Why Doesn’t Link Have Friends?
Silent Hero? Or Elephant in the Room?
Most gamers will strike you down if you ever, even accidentally, refer to The Legend of Zelda series as an RPG. The Legend of Zelda is an Action/Adventure series, first and foremost, and maybe even the best of that genre, with or without its fantasy elements. Yes, a role is played, and the Nintendo icon shares a lot with the genre (setting, puzzles, hack n’ slash battling, folklore, the list goes on), but one element that is not required in an RPGs but is a staple never appears in a Zelda game: the party.
Whether it be Final Fantasy and Xenoblade Chronicles or tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons, the experience of role-playing games . Evening LARPing requires the presence of others. The Legend of Zelda, on the other hand, is a journey of the self with potential for loneliness and solitude. The idea of Link being a lone wolf is even the literal premise of Twilight Princess, one of the most recent editions of the series.
It’s strange that Mario got a full on, traditional RPG treatment, filled with an assortment of playable party members, before Link and Zelda, and that RPG did so well that it eventually evolved into its own franchise in Paper Mario. It’s not completely mind boggling, however. After all, Mario is constantly surrounded by community. Both Mario and Link have a princess in constant need of saving, but Mario is surrounded by community. He has a brother, a friend in Toad and the citizens of Mushroom Kingdom, even a baby Yoshi that he has ridden and raised. In a way, the Mario series, despite being a platform, has more in common with traditional RPGs than Mario.
Link, on the other hand, is gaming’s ultimate loner. From what we know of the official timeline of the series, released by Nintendo, Link is doomed to repeat the same cycle for all of known time and requires him to save the world and defeat Ganon as needed. It could be the burden of having to save the world constantly (he is the Hero of Time and Triforce of Courage, afterall), or it could be something rooted in his personality and actions, but one thing is for certain in all incarnations: Link has no friends.
Relationships of Obligation? Link’s Companions Unpacked
Princess Zelda/Shiek: let’s start with the title character, the only one to appear in almost as many games as Link. After a few decades of Link saving Zelda, it was revealed that Zelda is a part of the same reincarnation cycle as Link. Zelda is sometimes one of the Seven Sages, and always the proper wielder of the Triforce of Wisdom. Zelda is often a victim and rarely spends time interacting with Link. She probably spends more time with Ganon and his many forms than she does with Link. In Spirit Tracks, Zelda is a bit of a guide. Maybe if we saw them interacting more and being friendly, we might be more motivated to save Zelda, or at least, feel less alone in the vastness of Hyrule.
Zelda is also revealed to be Shiek, who may be the coolest gender-bend in gaming history. Shiek interacts with Link more than the average Zelda. Maybe it was a symptom of the time period Ocarina of Time was released in, but Shiek is mostly there to aid Link and instruct him on the next steps in his journey. Link has female guides after Shiek, but Shiek is kind of male-presenting because of the belief that men listen to men.
Although a romantic connection is hinted at, we never see an explicit romantic bond between the two lead characters. They kiss when Link wakes her up at the end of Breath of the Wild, but I’m not going to hold my wild breath until the BotW sequel is released. Having been “will they-won’t they” for almost 40 years in our time and for centuries in the games timeline, that’s a long, long time to potentially be betrothed to someone. It would be nice if some of their incarnations got together, but without content explicitly defining their relationships as anything other than, “Link has to save her” and “Zelda, triforce of Wisdom and Link, trifroce of Courage, need to work together because they are good and Ganon is bad,” their relationship remains a mystery.
Tetra: Technically another Zelda, but she does seem closer to Link in this incarnation that in most of her others. She’s pretty awesome in Wind Waker, helping Link along and not playing the victim role this time around (conveniently, Link’s sister gets kidnapped instead) and in Spirit Tracks, she is the one that needs saving. Maybe something about being a pirate and not a royal makes her more in tune with Link’s sparking (lol) personality? Tetra is a career woman, running her pirate ships and getting all the booty. Link steals frequently, so Tetra probably sees a great business partner in Link, reincarnation mumbo jumbo aside.
Navi: Hey, listen, Navi is the worst. Navi only joins Link on his quest because The Deku Tree basically assigned the fairy to look after Link during his quest to defeat Ganon. The Great Deku Tree is basically Link’s mom, so like, it’s one of those friendships that basically forced by parents. Navi disappears at the end of Ocarina, and the game doesn’t rally explains what happens to her. The fact that she doesn’t even say goodbye to Link after their massive journey together speaks volumes about her personality…or maybe Link’s.
