Hero of the Sands, Bandit King with a gentle heart, arise and claim the Master Sword as your own!

22Aug12

A few days ago, I saw a Kotaku post about an artist’s interpretation of Zelda by way of Prince of Persia. I thought the art was quite lovely and the idea a little intriguing, but I left it alone after that. Tonight, however, I have to admit that the idea has gripped me quite a bit more, and it’s for a very simple reason: making a Zelda game centered on the Gerudo.

First introduced in Ocarina of Time as part of Ganon’s backstory, the Gerudo are a race of desert dwellers, Amazon women who only have a male child every 100 years…and one unlucky (or lucky, depending on your interpretation) century, they got Ganon as that heir. Said heir always becomes the king of the Gerudo. Leaving aside the question of how that works biologically or if this is an intensely infanticidal group of Amazon women, what makes this interesting is the idea of that single male heir. In the far distant past, Ganondorf came to power by virtue of his birth. And some time in the future, in this theoretical game, Link is born as the new Gerudo king.

From the start, that would put the player in a new position. Rather than being an anonymous farmboy or student, Link has been trained from birth to be a leader and warrior to the whole tribe, in a harsh environment that does not tolerate failure. He doesn’t get to discover his destiny, because he’s already living up to it, trying to make sure his people prosper despite suffering under the shadow of being related to the great evil Ganon. Whenever they raid the established kingdoms for plunder, Link must lead them, even if he doesn’t feel right stealing from others to make sure his people survive.

One such raiding party, though, finds a very unusual caravan. Rather than the merchants and their hired guards, Link and his band face an elaborate carriage guarded by Hyrule knights…with Zelda, princess and priestess, inside. Despite his misgivings, Link takes her hostage once they have defeated her guards, hoping for an amazing ransom from her father. But Zelda’s urgings that she must be allowed to complete her task continue to weigh on Link’s mind. Finally, he resolves to free her and escort her; unfortunately, it is too late, and the seal she was charged to strengthen weakens enough for Ganon to break free. To atone for his part in letting Ganon go free again, Link must abandon his tribe, help Zelda recreate the seal, and finally weaken Ganon enough to push him back into the Dark World and save all of Hyrule.

I’ll admit, some of the details here aren’t required for such a game to work: the Gerudo could simply be territorial about outsiders, rather than regularly raiding other people. But the important thing is the idea that as Link, you are not the quiet person who suddenly becomes the Chosen One. Instead, you would play a character that was already apparently chosen for one destiny, and then finds himself doing something very different. Moreover, you would be the outsider in most of the world; your friends would all be Gerudo that you left behind, while Hylians would alternately gawk at you or treat you with suspicion. Then there would be the tension among your own people of whether Ganon’s return means defeating him to save everyone, including the Gerudo….or if you should instead be leading your people to follow Ganon and take over Hyrule for him. Link’s own path would be clear, but not all of the Gerudo would agree with it.

It would also be a way to make a major game be about a non-white protagonist without making their appearance a real-world issue. An Arabic-appearing Link that would still fit in the lore of Hyrule would be a major step forward in game representation, and broaden the idea of who the Hero could be for Zelda games in particular (and would fit with the idea of co-operative multiplayer or switching between Zelda and Link I’ve previously discussed). The only real danger would be if Link suddenly became lily white upon finding out he was the Hero, which would turn this from a great idea into a SUPER RACIST one.

Still, the possibility excites me.

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