Having recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, the Legend of Zelda is one of the most iconic and celebrated franchises in videogame history. What I love about the series is that it continually incorporates inspiration from various real-life mythologies into its own world. Each mainline iteration is a self-contained story, but they can all be seen as discrete reinterpretations of one central legend, a core narrative that revolves around the hero of Courage, aided by the heroine of Wisdom, embarking on a quest to prevent the villain of Power from acquiring the Triforce, a sacred artifact that grants its wielder’s desires. Two games in the series struck me as being particularly intriguing in the content and delivery of their monomyths from an Ekostories perspective. The first I’ll touch on is The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, released for the Gamecube in 2003.
Legend of a hero garbed in green.
The story of Wind Waker starts out in a sleepy village on the appropriately named Outset Island. Link, the young protagonist destined to become the Hero of Courage, is forced to leave from his home and journey across the Great Sea in order to rescue his sister from the clutches of Ganondorf, a reawakened evil spirit who seeks to restore the ancient kingdom of Hyrule, preserved in stasis underneath the sea. Link is aided on his hero’s journey by Hyrule’s old king, a restless spirit who takes the form of a talking boat, and by Tetra, a pirate captain eventually revealed to be the Heroine of Wisdom. With their help, Link succeeds in defeating Ganondorf. Using the power of the Triforce, King Hyrule wishes for the destruction of the old kingdom once and for all, entrusting the world in the hands of the new generation.
Wind Waker’s narrative carries messages pertaining to childhood and maturity, hope and despair, stasis and change. More than any other game in the series, Wind Waker also contains themes and metaphors that remind us of our relationships with the environment and the obligations we have to future generations. Three notable strands have emerged on my replays over the years. The first relates to the setting of the world. The second pertains to the motivations of the the characters fro the past. The final stems from the game’s surprising conclusion.
Life in a degraded world
“Oceans… Oceans… Oceans… Oceans… Oceans as far as the eye can see. They are vast seas… None can swim across them… They yield no fish to catch…” (Ganondorf, The Wind Waker)
A series of tapestries outlines the events that led to the world of Wind Waker. Drawing inspiration from various deluge myths, the once vast and fertile land of Hyrule was washed away by a cataclysmic flood, leaving behind only scattered islands amidst a vast and sterile ocean. The consequences of this environmental calamity are still felt centuries and generations later. Many of the races traditionally featured in prior Zelda games have been affected drastically. According to the game’s creator, the freshwater-dwelling Zoras have gone extinct; the only one that is depicted in the game is a ghost.
The Gorons, once a proud race that inhabited mountains and volcanoes, have been decimated in number; only a few exist as nomads, eking out livings as traders on desolate isles. Most of the remaining races have settled on the larger islands, leaving a relatively barren world for the player to explore.
Obvious parallels can be drawn between the world of Wind Waker and a world affected by climate change. While the causes of the catastrophic event are different, the implications posed by a rapid change in sea levels are very similar: A significant and irrevocable loss in culture and biodiversity. Looking beyond the colourful visuals, Wind Waker actually takes place in a vastly degraded and post-apocalyptic world. Its inhabitants can be seen as the displaced environmental refugees and survivors from collapsed civilizations, clinging to their islands as oases upon an immense pelagic desert.
Despite this grim reality, hope survives. The various races that inhabit the world have learned to cope and live peacefully with their surroundings. Windfall Island, the largest remaining settlement, has grown into a small but vibrant hub of activity. The Rito Tribe has learned flight from their island’s deity in order to navigate great oceanic distances. The isle of Forest Haven serves as a source of renewal and regeneration for the world. Its inhabitants, the Koroks, have evolved from the Kokori, the original children of the old Hyrule forest; they constantly journey out to far off islands in an attempt to reforest the world, returning the Forest Haven to celebrate in musical rituals that result in more seeds for planting.
These are all encouraging signs of the resilience of nature and culture; life, people, and communities can survive and regrow even in difficult circumstances given sufficient time. Unfortunately, they are all threatened by an evil from a past world: Ganondorf, the main villain and a recurring threat in Zelda mythology.
- What are the fictional settings that connect you personally to environmental ideas and themes?
