Compared to other games in the Zelda series, Twilight Princess never offered a definitive backstory that relates it to other games. Although its timeline placement is firmly secured on the child arc, ages after Majora’s Mask, the game doesn’t begin with a set connection to another game. That is not to say that Twilight Princess is without a backstory entirely, because all throughout the game references are made to a hero of old, and the conflict surrounding him. Beyond mere references, in Twilight Princess Link comes face to face with the referenced ancient hero. In Twilight Princess, the Hero of Time makes an appearance, as the character that has come to be known as the Hero’s Shade.
It didn’t take fans long to conclude that the Hero’s Shade of Twilight Princess was the Hero of Time, and Hyrule Historia recently confirmed that fact. As well as the timeline placement and themes of Twilight Princess indicating a connection to the legendary hero, numerous similarities at a more personal level are evident. The Hero’s Shade was a left-handed swordsman, like the Hero of Time, remembering that the Gamecube version of Twilight Princess is the more-canon release. The continuously active footwork of the Hero’s Shade when standing still in a battle reflected none other than the Hero of Time.
The repertoire of songs associated with the howling stones was chiefly comprised of songs from Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, with some others in the mix. Although the connection between the Hero’s Shade and the Hero of Time is firmly established, there is one important question that Twilight Princess failed to answer. Why is the Hero of Time alive as no more than the shade of his former self? Why is the hero living this cursed afterlife? To fully answer that question, it’s best to track his journey from Ocarina of Time’s ending.
The Hero’s Downfall
Precisely when in time the Hero of Time returned at the conclusion of Ocarina of Time remains a topic heavily debated, but regardless of individual beliefs on the matter, it is certain that he set out to stop Ganondorf from obtaining the Triforce on the child timeline. With the Ganondorf of the adult timeline successfully imprisoned, all that remained was to do the same on the child timeline. The ethereal sages of Twilight Princess give insight into this conflict. They speak of Ganondorf being the ‘leader of a band of thieves’, who tried to establish ‘dominion over the sacred realm’, however that ‘he was blind’. Eventually Ganondorf was subdued and ‘brought to justice.’ It is only logical to assume that the young Hero of Time played a role in capturing Ganondorf, which lead to his execution at the hand of the sages. Even with the hero’s valiant efforts to stop Ganondorf, the evil thief still managed to obtain the Triforce of Power, by what the sages call a ‘divine prank’. The Hero of Time remained unaware.
Though fairly proud of his success, the Hero of Time was still disheartened by the loss of a friend, which led him into his Terminian adventure. Throughout Majora’s Mask he only became more heroic, as he developed more skills and collected a new arsenal of weaponry, including the Hero’s Bow. With his journey completed, the ending of Majora’s Mask shows the hero on his way back home to Hyrule. Where exactly he made his home for the rest of his life is a mystery, and there are numerous possibilities. With his connection to Zelda and the Royal Family, let alone being heroic, it is quite likely that Link lived out his days in Hyrule Castle. There is the possibility that he became a prominent knight and powerful in Hyrule, but there is no evidence for such a claim.
Once in his adulthood, the hero wore a new tunic; one reinforced with chain mail that was more fitting for such a hero. This would come to be known as the Hero’s Clothes, and was given to Link in Twilight Princess by Faron. At some stage the Hero’s Bow that he had found in Termina fell into the care of the proud Goron tribe. The Hero of Time came to posses knowledge of the hidden skills, which he teaches Link in Twilight Princess. Whether he was taught them, or invented them himself is, of course, unknown, like many other aspects of the hero’s life. One thing that can be established is that the Hero of Time became a father.
Because of Link’s possession of the Triforce of Courage in Twilight Princess, and because of a number of comments from the Hero’s Shade, players learn that Link is a bloodline descendant from the Hero of Time, which of course means that the Hero of Time fathered at least one child. According to all of this information, it would seem that the hero lived a very productive, fruitful and pleasing life; however, that clearly was not the case. The life of the hero was one filled with regret.
“Although I accepted life as the hero, I could not convey the lessons of that life to those who came after.” - Hero’s Shade
The hero lived out his life and died regretting two things: both the past and the future. The hero firstly regretted that on both timelines he had done nothing but stop Ganondorf and seal him away, not defeat him. Ganondorf’s return was always a looming inevitability. Secondly, although he had children, they themselves were not heroes. He wanted to pass on his knowledge as a hero to help those who would save Hyrule in the future. He wanted to mentor the new hero, but there was no hero who he could develop this bond with. He had never truly defeated Ganondorf, and so he wanted to pass his skills onto somebody that would, when the time was right. At some stage he would have learned that Ganondorf obtained the Triforce of Power, despite his heroic efforts. The Hero of Time now felt like a failure. His lifetime transpired, and no new hero came. He reached his death, taking his skills, his knowledge and his regrets to the grave; yet, this wasn’t the end of the hero.
