The Zelda series has always played host to some wonderful female characters, and one of Breath of the Wild’s big strengths is how much personality it brings to its different areas through its NPCs.
One of the most striking characters that you’ll probably encounter quite early on — assuming you follow the opening hours of the main narrative rather than just wandering off in a random direction — is Paya, granddaughter of the Sheikah elder Impa, and a young lady with a massive, massive crush on Link.
Let’s see what makes her tick!
Paya is terrified of Link when she first encounters him; it’s apparent that she is unaccustomed to the company of men, and has it seems, spent the majority of her time with her grandmother. As she comes to recognise that Link isn’t a threat — and, indeed, that he is the hope people have been waiting for — she relaxes a little and becomes more willing to speak to him vaguely normally.
Through various conversations with Paya, we learn that the origin of her name is a papaya-shaped birthmark in an embarrassing location that she is unwilling to divulge, and that she has clear priorities in her life. She devotes herself to caring for her grandmother, and to guarding an object known simply as “the Sheikah Heirloom”, which makes her all the more devastated when it goes missing.
Link’s arrival very clearly brings a certain amount of turbulence to Paya’s emotions; despite her initial reaction to him being one of terror, it’s immediately clear that she’s totally smitten with him, and indeed sneaking a peek at the diary she keeps in her bedroom confirms this. Like with most of the diaries you have the opportunity to read throughout Breath of the Wild, you’re made to feel mildly guilty for invading Paya’s privacy in this way, but it’s sort of heartwarming to know that her feelings are genuine and run deep.
Paya’s design is rather interesting. While many of the Sheikah people who inhabit Kakariko Village are depicted as being older men and women, Paya is clearly still youthful and beautiful — though she still has the ash-white hair that the rest of her people sport. It’s in her face that her youth is most apparent; her eyes are wide and full of care and affection, and she lacks the lines of age and weariness that adorn the faces of many of the other Kakariko inhabitants.
She holds hope for the future — a hope embodied by Link, which is at least part of the reason she is so attracted to him — and believes that life will get better. The Hyrule of Breath of the Wild is technically a “post-apocalyptic” landscape ravaged by Calamity Ganon and the hordes of wandering monsters, but unlike many other depictions of similar settings, it remains a land filled with vibrant colour and bursting with life. One can understand why Paya holds such hope in her heart; this is a land that is far from defeated, and the arrival of what appears to be a legendary hero thought long-dead is just what she needs to put a bit of spring in her step.
Considering that Paya’s role in the grand narrative of Breath of the Wild is relatively limited, it’s interesting to see how much of an impact she’s had on fan artists — and how different artists have interpreted her, her feelings for Link and what we see her personality to be over the course of our interactions with her. This delightful picture by Japanese artist Monbetsu Kuniharu, for example, depicts Paya as a closet fujoshi, which might explain why she harbours such fantasies for a pretty-boy such as Link.
This one, by mdf an, really captures Paya’s shyness beautifully. One can only imagine what she is doing in a room with an apparently naked Link lying on the floor. Perhaps she just came to wake him up — or perhaps this is an interpretation of the scene after the Sheikah Heirloom is stolen and Impa requests that Link stay by her side. In the game, we are shown Link standing in her bedroom, though this being a wholesome sort of game, no funny business is implied.
I love this one, both for the flattering alternate outfit and for the way it looks like it’s been painted on rough paper rather than simply drawn on a computer. There’s a certain quality to this piece that is reminiscent of traditional Japanese art, and I like it very much. The kind of thing I’d like a big print of to hang on my wall!
This one’s great too, really capturing Paya’s shy nature without overexaggerating her personality into over-the-top anxiety. We can draw our own conclusions about why she might be exposing her shoulders like this — and why she might find that embarrassing! Enjoy your fantasies, Hero of Hyrule…
And, well, it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge that numerous fan-artists have provided their own interpretations of where they think Paya’s birthmark is. Let’s just say that there’s fairly widespread agreement in this regard!
Ahem. Anyway. That’s Paya. Is she destined to become a longtime Zelda waifu like the eponymous princess herself or my dear, sweet, beloved Marin? Only time will tell at this point, but I’ll tell you what — I definitely have a soft spot for her, and I have no doubt that when I think back on my adventures in Breath of the Wild’s Hyrule in the future, my interactions with her will be a particularly fond memory.
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