Spoiler alert: Tetra is Zelda. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s continue on.
Tetra was the first incarnation of Princess Zelda that I was introduced to, and wow did she make a great impression. She’s rowdy, sassy, and sly. She quickly became my favorite character in The Wind Waker. I remember how in awe I was when it was revealed that she was a princess — the princess Zelda! After I beat the game, I would chat about this game with friends and I would always make mention of this fact as it was my favorite part of the game. They either shrugged or sighed when I did, though. When I would question this, they would say things like “She was so much cooler when she was a pirate” or “Tetra’s so boring once she becomes Zelda.”
What? No, that can’t be right.
Zelda was so cool! She helped fight Ganon at the end! She was calling him crazy! Certainly, I can’t be the only one who thinks this, right? In fact, Nintendo Developer Takano states that “I had people complain to me that when Tetra becomes Princess Zelda, her tone suddenly changes, but it’s not any different. I think they get that impression because her appearance and facial expressions are totally different.” I think it’s about time we settled this once and for all. Does Tetra’s personality actually change when she becomes Princess Zelda?
Nintendo Developer Takano states that “I had people complain to me that when Tetra becomes Princess Zelda, her tone suddenly changes, but it’s not any different.”
Who is Tetra?
Before we can see if the two alter-egos differentiate from one another, we must first take a look at who the original is. We are first introduced to her as Tetra when she is literally dropped into Link’s life. He saves her from the forest atop of Outset Island when she is released from the Helmoroc King’s grasp, and the first thing she says to him is “Wow. What’s with the getup?” From this, we can already see this is not your typical princess behavior. She is a pirate through and through. Not just any pirate either, but the captain of her crew. She quickly commands Gonzo to follow her and begins plotting their revenge against the bird that snatched her away.
However, she is not without a conscience. When Link’s sister is kidnapped, and he runs off the cliff in an attempt to save her, even though she’s scolding him all the while, she (with the assistance of Gonzo) catches him before he takes a terrible fall. Shortly after, when Quill tells her that it is essentially her fault that Aryll was taken — and after realizing this to be true — she does agree to help Link. She’s not the type to admit it, but deep down she has a good heart, even enough to tell Link that he’s going to need more protection than just the old blade he has now — in her own, rough-and-tough way, of course.
Later on, the ship arrives at the Forsaken Fortress, and Tetra continues to patronize Link for playing games with Niko while they sailed. She quickly figures out where Aryll must be locked away and devises a clever (and comical) way to get Link in. These actions, along with her slipping a Gossip Stone into his pocket to communicate show that she is also savvy.
We don’t see her again until much later in the game when Link must seek out Nayru’s pearl from Jabun. He runs into the pirates again as they are in progress of raiding the bomb shop for supplies. While she goes on about wanting the treasure, her crew can see that something else was on her mind. The safety of Outset Island. Given her stubborn nature, she won’t admit it, but again we get a glimpse of Tetra’s true mindset. She even gives Link a head start once she figures out he’s after the same thing.
The next time we see her is just before the moment of truth. After Link has gotten the Master Sword from the sunken Hyrule Castle, he heads back to the Forsaken Fortress to save his sister and defeat the King of Evil. While taking somewhat more caution this time, Link still rushes in without a clue on how to release Aryll from her cell. That’s when Tetra and her crew arrive having drawn away the monstrous bird. While her pirates lockpick the door, Tetra realizes something about Link and the sword he is carrying. She knows the legend and is beginning to realize exactly who Link is. She exits, promising to return, and that she does.
After Link has taken down the Helmoroc King, he confronts Ganondorf… but does not fare so well against him. Tetra leaps in through the window and helps in the fight, though she fares about as well as Link did. Ganondorf snatches her up and has a sudden revelation of her true identity. She is the one he was looking for: Princess Zelda. She has no recollection of this name and denies his claim. Before he can do any more harm, however, the two heroes as rescued by Quill and the newly winged Komali, while the guardian dragon, Valoo, burns the hideaway to the ground. Link and Tetra go to the sunken city where they are summoned by the King of Hyrule, where he reveals everything to them, including Tetra’s true identity.
To sum up what we know, Tetra is rough around the edge — pretending not to care, calling her crew names, and telling people off — but deep down she is a genuine, kind-hearted person. She helped Link so many times, even after she felt obligated to and shows she cares through her scolding his recklessness. She’s a fearless leader who takes charge and doesn’t mess around. She’s not afraid to fight as she goes straight for Ganondorf, not knowing or caring who he was. So does this change when she becomes Zelda?
One and the same
Upon entering the Master Sword’s chamber, Tetra immediately starts reprimanding the mysterious man inside. She even thinks him as crazy with his claims of his lineage and the tale of this land — at least at first. He calls her closer, to which she skeptically obliges. He summons the final piece of the Triforce of Wisdom and the transformation takes place. Suddenly, she is adorned in a gown, hair flowing freely, and there’s a crown on her head.
She is, of course, confused and startled by what has just happened. The King requests that Link aid him once more in the land above and that Zelda stays behind where it’s safe. She does not fight back or question him. As the King exits the chamber, Zelda calls to Link and apologizes for everything that’s happened. She waves to him as he leaves the room, wishing for his safety.
