August 13 is International Left-Handers Day, a 14-year-old tradition started by the Left-Handers Club to celebrate sinistrality. In celebration of the day, we’re paying tribute to gaming’s most famous lefty: Link from The Legend of Zelda.
Link is more of the strong, silent type, letting his Master Sword do the talking for him against Ganon and the other baddies threatening Hyrule. And when he is swinging around that Master Sword, he does so with his left hand.
Carrying the Torch for Lefties
While roughly 10% of the world’s population is left-handed, nearly all video game characters are either righties, or are ambidextrous. The reason for the latter has to do with the way early games were made. Mirroring a sprite was much less work and took up less memory than drawing and storing sprite data from several different angles.
Link was different, though. Being a lefty wasn’t just some accident or artifact of the way the character sprite was drawn. Nintendo very deliberately points out the fact that Link is a lefty. In the instruction manual for Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, Link is described as embarking on his journey “with a magical sword in his left hand and a magical shield in his right.” In the Four Swords Adventures manga, Link is called the “left-handed hero.” And in The Wind Waker, his manual preference is listed as left.
Why is Link Left-Handed?
Nintendo actually did try to offer up a canonical reason for Links’s left-handedness once. The Nintendo Player’s Guide for The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past states that there is a Hylian superstition that requires a person’s shield to always face Death Mountain to the North to ward against the evil powers of the mountain. The real explanation was sprite mirroring. Link was actually ambidextrous in A Link to the Past, and his shield always faced the top of the screen to the North.
The real reason Link is left-handed is simple. It is because his creator, legendary game designer Shigeru Miyamoto, is also a lefty. Miyamoto wanted to design a character who shared this trait.
Whether intentional or not, Link’s lefty status helped make him unique and set him apart from all of the other heroes in video games at the time. It became an iconic trait of the character, and one that fans have come to love.
Has Link Always Been Left-Handed?
Fans have grown so accustomed to lefty Link that it has become a major point of contention any time the character is portrayed differently. Even though in early games like A Link to the Past and The Minish Cap Link was, in fact, ambidextrous, fans didn’t seem to mind or notice. It wasn’t until The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess that it became an issue.
Due to the use of motion controls, Link is right-handed in the Wii version of Twilight Princess. Miyamoto explains why:
“Although Link is [traditionally] left-handed, at E3 we noticed people seemed to be using the right Wii controller to swing his sword. That’s why we decided to make Link right-handed. The interesting this is, on the GameCube Link is still left-handed; because of the mirror mode the game map is reversed.”
In the official artwork for Twilight Princess, Link is still shown as left-handed, and he remained a lefty in the Gamecube version. In the HD version released for the Wii U, Link is once again left-handed, seeming to settle the matter once and for all of Link’s manual dexterity in that game.
Link’s Lefty Future?
While Link has traditionally been portrayed as left-handed, this may be changing moving forward. Skyward Sword was the first game in the series to definitively show Link as right-handed. Once again due to the Wii’s motion controls, he swung his sword with the right hand, the same hand players used to hold their Wiimote. However, he was also portrayed as a righty in concept art for the game.
Link also appears to be right-handed in next year’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. As the game’s producer Eiji Aonuma explains, “In terms of right-handedness of things, when we think about which hand Link is going to use, we think about the control scheme. With the gamepad, the buttons you’ll be using to swing the sword are on the right side, and thus he’s right-handed.”
While it’s sad that the tradition of a left-handed Link may be on the outs, we’re excited to play Breath of the Wild regardless of which hand Link uses to hold a sword. We’ll always know that deep down inside, Link will always be special and unique. He will always be a little bit different than our other favorite characters. Link will always be a lefty at heart.