Today’s article contains game-long spoilers for The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. If you are someone who cares about the plot of this game that is all about gameplay, I understand completely. Right there with you, buddy. So, please be aware, spoilers and all that riot. You have been warned.
Zelda, I’m really sorry you missed this one.
I have been gaming for all of my life, and I have learned one important fact in that time: never listen to fan theories on a game before its release. To be clear on this rule, it is not because fan theories are often bad or wrong, it is because they can be too good. For an easy example, consider that nearly every fan theory for a future Metroid game has consistently been better than anything Nintendo has ever released (who played Super Metroid and thought “this woman needs a condescending AI buddy”?). For another obvious example, before The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom was released (or even named), many people put forward the theory that Zelda would be playable in “Breath of the Wild 2”. This speculation was predominantly based on the initial trailers emphasizing Link and Zelda exploring a cave, and apparently the reason Zelda had short hair now was that she was going to be Player 2. After all, this has always been The Legend of Zelda, we were bound to have a playable titular character one of these days. Oh! And the whole thing was already referencing The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword heavily, and that was a game where Zelda had her own active adventure parallel to Link. Just as surely as we would see Link diving off sky islands onto the ground, here we would see Zelda’s “lost time” when the traditional swordsman wasn’t around.
But it was not to be. Not only is Zelda absolutely not a playable character in Tears of the Kingdom, her assigned role is… crying all the time.
That is not a great look.
Zelda was ultimately responsible for the overarching plot of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. This was a deliberate tragedy, where the woman who was tasked with protecting her people tried to find a new way to solve her kingdom’s biggest problem, and it led to a full century of suffering. The shadow of Ganon was cast over the land, and it was Zelda who was forced to atone for her part in his release (or at least her part in lending him homicidal robots of various sizes) by maintaining a magical bubble in Hyrule Castle for a hundred years. Zelda knew that Link would be revived and ready to wield the Master Sword again one day, so she had to stand with her body at the gate (only a little metaphorically), and keep the greatest evil at bay for decades. This was a sacrifice, yes, but it was her sacrifice to make, and the actions of a woman who had learned the full scope of the power available to her at the absolute last moment (and generally thanks to the sacrifice of her “hero”). It was a tragedy (suggested synonym: calamity) from start to finish, but it all worked out fine in the end.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom has a similar plot. Once again, Zelda is investigating the Hyrule Castle Basement despite her father warning her to never go down there. Once again, Zelda is doing this for altruistic reasons, as a mysterious gloom is dribbling out of the cracks, and this goop is hurting people across the kingdom. And, once again, it all goes to hell almost immediately, as Link is (once again!) fatally wounded, and Zelda is trapped in a weird Ganon(dorf)-based relationship. This time, instead of being the only thing holding Ganon back from release, Zelda is zapped backwards in time, and, after watching a (relatively) young Ganondorf rise to power, she sacrifices her own autonomy and sense of self to power up Link’s favorite weapon. This means she is “trapped” in the (apparently) feral body of a dragon for… oh… at least a thousand years or so. If my math is right, this basically means she found a new prison, and now it is ten times worse than the last game (though with significantly more fresh air). That sounds… a bit like Hell.
And, if you think about it even further, it somehow gets worse. Why? Because Zelda would have loved this adventure!
Look, it is great that Zelda got to see Hyrule’s Founding Period, and that she got to pal around with our favorite Goat God. She probably got to play with all sorts of Zonai gadgets, and maybe she had a robot buddy or something. But we do not see any of that. All we see is her having tea with her ancestors, learning a few time magic skills, and then her involvement in the Imprisoning War. If she spent months tweaking out the engine on her custom Zonai roadster, that never got a flashback. It appears that Zelda spent her time in antiquity preparing for Dehydrated Ganondorf, and a lot of that was given over to dealing with Clearly Going to Betray Everybody While Moist Ganondorf. And there is nothing wrong with that, because it is arguably exactly what you would expect Zelda to do. She has always been one for plans and preparation (and anti-Ganon racism), and she shows her care for her people through trying to find a way to stop that big weirdo with the fire hair.