This is the scene that I assume people are talking about when they claim Zelda to be totally different than Tetra. Refreshing my memory by watching this cutscene again, I can definitely see where they would get that idea, but I would have to disagree. While it would usually be in Tetra’s nature to stubbornly disagree with the King and continue with them, she doesn’t. I don’t think this is because her personality has been altered, though. She has just gone through a major change, learning the very reason for her existence is something completely different than she had ever imagined and physically transformed into a person who she has never known herself to be. She is scared and confused, not knowing what to do or how to even react. It’s a natural human emotion that even the biggest and strongest feel.
Then there’s her apology. Tetra wouldn’t do that, would she? Well, usually, no. She would make up for her mistake with a reluctant attitude, much like she did at the beginning of the story, which is really just her way of saying sorry. Even her mannerisms don’t seem like her, the way she holds her hand over her heart like the Zelda we see in Ocarina of Time. But again, she has just had this revelation of who she truly is and that everything that has happened really was because of her. Not only the things that have happened to Link but all of the terrible things that are going on in the world. The island that was destroyed weighed on her mind, even as Tetra, and now knowing this was part of Ganondorf’s attempts to seize her, the guilt has really made an impact. Everyone has a breaking point, even pirates.
The next time we see Zelda, it isn’t even really her. It is an illusion placed by Ganondorf with a message that she has been abducted by him. It’s all just a trap for Link. So Tetra has now become a damsel in distress, right? Not necessarily. We as Link were not there to see what actually happened, but based on what we know about Tetra, I don’t think she went without a fight. Link has been gone a while, and Zelda has had plenty of time to think and compose herself. When Ganondorf came, she probably wanted a rematch, just like she did with the Helmoroc King in the beginning. However, we know that even as Tetra she was no match for the King of Evil. Her capture was inevitable, but I believe she went down with as much of a fight as she could give him.
When Link finally finds the captured princess, she is asleep in Ganon’s tower, placed under a curse. What more evidence could you want for her putting up a fight? If kept conscious, she would have been plotting against him the whole time. Ganondorf then looks into her dreams and see’s nothing but vast, blue seas — perhaps indicating a longing to be sailing again? Before we can even utter another thought, Ganondorf transforms before our very eyes into a hideous, puppet monster.
Once defeated, Ganondorf carries the sleeping princess up to the top of his tower, and Link heroically rushes after him. The Triforce is reunited and it is not Ganondorf who is able to make his wish but King Daphnes Nohansen Hyrule. With his wish, the water barrier begins to crumble and, at last, Zelda awakens. And what does she say when she comes to full consciousness?
“What are you laughing at, Ganondorf!? You’re insane!” That’s our girl. That is Tetra shining through this new exterior we call Zelda. Can we honestly say that we can imagine any previous iterations of Zelda say a line of dialogue as cocky as this? She apologizes to Link for “oversleeping” and gives him a wink that only Tetra would.
That’s our girl. Can we honestly say that we can imagine any previous iterations of Zelda say a line of dialogue as cocky as this?
This scene and this scene alone proves my point that her personality is not altered at all, only her physical appearance. She may not look like the Tetra we once knew, but inside lies the courageous pirate captain we’ve come to love throughout our adventure.
The end and the beginning
As Ganondorf is defeated and petrified in stone, the water begins to rush down towards the kingdom. The King of Hyrule apologizes that there is nothing more he can do for them but to send them back to the world above, to which Zelda responds optimistically that he could go with them — that they could find a new Hyrule. The king smiles and says “It will be YOUR land” before the water floods Hyrule, and Link and Zelda are lifted to the surface.
This is another softer moment from Princess Zelda, leading people to think she is weak and fragile, but that could not be further from the truth. She is upset. She knows what awaits the king and she wants to figure out a way to save him. In a desperate time, her heart of gold shines through. She was on the verge of tears, but she tried to be strong and hold back — something Tetra surely would do. This is not a scene of weakness, it is of strength.
When Link and Zelda emerge on the surface, she no longer looks like the Hylian princess. She once again appears as Tetra the pirate, the form she will keep for the rest of her life. We know this to be true as in Spirit Tracks the founder of the new Hyrule is called Tetra, not Zelda. We also see her return again in Phantom Hourglass, acting as her usual no-nonsense self. She will now and forever be known as simply Tetra, but did she ever really leave?
Face of a princess, heart of a pirate
After reviewing all of the scenes that Tetra (both as herself and disguised as Zelda) was involved in, I can assuredly say that becoming Zelda did not alter her personality. Through all the “out-of-character” moments we’ve discussed, there were rhyme and reason behind it. None of it was truly out of the blue. What we viewed were human emotion and character growth.
Tetra started out with some pretty selfish intents, though it was always in her from the start to do the right thing even if she wouldn’t admit it out loud. When she found out Link was still alive after the Forsaken Fortress, she began to genuinely care about his endeavor, helping him along the way though she believed none of this was actually her business. Once she learned of her true identity and that the search for her had caused so much damage in the world, though at first frightened and speechless, she accepted her role and played her part to defeat Ganondorf alongside the Hero of Legend. Link could not have defeated Ganondorf without her help.
Zelda was never boring. Tetra didn’t get worse, she got better. She became a better person by discovering who she really was and even a more prominent leader as evident in future titles. Becoming Princess Zelda was a crucial piece in her development, and even though she may not have always been the savvy, cheeky pirate we know and love during this entire period, she wasn’t supposed to be. She was supposed to be growing as a person, and I undoubtedly think she succeeded.