If All in Hyrule Are Like You, Maybe You’ll Do All Right: Twilight Princess and Overcoming Individualism
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It’s seven in the morning sometime in June 2007, and I’m the only one awake in what feels like the whole world. I’m up before my parents are, having slipped past their room on my way downstairs to settle into place on uncomfortably itchy carpet in front of the TV. I’m double-checking that the sound is turned all the way down so they won’t wake up to a long, drawn-out wolf howl that comes at the end of the opening to Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. I’m eleven years old, and I’m probably about thirty hours into the game without finishing it yet. This is totally fine with me. I never want it to end.
No, I wasn’t bad at Zelda games, despite how the many I owned had 50+ hours clocked in before they were finished. Rather, I grew up taking things slowly, from books to movies to walks down my suburban street, and my experience of Twilight Princess was no different. I enjoyed the overworld so much I would often spend a couple of hours a day just swimming in Lake Hylia, riding across Hyrule Field, or perhaps spending some time at the fishing hole if I felt like getting some action in. When I felt like I needed some company, I visited Kakariko Village or Castle Town, visiting the yetis in their mountain mansion, or ending up at Telma’s tavern, enjoying the presence of the people there. I didn’t need to talk to them — I knew what they would say, their dialogue fixed and static, their personalities only revealed in full at plot-relevant points. That didn’t stop me from enjoying their company, though, though it took a long time to earn their trust.
Though their group is never named in-game, this group of characters, comprising of
· Rusl, Link’s father figure from Ordon Village
· Ashei, the daughter of a Hyrulian knight
· Shad, a dedicated researcher of Hyrule’s history
· Telma, bartender, bar owner, and a surprisingly skilled wagon driver;
· Louise, Telma’s prissy but kind white cat;
· and Auru, a veteran knight who is well-versed in weaponry and the royal family’s history
make up the Resistance. Like Link, these five Hylians and one cat are working tirelessly to figure out a way to stop the spread of the Twilight. Rather than give in to the tyrannical monarchy under Zant, this group functions much like any resistance group does in such a story: by plotting the usurper’s demise. Prior to the advent of Link’s venture into the game’s plotline, its clear they were missing a component, someone who could add another set of skills to their Swiss Army knife of an activist team. This is, of course, where Link comes in, the eponymous hero of his own story — and, now, theirs.
However, one person alone does not build community. Accepting a new member, trusting a new face, takes time, and Twilight Princess pits Link against more grueling efforts than ever, even though at this point, the player is into the second half of the game. Despite Telma’s preexisting trust in Link after she witnesses him rescue Ilia and the Ordon Village children in Kakariko, the others are unwilling to accept his presence. In times of hardship, the thought of accepting outsiders is often the last thing on anyone’s mind. Link’s presence is suspicious at worst and a joke at best — ironically, Ashei mocks him for his outfit. She thinks he’s playing dress-up, attempting to imitate the guise of the legendary hero. Link, as a character, is not unused to this. As a new player of Zelda, however, perhaps these words would sting. The last thing anyone — including Link — wants is rejection. But over and over again, that is what he — and you, the player — must face.
Twilight Princess shows, at its most ironic point, the Resistance realizing they should apologize to Link as he hides in the rafters above them in wolf form. To fall then is to be kicked back out of the bar by a Goron bouncer in a fade-out that implies a violent struggle between Link and those below. Link, of course, doesn’t express any upset at this — he can’t. At this point, completing the task at hand is more important than trying to convince others he isn’t who he appears to be. It’s nice to think that they would be willing to accept him if they knew about his wolfish alter-ego, but there’s something a little unrealistic about that in a game that is pretty good at keeping to a realistic narrative. The Resistance have reactions that one would expect in a tense a situation as the fate of their known world: anger, determination, disdain, suspicion, and, below it all, curiosity.
Though rich, the story arc with the members of the Resistance is unfortunately brief and choppy. It’s interspersed with lengthy dungeons and various side-quests, meaning it’s easy to focus on the tasks ahead rather than the burgeoning sense of belonging that’s in development for Link. Who, then, is ideal in showing this development of acceptance and reliance on community than Midna? As Link’s constant companion, she goes through as much as he does, but her life spent literally in the his shadow means she doesn’t have access to the same level of interaction that Link does — she has to watch it all unfold. All she has is Link. At first, among her insults and demands, she seems to try to pressure him into going it alone. Midna’s connection (or lack thereof) to community works as a foil to Link’s — she doesn’t understand why he would seek out the help of people who don’t seem to appreciate his presence. In fact, she seems totally abject to being around others at all. Her exile by Zant and the lack of support she has in the world of light leaves her bitter, manipulative, and lonely.