In Ocarina of Time, the Kakariko Graveyard served as the Royal burial place, however by the era of Twilight Princess, Hyrule Castle had its own graveyard. This well hidden and seldom explored graveyard is tucked behind Hyrule Castle. Within the spooky walls of the graveyard there is a tombstone inscribed with the words ‘The cursed swordsman…sleeps before…the sacred tree.’ The grave mentioned appears to be guarded by deceased Hylian knights, and as the tombstone reads, a notable tree marks the location. This graveyard is in ruin, and may well be a forgotten place, but maybe this is the grave of the Hero of Time himself. He died full of regrets, which is enough in itself to warrant the title of cursed, but the meaning here goes deeper. This is a case of the cursed afterlife.
In the Zelda universe, regret is one of the very causes of prolonged life. The Wind Waker tells of King Daphnes living well beyond the usual lifespan, all because of his regrets over Hyrule and Ganondorf. In Majora’s Mask we see numerous cases of the same simple principle. People live a cursed half-life, and can only pass into eternal rest once their regrets are dispelled. Kamaro wanders in the afterlife because he regrets never being able to teach the world his dance. All throughout Ikana there are people who share the same fate. They wander aimlessly, regretting the wars of the past, wanting only to hear that the war has ended. Based on this very same principle, even though the Hero of Time died, he lived on in a miserable and cursed afterlife. He waited ages for the next hero to come, and then, in Twilight Princess, that very thing occurred.
Because of the Hero of Time’s failure, Ganondorf returned to wreak havoc on Hyrule, adding even more regrets to the hero’s burden, but his hope was not void, as finally, the new hero came. Link of Twilight Princess had just begun his journey to save his friends, and the hero knew that finally the time had come. He sensed promise in Link; he sensed the same heroic spirit that had once driven him. The Hero’s Shade seized the opportunity. Through his descendant he could ease his regrets, defeating Ganondorf for good. Link is first approached by the Hero’s Shade on the way to the Forest Temple, once he has earned the hero’s old garment. Throughout Twilight Princess the hero mentors Link, passing on his skills and knowledge, also easing his regrets in the process. The Hero’s Shade helps Link to become a true hero; even encouraging him with the very words that the Happy Mask Salesman once spoke to him: ‘Believe in your strengths’.
The hero meets and trains Link in a very mystical and ethereal realm; one that isn’t explained and seems new to the Zelda series, however it is quite likely that the realm is not new. It’s a possibility that the realm is actually a staple to the series: The Sacred Realm. It is something up for personal interpretation as to whether or not the Sacred Realm is corrupted at the time of Twilight Princess, but the similarities are explicit. In Twilight Princess the location is in the sky above Hyrule, with floating pillars made of rock. This environment bears a striking resemblance to the Sacred Realm as depicted in A Link to the Past’s Manual. Furthermore, both the Sacred Realm and the realm of the Hero’s Shade are referred to as another world to Hyrule. The Hero’s Spirit says ‘return to your world’, and Sheik once informed the Hero of Time that the Temple of Time is where ‘you can enter the Sacred Realm from our world.’ The location of the Hero’s Shade is one that is clearly not accessed physically, but rather spiritually. Although the reasoning is questionable, the Hero’s Shade appears to dwell within the Sacred Realm.
In retrospect, the location is not necessarily an important aspect of the Hero of Time’s story. What’s important is that from before the beginning of Twilight Princess, up to the end, the hero is there to mentor Link and make him worthy of the green tunic that he wears. The burden that the Hero’s Shade bears disintegrates as Twilight Princess progresses. Each skill he passes on is a relief to him, so there’s no wonder that he counts the skills and emphasizes that they have been ‘passed on’. With only one skill left to pass on, if Link shows a reluctance to learn it, the hero shows an uncharacteristic outburst where he tells Link to ‘begone’. This is because he felt that he was so close to finally resting, but that he had hoped in vain, as Link was not the new hero. In the end, Link learns all of the hidden skills and becomes the true hero who can save Hyrule. The Hero of Time declares that ‘At last, I have eased my regrets.’ From here Link advances to defeat Ganondorf. With both of his regrets eased, the Hero of Time can finally go into the eternal and peaceful rest of death. The ending of Twilight Princess marks the end of the cursed hero, and even though the Hero’s Shade is gone, the spirit that drives heroes to their destiny will never be extinguished.
The Sublime Beast
In a series where evil continuously threatens humanity and one known as the hero overthrows the villain, restoring peace to the land, players have to wonder, what makes a hero? Is a hero simply someone who stands up to evil and saves the day, or is a hero something much more specific and special in Hylain lore? According to the Hero’s Shade, there is a spirit which is housed within those who become true heroes. The hero of the past states that to be a hero is to be a part of a specific bloodline and to possess the spirit of the sublime beast. This power, this heroic spirit, is something that flows in the blood of every hero.
The term ‘sublime beast’ pertains to a proud, heroic or even divine animal. To be a hero is to be a sublime beast, and this, of course, corresponds with both the Hero’s Shade and the Link of Twilight Princess. Link takes on his wolf, or ‘beast’, form when he enters the Twilight curtain, and it is later discovered that the Hero’s Shade can manifest himself as a golden wolf. Both heroes contain this spirit and are of the same bloodline. Hence, whenever evil stirs in Hyrule, one from the heroic bloodline will be filled with the hero’s spirit that awakens within them, and embark on their quest for justice.
