Inside the Bellies of Beasts

I realized something as I stepped inside Lord Jabu-Jabu’s mouth to start Ocarina of Time’s third dungeon: I’d done this before.

And I don’t just mean re-playing 1998’s Nintendo 64 classic The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

I’ve specifically walked into the mouth of a giant monster to start a dungeon.

In fact, Ocarina of Time’s first three dungeons all take place inside the bodies of giant monsters.  The first dungeon takes place inside a giant talking tree, and is appropriately called “Inside the Deku Tree”.  The second dungeon, Dodongo’s Cavern, features a large skull in its central room.  Link must complete puzzles to open the skull’s mouth and reach the dungeon’s boss.  The third dungeon, Inside Jabu-Jabu’s Belly, takes place inside a giant fish.  Inside Jabu-Jabu’s Belly is particularly cool in the Master Quest version, which has cows and other things the giant fish has eaten lodged in the walls.

In the previous four mainline Zelda games, the dungeons were entirely grid-based.  I think the reason Ocarina of Time’s opening dungeons take place inside giant monsters is to showcase the power of the Nintendo 64, by having dungeon maps with non-standard shapes and walls.

I find it strange that Ocarina of Time went to this well not once, not twice, but thrice in its opening act.  Usually such a set piece would appear in one dungeon or every dungeon – and nothing in between.  But I’m not complaining; it’s a nice aesthetic choice.  And I love that Ocarina of Time never calls attention to the fact that its characters live in a world where monsters can house entire ecosystems in their bodies.

New Players, Same Parts

The Zelda games span many millennia, following the history of Hyrule.  At the center of each game are two characters: Princess Zelda and Link[1].  These characters are not meant to be the same people throughout time, but rather different players filling certain roles throughout time.

When Hyrule is in need of a hero, a hero presents himself.

The Wind Waker makes it very clear that its Link bears no relation to the Hero of Time (the Link from Ocarina of Time), but goes out of its way to explain why he’s dressed the same.  In Ocarina of Time, Link’s wears a green tunic because that’s what all the people in Kokiri Village wear.  In The Wind Waker, Link’s village makes every boy on their birthday dress like the Ocarina of Time Link.  It’s flimsy, but it’s cute and it accomplishes two goals:

  1. Functionally, it gets Link in the traditional outfit.
  2. Story-wise, it establishes that The Wind Waker is a legacy entry in the series.  The history of what came before in Hyrule is important to its characters and its world.

Later games in the Zelda timeline do not make such strong attempts to explain why its Link is always clad in green.

There are also other characters sharing names and roles throughout time.  Gravediggers are always named Dampe.  Zelda’s handmaiden/bodyguard is always named Impa.

But that rule does not translate to all characters. The Wind Waker’s Link and Zelda are new players filling out their pre-destined roles, but Ganon/Ganondorf[2] is the same person.

This is a small nuance I appreciate.  In The Wind Waker, Ganon sees and understands the prophecy of the Hero of Time returning, aided by a Princess Zelda.  The Wind Waker’s entire plot is based around Ganon attempting to stop that prophecy from coming together.  He is kidnapping young blond girls, because he wants to find and stop the new Princess Zelda.

And oppositely, Zelda and Link are players in a plot they do not understand.  Link’s call to action is rescuing his sister.  He has no idea that his sister was kidnapped because Ganon is trying to find and kill Princess Zelda.  And Zelda has no idea who she is either.  She’s just a pirate roaming the seas.

Ganon and the King of Hyrule are the only characters who know everyone’s role in this particular legend of Zelda.

[1] Some games take place outside of Hyrule and do not feature Princess Zelda (Link’s Awakening, Majora’s Mask, Oracle of Seasons, Oracle of Ages).  Generally, these games follow a Link after he has saved Hyrule and set out for other adventures.  For example, Majora’s Mask’s Link is the same as the Link in Ocarina of Time.

[2] The King of Hyrule refers to him as Ganon, while Ganon/Ganondorf refers to himself as Ganondorf.  Chronologically, The Wind Waker takes place after Ganondorf has transformed into Ganon at the end of Ocarina of Time, but I find it interesting that Ganon still thinks of himself as Ganondorf.