[Realm of Memories is a series where we reflect on our absolute favorite moments in Zelda games. These could be the times we first fell in love with a game, were moved by the events of the story or actions of a character, felt triumphant when overcoming a tough boss or challenge, or we had an experience so unique that the adventure truly became our own. The Zelda series has touched our lives in many ways, and just as Hyrule has endless stories to share, so do our writers!]
When Riju, the young Gerudo chief, appeared in one of the Breath of the Wild trailers, I realised Gerudos were in the game for real. My hype quadrupled.
No game since Four Swords Adventures has shown us that Gerudos still exist in the Zelda universe. Twilight Princess gave me a sliver of hope that somewhere, in the misleading “Gerudo Desert”, I would find a small clan of the red-haired woman warriors – either to fight or at least talk to. Nope. Really, Nintendo? Not even one?
Finally, my favourite race from the whole Zelda series has returned. But I had to pace myself during Breath of the Wild, like you would during a three-course meal. I couldn’t just skip ahead to dessert as soon as Link glided off the Great Plateau. So I fully explored the east of Hyrule first.
I remember the first time I saw a Gerudo: she walked with elegance yet ferocity along the Zora River coast. Naturally, I was thrilled to finally see a Gerudo up close, so I took about 20 selfies with her. Her voice and design fascinated me. She was so tall! So exotic! And she spoke a different language! “Sav’saaba!” Suffice to say, I almost dismissed Sidon’s princely charm to go straight to Gerudo Desert.
Two Divine Beasts and a Master Sword later, I began my journey to the centre of the desert. After I fought through the pass below the Gerudo Highlands, I scaled the Shiekah Tower and spotted Gerudo Town in the distance. It looked almost like a mirage, shrouded by heat waves and mad sandstorms that swept off Vah Naboris.
Not long later, I discovered the nearby oasis, the ruins, the walls of the town – and that Link had to cross-dress. Everything was headed to perfection.
I entered. The sight of tall palm trees, the colourful awnings above fruit stalls, the Arabian-style buildings, and the numerous Gerudo women struck me, and I fell in love. The exotic sound of the drums and sitar set the ambience, while the cheerful flute welcomed me into the town of strong, beautiful “Vai”.
Several (in-game) days passed and I simply couldn’t leave. My admiration of this new form of Gerudo compelled me to explore everything. I loved that they’d evolved from a desert-dwelling band of thieves to a small, yet thriving society – one with a rich culture rooted in celebrating women’s beauty and strength; in upholding traditions yet embracing the world around them.
Aside from the intricate jewellery, new ingredients, and intriguing language, what captivated me most was the Gerudo’s daily customs – the school, the late-night cooking classes, the warriors skirmishing in the royal courtyard, and the bar. These all highlight the Gerudo’s diversity and differing values. Some Gerudo are graceful and beautiful, and want to learn a traditional Creamy Heart Soup recipe (my personal favourite) or attend a class on how to approach men (a hilarious lesson to say the least). Some Gerudo are masculine and focus less on appearances; they instead stoically protect their beloved town. Others simply drink at the bar all day.
But aside from the daily life of the Gerudo, I remained in love well after the honeymoon period of first discovering the town because of how the main plot affects it – or more specifically, how it doesn’t.
In most stories, a culture that initially shuns an outsider eventually accepts them into their clan in a generic “lesson learned, equality is amazing” kind of way. While that’s a wonderful lesson to impart, one that’s equally valuable is respecting others’ traditions.
I love that once you free the Divine Beast Vah Naboris, Link is not suddenly accepted into the town as a Voe. The chief Riju is immeasurably grateful for your support, yet remains loyal to the Gerudo traditions and asks you to keep disguising as a woman when you visit the town, to which Link agrees. This promotes mutual respect.
Plus, it gives me a reason to continue dressing Link like a beautiful little Vai for the rest of the game.