“You were transformed into a blue-eyed beast…That was a sign… It was a sign that the powers of the chosen one rest within you…and that they are awakening. Look at your awakened form… The green tunic that is your garb once belonged to the ancient hero chosen by the gods… His power is yours. His is the true power that slept within you. Your name is Link. You are the hero chosen by the gods.” -Faron
When there is need for a hero in Hyrule, the spirit of the hero awakens within one who is worthy; one who is chosen by the gods. When Link was first pulled into the Twilight curtain and transformed into a wolf, this showed that the heroic spirit had awakened within him. The Hero of Time awoke as the legendary hero after a seven year sleep in the Sacred Realm. Sheik informed him that ‘When evil rules all, an awakening voice from the Sacred Realm will call those destined to be Sages.’ This is potentially the voice of the hero’s spirit calling to both the sages, and to the one who will be the hero.
Once awakened, the hero’s journey beings. The hero must progress on his path to destiny, or the path of the hero, often spoken of by the Hero’s Shade. The spirit of the hero guides heroes along the lonely path to return peace to Hyrule. Like the Biblical Holy Spirit guides believers, the hero’s spirit guides the hero chosen by the gods, when the gods aren’t present themselves.
This heroic spirit contains a number of qualities and characteristics. It guides heroes to accomplish their daunting tasks, and equips them with the courage necessary to do so. Courage is the virtue of the hero. The Hero’s Shade says ‘A sword wields no strength unless the hand that holds it has courage’, which may specifically refer to possession of the Triforce of Courage as a necessary trait of a hero. Courage is the driving force of all heroes to push forward against the ever increasing odds.
Link in Twilight Princess is assumed to be around the age of 17, a similar age to the Hero of Time, who was initially too young to become the hero. The heroic spirit stored the Hero of Time away for seven years, until he reached the mature age of 17. Another characteristic of the hero’s spirit appears to be age; that is, being an adult. In The Adventure of Link this quality is replicated, where Link has to reach a ‘certain age’ before he gains the Triforce crest on his hand, acknowledging him as the hero. Those deemed worthy as the hero are capable of wielding the Master Sword, and fighting alongside Zelda with the light arrows.
To Midna, Link’s transformation into a wolf came as no surprise. The Twili had a prophecy that ‘the hero will appear as a divine beast’ in their world. Midna is able to identify Link as the hero because of his wolf form, showing that the hero’s spirit’s correspondence with a wolf is something known, to however many or few.
As heroes progress on their adventure, the more heroic they become. The Hero’s Shade compliments Link that he looks more heroic than the last time they met, but he isn’t the only one who can notice it. Renado was reminded of the tales told about the ancient Hero of Time at the sight of Link. Both Queen Rutela and Prince Ralis felt a power that they could trust and place their hope in within Link. There’s also Telma, who can sense the promise in Link when she says ‘This swordsman of ours has great eyes, honey. They’re proud and wild…like a feral beast.’ The longer the hero’s spirit dwells within someone the more valiant they become. Through the hero’s spirit’s guidance, the chosen hero is able to defeat the evils threatening Hyrule and restore peace to the land.
Both the Hero of Time and Link from Twilight Princess were mere people who, belonging to the chosen bloodline, were destined to be inhabited by the spirit of the hero, or hero’s spirit, when the time came. Some make the argument that the Hero’s Shade is the heroic spirit that possesses Link, but it becomes evident that the two are separate entities. The Hero’s Shade was just another man who was guided to be the hero by this heroic spirit of the sublime beast.
Because of his regrets and prolonged life, the Hero of Time was inhabited by the hero’s spirit for much longer than a lifetime. As he taught Link his hidden skills throughout Twilight Princess the heroic spirit was passed onto the new hero. If the awakening voice that calls to the sages from the Sacred Realm is also the spirit which guides heroes, then it is explained why the Hero’s Shade dwells in the Sacred Realm. The spirit of the hero dwells within the golden land when it isn’t required to save Hyrule, and calls to the new hero when they are required. There is the possibility that for the time of his afterlife, the Hero’s Shade was one with the spirit of the hero, guiding the new hero along his path to ease his regrets.
Throughout Twilight Princess both the terms ‘a hero’ and ‘the hero’ are used regularly, and when looking at the original Japanese, they are used interchangeably. The Japanese makes no distinction between ‘a hero’ and ‘the hero’, and so, someone who is a hero, is The Hero, meaning they possess the heroic spirit of the beast. The exact nature of the sublime beast is up for personal interpretation, like whether the Link from A Link to the Past in his rabbit form is another manifestation, and whether these themes can apply to a wider portion of the Zelda timeline. Nevertheless, heroes are mere men, selected by the gods to do their work. Although they may die, the true spirit of the hero will remain; ready to be awakened when Hyrule is on the brink of despair; to guide the new hero to his destiny.