The Legend of Zelda: Zelda Should Have Been the Protagonist
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is the thirteenth installment in the "Zelda" franchise and for me, it's the last great Zelda game. In fact, it's actually the greatest.
Like most people my age, I grew up with Nintendo. But I didn't buy a Gamecube (affectionately known by most gamers as "the purple lunchbox") until my cousins got me into it. I saw them playing Mario Kart one day and thought, "I need this in my life!"
I played Ocarina of Time (one of the more popular installments among fans), as well as The Wind Waker and much later, Skyward Sword (which I really didn't like).
I loved the puzzles and I loved that Link was silent and I loved his sidekick Navi, even though most people hated her. But out of all the Zelda games I've played, Twilight Princess will always have a special place in my geeky heart. It had an amazing story, great characters, decent combat, and really fun mini games.
Looking back now years later, I really wish Zelda had been the protagonist of the game. Not Link.
We Already Had Midna
We already had a great female sidekick in Midna. Why not give her a great female protagonist to help?
Midna is another good example of what women are talking about when we say we want a Strong Female Character.
Midna is not an object who solely exists to help the male main character. Obviously, it wouldn't matter if it wasn't such a trend for female characters to be reduced to this, but it is.
Instead, Midna has her own damn goals and her own shit to do. She is not there specifically to serve and worship Link and her entire life does not revolve around him.
She is a person, with her own life, her own desires. She has a clear personality and her being female did not encompass her entire being. There was no crap about her wishing she could have kids, crying that she was an infertile "monster," or being a mother figure to Link. They were a boy and a girl on equal footing and they were just friends -- without any of the other sexist crap you usually see in stories.
Midna was developed so well, I was honestly surprised to see a female character handled with . . . consideration. In a video game of all things! So why couldn't any of this have been done for Zelda?
It is clear in the beginning that Midna is only using Link to further her own goals (how refreshing that a male is the plot device in someone else's story for once), but as time goes on, Midna comes to have a real affection for Link, Zelda, and the people of Hyrule. She is from another world, but through traveling with Link, has learned to empathize with the people of his world.
Nothing makes this more apparent than when Midna nearly dies protecting Link and must be carried across Hyrule and back to Princess Zelda, who heals her with her light.
Honestly, the story wasn't perfect, but it was moments like this that made it pretty damn good.
At the game's end, once Link has lifted the curse of darkness from the land, Midna loses the imp shape she's been forced to, and it is revealed that she is the twilight princess, not Zelda.
And . . . she's pretty hot.
This was a wasted opportunity to give Zelda her own game. Midna could have chosen Zelda to go on adventures with, not Link. With all her magic power and those sweet arrows of light, Zelda was shown to be pretty battle-ready in this game.
Imagine a game where you are Princess Zelda. You bravely escape your imprisonment in the castle and ride around with Midna across Hyrule, solving problems and saving lives. Along the way, you and Midna become like sisters . . . or lovers? Maybe there's a reason Zelda never boinks Link.
Of course, Twilight Princess wasn't exactly the first time Zelda was handwaved and put "back in the kitchen," so to speak.
Remember back in Wind Waker when she was a happy, carefree pirate queen, out kicking butt and ruling the seas? Then the second she finds out she's Princess Zelda, she is slapped into a dress and sent off to a tower.
Don't misunderstand this article. I don't hate dresses and I don't believe women shouldn't be feminine. In fact, the Zelda we see in Twilight Princess -- the one who's beautiful and powerful and wearing pretty pink dresses -- is the kind of protagonist I write in most of my books.
Or I try to. It really depends on the setting of the story. If the protagonist lives some place where she's constantly walking in the snow and has to hunt to survive . . . she's not going to wear pink dresses. Let's face it: dresses just aren't practical.
No, my problem here is that Zelda isn't free to make her own decisions. She can't make the choice to be feminine or masculine. She can't make the choice to be a pirate queen who kicks ass. Not even when it makes sense for her to stick around and help Link! She is forced by the story itself to be Link's constant damsel in distress, his vague motivation and goal -- even when she's been shown to be perfectly capable of leading the story!
In classic Zelda games, Princess Zelda is always, always a plot device. The Wind Waker straight-up acknowledged it and then did it to her again anyway. It's like they went, "Yeah, Zelda would make an interesting protagonist but . . . Yeah, no. We want Link. Boys are better."
Imagine if, instead, we had been given the option to continue playing Link or switch to Zelda in that moment? I recall the first time I played The Wind Waker, I quit in disgust when Zelda was slapped in a pink dress and sent away. She asks why, and the answer is something like, "Triforce, Triforce, you have a vagina, Triforce."
At least Twilight Princess stepped away from this a bit by having Zelda actually help Link defeat Ganondorf at the end of the game. At least she's not completely helpless and treated like an infant that can do nothing to save herself. At least the developers somewhat started to get a clue that, oh yeah, maybe grown-ass women aren't completely useless. And maybe they can participate equally in stories!
Imagine being a girl gamer and playing games like this all your life, where you are depicted as an object with a bow on it, waiting to be rescued.
At least Zelda doesn't offer Link sexual favors in exchange for his basic human decency. The developers had that much sense.
There's this constant argument that Link would have nothing to do if Zelda was the protagonist, but that's a flimsy excuse at best. The Witcher 3 had dual protagonists in Geralt and Ciri. Ciri didn't sit around doing nothing and waiting for Geralt to save her. What's more, the player was actually allowed to play as her in some really cool sequences.
If Nintendo doesn't want to switch back and forth between protagonists, there's also multiplayer: one person plays Link, the other person plays Zelda.
Or they could, you know, let Zelda have her own damn game. She's a reincarnated goddess but still needs the Hero of Time to constantly protect her. Why can't she travel at his side? Why can't she help Link? Why not give us the option to have Link and Zelda traveling together and let us choose which one to control?
Because Nintendo thinks it will mess with their coins. Even though successful franchises like Mass Effect, with its alternative male and female protagonists, have proven otherwise.
Another excuse (no less rooted in misogyny) is that developers likely didn't believe there were enough teenage girls and young women in the audience to cash-in on. We were there, and there would have been even more of us if video games hadn't been created and marketed as a boys only wankfest from the start.
Nintendo deliberately not giving a crap about the women in their audience is why they no longer see money from me. After a while, you just get sick of this crap. You get tired of seeing yourself watered down to a helpless damsel and an object and a prize and a goal. Maybe there aren't a lot of girl gamers because of the blatant misogyny in so many video games. Just a thought.
Nintendo tried to half-ass this once with the whole "Linkle" fiasco, when really, all they had to do was give Zelda her own game. Just one game. Is that so much to ask? "Female Link" is not the answer. Why make Link into a girl when all you have to do is write a story for the awesome female character you already have?
The series is literally called The Legend of Zelda, and yet Zelda never gets to be a legend in her own right.
© 2018 Ash Gray