The Evolution of a Girl: Zelda – part 1
Although the famous series is called Legend of Zelda, my favourite princess does not have the screentime she deserves (in my humble opinion). No, the guy in the green hat is not Zelda and if you thought that I kindly request you to leave, play Ocarina of Time, come back and thank me for that great experience, and then continue reading this post. In short: Zelda is the princess of Hyrule and this princess character has been reimagined with almost every iteration of the game.
In the very first Zelda game, back in 1986, Zelda is pretty much only a game objective: save her. Not much (gross UNDERSTATEMENT) of her personality could shine through due to the technical limitations at the time. There was no room for extensive personality building through conversation or storytelling.
Time skip to 1998. For the first time we, although very polygonal, know what Zelda looks like in Ocarina of Time. We meet her as a child and when she is grown up. I would say that this iteration she is very vanilla. A quintessential advocate of justice who is concerned for her kingdom and oozes responsibility (seriously you guys are 8 or something go play and don’t worry about the world). This is an aspect often found in Zelda (calm and wise) because of her triforce affiliation.
Now I can hear you say: “but what about Sheik, that is not very vanilla”. To them I would say..mhhh it kind of is. Sheik is very much in line with her calm and wise demeanor and heavily leans into the “chooser of the chosen archetype”. The player only knows she’s (actually we don’t even know it’s a she) mysterious and guides link through the prophecy. Although this Zelda is a little more than the damsel in distress she still very much is…a damsel in distress. This may seem critical but don’t get me wrong. I think this Zelda is great, I love this iteration for two reasons. Because of the Sheik/Zelda thing she stimulates your imagination. She did not become a ninja overnight, it opens up a story oppertunity that the player can imagine/write themselves. The second reason is because this Zelda is ‘the mother tree’ in the Zelda forest. All the character traits that other future iterations will have, are found in this Zelda. From the rambunctious Tetra to the statuesque monarch of twilight, this Zelda iteration embodies them all.
We go to the next tree in our Zelda forest: Tetra. Tetra is our princess in Wind Waker. She is the embodiment of rambunctious: a pirate captain. What I loved about Wind Waker is that Zelda/Tetra is a good fleshed out character, with habits and quirks. She fulfills the guiding role once again, but this time in a less “sage of the age” manner. Although Tetra becomes more docile in the second half of the series, her self-reliant side is omnipresent. She helps link destroy ganondorf and when all is well again, she chooses the pirate life over that of a princess. Noteworthy is that Tetra is one of the few iterations where she does not fulfill the “chooser of the chosen one” – archetype. In wind waker this is the king of the red lions (also known as boat). Tetra is a mentor to Link and an equal to him in being a chosen one.
In Twilight Princess the overall tone of the game is serious and thus Zelda’s portrayal is as well. Zelda is actually the monarch of hyrule. I like this take on Zelda a lot because it is the first time you see her as actual ruling royalty. Although she has less personality than Tetra, I think the distance between her and the player in the story is fitting. It fits so well because Twilight Princess feels like an epic, a story where a hero does grandiose things (not feel things). That isn’t to say there is no room for personality (Midna being the prime example), I think it is very telling what kind of person Zelda is when she finally realizes who Midna is and gives her life to save Midna’s or when after being mind controlled hops on the back of your horse and will help Link defeat ganondorf. This Zelda iteration embodies true royalty, without losing her strength. I think Nintendo wanted to underline this strength, because Twilight Princess has the first Zelda in full princess atire with her own sword, unsheathed.
Concluding, I think I can argue that the first Zelda was a founding mother of the character. Maybe designers, fans, or story writers, from that point on saw the many traits this character could possess and how many different forms she could take. To not overload your brain this will be a two (maybe three) parter. Next time we discuss the princess in Spirit Tracks, Skyward Sword and Breath of the Wild.
Anyways, take it easy and we’ll talk soon!