Echoes of Wisdom’s swordless Zelda is not about what’s canon — it’s about good gameplay

Echoes of Wisdom’s swordless Zelda is not about what’s canon — it’s about good gameplay

It’s big, big news that in the Zelda game announced during Tuesday’s Nintendo DirectThe Legend of Zelda: Echoes of Wisdom — players will assume control of Princess Zelda rather than Link. It’s the first time in history you’ll be able to play a full game as the title character (unless you count the notably terrible CD-i games, which director Eiji Aonuma doesn’t consider canon). But there’s one key point of intrigue: In Echoes, Aonuma said Zelda doesn’t fight with a sword — ever.

Some longtime players, like myself, might find Zelda’s lack of a sword a bit disappointing initially. After all, she does have several swords in her possession at various points in the series: Zelda’s sword from Twilight Princess is definitively hers; she wields rapiers in the Hyrule Warriors games; and in Breath of the Wild, she hangs on to the Master Sword to protect it while Link takes a 100-year nap. Usually, like Zelda herself, these weapons only appear in cutscenes and other cinematics, and it’s only in a few moments that we see her defend herself using a sword.

Princess Zelda holds the Master Sword upside down with her eyes closed in The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom
Zelda holds the Master Sword in a Tears of the Kingdom cutscene.
Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo

But I have a hunch that it isn’t just her character’s canon that kept Aonuma from giving her a sword in Echoes. Sure, it’s true that some aspects of other Zelda tales would fall apart if suddenly Zelda were a master of swordplay. In Ocarina of Time, for instance, she uses the harp rather than a more traditional weapon when she’s disguised as Sheik. And she certainly can’t use the Master Sword, which famously only works if Link wields it.

That said, it also serves Echoes’ gameplay — and the potential for future games that include both Link and Zelda as playable characters — for the heroine to ditch swordsmanship for this game. The decision puts a clear distinction between Zelda’s mission to harness the “power of her wisdom” and Link’s frequent quest to find varied weapons and, eventually, the Master Sword.

According to the Nintendo Direct, Zelda’s character will use a wand to wield the Echo power, which she can use to duplicate items in the game environment to solve puzzles and battle enemies. (Polygon senior editor Oli Welsh pointed out in our internal Slack that this mechanic is essentially Ultrahand from Tears of the Kingdom.) Players can use Echo to copy a table or a trampoline, for instance, and paste those items in the world when they need them to hop over walls or climb a tower.

Zelda’s Echo reminds me of the masks in Majora’s Mask, or even the Fuse power in Tears of the Kingdom — mechanics that allow the player to solve a given puzzle in several ways, even if those methods aren’t necessarily predetermined by the developer (i.e., fusing a bunch of wooden slats together to make a bridge to get across a chasm). Particularly during the months following the release of Tears of the Kingdom, tons of players considered their solutions to be outside of what the developers intended — and indeed, Aonuma told Polygon, “I was surprised to see what people have gotten up to in the game. […] It’s something that kind of blew my mind. I mean, there are limits to how many objects you can put together. But people really rushed to find out what those limits were, and that was surprising to me.”

A screenshot of the trailer for Legend of Zelda: Echoes of Wisdom shows Zelda stacking three water cubes next to a cliffside. Image: Nintendo

The trailer for Echoes included a clip of Zelda stacking several water cubes, then stepping into them to float to the top, where she steps out onto a previously inaccessible area. It’s gameplay like that that makes me fully trust Nintendo’s decision to keep Zelda swordless. In Echoes, she has the power to replicate items she can use to defend herself, not to mention that she can duplicate enemies and use them to fight on her behalf (like any good princess should).

In all, Zelda’s swordless-ness does not seem to be a ploy to keep her less powerful or more dainty than Link — instead, it’s a reminder that the franchise isn’t only about the Master Sword. Moreover, it’s a reminder that Zelda’s greatest power is her intellect, which she uses time and again throughout the franchise to trick enemies, empower her friends, and lead with compassion.