Death is an event that every person will eventually have in common - an inescapable fate that we must all succumb to. We, as gamers, might possibly understand death in a different way from other people. We play video games where beings are being shot, sliced, burned, etc. Literally all of the above. It may not be as present in our lives as, say, a soldier, but it is definitely present in our obvious hobby, be it merely a fantasy. Different kinds of games express death in different ways. You play a cliche war game and gain a headshot, BAM, no big deal. Just more points. You play an emotional RPG, and sometimes both you and your character go through a sequence of grief after what they've just done. There are mature expressions of death and, not necessarily the opposite, nonchalant expressions of death. I'd say that The Legend of Zelda definitely falls into the former.
In my opinion, The Legend of Zelda has always had a mature take on death, be it a young depressed man heeding no warnings and entering a forbidden forest, or a wooden butler holding his petrified son while game credits roll. Younger kids playing a Zelda game will almost definitely be introduced to death in some way. Take my own personal experience: 6 years old and playing my very first Zelda game, A Link to the Past. Throughout the game, walk by the young man playing a flute countless times, occasionally stopping to listen for a few minutes; as Zelda music tends to enthrall you. Longing to make contact, knowing that this boy has SOMETHING to do with the game. Why does he keep disappearing when I run to meet him as the animals run away? Fast forward to obtaining his flute for him, only to play him one last song before his existence fades into nothingness and his body into wood. I remember sitting for a second, thinking about what had happened. It was sad. I knew what death was, but the way it happened was very emotional and new to me. Wishing that there was something I could have done for him, I carried on with my adventure.
I'm sure many of the readers had a similar experience with death in The Legend of Zelda. The way death is presented in no way glorifies it, like video games are accused of nowadays. It offers a perspective on death that enables a player to appreciate what is happening and the concept itself. It makes you care. Presented to you is a character. One you have essentially no ties with, save their current situation, and yet somehow within that short period of time you are emotionally impacted by what they are going through. Take Grog, for example, the depressed antisocial punk with a love of cuccoos seen hidden amongst the darkness in Ocarina of Time. By the time his life comes to an end, you've probably familiarized yourself with him. "People are disgusting." Presented initially as a jerk, you come to realize he's merely a sad soul (or angsty). He asks you to do a simple task, but when you return, all that awaits you is a young Kokiri girl expressing that he had turned into a Stalfos. For some reason, the instant I read that, it sent a jolt through me. "Wow, that's really messed up."
While many of the Zelda games offer perspectives on death, none do more so than Majora's Mask, often considered the darkest of all Zelda games. There is death left and right in that game, and each time is more emotional than the last. The sea-side musician expressing his final words to you through song; The great Goron Hero Darmani, a lost soul longing only to save the day one last time. A young girl whose father has been transformed into a Gibdo, a mindless undead mummy. The latter being arguably not exactly "death," but I find that it fits. Almost every person you meet in Majora's Mask is truly suffering in some way, whether it be based on death or merely situational debts. It is not the simple situation involving death that makes Zelda express it so perfectly. Topically, "lost spirit of dead soldier" isn't very emotional. It is the presentation that makes the experience so deeply moving, and we all know that Zelda is a god amongst games when it comes to presentation.
The death of one particular character within the Zelda universe holds equal impact for all of us...The death of Ganondorf. Everyone wants to see Ganondorf bow-out after a glorious battle; the ultimate evil and the essence of all that is wrong. The feeling you get knowing you have ended this great threat is comparable to no other. Avoiding a giant paragraph expressing all of the ways Ganondorf has met his demise, I'll simply use my pick of Ganondorf's most fitting end as an example. This takes place in Twilight Princess.
The battle has finally come to an end, as you have struck the final blow against the world's ultimate evil. Holding strong, he doesn't falter even a little. Drawing his final breath, the tall godlike man doesn't so much as drop to his knees. Against the twilight, Ganondorf's silhouette is seen standing on the top of the hill, his cape continuing to flap against the wind. In death, he is still standing his ground in all of his magnificence - a fitting final performance for the evil king of thieves.
