In terms of sheer numbers it’s arguable that, with the exception of Mario, Link from The Legend of Zelda series is the most popular and eminently recognisable video game character of all time. An impressive feat considering that, by design, virtually everything about the character is a total mystery to the point you’re not even supposed to know that he has a dick.
A largely silent protagonist who’s literally only uttered 2 words in his entire 35 year long stint as the face of one of gaming’s most profitable and successful franchises, Link is the ageing metal head in a dive bar of video games. By which we mean he’s been rocking pretty much the same look since the 1980’s.
In fact, during the 35 years he’s spent being Nintendo’s most fuckable protagonist, Link’s basic design has remained essentially the same. Only receiving minor cosmetic changes to better suit to art style of whichever game he’s in.
Now while players may disagree, the most radical departure from this well-worn template according to the people who work on the series was Link’s design for Twilight Princess.
Now your first instinct might be to say that it’s because the design is markedly more, well, edgy than previous incarnations of the character. Which it is, but the actual reason long-time producers on the series tend not to like this incarnation of Link is that he looks too masculine. Also, Wolf Link sucks ass as a mechanic.
Specifically it’s noted that during the production of Twilight Princess they tried to give link more overtly masculine features such as a more defined jaw and musculature which, while suitable for the game’s darker more realistic art style, kind of ruined something that had made Link so effortlessly relatable. His androgyny.
To explain, although Link has always been male, with the notable exception of his Twilight Princess, his design has been androgynous to the point many fans assumed he was female. So much so that an early guidebook discussing the game famously interpreted his in-game sprite like this.
This, as it turns out, is a deliberate choice on behalf of producers as Link being androgynous makes him easier to relate to for a wider range of people. Curiously, this is the same reason Link has never spoken a single line of dialogue in any canon game. The less he speaks, the more your able to imprint your own personality onto him. Something that has been proven to be a wise decision considering how much of a annoying, bumbling dipshit the animated version of the character ended up being.
Before we go, it’s probably worth noting that many other games have leaned into this design philosophy, notably the Metal Gear series with the inclusion of Raiden.
A character they again deliberately designed to have androgynous features and a more lithe, slender figure. Though this was done not to have anyone assume Raiden was female (although this does happen) but to make the character more appealing for women after producers did research and realised women liked soft featured, fuckable men.
Who’d have thunk it?