I proposed this article about a week ago. If you’re wondering what took so long, I went back the next day and saw that title, wondered if I’d made it up while drunk, and it took me a week of long soul searching to try and recapture my wasted train of thought. Well, I’ve thought it over, and as it turns out? Drunk me had a point, so let’s get down to it. Nintendo, this one is directed right at you. I’m going to revive all your old nightmares. I sincerely hope you’re prepared.
So you may remember that recently, a new Legend of Zelda was announced. Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild looks pretty frikkin’ sweet when you get right down to it. Yet despite this, there was an air of disappointment in some quarters. You see, some people had their hopes up that this would be the instalment that would finally allow a female playable character, whether that would be Zelda or a female Link of some sort. This is an issue that crops up with some regularity whenever a new Zelda is announced, but expectation was particularly high due to the release of Hyrule Warriors Legends, which featured a character who was kind of, but not actually, but pretty much an actual female Link. Yes, life is confusing in the video game industry when you get right down to it. Now, in fairness, neither Nintendo nor any of the team involved in the Zelda franchise promised a playable female character, so no one can get pissed at them for breaking promises. I would just like to make the case for why we might actually want a change in the Zelda franchise. I’m hoping that we can have a civilized, reasonable discussion of what might be a very difficult topic. So let’s kick off on why you’d have to be frikkin’ nuts to not want the option of a female playable character in the Legend of Zelda franchise, using, of all things, the CD-i games as our evidence. Yes, I’m hoping to be the sane and rational one in this conversation – why do you ask?
In case you live on the internet and are somehow unfamiliar with the Philips CD-i and its library of games, I have a strong case to prove that you do not actually exist. Nintendo and Philips struck up a deal in the Nineties, the decade of good ideas, to give Philips the right to use Nintendo’s intellectual property to create a number of games for their upcoming games system. The deal fell through spectacularly, but it still left Philips with the right to create a number of games based off the Mario and Zelda franchises. So they set the best minds the human race had to offer, or at least the best minds that would agree to work for crayons, to work on crafting what would undoubtedly be the pinnacle of voice acting, graphics, and gameplay.
Needless to say, it wasn’t very good in the end, but it did two things that I’d like to defend today.
The first thing it did is that it gave Link a personality. I put personality in italics, because CD-i Link has a personality only by the very loosest definitions of the term, and the personality that he received is of someone Mahatma Gandhi would take sadistic pleasure in punching in the face. But a personality it is, and I can’t say the same thing about most other Links. I think to some extent, we tend to forgive Link for his silent protagonist status because he is the alpha progenitor, the first of his archetype. But just because something has always been does not necessarily mean it should remain so. Link’s silent heroism is supposed to let us project ourselves on the character, so that we become the hero destined to save Hyrule from the recurring menace of Ganon, but there’s a bit of umbrage I’d like to take with that.
Firstly, I don’t find myself particularly compelling in that regard. I’ve never really projected myself onto characters with preset appearances and names, because it’s pretty obvious they’re not me. The Legend of Zelda starring me as protagonist would end on the second screen as I dropped to the ground dead of exhaustion from having to expend energy running. Secondly, if you remove Link’s status as a playable avatar, then really, there’s not much else for the poor bastard to fall back on. I’m never convinced that Link would take up these great heroic quests without our benign influence pushing him on to abuse chickens and destroy every pot in Hyrule. The evidence isn’t particularly compelling from the games alone. Link from Ocarina of Time would have lived out his days with the Kokiri quite happily if it hadn’t been for the divine mandate of a tree, an owl, and a ten-year old girl. The only decision I’ve ever been convinced that Link made for himself in that game is to set off at the end in search of Navi.
Don’t imagine I’m asking Link to talk here, because no, never. Never again. But at least have him display something of the ways of the human. Allow me to imagine that Link has a life outside of my incessant demands on his time. And ultimately, I’m not even asking Nintendo to do something that it hasn’t already done, because they have done it before. The Wind Waker features a cartoonish Link who actually displays human emotions outside of my prompting. The player is left in no doubt as to what Link himself thinks of any given situation, whether that be exasperation, excitement, or a deep sigh as he resigns himself as a player to the madness around him. I find the Wind Waker Link an infinitely more compelling character than his predecessors, and even his successors down the line. Don’t imagine I’m letting Hyrule Warriors Link off the hook for this either despite my praise of the game. If you can’t implement the changes I’m going to suggest next, Nintendo, then at least consider this as a compromise?
But wasn’t there another thing the CD-i did that was surprisingly forward thinking? Yes, indeed, because after the first game, Philips did the unthinkable. In the second game, Link was the one captured, and Zelda became the main protagonist in order to rescue him. I can’t imagine what circumstances compelled it. Possibly some poor unpaid intern told the higher ups one day that Zelda was the princess, not the guy in green. They turned to that poor sod and asked ‘well, if Zelda is the princess, why is this berk the main character? Series is called Legend of Zelda, for crying out loud. You want Nintendo to take the rights back? Fix it.’ Sometimes I wonder if The Wand of Gamelon and Zelda’s Adventure are the reasons that Nintendo is reluctant to make a game that actually stars Zelda as the main character. That would be a stupid reason, but since the official reason is ‘What would Link do if Zelda was the main character?’, then I guess I can buy any line of thinking at this point.
In a recent interview, Shigeru Miyamoto confirmed that Link will always be the protagonist of the classic Legend of Zelda series, but held out that a Sheik spin-off game had been suggested several times, and that there was always the possibility that Zelda could get a spin-off. While disappointing, it’s important to again note that Miyamoto has never promised a game starring Zelda, nor a game starring a female Link, and that, ultimately, he is the creator of the series, and his word on the matter should be respected. Right, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s be really unfair to him instead. The question that lead to this answer reminded me that we, as a species, live in a world in which there are not one, but two games which star Tingle. There are two games starring the 35-year old man who thinks he’s a fairy and is almost certainly stalking us to our demise in Majora’s Mask before there has ever been an official Nintendo game starring Zelda. That’s madness. That’s the sort of thing we should be apologizing to our grandchildren for inflicting upon them, like global warming or national debt.
And again, what’s maddening is that I’m not asking them to do a thing they haven’t already done. Zelda has become increasingly involved in the actual plot, rather than as a goal at the end of the game. Often, you can’t beat Ganondorf without her using the Light Arrows, and as Tetra in the Wind Waker – spoilers for a decade-old game – she’s involved throughout the story and in the final defeat of Ganondorf. This isn’t even touching on Hyrule Warriors, which avoided Zelda being kidnapped entirely. If you feel like it, you can take her from stage one, provided you unlock her first, right through to the defeat of Ganon, and no one sticks their hand up and says we should let Tingle have a crack at him first.
Say what you want about the CD-i and everything wrong with it. God knows it’s hard to even quantify the many, many terrible things that those games have done to my soul and the souls of our great nation. But this random schmuck company had the balls to shake up the franchise and try new things. Did they work out? Did you see Zelda’s Adventure and ask me that with a straight face? But Nintendo has the power, the creative talent, to dare what those games inadvertently dared, and to do them right. If only they’d stop wasting their opportunities with inane excuses.
Breath of the Wild looks really good though. Please send me a copy, Nintendo. I will be your friend.