When early images of Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild circulated a few years ago, fans speculated that it’s traditionally male lead might by a woman this time—or at least playable as either gender. But the game’s official unveiling at E3 this week quashed that theory, disappointing some.
I asked Zelda producer Eiji Aonuma about his design rationale for the character in light of the rumors. Here’s what he told me:
“Back during the Ocarina of Time days, I wanted Link to be gender neutral. I wanted the player to think ‘Maybe Link is a boy or a girl.’ If you saw Link as a guy, he’d have more of a feminine touch. Or vice versa, if you related to Link as a girl, it was with more of a masculine aspect. I really wanted the designer to encompass more of a gender-neutral figure. So I’ve always thought that for either female or male players, I wanted them to be able to relate to Link.”
“During the development of Twilight Princess, I went a different route and created a version of Link that was more masculine. But after Twilight Princess I went back to the drawing board and decided Link should be a more gender-neutral character. Hence I created the version of Link that you see in Breath of the Wild. As far as gender goes, Link is definitely a male, but I wanted to create a character where anybody would be able to relate to the character.”
“So that’s why I think the rumor went around that Link could be a female. Because maybe the users were able to relate in that way.”
Last year, Nintendo unveiled a new character called Linkle, clearly a more explicitly female version of Link. She was an exclusive character for the 3DS game Hyrule Warriors Legends, which came out earlier this year.
In a longer interview with Aonuma, he describes the approach Nintendo took to creating the new title’s vast open world, a departure for the series.