But while Zelda is learning about fixing teacups, Link is enjoying an entire adventure through playing with Legos. Link starts as the greatest and most capable swordsman in the kingdom, and then immediately gains all the powers of Godling Rauru(‘s hand). Now he can effortlessly lift small boulders the size of large boulders! Hand power then comes with Weird Glue Power, which allows Link to combine various Zonai devices scattered about the kingdom into planes, trains, and automobiles. And, while Link is theoretically capable of completing his quest without once manufacturing a 4×4, things are certainly easier for our hero when he is flying around dropping magical bombs on the moblins. In fact, Link can even assemble autonomous drone “robots” that do all the fighting for him. It may cost more than a few chunks of zonanite, but a complete robot army is available as easily as Link picking up a blueprint crystal.
Saving Hyrule with a battalion of robots sounds pretty novel until you remember that Zelda came up with that idea 100 years ago, and was tortured for a century for her hubris.
And then there is the Purah of the situation, too. Purah accidentally invented immortality a couple years back, and is now regarded as one of the most reliable scientists in Hyrule. Along with Goggle Robbie, she invented the Sheikah Slate’s replacement, the Purah Pad, and this somehow qualifies her to rule Hyrule in Zelda’s absence. Seriously! Hyrule does not have a centralized government (far too many kings and queens running around), but Purah sets up shop just outside Hyrule Castle, organizes an entire platoon of citizens to mobilize from her new base, and gradually amasses more troops as the neighboring tribes ship over representatives. She is the woman that gives Link the most plot-relevant tasks, and when all of the heroes are assembled, they gather under Purah’s battle flag. During the final scene, after Ganon has been vanquished, there are the champions chosen by divine right… and Purah. The white-haired lady who kept everything going by never leaving her shack. She stands shoulder to shoulder with the warriors that are still scraping Lynel guts off their shields.
And, damn, that could have been Zelda!
Zelda is a tech genius. Zelda has significant regional ties to Hyrule Castle (even if she did apparently move away to shack up with Link between games). Zelda would have loved to check your compendium, lookout tower, and The Depths progress. Zelda could have fulfilled literally every role granted to Purah! “Zelda Pad” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it… but still! And all these roles go to Purah because… what? They wanted a “mystery plot” where the Zelda that repeatedly gives everyone bad advice and plainly transforms into a monster on screen continually is eventually revealed to be a puppet of Ganon? So we can be surprised by “Dragon Zelda” and her grand sacrifice of gaining the most painful hair ornament in lizard history?
It is hard to ignore how this decision feels like a calculated move to make Zelda the most distressed of all damsels. The fact that the game is literally named for Zelda crying her own memories out all over the kingdom all but cements it. The rare double-titular character that does not have any agency!
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is a great game. It is also a game where I would have liked to see Zelda join Link in adventuring. She wouldn’t have to explore every dungeon, but the woman featured in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is firmly established as someone who would friggen’ love to launch a Korok into space.
Zelda, demand better of your kingdom.
SBC #02.2: Sheik & The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom
Sheik in Super Smash Bros Ultimate
- She any Good? Look! Sheik’s outfit is in Tears of the Kingdom, and we spent this whole article talking about Zelda, so we are going to feature a version of Zelda that was a lot more active. In 1997! Anyway, Sakurai has apparently always wanted a ninja character, so here was the first attempt (see also Greninja and… Sonic the Hedgehog). Run around like an idiot and do practically zero damage with some kunai that should really be pointier. Interestingly enough, Sheik is listed first on the character select screen, so Sheik is more Zelda than Zelda.
- That final smash work? Sheikah Slice is not bad as a unique attack for a character that never had a moveset before her Warriors game. It is still generically “ninja”, but it is on the cool end of the ninja spectrum, and it further separates her from Zelda.
