How many of you have heard that Princesses Peach and Zelda were weak or Damsels in Distress? How many of you have heard that they are objectified chattle? Probably a lot right? Well, I'm going to explain why Princesses Peach and Zelda are probably the most important characters of their respective franchises. When you think of either Princess, you can see they are a main character but sometimes they feel like a supporting character only present to drive the struggle of the hero forward. That is certainly one way of looking at things, but here's another. Note: This will contain spoilers. Read at your own risk.
Princess Peach: What do we think of when we think of Princess Peach a.k.a. Princess Toadstool? Well, most would think "she's the one that always gets kidnapped by Bowser" and for the most part that's an accurate statement. There are more games where Princess Peach is captured than there are where anything else happens to her. Does this mean she's weak? I personally don't think so.
Princess Peach is probably the most important person in the Mario franchise. You're saying right now "you're an idiot, the franchise is named after Mario and the Princess doesn't do anything" right now. Well, let's think about that from a lore/game world perspective. With some exceptions, the Mario franchise generally has 2 Rulers. One is Bowser, a.k.a. King Koopa who rules over the Koopa Troop and is always the antagonist. The other is Princess Peach, ruler of Mushroom Kingdom. That's right, Mushroom Kingdom has no King, no Queen, and no Prince. It is ruled entirely by Princess Peach, which means it's a matriarchy. All of Mushroom Kingdom looks to Princess Peach for leadership, so that means that when Bowser kidnaps her, Mario rescuing her is essential to the continued survival of Mushroom Kingdom.
Bowser continues trying to capture Peach simply because she is the ruler of Mushroom Kingdom and he seeks to force her to give up her Kingdom to him. What would happen to Mario if Peach weren't around and forced to give her Kingdom to Bowser? I'd venture to say the worst punishment would be death, the least exile. But Peach is more than just a ruler who gets kidnapped. She is helpful to Mario when she can be in his fight against Bowser and has proven that she can fight with the best of them in Super Mario RPG: Legend of the 7 Stars. In fact, in that very game she becomes indispensable in the late game as a healer. From these qualities we can see that Mushroom Kingdom would probably fall to pieces without Peach, Mario would not be the "hero" of Mushroom Kingdom, and it's likely that Bowser would rule over all with an iron fist. She deserves a lot of credit for being able to rule an entire kingdom by herself, remain cheery and composed when captured by Bowser, and when push comes to shove she can fight if she needs to.
Princess Zelda: The biggest hole in this section is the fact that no 2 Princess Zeldas are the same. Zelda is the titular character of the Legend of Zelda series, but the Zelda you save in the first game isn't the same as the rest of the Zeldas in the franchise. Does this matter? No not really. In Legend of Zelda II, which is a prequel to the first Legend of Zelda game, the Prince of Hyrule makes a decree that all future females born to the Royal Family of Hyrule would be named Zelda after feeling responsible for placing his younger sister, that game's Princess Zelda, into a coma. This means that all the Princess Zelda's are different from each other but at the same time they are the same.
We learn from Legend of Zelda: Skyword Sword that the original Princess Zelda is actually an incarnation of the Goddess Hylia, the Goddess of Wisdom. We also learn that all Princess Zeldas are reincarnations of that Goddess. All Princess Zeldas hold the Triforce of Wisdom, this makes them wise beyond their years and proficient in Magic as Hylia was responsible for creating the Laws of the Universe and Magic in the Legend of Zelda universe.
Although there are numerous Kings of Hyrule, they are mostly never seen, or only vaguely mentioned with few exceptions. For the sake of story, Zelda is usually considered to be the most important member of the Royal Family and she herself is indispensable to Hyrule's peace and prosperity. Princess Zelda is a Sage and possesses the skills to use powerful magics. She is a kind, compassionate, and self-sacrificing matriarch who will do anything to safeguard her people and her allies from danger, including risking her own life. Though she is normally rescued by Link, Zelda is not completely without her own combat abilities as she has been shown in a few games to be proficient with a bow and arrow, and as I pointed out earlier is quite proficient in magic, so she's far from helpless. Ganon is simply going after the power of the Triforce and she always has the Triforce of Wisdom.
Princess Zelda has also been instrumental to aiding Link in various scenarios by providing him with essential information necessary to proceed as seen when she disguised herself as Sheik. From this we can see that Zelda is brave, cunning, and intelligent. In many cases she is also the de facto ruler of Hyrule as in some games there is no King or Prince, which means Hyrule is at times a matriarchy as well. To consider Princess Zelda to be weak in any fashion is to discredit her impressive capabilities and essential role in Hyrule's peace and prosperity.
What have we learned from this examination of 2 of the most iconic women in video games? I would say that we've learned to look at a character from every possible angle before we decide what "labels" we wish to thrust on them. These are merely two of many examples of essential characters that only appear to be weak or inessential compared to the main hero of the game. However both Princesses have been the very reason each hero became a hero to begin with.
What are your thoughts about Peach and Zelda? Any characters you think are more important than people realize?