Fans have been chomping at the bit to get their hands on the new Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild since it was announced at E3 2014. Zelda is one of the crown jewels of Nintendo's lineup, and in an increasingly first party environment, WiiU owners are looking for the next killer app to justify the existence of their console. At E3 this week, fans and press have finally gotten their hands on a playable version of the game at E3.
Despite the gender of its title character, The Legend of Zelda series' hero is the long-standing male Hylian named Link. You could be forgiven for being mistaken however, as Link's appearance is androgynous enough that he's a favorite for female cosplayers. When Breath of the Wild's trailer was released in 2014, the hero's gender was so unclear, and garments so different from Link's, that fans speculated it might be Zelda, a female Link, or an entirely new female character.
That didn't turn out to be the case, but this led GameSpot to ask Zelda series producer Eiji Aonuma if there would be an option to play as a female version of the hero. Surprisingly, he said that it had been considered, "We thought about it and decided that if we're going to have a female protagonist it's simpler to have Princess Zelda as the main character." But this was where the concept started to break apart: "If we have Princess Zelda as the main character who fights, then what is Link going to do?"
Kotaku followed up with Aonuma, asking why Link couldn't be female in the new game:
You know there’s the idea of the Triforce in the Zelda games we make. The Triforce is made up of Princess Zelda, Ganon and Link. Princess Zelda is obviously female. If we made Link a female we thought that would mess with the balance of the Triforce. That’s why we decided not to do it.
This response turned some heads as a rather odd excuse. In 1998, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time established the Triforce (the game's MacGuffin of ultimate power) as being divided into three pieces, representing Courage, Power, and Wisdom. While these elements were embodied by Link, Gannon, and Zelda, nothing about the legend had anything to do with gender.
Excuses for casual sexism is nothing new in the gaming industry. Advertisers in the '90s decided to slant their campaigns towards the idea that video games were a boy's hobby, and girl gamers have had to fight for their place in the culture ever since. In recent years, this has increasingly led to progressive gamers and press questioning the ostracization and disenfranchisement of female identity in the medium. Ubisoft caught some heat at E3 2014 for claiming that adding an option to play as a female assassin in Assassin Creed: Unity's co-op mode would be too much work, despite evidence to the contrary. They made up for it the very next year by introducing twin protagonists, Evie and Jacob Frye in Assassin's Creed: Syndicate.
Regardless of the faux pas in social politics, Breath of the Wild is certainly shaping up as a unique Zelda experience. See below for an hour of new gameplay footage that includes a running commentary from Aonuma.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is scheduled for release on WiiU and NX in 2017.
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