An Introduction to Zelda Color Theory, Part 1

-Greg Livingston 

Here’s everything you need to know about color theory in 3D Zelda games:

These are the three Sacred Stones you earn as a child in Ocarina of Time: one green, one red, and one blue. By the same token, there are three important characters in the Zelda universe: a hero (commonly named Link, but always left nameless in legends), Ganon/Ganondorf, and Zelda. There are also three parts to the Triforce: Courage, Power and Wisdom.

This is the basis for color theory in 3D Zelda. There are three factions: Courage, which is green, Power, which is red, and Wisdom, which is blue.

It’s easiest to see how these three elements relate by taking a look at the creation myth of Hyrule.

In Ocarina of Time, the Deku Tree relates this myth. At its heart, it contains three actions, one from each of the three goddesses. These goddesses stand for Power, Wisdom and Courage respectively. Their interaction in this tale lend insight on the use of colors throughout the rest of the series.

The first goddess to act is Din: “With her strong flaming arms, she cultivated the land and created the red earth.”

Power is the impetus for everything. Without Din, there would be no earth to live upon. In a similar sense, without Ganon, there would be no conflict, since Ganon/Ganondorf is the first to make a move in most Zelda games. For instance, in Ocarina of Time, he sends his minions forth to collect the Sacred Stones. The color red calls to mind this aspect of the Triforce.

Second comes Nayru: “Poured her wisdom onto the earth and gave the spirit of law to the world.”

Wisdom opposes power. Just as Nayru fiddles with the red earth created by Din by giving it laws and restrictions, Zelda always takes steps to screw with Ganon. For instance, in Ocarina of Time, as she flees Hyrule Castle Town, she leaves Link the Ocarina of Time. The color blue should make you think of this aspect.

And finally, Farore: “With her rich soul, produced all life forms who would uphold the law.”

Courage makes Power and Wisdom work in harmony; life uses both the land and the law to sustain itself. At the same time, without life forms, the land and the law may as well not exist: what’s the point of land if no one is there to cultivate it, and what’s the point of a law if there’s no one to follow it? In a sense, Courage saves Power and Wisdom from absurdity by giving them meaning. The color green accompanies this force.

In the same sense that life gives meaning to land and law, Courage makes use of both Power and Wisdom; Link’s Courage meets Ganon’s Power in combat and Zelda’s Wisdom in puzzle solving. Just as he does with Power and Wisdom, Link is always in a position to bring distinct forces together in harmony.

In order to discuss such a fundamental aspect of the story in 3D Zelda games, I think it only makes sense to take a look at the first 3D Zelda game, Ocarina of Time.

Perhaps the most striking color choice is in Link’s clothing; he gains both a blue tunic and a red tunic in his travels. They serve essentially the same purpose: allow him to survive where a time limit would usually kill him, whether it be by burning alive or by drowning. These two tunics demonstrate that Link can’t rely on his Courage (green) alone, as he needs to master both Wisdom (blue) and Power (red) as well.

The color choices for these tunics may seem like a simple matter of looking nice, but they stand for Link’s relationships. Just as Link swaps out his familiar green tunic for ones of different colors, he joins new races. He becomes a part of Goron and Zora families, though he might think of himself as a Kokiri.

The red tunic comes from the red people: the Gorons. You’ll recall that Link becomes an honorary Goron brother by making Darunia proud. In addition, the blue tunic matches the blue people, hailing from the Zora. After aiding Ruto, Link accepts the Zora’s Sapphire: a symbol of marriage for the Zora.

It doesn’t stop there, either. Link undertakes his quest not only for two entirely distinct races, the Gorons and the Zora, but also for two opposing races, the Hylians and the Gerudo. He joins the royal Hylian ranks when Zelda gives him a note from the royal family in order to gain access to Death Mountain. Later, he joins the Gerudo after proving his prowess to them in the Gerudo Fortress.

Counting the Kokiri, Link both helps and accepts help from five separate races on his quest. He is able to harmonize several unique forces for one single purpose: the defeat of Ganon.

This sense of harmony is turned on its head in Majora’s Mask.

Link spent Ocarina of Time venturing outside of his home, the forest, in order to meet new and strange peoples. Then, when Link visits the forest in Majora’s Mask, instead of finding a friendly and famliar environment, he finds the strangest and most visually disturbing environment of the game. With dying, orange plants and poisonous, purple water, the Southern Swamp is unlike anything in Ocarina of Time.

In Majora’s Mask, you consistently feel out of place, dashing any harmony. Due to its color choices, that feeling is at its strongest in the uninviting Southern Swamp.

Which brings us to the second half of this article. In the Nintendo 64 Zelda offerings, color choice itself is the sole focus of its color theory. The graphics are otherwise normal; they aren’t particularly expressive one way or the other. Later games, however, use color in tandem with various rendering techniques to convey more nuance in their appearance. But that’s for another time.