These days, most content creators talk openly about how outside media influences their work. Some developers still choose to be a little coy about it, especially when said work is a bit on the older side.
This week, USgamer's classic gaming podcast explores Link's 1998 leap into the world of 3D gaming.
Nintendo, for example, recently offered just a sliver of insight into one of its most important character designs in recent memory. A newly-released Zelda artbook called The Legend of Zelda: Art and Artifacts contains an interview with Nintendo artists Yusuke Nakano, Satoru Takizawa, and Yoshiki Haruhana that sheds light on Link's re-design for 1998's The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. While NES- and- SNES-era Link is cute in his own spindly way, there's no denying Ocarina Link is a bit of a heartthrob – a design decision that was very intentional and very inspired.
Here's the telling part of the interview with Nanako, Takizawa, and Haruhana (courtesy of Kotaku):
"So when you were illustrating [Ocarina of Time] Link, was there an inspiration for the character?"
NAKANO: "Yes. A rather world- famous Hollywood actor..."
TAKIZAWA: "Huh? You mean that actor?"
HARUHANA: "He is one good- looking guy."
NAKANO: "Yeah. At that time, if you were to talk about a really good-looking actor, people immediately thought of this guy. So I recall keeping in mind the point of his nose and that strong-willed look in his eyes when I was drawing."
Ocarina of Time Link came into being in the mid- through- late-'90s. He's undergone many revisions, but given the time period, there are three Hollywood idols who are suspect here:
River Phoenix -- Phoenix was a household name in the '80s and early '90s before he sadly died of a drug overdose in 1993. Though Final Fantasy VIII protagonist Squalll Leonheart is based on Phoenix, Haruhana says Link's inspiration "is one good-looking guy," which probably indicates whomever they are, they're still alive.
Tom Cruise -- Definitely a possibility. In the past, I've talked about how Ridley Scott's movie Legend, which stars a very young Tom Cruise, might have directly influenced Ocarina of Time's characters and themes. But there's another handsome actor who would've been particularly influential around the time Nintendo was working on the N64's most significant game...
Leonardo DiCaprio -- If a Moblin ever sticks a spear to my throat and tells me to guess which actor Ocarina of Time's Link is based on (for whatever reason), I'll feel confident naming DiCaprio as my answer.
That said, I don't think DiCaprio's biggest box office hit, 1997's Titanic, is the specific reason why Nakano felt inspired. True, Titanic is Japan's second highest-grossing movie of all time ($26.20 billion, surpassed only by Spirited Away's $30.80 billion), but DiCaprio established himself as a real-life bishonen RPG character a year beforehand in 1996's Romeo + Juliet. Japan took a special liking to the movie, where it grossed over $9.3 million.
For comparison's sake, Romeo + Juliet grossed over $12 million apiece in the UK and Australia, $13 million in Germany, and $46 million domestically. The movie didn't burn up Japan's theatres, but the country certainly took notice of it.
Moreover, DiCaprio, who was born in 1974, was in his early 20's when his star went shooting upwards. He was more or less around "adult" Link's age in Ocarina of Time, which was 17. Tom Cruise, born in 1962, was a more wizened 35 in 1997.
Finally: I was a hormone-fogged 17-year-old when both Leonardo DiCaprio and Ocarina of Time were making headlines. I took one look at Ocarina of Time's Link, another look at DiCaprio, and made the connection instantly. Silly teenage instinct isn't good for much, but I'm still willing to bet it was on the mark back then.
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