First Appearance: Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (Nintendo, NES, 1988)
Alias and M.O.: Shadow Link; Physical manifestation of one’s inner evil imbued with one’s external physical prowess
Known crimes: Forced self-reflection; battery
Weaknesses: Self-realization

Profile by Jeremy Signor? | February 19, 2011

Link’s second NES adventure is very much unlike the first one. Link is much older, but he’s not on a journey to stop some monster bent on conquering Hyrule. Sure, the minions of Ganon are still trying to kill Link to use his blood to resurrect Ganon, but Link’s aim is more than just surviving. This time, Link is set on solving the very namesake of the series. “The legend of Zelda” actually refers to the very first Hyrulean princess to carry the name. In a twisted tale of greed, malice, and Triforce pieces, the original Zelda was put into an eternal sleep, with all subsequent princesses in the royal line bearing Zelda’s name to remind the family of that tragedy. It then fell to the hero Link to awaken the princess that started it all.

But then, though the ultimate goal is waking Zelda, the journey is one of self-discovery. In his first adventure, Link saved the day with a great amount of skill. However, it was largely thanks to the tools he found along the way. It’s still true with this quest, but less so. Most of the tools he finds are necessary to move forward, but they’re much less useful than in his previous quest. No, here Link is forced to utilize his own skills to make it through the palaces with nothing but a short sword. He does gain magic spells, but this too is an extension of his own power rather than an outside force. The progress he makes in this quest is thanks mostly to his prowess alone. Link would have to learn the ins and outs of his skills to make it to the end.

The final battle is nothing if not a giant metaphor for this concept. Link is faced not with a super-powered Ganon transformation, but a test given by the guardian of the Triforce of Courage. The room itself has nothing in it besides Link when Dark Link appears and attacks. But this is no mere doppelganger, for it had sprung from within Link himself. Dark Link was a part of Link all along, but it was not a mirror image. Rather, its behavior imitated Link’s battle strategies, instincts, and sword techniques without exactly copying Link’s exact movements. This makes him beatable, but it also makes him harder than any single Iron Knuckle. However, now that Link is at the end, he has nothing to lose and no reason to hold back. At this point, Link has what he needs to prevail. His journey of self-discovery was successful.

Other generations of Links have needed to deal with dark clones as well. The battle in the Water Temple is by far the most famous example, but its appearance is never explained. There were also several incidents where the sorceresses Vaati and Veran created Link copies, but they were merely a small nuisance. The truth is that no Dark Link encounter has the same kind of resonance that the very first one had.

“Facing yourself” as a metaphor made real is fairly obvious in hindsight, but it remains powerfully effective nonetheless.

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