The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
As in all Legend of Zelda titles, The Wind Waker’s Link is a silent protagonist with a flat character arc. He does not change throughout the story; rather, it is his actions that change the world. He is not a lifeless character, however, as The Wind Waker‘s unique animation style allowed the writers to imbue him with a vivid personality. Dialogue from other characters, particularly Tetra, illuminates Link’s character as well. By combining information from those sources, The Wind Waker portrays its Link as reckless, compassionate, courageous, and sentimental. More than any other Link in the series, he wears his heart on his sleeve, which makes him compelling even when he lacks dimension.
The Wind Waker uses its animations to develop Link’s personality throughout the game, especially during narrative turning points. The first such moment—the kidnapping of Aryll—ends with Link literally hurling himself off a cliff to save her. A short time later, when Link confesses to his grandmother that his sister has been kidnapped, he has to look away. He shows his compassion when he waves off Zelda’s apology in Hyrule Castle, and again when he reaches out for the drowning King of Hyrule during the Wrap-Up. These little moments bring Link to life, allowing players to relate to him despite his limited depth.
NPC dialogue also plays a role in developing Link’s character. Tetra is the primary driver here, as she’s the character most likely to remark on other’s actions. It begins with Link’s departure from Outset when he’s experiencing second thoughts about leaving the island. As he waves to his grandmother from the back of the ship, Tetra remarks: “How much longer is this going to go on, do you think? Do you have an estimate?” Although Link’s actions are enough to make his emotions fairly clear, Tetra’s dialogue is used to drive home how childish he seems to her, which tells the player something about both of their characters. She continues to study his mannerisms, to the point that she’s so familiar with them by the second trip to Forsaken Fortress that she can say: “There you go…Acting before you think…as usual.” This line shows that she knows Link as well as the player does. He’s sentimental and reckless, just the way he’s shown to be in his animations.
Using the combination of animations and non-player character insights, The Wind Waker compensates for Link’s lack of depth by giving him a vivid, relatable personality. Even though his motivations are never stated directly, the player can infer them and develop an attachment to the character. The success of this method of character development shows through the enduring popularity of the ‘Toon Link’ character, who has headlined in multiple main series titles since his debut in 2002. Almost twenty years later, The Wind Waker‘s Link still holds up as a stellar example of a silent protagonist with a voice of his own.
As the prepubescent captain of an entire crew of pirates, Tetra is clever, commanding, and candid to a fault. She also prefers to avoid any burdens that can be shouldered by someone else. Her clear flaws give her ample room to improve as a person as Wind Waker’s narrative develops, and by the Midpoint, she’s able to recognize and atone for her flaws. While this does represent a complete character arc, the fact that it occurs in the middle of the narrative leaves her to stagnate for the rest of the game, which coincides with the story’s midpoint twist: Tetra is Princess Zelda. Once that reveal occurs, her screen time is cleaved down to a fraction of what it was, limiting opportunities for any further growth.
Tetra’s story begins when she’s kidnapped by the Helmaroc King, the fierce bird that roosts in the Forsaken Fortress. When Link first rescues her, she pushes him aside to pursue the giant bird herself. Even when Link’s sister is kidnapped in Tetra’s place, Tetra still refuses to help him until she’s reminded that Aryll’s fate was largely her fault. She still doesn’t feel the need to make Link’s life any easier, though; in the very next scene, she launches him out of a barrel into a concrete wall. She insists that’s the only way to get him into the fortress, but she’s not particularly apologetic about it. Her attitude is somewhat different when Link sees her in the bomb shop, as she appears to be concerned about Outset Island’s fate. Her crew isn’t used to that side of her, either; they ask if her if she cares more about the island than the treasure they believe is on it, and she seems confused by herself as she affirms it’s the treasure. At that moment, she catches sight of Link and sees a way to protect Outset Island while maintaining her integrity: she can let Link steal the bombs and blame her crew for letting him in. This shows that she’s grown enough to help someone else, but not enough that she’s willing to be open about it.
Tetra’s arc progresses further when she reappears to help Link upon his return to the Forsaken Fortress. She’s come to help Link rescue his sister, both by drawing the Helmaroc King away from the fortress and by taking custody of the kidnapped girls. She claims that her only goal is to sell the girls back to their families for a high reward, but she still swears she’ll be back to help Link even after the girls are safe aboard the ship. Her word proves good when she hurls herself through Ganon’s window to save Link, at which point Ganon sees the Triforce fragment around her neck and realizes she’s the disguised Princess Zelda. Before Tetra can make sense of this, the Rito swoop in and carry her off with Link as the dragon Valoo sets fire to Ganon’s room. It isn’t until Tetra arrives in Hyrule and assumes her true form that she’s able to understand what’s happened to her. When she does, she apologizes to Link for everything that’s happened and admits that it was all her fault. For her to readily take ownership of her role in Link’s troubles is a complete about-face from her actions at the beginning of the game, proving how much she’s grown as a character.
From this point forward, Tetra’s presence in the game is severely diminished. She’s sheltered in Hyrule Castle for most of the second act until she’s kidnapped by Ganon and held until the climax. Although she participates in the final battle and plays a major role in the wrap-up, her character doesn’t grow through any of those interactions. Fortunately, she completes her arc by the game’s midpoint, so sidelining her role in the story doesn’t inhibit her ability to change. The problem with her arc is not in its content; the problem is in its pacing. If she had been given more screen-time after becoming Princess Zelda, her growth could have kept pace with the narrative, and it would have resonated better with players.
In the Legend of Zelda series, Ganondorf is not a character that typically gets development. He’s meant to be the ultimate evil, which is not something that requires depth. The Wind Waker takes a different approach to the character by illuminating some of his motivations. While his character still doesn’t have an arc, he’s granted a degree of depth he hasn’t had in any Zelda game before or since.
