My favourite Zelda game is Twilight Princess. I love the darker feel, the setting, the plot, how hot Link is… I even love a lot of the enemies and puzzles (save for the Sky Temple. Every part of that is bad). But what really makes it stand out to me is the presence of my favourite Zelda character that I also hate.
Yes, I’m talking about Midna.
Way back before iPhones existed, TP came out, and it was only really the third Zelda title with a proper sidekick. We had Navi and Tatl, two small fairies whose main personality traits were “being annoying” and “gameplay function”. Midna also hits these two key elements, but TP gave her the room to become so much more. Her character development from “most annoying gremlin who inspires me with sheer rage” to “the first Zelda character I nearly cried for” is nothing short of impressive. Which is why she gets a blog post dedicated to her. Love you, Midna!
When we first meet Midna, she frees you from prison…and immediately takes you as her mount, forcing you to go along with her whims if you want to escape. She refuses to help you in battles, makes you steal weapons from your own terrified village, and is very blunt about the fact she she is only there to take the Macguffin items she cannot obtain without your help. I hated her, and in a game where I hated many NPCs, she had a lot of competition for my ire. And yet, she always managed to win it. There is no faster way to the top of that list than being a huge jerk and stealing the items that I did all the work for.
As you progress through the first three levels, you get to see more of her—little elements of her frustration slip through, and there’s a potential of someone beyond that angry, forceful personality. Someone who might even trust you? She’s still awful, of course, and entirely selfish, but the hints become more and more obvious. What hits it home is when, after the third level, she tries to actually save Link from harm. She protects him from Zant as best she can and even suffers for him. It’s her first big moment of vulnerability and sacrifice, and TP makes you feel it in every way.
It is a game, after all.
You feel Link’s sheer desperation on the run from Lake Hylia to Hyrule Castle, because you’re the one who has to do it and it’s tedious and long. You’re near helpless as a wolf without her and all too aware of how many enemies you need her help to fight. Her pants and moans overlay Midna’s Lament, one of the most powerful tracks in the game, and you focus on that pulsing of a dying companion. She is white and empty and a husk of who she was the last time you broke into the Castle. You were so close to freedom, both of you, and now you’re back where you began.
We see that caring side of Midna when she begs Zelda to save Link, not her. The whole way there, I was convinced I was going to save her, and bam, she spins the tables on me. We came there for me, for Link, not for her. It is the last thing I expected from her. Zelda, of course, one-ups her in the whole “self-sacrificing” area, knowing that Midna has a part yet to play, and saves her instead. And though Midna’s pissed, and sad, and the image of her desperate cry as Zelda fades to light is embedded in my mind forever, she listens. She changes. And I fall in love.
When you land in the desert for the first time, she pauses on Link’s shoulder to ask him to keep working with her. She trusts him, and she asks him to trust her back. And when he accepts with a nod and a smile, I find myself smiling, too. Like Link, I forgave her for what she made me do, without even realizing it. She had redeemed herself to me, and I was excited for what came next. I was ready to work with her as equals, and she was ready for it, too.
All in a franchise where the big bad turns into a blue pig.
I don’t mean to undersell Zelda plots. They have great stories and characters. But it was the first time I had been so moved beyond my initial feelings for a character. Navi was always annoying and I only cared when she left because of how much of a jerk move it was to Link. Many other characters in the games were never around long enough for me to form thoughts beyond “hot lady hehe”. But in TP, when Ganondorf appears on the field for the final fight, crushing the helmet Midna had worn all game? It was the first time in my life I had ever seen red. I felt as if I had been slapped in the face. No piece of media, game or otherwise, had ever done that to me. Teenage me was changed forever.
When I fought him, I fought him for her. When I repaired the mirror, I did it for her. I loved the grumpy sarcastic manipulative imp and the majestic Twilight Princess herself. I wanted her to come back, and she did. I missed her at my side, and she returned. And I still loved her when she shattered the mirror, abandoning me for the “greater good” and forever condemning me to never having a direct sequel to my favourite title.
Don’t be fooled: I also hated her for this. But it’s a different hate, not one born out of rage, but one that sprung from my love of her. Did she have to return? Yes. Did she have to destroy the mirror between the worlds? …The answer is yes, but much less enthusiastically. Did I still want her to stay with me? Obviously, yes. Against all odds when I first met her, yes. Enthusiastically, like never before, yes.
To tie this back to my writing, like everything I do, it’s this complexity I want to inspire my own character arcs. Slow, gradual changes, and then a moment of shock that makes you realize your feelings have completely changed. I want to create that freefall sensation of missing a step on the stairs, of seeing Midna beg for Link’s life—your life. Midna gave me the gift of one of the finest character arcs in video games, and my favourite Zelda sidekick to boot. I want to honour that story and those feelings by writing something just as provocative one day.
In conclusion: Nintendo, if you ever want to release a game about collecting the millions of fragments to meet her again, I’m free to write the game for you. Until then, I guess I’ll keep working on my characters, so when we finally collab, I’ll bring something even more spectacular to the table.