Tatl: like Navi but with even less incentive to befriend Link and more incentive to save the world, her brother, and maybe even Skull Kid, who’s possessed by Majora’s Mask. The fact that Tatle and her brother befriended Skull Kid, so mischievous that he gets possessed by one of the most pwerful artifacts in the game and dooms the world, and stay with him after Link saves everyone is the epitome of shade.
Ciela: another fairy, this time with amnesia, so she couldn’t remember that Link was a dick and or has some other social stigma around him. She helps Link save the world, regains her memory, and moves right on like all the rest.
Linebeck: he’s only in it for the treasure, standing on the sidelines while Link does all the dirtywork in Phantom Hourglass. Linebeck is less of a friend and more of a colonizer with a ship, that Link unfortunately needs to get around the water-filled kingdom.
The King of the Red Lions, Ezlo the Hat, and Fi- these companions are lumped together because they essentially serve the same role, and are kind of part of the problem. The companions simply exists to guide Link along his journey, sometimes as a vessel of transportation, sometimes as a functional weapon, and always as a “mansplainy” guide to instruct on exactly how to do things. Many enjoy Breath of the Wild simply because it’s so open-ended, there isn’t someone telling you not to go here or there.
Crimson Loftwing and the Iconic Epona: you wouldn’t be able to get around Hyrule without them (and also Ricki, Dimitri, and Boosh from the Oracle games). The royal steeds, trustworthy to a T, these two might be the exception to Link not having any friends. Link’s befriending of these animals makes Link seem a little less suspect as a serial killer, but it is indicative of his antisocial tendencies.
Midna- a fan favorite, she is less of a vessel ala King of Red Lions, and more of an imperative side-by-side extension of Link while also being a separate entity. Hailing from an alternate dimension, maybe she’s the Link of her realm, and that’s why they are able to hit it off. She has a bit of a crush on Link throughout the game. She was never afraid to throw shade at Princess Zelda, which is a fresh wrinkle in the ongoing series.
Her relationship is tense at first, but grows sentimental as the journey progresses. In another dimension, maybe she is the Link of her world, or the Zelda, or both?
Midna’s true form, revealed at the end of Twilight Princess, is one of the most beautiful, artistic bodies in the entire Legend of Zelda franchise, like what Star Wars was going for all along. So regal, so wonderful. Maybe if Link had seen this form sooner, he would have been a little kinder to Midna, or maybe they would have had some romantic chemistry. Before returning to her own world, at least she says goodbye.
Link is not just an outcast, he is THE outcast. Maybe that has been the secrets to the franchise’s success?
Vase-Throwing Jerk? Mentally Ill? Or Something More?
Maybe Link is a dick. He is constantly destroying property. Someone that throws pots and steals rupees and other treasures is not likely to be highly regarded. Link is often a traveler, a young traveler that rarely has enough community to develop social skills. As far as Nintendo characters go, Link does not have consistent, recurring characters orbiting his circle, and most of his companions only work with him out of necessity because he was born a hero. Well, not just any hero, THE hero, with many titles.
I only have a minor in Psychology, but Link’s upbringing is not normal. His silence speaks volumes, and the heavy burden placed on Link is downright traumatic — and that’s just Link BEFORE his quests. Link does not have the luxury of a consistent sidekick, a close circle of friends, or a party of four like in most RPGs. He has no tank to deal damage at his side, no archer to spot him from behind, no one to heal him when things get tough. If ever playing the game and you tire of the soundtrack, but on “I Keep Dancing On My Own” by Robyn. Link is not just an outcast, he is THE outcast. Maybe that has been the secrets to the franchise’s success?
Is Link the Marge Simpson of the video game world? Surrounded by characters, and sometimes love, yet somehow too doomed to hold on to simple relationships? Link might be a lonely dude, sometimes a literal lone wolf, but maybe that’s part of his appeal. Many gamers pick up their controllers to grow closer to others, online gaming has never been more popular and accessible. But sometimes, we need to detach from a world that, sometimes, despite all the love and characters around us, makes us feel the need to save the world, thanklessly and alone.