It has been a long time since I played a Zelda game, but with the release of Tears of the Kingdom, I had to finally catch up (and, at last, buy a switch to do so). I have always loved the different universes of Zelda. And this duology is now in my top five Zelda games (I am not including Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity in this article, as I have not played it, and it is considered non-canon by Nintendo). Breath of the Wild started the open-world system for Zelda games, and it’s not only fun but it feels fleshed out. Best of all, the environment is not the only thing that feels fully fleshed out. The character development of Zelda and Link throughout these two games was some of the best, especially in Zelda’s case.
In Breath of the Wild, Zelda starts out as a princess who is struggling with her power and finding her place. Link is assigned to be her guard as champion of Hyrule. Zelda is less than thrilled with the arrangement, and they start on awkward terms. As Link acquires his lost memories, we see their development through the cut scenes. Link continues to do his duty and follow her, even when she does not want him to. This leads to him saving her life. They get closer from there, and Zelda feels safe enough around Link to break down in his arms. They ultimately come full circle, and Zelda saves his life in the final memory. She is torn up at the prospect of him dying. She sends him to be healed but over the course of one hundred years. And in turn, she returns the Master Sword for him to retrieve when he wakes up. She goes on after all of her allies have fallen and tries to hold back Calamity Ganon all on her own until Link wakes up and finishes the job as she knows he will. She grew so much in this game alone, from a confused seventeen-year-old princess still struggling to connect with her magic to the future ruler of Hyrule, ready to sacrifice anything for her people.
It is easy to see Zelda’s development in the memories, and since we don’t get dialogue from Link outside of choosing a few words when speaking to someone and hearing what he said through others. However, it is enough. He will help those who need it and defeat any obstacle in his way. He is always by Zelda’s side and there for the kingdom. Through Zelda’s journal and her dialogue in the memories, we learn that he is quiet and thoughtful. He gives her advice on riding horses, and he takes his responsibility seriously, being quiet through all the challenges that lie before him. He overcomes them all as any good knight would do.
As is common knowledge of returning readers here, we love romance. I have shipped Link and Zelda since I first watched my older brother play Ocarina of Time, and eventually played it myself. Nintendo has always been ambiguous as to their relationship. With the beginnings of Link and Zelda established in Breath of the Wild, they had fantastic development that easily fueled fan fiction and my own headcanons between the release of the two games.
In Tears of the Kingdom, at least five years have passed, and Hyrule is healing. During this healing process and search for information, Link and Zelda are separated once again after Link is hurt and the Master Sword is horribly damaged. He still jumps after Zelda as she falls to what would most likely have been her death, were it not for her time sage abilities. Both of them fight their way back to each other and to save their kingdom. They make an excellent team even when they are torn apart across time.
In a way, Zelda’s time in the past was great for herself and her enthusiasm for history. She was able to meet her ancestors and witness events she had only ever read about. Through it all, she wanted to help them, but she was also desperate to get back to her time with the information she had learned. And to return to Link. She grows as a leader and once again sacrifices herself for the good of Hyrule. After learning of dragonifcation that she could become immortal, Zelda makes the ultimate sacrifice — her mind and body lost forever — to heal the Master Sword in her dragon form for Link to find in the future. In the present, Link is hurt from his encounter with Ganondorf. He fights to recover the strength he lost as he searches all of Hyrule, above and below, for Zelda. He stops at nothing and follows every lead to find her. Even when his hope for rescuing Zelda is lost, he does everything in his power to finish what she started so her sacrifice is not in vain.
Bookending the game with Link falling through the sky to reach Zelda at the end, echoing how he jumped after her in the prologue, was incredibly sharp. It was the perfect parallel. Visually stunning and the music was brilliant, hitting on those classic Zelda themes while adding new energy that matched the scene. Link holds her in his arms, protecting her as they land in the water below. Link will stop at nothing to protect her and their kingdom. And Zelda will sacrifice everything for him and her kingdom. They are the perfect pair for each other and as a team-leading Hyrule through its’ troubling times.