Jul 19, 2015
The Legend of Zelda series and female representation
In my last article about the Legend of Zelda games, I put forth the suggestion that Nintendo should make Link gender-optional, because there’s no reason to exclude female players from having this option. Though, perhaps in retrospect that was a bit unfair of me, as the Zelda series just might be the single best adventure franchise when it comes to female representation.
Recently, the newest game in the franchise (though, not really a part of the main franchise, and more of a fun side entry) came out, called Hyrule Warriors, where for the first time you get to play as not only Link, but a number of other characters. In this game, you can play as ten different hero characters and only two of them are male. Wait… what the hell? Did I just walk into a weird warped alternate universe where gender representation has been flipped completely around?
No, what actually happened is that this is merely the latest example of how in the 25 year long history of Zelda, females have always had a prominent role within the games. Only two of the playable characters have been invented specifically for Hyrule Warriors, and the rest have all been part of Zelda lore for quite some time. Actually, there are plenty of other women who popped up in the Zelda games from time to time who could have also been used as well, if the creators had so chosen.
While it’s true that in the very first Legend of Zelda game for the NES, Zelda herself amounted to nothing more than a variation on Princess Peach, her role was soon expanded, and over the years she’s become much more important.
Ever since the highly acclaimed Ocarina of Time, there’s been a lot of effort put into making Zelda herself a proactive participant within the gameplay, and not just another damsel in distress. Let’s not forget that Sheik in Ocarina of Time turned out to be Zelda all along, and she was basically our mysterious ninja helper giving us clues and guiding us through the dangers of future Hyrule.
Zelda in the games is not just a princess; she’s the reincarnation of the goddess Hylia, she carries the Triforce of Wisdom, and she’s one of the Seven Sages. In the past, she hasn’t been afraid to sacrifice herself to save others, like in Twilight Princess, where she gave her own life force to allow Midna to live, or in Skyward Sword, where she chose to sleep for a thousand years to become a living seal protecting the world from the Demon King.
Though admittedly, she changes a lot from game to game in terms of how awesome she is. In Wind Waker, Zelda was a sassy pirate captain, but a few games later, she was a helpless ghost afraid of mice. Seriously, what happened to you in Spirit Tracks, Zelda? You used to be cool. Oh well, at least she was still useful.
Aside from Zelda herself, the number of females who play an active part in the Zelda series is in fact overwhelming. In Ocarina of Time, one of your quests is to find the Seven Sages, five out of whom turn out to be female. And they’re not just bland, interchangeable females, either; they actually have distinct personalities and designs, and fleshed out background stories.
Impa is one of those Sages, and a figure who’s popped up in the Zelda series on many occasions, always being Zelda’s most loyal servant, advisor, and protector. But her character also shifts a lot from game to game. Sometimes, she’s an old weak woman who can only give advice, and sometimes she’s a kick-ass soldier and ninja! And in Skyward Sword, she’s somehow both. Nicely played, Skyward Sword, nicely played.
Then there are all of Link’s companions; it’s almost as if Link were the Doctor, always followed around by some companion giving him advice on how to progress and informing him of in-game mechanics. This helper is usually female, with the most well-known being Navi from Ocarina of Time.
Midna is probably the coolest of his helpers in my opinion, eventually coming into her own as a well-rounded character.
And let’s not forget Fi from Skyward Sword, who established another pretty funny fact: The master sword is now officially female. Yes, the sword that’s been there throughout all the Zelda games, carried by all incarnations of the hero, has a female soul and is thus female herself. We never knew this before, but now we do. We always had a female companion watching over us and fighting by our side in all the games in this series.
All in all, it’s great that one of the most influential adventure games in the world has made the effort to have a rich history where both males and females play an important part in the stories. In my opinion, it makes an already great game franchise even better. Gender-optional Link or not, I’m going to continue keeping up with this classic franchise.
[—Editing/cleanup/revisions to this article provided by Dr. Winston O’Boogie and Elliot Hodgett.]