Princess Zelda isn’t confirmed as a playable character in Tears of the Kingdom, but Nintendo isn’t helping itself with all the hints it keeps dropping. Link has been featured in all trailers so far, sporting two different appearances and a variety of new abilities that will subvert our view of Hyrule. Why is he so hunky? What’s with the new haircut? Is he really Ganon in disguise? I have many questions, but most of my attention is still drawn to the Hylian Princess.
Breath of the Wild’s Zelda is easily my favourite iteration of this character we’ve ever seen. Her personality is defined by pride, hope, vulnerability, and a willingness to confront her own mistakes, of which there are many in the aftermath of Calamity Ganon’s defeat. Having to pick up the pieces after saving the world can’t be easy, and the upcoming sequel has already pledged unexpected loyalty to delve deeper into this character than we’ve ever seen. So, why not make her playable?
I’d given up hope on this idea, but the latest trailer and collection of key art has reversed that perspective entirely. In one piece, Zelda can be seen wielding a lit torch and a new Sheikah Slate, which looks nothing like the device Link uses in Breath of the Wild. In fact, it far more resembles the Nintendo Switch with its two-pronged design and patterns that link together where the Joy-Con and kickstand would be on the actual console. She even holds it with a single hand, peering at the screen and controlling one side of it while she looks onward.
Unless the single Sheikah Slate that exists in this universe has received a substantial facelift for no good reason, chances are a second has been made for Zelda to make use of as she restores Hyrule. It suggests that she and Link are equal partners, in need of identical equipment while surveying the environment and fighting enemies. It makes perfect sense for Zelda to adopt the technology that has matured in her absence, even more so if Nintendo intends to make her playable in some way. Breath of the Wild’s ending, and many of its flashbacks have her using the slate, admittedly mostly for chasing frogs and analysing the environment, but she has a clear understanding of its use and the importance this knowledge plays in the world.
I’m confident these small hints are sowing the seeds for Zelda to be playable, even more so when you consider the thematic foundations that have already been assembled. Tears of the Kingdom is seemingly a tale of rebirth and regret, a forgotten civilization in the sky coming to life alongside the awakening of Link’s own power, one that appears to be bestowed upon him by Zelda in a moment of desperation. She might indirectly be responsible for the turmoil now descending upon Hyrule, having no choice but to be a stronger leader in the face of it all.
At first, I believed she fell into the pit beneath Hyrule Castle and had to be rescued once again, but new dialogue, character designs, and Nintendo’s continued embrace of powerful female characters convinces me otherwise. Zelda isn’t the main protagonist, but she could certainly bridge together Link’s two forms, or perhaps occupy playable sections instead of the passive flashbacks we spent hours uncovering in the first game. I want to see a more nuanced glimpse into her history, the pockets of time that have passed since Calamity Ganon’s defeat, and how her and Link have worked to rebuild what was lost.
Of course, I’d prefer an entire game with Zelda taking the lead, but curated sequences, or levels with a scripted story to tell from her perspective, would arguably mean far more than trouncing across an open world for 50+ hours. The Princess is a character who speaks with purpose, every word of hers leaving lasting impact on herself and those around her. I’m not sure Nintendo could execute on that with such a grand scale, but subvert those conventions and Tears of the Kingdom could make history. Just don’t turn all of her playable sections into stealth sequences that leave her defenseless, like many other female guest characters.
I can see Zelda’s newfound Sheikah Slate as both a gameplay mechanic and a storytelling device, especially given the character’s integral attachment to what it represents. There are still questions lingering in my mind about whether its presence is little more than a new piece of aesthetic flair, but Nintendo isn’t a company to do something like this for no reason, even more so in a world like Hyrule where so much scrutiny is placed upon its history. Zelda is going to play a bigger role in Tears of the Kingdom, and if she doesn’t, I will eat the fancy collector’s edition I’ve already pre-ordered. Just give my girl her due already, Nintendo.
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