My underlying idea is this: like most things in Zelda, the presentation of a concept as dark as death is nearly perfect. When a character has lost their lives, it sticks with you. No game has more appropriately approached the topic of death. As a game that children and adults alike play, it crosses no boundaries and maturely depicts such a concept in a manner so that everyone can be equally affected, regardless of who they are, in an emotional way. Zelda is in no way a "children's game," as I've heard it being accused of, but it is also not a game that younger kids can't handle. Zelda is for everyone, and I feel like it helped me, when I was younger, understand death more. It taught me that death isn't something that should stop you in your tracks, unable to continue. Your goals are still there, and the memories of those lost will stay with you. If you've done all that you can for someone in their time of need that is all that matters.
Mexx on 4/30/2012 1:42:35 AM
I cannot express how much truth you have written here. My obeisance!
Makarthekorokwarrior on 4/30/2012 3:13:11 PM
Wow. This is a spectacular article. I feel the same way. For me, some of the most touching moments in Zelda are deaths. Some others you didn't mention:
-Helping the Ghost in Link's Awakening to revisit his house
-The death of the King of Hyrule in Wind Waker, who goes down with his kingdom
-Zelda gives her Triforce to Midna (again, not really true death)
-The defeat of Ghirahim and Demise. For me, this was even more emotional than Ganondorf. I always have had a respect for Ganondorf. But Ghirahim just drove me mad. He was creepy. His attacks were obnoxious. He had no excuse for tormenting me. He wanted to kill Zelda. So killing him and Demise was like some weird sort of sick happiness I'd never gotten from killing a video game enemy before. It was like finally experiencing freedom from something terrible.
Christopher Smith on 4/30/2012 3:39:37 PM
Thank you guys for the kind words. :D
Makar, those are some great examples. There are a few I wanted to add, myself, but I didn't want the article to carry on too long. In particular, the Dying Soldier in Ocarina of Time. The one that is in the alleyway and his body falls limp. That one really got to me.
I agree with your sentiments about Ghirahim. It did feel really good to slam him into the golden platforms, breaking through to the ground. You could really feel that part, and it felt good.
Goron__Elder on 5/2/2012 11:07:13 AM
"It taught me that death isn't something that should stop you in your tracks, unable to continue. You can always just respawn."
Christopher Smith on 5/3/2012 6:27:20 PM
lol I meant the death of others, but you're right. That's why we have Deja Vu. Respawning. ;D
Guest on 5/5/2012 4:13:32 AM
foreal itz like killing the redead,its messed up!!but...i like it i can't stop playing even if i beat the game!!
Grammar Nazi on 5/12/2012 1:06:15 PM
You need to go back to grammar school or something, this article was a pain for my brain to comprehend.
Manderson on 5/18/2012 4:24:03 PM
The guard in the ally of Ocarina of Time
"He's not moving anymore...."
H.S Wyvern on 5/20/2012 10:16:32 PM
When Impa dies at the end of Skyward Sword :( .... When Fi says good bye to link (not death but still too sad) those were some intense moments.
Jeremy on 5/23/2012 12:21:19 PM
well said and this artical should be use to defend all games when some jack ass kid dose some thing wrong and games get blamed
Jordan on 5/30/2012 9:30:39 PM
I agree with Wyvern. When Fi said goodbye, i shed a tear.
mau5 on 6/20/2012 9:30:33 AM
It was emotional for me to see the dying soldier in Ocarina of Time, along with seeing Impa in Skyward Sword die after killing Demise. (which, yes, brought a sick, weird happiness to me.) I was sort of glad to see Fi go, because the sound her voice makes was starting to get annoying. In the middle of a bossfight, she told me my heart containers needed to be replenished.
And your article up there was pure poetry. Beautiful.
Link on 6/21/2012 1:49:42 PM
I agree Fi was annoying but it be better if at the end she risked her life to stop Demise. I think they will bring back Fi and Girahim. Maybe Even Demise. I always wanted to know how Link dies so much but always returns. I just finished the part with that girl and I want to know if Saria and Link went there before he had Navi why isn't he a stalfos?
on 6/27/2012 7:38:12 AM
Impa did not die she is that old lady
Kirk Hendrick on 7/3/2012 10:34:55 AM
the most for me by far was the fact that Kafei and Anju embraced death together.Truly Touching.
Ian on 7/3/2012 2:42:11 PM
I feel like Final Fantasy 7 had a pretty good grip on death. I mean, the character (do I really need to hide spoilers for this anymore?) remains dead. It hits you that this person is gone forever.
