I just wanted an excuse to talk about Princess Zelda, indulge me.
I love Zelda (the franchise AND the Princess), that’s no secret, but it’s problematic.
I’ve been playing video games my whole life, I don’t even remember the first one I ever played. The controllers sit in my hands as naturally as… well, a controller.
You get the idea.
Throughout my whole life though, something always bugged me – why am I always saving the Princess? Why can’t I play as the Princess?
The Legend of Zelda has been my go-to franchise for basically forever, but the formula is always the same and that is really depressing.
Zelda gets kidnapped/captured/whatever, Link is the Chosen Hero who must save her, over and over and over again – there’s a whole timeline where this just keeps happening (don’t get me started on the timeline though).
There are times when they deviate – in Ocarina of Time, Zelda hides herself in plain sight as Sheik, she survives and she learns to stay safe, buuuuuut she gets captured and sealed in a crystal as soon as she reveals her true identity.
In Skyward Sword, Zelda realises her true identity as an honest to god (goddess?) deity, so what does she do? Seals herself away in a crystal (this is a theme) and waits for Link to “wake her up”.
Oh and then she gets kidnapped.
They deviate, but they’re the same.
I love Zelda but it really sucks.
Final warning about spoilers.
Getting onto Breath of the Wild though, there are aspects that are similar, but also aspects that are so different I honestly fell in love over and over again with the character of Zelda.
Firstly, our Princess is a scholar.
There’s so much pressure on her to conform to the duties set out by her predecessors, to be the goddess in human form, but being a goddess isn’t easy. It’s the first time we really see a Zelda struggle with her role, rather than just accepting it and going merrily about her “fate”.
She tries and tries to awaken her holy power, but it’s exhausting and mentally draining and she just wants to focus on the things she can see, like the Divine Beasts and Guardians, and study those and create a plan based on what she can control.
Obviously, some people aren’t happy about that. Specifically her father, the King, who expects her to fulfil her holy duties, leave behind the scholarly life and become a beacon of hope for Hyrule – there are even cutscenes focusing on this difference in ideals and I LOVE IT.
Also, the cutscene in the fields where Zelda is getting excited about the frogs for the elixirs? My life is complete.
It adds a depth to Zelda we’ve never really gotten to see before.
Secondly, Zelda doesn’t just get given her knight in shining armour and then sits back and relaxes, no, she’s not about that life.
She doesn’t want a knight, she wants to be independent of the ties of being a Princess (or just… female?). She doesn’t want someone following her around whilst she gets her science done.
It’s also very explicitly stated that Link, with the whole Chosen by the Gods schtick, is a reminder of her own failings. So what does she do?
She makes up for them.
She goes out, finds pilots for the Divine Beasts from the four major tribes of Hyrule, she chooses her Champions to help her fight a battle she knows she can’t do alone.
Link may be a thorn in her side at first that pushes her to act, but she’s damn well gonna do it regardless.
I respect that.
It’s another reason why I loved the DLC so much.
Also, Nintendo show Zelda going through character development and don’t rely solely on the whole powers thing. They show her growing out of her childish resentment of Link, and maturing to realise he’s in a similar position to her, and they’re all facing the end of the world, there’s no time to be fighting and angsty with each other.
She gets upset about the fact she’s been pushed into a specific role in her life but is struggling to fulfil it, she beats herself up at times but then she just goes and does what she can.
She has depth!!!
Finally, Zelda doesn’t ask to be saved. When her voice gently comes through the speakers, it’s to remind you of your duty to destroy Calamity Ganon, you’re not saving her in order to save Hyrule, she wants you to save Hyrule first.
You cannot save the Champions, and the King implores you to save his daughter from their fate, but Zelda is constantly there to tell you to be safe, to gather your strength to defeat Ganon, not to come and rescue her – if you’re going to save anyone, she wants you to save the land you call home.
Zelda’s powers awaken exactly when they need to (as powers are want to do), allowing her to save Link and put the plan in motion that leads us to Breath of the Wild.
She’s lost her family, her friends, her home, she’s desperate and is about to lose someone she (canonically) deeply cares for.
(The whole Link x Zelda thing is whole different issue.)
After going through hell to awaken her powers, she throws herself right back in by sealing herself inside Calamity Ganon to keep him at bay.
Zelda is fighting Ganon for over a century.
On her own.
While Link is asleep.
Oh yeah and then she delivers the final, devastating blow to Calamity Ganon.
You don’t need head canons or fan fiction to know this Zelda is strong, Nintendo explicitly made her that way.
Sure, she has flaws, perhaps the introduction of a potential love triangle between Zelda, Link, and Mipha was unnecessary (though it had its uses in regards to Zora’s Domain…). The reliance on the trope of a princess with holy powers can get quite repetitive but it’s at the very core of the franchise, so I recognise that it’s not exactly easy to move away from it.
She’s still not perfect and yes you still had to save her in a roundabout way, but she’s pulling the strings, she’s doing what she wants and what she believes is right and she’s DAMN SMART.
I could go on for ages, but I’ve had to reign myself in.
All I ask is that Nintendo keep learning and keep improving, and that it doesn’t take another 30 years for me to be able to play as a female character, or even as Zelda, in a main franchise game.
This post took a lot longer to write than I planned because I started watching all the Memories again on YouTube.