Zelda (ゼルダ, Zelda) is one of the more unique characters in the lineup for Super Smash Bros. Melee. Zelda's most notable traits are her array of powerful magical attacks and her unique ability to transform herself into her alter ego, Sheik. This alternate form is very different from Zelda, and each was intended to help balance the other's weaknesses, so that ideally one would change between the two based on the flow of battle.
Jun Mizusawa reprises her role as Zelda from Ocarina of Time in the game.
Currently, Zelda is 22nd on the tier list, in the F tier, her best placement so far. Zelda's positive attributes include an effective KO move with her Lightning Kick, as well as several powerful attacks that possess transcendent priority. Zelda's primary weakness, however, is her poor mobility; she possesses (along with Jigglypuff) the slowest dash speed in the game, and is a slow-faller. These attributes combine with her very high traction, resulting in the shortest wavedash in the game (along with Peach). Additionally, despite Zelda's long range on her recovery, it is fairly predictable and easily edgeguarded and/or edgehogged due to its awkward ending lag. This contributes to Zelda having poor matchups against most of the cast, with some even matchups such as Dr. Mario now considered losing in the current metagame, with her problems against top-tiers being further exacerbated by their more developed metas compared to Zelda’s rather stagnant developments.
Zelda does not fall under any specific archetype of characters, due to her unusual properties as a fighter; she has a slew of powerful finishers, such as her Lightning Kick, but she is of average weight. Additionally, Zelda has a slow falling speed and a high traction, leading to a very short, albeit fast, wavedash.
One of Zelda's strengths is her great overall KO power. Within the air, her forward and back aerials of the Lightning Kick can KO at as low as 50%, and her up air has a large hitbox that can also KO opponents. On the ground, Zelda's up tilt is surprisingly powerful, with its long duration and large radius allowing it to be a versatile move under most circumstances. Zelda's up and forward smash attacks are also powerful and they have high damage output thanks to their multiple hits.
In addition, Zelda has some fast attacks, such as her down smash (which is the fastest in the game) and her forward and back aerials, which requires opponents to tread more carefully when used. Neutral B has invincibility at frame 4, wich makes it a good move to counterattack fast approaches. Up smash possesses quick startup and can be used as a great out of shield option, as it can lead to a grab if the opponent SDIs out of it. Forward smash has very low ending lag, a good disjointed hitbox, a quick animation, and is difficult to SDI out. The very last hitbox is significantly larger than the previous, being able to reach someone who SDI's in the front of the move. It can be also be thrown out in neutral to read fast approaches without putting herself in a bad spot. As an added bonus, many of Zelda's attacks have transcendent priority; combined with average reach for most of her attacks, Zelda has potential to stop others' attacks with her own.
Despite most of her moves dealing high knockback, she has an acceptable combo game. Her dash attack is her primary combo starter on the ground, all of her tilts are great comboing moves, her forward tilt send her opponents backwards, allowing for potential combo starters, her up tilt can juggle at low percentages and follow up with a up aerial when it stops comboing and her down tilt can combo into itself until around 95% and can also combo into her down smash. Up smash can also be used a few times in a row at low percentages if the opponent gets caught right above her. In addition to this, Zelda possesses a good grab game. Her up throw can be a kill confirm around 80% as it leads to a guaranteed bair/fair on certain matchups. It also has the potential to chain throw at low percentages, and her down throw has several potential follow-ups, such as a dash attack, Lightning Kick, or even a forward tilt and can set up stage spikes and early edge-guards. Her forward and back throws are quite powerful and can set up edge-guards or even K.O. at high percentages. Neutral air can also be used to guarantee these aerials (on certain matchups) if landed without the last hitbox, which will make the opponent pop up with a set knockback.
