We all love The Legend of Zelda, right? What kind of card-carrying narc of a gamer do you have to be to not find even the slightest tingle of joy in the adventures of the elven Link, haranged by the the preconceptions of parents everywhere for his mistaken identity ("No, Mom, the princess is Zelda. He's Link." "Like a sausage?") and stubbornly bent on using the most obscure instruments for his escapades simply because you hadn't heard of them and they look cool.
We all love Zelda. It's Nintendo's Lord of the Rings or Star Wars, an epic sweeping across multiple entries with iconic gameplay, navigating labrynthine death trap dungeons and squaring off against the sort of maniacal widow's peak that would put Jude Law's to shame. But for me, my affinity for Zelda lies not in some of its more-laudable qualities; its smartly-designed puzzles or tight combat. As is often my preoccupation, it's the little things that have always stood out to me in the Zelda games I've played. Zelda for me is all about the people.
I've waxed nostalgic about how towns in video games hit me square in the soul, and what's a town without a townie? From Clock Town to the crags of Windfall Island, the Hylian tableau of folks going about their business while you break their pots runs the gamut from sweet to sour to spooky, carried by Nintendo's excellent sense of humor, heart, and humanity. And horror. There was some offhand quote from Goichi Suda, the legendary game developer, along the lines of "Normal people make weird games... Weird people make normal games." I bet Aonuma could tell you some wild stories.
Anyway, without further ado: A ramshackle ode to the denizens of these games we love, imbuing the worlds through which we romp a sense of life, color, and excitement. A list, plainly, of some of my favorite dudes and dudettes to cross paths with a strange little boy peculiar young man guy in a green hat the Hero of Time, in some way or another.
The Kid With the Snot Pouring from His Nose on Outset Island
Okay, he has a name; Zill. Zill is one of the first people you'll encounter in The Wind Waker, that iconic and drastic reinvention of Zelda's tone and aesthetic, when he's rapidly dragged by the face to you by the tendril of sentient mucas that bounces from his nose. Oh boy.
He just wants to know what you're doin', often crowding around Link at the behest of the slimy spine of some extraterrestrial being found residence in his adorable, rosy-cheeked body. Bounding your way as you go about your business, Zill's fervant fervor is sort of like what Flava Flav did for Public Enemy. He hypes you up. Here's a kid bouncing with energy, just dyyyying to know what his neighbor, the Hero of Time, is up to.
Ah, jeez. Someone get him a tissue.
Old Man Ulrira
As in so many fields (actually, all fields), when it comes to Zelda, I am not a scholar. The gaps in my experience with Nintendo's birthday boy series are wider than the shoulders on a goron. I'm actually only just looking to get my hands on Link's Awakening and dive into our hero's strange little episode on Koholint Island. But clearly I'll have a good guide for when I get there.
How earnest is it for the player, ever insensitive to the feelings of NPCs, to materialize before this old, old man in his domecile and strike up a conversation, only to be met with an ellipses-stacked reply from the sage begging the verdant home invader whippersnapper to instead give a call... from a phone. Remove how hilarious it is for swords 'n spells Zelda to ask you to use a telephone (a beautiful rotary no less!), Ulrira's shy, reclusive quirks betray a knowledgeable, invaluable pillar of the Mabe Village community. He's just a sweet old man! Look at his nose!
The Zelda games, in constructing their pockets of domesticated life amidst the often-dangerous hills of Hyrule, do such an excellent job of working archetypes into their tapestry. It's in his name, for pete's sake! Old Man Ulrira! He's absolutely the neighbor who just leaves a note on his porch for Halloween, entrusting sugar-crazed ne'er do wells to take a responsible portion of expensive candy from the bucket provided.
If someone were to tell me they live to dye I'd probably nod and try to go about my business, getting as far away from them as quickly as possible. Were I told this in Kochi Dye Shop off the main street of Hateno Village, however, I'd be a little less fearful for my well-being, and probably in conversation with proprieter and lover of pigments Sayge. Clearly in the presence of an artiste.
