In mythic times, when magick coursed free and unbound through the veins of the land, our ancestors walked as goddesses and gods across the becoming-moment. The myth-landcape was formed from their migrations and universes were born from their footsteps. Forests and flower fields grew from among the life-streams and had voice and spirit, and the sea and the sky were together as one.
Such goes the Legend of the Golden Age, the departed plane of eternity when Light spoke with the ecstasy of shared emanation in the All Moment and when all Immortal Stories lived here on Earth. In the telling, the Past becomes a distant country from whence we are separated by Time and Tide. Your ancestors are There, because They cannot be Here. There is cast a great insurmountable chasm between Heaven and Earth, and only in Heaven do we allow ourselves to be happy with the fulfillment of our calling.
But this mythic landscape bears the laugh-lines and contours of a magickal birth. There are worlds around us for the initiate who has learned to See to behold and enjoy. In truth, the Golden Age never ended and the Immortals never departed. The Otherworld is always there, waiting for us to listen to it. Life begets and recirculates Life, and ancestors live on to keep stock over the land. Trees and flowers grow from ash and soil and guardian spirits stand vigil and laugh as the generation returns to and from the wellspring of source energy. And the true meaning of ancestor is not one born of your own flesh and blood. Your ancestors are those who love and and guide you towards the fullest actualization of your highest self.
All is Life, and All Life is Kin. Anyone can walk these planes, even you: Just be present and listen for the music of existence, and you will learn to read the veil.
The Nintendo WiiU gave up its Legend, and in its place gave us many. The one thing Zelda used to be was abandoned and rejected in favour of allowing it to become everything it could be. Revealed in 2013 at the same time as the game that would become The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was a rare and unconventional Zelda spinoff title to be called Hyrule Warriors. Omega Force, a development subsidiary of Koei-Tecmo known for the Dynasty Warriors series, would be one of the few developers outside Nintendo to be passed the Legend and would craft Hyrule Warriors as a musō game, just like their own flasghip series. As they say, the story adapts to the storyteller, who always bring a little of themselves to the telling. And while The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild would take four years to materialize and become most associated with a system that it was not designed for, Hyrule Warriors would be released just the following year, in the Fall of 2014 and give birth to a legacy of its own. This is that story.
Hyrule Warriors is a new and different Zelda. Although using characters, plots and settings familiar to the Legend, and aside from the technicality of starring Zelda and her allies, this is not a Zelda Game. Hyrule Warriors instead derives its lineage from Dynasty Warriors, though a more accurate point of comparison might be its close cousin Samurai Warriors, with which Hyrule Warriors shares a producer. As a musō game, Hyrule Warriors casts players as any one of a pantheon of heroes from across Legendary history taking on thousands of enemy monsters singlehandedly with a variety of colourful and spectacular special attacks. Koei-Tecmo invented the musō genre for the original Dynasty Warriors (Shin SangokuMusō), a video game adaptation of the classic Chinese historical fiction novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. In Japanese, the phrase “musō” means “unrivaled”, an apt description of the heroic warriors players step into the shoes of.
In Hyrule Warriors, a sorceress named Cia, in an attempt to divine the soul of heroism, caused a swarm of invading monsters to run rampage over the Land of Legend. In doing so, she inadvertently created a merged universe where all timelines and realities have become one, summoning great heroes from across the age. A vast selection is available in the base WiiU game, with more coming through downloadable content packs and subsequent expansions. Link is among them of course, and appears in a parade of formes: In addition to this reality’s incarnation, through DLC Link also manifests as the Hero of Time from The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, the Hero of the Winds from The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and Ravio from The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds while unlockable costumes turn the Link of Hyrule Warriors into the Hero of Twilight from The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, the Hero of Skyloft from The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, the Hero of Time’s Adult facade from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and the first Hero of Hyrule from Zelda no Densetsu and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link.
But now, Link is not alone. Brought forth from the Golden Time, the ancestors and long departed walk again. The past is created in the act of remembering, but it is a land with a mind of its own. The Golden Time has spoken, and has declared itself a matriarchy. For uniquely among The Legend of Zelda, and even uniquely among musō, the majority of Hyrule Warriors playable characters are women.