Motivations of ghosts past
Both Ganondorf and King Hyrule are restless spirits from a world long gone; both yearn for old Hyrule’s eventual return to glory. The Ganondorf of Wind Waker is a more nuanced and sympathetic antagonist than his other incarnations in the franchise. His ambitions for power and control stemmed from a genuine desire to offer a better life for his people. Growing up in the harsh and unforgiving Gerudo desert, he raged against the hand he was dealt by the goddesses of creation and hungered for the fertile fields of neighbouring Hyrule. Like so many conflicts in the real world, his desire of Hyrule was primarily motivated by an uneven distribution of natural resources:
“My country lay within a vast desert. When the sun rose into the sky, a burning wind punished my lands, searing the world. And when the moon climbed into the dark of night, a frigid gale pierced our homes. No matter when it came, the wind carried the same thing… Death. But the winds that blew across the green fields of Hyrule brought something other than suffering and ruin.
With the old kingdom preserved beneath the Great Sea serving as the ultimate temptation, Ganondorf reawakens to see an opportunity to claim and control Hyrule for his own. He is unable to let go of this past, despising the world in its present state along with the people who inhabit it, hungering only for the image of the world that was – the Hyrule he coveted. He scoffs at the futility of hope and life, blindly driven only to obtain the power to restore the old:
“So many pathetic creatures, scattered across a handful of islands, drifting on this sea like fallen leaves on a forgotten pool… What can they possibly hope to achieve?”
Initially, King Hyrule only uses Link as a pawn to prevent Hyrule from falling into Ganondorf’s hands. But as he becomes more involved in adventures with Link, he begins to see the courage, wisdom, and potential exemplified by the people of this new oceanic world. He starts to recognize that this supposedly barren realm still harbours hope, and is worth saving. The king comes to understand that like Ganondorf, he has been blinded by the past to see the possibility of the present:
“My children… Listen to me. I have lived regretting the past. And I have faced those regrets. If only I could do things over again… Not a day of my life has gone by without my thoughts turning to my kingdom of old. I have lived bound to Hyrule. In that sense, I was the same as Ganondorf.”
This realization leads to the unexpectedly poignant conclusion to Wind Waker’s narrative.
An apology to the next generation
Defying expectations, the game does not conclude on a traditional positive note. Although Ganondorf is vanquished, Hyrule is not restored. The world continues to exist in its degraded state. Confronted with the greed and ambition of Ganondorf, King Hyrule comes to realize that as long as the old kingdom exists to serve as temptation, there can be no future for the people of the world.Using the ultimate power of the Triforce, King Hyrule wishes for the final destruction of his submerged kingdom in order to release the next generation from the mistakes of the past:
“Gods of the Triforce! Hear that which I desire! Hope! I desire hope for these children! Give them a future! Wash away this ancient land of Hyrule! Let a ray of hope shine on the future of the world!”
In a final heartfelt exchange, he grieves for Link and Tetra, for the world he leaves behind for them is an uncertain and bleak one. There is no more hope to be gained from the past; only possibility lies from the future:
I want you to live for the future. There may be nothing left for you… But despite that, you must look forward and walk a path of hope, trusting that it will sustain you when darkness comes. Farewell… This is the only world that your ancestors were able to leave you. Please… forgive us.”
Like Earl from Dinosaurs, the Old King expresses regret in his parting words to Link and Tetra, lamenting at the impoverished world his generation has left behind. He is filled with remorse at how men like him and Ganondorf have caused so much destruction and suffering in the pursuit of their own agendas. Whether justified or not, he believes that he has failed in his responsibilities as a steward of the world. Admitting his mistakes, he finally entrusts the world to the next generation, hoping that they will be able to do a better job with it than he did. For me, this fascinating and unexpected ending triggered many important and complex questions that pertain to the real world:
- What legacies do we wish to leave behind for future generations?
- What lessons do we wish to impart on the next generation to ensure that they do not repeat our mistakes?
- What tools can we give our children and grandchildren to walk a path of hope in dark times?
Next Up: The dark, modern, twisted fairytale.
Images of Zelda: The Wind Waker © 2003 Nintendo, Inc. All rights reserved.