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Did Nintendo really just bench Zelda, again, for Breath of the Wild 2?

Is it still technically fridging if the hero’s princess falls down a really big hole? Asking for a friend.

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Nintendo

Is it still technically fridging if the hero’s princess falls down a really big hole? Asking for a friend.

You all remember the excitement of E3 2019’s Nintendo Direct presentation, right? When the Japanese publisher spoke at length about Animal Crossing: New Horizons then surprised us with a casually revealed direct sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild right at the end?

It was a pretty threadbare reveal, in truth, but it was still exciting. There hasn’t been a direct sequel to a Legend of Zelda game since Phantom Hourglass in 2007; the only other direct sequels are Majora’s Mask in 2000 and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, way back in 1987.

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And in contrast to the lack of information surrounding the game at its reveal, Nintendo at least made it clear this was to be a proper sequel – a Breath of the Wild 2, not some additional DLC or wing-clipped expandalone.

What really whipped fans into a frenzy, though, was the presence of Zelda in the teaser trailer. Not trapped in a castle or whisked away by Ganon as motivation for our hero, but in adventurer’s garb, hair cropped short, plundering caves side-by-side with Link.

Would she be playable? Could you switch between the pair? Might there be co-op? Or will she be an AI buddy, like Sully in Uncharted or Atreus in God of War? Whatever the outcome, we were all just pleased to see Zelda front-and-centre, focal in the action, not just the story, rightfull–

Hold on, someone’s just talking in my ear, give me a mome–

WHAT DO YOU MEAN, THEY’RE BENCHING ZELDA, AGAIN, IN BREATH OF THE WILD 2?

During its E3 2021 Nintendo Direct presentation, further footage was shown of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2, including some snippets of gameplay that show Link flying high above Hyrule, using new Sheikah abilities, and even disincorporating through solid surfaces. This is all good stuff.

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But of far greater concern is what happens to Zelda right at the start of the trailer, presumably picking up where 2019’s teaser left off, with Link and Zelda exploring a cave and stumbling across a very dehydrated Ganon.

Here’s the original teaser, from 2019:

And here’s the new Breath of the Wild 2 trailer, from the E3 2021 Nintendo Direct presentation. The offending bit is at around 15 seconds:

So in summary: Zelda and Link delve too deep into a cave, wake up a mummified Ganon, Link gets some magical powers imbued into his arm because he touches something he shouldn’t, Ganon gets a bit cross, then Zelda falls into a big hole? And then Link goes off and has a big adventure. (While Zelda is, presumably, still down the big hole. Alive? Dead? Who knows! Probably quite muddy, at least.)

Now, to be fair to Nintendo for a moment, we don’t know what’s in the hole. Maybe it’s a really nice hole. Maybe she’s going to have a better adventure in the hole than Link does soaring like an eagle above Hyrule with his new magic arm. But if we had to hazard a guess, it looks distinctly like Nintendo is fridging Zelda, again, as motivation for Link to do heroic stuff.

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(Fridging, if you’re not keeping up, is the term for writers – usually lazily – enacting bad things on the hero’s loved ones – usually, their wife, girlfriend, crush – to give them a bit of fire in the belly to overcome bad guys, bad stuff, whatever. It’s been around for aeons in narrative theory, but the term “fridging” specifically comes from Green Lantern #54, in which the titular hero comes back to find his girlfriend dead at the hands of a villain, literally stuffed into his fridge so that he can find her at his leisure.)

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It’s not the first time they’ve fridged Zelda, and it probably won’t be the last.

Gender politics of Hyrulean society

When asked about the possibility of a playable Zelda – or even a female version of Link – prior to the release of the first Breath of the Wild, series producer Aonuma offered this response in an interview with Gamespot:

“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] …if we have princess Zelda as the main character who fights, then what is Link going to do? Taking into account that, and also the idea of the balance of the Triforce, we thought it best to come back to this [original] makeup.”

Which, prior to Breath of the Wild’s release, does, admittedly, sound quite sexist. Men out doing the adventuring, a woman’s place is in the castle, and all that. But as it turns out, they did have something of a coherent (and less 1950s-sexist) plan for Breath of the Wild’s roles: Princess Zelda would sacrifice herself, sealing both her and Ganon away in Hyrule Castle using her magic to keep the evil contained, while Link recovered from his injuries and could return to the battle to defeat Ganon.

Princess Zelda was locked in that castle, battling Ganon, tortured, for a hundred years. She’s a flipping hero, far more than old Rip van Linkle, sleeping off a battlefield hangover for a century then popping off the subs bench to stick the ball in the net during extra time.

Which makes the decision to just… push her down a big hole in Breath of the Wild 2 even more baffling? Twitter user and streamer @shaun_vids perhaps puts it best:

I don’t really have anything to add to that, to be honest? What more can you say?

Maybe we should give Nintendo the benefit of the doubt. We thought they were being sexist and gross with Link and Zelda’s roles in the first Breath of the Wild and, as it turned out, Zelda was the bigger hero of the piece. (Even if we did only get to see her briefly, and mostly in flashbacks, her importance made up for her lack of appearance somewhat.)

And admittedly, we all inferred that Zelda might be playable, or an AI buddy, or at least physically present for the adventures in Breath of the Wild 2, based on one limited teaser trailer. Nintendo never explicitly said she would be, so that inference, incorrect as it may be, is on us.

But we really hope you have something better than “oops, she fell in a big hole, now Link must save the day” up your sleeves when Breath of the Wild 2 (probably) releases in 2022, Nintendo.


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Tom is an itinerant freelance technology writer who found a home as an Editor with Thumbsticks. Powered by coffee, RPGs, and local co-op.