Surprise! This article is my opinion. It’s okay if you disagree.
After the reveal of The Breath of the Wild, several fans were shocked when it was announced that there would be no gender option, as previously rumored. Aonuma and Miyamoto spoke about the issue in several interviews and essentially said the same thing — that Link isn’t an avatar– he’s a character. Aonuma stated that the team briefly considered adding Zelda as the main character, while Miyamoto discussed a possible Sheik-led spinoff. In the end, Aonuma thought having Link as a girl would disrupt the balance of the Triforce. Both of them seemed to agree that if there was a gender option in The Legend of Zelda, it would need to be an entirely different character. I personally agree with both Aonuma and Miyamoto, and would like to briefly explain my thoughts on the matter.
Link to me, is comparable to Gordon Freeman and Mario. Both are silent (Gordon Freeman more than Mario) but both are still characters. Honestly, I can see a lot of the argument for adding a female option to Zelda, to apply even more so to Mario. Mario doesn’t really have an official story (therefore canon is less of an issue…) and Mario’s gender matters way less than Link’s…as he’s just an avatar rescuing the princess. Yet there isn’t a strong demand for a female Mario nor for Gordon Freeman.
Link is very different than ‘blank avatars’. Link has more characteristics than say Steve from Minecraft or even Laat Dovahkiin from Skyrim. Steve and Laat are fully customizable to the player. Steve is a blank slate. Players are dropped into the world and in the end it doesn’t really matter who Steve is and what its story is. This was done so players could create their own narrative. Laat does have their own story, but in the end it’s up to the player to decide what it is. They can even choose to have a family or not. In both cases, the player is given freedom to create their own story within the world. What kind of Steve and Laat are you? The choice is completely yours.
That choice hasn’t really existed in Zelda. Breath of the Wild is the first time players can really customize Link, and even then his basic features will be identical for everyone. Link will still shiver the same way in the pause screen if he’s cold. He will still wake up the same way. His appearance and the way he interacts with the world will probably play a huge role in the game. The game is not played in first person view. It’s very apparent that a lot of care went into portraying Link.
Some people have said, “Why can’t Link just be female? After all he just the reincarnation of the spirit of the hero!” This is also assuming that the Link in Breath of the Wild is a new Link, which we haven’t seen before. There are some theories that this a Link we’ve previously seen (See: Possible Timeline Placement) as Link wakes from a 100-year slumber.
Having a female Link was originally proposed in the original Hyrule Warriors. In the sequel, Hyrule Warriors: Legends, Linkle was added due to fan reception and demand. Some people have argued that Linkle could just stand in for Link, and I disagree with this notion entirely.
While discussing Hyrule Warriors, it’s also worth noting that there are several versions of Link, all emphasizing a different trait. There’s Young Link, who emphasizes how ‘young’ he is, while Toon Link seems to has an emphasizes on the cartoon style. In the end all three Links are still Link. If the developers simply wanted a female version of Link with Linkle then they failed as Linkle is much more developed character than that.
The main reason is because even in Hyrule Warriors: Legends, Linkle is NOT just a female Link. Yes, she has the spirit of courage in her, but she’s not same person as Link. She’s clumsy, good natured and helpful. The way she chooses to interact within the world of Hyrule Warriors: Legends is very different than the way Link does. Even though the story in Hyrule Warriors: Legends is somewhat limited I feel like I have a good sense of Linkle by playing her and her limited missions. Side note: she’s also one of my favorite characters to play as. She has her own backstory, motives and outlook on the world. Determined, optimistic, and clumsy are probably the three best words to describe Linkle. Kotaku, in an opinion piece, Linkle is More Than The Girl Version of Link discusses this further if you are interested in their opinion.
I do want to make it clear I’m not against adding a female lead. I’m against erasing Link’s identity as a character, and making him a total blank slate. If they wanted to add a female main lead, then I think they should create a new character and fully integrate them into the world.
