Between the Panels: The Power in Link’s Silence

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.

zeldamangaheader-1280x720

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.

link wont forgive ganondorf

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.

link vs shadow link fight

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.

Link and the final blow beneath the tangles

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?

link farewell

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.

3 thoughts on “Between the Panels: The Power in Link’s Silence

  1. I really love this post to death, CutsceneAddict, and some of it speaks to me about the differing reasons I loved Ocarina of Time the game and Ocarina of Time the manga.

    The manga I loved because it shows things that the game’s N64-era technology actually would prevent it from showing: Characters holding hands, touching one another, interacting on this much more personal level either lovingly or viciously. Easily my favorite instances show Link and Zelda physically together and hanging out before the Spirit Temple, and Ganondorf creepily right next to the young Princess Zelda. Some of it I headcanoned as having more or less actually happened.

    But the game I loved because it is….Sacred, in a sense. You…wouldn’t consider it as such, as a Christian no, but the game has this inexplicable air about it of “what is written and what will be.” It’s like witnessing something as pure and as honest as snow, or walking into the National Cathedral. Almost exactly the effect you get from looking at the silent Link himself. I admire the Hero’s Journey, noble quality of the game. I don’t know what exactly they were making this game with at the time, but it’s the exact thematic opposite of the game that came after it: Majora’s Mask. Which is…well, just listen to the disturbing music that plays on the Final Day, and you’ll realize it is the sound of your own mortality.

    “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.”

    This moment I completely forgot about, and I applaud you for your interesting take on it and the poignancy you saw in it. I think that what really separates someone really saintlike from the rest of us, and it’s why I find it so difficult to believe in Hell.. …is that someone with the backing and armor of God doesn’t hate when dealing the final blow against evil. They feel sad for what might have been, and even empathize with their enemies.

    Every time I have felt that God was something sacred, and inhuman, and too beautiful to look upon, was a moment not when God was wrathful…But forgiving, when no human could ever be.

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    1. I really can’t reiterate anything you’ve said any better than you’ve said it. It’s for similar reasons that I’m so excited about the Ace Attorney anime–because it takes characters from one, somewhat simplified and limited, medium and frees them in a more flexible environment where we can truly see them interact with one another and their world. The Zelda manga definitely did that for me on a fundamental level–everything from the character’s complex expressions, to the more telling non-verbals and interpersonal relationships.

      Zelda is a “sacred” game for me, and I can’t chalk that up to nostalgia 100% (though that’s certainly an element at play). There’s something genuinely breath-taking about the game itself. As a Christian, I’ve always held to this somewhat unsupported claim that those things which emanate Christian elements become the most powerful in any medium. I’m reminded of Tolkein’s work or Lewis’–narratives that have stood the test of time. OoT, while not being an outright Christian work, takes a number of influences from Christianity–everything from the Trinity (Triforce), chosen Messiah figure, and numerous references to the book of Revelation (Ganondorf ruling for 7 years = Anti-Christ ruling for 7 years, 7 sages = 7 angels, 7 medallions = 7 scrolls, Ganondorf transforming into a beast = anti-Christ being described as a Dragon, etc.). More than that, though, I think a lot of the power of OoT comes from that Hero’s Journey and the simplicity of seeing it parallel so much of the “Christian walk.”

      Every-so-often, I see beauty so great that it creates the most indescribable of emotions within me. I like to think that’s remnants from man’s time spent in Eden, longing for that beauty it once knew. Zelda is a game that gives me a window into that beauty–not because it’s some sort of perfect representation of anything Christian, but because it brings to mind echoes of virtue and the longing for a more perfect world of peace. For all that OoT did to make me see the beauty in the world, MM gave me a window into the hopelessness and grief of humanity. I have to applaud the game makers for making such a striking contrast to their original N64 title.

      That moment of silence in the manga, where Link does away with Ganondorf, struck me for its utter Christ-likeness. Link in that moment wants to offer mercy, but at this point knows that justice is the only answer and so he goes through with it. It’s not an act of hatred, but simply an act of consequence. His personal feelings have nothing to do with the situation… and that struck me, hard, because it was so utterly inhuman.

      As you’ve so deftly said, God leaves an even more powerful impression, because offering grace, when judgement is the easiest and most comfortable answer, goes against our nature. I think that’s why the Bible says “his ways are higher than our ways.” Try as we might, we’ll never fully comprehend them, and that’s what makes God such a beautiful mystery in part. There are numerous characters in fiction who embody this Christ-like trait, but this moment from the Zelda manga has always been one of my favorite representations because it’s 100% conveyed without words.

      Glad to meet another OoT fan! Thank you for the very thought-provoking feedback. You gave me even more to chew on.

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  2. :] So cool. I can recall Kid Me feeling everything in that game with such phenomenal force that it stuns the modern-day me. I would sometimes, mid-game when I was stumped as to what I had to do, suddenly stop in front of the warped Gothic monstrosity that had taken Hyrule Castle’s place and kind of go, “I swear I will fix this. I will defeat him. I promise.” Which is part of why I was so irritated to find out it was pink lava in the 3DS version. XD It was a special thing to me, that game.

    The part of me that’s confused and frustrated by Christianity, perhaps, rather than enamored with things that are touched by that majesty and grace inherent in it….Perhaps wishes desperately that something very different would happen in these stories. That as the final blow to the dragon is dealt, a young, frightened ghost-like man that none of us have ever seen before steps out of its shadow. Because the Story could never have you meet him and still want to kill “Him.” But he is always there, for there is nothing magnificent or intimidating about being in that much pain on the inside. He is shivering with sorrow, and remorse, and lonely like you would not believe. Having spent so long without a friend or a candle in the deep, deep darkness.

    And the protagonist offers his hand, and the other man barely manages to take it— So foreign is the gesture to him of forgiveness when he has never forgiven anything, or apologized. But he does apologize. For everything. And the two of them realize that under different circumstances they would have been friends, and they go off walking into a Light that none of us will ever understand while we’re still alive, leaving the Dragon that he was in behind, dead and gone at last.

    “As you’ve so deftly said, God leaves an even more powerful impression, because offering grace, when judgement is the easiest and most comfortable answer, goes against our nature. I think that’s why the Bible says “his ways are higher than our ways.”

    I keep hoping so. And honestly….

    “As a Christian, I’ve always held to this somewhat unsupported claim that those things which emanate Christian elements become the most powerful in any medium.”

    I rather agree, but only when the story is as willing to showcase despair as it is hope, and the triumph of the latter over the former in a way that rings true to the way it happened. We often talk about Jesus dying on the cross, and the events of the Bible, with this weird detachment from the events, so scared are we of saying the wrong thing. But the truth is, we keep telling the story (Even in a culture as non-Christian as Japan! XD) as soon as we’re free of the constraint of telling it right.

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