“If a person who has an evil heart gets the Triforce, a Hero is destined to appear… and he alone must face the person who began the Great Cataclysm. If the evil one destroys the Hero, nothing can save the world from his wicked reign. Only a person of the Knights Of Hyrule, who protected the royalty of Hylia, can become the Hero…”
This is it: our #1 male character of all-time. But we’re not even close to done yet. Tomorrow, we take a short break before we do this again with the female characters in September.
1) Link (Legend of Zelda) – 10 votes/662 points
Chris: We’ve finally made it all the way to our number one character of all-time, and he doesn’t even talk. LIST DISQUALIFIED.
Okay, he grunts a lot. He makes noises while he swings his sword. He yells when he falls off cliffs. And he even says “Come on!” to Medli and Makar in Wind Waker. Still, a silent protagonist at #1? That seems a little odd on the surface.
It’s remarkable that Link has managed to be different yet familiar throughout the years. We’ve grown accustomed to the green tunic and some of the tried-and-true items like the sword, shield, bombs, bow and arrow, and so on. He’s usually fighting to save (or alongside) Zelda, and typically Ganondorf is standing in the way somewhere. But it’s the nuances that make the difference.
You can pick your favorite Link out of the dozens of games in which he’s starred over the years, and make a case for why it’s a great character. Wind Waker Link desperately tries to save his sister by sailing across the Great Sea, and his facial expressions and demeanor tell a better story than words ever could. Four Swords Link suffers through the Calvin and Hobbes transmogrification nightmare of having to put up with other versions of yourself, but he kicks Vaati’s ass anyway. Skyward Sword Link just wants to go to class and hang out with his BFF Zelda (a totes adorbs couple, bee tee dubs), but he goes off to forge the sword of legend and seal away evil when needed.
There are some poor, misguided fools in the world who think that Link should finally be given a voice, because “other games have it!” or “Bioware dialogue trees are so robust!” or “it’s weird that everyone else talks but him!” These people are stupid, and their opinions are stupid. Link stands out simply because he manages to be both an avatar for the player (silently acting out their decisions) while maintaining a personality of his own. And if “excuuuuuuuuuuuuse me, princess!” is any indication, you should be careful what you wish for.
Link is fine the way he is. He endures as a gaming icon, and he’s a fitting choice for our #1 character of all-time.
Shaun: Ah, Link. The first and only video game character awesome enough to inspire me to write a fan-fiction about him. Spoilers — he and Malon get married at the end.
I don’t know if there’s a gaming character who’s more iconic than Link except maybe the ubiquitous Mario. Yes, he doesn’t talk, but in a game without spoken dialogue, it fits perfectly, because this is simply the tool for the player to shape their own experience. BioWare offers the player a choice with dialogue wheels and quick-time button prompt events — Nintendo does it by supplying you the canvas, and letting your Link run wild in it. Link’s legend is shaped by his actions, but colored by your perception of him.
Is he a completely selfless paragon who forges ahead simply because he must, without a thought to himself or the life he leaves behind? Or is he a remorseful, reluctant tool of fate, who hesitates to pick up the sword but resolves to anyway because there is no one else? Both are valid. Both can be supported by in game events. It just comes down to you.
Again, it’s not that he doesn’t speak — it’s that his speaking is implied. How many times does Link meet with someone, and after a few seconds, that someone responds to what Link “told” them? Link talks, but how he does so is left completely up to you. Rather than lazy game design, which is what it might seem like on the surface, it’s actually a deft, extremely subtle touch that drives home the original purpose of Link, and the meaning behind his namesake — he’s a “link” between yourself and the world of the game.
As the series goes on, Link’s facial expressions and deeds continue to define him. I’ll let my fellow panelists delve into what feats they remember him most by, but regardless of what they are, I sincerely hope the player perception element remains an important part of his character. It’s this adaptability that has enabled him to remain such an icon throughout the years, after all.
Joseph: The man, the myth, the … participant in the legend. Number one? Have we really come this far? Link and I have had a relationship dating back to my first Game Boy and Link’s Awakening. He and I spent hours upon hours discovering every nook and cranny of the map. Hell, we even found our way around a glitch or two. When I dropped my handheld and cracked half the screen, do you think I stopped? Never! I spent hours jumping over pits and fighting bosses I couldn’t see. A few years later, I found out there were more games in the series and I haven’t looked back.
These games are the reason I am a completionist. I had to find everything. How could they call me a hero if I only had 19 hearts? How could I tolerate gaps in my inventory, with smug NPCs staring at me like they knew where that last bottle was and I didn’t? This silent protagonist, in all his iterations, has captivated me time and again with his use of items to solve the complex puzzles some jerks designed hundreds of years in the past. Sure, I’m the one controlling him (much like every other hero), but I feel like more of an old friend of the family. No matter how many times Link’s parents/grandparents/acquaintances die, I’ll be there to support and help him save the titular princess.
His tenacity is another one of his many appealing qualities. He doesn’t ponder over whether a problem can or cannot be solved. He solves the problem. He wakes up in the middle of the night to deal with the telepathic communications of a captured princess. He fights giant insects and dinosaurs at the age of 10 and watches them vaporize before his eyes. He sails horrifyingly large seas to find his wayward sister. Does he ever stop to think about what he wants? No. Find dungeon. Kill boss. Repeat. Repeat. Track down Ganondorf (or whoever has taken his place today) and kill him. Can’t get into his tower? I’ll find magical gloves/boots/staves/whatever to accomplish my goal because if I don’t, who will?
Jason: What can I say about the Hero of Time? For many of us, he was our first foray into dungeon delving or adventuring in video games. Link may not say a whole lot, and his name might not even BE Link in your playthrough, but he still somehow manages to have a personality all his own with his facial expressions and exclamations. While I think the Legend of Zelda games are carried more by their design than by Link himself, it’s hard to argue that the guy doesn’t have character all his own.
Michaela: I find it amazing still how a character that has never spoken can still be compelling and interesting through his actions and facial expressions. Over the years, Link’s personality has developed into one of a heroic yet easy-going individual, and it’s these aspects of his character that have lent him his iconography in the video game industry. Link continues to serve as a great example of a character that doesn’t need a voice to convey his emotions or sense of morality, and I wouldn’t want it to be any different.
Cary: Link is a great “every man.” As the strong, silent type, his actions speak for him, and there’s nearly nothing he can’t do! From sword fighting and ranged attacks to lawnmowering and housekeeping (who needs so many damned pots and urns around the house anyway?!) to horse riding and running on forever and ever. He’s as versatile as he is fun to play. And if we need to play the pixel Link (original Legend of Zelda) vs. realistic Link (Twilight Princess) vs. Cartoony Link (Wind Waker), Wind Waker will and always win the battle for me. Now, I don’t wanna get into an argument about it, no need to fight. To each his own, after all. I like the cel shaded look generally in games, and I love the overall artistic style of Wind Waker and its sequels. Wind Waker Link, with his boat and disproportionately large head and expressive eyes, simply won me over.