Zachmu95 on 7/4/2012 3:34:16 AM
I have to agree, Majoras Mask really is one of nintendos darkest games. Seriously, Major was the Perfect Evil, I won't go into detail here. But I saw an article explaining why, and even as a kid when I played it, I would get mad that I couldn't help everyone in one timeline. I remember vividly crying after beating the game knowing that the ranch got invaded, that the innocent monkey died, the gorons mountain staying frozen, and the eggs never hatching. It was sad and I couldn't stop crying for an hour. In my opinion itnisnthe best Zelda game because of the themes involved.
ToonLink on 7/6/2012 7:50:37 PM
I love Legend of Zelda...That is all
zeldaisthebest on 7/7/2012 6:29:19 PM
Why did impa disappear at the end of skyward sword anyway? It never made sense to me. BTW it was very touching along with the farewell of Fi which made me cry.
on 7/15/2012 5:21:54 PM
The death of The Great Deku Tree in OoT got me.. Although I don't like to admit it lol..
Robert on 8/1/2012 5:23:02 PM
I really appreciate the thoughtful perspective in this piece. Thank you Christopher.
on 8/3/2012 12:31:32 PM
This article and the comments below are both very insightful and respectful at the same time. I deeply commend you all for your interesting perspective on the Legend of Zelda, a truly iconic video game franchise.
on 8/3/2012 12:32:19 PM
Not to get all creepish on you or anything.:)lol
mark on 8/6/2012 12:13:20 AM
well there are many games that give u that soft oh no thought in your head and make u shiver as u play after that moment and u just think to yourself "i will avenge him" in shadow the hedgehog when i learned that maria was shot and killed and i played the level and heard her sweat voice and caring words i wanted to cry. (i know that wasnt about zelda but i still feel that its the same type of feeling) u may usually find that type of feeling in the end of a video game especially one where there is some type of fighting. i have never found that hurt soldier in ocarina of time and i intend to find him and also i never really did anything with grog much less did i know that u do a task for him and come back to hear the news from the kokiri girl. i only own ocarina but after hearing these moments, i would like to experience these as well and there is always that character in a game that u cant help but feel sorry for and if u play the game again u feel a sense of honor yet sadness passing them and u feel as if u want to give them a hug
sailorcrystal on 8/18/2012 12:48:25 AM
I wish this article had a 'Like' button :')
Ninjamike on 8/30/2012 10:19:32 AM
This was a great article. Thank you for taking the time to write about it. I have not played most of the newer Zelda games, but I'm sure they are just as good as the old ones. A lot of games have their moments of maturity (and immaturity) when it comes to death and I agree with you 100% about the Zelda games for them being moving moments in a video game. Even shooter games that are just shoot and kill everything that moves, have their moments. Modern Warfare 2 and 3 had a couple or so moments that provoked some serious feelings when a main character died. Since Final Fantasy VII, that line of games has done really well with taking death seriously. Just my 2 cents.
akd213 on 8/31/2012 4:32:30 PM
Another haunting death... The zora you find on the beach in Majora's Mask. I think he's the one everyone in the band is waiting for to show up. I remember thinking how dark it was that he was dead and I was masquerading as him and no one knew the truth.
SomeGuy on 9/24/2012 8:53:26 AM
to the one that asked what happended to impa in skyward sword,after defeating demise in the past she told zelda that she could not come back to the future with her, that she had to stay in the past where she belonged. zelda gave impa her wristband, and in the future it shows up that the old lady has tha wrist band and actualy is impa
distruct1 on 9/25/2012 1:38:16 PM
you can from the first fight from the imprisoned (i think)zelda in the room
(skyward sword), and that is some sort of death, the thig that was closest to death in the zelda skyward were the enemies and Fi
OT+Zelda=:) on 9/30/2012 2:24:33 PM
This game had a huge part in my up bringing, and I feel it has made me the strong willed person I am today... I also pitty this generation; for they will never have games this amazing!
Brandon on 10/8/2012 12:36:15 AM
Nobody here mentioned the uncle at the beginning of A Link To The Past? The one who entrusts you with the burden of responsibility, sensing the potential in his nephew?
TylerD on 12/17/2012 2:26:55 AM
I really enjoy how you explained Majora's Mask, because every bit of that is true. The entire time you play that game there's something there about it that just brings more and more sad moments. In all honesty, it has been my favorite Legend of Zelda game, and seeing this helps me realize a little more about the game that I have not noticed. Legend of Zelda in general is full of sad moments and death. I believe you chose the perfect example.
