by Celeste Roberts
Imagine a Zelda game--or nearly any adventure video game--without non-playable characters (NPCs). Perhaps this scenario would be your dream come true; perhaps you loathe side quests or engaging in inane chit-chat with characters you cannot even control. They slow you down; they stand in your way. They are merely backdrops as you traverse the span of Hyrule, the Great Sea, Termina… whatever location needs Link.
Or perhaps, like yours truly, you would notice something amiss in such a video game. No characters to care about saving from some looming evil. No delightful quips from shopkeepers or barmaids to give you a chuckle. No mini games to help you earn more Rupees or items (the horror!).
In my real life, I often wonder what everyone’s story is. A cool word to describe this curiosity is sonder, “the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.” If I spot another person, animal, creature, or non-playable entity in a game, I’m taking time to chat with them--even multiple times (bothering people frequently like this is frowned upon in real life, so I have to exercise this ability in the virtual world).
The characters Link encounters on his quests are from all walks of life: wealth, poverty, entrepreneurship, weapon mastery, family wrangler, education… the list is seemingly endless. I especially love learning more about the NPCs’ hopes and dreams, as well as their connections to other characters. Spoiler: Who else feels bad for Cremia after learning she has romantic feelings for Kafei?
Instead of listing my favorite NPCs in the Zelda universe, I would like to acknowledge the roles—and a few of the people in those roles—that enhance Link’s adventure or assist him in his mission to thwart evil.
Yes, Link can cut grass and bushes to acquire countable items, like Rupees, arrows, and Deku nuts, but some parts of his inventory rely on the business savvy of shopkeepers or merchants he encounters. Take Beedle in The Wind Waker: he sells a Bait Bag, which holds All-Purpose Bait for Link to use to summon Fishmen or feed pigs and rats. These creatures can then provide Link information for his Sea Chart and Pieces of Heart. Another useful merchant in this same game is Zunari, who sells his sole sail to Link and then offers him decorations to spruce up Windfall Island. Playing the role of the island’s exterior decorator earns Link a Piece of Heart, and we all know the value in increasing Link’s lifeforce.
What about the precocious Malo in Twilight Princess? He sells the Hylian Shield in his titular shop, and one must admit that a shield incapable of bursting into flames (sorry, Ordon Shield) is mighty valuable. Another cool item, the Hawkeye, though not essential, is quite helpful in sniper-esque missions in the game. Other young folks who establish businesses include the Kokiri in Ocarina of Time (although I am left to wonder about the point in exchanging currency since the Kokiri cannot even leave their home, lest they perish).
Let’s not forget the handy Blue Ring in the original The Legend of Zelda--a merchant offers this damage-reducing piece of jewelry for a meager 250 Rupees. Similar items include the jewel version of Magic Armor from Zunari in The Wind Waker and a full set of armor at Malo Mart in Twilight Princess. Any merchant willing to make Link’s quest easier is a true hero.
A comfortable bed to rest after a long, draining day of saving the world is all any explorer needs, and, thankfully, Hyrule and the other lands in The Legend of Zelda series have multiple locations where Link can sleep.
Although Link usually has a house to call his own, there are a few games where he relies on innkeepers to provide a roof over his head. Sleeping typically restores health and prepares him for another day of adventuring; in Breath of the Wild, some inns offer special soft beds for a few more Rupees, allowing Link to enjoy an extra heart. I don’t know whether I could sleep soundly in one of the stables, though--I need my own room! At least I could slumber a little easier knowing the innkeeper is taking care of my horse in the stable section.
One of the most memorable inns for me is The Stockpot Inn in Majora’s Mask. Meal service from sweet Anju (albeit not very tasty), entertaining residents, and a room called “the Knife Chamber '' bearing a treasure chest with 100 Rupees… what’s not to love about the hospitality this business provides? I guess my only complaint is the location of the sole lavatory in the building… and the occupant…
In The Minish Cap, Link can sleep in one of three rooms at the Happy Hearth Inn in Hyrule Town. Emma, the inn’s clerk, is hospitable enough to include gifts for those who patron the business. If you need your hearts restored or Kinstone Pieces, Emma’s workplace is essential in your quest. Usually I just receive complimentary bars of soap at hotels, so I might need to begin inquiring about extra amenities.
