WARNING: MASSIVE SPOILERS for The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom ahead. Proceed at your own risk.Highlights The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom gives Zelda a more active role, but she still falls into the pattern of other princesses in the franchise. Zelda transforms into the Light Dragon to protect the Master Sword, but then disappears from the story until the final boss battle. Fans wanted to see Zelda play a more dynamic role in the game, actively participating in every story beat rather than just having a few pivotal moments.
For years before it released, fans hoped that Nintendo would do something different with Princess Zelda in The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. In the video game sphere, Zelda is one of the definitive damsels in distress, sometimes even when she confronts Ganon directly like in Breath of the Wild. Thankfully The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom gives Zelda a bit more of an active role, even if she wasn’t playable like many fans hoped. Still, TotK’s Zelda doesn’t quite escape a pattern of Zelda franchise princesses giving Link one crucial leg-up before vanishing from the story.
The Breath of the Wild version of Princess Zelda has been through a lot, and Tears of the Kingdom’s journey doesn’t pull any punches either. Once again, she’s forced to watch beloved allies die as a dark force threatens Hyrule. She manages to find a way to fix the problem permanently in her own point of time, but it requires a major sacrifice on her part. The specific choice she makes is unique, but the general strategy is rather like what a variety of other princesses have gone through.Zelda’s Time as the Light Dragon is Interesting but Familiar
By gathering the Light Dragon’s tears, Link discovers that the mysterious new dragon is actually Princess Zelda, who transformed into a dragon using her Secret Stone so that she could become immortal and bathe the Master Sword in holy light, repairing and strengthening it ahead of a confrontation with Ganondorf. This comes after she makes new friends in ancient Hyrule, trains in time magic, and confronts Ganondorf herself. Altogether, she goes through quite an exciting journey, and her role in Tears of the Kingdom’s final boss battle is extremely cinematic, which further pays off the already remarkable Light Dragon plot twist.
However, in a broader sense, the Light Dragon narrative is repetitive. In many Zelda games, Princess Zelda spends a lot of the story distant from Link in some way, does one important thing before exiting the narrative, leaving the rest of the conflict for Link to resolve, then reappears during or after the final boss. This can be seen in Twilight Princess, where Zelda has few appearances besides healing Midna and joining the final boss battle. Similarly, in Skyward Sword, Link is trying to catch up with Zelda; when he finally does, she blesses the Master Sword, then spends the rest of the game unconscious to hold Demise back. In Breath of the Wild, Zelda only appears in short flashbacks until she traps Ganon, and then she mostly stays out of the story until the final boss battle.
Tears of the Kingdom puts Zelda in the exact same position. Link loses track of Zelda at the start of the game, gets rare glimpses of her until she does one extremely important thing — turning into the Light Dragon to protect the Master Sword — and then she’s gone from the story until the final boss. Admittedly, Ganondorf’s false Zelda puppet mixes thing up a little bit, but given how obvious it is that this is a fake Zelda from the beginning, it doesn’t properly complicate the princess’ role. Even though the details are new and sometimes surprising, TotK belongs to a longstanding tradition of giving Zelda one big job to do, and little else.
Fans didn’t just want to see a playable Zelda for the sake of gameplay variety; she’s also been saddled with the same narrative responsibilities over and over again. As beautiful as Zelda’s cutscenes in TotK are, and as refreshing as her draconic transformation is, it would’ve been even more refreshing to see Zelda simply stick by Link’s side and actively participate in every single story beat instead of getting just one or two huge plot-shifting moments and a smattering of cameos dedicated to her. With Tears of the Kingdom out of the way, hopefully Nintendo decides to give Princess Zelda a more dynamic role in the next game.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is available now for Nintendo Switch.