It's one of the most successful and beloved video game franchises of all time. The Legend of Zelda, first established in the game of the same name in 1986, is still massively popular over thirty years later. The adventures of the hero Link and Princess Zelda, and their struggle against the unending malice of the villain Ganon, have captivated the gaming world.
But The Legend of Zelda is more than the story of those three characters.
It's true that Link appears in every game in the franchise, and Zelda appears in almost all of them, as does Ganon. But if the games relied solely on those characters for their stories, the series wouldn't have lasted very long. With Nintendo's legendary game developers like Shigeru Miyamoto and Eiji Aonuma leading the way, Zelda's designers have created hundreds of supporting characters to populate the lands traversed by Link. From shopkeepers and royal guards to comrades in arms and family members, the games are full of memorable faces.
Here are 15 Of The Very Best Supporting Characters. Spoilers follow!
15 Old Man - The Legend of Zelda
"It's dangerous to go alone! Take this." With those iconic words, the Old Man gave Link a sword and sent him off on his very first adventure (and, decades later, inspired a ton of memes).
As a character, the Old Man isn't very well defined. He's not given an actual name, after all. Link encounters a handful of these men throughout the 1986 classic, and it's generally accepted that they are meant to be different characters, rather than just one well-traveled individual. Similarly nameless men can be found in the twin Game Boy titles Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons, and it looks like the tradition will continue in the upcoming Breath of the Wild. Previews of that game have featured another character simply dubbed the Old Man who guides Link on his journey.
Wise old men are something of a motif in the Zelda games, from the Seven Wise Men of Hyrule legend to A Link to the Past's Sahasrahla and Skyward Sword's Gaepora, all of them taking inspiration from Link's original 8-bit guide.
14 King of Red Lions - The Wind Waker
The Wind Waker was a divisive game, at least before its release, with many gamers unimpressed by its cel-shaded graphics. Those who gave it a chance, however, found it to be one of the best games in the series with many unique charms.
The game boasts a number of interesting characters, but arguably none of them stand out more than the King of Red Lions, the faithful talking boat upon which Link traverses the sea. Though he's not Link's first reliable means of transportation (that honor belongs to Ocarina of Time's Epona), he is critical to the hero's success: after all, Link could not hope to complete his quest without the boat's help.
A talking boat is a peculiar companion, and during the course of the game's story it is revealed that the King of Red Lions is inhabited by the spirit of the King of Hyrule himself, Daphnes Nohansen Hyrule. Far below the waves of Link's ocean world lies the sealed kingdom of Hyrule, where the King waits for the hero to finally defeat the evil Ganondorf.
Link (and the gamer) become quite attached to the talking boat throughout the course of the game. When the story ends with Hyrule and its King vanishing forever, Link is left with a functional but silent boat: a touching and constant reminder of the King's sacrifice.
13 Ravio - A Link Between Worlds
The Zelda series has often dealt with parallel worlds, perhaps most notably in Majora's Mask with the strange world of Termina. As its name suggests, A Link Between Worlds is another adventure in which Link must travel to a different world: this time it's Lorule, a mirror dimension to Hyrule.
A mirror world comes with mirror characters, and like Termina before it, Lorule is dotted with familiar faces. Princess Hilda, for instance, is a doppelganger of Princess Zelda, but has none of her counterpart's wisdom and selflessness. Instead, she is desperate to restore her kingdom to its former glory, even if it means destroying Hyrule in the process by stealing its Triforce.
That's where Ravio comes in: he is Link's Lorule counterpart. Where Link is brave, Ravio is cowardly: but like Link, he is fundamentally good. A servant of Princess Hilda, he couldn't abide her plan to destroy Hyrule and traveled to the mirror world to enlist Link's help. But when Hilda is ready to enact her destructive plan, it's Ravio himself that stands in her way, and convinces her they can't save their world if it means dooming another.
He may not be a brave warrior, but Ravio is heroic in his own way.
12 Groose - Skyward Sword
The Zelda timeline is complicated, to put it mildly. It splits into three branches after Ocarina of Time, after all. With Skyward Sword, Nintendo turned back the clock all the way to the beginning: it's the very first Zelda game, chronologically speaking, taking place even before the Kingdom of Hyrule has been established.
