Zelda (ゼルダ, Zelda) is a playable character in Super Smash Bros. 4. Her return to the series was announced in a Director's Room Miiverse post on December 26th, 2013, which also commemorated The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds being released in Japan on the same day.
Zelda is ranked 53rd out of 55 on the tier list, so she is placed in the G tier, which ties her with Ganondorf. This is similar to her placement in Brawl, where she was ranked 37th out of 38. Zelda's combo game has noticeably improved, largely thanks to improved frame data and altered knockback. When coupled with her overall high damage output, Zelda is now capable of racking up an impressive amount of damage at a respectably fast rate, much like her ancestor in Super Smash Bros. Melee.
Zelda also boasts an array of KOing options, most notably her forward smash, up smash, sweetspotted Lightning Kicks, up aerial and sweetspotted down aerial. By extension, Farore's Wind has been strengthened to the point that it can now reliably KO any character below 100% while near the upper blast line, which makes it especially potent from out of shield.
However, Zelda's weaknesses have been largely retained. Her slow mobility and situational projectiles result in both her neutral game and approach still being poor. Additionally, her endurance is still poor because of the problematic combination of her tall hurtbox, light weight, and floatiness. Lastly, Zelda's KO potential is still inconsistent: her strongest attacks have short durations and are further burdened with either abysmally weak sourspots, punishable amounts of lag, or both.
As a result of Zelda's glaring flaws, she has garnered extremely minimal representation in competitive play and, in turn, extremely sparse results. However, Zelda has nevertheless managed to find a few instances of success, thanks to the likes of ven, Fairess, Purple Guy, Onpu, and Zolda.
Zelda is a tall, floaty lightweight with largely slow mobility. Although her traction is average and her air speed is slightly above-average, her walking, dashing and falling speeds; gravity; air acceleration; and jump and double jump are each below-average. As a result of her attributes, Zelda's endurance, neutral game and approach are sub-par.
Zelda's playstyle is largely defensive, and benefits from her strong out of shield options and punishment potential. By extension, her special moveset supplements her defensive potential, with Farore's Wind being her most effective special move. It is a long-ranged teleport that grants intangibility, giving her a very reliable and, when used wisely, virtually unpredictable recovery option. In addition, Farore's Wind has become one of Zelda's most viable KOing options, especially from out of shield: its disappearing hitbox now launches opponents directly upward, which allows it to combo into its now stronger reappearing hitbox that, when sweetspotted, will KO any character below 100% while near the upper blast line.
Due to losing Transform, Zelda has a received a new down special called Phantom Slash. Phantom Slash is a chargeable projectile that boasts both offensive and defensive capabilities: it possesses enough power to KO at reasonable percentages when fully charged, especially when edge-guarding, while the Phantom itself can block Zelda from incoming attacks. While descending from the upper corners of a stage, Zelda can also use it as a fairly effective way to ward off edge-guard attempts from an opponent standing at the edge. Nayru's Love is a reflector that also has loop hitboxes, which grant it offensive and defensive potential like Phantom Slash. Lastly, Din's Fire can be useful for long-ranged edge-guarding, which is further supplemented by its new sweetspot's high knockback growth.
The majority of Zelda's air game is a case of "high-risk, high-reward": her Lightning Kicks and down aerial require considerable precision in order to hit their sweetspots, yet each of these attacks boast enough power to easily KO even super heavyweights when they are sweetspotted. By extension, sweetspotted down aerial boasts decent combo potential on grounded opponents, thanks to it being a very powerful meteor smash. Zelda's up aerial is the most damaging up aerial in the game, and while it also requires precision because of its short duration and fairly minimal horizontal range, its lack of sweetspots and sourspots makes it much more consistent at KOing in comparison to her Lightning Kicks and down aerial. Unlike Zelda's aforementioned aerials, neutral aerial is not suited for KOing outright, but nevertheless has respectable utility: it has a decent damage output and loop hitboxes; can function as a follow-up from down throw at low percentages; can start combos when SHFF'd; and its last hit's very high knockback growth makes it useful for edge-guarding.
Zelda's ground game is very middling in comparison to her air game, but each of her grounded attacks have some degree of utility. Her grab game, in particular, is widely agreed as the best aspect of her ground game. Zelda's grabs have fairly long ranges despite not being tether grabs, and her pummel is among the most damaging in the game in spite of its moderately slow speed. Forward and back throws are useful for setting up edge-guards, yet each have a certain quirk: the former is among the damaging forward throws in the game, whereas the latter has KO potential while near the edge. Up and down throws possess combo potential, but vary noticeably in effectiveness. Up throw is decent for combos at low percentages, although it is especially useful against heavyweights and fast-fallers. However, it can also be followed up by up air, which can KO fast-fallers, especially with rage. Down throw has greater combo versatility in comparison, most notably in the form of its up aerial combo, which KOs lightweights as early as 92% and super heavyweights as early as 115%. Although DI can occasionally make the set up harder to perform, the effectiveness of its up aerial combo will remain largely intact so long as Zelda utilizes it with proper timing.
