Top o’ the Lot: Top 5 Zelda Companions
Hello, and welcome to another edition of Top o’ the Lot! To celebrate the release of the Breath of the Wild, we’re going to taking another look at the Legend of Zelda series today. Though to be honest, I’ll usually take just about any excuse to talk about Zelda, since it’s a personal favorite of mine. This time around, we’ll be counting down the characters that accompany Link on his journey, the companions. Whether it’s traveling with him across the game world, aiding him in battle, or simply getting his thoughts across for us (what with him being a silent protagonist and all), Link’s companions serve an indispensable role in the games. There’s a wide variety to choose from and a lot of them can be compelling in different ways, so for my criteria, I’m judging them for strength as a character, role in the story, and usefulness in their supporting role. I should also go ahead and mention that I decided to not include Epona or other steeds, mostly because they never get a chance to show much character. Oh, and for anyone who hasn’t played any of these decades old games, there’s going to be spoilers here from the games’ stories. With that out of the way, let’s get on to the countdown!
Honorable Mention: Zelda (Spirit Tracks)
For our first honorable mention, we have the namesake for the entire series, Princess Zelda. While it wasn’t the best Zelda game by any stretch, Spirit Tracks did have a number of intriguing features, including the opportunity to team up with a disembodied Zelda as she possessed suits of armor so that the two of you could get through the games dungeons. It was pretty neat to have Zelda take a more active role for a change, and I’d love for Nintendo to give Zelda more opportunities to be part of the action, but she remains an honorable mention here because “companion” is hardly the first thing you’d think of when it comes to Zelda’s place in the series. Still, it was a fun change of pace.
Honorable Mention: Tatl (Majora’s Mask)
Another honorable mention goes to Tatl, the irritable fairy from Majora’s Mask. Tatl actually starts off the game in cahoots with the Skull Kid, the game’s antagonist, helping him to steal your horse and leave you stranded in Termina; she only starts tagging along with you after the Skull Kid abandons her. This certainly makes Tatl stand out, since she comes from the enemy camp, which provides us with some interesting insights to our foe in the form of flashbacks. She also has a lot more sass to her than most of Link’s companions; she doesn’t show much remorse for her initial antics until a good deal into the game. She doesn’t make my top 5, though, because she feels too much to me like Navi if Navi were a jerk. While her attitude may be a lot saltier, she is still the copycat here. Oh well.
5) Fi (Skyward Sword)
Starting off the Top 5, we have the spirit of the Master Sword, Fi. I realize that at this point, a lot of folks are scoffing at the screen. Fi has a reputation for being an annoying character, and that reputation is not completely unearned. For most of the game, she displays very little in the way of personality, coming off as more robotic than many of Skyward Sword’s actual robots. While this does create a nice duality with her sinister counterpart Ghirahim, it still means that we’re dealing with a pretty cold character for most of the game. But she makes my list for two reasons. First, I love the concept of the Master Sword, one of the most iconic elements from the whole series, having a mind of its own. Acquiring the Blade of Evil’s Bane for the first time is a big moment in any Zelda game, and I think that it adds a lot to these scenes when you know that it’s actually a reunion between two old friends. This alone wouldn’t be enough to overcome her bland personality, but Skyward Sword does end with a fairly moving farewell scene, one that does show Fi’s growth over the game. Even if it was mostly shown in just one scene, it was still nice to see that Fi had a heart after all. It is true that Fi made it into my Top 5 more because of her concept than her character traits, but I still find that the way she added to the lore of the overall franchise earns her a spot on this list.
4) Linebeck (Phantom Hourglass)
Coming up next on our list, we have your shipmate from Phantom Hourglass on the DS: Linebeck. Although he doesn’t accompany you into dungeons, you still spend a lot of time with Linebeck as he ferries you around the game’s seas. The intrepid treasure-hunter makes the list because honestly, he’s just a fun character; he’s a cowardly, arrogant bumbler, but one with a lot heart and charm. He plays the lovable rogue archetype quite well, a role that sets him apart from almost every other companion. He’s also one of the companions who gets to show some character development over the course of his game, slowly growing a backbone towards the end. It’s also a neat twist to have a possessed companion serve as the game’s final boss. Throughout the game, Linebeck is a constant source of entertainment, and most would agree that he is the funniest companion Link has ever had. Phantom Hourglass was made a lot better by having him in it, and he stands pretty tall among all companions.
3) Navi (Ocarina of Time)
Those of you who where upset to see Fi in the Top 5 are likely none too pleased to see Navi in the Top 3. Navi’s reputation as an annoying character has become legendary over the years, and the games tendency to use her to drop its exposition dumps and plot hooks was indeed quite hamfisted. But I genuinely believe that Navi’s annoying tendencies are exaggerated quite a bit by most; yes, hearing “Hey!” and “Listen!” gets old after a while, but it’s hardly the constant barrage of interruptions that a lot of people make it out to be. Still, Navi can be a pest, and she doesn’t have much in the way of character to be honest. But I still have her in the Top 3 because she is far and away the most iconic companion from the entire series, and defined many of the conventions for Zelda companions. She serves as a source of information and advice, aids you in combat by locking on to targets, and is the only character to stay by Link’s side throughout the journey. Navi is pretty generic in terms of personality (which is the main reason she isn’t any higher), but she fills her role well, serving as Link’s faithful companion through thick and thin, leaving his side only once when Ganondorf’s power forced her away. No matter what else you want to say about Navi, she is one of the most widely recognized characters in the entire series, and is the cornerstone upon which other companions are built, cementing her place near the top of our list.
