A little over three years ago, during E3 2016, the gaming world was briefly abuzz with rumors that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild would finally give players of Nintendo’s flagship adventure series the ability to play as a female character. There was never much in the way of evidence for the theory, but it gained a lot of traction at the time before Nintendo eventually confirmed that it was not the case.
It’s not necessarily surprising that Breath of the Wild didn’t let you play as a female character. The Zelda series has been seeing regular new entries for 30 years now and almost exclusively has you play as Link, our sword-wielding forest boy hero. However, what caught my attention at the time was an explanation given regarding why Nintendo decided against having a playable female protagonist.
Speaking to gaming website GameSpot, producer Eiji Aonuma’s reasoning basically boiled down to the fact that letting a woman save the world would leave the series' regular male hero without anything to do. "We thought about it, and decided that if we're going to have a female protagonist it's simpler to have Princess Zelda as the main character. [...] [If] we have princess Zelda as the main character who fights, then what is Link going to do?”
The implications of this statement were pretty clear. It’s OK for a princess to wait around for someone else to fight and save the world, but the idea of a boy needing to wait for a princess to fight in and save him is just not something Nintendo sees as feasible.
But there are existing Zelda and Zelda-style games you can play today that prove not only can Zelda be a viable combat-based hero, but also that its time Nintendo themselves embraced that idea.
Released a few weeks ago, Cadence of Hyrule is an official Legend of Zelda game, but one not developed internally by Nintendo. The game was developed by an indie studio called Brace Yourself, known mainly for their 2015 hit game Crypt of the Necrodancer. Both Crypt of the Necrodancer and Cadence of Hyrule are top-down adventure games, but with the gimmick that you have to play the game by moving and attacking in time with the tempo of the game’s soundtrack.
While Cadence of Hyrule has this musical fighting gimmick and was not made by Nintendo, it is an officially licensed Legend of Zelda title and one in which you can totally play the entire game as Princess Zelda.
Very early on in Cadence of Hyrule, you are given the choice to play the game as either the series typical hero, Link, or as Princess Zelda. If you choose to play as Zelda, Link will just have a really long nap somewhere, waiting for you to maybe save him and wake him up if you want. However, with the exception of a single mandatory switch only he can press, you don’t actually have to use him at all during your adventure. You can leave him sleeping until practically the end of the game, have him push a single switch, then send him back home to bed so the princess can go murder the evil villain by herself.
In Cadence of Hyrule, Zelda is able to use all of Link’s typically used weapons and upgrades, like the hookshot, ice arrows, bombs, hammer, and boomerang. She also has a magical shield that, unlike Link’s sucky wooden shield, can protect her from all sides, not just the front.
I played through that entire adventure, saving townspeople, exploring dungeons, fighting off monsters and surviving traps, all as Princess Zelda, and it was absolutely awesome. I’ve loved this series for years, and getting to play through as a female character just made the adventure just feel that much more enjoyable to me as a female player.
If you look outside of official Zelda games, Blossom Tales is a very faithful recreation of traditional top-down Zelda games, in many ways more difficult and challenging than the games it’s based on, where once again you get to play as the princess, but with all the tools and abilities traditionally given to our green-clad male hero. Blossom Tales actually takes time during its run time to additionally explore the Zelda series fixation on male heroes and to emphasize the importance of strong female adventure protagonists for young women to be able to look up to and relate to.
And again, it makes no difference mechanically. It just allowed me as a female player to have that really nice rare feeling, when a hero has something in common with me.
Both of these games allow their female heroes to do everything Link does in a typical Zelda game, and it’s totally fine. Having these games exist doesn’t mean that none of Link’s past adventures now exist, it doesn’t take anything away, it just allows for a point of connection, and some female empowerment, from a game formula that I love. It’s just nice to see women in that adventure mold not relegated to needing to be saved.
With a sequel to Breath of the Wild in the works, rumors have once again begun to suggest that a playable Princess Zelda might finally be on the cards. I hope that turns out to be true because after playing for 30 years as everyone’s favorite Kokiri boy, I’m excited to go on a similar adventure as someone new and different yet still so familiar. The version of Zelda hinted at by Breath of the Wild was an adventure-loving young woman who wanted to get out there on the front lines of war, making changes and discovering things to help her people, and I hope that we see that version of the character playable some day.
As Cadence of Hyrule and Blossom Tales show, a Zelda game with a female protagonist totally works, even if it leaves Link with nothing to do.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.