This article originally appeared on December 12, 2011.
Celebrating its 30th anniversay this year, The Legend of Zelda series remains the jewel in Nintendo’s videogame crown. Over its 30-year history, and across 18 games, the series has gradually built up a rich, detailed universe replete with engaging characters. And while the games have constantly reinvented themselves over time, both visually and in the way they’re played, it’s the residents of Hyrule that continue to make the series so reliably engaging.
With this in mind, here’s a selection of ten truly memorable characters from The Legend of Zelda series. And if you’re wondering where Link is, he got a little article all of his own. As for your own choices, feel free to add them in the comments section.
Like the Devil himself, Zelda’s antagonist goes by many names and takes many forms. Sometimes known as the King of Darkness, often known as Ganon, or alternatively Ganondorf for people not into the whole brevity thing, he’s been bothering the residents of Hyrule for the best part of 30 years.
His thirst for power means he’s constantly after the magical Triforce, which Link constantly has to wrest from the villain’s grasp. Initially appearing as a lumbering, porcine creature in the early Zelda games, it was revealed in A Link to the Past that Ganon was once a human thief whose pursuit of the Triforce led to his transformation into the form seen in The Legend of Zelda.
A regular staple of the Zelda franchise, Ganon isn’t, for a change, the main villain in Skyward Sword. Instead, we see how he rose to power, as the game’s events lead up to those in Ocarina of Time.
She may be little more than a point of light with wings, but Navi is nevertheless a recognizable and important character in the Zelda canon. She’s also extremely annoying, with her constant outbursts of “Hey!” or “Listen!” riling an entire generation of N64 owners. Fortunately, Navi was also extremely useful, too. In Ocarina of Time, her series debut, she served as Link’s ever-present companion, providing him with advice and, at one point, serving as a translator.
Regularly turning up in “most annoying character” top ten lists, Navi’s perhaps the most contentious addition to the Zelda series. Sure, she provides useful tips for newcomers (“Look at this wall! Maybe you can climb it!”), but she’s also Ocarina of Time’s equivalent of a nagging backseat driver. Nothing can quite top the aggravation when, in the midst of being beaten senseless by a hulking dungeon boss, Navi unhelpfully chimes in with a keening “Watch out!”
Shut up, Navi. Just shut up.
Like Navi, Tingle is without doubt one of the most memorable characters in the Zelda series, though not necessarily for the right reasons. Making his debut in Majora’s Mask, Tingle’s a curious-looking chap who dresses himself in what appears to be green spandex. Whatever it is, it’s skin-tight and decidedly unflattering.
Displaying a troubling affection for forest fairies, and constantly uttering the catchphrase “Tingle, Tingle, kooloo-limpah,” Tingle’s both annoying and helpful in just about equal measure. His utterances are infuriating, but he at least helps Link out by occasionally dishing out maps. Tingle made return appearances in The Wind Waker and The Minish Cap, and had a cameo in Spirit Tracks and Phantom Hourglass.
In spite of his weird dress sense, Tingle’s one of the few Zelda characters to appear in his own spin-off games. These include the obscure, Japan-only Tingle’s Balloon Fight (a twist on a fondly-remembered NES title from 1984) and Freshly-Picked Tingle’s Rosy Rupeeland, an adventure game as bizarre as the character himself.
Sadly (or thankfully, depending on your point of view), Tingle doesn’t make a return appearance in Skyward Sword. Having been singled out as one of the most annoying characters in gaming history, the green-clad eccentric was conspicuously absent from Twilight Princess—series creators Shigeru Miyamoto and Eiji Aonuma rather uncharitably said, “We’re not going to stand for him in another Zelda game.”
For me, the Gorons were the most adorable characters in Ocarina of Time. A tribe of troll-like rock people who live under the mountains of Hyrule, their hulking appearance is entirely at odds with their gentle nature. Voracious eaters of rocks, Link saves the Gorons from starvation in Ocarina by unblocking the entrance to a mine that serves as their main source of food.
As his name implies, Biggoron (or Big Ron, as I used to call him) is the biggest member of the Goron tribe, and so gigantic that he has to live in isolation from everyone else. Following a prominent appearance in Ocarina, where he provided Link an unwieldy yet extremely powerful sword, Biggoron made brief appearances in Majora’s Mask, The Minish Cap, and Phantom Hourglass. For anyone who appreciated the Gorons as much as I did, there’s good news: the rock people make a return appearance in Skyward Sword.
