By Celeste Roberts
March 19, 2019
"This is but one of the legends of which the people speak." - The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
Akin to the first page in a book, a video game's opening scene's job is to grab and retain the player's attention. Brevity is key since most people wish to dive straight into a new adventure and not spend 15 minutes pressing the A button to skip lengthy dialogue.
After experiencing a game's opening clip and completing the main quest, players expect to be rewarded with a sense of finality from the ending scene. Has everyone been rescued? Will the villain return in a subsequent game? Does the protagonist meet a special someone?
The Legend of Zelda is rich with myths, creatures, and emotions, and many of its entries vie for the Number One game in the series. While exploring Hyrule (or another land), meeting amusing characters, and playing a variety of mini games are crucial aspects of a great Zelda game, the opening and ending cinematics help to introduce the tone of the game and wrap up loose story ends.
Here are my top 3 favorite opening and ending scenes.
A Link to the Past
“Long ago, in the beautiful kingdom of Hyrule surrounded by mountains and forests… legends told of an omnipotent and omniscient power Golden Power that resided in a hidden land.”
The third entry in The Legend of Zelda series tells us of the Triforce and the battles waged over people’s vain quest for ultimate power in the Land of the Golden Power. We learn that the king of Hyrule ordered seven wise men to seal the gate between Hyrule and this realm as an evil presence began to flow.
We then see Hyrule Castle and the deceased king on his throne as we learn an evil wizard named Agahnim thwarted the royal in his quest to destroy the seal between the realms.
A dungeon appears. A young girl is held in a locked cell, and two guards are moving another maiden elsewhere. Agahnim, adorning green robes and a veil that hides half of his face, watches his prisoners as we learn of his plan to send the female descendants of the seven wise men to the Dark World in order to break the seal and gain access to the Triforce.
The maiden the guards were escorting is asleep on an eerie pedestal; guards look on as Agahnim causes her to levitate before making her vanish in a flash of magical light.
We learn that the evil wizard plans to perform the same ritual with Princess Zelda, who is the final piece of the puzzle in breaking the seal. What does this mean for Hyrule?
It is a dark and stormy night as we enter the home of a sleeping boy and an older man. The words “Help me…” appear, and we realize the princess is communicating telepathically with the boy as a last resort.
The boy awakens with a start, and the man, who we later learn is his uncle, stands from the table, a sword and shield equipped. He instructs his nephew to remain inside and assures him he will return in the morning.
The action then becomes the player’s responsibility. Do we heed the princess or our uncle? How will we protect ourselves? What dangers lie ahead?
The adrenaline is pumping, and we know we must be brave.
Link has journeyed all through Hyrule, both the Light and the Dark Realms. He has grown in wisdom and strength, and he has vanquished the evil Ganon. Our hero is greeted by the essence of the three pieces of the Triforce, which explains that it “will grant the wishes in the heart and mind of the person who touches it.”
We learn of Ganon’s destructive wish to conquer the Light World; we have seen how powerful a malicious heart can be if permitted access to nearly unlimited power. Link, pure of heart and selfless, takes the Triforce, not uttering a word…
However, our wish to know Link’s thoughts is granted as we witness his desires come to fruition.
The king of Hyrule is resurrected and reunited with his beloved daughter and the maidens. The keeper of the sanctuary is healed. Link’s uncle has recovered and is back home. The father and his son, the missing flautist, are together again. Various characters we encountered on our adventure are once again at peace.
I remember worrying so much about the families throughout the land as I discovered the immense sadness Ganon caused through his selfishness and greed. I beat A Link to the Past nearly fifteen years after I started it because I used to rent the SNES cartridge as a child but never completed the game. I finally witnessed the touching ending on the GameBoy Advance port of the game, my heart full of happiness as I saw the true goodness of Link’s heart evident from his fulfilled wishes.
Ocarina of Time
"In the vast, deep forest of Hyrule... Long have I served as the guardian spirit... I am known as the Deku Tree..."
These words appear over a black background without sounds or music. A faceless narrator then brings us inside a humble home with a young boy sleeping. The text tells us about the Kokiri, the children of the forest who each possess a guardian fairy.
"However, there is one boy who does not have a fairy..."
The sleeping boy makes distressing sounds as though he is having a bad dream.
We then enter his mind.
It is nighttime. Thunder. Lightning. Torrential downpour. A drawbridge lowers with loud creaking. We hear a horse's neighing and its hooves pounding the ground as the camera focuses on a yellow triangle above the drawbridge.
