August 28, 2018
Link is the second-most popular video game character of all time and is recognizable even outside of gaming communities. He’s our beloved boy in green and we’ve come so far with him that we’ve come to ignore the fact that he does, out of context… look like an elf. Chances are, if you grew up playing Zelda games, your mom thinks you play a game about a “little elf with a sword”. Have you ever taken a minute to think about why he not only wears green exclusively, but why his features are so elf-like? If you’ve played through the entire series, you are aware of some of the canonical circumstances that led to Link’s traditional forest green tunic. However, the bigger question is why was this the design that Nintendo chose for him to begin with, well before the story was told to us? YouTuber DidYouKnowGaming? “Your Questions Answered” video dives into both in-game explanations and outside factors to find out why Hyrule’s hero bears such a resemblance to an elf.
First, the narrator explains the reasons for Link’s appearance as told within the Zelda universe. In every reincarnation and occurrence of Link, he is always born a Hylian. According to the recently released Hyrule Encyclopedia, Hylians all have long, pointy ears to be able to “hear the gods”. In Skyward Sword, the very first game chronologically in the timeline, Link is assigned to wear a green uniform by the Knight Academy when he graduates. Every graduation year is assigned a different color of the same knight’s uniform. The narrator notes that if Link had graduated a year earlier, he would be wearing a yellow knight uniform instead. Although Link’s uniform includes a hat, the green elf-like hat was further established as a trademark of the hero in Minish Cap, the next game in the timeline. Link’s companion in Minish Cap is Ezlo, who’s been cursed to take the shape of a green cap, and of course, ends up riding on Link’s head. Even when Ezlo is returned to his true form, he gifts Link a similar green hat and claims that it “suits him”. Several generations and games later, in Wind Waker, the legend speaks of a hero wearing green. On Outset Island, there is a tradition of young boys sporting the tunic of the hero when they come of age.
Before all of these stories, however, someone had to decide what Link was going to look like. Outside of the Zelda universe, what does the developer team have to say about the choices that lead to Link’s appearance? In a 2003 interview, Miyamoto states that the original inspiration of Link was Disney’s Peter Pan. Not only does Link resemble Peter Pan in his green elf-like clothing, but Link has also managed to “stay young”, always appearing as either a child or a teenager in the games. You can especially see this resemblance in Ocarina of Time. Link is raised with the Kokiri children, who remain children all of their lives – much like the lost boys in Peter Pan. An unexpected similarity is the way both Peter Pan and Link have often found themselves fighting their own shadow. Either Shadow Link or Dark Link has appeared in many games since his first appearance in Zelda II. Last of these similarities is the connection of the protagonist to fairies. Tinkerbell serves as Peter Pan’s aide, much like Navi or Tatl does to Link, and each Kokiri has their own fairy as well. Miyamoto has even suggested that Navi has “feelings for Link” and therefore is jealous of Zelda; in the Disney movie, we see a similar relationship with Peter Pan, Tinkerbell, and Wendy.
There are also the technical reasons: in the original Legend of Zelda, Link’s sprite had to be made recognizable within the background and his weapons, so giving him a bright green hat helped to do so. Link’s very first appearance in the Legend of Zelda showed him with pointy ears and a green hat, and this has stayed true in every single game following – except Breath of the Wild, although there is the optional Tunic of the Wild that closely resembles that of early games Link. Although many praised the bold choice to stray away from the typical green tunic, some still chose to play the game with a goal of collecting the outfits that still resembled Link’s traditional, reliable, green elf look.
A child hero in green, able to overcome many large foes and save the world despite his age, is a part of what drew me in to the games when I was a small child myself. In the same breath, I believe Peter Pan inspires kids to enjoy their youth and value friendships instead of rushing to be all grown up. Do you have your own theories about why Link was modeled to look like an elf, or do you disagree about the similarities to Peter Pan? Let us know in the comments.
You can watch the video below or click here to watch it on YouTube.