Link is not even the main character, Although his character arc is the lynchpin upon which the game’s climax hinges, the prime narrative mover is for the first time, and appropriately, Princess Zelda. Princess Regnant like the Zeldas of Zelda no Densetsu and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Zelda is the commanding officer of the Hylian Army and leads the defensive charge against the invading monsters. It’s her charisma and compassion that unites and inspires her front and brings the disparate heroes together. And, just like in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, she fights on the frontlines alongside her comrades in the guise of Sheik. Unlike Ocarina of Time, of course, both Zelda and Sheik are completely playable. Liberated by this new reality, Zelda is able to assert the gravity and import she always had in other ways too: While the Hero of the Wind is playable starting from the expansion pack, his appearance in Hyrule Warriors is based more on the Link from the Wind Waker sequel The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks and it is Zelda herself who gets to wield the titular Wind Waker as one of her weapons.
Zelda is joined by her erstwhile companion Impa, in this world recast as the Princess’ top general. But identity is a mutable fiction in this new world and Impa, like Link and Zelda and most of the rest of the cast, lives in a constant stage of transmutation and takes on new names as she shows different facets of herself to us. One of Impa’s weapons is a naginata, a spear-pole implement that is, in The Legend of Zelda, most associated with the Gerudo, the all-female culture introduced in the Nintendo 64 games and who play a role in The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. And one of Impa’s alternate costumes is coloured after Nabooru, the leader of the Gerudo in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. And she’s not alone.
As the veil lifts and we reunite with the Otherworld at this moment of our final apotheosis, the Faery Queen Herself returns to her proper throne. Midna appears in both her cursed Imp and (after an early DLC pack) true forms, each with a different movest. As an Imp, Midna attacks using her prenhensile hair infused with the energy of the Cursed Shackle from Twilight Princess, while the restored ruler attacks with the Mirror of Twilight, just as a Shaman-Queen would. Hyrule Warriors uses an elemental attribute system that lies somewhere between that of the Dynasty Warriors 8 subseries and Nintendo’s own Pokémon and Midna’s true form, called Twili Midna in this game, is a master of both the Light and Dark elemental abilities starting from the game’s expansion. For of course, a Faery Shamaness would be kin to Sun and Moon alike. In both her forms, Midna rides to battle straddled atop a pack of Otherworld wolves.
Midna is also joined by the other Twilight Princess, Agitha of the Bug Kingdom. Agitha is protected by her Golden Bugs, now revealed to be towering, shimmering monstrosities who lay waste to the battlefield like Japanese daikaiju. We are reminded once more of the Princess Who Loved Insects and Hayao Miyazaki’s reinterpretation of her as Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, as well as all the times a little girl wasn’t taken seriously by those around her.
Zelda has an equivalent in the form of Ruto, the Zora Princess from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, accompanied by the Goron Chief Darunia from the same game. While in her home game Ruto was a stock tsundere stereotype, here she is reimagined as a graceful, powerful and commanding water dancer who can manifest the power of the ocean from thin air. Ruto is coded as a Dragon (her weapon is the “Dragon Scale”), a spirit with auspicious connotations on Chinese and Japanese mythology and folklore. Ruto’s tsundere crush on Link from Ocarina of Time has been completely expunged as her character was reconceptualized and rewritten, to the point one of her stock taunts when sharing the battlefield with Link makes a joke about this. In the hands of a skilled player, Ruto can become one of the most powerful and dominant characters in the game. Darunia, meanwhile, uses a hammer inspired by Link’s hammer item that appears in various Zelda games, and both he and Ruto can become their analogues from Majora’s Mask, The Wind Waker, Twilight Princess and the Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks diptych.
There is a Missing Third among the Ocarina of Time party in Hyrule Warriors. In many Zelda games there is an elemental triptych of Forest, Water and Mountain that usually defines the quest in the first half of the game. In Ocarina of Time Water and Mountain are represented by Ruto and Darunia respectively, and Forest by Saria, Link’s childhood friend from Kokiri Village. But Saria is nowhere to be found in Hyrule Warriors, likely because such a child character would be out of place in this kind of setting. Her elemental role is filled, however, by Lana: An original character created by Koei-Tecmo especially for this new subseries. A testament to Koei-Tecmo’s skill at character design, Lana originates in neither the Zelda series nor elsewhere in the musō genre, but seems to effortlessly belong to both. She is the Light counterpart to Cia’s Dark, her name even meaning “Ray of Sunshine”, reminding us that we are all of us shades and facets. The Moon chases the Sun, and Moonlight is reflected Sunlight. In the story, Lana first appears in the Faron Woods stage and alongside her book of spells coded to the Lightning element, she can also wield the Deku Spear, allowing her to call upon the aid of the Great Deku Tree, protector of the Kokiri, to fight for her and defend her.