The boy and an orb of light with wings--a fairy?--stand before the lowered bridge as a white horse carrying two people gallops past. One rider is a girl with piercing blue eyes, worry drawn on her face. The band of her veil bears the same golden triangle we saw before...
The boy turns around to face a black horse and its rider, a fearsome man with green skin and fire-red hair. The man smirks and lifts his hand as the boy, mouth agape, stares in fear.
The nightmare ends--for us viewers, at least.
The winged orb of white light appears before us; a gigantic tree with a human face is instructing it to find the boy without a fairy as "malevolent forces [...] muster to attack [the] land of Hyrule..."
In less than five minutes, the boy, whose name is Link (canonically, but his name is truly whatever the player chooses when creating a game file), is removed from his simple life with his friends in Kokiri Forest and tasked with inspecting the Great Deku Tree for the source of his slow demise.
I believe the writers did an excellent job of establishing curiosity and determination by showing us Link's nightmare early on. The player now has so many questions he or she wants answered: Where is that drawbridge? Who was that girl? Why was she fleeing? Who is that mysterious man? Why did Link appear afraid? The only way to find out is to continue playing the game.
Although veteran players who choose to run through the game multiple times may feel differently, the opening scene is short enough to avoid causing frustration and impatience while also establishing a sense of wonder for the player.
The Sages combine forces and banish Ganondorf to the Evil Realm after Link smites him with the Master Sword. A rainbow of lights surrounds the bearer of the Triforce of Power, his face twisted in rage and disbelief as he vows to return and “exterminate [the hero’s] descendants.”
The calming melody of Zelda’s Lullaby plays as a cloudy blue sky appears. We witness a moment of respite for Princess Zelda and Link, the remaining pieces of the Triforce puzzle. The princess thanks the Hero of Time and then looks away; she apologizes for bringing Link into her plot to thwart Ganondorf without fully understanding the consequences of stealing a precious seven years of their lives and allowing their foe into the Sacred Realm as Link slumbered.
Zelda instructs Link to return the Master Sword to its pedestal and regain his lost youth. She requests the Ocarina of Time in order to send Link back to his childhood, her expression a mixture of relief, sadness, and wistfulness as she bids her companion farewell.
As the game’s credits appear on the screen with the serene lullaby playing in the background, areas of Hyrule, the beautiful land Link has protected from evil, scroll by, peace finally restored.
My favorite part of the ending scene is the celebration at Lon Lon Ranch. Hylians, Zoras, Gorons, Gerudo, and Kokiri have united to carouse (although I thought the youthful Kokiri would die upon leaving the forest? Maybe extraordinary events like vanquishing Ganondorf allow for exceptions). Away from the revelry are Mido and King Zora, despondent contrasts to the party before them. As a child, I wondered whether Mido, Link’s former bully, regretted treating the boy without a fairy so poorly for so long and wished to apologize. As for King Zora, I assumed his massive size prevented him from dancing around the bonfire with everyone (yet we do see Biggoron hanging out with the Cucco Lady from Kakariko Village).
Now I realize that Mido perhaps wished to make amends with Link while also mourning the sudden disappearance of Saria, and King Zora no longer had contact with his only child, Ruto, due to her status as a Sage.
A sparkle of green light catches Mido’s attention, and we follow the trail to Death Mountain, where the Sages look upon the world they helped to save. Hm, allegedly Sages are no longer a part of the living, so was the decision to position them on Death Mountain intentional?
The very end is one of the most iconic in the entire series: Navi ascends to the lone window in the Temple of Time’s room for the Master Sword after Link returns the sacred blade. The hero then ventures to Princess Zelda’s garden, likely to warn her of Ganondorf’s evil plans.
The game’s ending is fairly long at over 10 minutes, but I am left with a sense of both and completion and wonder. Over 20 years later, I still want to know what happened to Navi, and I am still researching the lore of the different timelines. I was sad to see Zelda and Link part ways as adults but can appreciate the princess’ wisdom in choosing to give Link more time to enjoy his life.
Released less than a year and a half after Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask is the inarguable sequel to Link’s time traveling adventure. Those curious about our green-clad protagonist’s endeavors after returning back to his childhood discover our hero on “a secret and personal journey… a journey in search of a beloved and invaluable friend…”
Ten-year-old Link is astride a young Epona in a foggy forest, his head hanging in exhaustion. Two fairies, one golden white and one dark purple, surreptitiously observe the two travelers and exchange a nod. They startle the foal, who bucks, throwing Link to the ground and rendering him unconscious.
