If you’re anything like most gamers from a certain era, you probably grew up assuming that Zelda and Link were in love. After all, he is a hero, she is a princess, he was a boy, she was a girl…can we make it any more obvious?
However, the truth of the matter is that nothing is quite that obvious when it comes to Link and Zelda’s relationship. Much like your relationship status on Facebook whenever you felt like stirring up a little drama, the relationship between Link and Zelda over the years has been decidedly complicated.
That’s part of the reason why Skyward Sword has always been one of the most interesting Zelda games from a lore perspective. After years of ambiguity, complications, winks, half-answers, and lingering questions, Skyward Sword gave us a Link and Zelda relationship that couldn’t possibly be interpreted as anything but romantic (even if there is some ambiguity regarding how their relationship ends). The game was even promoted with this “Romance Trailer” that highlights that aspect of the plot:
While there is very little debate regarding whether or not Skyward Sword is a Link and Zelda love story, there is a much more substantial (and far more interesting) debate to be had regarding whether or not it is the only real love story in Legend of Zelda history.
“Hold up,” you might be saying. “If Zelda and Link didn’t have a canonical romance until 2011, then why did I grow up believing that they were in love?”
Well, as we mentioned before, elements of the perceived romance between Zelda and Link can be attributed to the fact that most of the guys you see rescuing princesses in fantasy stories do tend to fall in love with them. It’s not exactly the genre’s most beloved trope, but it’s certainly one that has ingrained itself into our collective pop culture consciousness over the years.
To be fair, though, the Zelda/Link love hasn’t just been in our heads this entire time. The popular theory is that the pair end up getting married at the end of the original NES game (even if the sourcing for that claim is somewhat dubious from a canonical perspective), and we see Zelda kiss Link at the end of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Granted, the Zelda that kisses him at the end of that game isn’t the Zelda he saved in the original game but rather a version of Zelda from years ago. Look, Zelda lore is…weird.
Speaking of which, we should probably talk about the Link from the 1989 animated Legend of Zelda TV series. That version of Link was more or less a stalker who pretty much refused to help Zelda without asking for a kiss. He was also so insufferably annoying that we honestly think Zelda might have been better off with Ganon than this ’80s movie jock in a green leotard.
It’s around that time that Nintendo became much coyer about Zelda and Link’s relationship. A Link to the Past doesn’t really bother to bring up the possibility of a romantic relationship between the two (outside of an often misinterpreted piece of dialog), and Link’s Awakening doesn’t even feature Zelda (though the character Marin is clearly inspired by Link’s memories of Zelda). At this point, it’s easy to assume that Nintendo decided to abandon the more overt references to Link and Zelda’s romance due to creative preferences, the increasingly complicated nature of the franchise’s timeline, and perhaps the feeling that this just wasn’t meant to be that kind of franchise.
That’s when we enter a prolonged and strange “Will they or won’t they?” period for Link and Zelda’s relationship. Ocarina of Time dances around the issue, but only hints that a romantic relationship may be blossoming. The Wind Waker pretty much abandons the idea entirely in favor of presenting the two as adventuring equals, while Twilight Princess offers the “coldest,” or perhaps most “business-like,” relationship between the pair yet. Nintendo even gave Link more overt love interests during this time to seemingly try to encourage people to stop focusing so much on the Zelda/Link romance narrative.
Interestingly, the Zelda/Link relationship has always skewed more towards intimacy (or at least blossoming romance) in many of the handheld Zelda games. That’s not a universal rule (Zelda wasn’t even in Phantom Hourglass), but for some reason, the pair have almost always been a bit…closer in those games.
That trend reached its apex with the release of 2009’s The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks. That game was originally not even supposed to include Zelda as Link’s adventuring partner, but the developers felt like it would be better to feature her as a prominent side character rather than try to create a new character or simply re-use Wind Waker/Phantom Hourglass‘ Tetra yet again. The result is a Zelda game where Link and Zelda spend an unusual amount of time together (compared to other titles in this series). While that kind of set-up is enough to get shippers talking, the game wasn’t exactly shy about teasing a possible romance. It even ends with Zelda and Link holding hands!
