Posted on December 24 2010 by Nathanial Rumphol-Janc
Princess Zelda, even though you may be the titular character of The Legend of Zelda series, you are definitely not the focus. The series may be named after you, but you are not an integral part of it. You alone do not make Zelda what it is; there are numerous other aspects that make up Zelda games. There’s the Triforce, Hyrule, The Master Sword, Ganondorf and of course, Link himself. The funny thing is that out of all of these elements, Link is the only one that has been present in every game. You, Princess Zelda, haven’t been, nor need you be for that matter.
Zelda games always trace the journey of our hero, Link, and that’s who they are about. He is the focus. Miyamoto may have chosen to name the series after the influential woman Zelda Fitzgerald, but his real inspiration for making The Legend of Zelda was from childhood memories of exploring the vast open world around him. It was always about the journey of the hero. That’s why it makes so much sense that the second installment was called The Adventure of Link – the most well named title in the series.
Nintendo realized that it was Link who is the titular character, and, hence, they gave him prime position in the sequel’s title. It’s such a shame that The Adventure of Link is largely considered a flop and the ‘black sheep’ of the series. (Wait, that’s not socially acceptable to say these days, is it?) Anyway, that’s likely the reason why Nintendo went back to the title ‘The Legend of Zelda’ as a prefix for A Link to the Past, which they’ve stuck with since. It was about establishing the brand of ‘The Legend of Zelda’, and riding on the success of the first game – ignoring the failure of its sequel. Thus Princess Zelda was once again returned to title prominence in the series.
In A Link to the Past, the Princess again took up the role which really is now her cliché. Her role in the original, in Ocarina of Time, in The Wind Waker, in Twilight Princess, in Phantom Hourglass, even in Spirit Tracks. That is of the Princess needing to be rescued. Of course, not like the typical damsel in distress, as she often takes an active role in saving Hyrule, but pretty much always needs saving herself in the end. Be thankful she’s not as useless as Princess Peach at the least.
Sure, Princess Zelda does add and contribute to relevant story points on occasion, just look at her active role in the events of Ocarina of Time. But there are other times where she could potentially be removed quite easily from the game because she’s only in the game for the sake of being in there. The developers give her some story relevance, beyond just needing to be saved, so that everything is just dandy. Right?
It’s sad to think, that in many regards, the only reason Princess Zelda even makes appearances in Zelda games is because of the series’ title. It’s like Nintendo just has to include her somehow to justify the name of the series. Just so that new gamers can at least see where the name comes from if they’ve never played another installment before. When developing stories for new games I bet that the mindframe is not ‘how do we build this game around Zelda’, but rather, ‘how do we build an adventure around Link and incorporate a Zelda somehow?’
When we look into the past, Zelda hasn’t been in every game. Link’s Awakening and Majora’s Mask, potentially the most ‘out-there’ games of the series, lack Princess Zelda. Well, that’s not necessarily an accurate statement, as Zelda does appear in a brief flashback in Majora’s Mask. However, that scene sets up deeper moral meanings to the story of Majora’s Mask, it doesn’t drive the direct surface gameplay or storyline. Zelda is useless in that regard and affects nothing. As for Link’s Awakening, Zelda isn’t even in it. Sure, people will claim that Marin is Link’s mental representation of Zelda, but guess what – she isn’t Zelda. Both Majora’s Mask and Link’s Awakening prove themselves as great Zelda games without the need for Zelda to make them what they are.
Unfortunately, Nintendo seems to have some rule dictating that Zelda has to in every game nowadays, and with Spirit Tracks, she took her most active role yet – as Link’s companion. Seriously, what was that? You liked it, I liked it. It worked fairly well as a gameplay mechanic, save for the fact that it needn’t have been Zelda. Are Nintendo out of ideas for how to involve Zelda? Are they resorting to making her Link’s companion, a role that someone else always filled in the past? With Spirit Tracks many people, myself included, said that Zelda finally got the role that she deserved. It was a shame though, because it was far too late. Spirit Tracks showed that Zelda is as relevant to the Zelda series as any random companion is – she’s now just a tag along.
The Adventure of Link is criticized for its title, for its overworld to sidescrolling enemy system, and its difficulty. Today I give The Adventure of Link the praise that it has long deserved – because it has incorporated Zelda (the person, not the game – I hope you’re following) into the game far better than any other game in the series. The original didn’t do a bad job of it, except for being the typical fairy tale ‘hero saves princess’ story. The Adventure of Link does have that aspect too, but it did so much right.
Firstly, the focus was given to Link in the gameplay. It was his adventure and his journey. It was ‘The Adventure of Link’. Secondly, it gave a meaning to why the series is ‘The Legend of Zelda’ and why every Princess is named ‘Zelda’, which leads into point three. The Adventure of Link established a backstory – about Zelda, Hyrule and the Triforce. Princess Zelda wasn’t a mere add-on to the game, but an integral part of the game’s mythology. She was a part of the game’s ‘legend’, even though she was hardly in the game itself. The ‘Legend of Zelda’ doesn’t demand a physical presence in the game in any way.
The current ruling Princess Zelda in the time of The Adventure of Link (the same one as in the original) isn’t actually ever seen in the game and is only briefly mentioned in the manual. The point there obviously being that just because the legend exists, doesn’t mean that the Princess has to be seen in every game. Besides, sometimes there would only be a prince anyway – if we’re going to resort to logic. The Adventure of Link has Zelda as a legendary figure of history who was met at the end of the game after one hell of a hard quest.
Nintendo has realized with games like Majora’s Mask and Spirit Tracks that Ganondorf and the Triforce don’t have to be directly involved in every game, but as long as they are part of the myth, they don’t need to be. The same goes for Zelda. Even though it is the odd name out in the series, The Adventure of Link is the very game that tells us what ‘The Legend of Zelda’ truly is – the reason why all Princesses are named Zelda.
You see, The Legend of Zelda isn’t about sticking a Princess Zelda in every game. It is about continuing stories in the land where the ‘legend of Zelda’ exists. The legend established in The Adventure of Link’s manual. I’d love to see more things like in The Wind Waker, where the character called Tetra is only ‘Zelda’ because of the mythic pre-history that is ‘The Legend of Zelda’. We don’t need to see a Princess in every game. Her legend, her memory, and her spirit are what courses through Zelda games to make them deserve their title. Perhaps ‘The Adventure of Link’ is a better title, but no, it will always be called ‘The Legend of Zelda’. So then, Nintendo, let’s make it more legendary, and not have Zelda as the customary game inclusion. Please do me proud Skyward Sword.