Zelda has been around for thirty years, and in that time it's become one of the most beloved fantasy series in gaming. The legendary conflict between Link, Princess Zelda, and Ganondorf rears its head time and time again, and is in each instance bound by new rules, new parameters, new conceptions of the universe, and new myths and legends about the world that came before. Zelda is a cyclical thing, a timeless battle that is played out repeatedly on a stage that changes ever so slightly from era to era.
This cyclical, resurrecting threat against Link's world allows Zelda to reuse, recycle, and reimagine objects, places, and characters in a new light every time. Where in other game series such a practice might be construed as lazy and lacking in imagination, Zelda wields it effectively because things do change every single time. The Impa who appears in Ocarina of Time is far removed in attitude, appearance, and chronology from the one who's presented in Skyward Sword, even if the two incarnations share a common purpose insofar as they both serve as a protector to Princess Zelda. Similarly, the innocent child Link who begins his journey in Ocarina of Time differs greatly from the quiet, teenage version of him that shows up in Twilight Princess. All of this is to say that Zelda is keen on creating iconic characters and reusing them constantly, both for the sake of nostalgia and enjoyable storytelling.
For Zelda fans who've enjoyed the series for years, you'll likely remember at least one incarnation of every character on this list. You can name them, describe who they are and what they do, and even recount some of their most memorable stories. The thing is, can you remember in what Zelda game they made their debut? Answer that, and truly no one will be able to question your expertise when it comes to Nintendo's famous fantasy series about a green-garbed boy and his fairy.
The series' titular character, Zelda has been a staple in just about every Zelda game to date. And thank goodness for that, because she's proven time and time again that she's much more than a damsel in distress. Zelda is capable of invoking divine power, which she often converts into light arrows which Link can use to banish the forces of evil. She's also a damn good shot with a bow, a skilled loftwing rider, and much more! If she didn't have awful luck with getting kidnapped, she probably wouldn't need Link at all.
With a self-proclaimed ugly mug and people skills that make even the dead shiver, Dampé isn't exactly a people person. That's okay, though, because his job as a gravekeeper means he interacts pretty much exclusively with corpses, which aren't the most talkative folk. Nevertheless, Dampé isn't a bad guy: he's perfectly willing to let Link dig up the graveyard for a small fee and, after he passes on, takes great joy in subjecting Link to a deadly obstacle course in his tomb. Nice guy indeed.
Honey & Darling
Have you ever met a couple so head-over-heels in love with each other that their public displays of affection are downright nauseating? If not, look no further than Honey & Darling, Zelda's most infatuated couple. They endlessly compliment each other whilst dancing in circles, and their love is in fact so powerful that hearts spring into life above their heads. It's a beautiful, inspiring kind of relationship. Unless you're single, that is. Then you'll be more inclined to strangle them.
A selfish, power-hungry youth, Vaati previously served as a mage's apprentice before stealing his magic cap and wishing himself into an incredibly powerful sorcerer. Vaati is inspired by the corruption and self-serving nature of humans and seeks to amass as much power as possible in order to bend others to his will. Corruption is a weird thing to take inspiration from, but hey, other bad guys have to step in for Ganon once in a while. Vaati was probably just super angsty one day.
If you ever came across a middle-aged man obsessed with forest fairies, you might be inclined to run as fast as you could in the opposite direction. And yet, Zelda games are weird, wonderful places where you end up befriending and collaborating with just those kinds of people. Tingle loves fairies so much that he dresses up in Kokiri-esque clothing in the hopes of attracting one. He's gotta bide his time while he waits, though, so he's taken up cartography to make ends meet. So if you ever want to have a chat about both maps and fairies, you know just where to go.
King of Hyrule
The character of Hyrule's resident monarch has been around for the majority of the series, probably because Princess Zelda can't be an actual princess without the presence of a ruler reigning above her. However, he only comes into his own during the events of Wind Waker, wherein one incarnation of the King, who bears the catchy name of Daphnes Nohansen Hyrule, tells Link and Tetra about the drowned fate of the kingdom and reveals Tetra's true identity as Zelda. He also stands up to Ganon and steals his wish by touching the Triforce first, thereby ruining Ganon's entire plan. Yeah, the King is a certified badass.