However, Zelda is strongly held back by having one of the worst approach games in the game. On the ground, Zelda possesses the slowest dashing speed, a short wavedash, and a slow dash dance; combined with decidedly average range in her attacks, Zelda cannot effectively attack on the ground. Zelda doesn't fare much better in the air; despite her above average air speed, Zelda suffers from a low falling speed and a high short hop, leading to a very poor SHFFL. Zelda's lack of an effective projectile also prevents her from attacking from afar; Din's Fire is far too laggy, weak, and predictable to be an effective projectile, being completely useless under most circumstances. In platforms, however, Zelda fares better due to her quick movements from wavelanding and being somewhat flexible at transitioning there.
Despite her array of powerful moves and decent platform movement, she suffers numerous other flaws. In addition to a poor approach on the ground, most of Zelda's moveset consists of unreliable finishers. Her forward and up smash suffer from SDI problems, as opponents can easily SDI out of it before the last hit. Zelda's up aerial, while powerful, is impossible to land on a grounded opponent, as it has some start-up lag and the hitbox is above her. Her Lightning Kicks need to be sweetspotted to KO effectively. Her forward and back throws can only KO at very high percentages when used near the edge, limiting their utility. As such, Zelda's up tilt and down smash are possibly her only reliable KO moves and even those have their flaws; the former is rather slow for a tilt attack and the latter is rather weak for a smash attack. Lastly, some of her toolkit suffers from a lack of applicable uses, which includes her down aerial and jab.
Zelda also suffers from having generally situational specials (save Transform). Nayru's Love can only harm attackers in short ranges, and it has high ending lag and it doesn't protect her from attacks above her. Din's Fire, as mentioned earlier, doesn't aid her approach at all and suffers from too much ending lag. The attack also leaves her unable to move until she finishes the attack, leaving her defenseless until she finishes the move. Farore's Wind, generally considered her best special move, requires precise timing and knowledge to reach the ledge, else Zelda might land onstage and could potentially get punished, or worse, self-destruct. Although reentering with Up B can possess some potential stall capabilities on the ledge, such as for edge cancelling techniques, the move has awkward cooldown, which can be easy for opponents to react.
Overall, Zelda emphasizes a defensive gameplan by trying to find openings for grabs, dash attacks, or lightning kicks. Players must be precise on landing her finishing moves, as their fast startup and strong power can be offset by a difficulty and landing them. She must also try and use wavedashing as well as platforms as much as possible, as her low mobility can prove to be a burden when trying to fight in neutral or against disadvantageous situations. To find success, she has to bait out options and wait for an opponent to make a mistake, else she be overwhelmed by other foes.
For a gallery of Zelda's hitboxes, see here.
In Competitive play
Zelda has a poor matchup spread overall. She is hard countered by 2 characters, countered by 8 characters, and soft countered by 5 characters. On the plus side, she has 3 even matchups, while soft countering 7.
Zelda performs terribly against characters who have much higher range and movement speed than her, most notably Marth, and Sheik. Ironically, Sheik is considered to be arguably her most troublesome matchup; Zelda has no recourse against Sheik's down throw, superior aerials/tilts, and needles, all of which contribute to her losing both the neutral and punish game. She similarly struggles with characters who can KO her off of the upper blast zones, exploit her abysmal approach, or edgeguard her with ease, such as Jigglypuff, Captain Falcon, or Pikachu.
Although Zelda may possess a few small niches against some high-tier characters, such as her lightning kicks that can KO unaware opponents, most of them are difficult to land and these same characters can work around them and easily retaliate with their own vastly superior and consistent movesets, such as Fox and Jigglypuff. While Zelda’s slow falling speed may be beneficial in hindering certain strings, her large hurtbox makes it easier for other top-tiers to combo on her, negating the benefits off of her floatiness. Thus, such drawbacks require her to achieve multiple successful reads to hold equal footing against the majority of the cast.
