Not Just Your Princess: Zelda’s Character Design
Since I was a little girl, I’ve always thought Princess Zelda was the coolest thing. But when everyone around me started to play The Legend of Zelda, I thought I was too uncool to play it myself. I learned a little history about her, discovered the badassery of this beautiful Hyrulian lady, and wanted to learn more about her immediately. Fast forward to earlier this year, when I picked up my very first Zelda game thanks to my best friend. She drowned me in so much Legend of Zelda knowledge that I couldn’t breathe, but I didn’t mind. I’ve dived down deep into Hyrule history and I didn’t think about turning back.
Through playing the games and learning more about them, I discovered that the wardrobe for Princess Zelda changes from game to game. Zelda’s timeline in the game might contribute to her choices and a wardrobe that keeps updating and changing. The timelines are slightly complicated, but fairly simple to master once you understand which one is which (it’s still taking me awhile to get them down too).
The Unified Timeline is the first timeline in the The Legend of Zelda. This timeline starts with Skyward Sword,which is the creation of everything and includes The Minish Cap, Four Swords, and Ocarina of Time. The Unified Timeline is when everything is still together before Zelda’s splitting of the timeline in Ocarina of Time, sending Link back in time. The split leads to the Fallen Hero (Downfall) Timeline, which is when Link is defeated by Ganondorf, who becomes the Demon King (Eek…). These games include: A Link to the Past, Oracle of Seasons and Age, Link’s Awakening, A Link Between Worlds, A Legend of Zelda, and The Adventure of Link. The last two are the Child and Adult Timelines, which take place after the Fallen Hero timeline. The Child Timeline happens directly after Zelda sends Link back to his childhood in Ocarina of Time and then defeats Ganondorf. These games also include: Majora’s Mask (my favorite), Twilight Princess, and Four Swords Adventures. The Adult Timeline takes place in the present, and Link is sent back to his original time after Ganondorf is defeated. These games (for now) include: Wind Waker, Phantom Hourglass, and Spirit Tracks.
Her choices in these games contribute to the changes in her wardrobe because those choices create these different timelines. Most of the changes are very subtle and you don’t even notice them, but some of them are pretty badass, especially when she starts changing forms and allows herself to have weapons. Zelda is the Princess of Hyrule, but also the baddest chick to ever rule a kingdom. She’s self-sacrificing and kind, with compassion for everyone in her kingdom and court. She wants to make the worlds that she lives in a stable place and keep the Triforce away from Ganondorf cause…he’s a total dick. She is the most important person in the Legend of Zelda series, so here is a look back at Zelda’s character design and how it’s changed over the games’ history.
1. The Legend of Zelda (Fallen Hero Timeline)
Anyone else think that Zelda in The Legend of Zelda looks like Princess Peach from Mario in this game? Nope? Just me? This version of Princess Zelda was introduced in the game The Legend of Zelda on the NES in 1986 (going by the Japan dates instead of American). She’s a part of the Fallen Hero Timeline, the one where Link will be defeated by Ganondorf, the villain of The Legend of Zelda. She’s very sweet and humble, even though she gets kidnapped every five seconds. Zelda’s look in this game definitely has that traditional princess vibe. She’s dressed in a simple pink ballroom gown with bows around the bottom of the dress. Zelda in this version is graced with red hair although in later pictures, they have her in the blonde hair we know so well. This outfit will forever remind me of Princess Peach and I’m not sorry.
Here’s where the real character design starts to take affect for our lovely lady. Zelda’s look in the SNES game A Link to the Past (1991) carries through the rest of the games. This is another Zelda in the Fallen Hero Timeline. Although she gets kidnapped (and saved by our hero Link), in the end she rules the Hyrule Castle in style. We start to see the princess with golden hair that will become consistent throughout the later games. We also get to finally see those cute elvish ears that were hidden in the first game. We start to see her fashion change in a big way from a big pink ballroom gown, to a simpler white dress with pink and white robe and tapestry. On that tapestry, we now see the Hyrulian Crest and she wears a tiara with a single red ruby. She is completely blinged out. I wonder how you even kidnap a girl with so much gold on.
3. Ocarina of Time, we are not only graced with one Zelda but instead….two Zeldas!
Yeah, it got intense in Ocarina of Time. Ocarina of Time was released in 1998 on Nintendo 64, but has been re-released and remastered for Nintendo 3D/3DS (Get it now. Go!) We see young Zelda first when she throws the Triforce to Link to keep it safe from Ganondorf. Her outfit is very simple at this point. She wears a headdress, covering up her hair with only her elfish ears out and the Triforce symbol on the headdress as well. Her dress has the signature Hyrulian Crest, but also the Triforce on top of it. She isn’t heavily tied down by jewelry since she’s very young, but we see a lot more jewelry when we finally see Adult Zelda.