2) The King of Red Lions (Wind Waker)
Taking the silver medal, we have Link’s guide and primary mode of transportation from Wind Waker, the King of Red Lions. After rescuing Link from drowning after his first failed attempt at rescuing his sister, the King provides guidance to Link, helping him to overcome the trials of the hero and claim the Master Sword. In his role as an adviser and in driving the plot, the King does a better job than most, bringing a mystique and air of wisdom to his words and actions that is executed quite well. But the qualities that truly set your boat companion apart come to light when you discover his true identity. About half way through the game, you find out that the King of Red Lions is in fact the King of Hyrule, and that both he and his kingdom had been sealed away beneath the ocean generations before.
The King of Red Lions distinguishes himself from his fellow companions for being one of the most developed figures in the entire Zelda franchise. Wind Waker is better than any other Zelda game at conveying personality, and so the King gets to show quite a range of moods over the course of the game, from solemn to jolly to triumphant to despondent. But in the end, you really get to appreciate what a tragic figure he really is. The King of Red Lions is a leader who failed his kingdom; when Ganon returned in his time, he was not able to stop him. When they turned to the gods for help, the Demon King was sealed away along with Hyrule itself, and the King had to wait for centuries, a ghost haunting a memory. At the end of Wind Waker, it seems like the forces of good have failed again, with Ganondorf poised to use the Triforce to take Hyrule for himself. The King beats him to the punch, though, instead choosing to let go of the past, put an end to his kingdom, and entrust the future to Link and Zelda.
The King of Red Lions making his sacrifice for our heroes is one of the most moving scenes from any Zelda game. In the end, he was a man consumed by his regrets, but who made the choice to give up on his most cherished desires so that those who lived on the surface could have hope. Watching the ocean come crashing down on his forgotten kingdom, with Link reaching out for him one last time, only for the King to be swallowed by the depths as Link is swept away…all of this makes for the most powerful and heart-wrenching ending to any Zelda game. Ganon may have been vanquished and our heroes are ready to set off across the horizon into a new world, but it’s hard not to feel a sense of melancholy when seeing the King of Red Lion’s now lifeless eyes.
All told, the King of Red Lions is one of the most complex and all-around best characters in any Zelda game. Traveling with him as a companion was a great experience, and it feels like you two form a genuine bond over the course of your adventure, which makes your final farewell an extremely moving moment. Hell, the moment where the King gives up on reaching out to Link for the last time is the saddest moment in the whole series to me, and it breaks my heart every time I see it. I was really close to putting the King in the top spot overall, but in the end, it just had to be…
1) Midna (Twilight Princess)
Coming in at #1, we have the eponymous imp from Twilight Princess, Midna.
We first meet the diminutive gremlin after Link first enters a realm of Twilight, transforms into a wolf, and is captured by his enemies. Our initial impression of the mysterious Midna is not a terribly pleasant one; without explaining her motives or the situation, she presses Link into service. She does help him escape from his captivity, but makes it clear that she is just using Link for her own ends. Eventually, though, we find out that she is actually the princess of the Twilight Realm, who had been exiled and transformed into an imp by a usurper, Zant.
There are many Zelda companions who are great at supporting Link. There are many Zelda companions who are great characters in their own right. There are many Zelda companions who have a story to tell that is all their own.
But none of them quite like Midna.
In terms of gameplay, Midna offers the usual services of providing tips and locking on to enemies, but goes above and beyond a simple supporting role. Over the course of the game, she allows you to teleport across the map, helps you to transform in and out of wolf form, and shows herself to be an absolute powerhouse. Using the power of her magic, she is able to open passages, strike down foes, and even overpower the final boss. No other companion provides the amount of heavy lifting (both literally and figuratively) that Midna brings to the table.
More importantly, though, Midna is a substantial, strong, and well-defined character. In fact, one could argue that the game is really her story moreso than it is Link’s. She is a ruler forced out of her kingdom, stuck in a world full of people she’s always resented. She is driven forward by a need to take back her rightful place, and she works with Link to these ends. She is not there to support Link as he finds his destiny; if anything, he’s there to support her. The two search for the Fused Shadows so that she can use them, seek out the pieces of the Twilight Mirror to return to her realm. The two are brought together by mutual interests, but she has a story all her own, and her motivations are the ones most directly driving the plot forward. Unlike other companions, Midna is not Link’s sidekick or even his guide; she and Link are genuinely partners. Both in terms of competence and their role in the the story, Link and Midna feel like equals, which sets her apart from her peers.
In my opinion, though, the thing that makes Midna the best companion is the strength of her character arc. Far more than any other companion, Midna shows real growth throughout the story. She starts off the game as a petulant, flippant, and selfish person, quick to dismiss the suffering of others and focused solely on her own revenge. She initially treats Link like a servant, bossing him around, mocking his misfortunes, and even riding him like a pack mule. But as the two quest and struggle together, they form a genuine bond. She slowly starts to treat him more and more kindly, and acts more and more selflessly overall. By the time you’ve claimed all of the Fused Shadows, she puts Link’s needs before her own, asking Zelda to return Link to his human form rather than save her life. By the end of the game, she is going out of her way to save both Link and Zelda while putting her own life on the line. Midna becoming a better person feels earned and satisfying, as does her friendship with Link. Consequently, the sorrow also feels earned when she leaves for her home and seals the door behind her so that the two realms can never threaten each other again. Much like the separation from the King of Red Lions, Link’s final farewell with Midna has a huge emotional impact due to the bond we’d seen develop and Midna’s great strength as a character.
Over the years, the Zelda franchise has provided us with a number of fascinating, entertaining, and memorable characters. In the end, though, none of them can quite touch Midna. For her strength as a character, all that she brings to the gameplay as a supporting character, and the way she impacts and enhances so many aspects of the game, she is this weeks Top o’ the Lot!
So there you have it! What did you think? Please let me know in the comments and thank you for reading!