Level Up’s monthly segment is back! Every last Friday, I will feature one Digital Starlette by profiling her importance in video game history.
This wasn’t intentional, but it seems I’m subconsciously following Nintendo’s chronological order of female leads: 1985 brought us the ultimate damsel-in-distress, Princess Peach (Toadstool), while 1986 delivered our surprise alien bounty-hunter, Samus Aran.
So next we’ll look at 1987, when we first meet the seemingly uncomplicated Princess Zelda.
Although Princess Zelda and Princess Peach both seem to have a problem with kidnappings, they are very different women. The major difference between them lies in the names of the games in which they appear. While Peach plays predominately in Super Mario Bros. titles, Zelda is the eponymous name in the entire Legend of Zelda series. It’s possible that this has given Zelda an edge of respect over Peach within the gaming community… even though Peach was the first playable character of the two.
But let’s talk about the origins of Princess Zelda and why I’m crowning her Level Up’s April Digital Starlette. Zelda, Princess of Hyrule, is the chosen guardian for the Triforce of Wisdom. Along with the Triforce of Power and the Triforce of Courage, these three pieces form a magical relic said to grant a wish to whoever touches it. Should it fall into the wrong hands – like the series’ main antagonist Ganon – the Kingdom of Hyrule stands to be in great danger. It is up to Link, with the help of Zelda, to keep the Triforce away from evil.
It’s set up to be an epic storyline, however, with fifteen Zelda titles in 25 years, the timeline got pretty crazy – with Nintendo leaping back and forth from the future to the past, even changing key character traits in the beloved Zelda (notably DS game, Wind Waker, portrayed her as a pirate). Until December of 2011, diehard fans were entrenched in the mystery of the series’ lineage – heated nerdrages flooded forums. According to the Zelda wikia:
“Much of the ambiguity of the chronology of the Legend of Zelda series is due to the fact that the games take place over a span of centuries or even millennia, featuring many different incarnations of Link and Princess Zelda.”
However, it’s been recently confirmed that Zelda is actually more than one person! Unlike the boys from South Park who are eternally bound to 4th grade, Zelda is several women — all descendants of the original Zelda.
To clear up confusion and equally celebrate Zelda’s 25th anniversary, Nintendo published a book called Hyrule Historia (Dec. 2011), which reveals the “official” timeline of the Zelda universe.
For instance, the original Legend of Zelda in 1987 is actually the second to last installment… yet the 2011 release, Skyward Sword, is the very first game in the timeline. There are three different storylines to follow after Ocarina of Time… and there is a really beautiful diagram in the book.
But, it still feels a bit to me like this:
The varying incarnations of Zelda, however, are what sets her apart from the rest of the pack. Her first incarnation was the reborn mortal of “Goddess Hylia” – the deity responsible for the care of the Triforce. This fact sets up the storyline that each descendant in Zelda’s bloodline is capable of magical powers and sagely activity.
The only thing that bothers me about Zelda is that she wasn’t a playable character in the series until The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks (Nintendo DS, 2009)… and even then, as a player, you’re only able to control her after she possesses and takes the form of a “Phantom Guardian”.
But, maybe we can let her off the hook a little because in the many legacies of Zelda, she got to be both a ninja AND a pirate! Here are pictures of Zelda as her alter-egos Sheik (The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 1998) and Tetra (The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker in 2003), respectively:
Appearance-wise, Princess Zelda always changes it up. When wearing “Royal” attire, however, she is typically featured in light colors and always donning the Royal Hyrule Family Crest, which features the Triforce:
One of the most important things to consider when talking about female video game characters is the role they play and their relationship with men in the game. Although constantly kidnapped, Zelda has shown many magical abilities that has helped Link in his adventures. A couple of Zelda’s incarnations have been referred to as “tomboys” and we’ve never seen her baring much skin. She isn’t hyper-sexualized like many of her female peers, and stands as a strong role model for young girls.
Zelda was also quite the fighter in The Legend of Zelda cartoon series in late 80’s — she demonstrated several more qualities of a warrior than that of a princess. In Super Smash Bros., Zelda was playable as both Princess Zelda and her alter-ego Sheik.
Regardless of the confusing chronology, Princess Zelda has some of the most devoted fans on the planet. Maybe its her air of mystery… or simply the fact that her first game, The Legend of Zelda, changed video games forever — a non-linear RPG, combined with puzzles, quests and a totally open world. It was the first of it’s kind.
So, congrats Princess Zelda for being Level Up’s April Digital Starlette.
And just for some nostalgia…
Featured Image Via: NintendoDojo