What’s even more interesting than Spirit Tracks‘ implication that its version of Zelda and Link could end up together is the reason that the developers chose to give Link a female partner for that game in the first place.
“I was searching for something that hadn’t been portrayed much, and there was Princess Zelda,” says director Daiki Iwamoto regarding the casting decision. “At first, we hadn’t settled on the subcharacter, and I discussed several things with the staff. Then we thought that, since they’re adventuring together, it would be better to have it be a girl.”
That last part brings us back to the elephant in the room concerning this whole Zelda/Link relationship discussion. There is a heteronormative side to fantasy fiction from certain eras that has, to a degree, trained our brains to see female and male leads together and just assume that they’re going to be romantically involved by the time the credits roll.
Even though Nintendo has historically danced around this romance and, at times, straight-up avoided it, Iwamoto still says that it just made more sense for Link to be with a female character that he obviously ends up having intimate moments with (even if they may or may not be entirely romantic). You could argue that throughout much of the history of The Legend of Zelda franchise, speculation regarding the pair’s romantic relationship has been fuelled by those who either wished the two would get together or just assumed that has to be the case given their situation and genders.
So why did Nintendo decide to finally show Link and Zelda in an obviously romantic relationship in Skyward Sword after dodging the matter for so long? Interestingly enough, Skyward Sword producer Eiji Aonuma thought about cutting the romance angles when the game’s development team (which, it must be said, consisted of quite a few Spirit Tracks developers) initially suggested them. While Skyward Sword‘s developers had to make some cuts to justify including the romance subplot, Aonuma’s decision to leave it in ultimately came down to his simple belief that it was an effective way to get players to care about rescuing Zelda.
“As far as the love story goes, it wasn’t that we wanted to create a romance between Link and Zelda as much as we wanted the player to feel like this is a person who’s very important to me, who I need to find,” Aonuma said in an interview with Game Informer. “We used that hint of a romance between the two to tug at the heartstrings.”
From a meta standpoint, the idea that Nintendo is aware that even hinting at the possibility of a Link and Zelda romance is a pretty easy way to engage people certainly makes a lot of sense. While Aonuma stops short of saying that was somehow their idea this entire time, you could argue that it’s more valuable for Nintendo to simply leave room open for that possibility rather than outright establish a romantic relationship more often.
Of course, that makes it all the more interesting that the one Zelda game that features such a blatant romance story is also the first game in the Zelda timeline. While the versions of Link and Zelda featured in that game are not the same characters we see in subsequent games, Nintendo did clearly establish that the foundation of their relationship (and this franchise) is partially based on their love for each other. Circumstances may have prevented them from leading the life together they hoped to have (at least based on our hopes for how two young people in love might end up), but who is to say that one of Zelda‘s descendants or one of Link’s reincarnations won’t be able to break the curse and live the life that these two were possibly denied so many years ago?
Actually, that’s what makes Breath of the Wild such a fascinating piece of this puzzle. While serious questions remain regarding how Breath of the Wild fits into Zelda‘s chronology, it almost certainly seems to take place at what we could see as “the end” of the current Zelda timeline (or timelines). It’s perhaps no coincidence, then, that it’s the game that not only openly acknowledges the complicated relationship between the various Links and Zeldas over the years but is also the game that shows Link and Zelda clearly growing closer to each other over the course of the adventure. By the end of the game, you could very easily view their relationship as “romantic” or, at the very least, heading in that direction.
While we’ll have to see whether or not Breath of the Wild 2 does anything with that implication, we’re left with the simple conclusion that Skyward Sword may be the only “overt” Link and Zelda romance story so far, but elements of that romance can be found in Spirit Tracks, Breath of the Wild, and, depending on your interpretation of the timeline, nearly every other Legend of Zelda game in some form or fashion.
Sure, it’s a little annoying that Nintendo keeps hinting at romances they seemingly never intend to really do anything with, but there’s something to be said for the ways they’ve paired Zelda and Link together over the years without relying on a relatively simple romantic subplot. Of course, that just makes Skyward Sword even more of an oddity than it already was.