Hello readers! Brian here with the eighth installment of “The Best and Worst of Zelda.” I can’t believe this weekly editorial has been going strong for two months already! Today’s topic has been requested by multiple users, most recently Churze, so thanks much to him! Don’t forget to write your ideas for next week in the comments!
Princess Zelda, the very princess we have named the legend after. Next to Link, she is arguably the series’ most important character, appearing in almost every game usually as the very reason for our hero’s long quest. As the series has grown, the character of Zelda has grown with it, with her evolving from more of a symbolic goal into a human being with feelings and goals of her own. The more the player feels for the Zelda character, the more satisfying that final rescue is.
So which games did it best, and which games fell short? Find out after the jump!
So if we wish to talk about a legitimately developed Zelda character, there are many games we can completely ignore. For instance, Link’s Awakening has merely one reference to the princess, Majora’s Mask gives her no important role, and the two NES games are extremely limited in terms of story. Both Four Swords and Four Swords Adventures give her character very minimal importance to the point that they’re not really worth discussion. And finally, Zelda makes no appearance in Phantom Hourglass, but rather Tetra, who I consider a different character. That utimately knocks out 7 games, leaving us with nine princesses to really zone in on!
A Link to the Past was really the first Zelda game to introduce it’s story in-game. Sure, the pamphlet that came with The Legend of Zelda or the scrolling text in Adventure of Link allow for the player to understand the quest, but the effect is extremely different when the characters speak to you. Zelda is the first voice our hero hears, telling of her capture and the evil wizard Agahnim, immediately giving us some initial purpose. Save the princess! And of course you do, and the first time you lead her threw the dark sewers of the dungeons into safety, it feels heroic. She actually stays in touch with you through the telepathic tiles in the dungeons, and never lets you forget that she is the key to saving the world. Though for the more modern Zelda fans, her deelopment seems rather small, it’s actually ridiculously huge compared to the games before it. For the first time in the series, we have an actual character!
And it’s no doubt that this character was emulated in Ocarina of Time, a game that resembles the SNES title in more ways than one. As a child, this princess is wise beyond her years, being able to see the obvious evil in Ganondorf, and predicting the dangerous circumstances soon to come. It’s a very sad truth that nobody believes her except the ten-year-old boy with a stick, but hey, it’s something, right? So in the seven year gap where Link is nowhere to be found, she trains hard to become a Sheikah, and disguises herself cleverly as a man named Sheik to avoid capture. Sheik helps Link at many points in his journey, until finally revealing herself as the princess he knew so long ago. Well that wasn’t the brightest move either, as now Ganondorf has seen her true identity and decides to steal her right then and there. This leads to a very similar situation as the beginning of A Link to the Past. Notice, the princess is trapped in the castle, you save her, and you run out of the castle together. Slight difference though; now there’s no safety for Zelda at the bottom, but rather the game’s final boss, Ganon. By this point, it’s on! You’ve been through way too much to save this damsel in distress, and there’s no way you’re losing her here! At least that’s how I felt at this part of the story, when I had really thought I’d built some sort of relationship with Zelda. Of course, when Sheik turned out to be Zelda, I was a bit confused and unhappy, but as a kid playing this game, it didn’t bother me too much. Now, as I’m a little bit older, I feel a bit torn; does the character development of SHeik really carry over into Zelda, or can we consider them two separate characters? The situation is strange and very different from anything else in the series. This confusion leaves me uneasy as to whether or not I really cared much for Princess Zelda in this particular game, but it’s probably just me over-analyzing things again! Overall, she works well as a character and definitely feels like a bonded friend to Link, but I still can’t be sure if her development was nearly enough.
But for anybody who didn’t think that Ocarina of Timedeveloped Zelda enough, her character in Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons must be a magnificent let-down. Her appearance is only made prominent in a linked game, after the player has already saved either Nayru or Din from the evil hands of Veran or Onox, respectively. She really only exists in the games for one purpose and one purpose only: to be captured. The evil witches Twinrova snatch Zelda with the hopes of sacrificing her to bring their lord Ganon back from the dead. That’s… it? Why on Earth do I care about this character, and why do I care if she’s saved or not? They may as well have taken any random villager running around the town and sacrificed her! She was random, and that isn’t how main characters are supposed to be. Main characters need to be polished, they need to have some form of a relationship with Link, and they need to, at the very least, spark some emotion in the player. The princess in these games failed to achieve any of these criteria, leaving me unimpressed and uninterested.