Pub trivia fact: Goron is a Japanese onomatopeic word for the sound a rock makes as it rolls downhill, a pastime the Goron themselves frequently enjoy.
Along with Link and Ganon, Princess Zelda forms the series’ central trinity of characters. Link’s Awakening is the only title to not feature Zelda, at least so far. Constantly kidnapped and locked away by evil forces (usually Ganon), Zelda’s as thinly drawn a character as Link, though in later games, she became rather more than a helpless damsel in distress.
In The Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass, Zelda appears as a pirate called Tetra, and it’s only later that she learns of her royal lineage. In Spirit Tracks, Zelda even makes a pointed reference to the fact that the various incarnations of her character have always been kidnapped. It’s a tradition that’s continued in Skyward Sword, with a new villain, Demon Lord Ghirahim, hoping to steal Zelda for his own mischievous ends.
Happy Mask Salesman
Introduced in Ocarina of Time, the Happy Mask Salesman took on a far more prominent (and oddly sinister) role in its sequel, Majora’s Mask. Of all the eccentric and downright mad characters in the Zelda universe, the Happy Mask Salesman is surely the most bizarre. In fact, we’d argue he’s the series’ Travis Bickle. So unpredictable and extreme are his mood swings. Fail to pay him for a mask in Ocarina, and this apparently genial fellow will turn decidedly nasty.
What makes the Salesman such a memorable character is his mysterious aura. Where’s he from? How does he know so much about Link’s past adventures in Majora’s Mask? It’s somehow fitting that, the last time we see the Salesman in Majora’s Mask, he’s headed off to the Moon to meet a group of equally creepy Moon Children.
Midna made her debut in Twilight Princess, and is inarguably the most memorable character in that game, and one of the most well-rounded in the series as a whole. A magical being descended from a magical race called the Twili, she’s not a particularly sympathetic character when we first meet her. Rude and sarcastic, Midna spends early portions of the game riding Link (who’s been transformed into a wolf) around like a horse.
Gradually, though, as we learn more about her, we realize that Midna’s less odious than we’d initially thought. Actually a deposed princess, she’s been transformed by the villainous Zant into the distinctive looking, imp-like creature we see at the start of the game. Her growing friendship with Link serves as one of Twilight Princess’ strongest elements.
Midna doesn’t appear in Skyward Sword (unless it’s in a tiny cameo we’ve somehow missed), but considering she’s one of the most well-received characters in the series’ recent history, it’s surely just a matter of time before she returns. Maybe she could get even her own spin-off title. Tingle got one, after all.
Okay, so he’s only in one canon game—Twilight Princess—but I had to include Zant in this list, simply because he’s such a fantastic character design. Clad in weird flowing robes and a strange, pointed helmet for much of the game, Zant the Usurper King only shows his face later on in the adventure, and it’s a visage even creepier than the mask that covers it.
The villain responsible for turning Midna into an imp, Zant also proves to be a tenacious and scary foe in combat. He may not be as recognizable or ubiquitous as series regular Ganon, but Zant is without doubt one of the Zelda franchise’s most memorable antagonists.
His is little more than a walk-on role, admittedly, and he doesn’t even have a proper name, but the Old Man is nevertheless a key figure in the Zelda series. First appearing in the 1986 original, the Old Man is immediately recognizable thanks to his flowing red robe and equally luxuriant white beard.
Furnishing Link with his first sword, the helpful chap later provides advice (“Dodongo dislikes smoke”), letters, and other useful items. He later reappeared in the second Zelda game, as well as Oracle of Seasons, while a character that looked remarkably like him showed up in Ocarina of Time.
One of the best and amusingly flawed characters introduced in Phantom Hourglass (for my money, one of the most downright fun of all the handheld Zelda adventures), Linebeck is selfish, smug, cowardly, and relentlessly greedy. And as a result, he’s a perfect comedy foil for Link’s heroics.
A self-styled “real man of the sea,” Linebeck’s the captain of a steamboat, which he’s vain enough to name after himself. Although he’s primarily motivated by finding treasure, he unwittingly aids Link on his ocean-spanning adventures, and while he’s a complete weasel for much of the game, experiences a redemption of sorts.
He shows surprising contrition after he attacks Link while possessed by the evil Bellum, and when later granted a wish by the Ocean King, he asks for his sunken boat to be restored to its former glory rather than the untold riches one might have expected.