There are so many Princess Zeldas in The Legend of Zelda that it can feel like a multiverse. Everyone who knows Zelda‘s storyline has drifted away through the royal clones of a damsel in distress and her hero clad in green at least once, and you will admit it some time or another. But that doesn’t mean every single Zelda is in boring black and white. Here are the top 10 best incarnations of Hyrule’s Princess, whether that means she’s snarky, cute, or unequivocally human.
10. The Heart: A Link Between Worlds
Overall, this Zelda doesn’t have that much depth to her personality. She’s gentle and soft-spoken like the majority of other Zeldas for the most part. However, the place where it changes up is her extremely compassionate heart. When she sees a doomed Lorule and the Triforce in her possession, what does she do? Instead of only using it to serve Hyrule, she saves Lorule and its princess, Hilda, instead. While Zelda always tries to work for the greater good, this incarnation is particularly sympathetic. Her lack of character depth/arc and presence is the only thing that thumps her down to the bottom of this list.
9. The Villager: Link’s Awakening
In Link’s Awakening, Marin takes the place of Zelda in Link’s dream. She’s not that much different than the real Zelda’s personality, except for her love to sing, but she’s more of a real, graspable character than the princess ever was. She has many sides to her personality, not only the damsel-in-distress we had seen in the previous games. I mean, come on, she dreams of being a pop star and having a life outside of Koholint. And she helps Link wake up a giant sleeping seal.
Then why didn’t she play an active role in the game? She is a NPC players will see at least a few times, but she doesn’t go much further than that when it comes to presence.
8. The Lover: Skyward Sword
This Zelda is one of the cutest yet. At the beginning of the game, she sends her Loftwing to go spit a letter at Link so he can wake up, affectionately calling him “sleepyhead.” Then, she asks him how she looks in her pink costume before pointing a well-placed finger at the bully Groose. And then Link wins the Wing Ceremony, where Zelda literally pushes him off the side of the goddess statue so he can practice using the sailcloth. (Fun fact: If you fail to open your sailcloth, Link will splat himself on the ground facedown… ow.)
Skyward Sword also does a fantastic job growing Zelda throughout the game. She is not her carefree self she was on Skyloft by the ending, but a young woman who has accepted her duty as the Goddess Hylia incarnate. She and Link probably don’t yet understand what that does to the future of Hyrule, but they nevertheless stay their playful selves to a certain extent before becoming the king and queen of the Surface. However, some fans may consider this Zelda too one-note as she remains undeniably sweet during the entire game.
7. The Ruler: Twilight Princess
Though dubbed “princess,” Zelda is worthy of being a queen in TP. In fact, she was about to take on this new role right when the usurper king Zant invaded Hyrule. This version is the most mature out of all of the Zeldas so far. Above all, we see her put her kingdom above all and do everything for her royal duties, possibly being the Zelda most fit for wielding the Triforce of Wisdom. Want proof? When Zant forces her to choose whether to watch Hyrule burn to the ground or be enveloped in Twilight, Zelda chooses the latter and gives herself up as Zant’s prisoner. Later, during the Ganondorf battle, she uses her light powers to save Midna’s life.
This Zelda is also likely one of the most agile: she aids Link on horseback by shooting Ganon with Light Arrows and wields a long rapier sword. It’s easy to say TP’s Zelda feels the most like a real ruler/queen of Hyrule… which would be even better if her character was fleshed out more.
6. The Pirate: Wind Waker & Phantom Hourglass
In Wind Waker, Zelda hardly takes her usual princess form, but spends most of her time as the pirate Tetra. She’s snarky and a bit egocentric at the beginning of the game, but later on becomes a much more helpful assistant to Link while retaining her humor. She also helps Link in the final boss fight by shooting Light Arrows.
Phantom Hourglass is what makes Tetra/Zelda weak; she’s essentially a dummy in this game. She turns into stone, Link rescues her, then she gets turned into stone again. Her personality and character depth from Wind Waker just doesn’t carry over, despite the fact that they follow each other chronologically in the timeline.
5. The Warrior: Hyrule Warriors Legends
As typical of a Hyrule Warriors game, Zelda doesn’t play the role of the damsel-in-distress, but an active fighter. She wields Light Magic and a rapier that looks like it came straight out of Twilight Princess. She even has the ability to lead armies in this game — a task fit for a ruler. The most astonishing moment, though, is when she escapes Wizzro’s attack by morphing into Sheik and meeting Link again later in the story. This Zelda is particularly a good fighter and never gets captured in the game’s entirety.
Her fierceness could be a problem for some, however; she isn’t much of a person, but a deft fighter who wants to take a break from the “Link, save me, I’m in the dungeon of the castle” trope. And that’s mostly all.
4. The Ninja: Ocarina of Time
If Sheik/Zelda from Hyrule Warriors Legends impressed you, you’re in for a lot more in Ocarina of Time. She evades Ganon for seven whole years during Link’s slumber – and this version of Ganon is actually the strongest yet, by the way – and even comes around to saving the snappy Princess Ruto from the ice sheet covering Zora’s Domain. She is also skilled enough at playing the harp that she takes the role of Link’s part-time music teacher during this game.
The strange part about Sheik is that once she reverts back to Zelda, Ganon captures her instantly. It’s like he’s attracted to blonde princesses in pink dresses or something. If she escaped his grasp for seven whole years, almost a decade already, how could she get captured so quickly? Did Ganon not notice her while she was in disguise, or did she equip herself with different strengths as Sheik that allowed her to escape?
3. The Equal: Spirit Tracks
People love Spirit Tracks not for its graphics, but for the unique ability to play as both Zelda and Link. This is one of the few games where Zelda literally never leaves Link’s side and actively assists him without getting to be annoying. She is basically Link’s equal here. Her puppy-dog relationship with him is also precious: they even get to high five each other and hold hands. Zelda even playfully punches Link a couple of times? Now that’s what I call a good princess! Well, to be honest, she kind of leaves her royal persona to assist Link as his ghost ally, which could be for the worse or the better.
2. The Scholar: Age of Calamity
Age of Calamity‘s Zelda depicts her as a scholar, a princess devoted to researching the ancient Sheikah technology. She’s the reason why Robbie and Purah have such big roles in the game. While she was already deeply interested in them in Breath of the Wild, AOC only brought that further to the maximum.
She also cares for Link in a close mutual affection, as they develop in their relationship and the tides are turned when the Champions survive Calamity Ganon in the heartfelt ending. Age of Calamity‘s Zelda feels a lot like a very relatable techy geek and friend, while still being one dedicated to protecting her kingdom at all costs.
1. The Savior: Breath of the Wild
Breath of the Wild‘s Zelda reaches a level of humanity that none of the others on this list have. Instead of wielding her magical sealing powers effortlessly as she had always in the past, she struggles to awaken them and fulfill her duty. This is why she at first had an envy of Link’s natural talent, as she can’t do anything while he seems to pull off every feat effortlessly. She also even played a frog prank on him just to shake him out of his stoicness. She eventually gets to know Link better, though, and the two of them form a complicated bond with each other by the game’s true ending. Oh, and she likes to take pictures, too!
“But Zelda still got captured by Ganon! There’s still no progress!” you say. Oh, no you don’t. Zelda willingly goes to fight Ganon on her own after the Champions die and Link is brought to the Shrine of Resurrection. With her newfound sealing powers, she makes the right choice to seal herself and Ganon away together for 100 years, causing her power to dwindle and then need Link’s help. She did this all for Hyrule, returning her to the princess state, while simultaneously playing an active role in the plot and ending right by Link’s side.