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Ocarina of Time's Link Is (Maybe, Probably) Based on Leonardo DiCaprio

Nintendo sort-of confirms what my silly teenage self suspected in the '90s.

News by Nadia Oxford, .

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.

Retronauts Toots on the Ocarina of Time

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.

Never let go of that fish, Link. Never let go.

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.

Nintendo did a great job capturing DiCaprio's angled features.

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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Comments 12

  • Avatar for Roto13 #1 Roto13 9 months ago
    Ocarina of Time was in development for a long time. I remember Link looked pretty different in the earlier screenshots. I wonder when, exactly, his design was finalized.
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  • Avatar for vincentgoodwin88 #2 vincentgoodwin88 9 months ago
    Thanks! I was reading that interview in my book today and my immediate thought was Tom Cruise.

    Leo makes a lot of sense though.
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  • Avatar for NiceGuyNeon #3 NiceGuyNeon 9 months ago
    I wonder who current Link is based off of? He and Zelda both look gorgeous for Breath of the Wild!
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  • Avatar for thewonps #4 thewonps 9 months ago
    I think Nintendo underestimates just how powerful the "androgynous" aspects of Link and Zelda are to a specific portion of the Zelda fanbase. A courageous, manly, yet pretty and respectful man? An elegant and strong woman? Sign me up. This is why Link crossplay works so well too. I think alot of people would imagine them to be a Lesbian couple, just as Link and Tetra/Sheik work so well as a coded Gay people.
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  • Avatar for Stepout #5 Stepout 9 months ago
    DiCaprio is hilarious in The Beach.
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  • Avatar for UnskippableCutscene #6 UnskippableCutscene 9 months ago
    Always liked the Link To The Past supplementary materials design the best.
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #7 cldmstrsn 9 months ago
    I thought it was tom cruise in legend. That movie is pretty big in Japan
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  • Avatar for NotCarolKaye #8 NotCarolKaye 9 months ago
    I've gotta say Nadia, it's pretty astute of you to have picked up on this. I don't think I'd have ever made the connection.
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  • Avatar for nadiaoxford #9 nadiaoxford 9 months ago
    @NotCarolKaye Ha ha! Well I'm glad this article was informative, then. ;)
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  • Avatar for Andy1975 #10 Andy1975 9 months ago
    Cruise is massively popular in Japan and should probably be considered a potential influence on just about every Japanese game character that isn't Mario (and who knows, maybe even then...Mario is a cocky li'l guy, after all).
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  • Avatar for Lonecow #11 Lonecow 9 months ago
    The other possibility is Brad Pitt.

    Cruise had a giant nose back then. Look at Aladdin. Aladdin is based on Cruise.

    You are probably right, and it is probably Leo but I just wish people would stop saying Cruise. They couldn't look further apart.
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  • Avatar for photoboy #12 photoboy 9 months ago
    It's bad enough knowing Steve in Code Veronica was based on DiCaprio...
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