Paralleled blades Fi and Ghirahim from The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword in their new characterisations recall the Japanese legend of Masamune and Muramasa: Two master swordsmiths who held a duel to see who could craft the better sword. Both weapons were placed in a creek facing the current, and while Muramasa’s sword cut everything in its path, Masamune’s spared all who touched it. A travelling monk had this to say:
“The first of the swords was by all accounts a fine sword, however it is a blood thirsty, evil blade, as it does not discriminate as to who or what it will cut. It may just as well be cutting down butterflies as severing heads. The second was by far the finer of the two, as it does not needlessly cut that which is innocent and undeserving.”
Meanwhile, Fi’s heroic sacrifice and implied crush on Link from Skyward Sword has been undone, transforming her into the team’s sardonic analyst. Ghirahim’s dramatic and flamboyant bombast has been played up, turning him into a literal Devilish Rogue. Ghirahim’s charm combines with the irreverence of Zant from Twilight Princess to turn the villain chapter (starring, of course, Ganondorf, who gets his own counterpart later in the form of A Link Between Worlds‘ Yuga) into a deceptively nuanced moment of idealism delivered through the viral carrier of adolescent male grimdark fetishism, much as one would hide a dog’s heartworm pill in a pile of ground beef. One noteworthy line to this effect states how if the four villains believe in teamwork and work together, “no worm” will be able to stand in their way.
The original Hyrule Warriors was an unexpected success for a spinoff title and almost immediately garnered a passionate and loyal Internet fandom. It inspired a wave of fanart and fanfiction the likes of which the Zelda series had not seen in a long time. Fans wanted more and there was more to do in this New Universe, so Koei-Tecmo and Nintendo brought Hyrule Warriors back in 2016 with Hyrule Warriors Legends. In the musō genre, it is common for each numbered entry to come in three versions, released one after another over a period of 18-36 months. The first type is the core numbered release that reintroduces the series to a new generation with a new host of mechanics and characters, and the second is a rebalanced, revised and expanded version of the original game. These are usually localized in the West with the subtitle Xtreme Legends, and include what amounts to an expansion pack as well as all the DLC (if present) from the first game, and sometimes have a set of their own. The third has the subtitle Empires and these are not re-releases, but entirely new games using the same engine, assets and mechanics: A fusion of musō and Grand Strategy that pays tribute to Koei’s heritage of making games like Nobunaga’s Ambition. So for example, Dynasty Warriors 8 appeared in some form each as Dynasty Warriors 8, Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends and Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires.
Hyrule Warriors Legends can be seen then as the “Xtreme Legends” version of Hyrule Warriors. Uniquely however, owing both to the general failure of the WiiU and an implicit acknowledgment of where the series’ fanbase truly lies, it was instead released on the New Nintendo 3DS, that magickal handheld for Harajuku Girls. And the game has undergone significant changes to accommodate this new reality. The New 3DS is technically less powerful than the WiiU, and this release, while a technical marvel by any standards, still shows this painfully. Textures, models, animations, audio fidelity and resolutions have all taken a massive hit, and the framerate plummets when too many assets appear on screen at one time. Furthermore, a Boss Rush Challenge mode from the original and all forms of multiplayer had to be cut for space, the latter considerably more crippling than the former.
But there are trade-offs to this. The autostereoscopic 3D of the New 3DS’s top screen once again gives Hyrule of feeling of lived-in presence other consoles cannot match: A sense of literal depth. Legends offers the ability for one player to control multiple characters at once. And while the compromises are real and very visible (moreso if you happen to play it on an original 3DS, which, while technically possible, usually results in the game slowing to unplayable degrees), this is largely most apparent in hindsight. In 2016 Hyrule Warriors Legends was a tour de force, and its presence in the New 3DS library alongside The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D and The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes sent a powerful message that seemed to awake something within itself. One of the new additions for this expansion is an entire chapter dedicated to the characters from The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (including Link and Medli) and their involvement in the Epilogue to the main campaign mode. And the spotlight is ever on Captain Tetra, whose presence invokes the Gerudo just as it did in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. This time however those associations have meaning, because in Hyrule Warriors Legends Tetra makes back every ounce of agency she lost in her home series tenfold.