She doesn’t desire Link for his company, but rather for his use. She minces her words, mocks Link and the other Hylians important to him, and seems to care little for the struggle of those life forms that cannot survive in the Twilight. It’s easy to interpret this as part of her trickster-like personality, but the reality of the situation is, she is herself hurt and lonely, torn from all she knew and held dear. While it can be presumed that Link’s rupture strengthens his resolve, Midna’s seems to have left her feeling weak and powerless, though she certainly doesn’t show it. Her wit is as sharp as Link’s bite, making them a good match despite their different views on working with others — at first.
Leaving loneliness behind is an important part of finding community, too. Often, individualism is toted as the be-all, end-all state of success: if you can do it on your own, you’re better than those who cannot. But this is inherently untrue. If I had known, as a child, I would have been much better off with a core group of friends, I would have sought that out to no end. Exiting loneliness seems to be a lifelong process when you grow up without a strong sense of community. Midna’s development as a character in particular reflects this. Her determination to use Link rather than work with him is soon discarded after she witnesses Link perform selfless act after selfless act in order to help those around him. She doesn’t understand why he would do anything if it wasn’t solely for his own benefit, but she soon comes to terms with his desire to be selfless. It isn’t Link who shows her the ultimate sacrifice, though. In a touching turn of events, the crux of this development occurs when Zelda seemingly sacrifices herself so that Midna can live.
From then on, Midna felt she no longer was doing this seemingly impossible task alone — she had found at least two others willing to fight for her life, among countless other tasks. Although it may have its own TVtropes page, the concept of ‘family of choice’ or ‘found family’ is a very real and important aspect in the lives of many marginalized people, including, of course, queer and trans people like myself. Rejected by parents or guardians, ostracized by siblings, abandoned by former friends — these are just a few scenarios that LGBTQ+ people, especially teenagers and young adults, often face. Twilight Princess may not ‘queer’ its narrative in this way, but as a queer and trans person, I can’t help but relate my own experiences as they occurred in the ten years since I played the game for the first time.
What offered me was a connection to a community when there was none available to me. A ragtag resistance organization of social outcasts depending on the questionable abilities of a teenage boy who can turn into a wolf (who himself is relying on the aid of a exiled queen in the form of an impish, sharp-witted shadow) was my ideal for a community, a friend group, a family. I don’t think I will ever be able to forget what Twilight Princess offered me: an understanding that strength and success are easier when there are others working with you. To say that these characters literally were my community would not be wrong. At the time, I had little else. I related deeply to Link and Midna’s desperate attempt to survive and save the worlds they inhabit because I felt connected to those worlds as well. It’s just good storytelling, in the end –it creates a sense of thrilling urgency by capitalizing on the player’s attachment to the fictional people in a world forever teetering on destruction, living in stasis until the game is started up again and the adventure continues. Being unattached to the people and places, to the cities and towns, to the communities central to the success of the hero’s efforts would mean certain death for them all — or, at least, a disinterest in the game itself. Twilight Princess had its flaws, but the effort that went into fleshing out character roles to go beyond those of the average NPC still strikes me. Link may be the hero, but his success cannot be his alone.
Without the Resistance helping to storm the castle leading to the final battle with Ganon, it just wouldn’t be possible. Twilight Princess shows its player that much in a striking cutscene, wherein the group of them combine their strengths and talents to clear away a hoard enemies so that Link can progress through the castle’s labyrinthine interior with ease. Earning their trust and aid didn’t require leading them — rather, it entailed bonding with them. Like a folk tale, Twilight Princess wove together the stories of the Resistance by amping up not their special powers, superior intellect, or worldly importance: rather, the focus was on a collective effort and desire to help. Even so, at the end of the game, everyone, including Link, takes different paths. The future is uncertain, but the impact of the final scenes aren’t meant to come from the characters — it is felt in the player, who watches as everyone they relied on to seal away Hyrule’s evil once more part ways and return to their lives during the end credits. Worry, elation, relief, happiness — it’s all a part of saying goodbye to people important to you, knowing that yes, of course they’re still out there, somewhere, ready to return to aid you during difficult times. Even Midna’s final words reflect this as she returns indefinitely to the Twilight –
“See you later.”