Tis the season for haunting. Halloween may be hours past, but many around the world (particularly in Latin America) are still celebrating; Día de los Muertos, or “Day of the Dead,” is a traditional holiday in Mexico – taking place on November 1st and 2nd every year – believed to date back to a centuries old Aztec festival in honor of their goddess of the afterlife. The modern holiday encourages people to pay tribute to deceased loved ones with offerings of delicious food and thoughtful gifts.
In the spirit of the season, I’ll be paying tribute to ghosts of a more pixelated nature in the first of three weekly articles leading up to the release of The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds on November 22. The renowned series has no shortage of lovably ghoulish personalities who have spent years shuffling about the mortal world of Hyrule, waiting for their day in the spotlight.
10. The Composer Brothers (Ocarina of Time)
Flat and Sharp are two rather unique characters who can be found hanging around with the generic ghosts in the Kakariko Village graveyard. Like the other wayward souls, they will appear and attack if the ever-curious Link decides to investigate their tombstone. Unlike their cohabitants, however, these two do not simply fade back into their grave once defeated. Instead, they engage Link in conversation, telling him about their work with the Royal Family of Hyrule, their composition of a very useful melody to speed the passage of time, and their valiant demise trying to protect the secret of the Sun Song’s power from the evil Ganondorf.
The two also play a larger role in Link’s quest to save Termina in the sequel, Majora’s Mask. Here, Flat teaches Link the Song of Storms so that he may use it to save his brother from imprisonment.
9. Spirit Guards (Twilight Princess)
Okay, these guys have had a rough time. One minute they are standing at their posts, guarding the various streets, underground passages, and dank prison cells of Castle Town; the next, the entire land is covered in Twilight and they find themselves surrounded by faceless monsters, not-so-blissfully unaware that they have become disembodied spirits. Still, you would expect soldiers of a such a noble post to be a bit less… cowardly. Most of the guards that Link, with his perceptive lupine senses, encounters during his unopposed jailbreak seem oddly content to tremble in the darkness and wait for a hero of legend to come along and save them. Lucky for them, they don’t have to wait long.
8. Forest Temple (Big) Poes (Ocarina of Time)
As if traveling through time to a world just shy of total demise isn’t traumatic enough, Link’s first challenge in fulfilling his adulthood destiny comes complete with a set of Poes who revel in deception and trickery. They often seem to laugh at the Hero of Time as he winds his way through Escher-esque hallways and shoots arrows at empty paintings. Unfortunately, avoiding them is not an option, as all four must be defeated (multiple times) to unlock the most important parts of the Forest Temple, including the boss room where Link will do battle with another phantomly menace on this list. Poes are a common foe in the Zelda universe, but these four are particularly memorable.
7. The Earth and Wind Sages (The Wind Waker)
The Wind Waker is a game brimming with fascinating mythos, and every good mythology needs at least a few conveniently knowledgeable shades. Before the land of Hyrule became the Great Sea, the Sages of Earth and Wind bore the responsibility for maintaining the power of the Hero of Time’s legendary blade. When the evil Ganondorf arose to threaten the world once again, he killed the Sages to prevent the Hero of Time from using the “Blade of Evil’s Bane” against him. With no other recourse but to allow the land to fall to chaos, the gods flooded the world and left Ganondorf’s forces frozen in time far beneath the ocean’s surface.
When Link embarks on a journey to save his sister and unwittingly finds himself entangled in the now-freed Ganondorf’s plot to turn the world to evil, he must restore the power of the Master Sword by finding the descendants of the Sages and bringing them to the ancient temples of Earth and Wind. The familiar music, played by Link’s friends Makar and Medli on the same magical instruments wielded by their distant ancestors, awakens the spirits of the Sages and allows them to pass on their long lost knowledge.
6. Queen Rutela (Twilight Princess)
The dearly departed mother of Prince Ralis, slain when the Twili invaded the Zoras’ domain near Lake Hylia, appears to Link twice on his journey to restoring the world to light. After Link repels the Twilight from the Zoras’ spring, Rutela burdens him with a simple, selfless plea: To save her son. As it turns out, Prince Ralis, who had fled the Zora village to inform Princess Zelda of the attack, is now in the tender care of Link’s amnesiac friend Ilia. And saving him is not such a simple task.