Neutral attack, up tilt and especially down tilt are capable combo starters, thanks to their knockback values, launching angles and low ending lag. Forward tilt and dash attack are decent for spacing and KOing thanks to their strong sweetspots, while the latter also has one of the lowest amounts of start-up lag of any dash attack in the game. Zelda's forward and up smashes have impressive power and respectable shield pressuring potential thanks to their multiple hits, while the latter also has surprisingly low start-up lag for a smash attack. Down smash is Zelda's weakest smash attack, though it is nevertheless quite strong and, like neutral aerial, has decent utility. It hits on frame 5, which ties it with Pit, Dark Pit, Mario, Dr. Mario and Ryu's down smashes as the second fastest smash attacks of any kind in the game. When coupled with its low ending lag and semi-spike angle, down smash can reliably punish rolls and set up edge-guards.
However, Zelda possesses a number of glaring weaknesses. She has the inconvenient combination of being tall, light and floaty, which collectively make her susceptible to both combos and early KOs. Although Zelda's mobility has improved, it has only done so marginally at best, and thus remains overall sub-par. Despite her power, Zelda's KO potential is inconsistent: in addition to having very short durations, her strongest attacks are burdened with very weak sourspots (dash attack; down smash; Lightning Kicks; and down aerial), punishable amounts of lag (forward tilt; forward/up smashes; up aerial; and Phantom Slash), or both (Din's Fire and Farore's Wind). To further compound this, only up aerial has set-ups (up tilt, down tilt and down throw) that are largely consistent past medium percentages.
Although Zelda's special moves can help her defensive presence when used wisely, they are nevertheless lacking in regard to pressure. Short-ranged pressure can be problematic because Nayru's Love is rather laggy, while Phantom Slash is situational because of its ending lag, limited durability, poor range at low charges, and its susceptibility to reflection-based attacks. As a result, Zelda is forced to rely on her down smash instead of either of these options much more often than not. Conversely, Din's Fire is very unsuitable for long-ranged pressure because it is still very easy to evade, and is now burdened with a very weak sourspot. Lastly, Farore's Wind can cause Zelda to recover or evade pressure in the wrong direction if she recovers from a stage's slopes. Its high ending lag also makes her unable to move during her free fall animation until more than a second has passed.
The overwhelming majority of Zelda's custom moves are among the least effective in the game, owing to their inability to alleviate her weaknesses. However, Zelda does have two custom moves that are more beneficial than the default versions. Din's Flare deals consistent damage regardless of its charge, travels much faster, and has both longer range and a faster detonation. However, it is much less maneuverable than Din's Fire. Phantom Breaker can break shields very easily and possesses KO potential like Phantom Slash, although it travels a set distance regardless of its charge and its slightly lower damage output results in it KOing later than Phantom Slash. Aside from these, Zelda's remaining custom moves are situational at best: Phantom Strike is stronger but has poor range, while Din's Blaze is stronger and easier to control, but is even slower and Farore's Windfall can meteor smash on the second hit, but completely loses its KO potential even beyond Sudden Death.
Overall, Zelda cannot rely on heavy stage or shield pressure, and thus must rely on either reading and baiting, or playing defensively. Both of these playstyle's purpose is to punish opponents with her effective out of shield game to start combos, utilize her down throw's up aerial combo for KOing, or set up an edge-guard before attempting to score a KO. However, her poor approach, mobility and neutral game hinder her ability to escape rushdowns and pressure, while her heavy reliance on sweetspots makes her akin to a glass cannon. Due to the precision and patience needed to use her effectively, Zelda's tournament representation has consistently been very sparse. Despite this, her playerbase have brought her some instances of success; most notably, ven has achieved a handful of decent placings at the national level, including three top 50 placings in both singles and doubles play.
Changes from Super Smash Bros. Brawl
Due to her status as the second lowest ranked character in Brawl, Zelda received a mix of buffs and nerfs in the transition to SSB4, being buffed overall. However, those buffs weren't enough to improve her standing compared to the cast. Farore's Wind is the most notable buff that she received: it is now a risky, yet potent KOing option, especially from out of shield, thanks to various hitbox and knockback adjustments. Her Lightning Kicks are now easier to land, due to their altered hitbox placements. Down aerial can now sweetspot grounded opponents and the removal of meteor canceling greatly improves its reliability off stage. Zelda's new down special, Phantom Slash, is a fairly strong projectile with a decent amount of utility: it is a capable edge-guarding option, helps her cover almost all edge get-up options, can protect and/or enable her to attack from behind the Phantom itself, and boasts KO potential when fully charged. Din's Fire now has a powerful sweetspot placed in the inner part of the explosion. Zelda's KO potential was also improved outside of the aforementioned attacks thanks to beneficial hitbox changes: her forward tilt and dash attack can now KO at high percentages to compensate for the loss of their combo potential, while her forward and up smashes possess stronger KO potential.