Largely known simply as "the music box guy," Guru-Guru is a happy fellow who stands around all day making music for passersby. In some games you can find him out in the open, playing his tunes for all to hear, and in others he's all by his lonesome, most memorably in a windmill. If you happen to play the Song of Storms, though, Guru-Guru's grinning face distorts into a mask of rage as he plays faster and faster, triggered by the song. He probably went through a nasty breakup while it was playing in the background.
A shopkeeper by trade, Beedle's originally a pretty sedentary guy who sits in his shop patiently awaiting customers. Fast forward through a few games, though, and he's become a fitness icon, constantly biking or hiking to turn his shop into a mobile, globe-trotting enterprise! Somewhere along the way, Beedle must've realized that he needed to channel his inner go-getter and head out into the world to seek out customers himself. That was a wise decision, because Link was likely his only customer. He probably still is, but at least Beedle gets good exercise now.
Apparently, Link is such a special guy that someone (or something) decided that he needed to have an evil doppelganger. Link's shadowy reflection appears frequently in the series, and is always a massive pain in the butt because, well, he's just as skilled with a sword as Link is. Whether he's a boss, mini-boss, antagonist, or some other variation of evil obstacle, you know things are getting serious when Dark Link shows up. If only you could just make friends with your evil twin, life would be so much easier.
Hey, you! Yes, you! Do you like hints? No? Too bad, because Kaepora Gaebora, everyone's favorite overly helpful owl, is on the case! Kaepora's advice, which is often straightforward to the point of being insulting, can be marginally useful when one is playing through a Zelda game for the first time, but afterwards he's essentially a nagging nuisance that you wish would buzz off to another planet. Woe to the poor player who mistakenly answers that they did in fact not get all that, and are then forced to listen to the entirety of Kaepora's advice all over again. Poor, unfortunate soul.
Great Deku Tree
Normally when a giant tree starts speaking to you, it's time to start being concerned about your well-being. But this is Zelda, so talking flora and fauna are par for the course. The Great Deku Tree often serves as a sort of mentor for Link, nurturing his growth and giving him key information to help him on his journey. In Ocarina of Time, he also serves as the game's first dungeon, wherein Link must exterminate Gohma to help his bark-covered friend. The jury's still out on whether the "Great" part of his name comes from his enormous size or from the fact that he is in fact an awesome guy.
Princess Zelda's bodyguard and/or nursemaid, Impa is fiercely loyal to the royal family and will do anything to protect Zelda from the forces of evil. She's wary of Link but begins to trust him once he demonstrates his competence and unwavering dedication to Zelda. However, she also has a reputation for bluntness, particularly in Skyward Sword, where she berates Link for his failure to come to Zelda's aid. Impa's harsh words hit home, and Link eventually wins her over, as always. She's also one of the last living members of the ancient Sheikah tribe, which is pretty neat.
Most people in Zelda are happy, positive people who want to make the world a better place. That's not the case with Salvatore, a dejected minigame shop operator who bears a striking resemblance to an exasperated retail employee who just wants to go home. Salvatore's pronounced lack of enthusiasm is refreshing and amusing, but what's even more enjoyable is when he suddenly bursts with excitement upon placing his head in a picture frame to pretend to be a little girl or a pirate imploring Link for aid in a minigame. He also voices impeccable sound effects such as "splish" and "kaboom."
Witches don't have the best reputation, what with them kidnapping children and practicing black magic and all that, but Syrup is doing her best to fight back against the nasty stereotype. She's a friendly witch who brews potions, and she's turned that practice into a full-fledged cottage industry. Link can stop by her shop in a multitude of games to pick up potions that restore health, magic, and help him in all sorts of other ways, too. Syrup's a friendly witch, but not friendly enough to part with the good stuff for free.
