As much as I love The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, I don’t think it’s a game without flaws. Yes, I know I gave it a 10/10 and I’m acknowledging it’s not flawless, but I’ll stand by that decision. It got me to fall in love with a genre I usually don’t click with, and kept me enthralled far longer than any other entry in the series. It kept me playing long beyond the end of its plot, and I think it’s a masterpiece in many regards with few enough problems that I rarely had reason to complain about while playing.
One of my biggest lingering thoughts about the game, now that I’ve sunk over 200 hours into it, is the fact that the most interesting character story in the game, Princess Zelda herself, would have tied so nicely to the core gameplay of Breath of the Wild, but was relegated to memories of the past for a character we never get to personally interact with. I honestly believe Breath of the Wild’s narrative in the present day would have been more engaging, and better fitting the game’s mechanics, had Zelda been our playable hero.
Beware, we will be talking some Zelda plot spoilers.
Imagine with me a moment a version of BOTW where Ganon regains enough power to take control of the Guardians and Divine Beasts, but not enough power to physically break out of Hyrule Castle. Ganon kills Link using the Guardians as he does in BOTW currently. Zelda gets injured, gets put on ice for 100 years in the shrine of restoration, then has to regain her memories and save Hyrule.
I know at first glance it may seem like I’m just suggesting this because I want more female protagonists in games, but I promise I’m going somewhere very specific with this train of thought.
Princess Zelda’s entire narrative arc in Breath of the Wild’s flashbacks to the past is about rejection of the destiny laid out before her. She is expected by nature of her predestined birth to fulfil the role of the goddess, but she clearly has her own ambitions. She wants to venture off into this wide world, learning how best to survive it. She wants to catalogue plants, experiment with recipes that enhance abilities, take control of the Divine Beasts, and unravel the mysteries of the Shrine Dungeons. She wants to be of practical use to the war effort and find ways to take down Ganon as effectively as possible.
She doesn’t want to run straight for Hyrule Castle. She wants to venture out into the world and prepare for a war Ganon cannot survive.
A lot of these tasks, while assigned to Link in Breath of the Wild, would have made a lot more sense if given to Zelda. She dedicated her time to understanding Divine Beasts and how they worked, so it would have been more thematically appropriate for her to be the one to take back control of them. She had researched the shrine dungeons, the cooking system, the strengths and weaknesses of Guardians. She would have been perfectly suited to take on this adventure.
Thematically, her rejection of the destiny she did not want would have given her arc a much-needed sense of success and finality as she grew from obediently trying to pursue a destiny that she did not want, to saving the world based on the skills she actually had a passion for. It could also have given a really nice ending to the fact that Zelda spends her time in the past idolising Link and the fact he is destined to explore the world as a hero. Allowing her to take up that mantle after his death would have been a really nice end to that plot thread.
While Link dedicated his life 100 years ago to dutifully following Zelda’s footsteps to the letter and never straying far from that path, Zelda actively wanted to understand, explore, discover and learn more about the world she inhabited. She wanted the narrow reigns of her life opened up so she could explore the world. Where Link in Breath of the Wild wanted a Skyward Sword-style linear adventure where he could go to the place, kill the thing and continue, Zelda actually wanted a Breath of the Wild exploration adventure.
The narrative thread of the silent princess flower would also have had a more powerful pay-off with Zelda as the protagonist.The flower, which according to Zelda herself cannot thrive in captivity and can only live if allowed to exist in the wild, acted as a brilliant parallel for Zelda feeling trapped by her own destiny. But it could have taken on an additional layer of significance if Zelda had actually been permitted to, like the Silent Princess, exist in the wild, free from those constraints. Each encounter with a Silent Princess in the wild could have been a terrific reminder of the road the princess was travelling.
Her eventual defeat of Ganon could have served as a huge middle finger to her father and the fact he forbid her for scholarly pursuits, her background in magic would have better justified her ability to use the magic abilities granted by the spirits of the Champions, and the Gerudo quest could have been rid of many of its problematic connotations.
While my thoughts here are very much wishful fanfiction based around a story someone else crafted, and I am certainly not suggesting the narrative should be changed for my benefit or anything, I do feel like, thematically, Zelda has the most interesting role in Breath of the Wild, and it’s a real shame the game didn’t offer the thematic rewards that playing as her could have added.