The Legend of Zelda video games certainly have an extraordinary fanbase, and for good reason. Heralded by fans and gaming publications alike as the greatest video game series ever, gamers have been traversing the verdant plains and vast deserts of Hyrule with Link for over 25 years.
Having read about filking in Henry Jenkins’s “Textual Poachers,” my mind jumped to the many filks I’d seen online over the years based on The Legend of Zelda (and countless other games, but, for the purposes of this discussion, we’ll stick to one game series). In filking, or fan music-making, “Fans often write songs from the perspective of fictional characters, singing in their voices, and expressing aspects of their personalities (Jenkins 252).” Youtube houses a host of rap video sung from the perspective of Link, the games’ protagonist, and his fight against Ganon, the antagonist, to rescue Princess Zelda. Known for its musical score by composer Koji Kondo (also the creator of the Super Mario Bros. soundtrack), many gamers hold the ditties across the many Zelda entries near and dear to their hearts.
Because of their recognizable and catchy nature, many fans have remixed the songs from various Legend of Zelda games and amended them with their own lyrics. Jenkins writes that “Filk turns commercial culture back into folk culture,” “one appropriating its resources from those already in broad cultural circulation and often from those which originate elsewhere, in the dominant culture (270).” So, in creating these filk videos, fans are telling a story of a different Link than the one told by Nintendo. Let’s examine some Legend of Zelda filks, shall we?
The musical score is an integral part of the Zelda experience [image from zeldadungeon.net].
First, we have a dubstep and rap remix of the Song of Storms (introduced in 1998’s The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time) called “Here Comes the Storm” by Youtube user None Like Joshua. None Like Joshua creates lyrics to the song (a tune that, when performed on Link’s ocarina [flute], summons rainstorms) to retell the story of Ocarina of Time, in which Link travels across time to save the world from Ganon. The video begins with footage from the game, the scene in which Link first meets the man with the music box who operates the windmill in Kakariko Village. None Like Joshua then begins to rap about Link’s destiny as the Hero of Time chosen by the gods (”I am the chosen one”), using the game’s narrative as a foundation for his lyrics.
What’s interesting is that None Like Joshua uses the first person in his lyrics, projecting them as if the protagonist, Link, were singing them himself. In the Legend of Zelda, Link is not given a speaking role, save for a few grunts from doling out or receiving blows from enemies, and is only tacitly understood to have spoken to characters within the game, mostly in the form of “yes/no” dialog options (”Did you get all that?”). In the context of “Here Comes the Storm,” Link is not the silent, genial character we’ve come to know from the game. No, in “Here Comes the Storm,” Link is a boastful alphamale spelling Ganon’s impending doom (”I’m damn sure to take back the land from Ganondorf,” “Now you’ll feel the rain of vengeance”). Whether by design or by happenstance, Link’s demure, blank-canvas personality allows for fans to recreate him to their desires within their filks.
We see this again in Youtube user RoryWainwrightMusic’s “Hero of Time” another rap video about Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, Ocarina‘s direct sequel in the series’ canon. This song is set to the game’s main theme, and the breakdown at the halfway point features lyrics explicating the ease with which Link disposed of all the villains across the two games (”Ganondorf lacked any skill/and Ganon was an easy kill”).
SPOILERS: Ganon gets stabbed. A lot. [zeldadungeon.net]
Unlike Here Comes the Storm, Hero of Time’s lyrics can serve as a guide for one particular battle within the game (Watch out for Dark Link/You don’t wanna get squeezed/He imitates your actions (”like you’re looking in a mirror/just stay on the island and everything will be clear”). In another nod to fan knowledge, RoryWainwrightMusic samples the “Hey!” from Link’s fairy, Navi, whose shrill voice frustrated many players, and uses the clip to accentuate the song’s beat.
Finally, we’ll end with Youtube user adamwestslapdog’s (NSFW) “Link the Ganon Slayer,” which also features the Legend of Zelda main theme, as well the original dungeon theme. A couple interesting things are happening in this one, perhaps foremost being the consummation between Link and Zelda at the end. There has never been any explicit indication of a romantic relationship between these two characters, but adamwestslapdog reimagines the ending of Link’s quest with a sexual relationship with Zelda (”I ended my quest in the princess so deep/that I busted my nut and then I fell asleep”). Though perhaps a bit coarse, the sentiment may resonate with countless other fans who are longing for intimacy between the two (just check out some of this work-safe fan art and you’ll get the idea).
He also seems to be using the texts between entries in the franchise interchangeably in his montage (which uses footage from several different Zelda games). For example, his lyrics state that Link travels to Death Mountain to confront Ganon, which is indeed where Ganon resides in the original game, but he uses the image of Death Mountain from Ocarina of Time. In that game, Ganon usurps Hyrule Castle (renamed Ganon’s Tower), and in Majora’s Mask (also featured in the video), Ganon does not even make an appearance. Perhaps adamwestslapdog is not concerned so much with series canon but with the shared satisfaction fans felt each time they had slain Ganon across the series’ lifetime.
So what does it all mean? Clearly, we’re seeing what Jenkins describes as fans “rework[ing] commercial culture into a form more compatible with the community’s own interests (273).” Do fans want a more badass Link, rather than the relatively passive one we’ve seen for over a quarter century? Will Nintendo ever bow to fans’ requests and render a tender kiss between Link and Zelda? This fan would have to say “doubtful,” but that doesn’t mean fans won’t stop wishing for it.
Header image: coco.raceme.org
Written with StackEdit.