Zelda games make it clear that their female characters are strong, capable individuals who are not just sitting around waiting to be rescued. When it comes to Tetra, she's often much more capable than Link, especially at the onset of his adventures. The young lady has her own ship and serves as the leader of a group of formidable pirates who sail the seas in search of plunder. She's tough, blunt, and sassy, and inspires Link to step up and get things done. She also takes great pleasure in shooting him out of a cannon.
Gorons are a communal, kind race who like to live together in harmony. There is, however, a Goron so big that he's forced to live outside Goron City and take up residence at the top of Death Mountain. This large figure is none other than Biggoron, an aptly named fellow who turns out to be a highly skilled smith and can hone Link's armor and weapons to their best condition. He also crafts the Biggoron Sword, a massive two-handed blade that puts the puny Master Sword to shame. Why go on a quest to acquire the sword of evil's bane when you can just hand over some eye drops instead?
Remember this lady? Did you know she has a particular name and appears in multiple Zelda games? To be honest, neither did I. This large lady is narcissistic and enjoys talking about herself and her beauty. If she's not babbling on that subject, she's almost certainly gloating to Link about how great her dogs are. Alternatively, she may plead with Link to find her lost dog, who ran away in the middle of the night. News flash, lady: he probably bailed to get away from you.
If you ever feel discouraged because a character you created seems too weird to withstand scrutiny, just remember that Zelda created a recurring character out of an unseen individual begging for toilet paper. Should you be feeling particularly kind, you can give the poor soul a paper-based item from your inventory so that they can, um, conclude their business. Despite the grossness, the hand will reward you for your efforts, either with a piece of heart or some other handy item. According to Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Zelda, the character is based on Japanese ghost stories about a hand grabbing at you from inside a toilet. Fun stuff.
Link's chosen steed throughout the Zelda series, Epona is a reliable and nearly indestructible horse. She and Link have a tight bond and she'll happily respond whenever he calls for her. She's able to go head-to-head with all sorts of monsters without batting an eye, and her only real fear is a deep body of water she's unable to cross. Epona originally belongs to Malon before growing attached to Link, but of course Link is so irresistibly cool that she can't help picking him as her new rider.
Zelda's big baddie, Ganondorf threatens Hyrule in just about every game to date. He's cruel, ruthless, pure evil, and he's got incredibly well-trimmed facial hair that would make even Norse gods jealous. Precious little of Ganon's backstory is revealed until the era of 3D Zelda, wherein Link learns that Ganon was a member of the Gerudo, a nomadic people who lived in the harshness of the desert. He lusts for great power, of course, but in Wind Waker he also describes his longing for a more peaceful, inhabitable climate to live in, which humanizes him somewhat. Don't be fooled, though; he'll still happily destroy you.
If you're the kind of person who revels in punctuality, you'll be able to relate to the postman. The Zelda universe is apparently a place where mail is delivered exclusively on foot, meaning that the postman is an extremely fit individual who runs all across Hyrule in order to make his deliveries. To boot, he takes pride in making every one of them on time using any means necessary to do so. His sense of timing is in fact so perfect that Majora's Mask features a "Mental Training" minigame wherein he assesses Link's punctuality. No, really, he makes you count to ten. But perfectly.
Great Fairies are helpful, magical entities that help Link on his journey in a multitude of ways, gifting him magical abilities, weapons, and even upgrades to his existing equipment. The only catch is that Link must first find the Fairy Fountains they inhabit, which are often hidden away in obscure, hard-to-reach locations. It's unclear why the Great Fairies take it upon themselves to be nice to Link. Maybe they appreciate his heroic capabilities? Maybe they recognize he needs a lot of help to save the world? Or maybe they just think he's really cute. That would certainly explain the scanty clothing.
