Zelink might be one of the biggest ships out there, and it's hardly controversial to want Zelda and Link, the two owners of the Triforce that aren't evil, to end up together. They're entwined in destiny, fated to keep meeting, and falling into the princess/hero dichotomy that keeps them separate once more. And yet, they've never really had a romantic relationship. It's wild!
We're big Zelink shippers here at NL, of course, so we've created the ultimate list of the best Zelda/Link relationships as represented in the Legend of Zelda games. We've skipped a few of the games — notably spin-offs like Hyrule Warriors and Four Swords — but all the mainline games are here.
What makes a good Zelda/Link relationship? Is it romantic tension? Friendship? Zelda not being asleep for the whole game? Read on to find out...
Note: Zelda story spoilers abound!
13. Zelda II
Hard to have a relationship when one of you is in a coma, isn't it? Sure, the plot of underrated 2000s rom-com Just Like Heaven would beg to disagree, but in Zelda II, the plot revolves around Zelda being a sleepy gal that Link needs to wake up. To make things extra complicated, apparently, this Zelda is a different Zelda to the one in the first game, but the Link is the same Link.
This doesn't change anything about Link's relationship with Naptime Zelda, it's just a fun fact.
12. The Legend of Zelda
The game that first created the Zelda/Link relationship didn't go particularly hard on their dynamic — after all, the year was 1986, and "hero saves princess" was good enough, without added layers of "also they're childhood friends" or "and one of them is REALLY sad".
Like every other NPC in the game, in the OG Legend of Zelda, the titular princess delivers her lines to Link in an ALL-CAPS SHOUT. And she doesn't have much to say, either, other than "THANKS LINK, YOU'RE THE HERO OF HYRULE."
Seriously? After all I've gone through, that's it?
11. A Link to the Past
A Link to the Past has a pretty old-school relationship between Zelda and Link — she's the captured princess, he's the hero come to rescue her, they escape through the Throne Room to the Sanctuary, and then... well, then she stays in the Sanctuary for ages. And then she gets kidnapped. And then she gets sent to the Dark World, along with a bunch of other maidens, as if they're all a bit interchangeable, really.
She could quite easily be replaced with a bunch of exposition textboxes and it wouldn't make a whole lot of difference.
10. Majora's Mask
Usually, Majora's Mask would be up in the top 5 of any Zelda list we make — but not today.
Zelda plays a tiny role in this non-Hyrulian game, in which child Link — having lost Navi, his fairy companion — sets out on Epona and gets lost in Termina following the events of Ocarina of Time. The princess appears only in a flashback when Link gets the ocarina back from Skull Kid, in a short-but-sweet cutscene where she says that she feels like she's known Link forever, and that she will never forget their time together.
The ocarina serves as a memento of their brief relationship, and it's a touching cutscene... even if it just serves to teach Majora's Mask Link how to play the Song of Time. Still, it's a bittersweet moment that ties Majora's Mask to the player's own memories of Ocarina of Time. Awww.
9. Phantom Hourglass
Although Zelda-as-Tetra appears in this post-Wind Waker game, she doesn't get much of a show — like many Zeldas in the past, she's a stone statue for most of the game. Still, the short time you spend with Tetra in Phantom Hourglass is lovely, and she's just as full of character as Link is in the game.
There's a particular moment at the end of the game where Tetra and Link almost hold hands, which is very cute, plus a post-credits scene in which Tetra yells at her crew — it's just a shame that this spunky re-imagining of Zelda doesn't get more screen time in this more light-hearted Zelda story.
8. A Link Between Worlds
Building on the lore and the world of A Link to the Past, A Link Between Worlds puts a lot more effort into Zelda's personality and relationship with Link.
She admits to having dreams about him (a bit forward) on their first meeting, and much like in Twilight Princess, she's already quite capable and in control of Hyrule as its ruler. But then, of course, she gets turned into a painting, which is only marginally better than being made of stone, and Link doesn't see much of her until the end, when they band together to save Hyrule and Lorule.
7. The Minish Cap
At the start of The Minish Cap, the Princess herself visits Link in his little hut, wanting to go to a festival with him. Coming just two years after A Link to the Past's GBA port, Minish Cap draws a lot of visual inspiration from that game in particular, and that makes it extra sweet to see Zelda and Link interacting like childhood friends instead of the sleepy boy and the lofty royal of ALTTP.
Sure, she's still a princess, but on some level, her and Link are peers and watching them scuttle around the festival together sets up the usual Zelda-gets-kidnapped story in a much more endearing and intriguing way than usual.
Of course, then she gets turned into stone for most of the game.
6. Twilight Princess
In Twilight Princess, arguably the darkest and grimmest of the Zelda games, the Princess is much more mature and wise than most of her other incarnations. It suits the tone of the game, but it puts a necessary distance between her and Link at the same time, putting Zelda in the shoes of the ruler of a broken Hyrule rather than the peppy, youthful princess of other games.
She is stoic, downtrodden, and brave in the face of despair, and she needs Link to save the kingdom she serves, but her relationship with him is largely one of trust and respect, rather than the warm friendship we have become used to between them. That doesn't mean there aren't beautiful moments between the two, though — like Zelda placing a gentle hand on Link's arm before his horseback battle with Ganon, allowing them to have a brief, touching moment together before the fight.
However, they're not really close. You don't get the sense that Link feels anywhere near as strongly for Zelda as he does towards Midna — Zelda is basically just another NPC in Twilight Princess. He's not even that bothered when she basically dies to save Midna!
