As I played through Age of Calamity, I found myself feeling angered by almost every interaction between Zelda and her father, King Rhoam. And [spoilers!] when King Rhoam became a playable character late in the game, my immediate reaction was, “Why would I ever want to play as this a**hole?” My ever-increasing distaste for King Rhoam can be described very simply: he’s a terrible father.
In both Breath of the Wild and Age of Calamity (which, I argue in another piece, occur on separate-yet-related timelines), King Rhoam and Zelda are shown to be estranged for most of Zelda’s childhood, particularly after the Queen suddenly dies when Zelda is six. In his journal in Breath of the Wild, King Rhoam says that Zelda “never cried or faltered” – at least around him. In Age of Calamity, we see that Zelda was perfectly comfortable crying in front of Terrako.
Zelda was obviously deeply affected by her mother’s death, which became very apparent when she began her training to awaken her sealing powers – which her mother was going to train her in. Zelda, in her grief, struggles. Then King Rhoam steps in and exerts even more pressure on her. Repeatedly. For years.
In short, despite these great (cough) conditions, Zelda continues to struggle and her sealing powers do not awaken in time to stop Calamity Ganon. And it’s kinda all King Rhoam’s fault. Because instead of supporting his daughter, he sees to it that she’s under so much pressure and stress – with no distraction – that she’s miserable.
Despite this, both Breath of the Wild and Age of Calamity represent King Rhoam somewhat sympathetically, as a dad who messed up and later realized his mistake. Rhoam gets the opportunity to formally apologize to Zelda in AoC (although, only after she uncovers her sealing powers – forgive me for not being impressed). And he’s one of the first people Link meets in BotW, as a melancholic ghost-man.
However, in both games, we find out the deepest wounds Rhoam inflicted upon Zelda after these moments of “redemption.” This is when we see King Rhoam confiscate Terrako, or forbid his daughter to do literally anything else other than breathe, eat, and think about her sealing powers.
These actions have major consequences for poor Zelda. While King Rhoam is off thinking he raised such a good, strong daughter because she doesn’t feel comfortable crying around him, he’s forgetting that the sudden death of a parent is a legitimately traumatic event for – it bears repeating – a six year old.
Real-life studies illustrate not having a trusted parental figure to offer support after a traumatic experience can trigger “toxic stress” and have life-long effects on the psyche. Zelda actually exhibits many of these symptoms: anxiety, low self-esteem, placing impossible expectations on herself. And after King Rhoam sees fit to personally pile onto her already-gigantic pressure pile, she feels as if she is literally letting down all of Hyrule. Thanks, dad.
In Age of Calamity, the guy even shows disgust for letting his daughter play, calling Terrako a “toy” and “distraction.” Anyone who’s seen Avatar: The Last Airbender may recall how the Air Temple Monks wouldn’t let the new Avatar, Aang, play games because they, too, were intent to force him to focus on his training. In both cases, this backfires stupendously. That’s because yet-more real-life studies show inhibiting a child’s playtime for uninterrupted study actually hurts their ability to focus and retain information. And it creates even more pressure! Which is harmful! Obviously!
Also, can we briefly acknowledge how absolutely callous it is that Rhoam confiscates Terrako in the AoC timeline – Zelda’s one source of comfort, the source of Zelda’s freaking lullaby, as Rhoam himself was emotionally unavailable? And yes, the fact that Zelda completely forgets about this pivotal figure from her childhood deeply suggests a trauma response.
After all this, and despite the princess’s belief to the contrary, the onslaught of Calamity Ganon and Hyrule’s weaknesses appear to have nothing to do with Zelda, who was zipping around the whole damn country training – as well as researching ancient technology, despite her father’s BS wishes. Instead, Hyrule’s downfall has everything to do with King Bad Dad, because without his pressures and debilitating emotional distance, Zelda would’ve likely had a much, much easier time unlocking her sealing powers.
Remember what spurs the powers to be unlocked in both games: Link! Caring! For her wellbeing! As a person!
Plus, seriously, what the hell is Rhoam even doing during the pre-battle period in these games? He’s seemingly just wandering around the castle, being cranky and giving his daughter a hypocritically hard time.
So excuse me for not being sold by King Rhoam’s apology or melancholic airs. It’s too little, too late. And I’d rather play as Hestu, anyway.