A Link Between Worlds is an entertaining game. The gameplay is crafty and extremely fun. The story, while nonexistent in the beginning, has improved and become much more interesting. But as I fight off giant fire turtles and sword-wielding ghosts, I have to wonder who it is I’m trying to save. Obviously the all-important Sages, but who are they? With the exception of Irene, I barely know them. Seres? The only time I saw her was right before she was turned into a painting. Gulley? I didn’t have much interaction with him other than the time that he woke me up at the start of the game. Compared to the Sages in earlier games such as Ocarina of Time, I feel like I had very little opportunity to become invested in these characters and want to rescue them. One of the reasons why Saria is one of my favorite characters in the Zelda series is because she wasn’t just a part of the story, but a part of Link’s life as well.
In Ocarina of Time, Saria’s role is simply being Link’s best friend and giving him support. After all, the beginning of the game makes it really clear that he doesn’t have much of a status among the Kokiri children since he lacks a personal fairy of his own.
Despite his setbacks, Saria is sweet and supportive, being the only person to take the time to visit and congratulate him when he does finally receive a fairy from the Deku Tree. Of course, they’re next door neighbors in their humble village, which makes being best buds easy. Among the other Kokiri children, Saria is quite popular and serves as subject of affection of the jealous Mido. While Link doesn’t have a whole lot to brag about in the early stages of the intro, Saria also has certain talents that distinguish her from everyone else in Kokiri Forest:
1) Getting through the Lost Woods without getting lost. (Even as a boy, Link has to follow the sound of her music when she’s there, so how does she get there with no problems?)
2) She composed her own theme song. Obviously a genius.
When Link embarks on the quest tasked to him by the Great Deku Tree, Saria gives him her prized possession as a farewell gift–her ocarina, and would later teach him the song that would allow them to communicate no matter how far away he was. Her status as a Sage, though still unknown to everyone, isn’t important when looking at her friendship with Link. Through her kindness and the support she gave him, it provided many opportunities to get to know her too.
After the seven year nap, Link returns to his home to find it infested with monsters and his best friend missing. Because of her history with Link, it made me invested in wanting to save her; Saria and Link’s friendship is important, preventing her from simply filling a role of the minor character who stands around behind the scenes. So when Link finally is able to save her, their short-lived reunion is a very bittersweet, touching moment. In the Nintendo Power player’s guide of Ocarina of Time–more specifically, the version made “with the assistance of Shigeru Miyamoto”–they had this to say about Link’s separation from Saria:
“…but Link was too preoccupied to listen. He still had Saria on his mind. Rescuing her from the Forest Temple was exciting enough for him, but discovering that his Kokiri friend was the Sage of the Forest was an even more shocking experience. Now Saria’s world was that of the Sacred Realm. Link began to miss her, and he wished for things to be as they had been in childhood, when he and Saria were the same age and in the same world. Determined to recapture his youth, Link returned to the Temple of Time.”
If a silent protagonist like Link can care for someone that much, it goes to show that the development of Saria’s character means something, and it’s for this reason that Saria–and the other Sages in Ocarina of Time–are superior to the Sages seen in A Link Between Worlds. By taking the time to introduce the characters and getting to know them, they leave a lasting impact so that when they are in danger, it’s easy to be as invested and determined to save them as Link is. So when I’m Hookshotting the crap out of an orange octopus shooting rainbow lasers while wondering which Sage I’ll be rescuing next, I’ll take consolation in the memory of how determined I was to save Saria and the other Sages in Ocarina of Time and let that drive me through the game.