The Legend of Zelda franchise is one of my favorite series of all time. I started playing Zelda from a young age and I have followed the series throughout the years. From Ocarina of Time to Breath of the Wild, and everything in between and even before, I have explored the land of Hyrule as Link and defeated the forces of evil. During that time, I’ve met a lot of fun characters with great stories of their own. Today, I want to share my five favorites with you.
Here’s how this will go: I’ll share my top five characters and descriptions of their experiences. Each one has a lesson we can learn, so after talking about how much I love the character, I’ll drive home the moral of the story (gotta work in the title, right?). There’s also gonna be a big ground rule here: I can only include one incarnation of any character that appears multiple times in the series. So my list can’t be five different Links, or three Zeldas and a couple of Ganondorfs. At most, only my favorite version of those characters will appear. Also, there will be spoilers in this article. Appreciating the full impact of these stories depends on knowing the whole story, so I will be going into detail here. If you haven’t played one of these games yet and want to, best to skip that character’s section in order to avoid spoilers.
#5: Ganondorf (The Wind Waker)
Ganondorf is rarely someone I include on my list of favorite anything – I tend to find him overused as a villain and whenever he appears on screen, I just sigh. This Ganondorf, though, brought something really interesting to the character that I greatly admire: dimension.
Ganondorf is typically driven by one thing and one thing only: the Triforce. He’ll do whatever it takes to get it and will destroy whoever gets in his way. But Wind Waker demonstrated that he doesn’t have to be one-dimensional. In this game, Ganondorf has personality.
It’s important to remember that this is the same Ganondorf from Ocarina of Time, just years in the future after his seal is broken. This is the same arrogant fool who allowed Link to run free and was ultimately defeated by him. He’s not young and brash anymore – age has given him clarity, to a degree, and he approaches situations a lot differently than he did back in the day. Age has also made his motive clearer, and this Ganondorf is open about the fact that he wanted a better life for his people in the desert. He coveted the beauty and fertility of Hyrule, not just its golden power.
Most of this is conveyed not in words, but in actions. Ganondorf isn’t thundering around on a horse, throwing bolts of lightning, screaming at people, or turning into a giant pig and tearing through everything. He’s cool and collected, calmly and confidently allowing Link to strike him when he knew that the Master Sword was no longer at full power. He never puts more energy into something than he has to, not only in a literal sense with his physical motions but in a figurative sense with his actions. In the endgame, when Link is at his mercy, Ganondorf does not make the decision to kill him – there’s no reason for cold-blooded murder. He simply wants the Triforce, and he has learned now that killing Link and Zelda isn’t necessary to get it. His one mistake is giving in to his disposition towards dramatic monologuing – while he loudly declares his wish to the heavens, King Hyrule is able to quietly place his hand on the Triforce and make his wish first.
Moral of the story: villains don’t have to be forces of mindless evil. Sometimes the most thoughtful are the most compelling.
#4: Ravio (A Link Between Worlds)
When I played A Link Between Worlds for the first time, it never occurred to me to question Ravio’s identity. Who he was didn’t seem to matter at all. He’s just this quirky, pushy merchant who sells you items. So he happens to give you a magic bracelet that protects you from Yuga’s magic and gives you the power to become a painting – coincidence, right? When Ravio revealed himself as Link’s Lorule counterpart, my brain nearly exploded.
A Link Between Worlds is pretty awesome because the worlds of Hyrule and Lorule are opposites not only in obvious ways, but in subtle ones as well. Hilda, as the opposite of Zelda, could have been unwise by just being an idiot, but instead she is so desperate to help her people that she allows herself to be influenced to make poor decisions. As the opposite of Link, Ravio could have simply been a scaredy-cat, but the story isn’t as obtuse as that. Ravio is scared to do the right thing at the time it mattered the most: he refuses to speak against Yuga when the sorcerer proposes his evil plan to attack Hyrule. But Ravio regrets not standing up for what is right, and he spends the rest of the game courageously working to undo that one moment of weakness.
I kind of have this theory that in the world of Lorule, Ravio would be the wielder of their Triforce of Wisdom. Only he sees the folly in Yuga’s plan to steal the Triforce from Hyrule. He then has the foresight to travel to Hyrule and equip Link with what he needs in order to overcome Yuga. On top of that, he slyly charges Link rupees for his services so that he can give the money back to his home kingdom in order to finance the rebuilding. Ravio is a clever guy, and by using his wits he is able to help Link and become something of a hero in his own right.
Moral of the story: you are not defined by your mistakes. You are defined by how you handle them.
#3: Skull Kid (Majora’s Mask)
My favorite Zelda villain and one of the creepiest bad guys in the series! Skull Kid is really just that – a kid. Lonely, he befriends four giants and plays with them every day. But after the giants have to take their leave, he becomes so bitter with lonesomeness and rage that he begins to act out. His tantrum places him right on the path of a mask salesman who just happens to be transporting the evil and powerful Majora’s Mask. Fancying it, Skull Kid puts it on and sets his life on the path of destruction.
