In this section of the game, Link helps his childhood friend Ilia recover her memory. There’s a lot of fetch questing involved, but I don’t actually mind fetch questing; it’s fun to travel around the digital world collecting things and talking to people.
What I do mind is Ilia’s damseling. There’s really no reason for her to have lost her memory, especially considering the fact that what actually happened to her when she was kidnapped by King Bulblin remains largely unclear.
This is what we have:
King Bulblin shows up at the spring near Link’s house and kidnapped Ilia and four younger children (Talo, Malo, Beth, and Colin). The younger children somehow end up in Kakariko Village, where they are taken in by Renado. Ilia never makes it to Kakariko, but later she turns up in Castle Town, where she and Telma are caring for the Zora prince Ralis. When Ilia sees Link, she doesn’t remember him or what happened to her, but she is adamant that Ralis be taken to Kakariko, where Renado can help him. After Ralis recovers, Ilia moves to Renado’s house, where she stands around moping.
Ilia and Renado are later joined by the Goron elder Gor Coron, who tells Link that Ilia’s memory might return if she sees something from her immediate past that can serve as a milestone. Link recovers a weird wooden totem statue that Ilia had been carrying when she was in Telma’s Bar; and, when he brings it back to her, Ilia tells him that she remembers someone saving her from King Bulblin and giving her the wooden statue. Gor Coron says that the statue must have come from the Hidden Village north of Eldin Bridge. Since rocks have blocked the path, he sends the Goron chief Darbus out the clear the way. Link follows along behind Darbus, enters the village, and meets an old woman named Impaz, who gives him a horseshoe-shaped whistle necklace that belonged to Ilia. Impaz then tells Link that, by royal decree, she can’t leave the otherwise deserted village until a certain person arrives. That “certain person” is of course Link, to whom she bequeaths an ancient book after she learns that Ilia is safe.
Did Impaz save Ilia from King Bulblin? If so, why did she save Ilia and not the other four children? Did the other four escape somehow, or were they judged as unimportant and then set free? Why was Ilia special? How did Impaz save Ilia if she can’t leave Hidden Village? How did Ilia make it to Castle Town? Does Impaz know Telma? Did Telma come to Hidden Village, or did Impaz drop Ilia off with Telma? Why did Impaz give Ilia the totem statue? Why did Impaz keep Ilia’s charm necklace? Why did the Royal Family decree that the ancient book (which is merely one item in an extended fetch quest) is so important that Impaz needs to stay with it in Hidden Village, which had long since fallen to ruin? Is “the Royal Family” Zelda, or one of her ancestors?
I don’t think the player is supposed to think about any of this too deeply, but it’s still troubling that there’s so much we don’t know. What we can read between the lines, however, is that Ilia has had plenty of her own adventures before ever coming to Kakariko. It’s therefore sad that she just sits in Renado’s house waiting for someone to help her. Why doesn’t she take charge of restoring her own memory? Or, if she can’t do that – not everyone can be a hero, after all – why doesn’t she set about creating new memories in Kakariko Village? Why doesn’t she interact with the four children from Ordon or Renado’s daughter Luda?
When Link presents Ilia with the charm necklace he receives from Impaz, she suddenly remembers everything, but she doesn’t regain her personality. At the beginning of the game, she was spirited and strong-willed, but now she does nothing more than make puppy eyes at Link, telling him that she’ll always wait for him. Essentially, she’s out of the story now.
Twilight Princess isn’t misogynistic or sexist, so I think there’s something more than typical video game damseling going on here. More specifically, I think the game is trying to demonstrate the appeal of innocence to the player, with Ilia being positioned as the moral center from which Link can’t deviate too far if he doesn’t want to be corrupted in the same way that Midna and Zelda will become corrupted later in the story. Ilia represents what Link has that neither Midna nor Zelda will ever have – a supportive community that sees him as a person and not as a figurehead. Regardless, there’s no need for her to be so passive. Not only does the player never figure out the finer details of the plot, but this entire set of scenarios is also thematically jarring in that female-gendered innocence is equated with passivity, which is obviously not the case with the male hero.
The Hidden Village is a Wild West style ghost town with cool music. It serves as the setting of a fun set piece in which it’s Link’s job to stealthily shoot down twenty bulblins that have concealed themselves around town in order to take sniper shots at him. Once they’re all defeated, Impaz comes out of her house at the edge of town to talk to Link. She is adorable, and she’s got six cats living in her house with her. If Link stands perfectly still, the cats ignore him and start interacting with Impaz and two toy balls on the ground.
What this means is that it was someone’s job to program the routines for these digital cats that only appear in this one character’s house towards the end of the game. What Twilight Princess lacks in storytelling finesse and thematic cohesion it makes up in creating a gorgeously immersive world for the player to enjoy.
After a bit more fetch questing, Link activates the Sky Cannon under Renado’s house, which will shoot him up to the next dungeon, the City in the Sky. Before he gets started with that mess, however, he has important business to attend to.
When Link returns to the Hidden Village after he’s concluded his official hero business with Impaz, he’ll find that the town has been invaded by cats. If he turns into Wolf Link and strikes up a conversation with one of them, he’ll be told to talk to their boss, a cucco hanging around in a yard behind a building that looks like it might have once been a saloon. The cucco will assign Link another heroic task similar to defeating twenty bulblins, but with a major difference – he must talk to twenty cats hiding around town. This minigame is both ridiculous and brilliant. Since the cats refuse to behave in a way that makes this easy for the player, it’s also fairly challenging!
I know some people might think it’s sad that Impaz lives alone in an abandoned village with several dozen cats, but honestly, this is the ideal outcome I envision for my own life, and I’m a little jealous of her. You just stay awesome and just keep doing your thing, Impaz.
( Header image by GENZOMAN on DeviantArt )