The beloved and unquestioned leader of the Wind Waker forces, Tetra fills the role for her team that the Hyrule Warriors Zelda does for the rest of the cast while being kept firmly separate and distinct from her. At no point anywhere in the game is Tetra called Zelda, or is there ever any indication or implication that they’re related. In this reality then, it would seem that they’re not. Tetra may be treated and respected like Zelda, but she’s not Zelda (indeed, a “Toon Zelda”, representing The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, is an entirely different character added by a DLC pack based on it and Phantom Hourglass). She’s finally her own woman.
Tetra’s biggest cheerleader and supporter is, ironically enough, King Daphnes Nohansen Hyrule, The King of Red Lions. Like so many others cast aside by History, he is redeemed by Hyrule Warriors, this time dedicating himself to defending the future and the children who will make it. Another new addition for Legends who shares this fate is Skull Kid from The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, joining the Hero of Time and even Tingle, who has just as much a right to be here as everyone else. In this incarnation Skull Kid becomes every bit the mischievous young boy he always could have been: He’s always looking to play, but he will fight to the death to protect the friends he loves.
The biggest new addition to Hyrule Warriors Legends is also a staunch protector, but her story is retold here for the first time. Like Lana before her, Linkle is an original character who does not originate from any previous Zelda or musō game but has always been a part of both. Based on an unused concept sketch from the original Hyrule Warriors, Linkle is a Cucco farmer who, upon hearing that Hyrule calls for aid, volunteers to help of her own volition and sets off toward the Castle Town wielding her family’s set of twin crossbows. Her journey takes her across the entire world and has her interacting with, and offering her kindness and support to, just about every major player in the cast. And though she is mistaken in thinking she is the predestined Legendary Hero of Hyrule, as Impa tells her in the game’s new and true final moments, Linkle is without question a hero in her own right.
Linkle is the realisation of an unfulfilled promise that has defined The Legend of Zelda since the very first time storytellers sung of its Lament for Lost Golden Ages. She is a female Link, honestly and truly. And she originates from a game developed by Koei-Tecmo, not Nintendo.
Fans were very disappointed to learn that a female Link-like character was considered, but discarded during production of the original Hyrule Warriors and Linke’s inclusion in Legends was met with widespread acclaim and praise. And as befitting her role, Linkle stands in for all of Zelda’s ignored and forgotten possipoints: Her preference for crossbows evokes the Twilight Princess spinoff Link’s Crossbow Training, designed as a showcase of the Nintendo Wii’s motion control. Linkle believes she is the Legendary Hero because of stories told to her by her grandmother, from whom she also inherits her beloved compass and cloak, a plot point very reminiscent of the relationship the Hero of the Winds and Aryll have with their own grandmother in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (although Aryll herself appears in Hyrule Warriors Legends as a support for Toon Link, Linkle has an alternate costume inspired by her, which also serves as a nod to the reason she was originally cut: Zelda series director Eiji Aonuma felt she was too similar to Aryll). But perhaps the biggest secret is Linkle’s life as a Cucco farmer. For this, paired with her general offbeat and scattered disposition, invokes none other than Anju from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask.
This is Linkle’s True and Real Secret Self, and it must be. For who was the real protagonist of Majora’s Mask if not Anju, the eye of the storm which blows through all of Termina and the focal point of the biggest quest line, the true main one, which involves everyone in the land? In Ocarina of Time meanwhile she instead calls to mind Agitha, an otherwise inconsequential young lady who still rewards Link if players choose to show her kindness. In an appropriate mirrored inversion of this, Linkle goes out of her way to give her aid to everyone in the game. Just like a Real Zelda Hero would. And curiously, Linkle also seems tacitly set up to be paired with Marin from The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, who makes her playable debut in Hyrule Warriors Legends‘ first DLC pack.
Oddly, Marin seems associated with Cuccos here too, something she is not known to be in her original game (though there is an Easter Egg involving her and them, but it is predicated on Link’s actions). But being her prototype, Marin calls back to rancher Malon from Ocarina of Time and, naturally, Cremia from Majora’s Mask, who shares her character model. Malon is the most popular candidate for Link’s love interest in fandom outside of Zelda herself, and Marin’s presence here seems to reference this: Her epithet is literally “Dream Girl” and one of her attacks involves swinging her massive bell around in an imitation of Link’s Hero Spin move. But Linkle is a Link too. And Marin can stand in for Cremia just as much as she can for Malon and for herself. One secret of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask and its main quest is the true relationship Cremia has with her best friend Anju, two sides of a love triangle that form part of the conflict at the heart of this story. It is never clear, suspiciously deliberately so, if Cremia’s unrequited feelings are for Anju’s fiancé Kafei…or for Anju herself. And Linkle is also Anju.