The very first incarnations of Link and Zelda live in the sky on the floating island of Skyloft, where they are fellow students at the Knight Academy. Among their classmates is Groose, an arrogant blowhard who bullies Link and pines for Zelda. When a tornado sends Zelda spiraling to the surface, Groose falls into a depression while Link journeys off to save her. Eventually following his adversary to the mysterious world below, Groose finds a new purpose. Accepting that Link is the hero destined to save Zelda, he forges his own role in the story, working with the aged Impa to keep the Sealed Grounds safe from the escape attempts of The Imprisoned.
Though many characters in the series don't experience much in the way of growth, Groose is a notable exception. His transformation from an immature and selfish bully to a brave and loyal friend is one of the most compelling elements of Skyward Sword's story.
11 Ralph - Oracle of Ages
Link is often the only heroic figure in the Zelda games, with the world depending on him and him alone. That isn't quite the case in Oracle of Ages.
Another of Link's adventures to parallel worlds, this one finds him in Labrynna, a world in danger from the machinations of an evil sorceress bent on changing its history. Ralph is the friend and protector of the sage Nayru, the titular Oracle of Ages. When the sorceress Veran possesses Nayru's body and travels into the past, Ralph is determined to be the one who saves her.
Like Groose in Skyward Sword, Ralph isn't content to wait around and let Link save the day: and, like Groose, he ultimately learns that running off without a plan isn't a great idea. He ultimately swallows his pride and realizes that working with Link is the best way to ensure Nayru's safety, and the two become friends.
10 Tingle - Majora's Mask/The Wind Waker
In a series that has spanned 18 games, it's safe to say that no character has been as polarizing as Tingle, the 35-year-old forest fairy enthusiast. First appearing in Majora's Mask, and then again in The Wind Waker, he is both loved and hated in equal measure. Nintendo certainly seems to like him though, as he continues to appear in a number of Zelda games, either as a character or a 'blink or you'll miss it' cameo like a doll or a painting.
Tingle can certainly be grating, but there's just something about his boyish innocence and whimsy that is too charming to ignore. Whether dancing around the world of Termina or lording over his personal island, he is constantly happy and eager to help Link (for the right price). He draws maps and decodes charts with the magic words (which he created, so don't steal them) Tingle, Tingle, Kooloo-Limpah!
An adult man who dresses like a fairy, in the hopes of actually becoming a fairy himself, while drawing maps and selling them for profit? Only Nintendo could come up with something like that.
9 Tatl - Majora's Mask
"Hey, listen!" Anyone who has played Ocarina of Time will forever be haunted by those words, said again (and again and again and again) by Navi, Link's fairy companion. In a game widely regarded as flawless, the annoying fairy is one of the few complaints that fans are able to cite.
Nintendo must have recognized this, as for Ocarina's pseudo-sequel, Majora's Mask, they excised Navi and replaced her with a new fairy companion, Tatl. There are a number of key differences between Tatl and Navi, even if they look the same. For starters, Tatl emits different chimes to draw Link's attention, rather than screeching at him.
Tatl is also a more developed character than Navi. Tatl and her brother Tael (get it?) are companions of Skull Kid until the influence of Majora's Mask changes him. When she is separated from her brother and Skull Kid, she is forced to team up with Link to find them again, but she is not happy about the arrangement. Unlike Navi, who is pleasant to Link right from the start, Navi has little respect for him and blames him for her predicament. As their adventure continues, however, she comes to like her new companion and works in concert with him to stop Skull Kid from destroying the world.
8 Link's Grandma - The Wind Waker
Link's Grandma in The Wind Waker may not be that important of a character in the grand scheme of things. Her only real contribution to the story is giving Link the hero's clothes that he wears throughout his journey, and since she never leaves Outset Island, the player's interactions with her are limited. Still, it's her relationship with Link and his sister Aryll that gives the story much of its emotion and makes her a truly memorable character.
Anyone who has ever dearly loved their grandmother (or any other close family figure) will instantly recognize and relate to Link's relationship with his Grandma. She is constantly doting over him and his sister, and when Aryll is kidnapped she is absolutely heartbroken. Link, being young and brave, immediately sets out to rescue his sister, but the thought of her grandson venturing out into the perilous world is another emotional blow for Grandma. The goodbye they share before he sets off on his journey is remarkably touching, with Link waving from the deck of Tetra's ship and Grandma watching sadly from her porch.
