I’ve probably played around half of the ‘core’ Legend of Zelda games, but I never really had much of a thing for Princess Zelda. I mean, she was an elusive and rarely-seen damsel in distress in The Legend of Zelda, a slumbering pile of pixels that I never managed to wake up in Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, and a child in Wind Waker, so can you blame me? I do remember having a bit of a crush on her when I was young and watching The Legend of Zelda animated series, though. While she was occasionally in need of a rescue, she was often the one rescuing Link. She was brave, spunky, and was rarely ever afraid to jump into the fight against Ganon and his minions.
It wasn’t exactly love at first sight with the Princess Zelda I encountered in Breath of the Wild [some spoilers ahead]. With little recollection of the princess, Link must refresh his memory of her by searching out the locations of photos that she took before the world went to hell and Link was put into a hundred-year slumber. The order in which Link collects these memories affects how the player sees the princess, and technically the memories are optional so the player could go through the entire game learning very little about Zelda as a character.
In the early memories that I gathered, Zelda seemed like a petulant brat. She impatiently complained about her lack of power, she lashed out at Link for following his orders to protect her, and she generally seemed distant and uninspiring when her kingdom needed her the most. I wasn’t exactly looking for a love interest in her, though, and I was just glad that she was a more vocal and prominent character than in the previous Zelda games I’d played.
But as the game went on and I spent more and more time in Hyrule, puzzling over remote temples, toppling hearty stone taluses, and scraping together rupees for armor upgrades, I collected more and more memories of Zelda and my vision of the princess began to change without me even realizing it. Yeah, she was angry and distant and losing the will to lead – because her father had no faith in her intelligence and ability to research and problem-solve with her wit and wisdom. She was, it seems, an academic at heart, poring over texts and tomes in an attempt to find answers where others could not. She wasn’t content with waiting around for her fabled powers to become active; she wanted to find other ways to contribute to the defense of the kingdom. She wanted to learn about the guardians, and the sword of legend, and the divine beasts, and Ganon; she wanted to coordinate with the champions and talk strategy; she wanted to explore Hyrule and discover useful ways to utilize its resources. She lived under a father who dismissed all of this as wasteful, yet she defied him and carried on in secret. When her powers did finally activate, she destroyed a legion of guardians and saved Link’s life, and she was not afforded the luxury of a century long nap: she had to fight to hold Ganon in check until Link woke up and spent more than 165 hours (in, uh, my game, anyway) running around buying clothes, playing snow bowling, and corralling chickens.
It all sort of hit me as I was about to strike the final blow to Calamity Ganon. I found myself almost dreading the end. When I finally shot that last arrow and Ganon was dying, I just knew I would discover that Zelda had died long ago and it was her spirit that was guiding me, like the spirits of the four champions guided me through their respective divine beasts. They had gifted their powers to me to aid in the fight against Ganon, so it only made sense that Zelda was doing the same. There was no way she had survived a hundred years as I had. I, as Link, was in a sleeping chamber specifically made for keeping someone alive for extended periods of time. The tragedy of Zelda’s story was that she had sacrificed everything and fought continually for decades just to perform her primary function: sealing the darkness. These thoughts swirled through my head with little cohesion, and I realized I was heartbroken about the whole thing. I had, it occurred to me, fallen into virtual love with Princess Zelda. And I was about to discover she was gone and I was alone in a Hyrule where few truly even knew me.
Which is why my eyes quite literally welled with tears when the battle was over and Zelda materialized before me, very much alive. I saw her differently now. She was tough, smart, brave as hell, caring, mature, and powerful, and she looked beautiful standing before me, having saved not only me, but the kingdom and everyone in it. A Zelda game had never made me feel this way, and Princess Zelda had never inspired these kinds of emotions in me before. I was more than happy to immediately return to the game and complete the last few things I needed to do to get the ‘good’ ending, which made me even happier about my new life with Zelda. I know Zelda has had her admirers, many of them, and I can’t claim her as one of my ‘old school’ video game crushes, but she is definitely on my list now. She has all of my hearts.