Linkle gets the Pegasus Boots from The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening as an alternate weapon, and when encountered as enemy NPCs in Hyrule Warriors Legends‘ Adventure Mode Linkle and Marin are frequently encountered together as a pair. And so, in another reality, another version of Anju and Cremia have consummated their relationship. As have Link and Marin and, ultimately, Link and Zelda. Because Marin, the ordinary girl who dreamed of the sky, was always Zelda. As was Linkle, the girl who made herself a hero. She could never claim that title as her own before, until now. It is this parallel, spawned from the same foundational, primordial, traumatic sundering, that has plagued and tormented The Legend of Zelda since time immemorial. But now that rift has at long last been healed, and the healing and creation can begin anew.
Themes of femininity and female interests were a central theme in the Hyrule Warriors series from the beginning, choosing to embrace all The Legend of Zelda would brush aside and suppress. Zelda, Impa and Ruto speak for themselves. One of Link’s weapons literally turns the player, and thus him, into the Great Fairy. Lana’s third weapon set, the Summoning Gate, allows her to summon and control her own monsters (tame versions of Giant Beasts who formerly plagued the Zelda series, like King Dondongo and Argorok) through the medium of Japanese pop idol dance moves. The presence of Agitha, an otherwise comparatively minor NPC from The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, seems to be transparently an attempt to create a hero for those young Japanese women who were inspired by and found themselves in the Gothic Lolita fashion subculture. Lana forms a close kinship with Agitha over the course of the story, and both Lana and Agitha first introduce themselves by giving the same coquettish, come-hither look to the camera. Tricky, those two: They hide fathoms beneath their smiles. And what Lana and Agitha tease, Midna makes bluntly explicit to the fullest extent she’s allowed to within the constraints of the setting.
Hyrule Warriors Legends continues this thread and doubles down on it. A new feature is “My Fairy”, a minigame explicitly based on a type of dress-up doll game extremely popular with young girls on the Internet. Players can befriend and take care of tiny fairies they meet on the battlefield by giving them food and new clothes. In exchange, the fairies offer friendship, conversation and advice, as well as powerful buffs and temporary powerups during missions. Perhaps ironically for musō, a genre predicated on war and honour, this theme of kinship, feminine empowerment, empathy and kindness, is not accidental and is central to everything the game is doing. Even Cia, the instigator of the entire plot owing to a horrible mistake she made in a moment of weakness, is not defeated or destroyed as would be the case in a true war epic. None of the characters ever want to kill or hurt her, they just want everything to be better again. Instead, Cia is understood, forgiven and redeemed by the end of Legends‘ Wind Waker chapter, naturally with Captain Tetra providing the necessary inspirational kick in the pants. The enemy was always only and ever Ganondorf. Patriarchy has finally been slain and struck down by the Divine Feminine, Restored and Reclaimed.
Even here though, there are frustrations and kinks that must be worked out. But there are always growing pains in transitions such as this. Hyrule Warriors Legends was successful, but perhaps not as successful as it could have and should have been. Despite being built from the ground up around femininity, it remains debatable whether enough women knew what they were looking at and what waited for them within its litebox case. Despite being the marquee additions to this version and the primary reason one would want to pick it up, Linkle, Tetra and “My Fairy” were curiously absent from Legends‘ marketing campaign. Granted, each were given a requisite trailer on Nintendo and Koei-Tecmo’s YouTube channels along with all the other key features of the game, but they weren’t given any special attention above and beyond the bare minimum of what would be expected for video game information reveals. Tetra, Midna, Lana, Fi and Zelda appear on Legends‘ box art, but they’re pushed to the literal margins of the box, with Link and Ganondorf once again front and centre. You’d need to look at the back of the box (something not available to everyone in an age of digital distribution) to see any mention of Linkle or “My Fairy”, the latter only meriting a bullet point on a list of features right above the legal print.
