It might be funny if it wasn’t such a cliche. Despite its name, The Legend of Zelda is mostly about Link. To be fair, Link isn’t the most developed video game character; over the past twenty-five years, he hasn’t even managed to speak a word. But viewed from a mechanical perspective, every Zelda game is about Link’s development. Over the course of the adventure, the player learns new techniques and sharpens their skills as Link makes the transition from an innocent youth to a seasoned warrior. While all this is happening, Zelda is usually in hiding or imprisoned beyond the player’s control and the plot’s immediate attention.
However, there are some exceptions to this pattern. I recently played The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks and was pleasantly surprised to find that Zelda was more than a plot device. Spirit Tracks isn’t a revolution in sophisticated storytelling, but it succeeds in making Zelda meaningful for reasons beyond tradition. Spirit Tracks shows that a game can revolve around the abduction of a royal woman while still avoiding the most tired aspects of the well-worn “save the princess” trope.