Naps are amazing things. Feeling sick? Take a nap to get some strength back! Tired? Take a nap to re-energize! Got tons of schoolwork due tomorrow? Take a nap and hope it all goes away! The latter is Talon's approach to life in general, as he's content to nap while his daughter and employees do all the work on his ranch. Talon is largely based on Mario, though, so maybe he's supposed to represent Mario taking some time to rest in an alternate universe where he's not the protagonist. Beating up Bowser is hard work, after all.
If you're a fan of collecting things, whether it's stamps, coins, or shrunken heads, you'll have an appreciation for Carlov's cause, which is the figurine trade. Carlov can get you figurines of all your favorite characters in Zelda games, from Keese to Octoroks to the most dangerous bosses your adventure puts in your way. To get your hands on these mint edition goodies, you'll have to bring Carlov a high-quality picture of the subject matter in question. Or he'll make you gamble your hard-earned shells away, because that's such a good lesson for a young man like Link to learn.
If you happen to live in the city or, well, just about anywhere construction is a commonplace occurrence, you'll likely groan inwardly (or outwardly) whenever you see some construction workers blocking the road. It's noisy, disruptive work, and it's hard to resist the urge to scream when you're subjected to it regularly. Mutoh is the strict, gruff foreman of a group of carpenters in the Zelda universe, a guy who's desperate to get the work done but just can't manage to break his workers' lazy habits. Maybe we could borrow him to crack the whip on some real-life projects?
The Skull Kids are a race of children who get lost in the forest and turned into mischievous, creepy entities, but a particular Skull Kid gives Link all kinds of trouble during the events of Majora's Mask. Using the power of said mask, he curses Link to take on a Deku form, scares away Epona and, oh, forces the moon to crash to earth in three days. However, the very same Skull Kid meets Link sometime before finding the Mask and becoming a psychotic, world-destroying villain. Funny little world we live in.
While adventuring on the open seas, Link comes across Linebeck, a cowardly, self-absorbed sailor whose goal in life is to pursue and amass all the treasure he can find. Sometime after meeting Link, the pair reunite, and Linebeck learns from him of the fabled Ghost Ship. Despite the incredible danger posed by the macabre vessel, Linebeck agrees to help Link seek out the ship so as to get his hands on the legendary treasure supposedly contained within. It's a partnership based on profit, but a partnership nonetheless, and Link's courageous ways rub off on Linebeck as their adventure goes on.
As if Ganondorf wasn't enough to deal with already, the big baddie likes to create a nasty, spectral version of himself for good measure. This ethereal version of Ganon, which he calls his phantom, shows up wherever Link happens to be at the time and attacks him with both spell and blade. Despite being a pain in the rear, Phantom Ganon is good practice for Link's upcoming duel with the real Ganon, so at least there's that silver lining. Oh, and don't worry, the magical tennis match is still a constant.
Remember Syrup, the friendly witch who sells all sorts of useful potions? Turns out she has a sassy teenage granddaughter named Maple who's in training to become a witch herself. She's not advanced in the magic department just yet, so she spends her time flying around the world running errands for her grandmother. During his travels, Link crashes into Maple multiple times, causing both of them to drop some of their items. Link, if he's lucky, can get some prime goodies from Maple, including pieces of heart. Maple is, of course, initially annoyed at Link for these frustrating encounters, but she eventually takes a shine to him. It probably helps that she can help herself to his stuff, too.
Happy Mask Salesman
Don't be fooled by the name: few characters in Zelda are as unsettling and creepy as the Happy Mask Salesman. A collector of rare and powerful masks, the Salesman eventually acquired Majora's Mask, which was used by an ancient tribe in hexing rituals until it was deemed too evil and sealed away. After losing the mask to Skull Kid and meeting Link, the Salesman implores him to return the Mask in return for freeing Link from his Deku form. Link initially fails, leading the Salesman to freak out and prophesize the end of the world if the Mask isn't returned to him before he leaves Termina in three days' time. It's never made clear exactly who (or what) the Salesman is, but it's clear that he's much more than he lets on, and that's terrifying enough.