First, please allow me to make this one thing clear: this is not an attack on the Mario characters or storyline, and I'm certainly not trying to start some kind of "Mario's better!" "No, Link's better!" argument war. I'm a devoted Mario fan for life, and never once would it cross my mind to bad-mouth him (so I'm obviously biased and like Mario better than Link, but I've grown very fond of Link as a character as well). The reason I'm writing this is because I feel that the original Mario vs. Zelda rant kinda hit the wrong note. It's author seemed to have misunderstood a lot about the characters and storylines of those games. So I'm going to put things right and give you my view of things.
Now, take Mario, the most popular video game star ever. To people who only casually know Mario, he probably seems like a very flat character. „Just a wierd little bloke who jumps up'n down all day and rescues this princess, right?" Well, wrong, obviously, but it's understandable that people would make this assumption. After all, in the games, Mario never tells us how he feels about all that's going on. Then again, since these games are mostly platform games, there's no real need for that either, and no real need for a storming storyline either. But, look closely, and you'll find an underlying trend in Mario's attitude that shows a huge amount of optimism and self-confidence. I mean, Mario's just a common bloke like you and me (well, sort of...^_^0) and he's up against impossible odds: huge worlds to travel through on foot, enormous armies of monsters to face all by himself, and lots more. But somehow, he always pulls through, and even seems to enjoy the whole thing. The message Mario seems to be telling us probably is: „Don't worry, you can do it! With a smile and the right attitude, you'll conquer anything!". And, of course, there's his beloved princess who makes facing all the perils worthwile.
And then there's Link. I'll have to base my analysis of Link's character almost entirely on the Link we see in Zelda 64, since previous Zelda games hardly gave him any character (except for a few interresting moments in Link's Awakening, more on that later). I think it's safe to say that Link's nowhere near as happy-go-lucky as Mario is. Did anyone notice how sad the story of Zelda64 really is? Poor Link is forced to grow up almost instantly and has to face a world horribly ravaged by Gannon. I'm not sure if after the time-travel bit Link is an adult both in mind and in body, or if he's the soul of a child trapped in an older body, but the whole experience must've been pretty unsettling for him.When it's all over, he's sent back to his peaceful life as a child and supposedly has to pretend nothing ever happened....I agree that this bit of the ending is quite vague. How could Link ever just forget all that happened? Could he still live as a normal child after all that he went through? And as soon as he's back to his younger self, he runs to Zelda right away.....what could that mean, I wonder? But then again, the Zelda games are RPGs. They're allowed to have storylines that are a bit hard to understand, and that don't always end happily and, more importantly, that try to make you think. Just because you had trouble grasping what the ending meant doesn't have to mean that it's a bad story (oh no, it's Neon Genenis Evangelion all over again!) For instance, in Link's Awakening, I thought the ending was actually very touching. That is, when you delve a bit deeper into it. Link has to „awaken" and leave behind a dream world where he had some happy moments, to face harsh reality again, but there's also a hapy note: his smile upon seeing the wind fish. I think it means that he now has some happy memories to treasure that'll make facing real life a bit more pleasant, but of course, you're free to find your own interpretation.
Still, there's quite a lot of sadness in Link's character (awww, poor baby...^_^). Moreover, Links gets dragged into his adventures more or less unwillingly. He never asked for a chance to go save Hyrule and everything, but he's still pretty much forced into it. As for Mario, the SMB manual clearly states that Mario immediately travelled to the Mushroom Kingdom as soon as he heard about Bowser's evil doings. So Mario started his journeys by his own choice, it's what he wanted (but I suppose princess Peach did play a part in Mario's decision).
Anyway, my point is that the Mario and Zelda games each have storylines that suit the overall tone of their games. Mario's happy little surreal world, where the most important thing is to just have fun with a stormingly brilliant game has a bite-sized, easy to swallow storyline to match it: a perfect fit. The Zelda games need to have more complex storylines to fit in with their atmosphere. So, pitting Mario and Link against each other as characters is really pointless. They're way too different to be compared to each other, but instead the Mario and Zelda universes do compliment each other nicely, don't you think?
Oh, and that bit about Mario „getting the girl".....well, if you take a look a Nintendo's unfortunately lacking skill at designing female characters (the exceptions are Samus Aran and captain Syrup), you'll probably find that women in Nintendo's games are often so out of the picture that it's not even worth bothering about them....Shame, that, as I'm sure there's some potential just waiting to be used. But that's a whole other story ^_^.
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