Video game fashion has always relied on technological advances to improve the overall look of characters and over the decades, and character designs have come a long way. In fact, it has evolved over the years to the point where games are now catching the eye of the most influential fashion designers around the world. One only needs to look at Final Fantasy XIII‘s Lightning, who was recently featured as one of Louis Vuitton’s leading models, marking it the first time a video game character has led a campaign for a major fashion label. The campaign included the completely-fictional animated character modeling Louis Vuitton’s outfits, and even came with an exclusive about what it feels like to be a Louis Vuitton ambassador. The Legend of Zelda series is no stranger to fashion either, and with each iteration of the Zelda games, Nintendo has improved on character sprites. For 30 years, the hero’s clothes have also been a recurring staple in the series, and while some design elements have shifted, Link’s famous Peter Pan-like green tunic and pointy hat are features common to all of the outfit’s incarnations. While earlier games imply little or no significance to these clothes, their recurrence has caused later games to explore their history and meaning behind them.
The original earthy green garb gave the impression that Link’s modest guise was merely a peasant’s attire, cementing him as a folk hero before he transformed into someone extraordinary through significant life events. With graphical upgrades in video games, the narratives developed, and the tunic in particular began to adopt great meaning for Link and his connection to Hyrule. As they are Link’s signature clothing, whenever he appears in a game he will likely be wearing these clothes. Yet, the moment we first set our eyes on Breath of the Wild, something didn’t quite look right. When Link awakens from a cryogenic sleep chamber inside of a small cave at the start of the game, he’s seen wearing a bright blue garment and not much else. Despite the fact that Link has, for the most part, looked better and better with each new Zelda incarnation, Breath of the Wild art director Satoru Takizawa opted not to include his iconic ensemble in the latest entry in the series. “As the graphic fidelity has increased, it becomes more difficult to make that hat look cool,” he said in an interview during the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. “As the game becomes more realistic, it’s difficult to present it in a way that’s appealing.”
Obviously Breath of the Wild is a massive game. It features the biggest Hyrule Nintendo has ever created, in both breadth and depth, and given that it was made for an underpowered console, there was perhaps some truth in his statement, only as most of you probably already know, Link’s traditional outfit is indeed available in the game – it turns out Nintendo has hidden a special method for unlocking the old-school green tunic, and all you have to do is complete every one of the game’s 120 shrines.
Every Zelda fan loves the “Tunic of the Wild” look. It’s been part of the series dating way back to the original NES game, but one of the many things I love about Breath of the Wild is how the game ditches Link’s traditional costume and lets you customize Link’s appearance by either buying or acquiring items of clothing. Some of these items don’t do much in helping you progress through the game (take for instance the Nintendo Switch t-shirt pictured above), but others that are themed around classic characters from The Legend of Zelda history help boost your attack and defense.
Those who have spent any time with Breath of the Wild also know about the variety of weapons and armor, and the power and usefulness of the various armor sets in the game. It doesn’t take too long before players reach the enchanted clothing store in Kakariko Village, where you can purchase the stealth outfit Zelda once used to disguise herself as her alter ego Sheik in order to help Link defeat Ganon. And anyone who has been collecting amiibo can, of course, unlock several classic costumes as well. In honour of the first 3D Zelda game, the Ocarina of Time Link amiibo can score you pieces from the Armor of Time. Meanwhile, a Toon Link amiibo will unlock the Armor of Wind. Rumors also have pointed to further armor sets on the way from unreleased amiibo — including sets tied to Majora’s Mask, Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword! There’s so much to choose from, including a Snowquill Armor Set, a Zora Armor Set, a Flamebreaker Armor Set, and yes, you can even acquire the Dark Link armor set from a special vendor who only appears after players finish a certain sequence of events.
As mentioned above, Link’s outfits are thematically linked to many of the narratives in previous Zelda games. In Ocarina of Time, the design of the Hero’s Clothes is said to symbolize a sense of community, since all Kokiri wear green tunics with green hats. In The Wind Waker, it is considered tradition on Outset Island to dress boys in a green tunic and hat like the Hero of Time would wear when they come of age, and the coming of age adventure here really only shifts into gear when Link dawns his tunic with a sense of pride and maturity. The Link of Twilight Princess is meanwhile awarded the iconic emerald outfit by Faron – a symbol of divine intervention – and Link’s forest green military tunic of Skyward Sword announces Link’s cachet as an imperial fighter. But in Breath of the Wild, not only does Link awake almost completely nude, but throughout the game he’s encouraged to change attire time and time again, even having to disguise himself in Gerudo garb in order to enter their village. There’s no way getting around it: in Breath of the Wild, Link requires a constant wardrobe change in order to withstand the many dangerous situations he encounters. He is constantly evolving and adapting to both his surroundings and his journey, and perhaps for the first time in the series, his clothes are more important to his success than the weapons he collects (especially given that these weapons don’t last very long). As Karl Lagerfeld once said, “Don’t dress to kill. Dress to survive.” And that is what Link does.
It wasn’t too long ago when Patrick Murphy published a piece on how the beloved protagonist has undergone more visual redesigns than possibly any other beloved protagonist ever. His article discusses how Link has been Nintendo’s artistic experiment, depicted as cartoonish and gloomy, polygonal and pixelated, adult and child, and everything in between. Breath of the Wild artfully blends the best bits of the franchise’s thirty-plus year history and celebrates everything we love about the series – and yes that includes the fashion. If Link is Nintendo’s artistic experiment, then here he is the Mona Lisa. The sword-wielding adventurer may be Hyrulian but in this game, he’s also Gucci, Tom Ford, Ferragamo and Alexander Queen.
- Ricky D
Thanks to Ryan Kapioski of the GameBoys podcast for helping me gather all the images!!!