Mang on 12/22/2012 8:01:40 PM
So thats why you dont see ganandorf in the LOZ games anymore :c . At least Nintendo had gotten rid of using a villian for so long(Im looking at you Browser).
Karmine on 1/24/2013 12:33:41 AM
I remember when Zelda 1 came out when i was 5. Hard as hell. But death had more of an impact in Zelda 2.....yes.....one of the Zelda's people say was one of the worst. But nothing made you cringe more than dying in Zelda 2 with the flashing red screen and hearing Ganon laugh in the background (Zelda 2 I believe was the first NES game to actually have "voice" in it, i can be wrong though.).
adam tyler on 1/30/2013 7:44:29 PM
those games taught me alot about life and death the part that made me shed a tear was in majors mask with the zora you pull out of the water. It was heartbreaking that he couldnt be with the women that he loved anymore or even to say goodbye one last time that part almost made me break down. But it teaches you something its not how much time you spend with your loved ones its what you do when your together that lets them know how you feel.
Renato Ramos on 2/11/2013 7:58:03 AM
Great article. there's a moment in majora's that's not widely known. if you save the ranch, talking to cremia on the second day she says something about the moon and the inevitable aproaching. on the third day afernoon, romani and cremia are at the barn, romani is happy because cremia is making chateau romani for her even though she is not adult yet. cremia says its because she aknowledges romani as an adult, and then ASKS HER TO SLEEP WITH HER IN HER BED THAT NIGHT. in other words, cremia had accepted death and was giving romani one last happy day. that scene gave me the shivers. and if you talk to her after that, as she walks towards the house, she says: See you ... tomorrow, right?
Henning86 on 2/28/2013 10:51:24 AM
Check out the wonderfull and tearjerking indie-game "To The Moon" by Freebird games. Great story told with simple means; a humble masterpice!
Saerion Icarus Belmont on 3/12/2013 5:05:29 PM
So true man... I get awared of that since i played Majora's mask... Every single person who was attachedto something; family; love; even passions... In the last day of the game; wen the moons is going to fall down... I see in their faces and ords; all the human fear to die... All the fear of left existence and left behind all those dreams and hopes of a new day; i feel that fear too; in the last day of everyone; we have fear of left all we lived for behind... And thi game srely make me feel the emotion of all them; every game in Zelda is great for all those human feelings that are enbested on it; and is a great joy to feel it; don't misunderstand me... Is not that great to feel the sadness of death... But is great to see that; at least one game; make us feel those emotions in a veru good game; great report; i really like it; and i'm very glad to see that another person notice all this; hope to see more; see ya soon and good luck
Philler Space on 3/28/2013 4:04:26 AM
Death is all the more important when you factor in the Zelda timeline: that some of these games only exist in futures where Link in the past failed against Ganon and died.
HeyListenNoSTFU on 4/13/2013 11:36:31 PM
What about the Hero's Shade in Twilight Princess? He died without passing on his skills, a task so important he held onto it after death. Of course, it was probably planned to pass them to Link, as it was confirmed that the Hero's Shade is/was another Link... Possibly being a stalfos because he went into the forest without Navi? Again, the whole stalfos thing is just creepy.
Ziltor on 5/13/2013 1:16:22 AM
I always felt a little sorry for The Wind Waker version of Ganon, it almost seemed like he was full of regret and melancholy for his role in the destruction of Hyrule...
kw on 5/16/2013 2:33:01 PM
In Majora's mask when you turn the little girls father back to normal, being only 9 years old i cried my eyes out, that was an intense scene that stuckw ith me forever, never count anybody out, there is always hope..f**king Zelda..
TNUCUOY on 5/19/2013 2:31:51 AM
Ocarinamagic on 6/17/2013 10:10:13 PM
The biggest thing that got me, being 7 at the time, was when in Oot, When you beat a temple, a person who you knew and probably cared about, except the princess Zora, became a Sage. It isn't death (kinda) but when I first saw Saria, I cried for a long time.
Jim on 6/27/2013 6:51:55 AM
The deku tree dies right in front of you
taylor on 7/24/2013 7:39:40 PM
Daniel on 8/5/2013 12:05:36 AM
Yea Zelda has some of the greatest and touching deaths of all time.....But for some reason in Valkyria Chronicles, when everyone finally accepts and loves Isara, and she gets shot......that moment made me put down my controller and walk away for a bit.
Samuel on 9/3/2013 1:18:41 AM
Majora's Mask was so sad I barely finished...
