The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Isn’t About Link–It’s About Zelda


Link may be the playable character in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but the story arc has little to do with him, and everything to do with Zelda.

Warning: This piece will delve into major, major story spoilers for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I’m holding nothing back from start to finish, so read at your own risk.

At E3 2016 when we got our first real look at The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, there was enormous hype around the convention’s lanyards, which depicted two images of Link. In one of the two, Link appeared distinctly feminine. The rumor at the time was that Breath of the Wild would allow players to run around Hyrule as a female version of Link. The rumor was quickly debunked, though, leaving many hopeful women who had grown up ever rescuing a woman as a man in Zelda games rather upset.

But that’s okay. Nintendo did us one better. Instead of slapping a female skin on Link and calling their game inclusive, they made Zelda the gosh-darned main character of Breath of the Wild.

Credit: Nintendo

Yes, you still play as Link. But Link’s quest to defeat Ganon has very little to do with his character growth. As a quiet (not truly silent) protagonist with no memory, Link can at times provide smatterings of humor in his reactions, and we learn bits and pieces about his history and personality here and there through his relationships with others such as Mipha and the other Zora. But aside from physical strength, Link does not grow or change in Breath of the Wild. Zelda does.

The majority of the plot progression of Breath of the Wild focuses on Link recovering his memories by using photographs taken by Princess Zelda at moments that were meaningful to her, offering glimpses into her life and struggles 100 years before the game takes place. The resulting story offers deep, moving insight into the struggles of a woman with the weight of a kingdom placed on her shoulders, and her growth into carrying that burden willingly.

Although Link was present at each memory you recover, he stands as a silent witness to the plot that is entirely about Zelda, who isn’t at all a demure damsel-in-distress. Instead, Zelda is a spunky, spirited, and intelligent young woman facing a difficult destiny. As the princess of Hyrule, it is her solemn duty to awaken the power of the goddess Hylia within herself in order to seal Ganon away when he inevitably manifests. This requires rigorous training, mental preparation, and prayer–all things her mother would have taught her had she not passed away before Zelda could begin training.

Credit: Nintendo

Zelda does not want to do any of these difficult things, and she especially does not want to have to figure them all out by herself with no help from her grouchy old father. Zelda wants to read books and research ancient ruins. Zelda wants to gallop around on her horse and collect bugs and frogs. I hear ya, Zelda.

But duty is duty and as dedicated as Zelda tries to be, she can’t seem to awaken this power that she’s supposed to have, even as Ganon’s inevitable return looms near. Breath of the Wild masterfully gives you exactly as much information as you need to understand Zelda’s fears, worries, and struggles as she is forced to fit a role she does not desire or understand. She waffles in an intensely human way between abandoning her destiny as a Hylian princess to fight Ganon in her own manner (with science!), and forcing herself to comply with the orders of those who claim to know better.

It’s only when these two sides of her converge in a desperate moment to protect the man meant to be her guardian that Zelda finally comes into her own. The roles we’ve seen Zelda and Link in for years are reversed, and Zelda becomes Link’s protector instead. Her power awakens, and she shuts down the enemies pursuing them just before he is dealt a fatal blow. She then seals Link away for 100 years to heal while she takes up the fight against Ganon. That’s right: Zelda’s not a helpless captive. She’s been on the frontlines against the final boss for 100 years when Link wakes up. She’s just waiting for him to regain his former strength and join the fight so they can finish the job together as equals in power.

Credit: Nintendo

And that’s key, too, because Zelda’s inner turmoil isn’t the only thing shown through the memories. We get glimpses of her relationship with Link through them, as well as through entries in her diary in Hyrule Castle. The long-assumed trope of their romantic relationship is fully done away with (moreso too because Link had a steady girlfriend in Mipha!) and is replaced with a mutual respect.

That respect wasn’t always there. Link, already a master of his own destiny as the Hylian Champion, was a constant source of jealousy for Zelda as she confronted her own failures. On multiple occasions you’ll catch Zelda gazing at the Master Sword, perhaps wishing that power belonged to her. It is only upon Link risking his life to save her that she comes to understand that his devotion to her wasn’t a fabrication. In fact, his stoic personality is explained as both awkwardness and awe when confronted with Zelda’s fierce independence. While the memory in which Link rescues her initially frames Zelda as the helpless damsel we remember her to be, we later understand it as a powerful turn for her character, especially as it’s paralleled and reversed in the game’s final memory.

In this way, Zelda becomes the true heroine. She begins with a destiny she’s afraid to confront, fails repeatedly to achieve it, and then, in the moment of greatest desperation, her courage, wisdom, and power awaken the abilities that were latent within her all along. Her devotion to Link saves his life and sets him on a path to rejoin her 100 years later, as she is confident he will.

Should you seek out every memory, Zelda’s story is already resolved when you finally confront Ganon. All that is left is to purge the evil that set their lives so off course, allowing both Zelda and Link to truly embrace their desired destinies. The final unlocked scene for viewing every memory shows Zelda, smiling at last, setting off with Link to do what she does best: research, learn, and unite her kingdom with compassion. Link will wield the sword to keep her safe, but Zelda will rebuild and save Hyrule.

Next: Tunes for Tuesday: The Legend of Zelda’s Main Theme

Months ago, I thought that I wanted a female Link in Breath of the Wild. I had resigned myself that this would never be the case before I picked up the controller for the first time last week, but little did I realize what a treat Nintendo had in store for me instead: the most complex, interesting, human, and powerful woman I’ve seen in a Nintendo game to date. Zelda effortlessly dominates Breath of the Wild simply by being real. A far cry from the Silent Princess flower which is her constant symbol throughout the game, Zelda’s new, bold voice will resound through her titular series and through gaming history for years to come.