The Women of the Legends of Zelda

In the beginning, there was a damsel in distress. A princess, kidnapped by the evil wizard, completely and utterly helpless on her own, her only accomplishment being the hiding away of the thing that might defeat him if in the right hands. Her name was Zelda. This is the origin of a character that has evolved and matured over the course of the past twenty years. Over the course of the twenty some-odd games in the Legend of Zelda series, Princess Zelda, as well as the other supporting female cast, have grown from representing the damsel in distress to filling the roles of Heroin and Villainess, as well as some in between. I believe this is a positive switch. Females now fill literally most of the roles within the stories, from main villain to main character. If only one role had been filled, it may not have been such a positive image shift. For instance, if Zelda were still a damsel in distress, and the only other female character were the evil witch Veran, only two rather stereotypical images are being portrayed. But I digress.

In the original few games, in 1986 and 1987, The Legend of Zelda and The Adventure of Link respectively, there were only two major female rolls. Zelda, the princess, was the archetypal helpless maiden princess, under the clutches of the evil wizard, or under an evil spell. Impa, Zelda’s nursemaid, was a wizened old crone, who knew just enough to get our hero, Link, off on his quest. While these games came during an age where character development wasn’t a big part of games, due to game size, as well as system limitations, it’s still a little disheartening to have such limited characters. Granted, most of the story revolved around Link, our archetypal young destined hero, but our two females were still important to the plot.

Five years later in 1991, in A Link to the Past, Zelda becomes a bit more assertive, actively trying to use her magic to help you and herself, though she fails in the end, and must be rescued along with other maidens, and Impa is nowhere to be seen. Also in this game, however, is the character of Blind the thief. Blind is a notorious criminal, a master thief, and it took magical forces to seal her away and curse her. She disguises herself as a trapped maiden to lure in Link, and then unleashes her dark powers to try to stop him in his quest. This new character is a step in the right direction; she’s assertive, powerful, and the leader of a large band of thieves, the only downfall being that she plays the part of a stereotypical villain. Not there yet, but getting warmer.

A Year later, Link’s Awakening is released, taking place in a far away land, away from Zelda and our maidens. Maron, a young maiden on the island of Koholint, she is more your archetypal mystic maiden, the kind that knows what is going on behind the scenes, has a kind heart, and passively helps out the protagonist of the tale. Not really moving anywhere with the images in this game, though it is the first game of the series to not feature a maiden in need of rescue, so I guess that’s a step in the right direction.

1998 and 2000 saw the release of Ocirana of Time and its sequel Majora’s Mask. These games saw the return of Zelda and Impa, as well as a plethora of other female characters. Zelda gained an active, assertive roll, taking on the persona of Shiek, a ninja-esc character of great power and strength, as well as wielding immense and powerful magics in the aid of our hero Link in her role as the princess when not in disguise. Impa is the one who trains her in her mystic arts, having been given the role of the father figure, leader of the ancient Shieka clan, who bestows Zelda with her ninja-like abilities. Then there are the Garudo. The Garudo are a clan of Amazonian-esc women, comprised of thieves and tricksters, though not evil at heart, just mischievous. They are immensely powerful, wielding larger weapons than our hero, and command an entire nation to themselves. They have obviously been derived from Blind’s band of thieves back in Link to the Past, and, like Blind before them, this clan has it’s evil witch, Twinrova, a scheming woman who has been manipulating much of the plot for her son, the evil wizard of the series, Ganondorf. The game also formally introduced the creators of the world that the series takes place in, revealing them to be three Goddesses, with no major male God in sight. Through both games there a number of other important female characters, though in more subdued roles. Ocirana of Time also features maidens in need of rescuing, but this time, they are alongside an equal number of men who also need to be rescued. These games definitely filled out the roles that women take in the series, and did so almost equally across the board, not relegating themselves to simply villainesses or heroines, but both, and many things in between.

The next year, 2001, saw the release of twin games Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons. The connected storylines saw the introduction of the evil sorceress Veran, as well as the three Oracles, Nayru, Farore, and Din, as well as featuring Zelda, Impa, and various other women of the series. Like it’s predecessors the years prior, these linked games did a fairly good job of spreading women across all the rolls. Also like its predecessors, the inclusion of women doesn’t seem forced. The characters are well written, and genuinely wouldn’t work as well as men. As well, men play just as large a roll in these games, with the main male protagonist, villains, minor and mojor supporting characters, etc.

2002 to 2004 saw the release of Four Swords, The Wind Waker, Four Swords Adventures, and The Minish Cap, Wind Waker being the the major game among them. Foremost among the characters of the game is the Pirate Captain Tetra, later revealed to be the game’s Princess Zelda, as well as Link’s younger sister, Aryll. Aryll is kidnapped at the beginning of the game, but is rescued fairly early on, and spends the game supporting her brother. Tetra is an assertive and tomboyish character, not sitting back to be a damsel in distress, even actively helping you in your fight against Ganondorf at the end of the game. These games also cement into the mythos of the game’s world, Hyrule, that the governing mystical powers of the world are female. The goddesses, the great fairies, the great fairy mother, the Oracles, etc are the creators, the governesses, the powers of the world, while the main antagonists, the wielders of evil, more often than not, are male, such as the Wizards Aganihm and Ganondorf, General Onyx, the Nightmare, the dark god Majora, etc. This is a unique choice, made fairly early on in the series, which differs from most worlds, where men and women play an equal role in these situations. I think it’s a good choice that sets the world apart from the standard, stereotypical fantasy worlds that appear in most fantasy tales.

Then, in 2006, came the release of Twilight Princess, the first official game in the series to have a main female lead. Midna is an overly assertive, in control, aggressive, dark, and complex character. She fits in very well with the darker, more mature atmosphere of the game. Each generation of Zelda games has been darker and more complex than the last, gradually growing form “save the princess from the evil wizard” to something that defies and simple description in anything less than a paper of it’s own to explain the intricacies of its magnificent storyline. Midna is a being of the Twilight, wrapped in mystery, and adventuring alongside, though she would say in command of, our hero Link. Zelda also retains her role as an assertive female character, taking sword in hand to combat the dark wraiths that storm her kingdom, though ultimately it falls to Link and Midna to save the world from darkness. Midna brings to the story a complexity and freshness, showing that there can be a female lead of the likes not seen before. She is vastly different from the standard female leads, such as Samus Aran form Metroid, a silent army of one bounty huntress who expunges the scourge of space pirates from the galaxy, or Lara Croft of Tomb Raider, the well endowed, hotshot tomboy, treasure huntress who raids lost temples. Physically, Midna is rather impish in appearances, betraying a bit of a female air about her, along with her giggly, devilish voice.

Midna, The Oracles, The Goddesses, Blind, Impa, and, above all, Zelda, show just how much women have come in this series. And it’s not just this series. This is much the same progression that women have taken throughout videogames as a whole. I’m not saying that the stereotypes and negative images aren’t there, but alongside them are women in every role, both good and bad, of every kind. Goth, Badass, Princess, Villainess, Sorceress, Gunsmith, Golf Pro, Fisherwomen, Sisters, Protagonists, Sword Maidens, Oracles, they’re all there. This industry has made great leaps and bounds with it’s female characters, and I believe we’re definitely moving in a good direction with it.

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