What makes a hero? Is it a sword and a shield? A noble quest? Is a hero defined by their villain or even their time and place? Link, the eternal hero of The Legend Of Zelda series, has gone on all manner of adventures across dozens of centuries throughout the lands. There have been other warriors who have fallen in the same path, each of their own renown, and his foes have been many and varied. The only constant—the only core unchanged element that makes Link the same hero through all of his many incarnations—is a simple green tunic.
In the earliest Zelda games, the green tunic didn’t mean much. Graphic capabilities were limited, and a few green and brown pixels were all that was needed to discern the hero’s arms and legs from the rest of his body. The earthy green, combined with Link’s pointy ears, gave the impression that he was some sort of forest elf, which fit in nicely with the generic fantasy setting of the early games. This was no nobleman or trained squire. The modest cloth was a commoner’s clothes, cementing Link as a hero of the people, punching high above his weight class as an icon for the kids at home.
As game hardware grew more capable and expansive, the narratives developed nuance in kind. The tunic, in particular, began to develop great meaning for Link and his connection to the world. Sometimes it was a symbol of community, as in 1998’s Ocarina Of Time where the familiar green tunic is worn by everyone in the Kokiri Forest. The uniform of the forest elves, all of Link’s childhood friends and neighbors have worn these clothes for their entire lives. Wherever this Link goes for the rest of his adventure, he is instantly recognized as a member of the Kokiri.
Where that Link wore his tunic with a sense of pride and identity, the Link of 2002’s The Wind Waker wore his with reluctance and burden. In his home, centuries after the events of Ocarina Of Time, all boys are made to wear the green tunic when they come of age, part of a birthday tradition in honor of a legendary hero. It just so happens—by either fate or coincidence—that this particular Link sets forth on an epic quest on the very same birthday the tunic is bestowed upon him. “They look like they might be a little warm for this weather,” he thinks, glaring at the folded green outfit with a look of weary disappointment. He’d rather keep running around in his board shorts and tribal print henley (wouldn’t we all?) but that would be unbecoming of a hero.
Another Link in another timeline went through a similar forced wardrobe change. The Link of Twilight Princess spends several hours running around in his casual ranch clothes—ill-fitting and bleached beige by the sun—before the light spirit Faron recognizes his courageous spirit. Announcing that the boy is the legendary hero reborn, Faron gifts Link the iconic emerald outfit. “The green tunic that is your garb once belonged to the ancient hero chosen by the gods,” Faron says. “His power is yours. His is the true power that slept within you.” As a symbol of divine intervention, this tunic represents the power of the Gods entrusted to Link, and he wears it as a symbol of their faith in him.
The Link of 2011’s Skyward Sword had to earn his ensemble as well. Here, the tunic and cap are the uniform of the knights of Skyloft, the floating city Link and Zelda call home. Every graduating class of the knight academy receives a differently colored uniform, to identify their year. As the first graduate of his class, Link’s forest green tunic stands out from the yellows, blues, and oranges of his fellow knights. This tunic is a military uniform. It announces Link’s stature as a noble warrior and, as in Ocarina Of Time, tethers him to a home.
Even Link’s hat once had great significance. (It was a cursed sage acting as Link’s guide in 2005’s The Minish Cap.) While modern installments add new personal details for each of Link’s incarnations, there is one theme that comes up again and again: These are the hero’s clothes, heavy with tradition and responsibility. The adventure doesn’t begin in earnest until Link puts on that signature green tunic. Whether it is for his friends or his family or the fate of his entire world, Link needs to face off against impossible odds and play the hero. But first, he needs to dress the part.