This adult Zelda has a lot more details to her outfit than the previous one. Not only does she wear the Hyrulian Crest on her dress, but there are more details to show how mature she is in this new stage in her life. Ocarina of Time was the first time I ever saw Zelda wear gloves as well! The gloves become something that carries through some of the games later on, appearing in Four Swords Adventures, Twilight Princess and Spirit Tracks. Her hair is also red in the game! Just when you thought you were used to see her as a blonde! Ocarina of Time is also where the hair starts to switch up because she goes from a redhead to blonde throughout the years as well. Ocarina of Time and A Link to the Past really laid the foundation of where Zelda outfits were going to go throughout the years.
4. Ocarina of Seasons and Oracle of Ages (Fallen Hero Timeline)
Seasons and Ages are a part of the Fallen Hero Timeline. These games were released in 2001 for Game Boy Color and are rarely talked about. In Seasons and Ages, she is kidnapped by Twinrova in order to resurrect Ganondorf. Zelda is looked upon as the great hope of Hyrule. She needs to find two very important figures in order to bring them back to Hyrule for safety. In these games, we see a similar look to Zelda in Ocarina of Time yet her looks are younger and a cuter Zelda than before. One of the differences however is that on her royal dress, she only carries the Triforce instead of the full Hyrulian symbol. One of the big things about her appearance in this game is that they’ve given her a more cartoonish look to her, instead of giving her the high definition quality with straight and heavy details like the other Zelda’s.
5. Four Swords Adventures (Child Timeline)
Zelda in Four Swords Adventures (2004, Gamecube) is the last time we see her with red hair. I’m not going to tell you what happens to Zelda in this game because I bet you can already guess from the last times I’ve told you about her kidnapping issues. She is apart of the Child Timeline, meaning that the events of this game, Majora’s Mask and Twilight Princess happen after Link was sent back to his childhood after he defeating Ganon. In Four Swords, we get another cutesy cartoon looking Zelda. Her red hair does not appear in the games after this one, but it was so much fun while it lasted right? This version of the outfit loses a lot more of the Zelda details that we’ve seen before, because there is hardly any of the heavy jewelry from previous games. Instead, we are greeted with the addition of a cute little ribbon in her hair with a high ponytail that makes you want to squee and hug her.
6. Twilight Princess (Child Timeline)
The most badass Princess Zelda incarnation of them all? Twilight Princess was released on Nintendo Gamecube / Wii in 2006, and features a Zelda carrying so much on her back as a matriarch of Hyrule. Zelda is very self-sacrificing and sacrifices herself in this game to protect her people. Her look in Twilight Princess is out of this world. Sometimes I call Twilight Princess Zelda, “babe Zelda” (I know… I’m sorry). Her outfit is as detailed and beautiful as she is. In this game, we see Zelda with a blue stone in her headdress instead of her signature red stone seen throughout the timeline. Her outfit is a heavier upgrade of Ocarina of Time, giving abstract symbolic details along the bottom of her dress. We see the Triforce, Hyrulian Crest, and different abstract Hyrulian designs along the dress and tapestry and the Sheikah symbol above the tapestry. Her jewelry, still the same as Ocarina, is much more mature in details as well, her headdress especially.
7. Wind Waker (Adult Timeline)
This is one of my best friend’s favorite games, but she hates that you have to spend 75% of your time in water. Released in 2002 for Gamecube, Wind Waker is part of the Adult Timeline, meaning the events that follow after are in the correct timeline after the Child Timeline. Link is back in his original timeline after he fights and conquers Ganon. The three games that follow the Adult Timeline are: Wind Waker, Spirit Tracks and Phantom Hourglass. What’s interesting about Wind Waker is that we’re not introduced to Princess Zelda at first. We’re introduced to a character named Tetra.
Tetra is Zelda secret identity when Zelda isn’t aware of her legacy until later in the game. Tetra is a pirate with a crew of thieves and ready to have a good time. This is the cutest outfit of them all to me. I love everything about the curly yet sharp hair. It not only gives a different look to Zelda because clearly she’s a pirate, but it gives kind of a playful nature to her as well. The look of the outfit is functional and casual as she goes on adventures on the seas. The red handkerchief around the neck and the simple and functional outfit of a pirate! She’s a pirate! How badass can you really get?