Almost all of Zelda's supposed winning matchups are considered to be non-viable in the current meta, and many of them actually have a few (albeit situational) tools to combat the best characters in the game, making them overall better than her despite her advantages in the head-to-head. However, players have recognized that she does surprisingly well against the Ice Climbers, due to her Lightning Kicks and down smash being great tools to separate them. Luigi’s floaty physics work against him for similar reasons, with Zelda being able to outpace him in the aerial game. Her throw combos have improved against the species compared to before, able to rack up a surprising amount of damage and can punish them for lack of matchup experience. However, this requires Zelda to make hard reads and play very carefully to land a grab, which can be problematic given the fast-paced mechanics working against her favor. Against the rest of the cast, she has heavily struggled to develop significant breakthroughs against her unfavorable matchups due to her slow mobility, heavy difficulty in approaching, and lack of opportunities in landing her moves. Characters such as Dr. Mario and Yoshi, listed as even in the matchup chart, are now considered losses against Zelda due to the former’s more developed punish game and easier approach game while the latter can parry through most of her kit.
Zelda also suffers from a metagame that has not seen a great deal of development in recent years. Many of her notable players, such as Narcissa and Magus, have since retired or stopped playing the character entirely. Those who continue to solo main her, such as The Lake, have become rather inactive and suffer from worsening tournament placements as other top-tier characters continue to have their metas being pushed.
Tier placement and history
Zelda was ranked extremely high on the first tier list, tying for 6th place with Samus and Luigi; however, discussion in the relevant SmashBoards topic suggests this is an artifact of some tier list contributors grouping her with her top-tier counterpart Sheik, and her placement was not fully based on her prowess as an independent character. The second tier list rectified this and had Zelda tie with Link and Ness for 14th to 16th place. Following this, Zelda fell again to 20th on the third tier list, and has since frequently appeared on the 19th and 20th spots on the tier list. Zelda's position is attributed to an array of undesirable traits, being floaty, a middleweight yet tall (making her easy to juggle and KO from the upper blast line), and having very slow movement speed, a poor wavedash, and poor hitbox placement on most of her moves. In combination with Sheik being a constant in the top tier, this has deterred many smashers from using her in serious play.
Zelda is currently ranked 22nd on the twelfth tier list, in what is her lowest standing on the list thus far. Prior to the ranking, she was ranked 19th, with some smashers disputing whether this was an accurate assessment; Mew2King notably believed that Zelda was one of the two worst characters in the game, citing her poor frame data in his assessment.
Zelda has made little impact in tournaments from the start of the metagame, with relatively few dedicated mains. Her only modern players are semi-active at best, and usually do not place high enough to earn money in large tournaments without also using a better character. Additionally, many of the historically best Zeldas, most notably Narcissa, have stopped playing the game entirely. Usually, the only time when Zelda shows up in top level play is when Sheik players transform into her off-stage to take advantage of her longer recovery where they would otherwise not be able to recover; if the opponent is aggressive enough, they may be forced to fight as her until an opportunity to transform back is available.
In single-player modes
In Classic Mode
In the Classic Mode, Zelda can appear in the ordinary 1 on 1 battles, on a team with either Link, Marth, Young Link, Peach or Bowser, or in the game's metal battle. In her appearances, Zelda appears on Temple, though she appears on Great Bay when with Young Link, and on Battlefield when with Bowser and in the metal battle. Unusually, however, Zelda will never appear as an ally in team and giant fights.
In Adventure Mode
Zelda's sole appearance in the Adventure Mode is in the second portion of Stage 3, the Underground Maze. The player has to fight against her on the Temple stage to progress in the mode.
In All-Star Mode
In All-Star Mode, Zelda and her allies are fought on the Temple stage.
In Event Matches
Zelda is featured in the following event matches:
Zelda and Sheik share ending images for the one-player modes, as well as the same cinematic; clearing the mode with one also gives the player both of their trophies.
In addition to the normal trophy about Zelda as a character, there are two trophies about her as a fighter, unlocked by completing the Adventure and All-Star modes respectively with Zelda on any difficulty: