It’s been some time, but I’ve finally decided to return to Untapped Potential. For those that have been eagerly awaiting the next installment, I apologize for the delay. The wait is over!
Untapped Potential has thus far taken closer looks at specific moments/characters in the Zelda Universe. This time on Untapped Potential, I want to switch gears and examine a more general topic. Most of the protagonists within the franchise have fairly detailed backstories and bios either within the game or in each respective game’s manual. Most of the villainous creatures, however, are considerably more ambiguous when it comes to their origins. For the most part, they seem to spring out of nowhere when the series’ main villains make an appearance. Most games in the franchise explain this as a result of evil power manifesting in physical form thanks to the overwhelming malevolent energy spreading forth from the principal antagonist. While this isn’t a bad thing, it’s a little unfortunate when a franchise with such a color rogue’s gallery doesn’t have some type of compendium dedicated to their existence. This Untapped Potential will take a look at some of the established lore surrounding the ghouls and grunts of Ganon’s forces, and how it can be expanded on/incorporated into the franchise more fully. The Moblins have been waiting for their chance to shine!
What We Know
Starting at the beginning, Skyward Sword states in its intro that Demise and his demon army inexplicably sprang forth from a fissure in the earth. Skyward Sword doesn’t specify which creatures specifically accompanied Demise as he encroached upon the golden land of Hylia, but based on the artwork present in the opening cinematic it’s safe to assume the bulk of Demise’s army consisted of Moblins/Bokoblins and Lizalfos. These beasts appear on the surface during the events of Skyward Sword following an apparent weakening on Demise’s divine seal and do Ghirahim’s bidding. The various Bokoblins and Lizalfos appear to do nothing but patrol the various wilds and dungeons throughout Skyward Sword, seemingly without much purpose apart from attacking Link anytime he enters their vicinity. This behavior is consistent throughout the rest of the franchise, where creatures of the Demon Army are not seen doing anything other than walking around and trying to kill Link.
There are a few exceptions to this, where we do see some semblance of culture present in some members of the dark forces. This is most notable in more recent Zelda titles; in both Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword, we see the Moblins/Bokoblins inhabiting bases of operations in various locations (Arbiter’s Grounds in Twilight Princess and Eldin Volcano in Skyward Sword). In both cases, the living quarters that Moblins/Bokoblins occupy are akin to militant tribal dwellings, consistent with the kind crude simplicity in which they dress/arm themselves.
There also appears to something of a hierarchy within the Demon Army, at least within the ranks of the Moblins/Bokoblins. In Twilight Princess, there’s a clear leadership presence thanks to King Bulblin, whom the Bokoblins follow and obey. It’s probably safe to assume that the pecking order is determined by who’s the biggest and the baddest.
The other prominent members of the Demon Army, the Darknuts/Iron Knuckles and the various undead creatures (Stalfos, ReDeads, Gibdos, etc) are similarly aimless in the early Zelda games. Once again, we see some semblance of back-story added following Ocarina of Time, where both Stalfos and Gibdos are origin stories outside of simply “springing from the earth.” In Ocarina of Time, Stalfos are said to be those that became lost in the forest and transformed into the skeletal fiends. This origin is not explored further in any subsequent games. Gibdos in Majora’s Mask are said to be unfortunate souls that went in search of Ikana’s hidden treasure, only to be cursed and turned into horrendous ghouls. In Ocarina of Time, Link encounters an Iron Knuckle that is revealed to be Nabooru the sage (whom had been brainwashed by Twinrova), which suggests the other Iron Knuckles in the game are also brainwashed individuals, or at least humanoids that have donned armor as opposed to bestial lackeys. Darknuts, despite their notoriety as the toughest members of the Demon Army, are never given a back-story. Similar to Moblins/Bokoblins, though, they appear to function within a hierarchy that is represented by armor color and accessories. In The Wind Waker, Mighty Darknuts have red or black armor as well as altered helmet designs and capes. It should also be noted that Darknuts alternate between humanoid forms and bestial forms from game to game.