Sayge's colorful vernacular and slightly aviary features make for just another ripple in the bustling Hylian economy. World ends and Ganon wins, still gotta make a buck somehow!
It's impossible to talk about Zelda without talking about Beedle. At least, if you're doing it right. What is Zelda without Beedle, that icon of commerce? That tireless salesman, truly dedicated to hoofing it across the apocalyptic wastes to sell you some frog parts or something. Or perhaps he's roving around in his shop boat, a vessel he likely slaves over with Hylian authorities to acquire not only maritime licenses, but the proper paperwork permitting a capital venture of the sort to part the blue waters of Hyrule. It must be a nightmare, the backend of Beedle's shop in Wind Waker.
But like all gargantuan tasks, Beedle's is worth it. That familiar, incessant music. Those remarkable curios, dangling from a rack or pulled from some musty leather satchel. Were Beedle's wares not imperative to begin with, it would be worth patronizing his shop just to grant the man the genuine joy that ellicits a "Ho-ho!" or "Thaaank yooou!" from his affably-weary visage.
It would be easy for Link, as well as the player, to pass by one of Beedle's various ventures across the Zelda games and think solely of the task at hand, slaying some beast or finding a key or saving some royalty, etc etc. Much like the dutiful shopkeeper at my stalwart hardware store, or the immortal staff at my favorite Indian restaurant, Beedle is the sort of human embodiment of a function that, perhaps, you forgot he was even there.
I didn't forget, Beedle.
So next time you're (that is, you, dear reader) picking up take-out or a pack of cigarettes from the local 7/11 (quit!) just think of Beedle when you greet that cashier or cook. Doubtful you're on a swordsman's voyage to rid the world of an ancient satan, but no less important is your day's quest than Link's. In that moment, think of Beedle. Think of how hard he works. He probably has a kid somewhere! A family! Think of Beedle. And, vice-versa, when you need to pick up some dragonfly wings or rhubarb from his back-saddled, insectoid bag of trinkets, think of the people who make your every day all the brighter. Someone has to sell you those gas station wings.
It's been a long day of smashing valuables and murdering Bulblins for 'ol green-cap, and it's times like this that Linky needs a drinky. Good thing Hyrule Castle Town's got Telma's.
Embodying the sort of tough-diner-waitress-who-calls-you-"Toots," Telma is a boon amidst the increasingly bleak world of Twilight Princess' Hyrule, her hole-in-the-wall watering hole a respite for travelers of this and that walk of life. Link comes across all manner of oddballs and extravagants, as well as no shortage of maternal hosts and father figure mentors, but Telma and her bar are among some of the greatest comforts a Zelda game can offer.
I think it's only appropriate we recognize how absolutely terrifying Pierre is. Please, for my own personal validation, bask in the chilling gaze of that incessant smile, sewn up by a black magician, bent on crafting whatever ungodly homunculus stands before you. Link will often come across characters of all walks of life, many of whom represent fantastic and curious races of beings the likes of which we've never seen. Meanwhile, Pierre is simply a psychopathic scarecrow wrought living by forces the likes of which we ought never dabble in.
Though he claims to be in seach of "soul-moving sounds," we are acutely aware of how shady this literal straw man before us shines. Why would he be in search of something "soul-moving" when he, in fact, has no soul? How could something of such dismal spite and arcane patchwork exist with what we consider a soul? Wizard of Oz this ain't, buddy! The ulterior motives of such a card can only be hypothesized in your nightmares, where Pierre is wont to lurk.
Curious too is his Clock Town appearance in Majora's Mask, wherein he exists propped up in the corner of the town Trading Post, an exhibit like a dusty skeleton found in the den of some blood-sacrificing savage. Does the shopkeep not mind the dancing horror that greets his customers? Is he engaged in some pact with the being, or worse: Are we witness to some sort of hostage situation? I cannot say.
Pierre, for the abject terror he brings, is another crucial aspect of Hylian (Terminan) life that we, as functioning adults and burgeoning children, must acknowledge. There is evil in this world that must be confronted, and Pierre is in fact a lesser branch on that gnarled oak of hatred. After all, he can't even move.