One common misconception is the origin of Link’s name. Some people believe that it was suppose to connect the player to the world. In fact, Link was chosen as the name because according to Miyamoto, “The game was to be set in both the past and the future and as the main character would travel between both and be the link between them, they called him Link.” This notion was later reaffirmed in the Hyrule Historia, “We named the protagonist Link because he connects people together. He was suppose to spread the scattered energy of the world through the ages“.
A common argument why Link should have a female option is because people claim Link is a blank state, and gender doesn’t matter. I disagree with this. Link has felt like a character that has history and is an active part of his world ever since A Link to the Past. Link isn’t a blank slate, he is a vessel in which the player enters the world. Even though Link is silent, the characters within Zelda react to the hero and what he does. There’s a lot of dialogue reacting to how Link looks and plays. They really played this up in Majora’s Mask due to mask transformation, but it occurs in other Zelda games too. The following is a quote from Twilight Princess.
Well, what have we here, hm? That’s quite an outfit you have on, old boy.
That timeless design… You’re sporting the legendary hero LOOK, aren’t you?
Tell me, where did you buy it? Wait… Please don’t tell me you made it
Oh, dear, I’d love to wear something like that!
Pray tell, if you were to ever tire of that thing, would you part with it?
Mister HERO! …Heh heh.
The world doesn’t just interact with Link. He is fully realized in the world. These are best exemplified in the post Majora’s Mask Zelda games…but do exist in the earlier ones too. Wind Waker features an extensive backstory for our hero, with Link starting his journey to rescue his little sister. Link leaving Onset Islands was one of the most moving parts of the game for me. Playing it, I could feel Link’s sadness leaving his home as he waves goodbye. In Majora’s Mask you can feel Link’s determination to get his ocarina back from Skull Kid, and his distraught when being turned into a Deku. If Link was just an avatar, he wouldn’t be reacting to events like this. A major plot point of Link’s Awakening is Link and Marin’s relationship.
Having a pre-established character gives the Zelda developers more tools to work with within the context of the story. Since Link has ties to his home and other characters, it can create motivation to push the story forward. Saria and Link’s friendship is a key part of Ocarina of Time, and I personally can’t imagine the game without it. Creating a blank avatar-type character would erase some of Link’s connection to characters, or create less meaningful relations. Arguably, the reason a lot of people enjoy Saria and Link’s relationship is because of the romantic implications of it. Giving players the choice to be female could prevent those kinds of relationships forming, especially if they aren’t explicitly stated.
Another line of thought is that since Link is reincarnated, why can’t he just be reincarnated as a girl? Aonuma disputed this today as he stated that having Link as a girl would disrupt the balance of the triforce. Proposed by Nintendokusou, the lore of the Triforce is based on the Divine Trinity, which has its roots in a male, female and an ambiguous gender character (which would be Ganon most of the time).
In the Breath of the Wild, Calamity Ganon is referred to with non-specific gender pronouns in the introduction. Ganondorf definitely has a gender (he was the first born male in the Gerudo tribe) but Ganon might not. It’s also worth noting that in the original Legend of Zelda manual, the only character who was given a gender pronoun in Japanese was Link.
Lastly, Link is the face of the Zelda series. Making him ambiguous would make Link less recognizable. This lowers the value of Link as a character in a time where Nintendo is focusing on protecting and cultivating their IPs. Link was designed the way he was because Nintendo wanted him to be recognizable. In 2011, Guinness Book of World Records voted Link as the #2 top video game character.
Adding gender options would diminish Link’s impact as a character. People know Link. Yes, it’s a different incarnation of Link in a lot the games but he still has same basic features across the games. Light colored hair, human (Hylian), blue eyes and a medium build. Sometimes he’s younger, sometimes he has a ponytail or a scarf. But at the end of the day, he still looks like Link and doesn’t look all that different over the span of the series. Looking at the various designs of Link, it’s very apparent these basic features were kept intact. Even though Link reincarnates, I don’t think it would be wise for Nintendo to throw away the basic features of Link. It’s why we as fans can imagine Lonk. We know what Link isn’t supposed to look like.
Anyway, that was my thoughts on Link and gender options. Feel free to sound off in the comments, but please keep it civil.