Suddenly a spiked mask with piercing yellow eyes manifests in thin air, accompanied by a lithe body twisting in a strange dance. The mischievous imp searches Link’s pockets for valuables and pulls out the boy’s precious ocarina. Intrigued, the thief begins to blow notes and cackle as his fairy companions, now identified as Tatl and Tael, argue over who will play next.
Link rises and sees the commotion over his possession. The stranger hides the ocarina behind his back, but Link lunges towards him, only to miss as the bandit jumps onto Epona and begins to gallop away. Although Link grabs onto the imp’s leg and attempts to stop him, one of the fairies knocks him off, laughing as he rejoins his group.
Here the player takes control of the story, running, slashing, and even flipping, a talent we did not see in the previous Zelda entry. Then, in a scene reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland, Link enters a tree trunk and falls into the darkness as colorful sketches of clocks, Zoras, Gorons, Dekus, ocarinas, and the bizarre mask surround him.
Link lands onto a flower and faces his assailants, who mock Epona for her stubbornness and inform him that they “got rid of her.” What horrific fate did our sweet horse meet? The imp continues to taunt the boy before shaking his mask to cause what seems to be hypnosis.
Link finds himself surrounded by large Dekus, trapped as he tries to escape. When he awakens from his reverie, he looks into a pool of water and sees that he has been transformed into one himself! The imp and purple fairy vanish behind a wooden door, forgetting the yellow fairy, Tatl, with Link. With no choice but to cooperate, Link and his new reluctant sidekick work through the maze, discovering a somber tree with a face similar to Deku Link’s…
Finally, Link and Tatl enter what appears to be the bottom of a clock tower, gears turning to a steady beat. As the two approach an exit, the game’s most iconic words are spoken by a red-haired mask salesman: “You’ve met with a terrible fate, haven’t you?”
Thus begins what I like to call Side Quest: The Game--and I mean this as a term of endearment. Link’s story is ancillary as we discover how imperative helping others is to completing the game. Yes, the main objective is to return Link to his Hylian form and save Termina from the impending moon crash, but the heart of the game rests within taking the time to speak to and befriend the world’s residents in three days’ time. Link’s name takes a literal meaning as he connects others and is the catalyst in many events, often resetting time in order to fulfill his goals.
Link destroys the evil essence of Majora’s mask and the looming moon, and a rainbow, the quintessential symbol of peace, flies across Termina.
During gameplay, we learn that Skull Kid from the Lost Woods in Hyrule was the one possessed by the evil Majora’s mask and once was a close friend of the Four Giants who aid Link in preventing the collapse of the destructive moon. Skull Kid is ashamed of his involvement in the near-destruction of the world, yet he is humbled to discover the Four Giants still view him as their friend. He approaches Link and asks him to be his friend as well, remarking how “friends are a nice thing to have.”
The Mask Salesman, satisfied with his recovery of Majora’s mask, bids the crew farewell, remarking that Link should be returning to his home. “Whenever there is a meeting, a parting is sure to follow,” he muses. “However, that parting need not last forever… whether a parting be forever or merely for a short time… that is up to you.”
Amusingly, Tatl remarks on the imminent Carnival of Time, bidding a sharp farewell to Link as she urges him to “go about his business.” The young hero nods and follows her suggestion, mounting Epona and riding back to Hyrule as the festivities commence.
Similar to Ocarina of Time’s ending celebration, Majora’s Mask features fireworks, dancing, and joy across the various regions. However, after laboring over several three-day increments and learning the fears and desires of nearly every resident of Termina, the ending of this game feels even more intimate. I am sure many fans will say that Anju and Kafei’s wedding is the highlight of the ending credits--after all, their side-quest is the most time-consuming and potentially heartbreaking--but I think seeing the Deku Butler visiting the melancholy tree we saw at the very beginning of the game, his body trembling in sorrow, is a stark reminder that while people are celebrating, there is always someone suffering. How true is this to real life? The same day a new life enters the world to excited parents and family, another life passes into the unknown, leaving behind grieving loved ones.
However, the final image of a carving of Link, Skull Kid, the Four Giants, Tatl, and Tael in a tree trunk seems to tie back to the Mask Salesman’s wisdom about how a parting need not last forever. Perhaps we all will meet again one day.
Each of the 19 canonical games in the Zelda series offers a unique, engaging story, but we all have our favorites. What are yours?