This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Legend of Zelda series, and to celebrate, I wanted to write about some of the women who inspired me when I was growing up. Ocarina of Time was revolutionary in its own right, being the first 3D Zelda and pioneering a video gaming style which would later be recreated in series such as Okami and Starfox. Another revolutionary point which current developers could perhaps learn from, is the array of strong, balanced female characters. Initially I wanted to write about the Gerudo tribe, and perhaps focus on their status as an all female society. As I thought more and more about the direction this would take, I realised that despite the Gerudos being a literal warrior race, the other females featured in Ocarina of Time are no strangers to courage, strength and conflict, and it would be unfair to exclude them from this focus point. Seeing these women as developed characters and often excellent role models is amazing for a game released in 1998, when the gaming industry still seems to struggle sometimes with exactly that, today in 2016.
To begin let’s look at the first thing we know about the game. The title. The Legend of Zelda. Not the Legend of Link. Zelda. As the namesake of the series, she is already bound to having an important role in most of the games. But in Ocarina of Time her role is perhaps magnified by the means through which she aids link and ultimately Hyrule. Zelda’s transformation into Sheik is one of the defining features of OOT. Zelda is no princess who shies away in her tower from the sword wielding male warrior’s quest to save her kingdom- there is no hiding away waiting to be rescued, and there is very little distressed damsel throughout the game. The knight and princess dichotomy which has dictated so many of the storylines in literature and entertainment throughout the years–and indeed, earlier Zelda games–is turned upon its head when Zelda becomes her own knight: Sheik. Sheik has all the makings of a true knight, the total opposite of the generic princess mold. Self-sufficient, independent, intelligent, nimble and bold; Sheik’s androgynous figure and uncertain gender are the best conduit to show the strength within Zelda, which in cases take the form of more feminine qualities. Sheik never engages in combat, and remains distant throughout the game until Zelda reveals herself, but the influence that Sheik’s cunning has on the hero’s quest, and the subversive power held over Ganondorf by going covert is but one set of examples of the hardiness of the female characters who surround Link in OOT.
Zelda is also the leader of the Sages, of which there are seven in total, five of which are women. Zelda herself, Saria, Ruto, Impa and Nabooru. Starting from the top–Saria is Link’s childhood companion, and is portrayed throughout OOT as calm, kind and sentimental, but able to stand up for what she believes in. She seems to hold a fair bit of power over the Kokiri, even boss Mido. Saria is essentially a wholesome and good character, and since she is the first (apart from Navi) character, this is a nice way to begin the game–and although she may be kind and well-meaning, she is brave enough to fight for what she knows to be right.
Impa, Zelda’s caretaker, the last surviving Sheikah and the Sage of Shadow cuts an imposing figure, with her platinum silver hair, red irises and armour-esque attire. Her inner strength is easily visible from her stoic outward persona and can be seen through various actions she has taken, such as stealing away Princess Zelda from the danger of Ganondorf, and sealing away Bongo Bongo deep beneath Kakariko Village. She carries herself with a certain quiet wisdom and seems perhaps to hold more traditionally masculine qualities than other female characters of the series. She directly opposes the greatest most evil power in all of Hyrule, and not once does she trade in her determination for fear or hysterics. Impa is but one of the females of OOT‘s Hyrule portrayed without being weighed down by stereotypes that are all too common in video games. And we can’t try to argue that Nintendo is exempt because of the family-friendly nature of its games. While Nintendo may not expose us to as much of the overt objectification and sexualisation as other companies, we can still look to games such as Super Princess Peach for an idea of the other side of things; a game which–while utterly fabulous–displays the female protagonist’s only effective means of defending herself as using a parasol or her emotions.
But what about some more real–as in flawed–female characters? Perhaps Navi’s persistent hints and universally known catch-cry of “Hey! Listen!” are both signs of an over earnest personality. Navi is near insufferable at times, but deep in our hearts we know she is strong of will and good of heart. Case in point: she is also accompanying the Hero of Time on a quest she perhaps never would have dreamed of, and faces up with Link to the King of Evil himself–a feat of courage indeed.
Similarly, Princess Ruto is perhaps one of the most frustrating and infuriating characters in all of Hyrule. As a child she moans and whines about Link’s help, and gives clear instructions of what she expects of him–despite having known him for virtually no time at all. In her youth, Ruto commands power through her royal lineage and brash personality, but later we see a different side to her, a young woman forced into maturity by factors outside of her control. It is the Ruto we see in the Water Temple, fighting for the survival of her people, managing to be the only member of her race to escape an effective genocide and independently and courageously traversing a dungeon which most of us find challenging at the best of times. And all the while, in the back of her mind is the promise that Link shall one day marry her, and then even disregards her own love and happiness for the greater good of sagedom.
It’s also interesting to note the fact that Ruto effectively proposes to Link, rather than the other way around. Through our silent protagonist, our supporting characters are given way to become far more impressive and interesting than Link himself. In mirroring situations, Hyrule’s king is never seen, and King Zora can barely move (trapped by ice or otherwise), thus freeing up plot points and adventures for both Ruto and Zelda to sink their teeth into.
And of course, there is a woman from the race that began this entire article, Nabooru of the Gerudo Tribe. The Gerudo live alone, in the heart of the Gerudo desert, in a warrior society of sorts. But, the catch is, that there is only one man born every hundred years, the most recent of which being Ganondorf. The Gerudo women capture and imprison four male carpenters, exhibiting their prowess as warriors. Nabooru is their leader and goes up secretly against the man in even higher power than her for the good of her land and people. She is also flawed; she is a thief and commands a strict regime over who may enter her land. But perhaps the best example of their fighting craft is that Link can not ever be seen by them, lest by their power and authority he puts his hands up and is thrown in a cell.
Back at the ranch, Talon is depicted as a lazy, fairly useless man who has no real interests apart from playing games and is wholly incapable of looking after his daughter, whom he allows to wait for him alone outside the castle as a ten year old while he sleeps until Link intervenes. Ingo is a megalomaniac with no redeeming qualities apart from perhaps his moustache. Malon takes on the huge responsibilities of ranch life from an early age, and seems to overcompensate for all the flaws of the two male figures in her life–though I am not at all suggesting that an incompetent male / competent female dialogue is present in OOT.
And then there are the bad girls: living fast and dying at the hands of our hero. The first boss Link goes up against is Queen Gohma, whom is served by male deku scrubs, and the last before Ganondorf is Twinrova. Many of the other boss fights are against genderless enemies; here we can clearly see that formidable females are present in an evil capacity also. On top of this, being the first and last bosses for Link to face up to seems poignant–the queen and the witches.
Finally, it would be impossible to not mention the Godesses: Din, Farore and Nayru. These three created Hyrule, and are the all powerful deities in the OOT world. Throughout the game they are seen as the highest powers, having created the Triforce which the whole game is centred around, and the entire world in which the game takes place.
Hyrule is indeed, run by girls. It looks like theres more than a few women deserving of the Triforce of power or courage.