The Shortcomings of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s Story

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Let’s talk about The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and it’s underwhelming story

The Nintendo Switch launched in March of 2017, with this game being it’s sole big hitting launch title. The game captivated Switch owners everywhere and is arguably the reason the console did so well out the gate. My own time with the game has been extremely satisfying with a breadth of quests to do, a wide world to explore, and combat that feels oh so right. But no matter how many times I revisit the game, the story always seems like a hiccup.

Let me put it to you like this – between the time Link wakes up from his 100 years long sleep at the beginning of the game to the time to the moment he defeats Ganon, all the player will need to have done in the narrative is to wake up and defeat Ganon. What I mean by this is that due to the vast open-worldness of the game, it lets you do anything.  Which means you can do everything, or just about nothing. This also includes beating the game in less than an hour, collecting the bare minimum and not expanding the story.

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Wake up! The world needs you for about an hour.

So, what story is there to be had? Most of the narrative aims to explain what happened leading to the current events of Link. This doubles as Link recounting lost memories and allowing the player to get an understanding of how Hyrule came to be.

It seems okay on paper, but the result left players wanting more. You play the game but none of the story events are things that directly impact you or Link. Due to having the option to do everything or nothing, any event that does occur in the game isn’t substantial or game changing.

For example, you collect memories throughout the game that remind Link of what happened 100 years ago… but its optional. If you happen to do all the main quests, it merely gives Link the sacred Master Sword, frees the Divine Beasts and makes the final boss fight easier. However, not doing this doesn’t make the game unbeatable, nor does it stop the same cutscene from playing at the end. (Except for one true ending cutscene).

The story was laid out in this way due to the open world design Breath of the Wild employs. If you’re a gaming buff, you’ve probably heard of ludio-narrative dissonance before. It’s when a narrative is impacted due to the inherent mechanics of an interactive game.

For example, in Grand Theft Auto IV, Niko Bellic is portrayed as a good man that had a hard life. He does bad things, but isn’t a horrible man. Yet, this character’s arc directly contrasts the freedom the player has in GTA IV – you can go on a murdering rampage, bash your cars into hordes of people, and then walk it off and buy a burger.

This ideology can be related back to Breath of the Wild, where Zelda is crying out for Link the entire adventure, yet Link could be mindlessly battling foes, cooking food, or doing side quests involving … catching bugs?

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Zelda can definitely wait…

Due to the openness of Breath of the Wild, complex character arcs and deeply organised plot progression cannot occur. Which, to a Zelda fan, is quite a alienating considering the nature of past Zelda titles.

Older Zelda games balance their game, story and worlds with restrictive design. The very nature of navigating through a Zelda game is seeing what you can do and what you can’t do and how that changes as you move through the game. This isn’t just dungeons either; It’s the world and the story entirely. It’s how they structured the game play to teach the player new abilities and how the story was told. 

I’m sure you know this, but the sheer amount of items in the Zelda games balance progression to new areas and new parts of the story.  However, Breath of the Wild axes this exchange. The game gives you everything at the start, takes the training wheels off and pushes you down a hill.

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Yep…. you can climb that volcano.

This Zelda game doesn’t restrict players. Thus, the developers couldn’t write a linear and organised story. There are mini arcs in this game as you tackle the four main areas, but without them being reinforced, it makes the characters and stories feel heavily underdeveloped.

For me, all of these led to the main story of Breath of the Wild to be… meh. The gameplay keeps me coming back for more, but this is due to the sacrifices they had to take with the story-telling. Even series director Eiji Aonuma refers to this their developer commentary series on the game.

However, there was a spark of promise in the game’s story telling. For all it didn’t execute on for the other characters and Link, it did fire on all cylinders for Princess Zelda.

The princess in which the game is named, Princess Zelda, has one of the best appearances in the entire series. Many times the princess of hyrule is merely a goal in which Link needs to meet, where she typically needs to be saved or encountered without too much emotion or conversation.  And granted, several recent Zelda stories like Wind Waker and Skyward Sword have a more personable Zelda, but this one is by far my favourite.

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Now that’s a face worth saving

Now, I have my biases. I think she’s a bundle of cuteness in this game and every appearance makes me want more of here. But I suppose that’s because through the memories you find, you see her develop as a young adult into the leader she was born to be. This story allows you to view Zelda’s growth from a naive and stubborn teenager, to someone who doubts their destiny and curses it, to finally turning into a symbol of peace for the land of Hyrule.

I know it’s corny. However,  her journey of growth is something I think we all can relate to, with her failures and success.  This game’s story could have been stronger in many places, but the focus on the growth of Princess Zelda is what truly makes this game the Legend of Zelda.

But, what did you think of the story? Was it to your liking or were you left wanting know. Please let me know down below!

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