Furthermore, despite all their efforts in 2014 and 2015, it remains debatable whether Nintendo was ever able to truly position the New Nintendo 3DS as an accessory for fashion-forward Harajuku Girls. The same culture of out-of-touch marketing that sank the WiiU and almost did the same for the original 3DS seems to have still been in play. What Hyrule Warriors really needed was one more chance on a console that was a genuinely unqualified success, one with a truly populist install base, backed up by intelligent marketing that knows what this series really is, what it does and who it’s for. And, years after the original game and in the wake of additional technical developments, it might be nice if Hyrule Warriors could be allowed to run at full tilt without all the handicaps that necessarily accompanied Hyrule Warriors Legends. And in 2018, it got that chance.
Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition, known in Japan by the even more fitting moniker ZeldaMusō: Hyrule All-Stars DX released on the Nintendo Switch in March of 2018 in Japan and the following May in Europe and North America. It contains all the base content and DLC from Hyrule Warriors and Hyrule Warriors Legends, including the modes that were cut from Legends. The Switch’s leap in power over the WiiU and New 3DS allows the game to run at a variable framerate more in line with games like Samurai Warriors 4-II, as well as permitting a brand new engine for “My Fairy” and the use of enhanced textures previously impossible on even the WiiU original. As befitting the name, this is a complete release: Not an “Empires” title like most third releases of musō games, Hyrule All-Stars DX is more in line with Koei-Tecmo’s other crossover release Musō Orochi 2 Ultimate, offering one singular, definitive experience that is intended to be the best possible version of this subseries. There are even a few new additions, like an Item Card Shop for Adventure Mode as a way to spend excess rupees (a common problem in Zelda games!) and new costumes for Link and Zelda turning them into their Breath of the Wild incarnations. But the surest sign of Hyrule All-Stars DX‘s newfound confidence, self-assurance and sense of purpose is its box art. Joining Link front and centre are Zelda, Lana, Linkle, Marin, Tetra, Midna and Fi…And even a fairy from “My Fairy”.
There is no greater gift Zelda can give to herself and to us, for what greater joy could there ever be than the full realisation of your Truest Self?
But at the end of it all, as we bask in the afterglow of the birth of a new universe, we must return one last time to Link. The Hero has been transmuted and transformed, transitioning to a new state of being to adapt to this new reality. But though Link has been recast as a supporting role, it is in truth here where he finds his greatest Strength and Courage. And this is something we too may divine by staring at the very heart of Hyrule Warriors’ lyrical magick to learn the game’s final and most beautiful secret song.
The gameplay of musō is a function of the genre’s original purpose. That is, to adapt Romance of the Three Kingdoms to video game form, and specifically an action game. The novel retells, in heavily fictionalized and dramatized fashion, the Three Kingdoms period of Bronze Age China when three empires with aspirations of unification vied for control over the land. The book pegs Liu Bei, founder of the Kingdom of Shu Han in what is now Sichuan and Chongqing, as more or less the protagonist and depicts him in the most sympathetic and honourable light. But a contender for the book’s iconic scene is actually something that really happened in history: During the Battle of Changban, Liu Bei’s forces were caught in a surprise ambush by a massive army from the state of Wei led by Cao Cao. Liu Bei beat a hasty retreat with his retainers and was forced to abandon his wife Lady Gan and their infant son A Dou. Zhao Yun, known as one of Liu Bei’s trusted “Five Tiger Generals”, stayed behind and faced the massive Wei army all by himself, singlehandedly fighting his way through wave after wave of soldiers numbering in the thousands to rescue Lady Gan and A Dou, miraculously succeeding.
Zhao Yun was known for his peerless honour, loyalty and selflessness. He never sought glory and attention for himself; instead pledging his life to Liu Bei’s service in accordance with the ideals he felt the lord embodied. In 261, Wei Yan said that Zhao Yun was
“A gentle, affectionate, wise, miraculous being who called the land to order. With him, neither accidents or disasters could disturb the peaceful balance he created. I think it reasonable to call him the true general of peace.”
In Dynasty Warriors, Zhao Yun is portrayed as a man of evergreen justice, passion, valiance, integrity and resolve, always giving all he can to fight for his ideals and help those in need. But most tellingly, he’s also the mascot character for the entire series and often positioned as the player’s viewpoint character. The “1 vs. 1000” gameplay Dynasty Warriors introduced is a way of translating Zhao Yun’s heroism into video game praxis, tacitly offering him up as a role model for players to emulate by allowing them to see the world as he did. He is the “unrivaled” one.
