After 30 Years of Being a Dude, There's No Reason Why Link Shouldn’t Be a Lady
Nintendo can change the gender of their Zelda series hero, as the character is far from consistent anyway.
It's been nearly 30 years since the original The Legend of Zelda game came into existence. Since then, Nintendo has released no less than 19 further Zelda titles, not counting spin-offs. Across all of these games there have been two main constants: Link has always been a man or a boy, and Zelda has always been a girl.
Next year will hopefully see us playing the newest game in the Zelda series, an entry for the Wii U that was originally showcased at E3 in 2014, which will mark the role-playing franchise's 30th anniversary with its 20th game. When it was first shown to us, in a non-gameplay trailer, there were mutterings that it's possible that this Link, for the very first time, could be a girl. People analysed the video looking for clues, highlighting elements of interest. But Nintendo quickly put pay to rumours that Link might have changed gender for their next big adventure: this Link was, just like the Link before him, very much a male.
'The Legend of Zelda', E3 2014 trailer
At E3 this year Nintendo revealed The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes for its 3DS console, in which you can control one of three Links in a co-op adventure with AIs or friends to solve puzzles, dress up and generally mess about. The dress up part is especially interesting, as it was shown during the trailer that Link is able to wear Princess Zelda's clothes. Was this it? In a game where there are three versions of Link, would Tri Force Heroes mark the moment when a female Link finally becomes playable? It doesn't matter if it's not a main entry, or if it's not canonical. Well, that's also a no from Nintendo.
The response to the Tri Force speculation was rather lily-livered in its nature to say the least; essentially it was "a call to heroes has been put out, and only men are heroes", and to say that's bollocks is a tremendous understatement. History has seen many influential female warriors: people like Joan of Arc and Grace O'Malley were women who defied the standards of their time, women who set out to prove themselves in areas considered to be the domain of men.
Japan, Nintendo's home, has two excellent examples of its own in Nakano Takeko and Tomoe Gozen. While not an official member of the Aizu army during the Boshin War, Takeko commanded a unit comprised totally of women, where she led by example charging into battle with a naginata. Tomoe Gozen fought in Japan's Genpei war and pre-dates Takeko by nearly 700 years. Gozen fought alongside male samurai and was highly skilled with both the bow and the sword (hello, Link). Gozen lived to see the war through to its end while the unfortunate Takeko was killed by a rifle bullet during a charge.
In the fictional world we see characters like Fa Mulan (who went to war in place of her father), Éowyn and Arwen from The Lord of the Rings, Marvel's Black Widow and Brienne of Tarth from Game of Thrones. There's plenty of scope and inspiration for women to be heroes and warriors.
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So, what's the deal with Link? You might think he's an established Nintendo character, and altering him would be like radically redesigning Mario. Except, Link has never been a constant at all. We've seen him sport brown, pink and blonde hair. We've seen him shrunk down to miniscule size to tackle two worlds in one. We've seen him turn into a wolf, a rabbit, become a merman and a sentient painting. But most of all we've hardly ever seen the same Link each time.
Over the course of 30 years, Link's origins have been told and re-told over and over again, and that's because – unlike Link's Nintendo stable mates – he isn't exactly established. The lore of the Zelda titles is a generational story where the great evil is sealed away and the hero is reborn in each generation to fight it when it returns; your standard hero fare, really. With the hero reborn each time, in a place where the children can be both male and female, why is it always a male that gets chosen? There's just no need for it to be that way every time.
We're in a time where developers and industry veterans are wising up and realising that there's a whole bunch of gamers out there who want to see better representation of their demographic. It certainly wouldn't hurt Nintendo to at least try – it's not like the backlash to a female Link would be any worse than the shit they got after the Metroid Prime: Federation Force reveal. Nintendo has frequently played around with its characters throughout its history, placing them in different scenarios and game types. The company even gave Zelda a badass alter ego in Sheik, proving that they're not against making women competent warriors in their games. Link has always been semi-androgynous too, with his features becoming more and more feminine over the years. Going for broke just once couldn't hurt.
Recently, a Tumblr user made a mock-up of what the revealed cast of Final Fantasy XV – an upcoming RPG derided somewhat for its boyband road-trip aesthetic – would look like with their genders swapped. The work was warmly received. Not only was the quality of the images high, but they made the characters look so much more interesting. The game's current crew of black-clothed, dour-looking men wouldn't be missed if this swap were actually to happen. (It won't, but imagine having the option.)
This is the 21st century and the times of terrible game advertising like Ocarina of Time's "Get the girl, or play like one" are fast leaving us. Many games shown at E3 2015 gave us strong and tough women in leading roles in big-budget titles. Dishonored 2 features female playable character; Guerilla's next big thing, Horizon: Zero Dawn, has a female protagonist; Mirror's Edge is making a comeback with Catalyst; and Nintendo... Well, I would say they have Samus, but she hasn't had a game of her own for a long time now.
It's time Link became a female protagonist in Nintendo's roster of characters. Maybe not permanently, but possibly in an alternate timeline – which shouldn't be difficult given Link is reborn every generation anyway. He needs to "do a Thor" – that's a name given to the one Mjölnir has chosen fit to wield it, and currently it rests in the hands of a woman, a decision that is proving incredibly successful for comic publishers Marvel. Link can be Nintendo's Thor, a hero chosen each generation, male or female. Canonically, the legend that Nintendo has created actually gives them the flexibility to have Link be a woman, and when the gender split of people who identify as males or females and who play games is about 50/50, there's just no reason for them to not make the most of their own fiction. Because right now, their hero of time is only a Link to the past.
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