Mini Game Proprietors:
Mini games and side quests make Zelda games so enjoyable for me. They can be challenging but rewarding. I doubt Link finds himself in the doldrums (Peahats in Hyrule Field can keep him on his toes—quite literally), but every so often, he needs a little stress relief after battling ghastly monsters. Thank goodness for the entertainment resources scattered throughout the world! Bombchu bowling, shooting galleries, digging for treasure, fishing, claw games, and a grave digging tour (!!!) are but a few types of mini games Link can enjoy.
I’m trying to picture the moment the proprietors imagined their games. Was there severe demand in Hyrule for games that use literal bombs? Were parents on board with allowing their children to harness weapons that could easily injure themselves or other unfortunate players? Did Dampe think, “You know what would make the night shift go by more quickly? Digging up some of these graves! But only a little bit to avoid disturbing remains”? Is Selmie satisfied staying in the frozen Hebra region, where she teaches snowboard shield surfing?
Also, would the Zelda-equivalent of PETA be all right with Talon forcing Cuccos to play hide-and-seek at Lon Lon Ranch?
I think my favorite mini game creator is Salvatore in The Wind Waker. He runs Squid Hunt (akin to Battleship) and Barrel Shoot and looks as though he would rather be on the receiving end of the cannonballs than stuck proctoring this mini game. Unable to fulfill his dream of becoming a renowned painter, he spends his time crafting wooden cut-outs to role play characters to make his mini game more engaging. Frankly, anyone who is willing to impersonate sea captains and damsels in distress while shouting “KA-BOOM” is a hero worthy of endless praise.
The mail carriers in The Legend of Zelda series provide Link with useful information, a fun s
orting mini game in The Wind Waker (bonus points for this), and idiosyncrasies only those sworn to a life of duty and service can provide. First appearing in Majora’s Mask, the Postman is a fountain of information since he delivers items to everyone in Clock Town; however, he follows a regimented lifestyle in which altering even a few seconds can mess up
his day. The Rito assume the courier role in The Wind Waker, which makes sense because of their ability to fly to different islands. In Twilight Princess, the Postman
makes a mad dash for Link at predetermined locations, bearing an important item
update at a shop, a change in plot, or simply a kind thought from another NPC.
You know that feeling when you see a delivery driver drop off a package to your front door or spy some holiday cards in your mailbox? I feel this way whenever I receive mail or a package in a Zelda game.
Sometimes you want to use a walkthrough or Player’s Guide to assist you in completing a game, and sometimes you would prefer to figure out puzzles and where to journey to next on your own. Unfortunately, I don’t always play a game for multiple hours or days, and I often have been left scratching my head at trying to remember what I need to do and where I need to go next whenever I pick up a game after several months (or even years).
I am not shy about admitting I rely on walkthroughs and my old-school physical game guides, but if I am feeling bold and fearless, I like to use what is available to me in most Zelda games: fortune tellers. First appearing in A Link the Past, these enigmatic clairvoyants provide hints for a few Rupees. Subsequent games feature named crystal gazers, like Madame Fanadi in Twilight Princess, Astrid in Phantom Hourglass, and Sparrot in Skyward Sword. Barring the most infamous fortune teller, Astor in Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, these mysterious folks are an invaluable resource if you aim to collect every Heart Piece or simply need a little help with progressing in the game.
I personally would love to learn more about the fortune tellers’ pasts and tribes. Madame Fanadi has red eyes and the Sheikah symbol on her forehead, and the cloaked oracles in A Link to the Past never reveal their faces. Are any of them connected to some divine power through the goddesses?
What are some other NPC roles you admire in the Zelda series? Let me know on Twitter!