The evil power of Majora’s Mask slowly seeps into Skull Kid and influences his decisions. He uses the power of magic to play meaner and meaner tricks; shattering the Great Fairies, transforming Kafei into a child, and extending his highway robbery to Link himself. During all this mayhem, the Skull Kid sets one other disaster in motion: he prepares the moon to come crashing down on the planet.
During the battle between Link and Majora’s Mask, the mask ceases to see Skull Kid as valuable and shucks him like the puppet he is. At that point, Skull Kid has a decision to make: he can own up to his actions or he can continue to blame others for “leaving him.” Luckily, with the guidance of the four giants as well as Link, Tatl, and Tahl, the Skull Kid manages to learn that he’s never really alone. His final act in the game is to draw a picture of himself standing side by side with Link and the fairies. I love Skull Kid because he’s a tragic villain, motivated not by hatred but by his belief that he is alone in the world. And in the end, he realizes that true friendships withstands time, distance, and the attempted destruction of the known universe.
Moral of the story: your friends are always there for you, and you are never alone.
#2: Zelda (Breath of the Wild)
Breath of the Wild is a celebrated game that nevertheless left a few things to be desired. Where it delivered, though, was the excellent characterization of the series’ title character. For the first time, Zelda took center stage in her own series. The compelling girl that Breath of the Wild presents is easily my favorite version of the princess.
Before the arrival of Calamity Ganon, Zelda is a woman who is fascinated with ancient technology. Her wisdom and bright mind draw her towards the scholarly arts. She has a love of history and lore, and puts those skills to use doing research into biology, technology, and probably more sciences that we simply don’t see. However, as the princess of Hyrule, Zelda is also a girl with a destiny, a destiny that her father wishes she would pursue rather than her scholarly interests.
As the princess of Hyrule, Zelda is meant to seal away Ganon when he comes again. She is meant to pray to the goddesses for this magical power, and at the constant pressuring of her father she does so. However, as she presses on and continues to search for the power of the goddess, she fails time and again. Her constant failure to unlock her magical powers causes her to see herself as a letdown (her father telling her she’s a letdown certainly doesn’t help). In her pain, she questions the gods and pushes her protector, Link, away. His very presence is a reminder that she isn’t living up to her destiny.
Seeing the princess of Hyrule struggle with her identity is incredible. It makes her identifiable – who doesn’t understand being pressured by a parent to be someone you feel like you aren’t? Who doesn’t understand questioning their long-held beliefs when those beliefs seem to be failing them? Zelda grapples with her identity and her destiny throughout the memories you discover in the game, and it is only after Calamity Ganon is finally defeated that she is able to reconcile her role as princess and scholar and become who she really wants to be.
Moral of the story: your destiny is something you need to define for yourself.
#1: Link (The Ocarina of Time)
Let’s be honest, there’s no version of this story where Link doesn’t make #1 on this list. He’s the hero, after all, and beyond that he’s MY hero. As a kid, I always wanted to be this guy, and the Link of Ocarina of Time is where it all started.
Link is an outcast right from the get-go, the “boy without a fairy.” Ostracized by some of the Kokiri (mostly Mido) for his lack of a companion, Link grew up feeling different from his friends. But the time comes for him to claim a fairy companion of his own, and when the Deku Tree gives him the task of breaking a terrible curse, Link doesn’t even blink. His bravery is evident right from the start, and it only becomes more obvious as his journey goes on.
A huge part of why I love Link from Ocarina of Time is because he is the ultimate underdog. Remember, this is also the Link of Majora’s Mask and the Spirit of the Hero in Twilight Princess. This means that this single version of Link has:
– Grown up ostracized by his people as an outsider due to his lack of a fairy
– Slept seven years and awoken to the total destruction of his homeland
– Learned he’s not even a Kokiri and that his mother died horribly during wartime
– Defeated Ganondorf but given no credit because it technically happened in the future
– Been transformed into the tormented souls of a Deku Scrub, Goron, and Zora
– Lived the same three days over and over again trying to stop the world from ending
– Failed to have a child so his spirit lived on in death due to his regrets
The Hero of Time goes through Hell over and over again, but despite all of this he never gives up. He never backs down from a challenge. And he always saves the world. When the time finally comes for a new Link to rise up, this one won’t let himself die until the new generation has learned all of his secrets first. It is this one version of Link who speaks, and the words he has to say are these: a sword has no strength unless the hand that holds it has courage. He has seen enough horrors to know fear in all of its forms, and yet his courage still holds. Link is a true hero and an amazing character to look up to.
Moral of the story: true courage is continuing on even in the darkest of circumstances.
There you have it, adventurers, my favorite Zelda characters and the lessons we can learn from them. If you enjoyed this article, then lucky you – turns out that Moral of the Story was a frequent segment back in the early days of Adventure Rules, so there’s more where that came from! I’ve done articles on Fire Emblem, Mario, Final Fantasy, and a villain special, so feel free to take some time and check those out today. In case you missed yesterday’s update, be sure to come back Wednesday and Friday to see two more old segments, and then vote for the one you think should make a comeback on Saturday! Thanks for reading, and be sure to comment with your own favorite Zelda characters!