It's taken me a little longer than I'd hoped, but I'm finally on my way through Nintendo's new The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks for the Nintendo DS. I'm still somewhat early into the adventure, but I already like where the story is headed. After being summoned to Hyrule Castle, Link is told by Princess Zelda that there is danger afoot and asks for his help in setting things right, but before much else can happen, one of the antagonists attacks the duo and kills the princess. The villains take her body away for their own evil purposes, leaving Zelda's spirit behind as a ghost that only special people like Link can see. Eventually Link and the spectral princess meet the wise sage that tells them what must be done to banish evil and reunite Zelda's spirit with her shell, and here's where things get amusing.
This quest is too much for Link to handle by himself, so the sage tells him that he'll need someone to go with him to offer assistance. Zelda begins to suggest several of the characters that Link has met so far, but they're all either unavailable or unsuitable for a heroic adventure. Eventually the sage tells Princess Zelda herself that she has to be the one to go with Link, and she initially bristles at that idea. As she explains, waiting around for the hero to go save the day is something of a Hyrule royal family tradition (as seen in just about every other Legend of Zelda game where the various Princesses Zelda basically stay put in either their castle or a villain's cage while Link does all the heroing). Once the high personal stakes are explained to her, she decides to go with him after all, and so far they've made a great team. Zelda has been useful for solving puzzles, yes, but I find her banter with Link to be the real entertainment here. This incarnation of Zelda has a lot of — pardon the pun — spirit. She's very animated and lively (for a ghost) with much more of a personality than Link. This has me wondering why Link is even relevant to the process anymore.
Nintendo has traditionally been against developing their flagship characters beyond establishing basic traits and archetypes, so when a silent protagonist like Link is paired with a talkative character, he doesn't steal the spotlight as he does when he travels solo. Consider Link's role in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and how he pales in comparison to companion character Midna, for instance. Like Zelda, Midna is full of sarcasm and spirit, so much so that she overshadows Link for much of the game. Then there's the fairy companions from titles such as Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask, and Phantom Hourglass who, despite being annoying at times, are unforgettable characters in their own unique ways. By not allowing Link to grow with his franchise, he's starting to seem very stale when standing with other heroes.
So why do we need Link at all anymore when characters like Zelda and Midna are more entertaining and just as capable of defending Hyrule when given the opportunity? Perhaps it's time for Princess Zelda to step out from the shadow of her designated protector and appear in a modern solo adventure* that doesn't fall into the bizarre trap of clichés and stereotypes like Super Princess Peach. Such a game doesn't have to be a "starter" version of a traditional Zelda title, nor does it have to be aimed at young girls or packed with pink and ponies. We've been doing the Hero of Time/Wind/Twilight/etc. cycle with Link for years now. It's time that Princess Zelda shows us just why she has a legend named after her.
* Zelda's Adventure for the CD-i doesn't count.