As a result of the removal of hitstun canceling, Zelda's combo game has also noticeably improved: neutral attack's various hitbox and knockback adjustments make it a better set-up option at low percentages, up tilt's lower damage output and increased speed make it a reliable combo option, neutral aerial's hitbox adjustments make it better at damage racking, sweetspotted down aerial can now be used as a set-up option on grounded opponents, and down throw's increased knockback and altered angle make it a useful KO set-up into up aerial and back aerial at high percentages.
However, Zelda also received noticeable nerfs. The most notable is the removal of her ability to Transform into Sheik, which is further compounded by the latter having been significantly buffed in the transition from Brawl to SSB4. Outside of this, most of Zelda's direct nerfs have been applied to her damage output and frame data: up and down smash had slightly shorter ranges with the former smash having less utility, being laggier and less reliable while the latter has slightly more startup and has a weaker initial hit. Sweetspotted Lightning Kicks have lower base knockback and the Lightning Kicks themselves are significantly laggier having more ending lag preventing them from being performed twice in a short hop or auto-canceling in a short hop greatly hindering their spacing potential. Up tilt deals much less damage and has lower knockback greatly hindering its KO potential, and Din's Fire is less maneuverable and more inconsistent due to having a sourspot in the outer area of the explosion, making it worse as a zoning tool. While rage can improve her already strong KO power, her low weight prevents her from consistently building up a high amount of rage and it worsens her already poor endurance. While her combo game is stronger, she is also easier to combo not only due to the aforementioned removal of hitstun canceling but also because of her faster fall speed/gravity.
Overall, Zelda's much better combo game supplements her stronger out of shield game. However, she is still burdened with a poor approach and neutral game, owing to the buffs to her mobility being marginal at best (especially since many other characters also had their mobility improved to varying degrees), while she also received significant nerfs to some of her key moves in the previous game. While she overall greatly benefits from the changes to Smash 4's mechanics, they were not enough to offset her weaknesses. As a result, she is still considered to be one of the worst characters in the game with her tournament results remaining poor for the most part.
Zelda has been buffed via game updates. After updates 1.0.4 and 1.0.6 granted her a mix of buffs and nerfs, she received a consistent number of direct and indirect buffs thereafter, beginning with update 1.0.8. 1.0.8 made up smash and neutral aerial much more difficult to escape, improved up smash's KO potential, and decreased the landing lag of neutral, up and down aerials. Update 1.1.0 improved the set-up and spacing potential of neutral attack, as well as the combo potentials of up tilt and down tilt. It also made Phantom Slash safer and more reliable by decreasing its ending lag and removing its blind spot. The changes to shield mechanics brought about by 1.1.0 and 1.1.1 also indirectly buffed Zelda, as they make her multiple hit attacks and Lightning Kicks safer on shield.
Lastly, update 1.1.5 brought about arguably Zelda's most noteworthy buffs. Neutral attack's damage output was increased yet again, though its utility remained intact thanks to its knockback being altered. Forward tilt and down smash became safer thanks to decreases to their lag, while the former also had its range improved. Neutral and up aerials has their damage outputs increased, while each of her grabs had their ranges increased. Lastly, Nayru's Love became safer thanks to its intangibility being increased.
Overall, Zelda's buffs have improved her KO and combo potential. Due to her mobility, neutral game and endurance remaining unaffected by game updates, however, she still remains at a disadvantage compared to most of the cast.
In competitive play
Tier placement and history
Unlike her ancestor in Melee and her own appearance Brawl, Zelda was immediately viewed as a non-viable character upon SSB4's release. This perception was because of the combination of her key flaws not being properly addressed, and Sheik becoming a standalone character who was buffed significantly in her own transition from Brawl. When coupled by her extremely minimal representation and results in competitive play, as well as players having yet to acknowledge Jigglypuff's status in competitive play, Zelda was ranked 56th on the first tier list, placing her at the bottom of the entire tier list.
Much like a number of other poorly perceived characters, Zelda received a multitude of buffs from game updates. These improvements contributed to her results slowly improving as time passed, most notably thanks to ven. However, Zelda's newfound buffs were still overshadowed by her inherent flaws, as well as the greater significance of buffs gained by other low-tier and bottom-tier characters. To reflect this, Zelda was ranked 55th on the second and third tier lists.
As of the fourth tier list, Zelda has been ranked 53rd, tying her with Ganondorf as the second lowest ranking character on the entire list. Unlike previous lists and her current placement in Brawl, this placement actually renders Zelda as a low-tier character, owing to this list's exclusion of the Mii Fighters and tier restructuring. Although Zelda's current placement is generally viewed as accurate, some players claim that she is relatively underrated; ESAM, in particular, ranks her higher on his own personal tier list.
In Event Matches