This year, you\’ll be able to pick up not one, but two new Legend of Zelda games: The Wind Waker HD on Wii U and A Link Between Worlds on 3DS. Both of those games star Link, of course, and it\’s safe to say that the highly-anticipated, yet unannounced Zelda game for Wii U will also put Link in the spotlight in another grand adventure. Yet, despite all three of these titles being new releases, they will all ultimately feel rather familiar. Sure, The Wind Waker HD gets a pass because it\’s a re-release, and A Link Between Worlds takes place in the same world as A Link to the Past, but even the upcoming Zelda Wii U title will almost certainly feel like it\’s retreading old ground. Is it because we have walked in Link\’s shoes for every moment since the very beginning of the original Legend of Zelda?
Link is a timeless character: the underdog hero that rises to strike down evil and save the world from the tyranny of darkness. Sticking to the formula has more or less worked for Nintendo over the years – The Legend of Zelda continues to be one of the most popular and best-selling game franchises of all time. Nintendo has even tweaked the formula here and there (from the cartoon world of Wind Waker to the dark depths of Twilight Princess) without ever slowing down the franchise\’s momentum.
Yet, for all the times Link has been called “Zelda” due to the series\’ moniker, we\’ve never actually played as Zelda herself. Whenever she is involved, she is the damsel in distress, hoping Link will return to save her once again. Even when she debuts a tougher exterior in The Wind Waker, she is eventually reduced to kidnap-bait anyway. And although Zelda does help Link in his final battle a number of times throughout the franchise, it is never without Link that Zelda is able to escape from the clutches of evil.
So, why are we never able to take control of Zelda – or even better, her alter ego Sheik – once Link has completed his adventure? Why have we never learned of Zelda\’s whereabouts in Ocarina of Time when Link travels to the future? Is Zelda not capable of even having an entirely new adventure on her own?
The idea of having Zelda star as the protagonist of her own game is not new. Yet, it seems like the topic has barely been touched upon because recent interpretations of the concept have left the subject both archaic and dull. This is mostly because the proposal is never made that Zelda would become the protagonist without losing her identity.
Unfortunately, it seems that when Zelda is molded into the protagonist, she becomes more like Link instead of retaining what makes her Zelda in the first place: her stately, regal appearance; her excellence at conjuring magical spells; her political ties and national significance etc. Attempts at putting Zelda in the spotlight, such as this rather safe concept art for a Zelda-led LoZ title, seem to strip away the qualities that established Zelda as the apple of Link\’s eye and replace them with qualities reminiscent of Link himself. Essentially we get Link as a woman rather than the actual Zelda.
This is a shame because Zelda is more than the character that an ordinary rescue mission would imply. She\’s not only a powerful heiress, she\’s a master of magic and the woman behind Sheik\’s shrouded figure. However, in Zelda games, she is the reward at the end of the battle, not the force to be reckoned with that she should be. Unfortunately, because of her lack of proper character development in the Zelda series, she is essentially reduced to a plot device, playing the damsel-in-distress role that impedes the establishment of character in the first place.
And then there\’s Sheik, Zelda\’s ninja-like alter ego that could easily pounce from the darkness just as well as Zelda commands the might of magic. She\’s swift, fierce and merciless, as well as graceful and divine. She presents a contrast that both increases her character\’s diversity but also unifies it as two sides of the same coin. Sheik even displays her combat prowess outside of the Zelda universe by being a deadly fighter in Super Smash Bros. Melee (though not so much in its successor, Brawl, as it turns out).
The question is, would Nintendo ever have a Zelda game not starring Link? More importantly, does Nintendo even consider Zelda to be a possible candidate for a protagonist? While we cannot judge their intention, we do have to note that the Zelda universe is a vivid and diverse place open to any possibility. Although the next three Zelda games will likely be completely carried by Link and Link only, that does not necessarily rule out the possibility of Zelda stepping into the role of protagonist in the future.
Still, it seems like the video game industry may be predisposed to shun a Zelda-led LoZ game, at least that\’s what many may be led to believe. It\’s an extremely obvious observation that male protagonists maintain an overwhelming majority of video games and that there are a miniscule amount of female protagonists that are consistently returning to store shelves. Metroid, in which gamers play as the armor-clad bounty hunter Samus Aran, is one of the few examples of a strong and popular female protagonist, although it is true that Metroid is not one of Nintendo\’s best-selling series.
Testing the waters with a Zelda game starring Zelda herself would not be the worst waste of resources on Nintendo\’s part, in fact it could likely be quite the opposite – the introduction of a new Zelda game with a new main character could soothe a market saturated with games starring Link and home in on some latent interest in many a gamer. Hell, inserting Zelda as the protagonist could be just the latest tweak that Nintendo needs to make to the Zelda formula to ensure that it remains a dominant franchise in the video games industry.
Do you think it\’s time for a “true” Zelda game? Not just a game where Zelda runs around with a sword and shield, wearing clothing very similar to her trusted savior, but where you truly play as the real Zelda and Sheik in their fullest forms. Or is the world not yet ready for such a game?