If you’ve played The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, you may have noticed something about Princess Zelda. Rather than being some figure who’s high above us, untouchable, and completely in control, she’s far more human and fallible than ever before. Some even note that when she looks at Link, she’s reminded of her own mistakes. For the first time ever, we’re seeing a version of this heroine that feels like a real young woman, someone who can be quite ordinary, and it makes the character and game even more extraordinary.
There’s the idea of the Mary Sue in fictional forms of media. A term originated in a fan magazine called Menagerie by Paula Smith, it’s come to refer to any female character who is too good to be true. (Male versions can be called Gary Stus.) In the world of games, you could probably consider Zelda one. Even though she’s habitually captured by Ganon, she’s also known to be a great ruler, strong mage, and have many other prized abilities. The thing is, we always seem to see her as “good,” perhaps even godly, rather than a mortal being like the rest of us.
From the very first moments of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, this notion is dashed. When we hear about and remember the princess, she isn’t some completely in control, all-powerful savior who is capable of using her abilities to stand tall against Calamity Ganon. She’s a young woman, not even past 18-years-old, in a desperate situation and unable to properly use the powers she’s supposed to have. We’re even told at one point that whenever she looks at Link, her personal knight, she’s reminded of her own failings. We watch her try and try again to do things right. It makes her more believable. Her struggles are ones everyone would face.
But, they aren’t all dark and depressing moments. We see her as an ordinary girl. This is something we’re unaccustomed to. While we might have had glimpses of Zeldas who aren’t entirely prim and proper before, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild gives us one who also has the same behaviors as a teenage girl. When she finds and catches a frog and gets excited about its medicinal properties, she encourages Link to eat it. Eat it right now. When she’s frustrated by something she’s unable to do, she gets pissy about it. She pulls rank and orders Link to go away when she’s frustrated with a situation and herself. She’s human.
We’ve seen this work for other video game heroines before. Cortana has received some rather human flaws throughout the Halo series. Some of them have even been rather deadly. Yet, it makes her seem like a more realistic and understandable character. Ellie, from The Last of Us, has trust issues and problems getting along with others. (Who can blame her, with what she’s been through.) The two leads of Final Fantasy VI, Celes and Terra, each are dealing with feelings of insecurity and inadequacy, struggling to find their place, even though they’re overwhelmingly strong and powerful women. One could even attempt to argue that giving Samus a bit of a soft spot in Metroid: Other M wasn’t all bad, as it showed the bounty hunter could have insecurities and failings too.
By adding Zelda to their ranks, Nintendo has enhanced and improved a classic heroine. They’ve done something that hasn’t exactly been possible in many The Legend of Zelda installments. Here, Zelda is approachable. She’s a woman we could meet and work with, without any sorts of trouble. We might even know someone similar to her. It’s refreshing to see her suddenly be so human.