The storytelling and characters in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild are often criticised for lacking depth, or for acting as small narrative touchstones that players can cling to as they explore Hyrule for hundreds of hours. To me, they’re so much more than that, and denying their brilliance is a disservice to the tale Nintendo has woven in what is the best Zelda game ever made. Yep, I’ll take that opinion to my grave. It’s masterful, both in terms of its gameplay innovations and immersive story.
While the story is seldom delivered in a conventional manner, its frequent flashbacks and glimpses into the past show how much the Champions of Hyrule meant to Link and Zelda, making their eventual sacrifice all the more heartbreaking. Mipha, Daruk, Urbosa and Revali all gave their lives to defeat Calamity Ganon and they failed. Good didn’t prevail, and the only way to prevent the destruction of all life was for Zelda to step in and hold things at bay.
The dramatic consequences have real weight, and the sense of loss that pervades throughout all of Breath of the Wild is palpable. Link might approach each situation with an attitude of gleeful optimism, but he’s also fighting towards an ultimatum that might not end so well. This makes the closing moments of Breath of the Wild all the more powerful. Before the credits roll, Link and Zelda stand atop a hillside, overlooking a Hyrule which is now free from evil.
It’s a peaceful moment, but also one where Zelda is free to reflect on the loss of those she once loved. Time stood still for her in Hyrule Castle, so this could be one of the first opportunities she’s had to grieve, to reflect on the people left behind in the wake of the deceased champions. Relatives had to grieve with no resolution, knowing their loved ones had marched forward into a fatal, fruitless battle. This weighs heavy on Zelda’s shoulders, but she keeps moving forward.
“Mipha’s father… I believe he would like to know more about her. The least I can do is visit him and offer him some closure,” Zelda tells Link, reflecting on the emotional struggles that await her across Hyrule. She seeks to restore her home to its former glory, but first she must repair personal connections that have begun to fade away in her absence. The Princess is resolute yet cheerful, her personality one of the reasons why this ending is so perfect.
She’s abundant in vocal emotion, speaking for herself and Link as she joyfully marches forward. “Let’s be off,” she cheers, turning away from Link with an evident swagger and determination to see all of Hyrule before lunchtime. But before we leave them, Zelda stops in her tracks, stating that perhaps her power has faded in recent years. Without missing a beat, she turns around and delivers a delightful smile as music swells and the camera pans out to reveal the gorgeous vista they stand amidst. Lost power doesn’t matter, since she’s alive and so is the person she cares about most, so it’s time to push on and rebuild her kingdom.
Breath of the Wild is a game drenched in mystery and melancholy, with small doses of hope delivered through its narrative flashbacks. Despite this, much of the game revolves around loss, and trying to regain what was once thought doomed forever. When the fight against evil is over, Link and Zelda are left to survey the destruction, failing to figure out what they should do next. This indecision is oddly beautiful, reflective of how real people react in the face of loss and finding a purpose in their life to pursue.
These two blonde heroes walking into the distance with smiles on their faces only emphasises that mantra, but with happiness you don’t need a clear direction to feel accomplished. Breath of the Wild 2 will likely rid the ending of its ambiguous magic, but for now I adore what Nintendo achieved here with a conclusion that is wonderfully understated, yet perfectly fitting for the best iterations of Link and Zelda the franchise has ever seen.
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Jade King is one of the Features Editors for TheGamer. Previously head of gaming content over at Trusted Reviews, she can be found talking about games, anime and retweeting Catradora fanart @KonaYMA6.
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