Many musō games have some kind of analog or representation of Zhao Yun’s archetype, but none of the ones outside Dynasty Warriors and its crossover titles depict the man in full. Samurai Warriors’ conceptualization of Yukimura Sanada bears many similarities to Zhao Yun, but Koei-Tecmo has always differentiated the two by emphasizing Sanada’s youthful energy and brash hotheadedness in contrast with Zhao Yun’s mature, calm, still point. And curiously, Hyrule Warriors appears to have several. Being who he is and ever the viewpoint character, Link is a very safe bet for the part. And indeed this Link does in fact appear greatly reminiscent of Zhao Yun, in terms of his build, features and design (he even wears a flowing blue scarf, much as Zhao Yun does in the Dynasty Warriors 6 and 7 subseries) and even his general personality.
This would seemingly push Zelda, to whom Link swears undying loyalty in Hyrule Warriors, into the Liu Bei role, a fitting match (although, the same could also be said for Ruto), but the many parallels between Link and Zelda mean they can never truly be seen as completely separate entities. Meanwhile it’s actually Linkle who displays more of Zhao Yun’s more overtly noble and altruistic tendencies, while Impa embodies his unwavering loyalty to a liege (and even shares his weapon preference: A spear, or in her case, a naginata). Marin continues to complicate matters with her enchanting Song-Strings. And indeed, in the story’s climactic scene Link’s hubris and ambition get the better of him and he plays straight into Cia’s trap. And though he redeems himself (by letting his female comrades bail him out), this act delays the Hylian forces’ victory in their critical eleventh hour. Zhao Zilong would never do such a thing, and in doing so Link demonstrates he’s not yet worthy to adopt that mantle.
Zelda and Linkle may be his joint anima, but Link’s purest self is only revealed when he is put in conflict with the Dragon Knight Volga, one of Cia’s chief generals along with Wizzro (effectively a stand-in for the reoccurring Wizzrobe enemy in The Legend of Zelda). Volga is the most straightforward Dynasty Warriors translation to Hyrule Warriors, being effectively a thinly veiled expy of Lu Bu, a bloodthirsty, despotic tyrant of a warlord literally referred to as a demon who cares about testing his mettle and challenging his abilities as a warrior above all else. Frighteningly, however, Volga also bears a strikingly resemblance to certain aspects of Zhao Yun: He shares with him a Dragon motif (Zhao Yun has been variously called “Brave Dragon”, “Blue Dragon” or “Little Dragon”) and even his weapon, the Dragon Spear. In Zhao Yun’s hands it’s a simple, unpretentious implement that dates back to the Paleolithic Age. In Volga’s, it’s a terrifying claw used to rend flesh from bone.
But of course, Volga is not the only Dragon in Hyrule Warriors, is he?
Throughout the campaign Link and Volga share a fearsome rivalry, sparring at several key points throughout the story with Link ultimately triumphing over him in the final battle. Link’s conflict with Volga then is a synchromystic emanation-manifestation of his own inner battle to realise his true self by living in accordance with his values. Volga plays much the same role as Dark Link does in Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (and tellingly, Dark Link plays a major role in the climax of the campaign), here representing what would happen if someone was in possession of all of Zhao Yun’s power and none of his convictions. He would, in fact, look a lot like Lu Bu. But even Volga is not beyond redemption: In the prequel campaign told from Cia’s perspective, it’s revealed Volga, just like a Dragon would, doesn’t fight unless he’s provoked (in this case, by Cia) and her twist on the final battle shows that while Volga was previously thought to have been slain by Link in their final confrontation, he was actually saved by being reminded of his true honour and integrity. By, of course, Zelda.
Neither Volga nor Link may mantle Zhao Zilong of Changban on their own. Of anyone in the main cast, it remains Linkle who comes the closest to doing this. But that it is her of all people still speaks volumes: This is not something out of reach for Link. In actuality, it is his true calling. The Legend of Zelda still has roots as a coming of age right of passage as told through children’s fantasy, and children do not start out as heroes. They have to become them. Linkle shows she is one by helping others, and while Link is not Zhao Yun he wants to be him, and knows it’s his calling to fill this role. His journey as part of this story is to learn how, with help from his friends and comrades. There is True Heroism in pledging your spear to a Queen’s cause, and Link knows this better than anyone. He is, after all, surrounded by them.
This I have Foreseen. And this I Decree: This is Shin Zelda Densetsu. I call upon all those brave souls who would become heroes to find the strength and conviction I know you have within yourselves. Go forth and live your lives with valour, honour, integrity, wisdom, passion, loyalty and kindness. I will watch over you, guide you, and love you. Always.