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, though she does have a few even matchups against some characters in higher tiers than her, such as Dr. Mario. Even so, in the current metagame, her even and winning matchups can also be seen as losing due to their metas being increased and Zelda’s weaknesses only being further exploited.
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 surprising amount of 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 (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.
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. Neutral B has invincibility at frame 4, wich makes it a good move to counterattack fast approaches. Up smash is surprisingly fast (frame 6) 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. 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. 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 has a good grab game, having the 9th longest non-tether grab range in the game. Her up throw can be a kill confirm around 80% as it leads to a garanteed bair/fair. 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.
One more thing that is unique to Zelda, is her abnormally fast initial dash speed and initial airdodge speed. It allows her to move fairly quickly around platforms when optimized at its best, as show in this video. And not only is she able to move around quickly with platforms, but she has access to Fair Ai. Wich, when timed perfectly, removes any lag on landing. It is by far the fastest way to travel trough platforms in the whole game.
On the ground, Zelda has a slow 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 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.
In addition to a poor approach on the ground, most of Zelda's moveset consists of unreliable finishers. 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. Her Lightning Kicks need to be sweetspotted to KO effectively and finally, her forward and back throws can only KO at very high percentages when used near the edge. 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 and the latter is rather weak for a smash attack.
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
Zelda has a poor matchup spread overall. She is hard countered by 2 characters (including her alter ego Sheik), countered by 8 characters, and soft countered by 5 characters. On the plus side, she has 3 even matchups, while soft countering 7.
Zelda does terribly against characters who have much higher range and movement speed than her, most notably Fox, 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 top blast lines, exploit her abysmal approach, or edgeguard her with ease, such as Jigglypuff, Falco, Captain Falcon, or Pikachu.
Almost all of Zelda's supposed winning matchups (which are debatable in the current metagame) 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. Her only winning matchup against a mid-high tier character, Yoshi, is considered inaccurate in the modern metagame. While Zelda can break Yoshi's double jump armor with her lightning kicks, Yoshi has developed vastly superior punishes and the ability to approach aggressively from many angles, which means he can put Zelda in bad situations much more frequently than she can even make use of her edgeguarding. Additionally, Zelda's lack of other useful moves means that Yoshi players can easily parry the predictable lightning kicks that she will throw out in almost every situation. Zelda's even matchups can also be seen as losing, as all of those characters outrun her and can easily space around her few useful moves.
Overall, Zelda 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, are still rather inactive and suffer from worsening tournament placements as the top-tiered characters she struggles with continue to be pushed more. This creates a situation in which Zelda is often a contender for the worst character in the game, and usually grouped with characters such as Bowser and Kirby in the bottom tiers.
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 fourteenth 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 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: