Zelda, princess of Hyrule and bearer of the Triforce of Wisdom, despite being the titular character of The Legend of Zelda franchise, has never been the lead protagonist in the series. Link has always claimed that honor, and Zelda, even in her some of her “stronger” roles, has always at some point played the damsel in distress (and this obviously does not count her appearances in the CD-I games or the animated series). That may not be the case forever.
At E3 2013, after being inquired multiple times about if Princess Zelda will ever be playable in her series, Aonuma expressed interest in making it happen “if people have strong feelings about it”. The subject was raised again at E3 2014 due to Zelda being a playable character in Hyrule Warriors and the confusion about the gender of the character in the Zelda Wii U reveal (who turned out to be Link after all). In an interview with IGN, Aonuma states,
“I’m interested in seeing something like that, but I think one of the charm points of this particular franchise is that fact that it’s called ‘Legend of Zelda’ but Zelda is not the main character,” Aonuma said. “She’s not the protagonist. But if you ask me what that is, I don’t know. I can’t really explain it. Maybe if she’s the main character, then maybe the title needs to change.”
Aonuma is definitely not saying “no” to the possibility, so it is time to look at the value of Princess Zelda starring in her own game.
In The Legend of Zelda and The Adventure of Link, Zelda seemed to function as nothing more than a plot device. The ultimate goal of the player was to save her, but she did not drive the story during the course of Link’s journeys. Zelda was static, and she remained trapped in the same spot from the beginning to the end of the games. We never really get to know who she is beyond what the prologues of the games tell us; the background explains how she acts selflessly, a trait she always displays. She tries to hinder evil by splitting the Triforce of Wisdom into eight pieces or refusing to reveal the location of the Triforce of Courage, but these are actions we are told, not shown. We learn very little about her personality; her character.
The following games received a variety of Zeldas, and we got to know her more and more, and each iteration of the princess had her own character. While some had a less active role and screen time, as in Twilight Princess and A Link Between Worlds, others were very involved in the story. Princess Zelda in Ocarina of Time was the first to show emotion on screen. She led Link to open the Door of Time, and in the end, she regretted her actions; the regret is visible on her face. Her remorse is very telling of what kind of person she is; it is her remorse that brings her to send Link back to his own time, causing the infamous timeline split. This act goes beyond her strong sense of royal duty; this is something she did for Link.
The Wind Waker gave us Tetra, a much sterner version Zelda than we have seen before; also, she is a pirate captain with a loyal crew that follows her every order. Spirit Tracks’ Zelda was quirky and a little high-strung, mostly because her body was stolen to be used as a vessel for Malladus, leaving her as a spirit to accompany Link on his adventures. Zelda has now become dynamic; who she is—how she acts and looks—seems to depend on her circumstances, which in turn depend on the plot, setting, mechanics of the game. Zelda’s most notable incarnation is probably the one in Skyward Sword, who is a culmination of all the Zeldas seen before her. She is Link’s childhood friend, and the opening of the game does a great job of letting the players feel as if they have known her for years. What is important about her is that not only does she have a huge impact on the outcome of Skyward Sword but she changes how Zelda is seen throughout the series.
The reason for establishing the characterization of Zelda is that it separates her from Link. She is not meant to be the malleable avatar that Link will always be. While some will argue that Link has his own character, and I am inclined to agree, the player is meant to shape who he is. Zelda, on the other hand, is most often the princess of Hyrule. She has an identity, and unlike Link, she has her own voice, and that is something that should never change. Her quality is wisdom. She is a leader. If Zelda is to be the lead protagonist of her own game, she needs to speak. It makes one wonder that if Link is meant to be the player character, is there any room for him if Zelda is the leading woman?
There also has to be a justifiable reason to play as Princess Zelda; not necessarily for the sake of plot but for gameplay. The Legend of Zelda games focus on gameplay before story, after all. Playing as Zelda should feel different from controlling Link. It is hard to imagine how because Link can pretty much do anything. The developers at Nintendo make it their job to find new gameplay mechanics to make each game in The Legend of Zelda series feel new, like riding birds and turning into a drawing, so Link is always expanding his repertoire with every entry. That is not to say that Zelda cannot do everything that Link can; she just has to have her own style and mechanics that make her unique.
Looking back, Zelda has never been playable in a core title of The Legend of Zelda. She has been playable in Super Smash Bros., in which she has specialized in using magic, and will be in Hyrule Warriors, fighting with a rapier, the Wind Waker, and the Light Bow. In Spirit Tracks, Zelda can be controlled when she possesses a Phantom, but she functioned more like an item; like a unit in real-time strategy game, who is commanded to go where told. Controlling her was less direct and more of a means for puzzle-solving. Still, Nintendo can take cues from how she is represented in these games to give Zelda a set of abilities that would work for her in her own title. Whatever they do, it should feel like The Legend of Zelda.
Obviously, I find the prospect of a Zelda starring as the main character is truly intriguing, not that I need a break from playing as Link; it is not about depicting strong female leads to expand to a different audience. I feel that after the long history of The Legend of Zelda, Princess Zelda deserves to have her time in the spotlight. She is one of Nintendo’s greatest characters, and the company owes it to her. Zelda’s time to fight for herself is long overdue.
If you have any thoughts and opinions on the subject, say so in the comment section below.