For the majority of the story, Ganondorf exists as a one-dimensional obstacle for Link to overcome. He broods in his tower until Link and Tetra arrive, at which point he retreats to parts unknown until the time comes to capture Zelda. It isn’t until Link meets with Ganondorf in his tower that the player gets any insight into his character. When Link finally finds Ganondorf in his chamber, he’s sitting on the edge of a bed, where Princess Zelda sleeps. He asks Link if he still sleeps. It’s an odd question for someone to ask unless they themselves are no longer sleeping. However, Ganondorf doesn’t expound on this, and instead claims to see Zelda’s dreams. They’re filled with oceans, which makes him laugh and ask:
“What did the King of Hyrule say? …That the gods sealed Hyrule away? And they left behind people who would one day awaken Hyrule?! How ridiculous… So many pathetic creatures, scattered across a handful of islands, drifting on this sea like fallen leaves on a forgotten pool… What they can possibly hope to achieve? Don’t you see? All of you… Your gods destroyed you!”
His contempt for Hyrule’s gods is front and center, but he holds back on sharing his motivations in-depth until Link triumphs over his puppets and meets him again at the top of the tower. As the wind blows around them, Ganondorf ruminates on the choices that brought him there, saying:
“My country lay within a vast desert. When the sun rose into the sky, a burning wind punished my lands, searing the world. And when the moon climbed into the dark of night, a frigid gale pierced our homes. No matter when it came, the wind carried the same thing… Death. But the winds that blew across the green fields of Hyrule brought something other than suffering and ruin. I coveted that wind, I suppose.”
Not only does this monologue invoke the game’s wind motif, but it also provides insight into Ganondorf’s life before he sought the Triforce. Combined with his earlier comment about the gods, it becomes clear that Ganondorf sees Hyrule as unduly blessed by capricious deities, ones who would leave his people to suffer for the sin of being on the wrong side of a border. When called upon to save Hyrule, those same deities chose instead to destroy it and its people. There’s an irony to it that he recognizes when the King of Hyrule seizes the Triforce and steals his wish, thus condemning both of them to drown with the remnants of the kingdom. It’s a tragic, horrific end, and all Ganondorf can do is laugh. The King has wished for a future for the children, but Ganondorf does not believe they have a future. To him, their ‘precious Triforce’ is worthless, even though he was willing to put his faith in it mere moments before. Once again, the gods have denied him, and the Triforce is an extension of their power. It’s only a matter of time before the gods deny their chosen children as well, just as they did when they condemned Hyrule to the first flood.
As demonstrated through actions and dialogue, Ganondorf’s complex relationship with the gods colors his perception of the world around him. Although he resents them for their capriciousness and favoritism, he still seeks their power and believes he can harness it for himself. It’s only when he’s faced with certain death that he abandons his faith in their gifts and seeks to destroy those who would receive them. As long as he can strike down those chosen by the gods, he hasn’t really lost.
The King of Red Lions
While lacking a distinct arc of his own, the King of Hyrule serves multiple purposes within the narrative. He’s there to act as a mentor and guide for Link, and also serves to reinforce the game’s theme of generational change. By acting as a bridge between the old world and the new, he’s able to pass on the knowledge that will help the younger generation without tying them to older customs. His primary motivation in doing so is to create a better world for the people who survived the flood of Hyrule. It’s this goal that drives him to guide Link and Zelda through their conflict with Ganondorf, even when doing so puts them in greater danger.
The King first appears to Link as a boat after Link has been hurled from the Forsaken Fortress in the game’s opening act. His opening comment is that Link is surprisingly ‘dull-witted,’ which isn’t the best way to greet someone, but he then offers his help with Aryll and the Forsaken Fortress. Although he’s not up-front with his reasons for doing so, the nine-year-old Link doesn’t question the lack of information, and so the King isn’t forced to explain his actions. Link’s total lack of inquisitiveness allows the King to keep his motivations and identity hidden until Tetra comes to Hyrule. Within moments of meeting him, she’s yelling at him for using her magic necklace without asking her permission and demanding answers about who he is. Faced with her inquisition and the growing threat of Ganondorf, the King is finally willing to reveal his true identity: Daphnes Nohansen Hyrule, king of the legendary fallen kingdom, Hyrule.
At this point in the narrative, the King is willing to share some of Hyrule’s history with the children, but he waits until the climax to reveal his true goal: to flood what’s left of Hyrule, liberating the next generation from the past. After Ganondorf is turned to stone, he uses his last moments to share his wisdom with Link and Zelda, saying:
“My children… Listen to me. I have lived regretting the past. And I have faced those regrets. If only I could do things over again… Not a day of my life has gone by without my thoughts turning to my kingdom of old. I have lived bound to Hyrule. In that sense, I was the same as Ganondorf. But you… I want you to live for the future.”
He wishes them the best and asks that they forgive their ancestors for leaving them with such a difficult world. Although Link and Zelda seem to accept his wishes, Zelda still asks him to come with them to make a new Hyrule. Instead of accepting her offer, the King smiles and replies: “…Ah, but child… That land will not be Hyrule. It will be YOUR land!” Even when facing death, his convictions are so great that he’s willing to give up his own life in the hopes of improving the world.
As the children float away, carried upward by the power of his wish, the King appears content at last, and remarks: “I have scattered the seeds of the future…” At last, he has achieved his dream, absolving him of his guilt. He’s able to die with a clean conscience, knowing a better future awaits.
Even without an arc, the King of Hyrule’s character works because he has clear goals that tie in with the game’s theme of generational change. By achieving his goals with Link and Zelda’s help, he reinforces that theme and adds a complexity to the narrative that wouldn’t otherwise be present.