- The background work? Gerudo Valley is going to be our pick for this Ocarina of Time character that wants to be a Twilight Princess. It is extremely flat, and that collapsible bridge means everyone is going to hang out on the sides. I appreciate the location and witch-based tricks, but not a fan of the stage in general. Feels too plain…
- First Appearance: Aw, remember when she was paired with Zelda forever? Speedily plink off some percentage points as Sheik, and then switch over to Zelda to fireball them into next week? I was always a Zelda fan, but rarely used the Sheik half unless I had to run away. Something about the quick ones never appealed to me.
- Classic Mode: Sheik participates in “Masquerade”, and fights fighters wearing masks. But should Samus really count here? I feel like her Chozo Armor is her true face. And there are no battles against other Zelda characters… Unless you count a Mii wearing Majora’s Mask or a Yiiga costume.
- Smash Trivia: Not counting remakes as separate titles, Sheik has appeared in more Smash Bros games (4) than Zelda games (2). Tingle has had more representation in the main Zelda line!
- Amiibo Corner: The horizontal dagger sheath across her lower back is the kind of attention to detail that is amazing on these Amiibos. The Sheikah Eye is similarly detailed, and the bandaged hands are prime. Top it all off with her hair wrap, and she is distinctive.
- Does Smash Bros Remember Today’s Game? I promise the next game will be something released before Smash Bros Ultimate. In the meanwhile, we do have Yiiga costume equipment, and a stage that is based on those towers that no longer exist in Tears of the Kingdom. Partial credit?
Sheik in The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom
- System: Nintendo Switch. No WiiU port this time. It simply cannot contain The Depths.
- Number of players: Just one Link is playable. This whole article is an attempt to reckon with that fact.
- What happened to all the Sheikah stuff from Breath of the Wild: I cannot emphasize enough that Goggle Robbie and Purah accidentally used Sheikah Tech to invent immortality twice over the period of Breath of the Wild: Once through the straight up revival of Link, and then again when Purah reversed the very concept of aging. Hyrule authorities had to do something to wipe out the chance of these knuckleheads transforming the populace into gods over the weekend.
- An end: Pick a lane and stick to it, the final dungeon of Tears of the Kingdom. I thought it was cool and appropriately epic when I got the message that I was too deep in the Earth to “reach” my sage buddies, so I would have to go it alone. And then the real sages all showed up for the big army battle! And then I had to go it alone, again, because a bunch of bosses showed up. And then I had a 1-on-1 with Ganondorf, and he summoned reinforcements, and then the sages returned to help again! Before I went back to another solo fight with Ganondorf. Guys, fool me once…
- The Naked Now: My number one request for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was to have a toggle where I could stow my absurdly crowded inventory of items accumulated over the course of the adventure, and attempt a “naked run” of Hyrule Castle or other dungeons as a challenge. We haven’t quite gotten there yet in Tears of the Kingdom, but I do appreciate that the “no inventory” shrines are there to simulate this challenge. Sometimes it is just too easy to rely on the fact that you have forty bomb arrows, and many problems that can effortlessly be solved with explosions…
- Watch it, Buddy: Even Worse Streams streamed two nights of Zelda.
Original Stream Night May 16, 2023
Original Stream Night May 30, 2023
You can watch in real time as my skills in The Depths improve tremendously over the course of two weeks. Note that nothing particularly plot related happens in these videos… If you somehow have gotten this far in this article and are still concerned about watching spoilers.
- Did you know? If you understand this joke:
Then we can be friends.
- Would I play again: If there is not DLC that brings me back to Hyrule, I will eat my hat. In the meanwhile, I have devoted literally hundreds of hours to this adventure, so I may take a break from constructing rocket carts for the immediate moment.
What’s next? Our next smash bros will be a smash primate, Donkey Kong! Grab a few bananas, it is time to hail to the chimp! Please look forward to it!