Boss characters (discounting primary antagonists) are often less explained than their smaller numerous cohorts, but once again there are some exceptions to this. They’re generally gigantic guardians for one important item or another and have no significant impact on the narrative, nor are their origins explained in any great detail. To use Majora’s Mask as an arbitrary example, Odolwa is a massive, tribal warrior that dances and chants while swinging a huge blade and summoning poison moths. He’s responsible for imprisoning one of the four giants and kidnapping the Deku Princess…but, why? His origins, presence, and motives are never revealed, and this is the case with the majority of early Zelda bosses throughout the series.
What We Don’t Know
If the Demon Army seemingly springs from the ground every time there’s a new big, bad antagonist born into the realm, what were they doing before that? Are they literally birthed from the ground, forming purely out of the evil and malice radiating from a Great Evil? Or, are they subterranean, waiting beneath the surface for a terrible ruler to lead them in conquest? When they aren’t wandering about Hyrule, wreaking havoc on any poor sap traipsing aimlessly about, what do they do? Is their only purpose in life to obey their masters and kill anything that looks benevolent? Are they playing high-stakes poker games or mastering leather work? Do they marry? Do they have existential crises?! WHAT?!
As you can see, this lack of information spurs a lot of asinine pondering on my part. None of this stuff is overly important, nor would it have any impact on how the series’ narrative progresses. More than anything, this kind of encyclopedic information would serve to provide substance for the more involved Zelda fan (like myself). Which is something I think the series would really benefit from.
Where We Can Go From Here
Moving forward into the future of the franchise, I’d like to see Nintendo start crafting biographical information and lore for the Zelda enemies. Since they’ve demonstrated that they’re willing to put some effort into this sort of thing (as evidenced by Ocarina of Time’s Stalfos and Majora’s Mask’s Gibdos), it’s not unreasonable for them to do the same with the rest of Link’s enemies. That’s not to say I’d be impressed with simple two-sentence descriptions of each enemy. Origin stories aren’t a bad start, but I am also interested in the etymology and behaviors of each creature. It’s clear that Moblins/Bokoblins adhere to some sort of social hierarchy, and it’d be nice to see this explained in greater detail. I’d also be interested to learn exactly what the story behind the Darknuts is. Why are they occasionally bestial? Are the human iterations simply soldiers for hire?
Aside from the most prominent Zelda enemies, we could learn more about some of the lesser-known beasties, like the bizarre Goriya or the infamous Pols Voice. Obviously, the entries on some beasts would be more detailed than others when it comes to culture and behavior (creatures like Keese and Like Likes are wild animals that probably don’t have much of a societal structure). Still, this kind of addition to The Legend of Zelda would serve to enrich the lore and create a more complete Universe. I’ve mentioned that its a misguided notion that the Zelda series is one with an overly complex, layered lore. Giving the Demon Army more depth of existence in compendium form would help to move the series closer to what fans have long considered it to be; a detailed, layered fantasy world of complexities and wide breadth of lore.
The closest thing to a compendium featured in a Zelda game was the Figurine Shop in The Wind Waker and The Minish Cap, that gave brief descriptions of each character/enemy in the game. Outside of in-game features, several official game manuals published by Nintendo have featured character and enemy bios. Hyrule Historia goes over the designs of some enemies, but offers no biographical information. What I’d like to see is a compendium of sorts be incorporated both in-game and in book form. Essentially, a Hyrule Historia that focuses on the lore of the series’ enemies.
In-game, it wouldn’t be difficult for Nintendo to incorporate this hypothetical monster compendium. They could simply reuse the ideas used in The Wind Waker and have Link take photographs of enemies, adding an entry into the compendium. Hell, if he has a companion again, he could leave the photographing/recording to them. That way, consulting them the way it’s demanded he do in Ocarina of Time and Skyward Sword might actually serve some purpose.
Seriously, Navi’s advice in Ocarina of Time when fighting Stalfos was “Wait for an opening and attack when it’s guard is down!” …no kidding, Navi? Make yourself useful and record the compendium entry, you obnoxious, winged lightbulb.
And that’s about it. Hopefully Nintendo decides to at least do something more involved in-game. I’d love to see a physical book make its way onto the shelves, of course. I’ll keep my fingers crossed in the meantime…