Fairies in Classic Games: The Legend of Zelda

The universe of The Legend of Zelda is one of the longest-lived and most beloved fantasy video game franchises. The first game in the series was released in Japan in 1986. There have been twenty-two different Zelda games since then and, delightfully, fairies have appeared in every version. Fairies play an integral part in the story both as generic magical creatures encountered in the world, and as important characters; they even have significant roles in terms of gameplay mechanics. Several fairies in The Legend of Zelda games even hold special significance as the main characters’ adventuring companions.

A LITTLE BACKGROUND: Central to the game world, whose primary region is known as Hyrule, is a magical artifact called the Triforce, which represents the three forces used by three goddesses to create the world; power, wisdom, and courage. Each portion of the artifact has a champion, and the mantle of each champion is passed through time (sometimes seeming to pass over many generations). Link, the protagonist of the story, is the champion of the Triforce of Courage. The series spans hundreds of years, so in each time period Link is a different incarnation of the champion, usually with no memory of any past lives. Princess Zelda sometimes holds the Triforce of Wisdom, and, like Link, is reincarnated (or possibly just a descendant of the original Princess Zelda with the same name—the point is debated) at each significant juncture throughout the convoluted history of Hyrule. The final piece of the Triforce, the Triforce of Power, is held by the antagonist of the series, Ganondorf, who, unlike the other two, is usually revived as the same entity, rather than reincarnated (which adds to his dark and magical character, giving him almost a zombie or lich-like quality).

With a vast timeline, hotly fan-debated character reincarnation, and even multiple parallel time streams, many of the details of The Legend of Zelda are difficult for an outside observer to grasp, but the charm of Link’s fairy companions is something any fairy enthusiast can enjoy.

Navi is Link’s first fairy companion (in terms of game release date, though not in terms of the game world chronology). She appears in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998), and she has two main gameplay functions. One of these functions is to provide important information about enemies Link (the player) must fight and puzzles he must solve. Her other function is to provide the player with a method for targeting objects, enemies, and friendly characters in order to allow Link to interact with them. Initially, the focusing target was merely an upside triangle (somewhat like a cursor), but the developers decided to embellish the simple image, and Navi was born. She was originally called the Fairy Navigation System, which is where the name Navi is derived from.

In addition to providing useful information and gameplay functionality, Navi also contributes some rather insistent dialog, shouting “Hey!”, “Listen!”, or “Watch out!” any time she is used to target something. As a result, Navi is infamous among gamers as one of the most annoying characters of all time. However, what amounts to essentially a cursor embellishment in Navi resulted in a rich tradition of fairy companions in later The Legend of Zelda games, and informed the shaping of an ongoing saga that continues to captivate audiences today.

In The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask Link’s fairy companion is the reluctant Tatl, who initially teams up with Link only as a matter of convenience in order to reunite with her brother Tael. She has a bit more personality than Navi as the game developers worked her into the story as a fully-fledged character, rather than a game mechanic gimmick. At first she causes trouble for Link, but their developing friendship is ultimately integral to the story of Majora’s Mask.

Other fairies that players encounter as they play usually serve to regenerate Link’s health. They are often found in Fairy Fountains, which are hidden away in all manner of nooks and crannies in the various Zelda games. Fairies encountered in this way are always female, and there are only two known male fairies in the entire series; Tatl’s younger brother Tael, and a fairy named Leaf in The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass.

When Link encounters a Fairy Fountain he can restore his health, or if his health is full he can sometimes take a fairy with him in an empty bottle in order to use her healing magic later on. You might think that carrying the fairies around in empty bottles might cause some hard feelings, but that apparently isn’t the case, as the fairies are glad to heal Link whenever necessary, and even revive him with their healing powers should he die while carrying a fairy in a bottle.

The Legend of Zelda is one of the only console games that features fairies prominently, but they also appear in such classic fantasy games as Dungeons and Dragons, in which the roles of Titania and Oberon are reversed, and several Dungeons and Dragons-based PC games such as Baldur’s Gate II and Neverwinter Nights. Look forward to more posts featuring the elusive appearance of the fey in games both old and new here at Fairyroom.