Ocarina scared/scarred me at a young age because all the re-dead kept attacking me in the city as adult link, and yet I didn't wanna hurt them because I had just seen them as real living people a second ago as young link.
Lorelei on 9/8/2013 9:16:42 PM
Yes.thx for this amazing post.very few people realize the beutiful,heartbreaking,drama put into many things.not even a year ago,many things I watched/played were awesome adventurous and thrilling.but now.i realize the drama,the tension,the emotion within the characters heart.i feel what the character feels.i feel their joy,I feel their pain,their longing,their grief,its something very few people feel.
XOrdinaryCliffside on 9/12/2013 1:44:58 PM
I originally played the Zelda games with the knowledge that they're just games, and that the things I was fighting were monsters made from evil. I never thought too hard about the death of the characters. I never even saw the soldier in the back alley of Ocarina of Time. (In a way, that makes it even more sad...) Some people may read this article and think, "Wow, what a bunch of saps...don't they know it's a game?" Well, to me, Zelda isn't just a game, it's a story. One you can see. And I think about what happens--maybe too much--and realize just how painful everything is. Think about being in the setting of Majora's Mask for real. Say you were in a town you knew was about to have a nuke dropped on it. What would you do? Think about the faces of the people you would see.
On the other hand, think about the characters' background, seen and unseen. For example, very few characters are "emo" in Zelda, but then there's Grog. He's different, from EVERYONE else. Everyone else in Kakariko is bright and cheerful, but Grog only comes out and night, sits under his tree and resents the people around him. (Did you know he is the sister of Anju/Cuccoo lady and the both are the son of Mutoh?) What could have made that boy--before Ganondorf had even taken over Hyrule--hate others so much? He could have been an abused child, or had an imagination so great and outside of the box that others shut him down for it. How would you feel if that were you? He has so much potential to be amazing, but he's become a loner, and by the time Link is an adult, Grog is lost in the Lost Woods and couldn't be happier. Well, in his current emo form. So he gives Link one last request, but when Link returns, Grog is...dead. He died young, never having accomplished anything. He died alone in the Lost Woods, and no one would ever know. That is one fate I fear may happen to me one day, and I never want that to happen.
Kio on 9/15/2013 4:45:49 PM
The flute boy in LttP really tore at me. I figured he was some point of side-story, early on, especially so because there was no way to do anything with him as he'd disappear. I took the game really casually, and preferred to explore more, and would often just sit in the grove and listen to him play. When I finally got to the Dark World, I was traveling around and found his grove, and was shocked that the animals weren't there, and I cautiously talked to him. When he told me about his light-world counterpart, I actually cried then. I thought that was all there was to him: a visual representation of the Dark World that Ganon created with the triforce... Until I was told about his flute, and was sent to retrieve it, and play it for him. I couldn't believe what the game was asking me; I was supposed to play his song to bring him peace. I really didn't want to, because I figured it would allow him to rest; I reluctantly played it anyways, hoping it would restore him to the Light World and he'd return home to his father. Link started playing the music, and my eyes welled up. The tempo seemed unusually slow, and I knew that I was right - this was the last time. His body warped to wood, and I just felt so helpless; my body slumped back in my seat. How could I tell his father? I felt broken inside, that the bad guys had won, and on a personal level too. I had seen Ganon's evil destroy this boy's life, and knew how upset his father would be. I didn't want to accept it. I went to his grove over and over in the light world, expecting him to be there, playing his song. I cried even harder, and finally went to his father, and got the bird in town, and I just couldn't forget him. Every single time I used the flute (all three times), I could only think of the boy, and cried, and told myself that I couldn't bring myself to play it again. I actually then started playing the game more seriously, the boy as my driving force to defeat Ganon. Then in the credits, "Flute Boy plays again", I cried a little more, feeling that I had succeeded. This wasn't about Zelda (that b*** can take care of herself), this wasn't about Hyrule; this game was about Flute Boy, about stopping Ganon in his name... 3
Master23 on 9/15/2013 5:04:20 PM
There is one death that wasn't listed and it's the one guard in Legend of zelda ocarina of time after zelda escapes from ganadorf and you go back to town in a alley he tells you somethings then just dies.
Apache_Cyclops on 10/8/2013 11:47:32 AM
Majoras Mask was touching and all but wasn't tingle in that game? I hated that guy.
b munny on 1/31/2014 6:35:12 AM
very much feel in the heart. excellent writing.