not some conscript into a battlefield but a reluctant hero. In order for Link to do anything, you, as the player, must push him into it. Link does not go marching off for glory, he must face the darkness alone. Although often guided by spiritual and mystical forces, they expect Link to do every deed, vanquish every evil. Link starts, in the very first game, without a weapon, a goal or even memories.

He is just a boy in a world that fight against him. The first action a player must take is to plunge into the darkness on that first screen, to enter into the unknowing abyss. With that first voluntary action to push Link into the darkness, a second choice appears. A sword and a message waits for Link. You must force Link into picking up the blade, joining the battle and being the hero the world wants. Each step must be taken and it must be taken alone.

With these reflections, I realized that the series I loved, the series I have invested thousands of hours into was actually really, really depressing. Sure, yes, the story is about saving a world but the cost to the hero, which I had never considered before, is terrible. In order that an evil be vanquished — not destroyed, never gone for long — a child must be sacrificed. In each titled game, the player directs a child, an innocent, to go get a sword and confront soldiers of darkness. In this, the childhood must end so that the warrior begin. Wind Waker has Link lose an island of paradise, Ocarina of Time has Link lose years of his life.

The weight of all these choices came sudden to me. Of course, they all started with a child. Of course, this one, this Skyward Sword, must as well. Just as I started with the first Link, so too must each generation of players come to the game as innocents to the world of Zelda and grow as Link does. My Link is not their Link, at least not yet. But, we are all part of a chain of players, each one joining to the next in our own battles and adventures alongside our hero Link. In that, both he or us are not alone. Each experience we take with us on our own adventures.