But I could say quite the opposite for The Wind Waker. A very different kind of Zelda game (admittedly, my favorite video game of all time) puts an extremely strange spin on Zelda’s character. We see the pirate Tetra for the first time right at the start of the game, where the ultimate goal seems to be the rescue of Aryll, Link’s little sister. Eventually you begin to realize that Tetra really has a soft spot for Link, despite her hard exterior. She alone is an interesting character, but once she discovers that she is actually the princess, Zelda, the game takes on a completely different tone. With Aryll safe, the new goal is to protect Zelda. She may be different from the character of Tetra, who we’ve seen develop, but she’s still the same person. It’s rather different from Sheik of Ocarina of Time, because from the very beginning we know they are the same one girl, merely in two different bodies. Tetra appears later, as we know, in Phantom Hourglass, but she never becomes Zelda, a very important difference between that Tetra and The Wind Waker‘s Tetra. The experience of seeing her as the princess after watching her at length as a pirate is not only shocking, but almost slightly humorous. And when she’s actually captured by Ganondorf, there’s a feeling more powerful then the one felt in Ocarina of Time. It feels fantastic to finally see Link and Tetra sail off together. I think that what makes this iteration of Zelda more powerful is that she feels very closely related to the player. The quest feels not only global; I have to save the world; but personal; I have to save my friend.
And that’s really all Zelda is to you in The Minish Cap. Despite being royalty, she’s still your typical young girl who just happens to be friends with some random kid living on the outskirts of Hyrule. After being turned to stone, your quest is simply laid out for you: restore the Four Sword and save your friend. And that’s exactly how it felt, not a journey to save Hyrule, but to save my best friend. Interestingly, I believe that section right at the beginning of the game where she has you running around Castle Town, and she humbly picks out a shield for you (I would have preferred the Heart Container) no matter how annoying, was completely necessary to the plot. It gave you a sense of Zelda as a person, and it helped to provide motive. Although there’s no more to say about her, as she remained a rock for 99% of the game, she still played a very impressive role for the limited amount of screentime she was given.
Speaking of limited screentime, Twilight Princess deals with Zelda in a very odd way. Within the first few hours of the game, we are introduced to her, a young woman faced with unjustly difficult decisions. She responds with maturity, tantamount to her character in Ocarina of Time, leading the player to believe that perhaps we’ll see more of her. But the game goes by, dungeon after dungeon. We learn more about Midna. We learn more about Zant. We learn more about Ganondorf. Until finally, after a good twenty-hour drought of Zelda information, Zant is defeated, to which Midna responds with “Link! Now is the time! We must save Zelda!” But Midna, who’s that? You mean the bug princess? Didn’t Zelda die or something? But once you see her again, she’s basically already possessed by Ganondorf, and once you save her, the game carries on as if she’s been a major part of it the whole time. What are you doing, Twilight Princess? I didn’t care even in the slightest for her, and now she’s the character I have to save? Why not just remove her altogether, and call the game Legend of Midna. I’d rather see her a bit more often she’s going to just randomly pop up again like that.
But is there such a thing as too often? Spirit Tracks gives Zelda her biggest role to date as Link’s loyal helper. Well, not really Zelda, but her spirit rather. Everywhere you go, she follows. It gives the player a greater grasp on Zelda as a person. Turns out she’s afraid of rats… and… she likes trains? Ok, so maybe wwe don’t get the greatest grasp on her as a person. She was a very decent partner who was no doubt enjoyable to have around, and having her become a phantom made for some very cool puzzle solving. All in all, she was a better companion than she was a Princess Zelda character.
And lastly on our chronological journey is Skyward Sword, which offers a very humble Zelda. She’s pretty, but not drop-dead gorgeous, she’s dressed casually, she’s sassy, friendly; just a great girl as it seems. As with Minish Cap or The Wind Waker, Zelda is made out to be your good friend, and Link’s journey becomes a personal quest as well as a global one. This is an idea I really like, and if it were to be reused in future Zelda games, I would be ecstatic. It immerses the player more into the story if he/she has a deep connection personally with the goal, and not just some grandiose abstract “Let’s save the world from impending doom.” Zelda in Skyward Sword embodies this aspect well in my opinion, making her character one of my favorite parts of the game.
Well that’s all I’ve got for you guys this week! Be sure to check back every Tuesday at 11:00 AM central time for more, and don’t forget to leave your ideas for next week below! Thanks for reading!
And what do you think? Where do you agree or disagree with me? Leave your answers in the comments!