Not a Bad Idea
Apparently, there’s, like, a Facebook petition to get Nintendo to make Zelda a playable character in a future Zelda game. Rather predictably, it’s sort of devolved into a feminism or feminism-is-terrible thing on the Internet – discussions about the role of women characters in video games tend to do that (see, for example, the debacle surrounding the Sorceress’ breasts in Dragon’s Crown). A lot of people seem to be irrationally hostile to the idea just on principle. Some of the more thought-out comments are decidedly more rationally hostile to the idea based on narrative and gameplay concerns.
As you might tell from the title of this post, I don’t think this is a bad idea, at least not on principle. However, I can see any of a number of ways the decision to have a playable Zelda could fall flat. One of the proposed solutions – and one of the ones take I find most inadequate – is to turn Zelda into Link and Link into Zelda, turning Zelda into the badass hero and Link into the hapless, helpless royal. That, in my opinion, doesn’t really work in making Zelda stand up as her own character. It makes her Link. She wouldn’t be a badass because she’s a badass. She’d be a badass because she’s Link.
To do this right, I feel that Link needs to stay Link, and thus remain and primary protagonist and hero (because that’s what he does, because that’s what the goddesses of Hyrule have divinely decreed that he must do). If Zelda is included as playable, both the narrative and the gameplay around the sections of game that follow her need to play to her own strengths. Link is Courage, that’s why he’s the badass hero. Zelda is Wisdom. That’s why she’s not a warrior, though she can be pretty badass. It’s been repeatedly established that Zelda is magic. Even when she takes on a more active, combat role (i.e. as Tetra of Sheik), she’s assuming an altered form using magic. So, what I’m trying to say here, is that a playable Zelda needs to make use of her magic. Magically turning
What I think would be the best way to pull off a game with a playable Zelda and Link together is to make Zelda’s sections more puzzle-solving oriented and make Link’s more combat-based, though not necessarily exclusively. How this would work in a narrative sense might be that Zelda gets captured (though, there would inevitably be cries of “Zelda got captured again! She’s a weak character! Nintendo hates women!) and Link tries to fight his way into wherever she’s being held while Zelda herself tries to get out of wherever she is. Or having Zelda and Link travel together (which would solve the “Zelda’s been captured!” dilemma) and using Zelda to solve at least some of the puzzles necessary for Link to get through the dungeon to fight the boss and probably even help him fight the boss.
Long story short: the idea of a playable Zelda isn’t an inherently, automatically bad idea. Problems may arise, however, depending on how exactly it gets implemented. There are certain things about a Zelda game that are necessary to make it a Zelda game, if it loses those, it stops being Zelda. However, the addition of a playable Zelda, done properly, could use those archetypal elements in a new way and make the most novel Zelda game in recent memory.