When we finally see Zelda in Wind Waker, she has a very simple look to her. An oversized gold belt to hold her skirt and tapestry together, then you have the cute chunky red necklace around her neck to set the look together. We have her gloves and her tapestry along the front has the Hyrulian Crest, Triforce, and another beautiful design. Her hair is golden blonde, the opposite of Tetra’s dirty blonde hair and another big thing to notice about Princess Zelda in this case is her makeup. There really isn’t any other Zelda incarnation with makeup on except for this one. It’s a very weird move considering that Tetra was a tomboy and a pirate.
8. Skyward Sword (Unified Timeline)
In Skyward Sword, Zelda actually isn’t a princess, but a student at Knight Academy with Link. This game is interesting because it’s one of the few games where she’s not directly a princess at all. Skyward Sword had its release in 2011 on Nintendo Wii. This game is the very very very first one that you should encounter in the timeline. It is a part of the Unified Timeline, but also takes place exactly after The Creation of the Land and Sky, which to the timeline is a creation of everything. In Skyward, her outfit is very cute and unique as well since she’s not a princess, but instead a reincarnation of the goddess Hylia. She wears her traditional pink dress, but a different symbol that resembles the Hyrulian Crest is used for her sash on the side of her hip. She’s also not tied down to heavy jewelry like we saw with the other Zelda’s. A big thing to me personally was how simple this outfit was. She’s wearing boots instead of wedges or heeled boots. Her outfit and simple and functional to allow her to move throughout Skyward Sword normally. Her overall appearance and attitude in the game is very bubbly and warm as well that makes you smile as you’re playing (or watching) the game.
9. Hyrule Warriors
This outfit is absolutely gorgeous for Zelda in battle. Hyrule Warriors is a spin off from Legend of Zelda with many of it’s playable characters in rotation. It was released on Wii U, but will come out with a 3DS version very soon. This game doesn’t have a timeline like the rest of the Legend of Zelda games, but I think we really need to talk about this outfit anyway. In the game, Zelda is an unlockable and playable character. She has a couple of weapons including a baton that lets her use music for attack purposes, as well as a rapier and bow. This is just the right outfit that you’d want a princess to wear during a fight. Zelda is stylish with her feminine looks, but also looks like a complete badass for battle. It’s not like her other dresses where the dress is down to the floor and she would have to worry about tripping instead of summoning her bow or rapier. It’s free flowing, with her Hyrulian Crest middle and the rest of the dress flowing on the sides (which is really cool to see when she goes her attack spins). She’s also equipped with armor that resembles the jewelry that she’s used to wearing. This outfit brings together all of the other outfits (mainly from Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess) and unifies them into a single battle ready outfit.
10. Sheik (Ocarina of Time)
Sheik has a little bit of controversy over them and here’s the reason why: gender pronouns. Sheik appears in Ocarina of Time as a disguise for Princess Zelda, and the characters treat them like a man. They help Link free all of the Sages and teaches him warp songs. Sheik’s outfit in the game is tight fitting, but very flexible to move around in and kick some ass in, especially if you spend half of your life in a long skirt that falls to the floor. They have bandages covering their face to hide their true identity. Their chest is covered with the symbol of the race known as the Sheikahs, a race that Sheik claims to be from. The Sheikah people also require the males pierce their ears when they come of age (Thanks to Al, for providing that information!). We can’t see Sheik’s ears, but Zelda does have pierced ears in Ocarina of Time, so you can almost say that they might have their ears pierced as well (even though you should always ask first and not assume things about people).
According to Bill Trinen, senior marketing manager at Nintendo, since Sheik is Princess Zelda and Princess Zelda is only in disguise and Zelda is a woman, Sheik is also a woman. Some fans found controversy with this and others didn’t. What’s more interesting than that is the prospective roles that Zelda and Sheik play in Ocarina of Time. As Sheik, they can kick ass and use physical fighting skills to help Link, but as Zelda she can use her psychic abilities only to help him. As Zelda, they limit her possibilities because she is royalty, but that doesn’t mean she can’t be awesome and physical. They allow her to do more activity in her disguised role as a male than she ever could. Says a lot, doesn’t it?
The changes through the games—and the changes to Zelda’s outfit—make you really think about how she’s perceived. When I was younger, most people saw her just as this damsel in distress because of her outfits. Pink to most people meant “save me,” but with Zelda this wasn’t the case at all. Sure…she gets saved by Link multiple times, but she plays the Princess role because that is her title. Zelda is so much more than just anyone’s princess. She is the kind of Nintendo beauty that you strive to be. Her dedication, beauty, self-sacrificing ways and her will to do anything for her peopl—-even if that means getting kidnapped in the process—makes her extraordinary. At the end of the day, Zelda is ready to get into battle and fight for what she believes in and to protect who she loves. No outfit is going to make you forget the badassery and wisdom that comes with the protector of Hyrule. Seriously. How could you not love Zelda?