In fact, guarding their caravan as Ilia and Telma transport the injured Zora prince to Kakariko Village (clear on the other side of Hyrule Field, naturally) may just be the most rage-inducingly difficult sequence in the entire franchise. After a dozen or so repeats of playing firefighter while sniping bombardier birds from horseback, Rutela appears again to guide Link to the Zora Armor, an integral dungeon item, in gratitude for seeing her son to safety.
5. Dampé (Ocarina of Time)
The gruff-mannered gravekeeper of Kakariko Village (and Ikana Graveyard in Majora’s Mask), Dampé is one of the few characters Link gets to meet in both life and death. During Link’s childhood, Dampé spends his nights patrolling the dismal crypts of the Kakariko Graveyard – and occasionally digging them up in search of treasure, for a price - and his days firmly locked away in the dilapidated hut he calls home.
When adult Link returns to the graveyard in the future, it is revealed that Dampé has since joined his former charges in the land of the dead. His grave, however, holds an interesting secret: Ghost Dampé is a bit more fun loving and generous than Living Dampé was. He delights in challenging Link to a footrace in a crypt so expansive it defies logic, reason, and all known laws of physics (a remarkable upgrade over the hut), even giving him a prize or two for an entertaining photo finish.
4. The Hero’s Shade (Twilight Princess)
Though it is never clearly explained in the game just who this mysterious apparition is (Link’s previous reincarnation? His grandpa? The heavily armored ghost of Orca?), his tutelage in the ways of the sword and devotion to Link’s development – not only as a warrior, but as a hero – make him quite the intriguing character.
Link initially encounters this otherworldly mentor in the form of a ghostly golden wolf with deadly, glowing red eyes, who subsequently appears in various locations throughout the game whenever Link can learn a new sword technique. Though not strictly necessary for completing the game, these special moves are quite helpful, particularly against the more skilled enemies in later dungeons.
3. Phantom Ganon (Ocarina of Time)
Ghosts seem to be a recurring theme in the Forest Temple (it would just be far too obvious to place them as staple enemies in the “Spirit Temple” or “Shadow Temple” now wouldn’t it?). After braving twisting halls and shifting rooms haunted by some particularly ill-humored Poes, Link finally earns himself entrance into the dungeon’s boss room – a circular chamber surrounded by numerous dark paintings – and quickly learns that the Poes were the least troublesome specters lurking around the place.
At first, it appears as though Link will have to battle the King of Evil himself as Ganondorf rides into the arena on his dark steed. As is often the case with ghosts, however, appearances are deceiving; the boss in this dungeon is merely an (equally frightening) apparition of Ganon, probably sent to remind the would-be Hero of Time who he’s dealing with in the hopes of sending him screaming back to Kokiri Forest.
2. Toilet Hand (Skyward Sword)
“Okay,” I hear you asking. ”This isn’t even really a character. Why is it way up here at number two?” Well, you’ve answered your own question. It is not a character. It serves no real purpose in the game. It is just there to be creepy as absolute hell. And the fact that it is a disembodied hand living in a toilet isn’t even the worst part.
In one of the many entertaining sidequests of Skyward Sword, a classmate from the Knight Academy gives Link a love note intended for a girl he fancies. If, like me, you have a particularly twisted sense of humor, the game also gives you the option of using said love note to fulfill the ghostly demand for paper echoing from behind the bathroom door at night (what for, I don’t even want to know). The contents of the note prove more interesting to the spooky presence, however, and poor classmate Cawlin finds himself persistently haunted by nightmares as the ghostly disembodied hand strokes his hair in his sleep every night. Terrifying.
1. Phantom Zelda (Spirit Tracks)
Naturally, in a list about Zelda characters, Zelda herself is an obvious contender for the number one spot whenever feasible. In the underappreciated DS title The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, Princess Zelda finds herself betrayed and surreptitiously disembodied by her chief adviser, Chancellor Cole.
Zelda tasks Link with stopping Cole’s nefarious plot to take over Hyrule and restoring the balance of the Spirit Tracks that run throughout the realm; but, in an unusual move for the well-established franchise, the story and mechanics in this title mix things up a bit by having Zelda play the role of guide and ally. And she’s hardly a helpless Princess. Her presence as a spirit proves to be quite a useful advantage, allowing her to possess enemies to provide a distraction, solve a puzzle, or use special abilities to surpass certain obstacles in their quest. Now that’s a role worthy of a legend or two.