In a bout of nostalgia, I re-opened the manga adaptation of my favorite video game of all time, half expecting to hear the anticipative “hidden item” fanfare as I did so.
As a child, I specifically remember the hero of Ocarina of Time capturing my interest. Link was both admirable and player-impressionable, which allowed me to meld bits of myself into his narrative. His journey captivated me, taking me on a daring quest through time into fantastical lands inhabited by exotic creatures.
Mostly, though, I remember being enthralled by Link’s silence.
Literal theses have been written on the role of silence within video game narratives, though Link’s silence in particular is an issue returned to time and again by theorists. The most technical of the bunch insist that Link’s silence is a tool used by the game developers to allow the player to “impress” themselves upon him, thus offering immersion within the game and identification with the green-clad hero.
From a purely developmental standpoint, that may be true. But as a wide-eyed ten-year-old venturing into the land of Hyrule for the first time, I wasn’t altogether focused on the game’s mechanics.
I connected with Link’s silence because I admired it. Here was a character who never spoke a word (outside of his combative foreign language), yet ten-year-old me was convinced he was the most noble, humble, and brave individual I’d ever connected with through a gamepad. That’s partially because his selfless and heroic actions made words meaningless, but more-so because, through his silence, I felt Link’s humility—his willingness to carry the weight of Hyrule on his back, his temperance not to lash back at others who mocked him, and his determination to make good on others’ vested faith in him.
He was a hero who mourned, served, and triumphed without words. Maybe that’s because words could not describe him. I’d never encountered such a hero in all my digital, polygonal adventures before, and it left me nearly as silent in awe. My first playthrough of Ocarina of Time was one of spellbinding fascination.
Cracking open the manga several years later re-awoke that fascination, but also reminded me why I so highly valued Link’s silence. In the interest of the story, Link had to speak on the printed page, and I wasn’t totally pleased with the results. Don’t get me wrong—it’s far from the abysmal level of the Faces of Evil and “Excuse me, Princess,” but still not the Link I envisioned upon completing my run of Ocarina of Time.
He felt cockier somehow, more fallible—perhaps more human, too, though I’d argue that Link is a hero I prefer to look up to rather than be on eye-level with.
With that said, I praise the manga for daring to tell a different story, adding a new angle of appreciation to the pointy-eared protagonist. Link is more aggressive—a never-say-die sort of hero who occasionally over-estimates himself—but he also feels pain. When Ganondorf turns an old friend against him, forcing Link to mortally wound his friend, the hero vows he’ll never forgive Ganondorf.
The mission to save Hyrule becomes more personal. It’s no longer totally selfless. Link’s personal vendetta against Ganondorf overlaps his duty to fulfill his role as hero—perhaps reinforcing it, but more-so overshadowing it. The Goron king advises Link against letting his emotions surge, suggesting he take a much-needed rest after the numbing incident.
Through a deadly battle with Shadow Link, the Hero of Time symbolically overcomes himself and his personal agenda in the quest. This allows him to wield the Triforce’s power of pure courage upon facing Ganondorf in a climatic final battle. By contrast, Ganondorf is portrayed as a tragic villain—one who serves only himself and whose hatred for Link causes the Triforce of Power to transform him into a hulking monstrosity.
Link is strong because he sets aside his own agenda of vengeance in order to fully dedicate himself to the role the Goddesses have chosen for him. Ganondorf is weak because he serves nothing greater than his own ambitions.
But where the manga is truly powerful—and surpasses its source material—is in Link’s final blow against Ganondorf. The primeval monster falls, wounded, and Link, with the master sword at full capacity, is told to finish him. It’s a moment where Link’s self-serving ideals could be most pronounced, but rather than smirk and victoriously deliver the blow, Link falls silent.
His expression isn’t gleaming with victory, but heavy with pity. I think that’s because he sees the monstrosity that was once Ganondorf as something he himself could have easily become had he chosen to act on his own interest. The final blow is fueled by duty and driven by a mute cry of determination, but there’s no sense of personal fulfillment therein.
The Bible says a lot about motivations. We can do the “right” thing for the “wrong” reason and the “wrong” thing for the “right” reason. The religious crowd of Jesus’ day often prayed publicly and donated large amounts to the poor, but did so more for their own self-images than for God’s will (Matthew 6:1-5). Saul followed his own agenda when he chose to spare the flocks for sacrifices, when God had asked him not to (1 Samuel 15:22). James talks about asking with the wrong motivation, and therefore receiving nothing in return (James 4:3).
In a day where public and social issues are at the forefront of the American mind, I find myself especially struggling to set aside my personal agendas and look to God for guidance. Especially with those issues which I strongly oppose, such as the pro-choice movement, I often find myself forced to step back and reevaluate: Who am I doing this for? Who am I saying this for? Am I using this as a means to fuel my personal agenda? Or am I speaking and acting out on behalf of God’s ideals?
The line between personal agenda and service to a higher power is often blurred. It’s easy for me to be caught up in feel-good self-piety when taking a stance, rather than act purely on a belief and conviction afforded to me by God. When my personal emotions get involved and I want to retort, I have to ask myself: What am I really defending—the beliefs my God has imparted to me, or my own pride?
Characters like Link put this practical application into practice, reminding me that dying to my own pride and agendas and fully silencing myself and listening to the voice of my God is the only way that God can truly work through me for good. Otherwise, my good intentions are easily corrupted by my limiting human nature, resulting in tainted outcomes at best.
I like to think that Link is silent, not so that gamers can identify with him, but because he is intently listening to the voices of the Goddesses who chose him as their hero. He’s selfless enough to silence his own voice and fully dedicate himself to theirs. That’s what enables him to wield the Triforce of Courage. That’s what qualifies him as the Hero of Time.