Her plight is made even sadder when Link returns to find her in a deep sleep, murmuring about how much she misses her grandchildren. She doesn't wake up until Aryll has been saved, at which point she accepts that Link must go on his adventure and offers him support, love and as many bottles of hot soup as he can carry.
7 Saria - Ocarina of Time
Ocarina of Time is an incredible game for a number of reasons, not least of which is its emotional story. Link's journey from child to man and back again is filled with loss and sacrifice, and much of that is embodied by Saria.
Link's childhood friend (and, in an innocent Nintendo fashion, sweetheart) Saria is a member of the ageless Kokiri who live in the forest. Though Link is raised among them, he is actually Hylian, meaning unlike the Kokiri, he will grow up. When Link's destiny finally dictates that he must leave the forest, Saria is there to say goodbye in a masterfully crafted scene. As the friends part ways, and Link takes a couple of halting steps before finally running away and not looking back, Saria is left alone in the quiet of the forest.
Separated by circumstance, they are later separated by time as well, as Link is sealed in the Sacred Realm for seven years after Ganondorf takes over Hyrule. Having grown into a young man during his slumber, Link is reunited with Saria, and learns that she is one of the seven sages who can bind Ganondorf. As a sage, however, Saria must leave Hyrule and reside in the Sacred Realm, and the friends are separated once again.
As much as Link and Saria care for each other, circumstances and fate dictate that they can never be together for very long.
6 Happy Mask Salesman - Majora's Mask
Not all Zelda characters are pleasant and helpful. Some of them are creepy (and occasionally helpful).
The Happy Mask Salesman first appears in Ocarina of Time, running a shop in Hyrule Castle Town and exchanging masks with Link. He's generally pleasant, unless you stiff him on a payment: then he flies into a nearly psychotic rage (albeit one from which he recovers quickly). Clearly, there's something wrong with this guy.
It's unclear who or what exactly the Happy Mask Salesman is, but he's certainly not normal. That much is confirmed by his mere presence in Majora's Mask. While most people in Termina are doppelgangers of Hyrule's citizens, it is generally accepted that the Happy Mask Salesman Link encounters within Termina's Clock Tower is the very same guy he met in Hyrule. How that's possible is never quite explained, but he is no less passionate about his masks in his new surroundings. Losing Majora's Mask to Skull Kid upsets him greatly (to put it mildly) and he coerces Link into finding it for him (and gives him a real good shaking when he fails).
The Salesman's true nature and purpose in the Zelda universe is still being debated, but whatever the case may be, he is one of the most memorable characters we've met.
5 Fi - Skyward Sword
Link has had a companion character alongside him in every major console release since Ocarina of Time. The fairies Navi and Tatl guided him on the Nintendo 64, and the King of Red Lions and Midna did the same on the Gamecube. For his first Wii-only adventure (which put such an emphasis on the Wii Remote), it was only fitting that his companion would be the embodiment of his sword.
Fi is a spirit created by the goddess Hylia that resides within the Goddess Sword. It is she who awakens the first Link to his heroic destiny during the events of Skyward Sword, and serves as his companion as he seeks to rescue Zelda. Part of Link's task in Skyward Sword is to imbue the Goddess Sword with new power, the result of which is the creation of the Master Sword, the famous blade that different Links have wielded throughout time.
Fi is a very unique character, both in design and personality. Outwardly, her visage is clearly inspired by the Master Sword itself, while her personality is oddly akin to an artificial intelligence. She initially views her purpose as Link's guide (and Link himself) coldly and dispassionately, but his influence on her makes her a much warmer and more human entity. By the time she returns to her sleep within the sword, a lasting bond has been established.
4 Impa - Skyward Sword
It could be argued that Impa is more of a main character than a supporting one. She has appeared in a number of the games, after all, beginning with the very first one. Like Link, Zelda, and Ganon, she has a number of incarnations that appear throughout the ages.
It's her appearance in Skyward Sword that is singled out here, because of her remarkable selflessness and heroism. A member of the Sheikah Tribe devoted to serving the will of the goddess Hylia, Impa rescues Zelda from the evil Ghirahim and escorts the youth on her journey of self discovery. Zelda is actually Hylia herself in a reincarnated form, and Impa gladly risks her own life to ensure her safety.