5. Ocarina of Time
The first time we get to see Zelda in 3D, she's a cute little child, same as Link — and playing by herself in her garden while her father entertains guests. In Ocarina of Time, the two are not already acquainted with one another, but they quickly become friends, instead of ruler and servant, or damsel and hero. The scene between the two in the garden is gentle and endearing despite the looming threat of Ganondorf, who is meeting with the King in the room next door, and about whom Zelda has been having prophetic dreams. The two cement their friendship with Zelda's request that Link retrieve the Spiritual Stones, and later her bestowing the Ocarina of Time upon him as she is kidnapped by Ganondorf — it is clear that, despite their ages, Zelda already trusts Link as a friend and guardian.
Zelda's reappearance seven years later, disguised as Sheik, reveals her to be a capable and strong leader who is willing to put herself in harm's way to help Link save Hyrule. She supports him however she can, teaching him songs and helping him master his abilities, and it's only right at the end of the game, after revealing herself as Zelda to Link and exposing herself to Ganondorf, that she properly gets kidnapped and needs rescuing.
Finally, at the end of the game, Zelda not only thanks Link, but apologises for all he's had to go through to help her. As a reward for all his hard work, she sends him back to his childhood, even though that means that she will forget him completely. As a final post-credits scene, the two meet again as children — and the game fades to black with them staring at each other in the palace garden once more.
By ending the game with the two of them together, it cements the fact that Ocarina of Time was about Zelda and Link working together, as two parts of the Triforce, rather than just a hero saving a princess. It's tragic, and beautiful.
4. The Wind Waker
Who could have guessed that what the Zelda/Link relationship needed was... reinventing Zelda? The Wind Waker tricks players into growing close to Tetra, the sarcastic, adventurous pirate girl, before pulling the rug and revealing that she has been the reincarnation of Zelda in a world that doesn't have princesses or Hyrule.
Link and Tetra's relationship pre-Zelda transformation is a fantastic one, in which she helps Link out on multiple occasions, finding his quest exciting enough to want to join in. She is not important; she is just a cool friend who is keen to go on adventures, and that makes her and Link closer than ever at this point in the series. There is no hierarchical difference between the two, and you can definitely imagine their relationship continuing after the events of Wind Waker, even if she is "technically" a princess.
If anything, the transformation from Tetra to Zelda is what ruins their relationship, locking Tetra-Zelda in the ruins of Hyrule as if she's some precious artifact rather than the incredibly capable pirate captain that she's been this whole time. And then, of course, you know the rest — Zelda gets kidnapped, Ganondorf needs to be defeated, etc etc etc. It was much more fun when Tetra was allowed to go out on the ocean on adventures with Link, rather than being trapped inside thanks to the world's most over-protective father.
3. Breath of the Wild
As the (current) most recent Zelda game, Breath of the Wild goes hard with the relationship between Zelda and Link, but in some ways it regresses a little bit. Zelda is not the capable ruler of Twilight Princess, nor the childhood friend of Link, but instead a young woman trying her best to fulfil her destiny despite her self-doubt and fear.
Link is her bodyguard in the past, and her saviour in the present, but he does not meet her (or remember her) until very late in the game. Most of their relationship is explored through flashbacks, in which Zelda is someone trying her hardest to seem distant and cold, like she thinks a princess should be, towards this bodyguard that she sees as a sign of her own failures. She does not want to be friends with Link. His existence is an insult to her capability, an insistence from her father that she needs protecting because she's fragile, and a hero that is irritatingly good at the things that she is struggling with.
Slowly, she begins to trust him more as he not only proves himself a useful partner, but a kind and brave friend who actually needs her help as much as she needs his. They are not opponents, but complementary forces that are both necessary to defeat evil — and this culminates in Zelda trusting Link enough to be truly vulnerable in front of him, as he becomes her closest confidant. This Zelda doesn't really have any friends... but when she lets herself cry in front of Link, when she lets herself be angry at herself, the best thing he can do is hold her, and fight with her until the end, trusting that she will find the power inside herself even at the last moment.
And then, just as Link stood by Zelda on her journey to meet her destiny, trusting that she would learn to believe in herself... Zelda guides Link from the moment he wakes up to the moment he defeats Ganon at last, repaying the favour he did her so long ago by keeping watch over him.
2. Spirit Tracks
Isn't it exciting to see Spirit Tracks near the top of a Zelda list for once? [Yes! - Ed.] This under-appreciated train-based Zelda game might not be most people's favourite, but we really have to praise it for its unusual Zelda/Link relationship. This Zelda is, much like Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass, a sort of Tetra-Zelda hybrid, but rather than getting kidnapped or turned into stone, she gets killed.
No, wait, that's a good thing! Zelda gets turned into a ghost, meaning that she can serve as Link's companion throughout the game, like Navi, Ciela, Midna, or Tatl. This is the first (and only!) time that we get to have Zelda feature throughout the entire game, which is a joy with her Tetra-like personality. She never really gets a chance to be goofy in the other games, because as soon as the dress and crown are on, she has to be all regal and noble.
As Link's spirit companion, she gets to have a real fleshed-out personality (sans flesh, of course) — she is curious, adventurous, and able to possess Phantoms, the most terrifying enemy in the game. She's also stressy, grumpy, intense, and deathly afraid of mice. A lot of the comedy comes from Zelda's interactions with Link, which are easily the most personality she gets to show in the series, and the whole game feels like an adventure undertaken by two good friends who aren't afraid to sass one another. Give us another game where Zelda and Link get to hang out all the time, please!