There are two constants in the ever-changing setting of the Legend of Zelda series. One, there is always a princess named Zelda and two, she is gonna need rescuing. For the past 35 years, we have done a lot of rescuing her royal backside, so we’ve had enough time to get to know Zelda in her many incarnations. So, I thought I’d take a look back and decide which Zelda incarnations have stuck with me as my favourites (excluding the most terrifying version ever, of course). Because this is the Internet, and everyone has an opinion on it.
Our Favourite Zelda Incarnations
There is a not small subsect of Zelda fans that want more romance between Link and the titular princess and Skyward Sword was the closest we got to this. Establishing the pair as childhood friends and setting the game before so much of the series lore meant that this is a Zelda free from the burden of leadership and the knowledge that she would have to save the world. It created a version that had more innocence than we had seen at that point.
There were certainly issues with the game for me (mostly around the motion controls of the Wii) but I immediately fell in love with this Zelda incarnation and felt motivated to do whatever it took to keep her safe. From that first smile and tilt of her head, my Link in Skyward Sword would fly to the literal ends of the world for this Zelda.
Breath of the Wild
There is nothing more annoying than a character who thinks they know everything and, unfortunately, having the Triforce of Wisdom means Zelda often falls into that category. That’s why I loved the Breath of the Wild version of Zelda so much. Through the cutscenes and flashbacks, we got to see a princess that was burdened by her own failures and short-comings. She failed to save her friends, her kingdom, and the world from the ravages of Calamity Ganon.
The Breath of the Wild remains my favourite Zelda game ever in no small part because of its portrayal of Zelda as a flawed and conflicted character. She just wants to go do some tomb raiding but she gets stuck trying to save the world. I can’t wait to see her get even more development in Breath of the Wild 2 when it finally comes out.
Ocarina of Time
For the franchise’s lifetime up to this point, Zelda had always been a princess in need of rescuing. This Zelda incarnation, however, took matters into her own hands. During Ocarina of Time’s seven-year time skip, Zelda gets trained up by her loyal bodyguard, Impa (another series mainstay), and becomes Sheik. In this guise, she becomes a helping hand and jam session regular for Link, teaching him a variety of music and guiding him across the broken landscape of Hyrule created during his long sleep.
Sheik was one of my favourite twists in a video game at the time. Though it might seem like an obvious one now, at the time it blew my young mind that the princess I was trying so hard to save was actually the one helping me out this whole time. Suddenly Zelda wasn’t a frightened child in my mind anymore. She was just as capable as I was and it was a welcome change for the series.
How do you make sure you shake up the formula of your twenty-year-old franchise? Well, a good first step might be to kill off the title character in the opening cutscene. In Spirit Tracks, Link is too late to save the princess and instead has to deal with her clingy, needy ghost throughout the rest of the game. I always remember the moment she approaches Link, demanding that he find a way to return her to life, looming over her with the big, expressive eyes that this timeline of Zelda games were known for.
In a series that so often reduces Zelda to a damsel in distress, I was happy they gave her more personality. Even if they had to kill her to do it.
What is your favourite Zelda incarnation? Which was the first version you encountered in a game? Let us know on our usual socials. Links are below!