30 Years of Zelda: The Evolution of Link [Infographic]

The Evolution of Link

Hey! Listen! What was your first Zelda game? Some players have been with the series since 1987, the year the first game was released in America. (The Legend of Zelda officially was first released in 1986 in Japan.) Other players joined the Hyrule adventure in 1998, over a decade later, with the Nintendo 64's Ocarina of Time. And we imagine now, new, young players picking up their 3DS and helping guide Toon Link through his quest in the handheld entries to the franchise. Throughout all of these games, our hero, Link, has evolved and transformed, little by little, due to graphics upgrades, designer and developer choices, outfits, and even hair color. In our infographic, we show all of these changes and give you insight into why the differences happened. So, if you're as excited as we are to plug in the Nintendo Switch for the first time on March 3rd, and play the newest Zelda game, Breath of the Wild, we hope you enjoy this blog. It's dangerous to go alone! Take this.

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The Evolution of Link Transcript


30 Years of Zelda in America

Mario and Link are practically fraternal twins. Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda were developed simultaneously by Shigeru Miyamoto's team at Nintendo.

However, unlike Mario, not every Link is the same Link. Some Links exist at a different point in the timeline or as part of an alternate timeline. But we're not going to get into all that. Instead, the focus of this guide is how Link's primary outfit has changed, in order of game release.


1987—The Legend of Zelda

  • NES

Link's Iconic green tunic and hat and his elf-like appearance were inspired by Disney's Peter Pan. Miyamoto can't recall why he made the character left-handed, but he happens to be left-handed himself.* the game's original concept involved being linked to the past and future and traveling between both, which is why he was named Link.

*Miyamoto writes and draws with his left hand, but plays guitar right-handed.


1988—The Adventure of Link 

(Also worn in: Zelda, Link: The Faces of Evil)

  • Game & Watch
  • NES
  • CD-i

The sequel presented a slightly older Link. His tunic now had stitches on the front and he wore brown leggings, though this didn't translate to the sprite due to color limitations. To save space, side-scrollers often flipped sprites rather than using separate left- and right-facing sets. As a result, this game's Link was only left-handed when facing left.


1992—A Link to the Past 

(Also worn in: Link's Awakening, Oracle of Seasons & Ages)

  • Game Boy
  • SNES
  • Game Boy Color

This incarnation of Link dropped the leggings, but kept the stitched on his tunic. His previously brown hair lightened to a reddish blond, represented in-game as a pinkish red. For the first time Link was given a blue shield, the cross replaced with a Triforce and wings. Oracle of Seasons & Ages added white leggings similar to Ocarina of Time.


1998—Ocarina of Time

  • N64

The first installment in 3D was also the first to present Link as fully blond. The stitches on his tunic were replaced with a notched collar and his sleeves and leggings—called "long underwear" by character designer Yoshiaki Koizumi—became white. Link was given a "handsomer" nose at the request of Koizumi's wife, who complained that all Nintendo characters had "funny" noses.


1998—Ocarina of Time 

(Also worn in: Majora's Mask)

After the older Link was modeled, Miyamoto suggested including the time travel aspect he'd originally envisioned for the first game. The red design on Young Link's wooden shield is possibly a reference to the first game's Red Cross. The in-game model for Majora's Mask added the shoulder strap that didn't make it onto Ocarina of Time's model.


2003—The Wind Waker 

(Also worn in: Four Swords/Adventures, The Minish Cap, Phantom Hourglass, Spirit Tracks, Tri Force Heroes)

  • DS
  • GBA
  • GameCube
  • 3DS

At a time when everyone was pushing realism in games, director Eiji Aonuma wanted to do a game that looked unlike anything else being done. The result was Toon Link, a simplified, expressive, cel-shaded take on the character. He wore light green sleeves instead of white or brown.


2006—Twilight Princess 

(Also worn in: Skyward Sword)

The Wind Waker wasn't well-received overseas where teen gamers felt it looked like a game for children. Aonuma took this as a challenge to create the most realistic take yet. Link now wore chainmail under his tunic. On the Wii, Miyamoto suggested flipping Link's model so his movements would match how right-handed players held the Wii Remote.


2013—A Link Between Worlds

  • 3DS

The character art for this sequel to A Link to the Past had the white-legging Oracle version of Link holding the blue sword and shield used in Ocarina and the Wii games. In-game, his starter shield was orange-and-red like the first game, and when he entered a wall, he became an Adventure of-esque side-scrolling version of Toon Link. In other words, you could say he's a link between Links.


2017—Breath of the Wild

  • Switch

While Skyward Sword removed the textures from the Twilight Princess' gear to achieve a CGI animated look, Breath of the Wild retains the realistic proportions but pushes things into an almost painterly cel-shaded style. The character art depicts him in a blue tunic reminiscent of the one Toon Link wore before he was given a green one. Will Link find a green one by the end of this adventure?


Sources: Art & Artifacts, Hyrule Historia, Edge-Online.com, Gamekult.com, IGN.com, Iwata Asks, NintendoWorldReport.com



Of all the appearances of Legend of Zelda Link, which is your favorite? Ocarina was such a great game, buuut we do have to admit, Wind Waker's little Toon Link is pretty adorable. While you wait for the Switch's release (just days away, now!), you can take a look at our Zelda costumes and accessories.

Design Credit: Kate Willaert

MaDonna Flowers
MaDonna Flowers

MaDonna is a Brand Specialist at HalloweenCostumes.com and has dressed up as a cat well over a dozen times in her life for the holiday. Last year, she dressed as her favorite skeleton, Jaunty.

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