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 so to match the flow of battle.
Zelda is 22nd on the tier list, in the F tier. Zelda's positive attributes include an effective KO move with her Lightning Kick, as well as powerful attacks with transcendent priority. Zelda's primary weakness, however, is her poor movement, due to having the slowest dash speed in the game (along with Jigglypuff), slow falling, which together with her very high traction results in the shortest wavedash in the game (along with Peach). Additionally, despite Zelda's somewhat long recovery, her recovery is very easily edgeguarded and/or edgehogged. This contributes to Zelda having poor matchups against others, though she does have a few even matchups against those higher than her, such as Dr. Mario.
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 light 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 the perhaps surprising amount of power. Within the air, her forward and back aerials of the Lightning Kick can KO at as low as 70% to 80%, and her up air has a large hitbox that can also KO opponents. On the ground, Zelda's up tilt is surprisingly powerful (on par with Marth's up tilt), and its long duration and large radius allows it to be relatively useful under most circumstances. Zelda's up and forward smash attacks are also surprisingly powerful and they have high damage output due to their multiple hits. Finally, her forward and back throws are rather powerful and have K.O. potential at around 100% near the edge (especially the latter).
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, both of which, as mentioned earlier, are among the most powerful in the game. As an added bonus, many of Zelda's attacks have transcendent priority; combined with an average reach in most of her attacks, Zelda has potential to stop others' attacks with her own.
Also, despite her large number of high knockback moves, she has a quite decent 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, this can set up a back Lightning Kick and even combo into itself, 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. In addition to this, Zelda has a good grab game, having the 9th longest non-tether grab range in the game. Her up throw has chain throw potential at low percentages, her down throw is arguably her best throw, as it has the most follow-ups of all of her throws, such as a dash attack, Lightning Kick or even a forward tilt and can set up stage spikes and early edge-guards. As mentionned in the previous paragraph, her forward and back throws are quite powerful and can set up edge-guards or even K.O. at high percentages.
However, Zelda is strongly held back by having one of the worst approach games in the game. On the ground, Zelda has a poor dashing speed, a short wavedash, and a slow dash dance; combined with decidedly average range in her attacks, Zelda cannot effectively attack or counterattack on the ground. Zelda doesn't fare better in the air; despite an above average air speed, Zelda suffers from poor jumping height, a low falling speed, and a high short hop, leading to a 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.
In addition to a poor approach on the ground, a lot of Zelda's K.O. attacks are very unreliable. Her forward and up smashes suffer from SDI problems, as opponents can easily SDI out of them before the last, most powerful hit can harm them. 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 just above her. As such, Zelda's up tilt, down smash, her Lightning Kicks and her forward and back throws are possibly her only reliable K.O. moves.
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 it too suffers from high ending lag. Farore's Wind, while covering long distances, lacks a powerful offensive hitbox on its start, and lacks one altogether when reentering, while the move also has awkwardly long ending lag, making Zelda very easy to edgeguard and/or edgehog.
For a gallery of Zelda's hitboxes, see here.
In Competitive play
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 fourtheenth to sixteenth 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 can be attributed to her undesirable combination of traits, being floaty and light yet tall, 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; American smasher 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, Narcissa and The Lake, are semi-inactive and usually do not place high enough to earn money in large tournaments. 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.
The crown princess of Hyrule. Zelda entrusted Link with the future of Hyrule after a revelation came to her in the world of dreams. She knows much about the Triforce; in fact, the only person who likely knows more about Triforce lore is Ganondorf himself, whom Zelda evaded in Ocarina of Time by transforming into her alter ego, Sheik.
Game: The Legend of Zelda [07/87]
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: