(This editorial contains major spoilers for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.)
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild's story is brilliantly executed, and it's primarily a result of its non-linearity. You, the player, can recall Link's lost memories in any order you wish. You can tackle other major plot elements surrounding the Divine Beasts and Hyrule's Champions in any order as well. Or you can just forego it all and face Ganon in the nude.
What many people seem to disagree about is how the actual plot of Breath of the Wild stacks up when compared to past Zelda games or other games in general. Some think the lack of a more human antagonist harms the story. Others think the entire quest is much too simple: Link wakes up, fights Ganon, and saves the day.
For me, the lingering feelings of fear, despair, and stagnation, all of which are brought to fruition through Calamity Ganon, drew me in. The depth of the characters and the interactivity with nature are also elements that should not be overlooked as integral to the story experience. And all of this builds onto each other to create a fulfilling narrative by the end of the game.
When comparing Breath of the Wild to other past Zelda games, there are a lot of similar elements. Throughout the main quest, Link falls into the familiar pattern of helping out different races and characters he finds in their darkest hours. This feature was highlighted most iconically in Ocarina of Time, in which both child and adult Link fixed problems ranging from finding a missing princess of the Zoras to defeating a fire-breathing dragon.
Having spent ample time experiencing Breath of the Wild, there is no contest as to which game shows off this formula better in terms of feels. Instead of having a selfish Zora princess fall for Link, a selfless one in Champion Mipha expresses her deep affection for Breath of the Wild's hero from beyond the grave. Through optional cut scenes and character interactions depicting how much she cares about Link and how much her people cared about her, there is a much greater emotional depth than the scattered Zoras of Ocarina talking about menial things like fish and diving while Ruto has gone missing.
The familiar element of the passage of time is also found in many Zelda games, but in Breath of the Wild, it is used to boost the emotional depth in the game's story, which it capitalizes on it to make for effective narrative moments. Take Yunobo and the Gorons as a prime example. After taming Divine Beast Vah Rudania, Link meets the spirit of Daruk who laments not being alive for his people. Daruk prepares to settle down to accept his situation while appreciating the beauty of Hyrule that remained after calamity fell over a century ago. Suddenly, Daruk looks down Death Mountain to see his descendant Yunobo cheering because he sees the ghost of his ancestor. The Goron youth is extremely cheerful and inspired because of it. Small moments like these, rather than the Gorons needing to fix a Dodongo infestation or a cursed patriarch (which often feel like tools to progress Link's quest to collect important artifacts rather than change lives), really show off Breath of the Wild's story in its theme of accepting tragedy and triumphantly moving past it.
All throughout the adventure, Breath of the Wild's characters must accept their faults and failures and continue onward in the face of the most violent adversity as Calamity Ganon's shadow looms over the land. Zelda herself, who has a more fleshed out character arc than any previous character in the franchise, considers herself a disgrace. That vision of herself affects her relationships with her kingdom, her father, and Link in realistic ways. These relationships either remain stagnant, as with her father whose death is tragically never shown, or change drastically as with Link throughout the memories of their adventure. The dynamics of the main characters build the consequences of their actions and failures in the past. In fact, all Link, Zelda, King Rhoam, and the Champions do in the past is fail by the end of the memories. With touching scenes such as Zelda's tearful desperation in Link's arms by Hylia River, Fi's call after Link's demise, and the Great Deku Tree's hopeful address to Zelda as she puts away the Master Sword of Resurrection, Breath of the Wild feels like it has so much weight compared to most Zelda tales, in large part because of the despair and destruction that all of these likable heroes were powerless to prevent a century before the player controls Link.
This method of storytelling in Breath of the Wild was a daring narrative move on the producers' part and one that I feel really paid off. Breath of the Wild could have easily been another Zelda tale in which the hero and princess seal away the darkness while only enduring the generic hardship of a spooky castle looming over the land or the somewhat vague threat of a man in the northwestern-most quadrant of the sea. Instead, this game's story makes you work for the accomplishment of sealing away ultimate malice by the end of the game. Because Calamity Ganon is simply a force of nature at this point, so totally corrupted by the evil of Demise's wrath, it is very intimidating as well. The interplay with Calamity Ganon as an obvious final boss and impending force that pushes Link onward from the start of the game is a marvelous touch. This mixes the unpredictable motif of nature with the tragic element that causes the heroes to fail, get back up, and try harder.
Breath of the wild's story also takes another risk in that each one of the main characters from the Divine Beasts of Hyrule remain dead. Since each of the four Champions has a uniquely intimate relationship with Link, whether as a lover, mentor, rival, or brother, their moments at the end of each Divine Beast truly shine as the player discovers the permanence of their spiritual state and Mipha, Urbosa, Revali, and Daruk themselves accept what happened to the land and their lives as they release the emotional burdens they had been carrying for so long. It is nothing short of touching to watch the Champions finally feel at peace after a century of hopeless lamentations no one could hear and focus on the only thing that ties them to Hyrule any longer: ridding the world of Ganon.
Revisiting the time mechanic, it is actually somewhat remarkable how much of a role the century between the majority of the story and the actual gameplay has to play in Breath of the Wild's story. It is made even more impressive considering that time travel in the traditional sense of Ocarina of Time and Skyward Sword is not the gimmick of this tale. Everything feels like it has more gravity, like a legend should, because of the century that passed since the Calamity befell Hyrule. It also allows for a duality of nature. If you are the kind of player who simply wants to freely enjoy the villages and wilderness Hyrule has to offer, then enough time has passed for that to be possible without the intricacies of the plot butting in. However, if one wants the full heartrending experience, the secrets and reveals Hyrule provides can be a powerful testament to the tear-jerking story this adventure offers.
Tying together the prevalence of nature and the heroes' acceptance of what must be done after such terrible calamity, Breath of the Wild caps off with an epic final battle against the symbolic, hateful force Ganon transforms into. This climax hits home with a sense of fate and finality that is truly fitting for the resounding emotional punch Breath of the Wild was going for.
After all of this, I cannot wait to see how the downloadable story-driven content expands this epic quest even further in the near future! But what do you think? Join this discussion about Breath of the Wild's plot, characters and scenes down below!