Impa has traveled forward in time to help Zelda: her own time is centuries in the past, and it's into the past that she and Zelda journey in order to find safety. When Zelda's memories of her life as Hylia are restored, she is placed in a deep sleep in order to keep The Imprisoned/Demise sealed away. Link must ultimately travel back in time himself to defeat Demise, after which Impa remains behind in her own time to guard the Sealed Temple alone. Returning to their own time centuries later, Link and Zelda realize that Impa is still alive: she's the mysterious Old Woman who has been helping them on their quest. With Zelda finally safe, Impa is able to move on to whatever reward awaits a faithful member of the Sheikah.
3 Skull Kid - Majora's Mask
Majora's Mask has appeared a lot on this list, and rightfully so: it's one of the best Zelda games ever made, with a memorable cast of characters. Perhaps none of them are more memorable than the misunderstood 'villain' of the story, Skull Kid.
Skull Kid is a mischievous individual by nature, but mischief gives way to malice when he dons Majora's Mask. Possessing an evil magic, the mask imbues its wearer with power while bringing out the worst in him or her. But it is also capable of its own thought and action, as seen when it finally removes itself from Skull Kid, deeming him a puppet that is no longer of use.
Skull Kid himself is essentially a lonely kid who lost his way. Seemingly an ageless being, he was once a friend of the Four Giants who guard the land of Termina, but when they left to assume that role, he felt abandoned, and his resentment grew. When the Giants return to save Termina from the power of Majora's Mask, he learns that they still care about him, and he is able to move on.
2 Midna - Twilight Princess
Midna is a companion who doesn't treat Link all that well, at least at first. When twilight descends on Hyrule during the events of Twilight Princess, and Link is turned into a wolf, it's Midna (herself a creature of the twilight) who comes to his rescue. But she doesn't do it out of selfless compassion. As the deposed ruler of the Twilight Realm, she needs a hero like Link to help her take back her home from the evil Zant.
Like Tatl before her, Midna is immediately memorable simply due to her mischievous attitude: she toys with Link even as she helps him, teasing him that she might leave him in his wolf form permanently, and that Hyrule is a better place under the twilight. But after Zelda seemingly sacrifices herself to save her life, Midna begins to take her quest far more seriously. Though at first she only cared about saving her own realm, she becomes determined to help Link save Hyrule as well.
The design of her character is also very unique, both in her diminished 'imp' form and at the end of the game in her true form. The denizen of the Twilight Realm has made just one appearance in the series so far (not counting Hyrule Warriors), but hopefully she will return some day.
1 Sheik - Ocarina of Time
Ok, this is a bit of a cheat. As anyone who has completed Ocarina of Time will know, Sheik is actually Princess Zelda in disguise. After Ganondorf conquered Hyrule, Zelda went into hiding and donned the disguise of a young Sheikah in order to move relatively freely throughout the land. In this way she was able to help the people of Hyrule in small ways and help guide Link when he returned as a young adult.
So while Sheik isn't really her own character, for most of the Ocarina of Time storyline, she is presented as just that. It's only late in the game that Zelda reveals her subterfuge (and is promptly captured by Ganondorf).
But Sheik is much more than just a clever disguise. After all, Nintendo continues to include her in games like Smash Bros. and Hyrule Warriors, long after the mystery of her true identity has been revealed. Why is she so cool?
For starters, she's basically a ninja, and ninjas are cool by default. Her fighting style in Smash Bros. reflects that. More than that, she plays a critical role in the story of Ocarina of Time, guiding Link as he seeks to awaken the sages that can challenge Ganondorf. Every time she appears to him, she offers him words of wisdom and teaches him a new Ocarina song, and each encounter is backed by Koji Kondo's "Sheik's Theme", a simple yet elegant and touching harp piece.
For all of these reasons, Sheik has transcended her status as 'Zelda's disguise' and become a beloved character in her own right.
There are so many great characters in the Zelda series that it's impossible to include them all here. From Ocarina of Time's Malon and Princess Ruto to Wind Waker's Medli and Makar, the list goes on and on. What are some of your favorites?