Tag Archives: Storytelling

Breath of the Wild: The Balance of Gameplay and Storytelling

Also known as “A Few Post-Game Thoughts.” As such…

Warning: This post contains spoilers for Breath of the Wild.

 

After finishing the main quests, does anyone else feel like starting a new file and playing through all of this again?

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is truly a unique experience in the series. I’d hesitate to call it my favorite entry, if only because I enjoy each of the 3D titles for various reasons, but it is certainly memorable, compelling, and most importantly, tons of fun.

A bridge between 2D and 3D Zelda is long overdue, and while the story suffers a little bit in conjunction with the open world exploration, realistically, it was to be expected, and it is not nearly as noticeable as I feared. While I, as a writer and consumer, am personally very story-driven, I understand when the plot must take a back seat in favor of engaging, immersive gameplay, and Breath of the Wild delivers on that front in all but a few of the puzzles utilizing motion control. And even then, the developers were smart enough to often allow for multiple avenues to complete said puzzles.

 

For example, in the Myahm Agana Shrine, the following puzzle shown above can be solved fairly easily by simply flipping the area upside-down and then catapulting the ball across with an even flick of the wrist.

 

This is easier said than done, however, and I will grant you that the motion controls can be downright infuriating at times. That said, I would argue that it is very difficult to create a challenge that does not have the capacity to become frustrating at some point. In my case, most of the time, I felt so satisfied when I finally completed the tricky shrines, and even more so if I managed to succeed in my first few attempts.

But back to the story. In this game, we have sacrificed any character Ganon (or in this case, Calamity Ganon) could have potentially had. Unlike in Wind Waker where, despite his crazed demeanor, Ganondorf did express concern for his people (as well as contempt and jealousy for the easy life that Hylians lived, thanks to the Goddesses), in Breath of the Wild, he has (off-screen) supposedly renounced his rebirths in insurmountable rage and hatred, in order to take revenge and destroy the land of Hyrule completely. This is still interesting, but a lot less personal, and it also demonstrates that this game would not be a good entry into the Zelda series for newcomers.

It’s simpler, in essence, but at the same time still quite nuanced and well woven.

Over the millennia, the various Link and Zelda’s deeds have become great legends, but to ensure that Ganon will always be defeated, the ancient Sheikah tribe built great technology – the shrines, towers, Gaurdians, and Divine Beasts, most prominently – to protect the land and stand against him, supporting the chosen heroes. In the last 10,000 years, Calamity Ganon was once again defeated, but the technology was left to break down or be buried, as the people grew more confident in their prosperity.

Much later, but 100 years prior to the start of the game, Princess Zelda threw herself into researching and recovering all of these technologies. She depended on them far more than any incarnation before her, because she greatly doubted her powers and her inner strength, considering herself a failure when she could not instantly understand and utilize them, as her mother and grandmother before her.

 

While Tetra will always be the “best” Zelda in my opinion, Breath of the Wild makes up for this version’s occasional lack of  “personality” (flat English dialogue delivery and reserved expressions) with much more dialogue, screen time, and backstory, developing her much closer to a fully-realized character. She grows on you after a while, assuming that you do go after Link’s lost memories.

If I had one genuine complaint about Zelda in this game, it would have been nice if she was a competent swordswoman, as was implied in Twilight Princess. I know that Link is ultimately the hero, but to see her stubbornly go off on her own and then fail to put up any kind of a fight when she is attacked is somewhat understandable, but still irritating.

 

At least try to defend yourself, woman! Don’t just pull a Frodo Baggins and fall to the ground like a helpless waif!

But it’s okay. She redeems herself in my book when she tries to force you to eat a frog on the spot, just to see what would happen. I’m not joking either. Look at this!

 

“Here, Link! Eat this frog I found! Be my test subject right here and now, because I’m a nerdy mad scientist with no understanding of what’s wrong with this scenario at all! Tee hee!”

I mean it. Zelda really grows on you after a while. She’s downright adorable, even when I (or Link, for that matter) should probably be mad at her.

Link is implied to have character…through journal entries. Also, I suppose, because why would any of the characters carry on talking to themselves so much if Link never responded at all outside of nods and head shakes? He’s apparently just solemn and soft-spoken, focused on becoming a knight like his father before him, and so Zelda constantly compares the two of them throughout the flashbacks, noting how Link never seems to question his destiny or waver in the face of very real danger.

It’s almost funny how Nintendo has lampshaded Link’s muteness without really affecting the seriousness of any given situation.

 

Calamity Ganon returns just as Zelda’s feelings of guilt and self-loathing peak to typical teenage levels, and only once half the kingdom has been murdered and Link is about to face a similar end does she find the strength to summon her powers.

…I’m not sure if this game is aware of all of the implications of Zelda’s angst and dependency on Sheikah technology for victory, but it’s certainly an interesting angle to take. It doesn’t paint her in the best light, but it’s interesting.

Incidentally, at one point, Zelda’s father mentions that there are gossip mongers who are putting her and the royal family down, saying she is “heir to a throne of nothing. Nothing but failure.” But what I don’t understand is this: with the amount of time spent reminding us (and Zelda herself) that she is a reincarnation of a very powerful goddess,  you would think people would think it unwise to mock her so openly.

…Who knows? Maybe, as with the ancient technology, most of them have forgotten that little fact, even if the royal family hasn’t.

 

I’m loving her new dress, though.

Despite the princess’s efforts, Link is mortally wounded and must be laid to rest in the Shrine of Resurrection until he has recovered enough to fight another day, and Zelda, with fresh confidence and newfound power, returns to Hyrule Castle and actively fighting Calamity Ganon for the next 100 years…huh. So maybe Nintendo was paying attention after all. Nice, because this helps us to keep sympathizing while still giving her a punishment of sorts for her arrogance, as well as the contempt borne of her frustrations with not being unable to unlock her power sooner.

Remember, kids: don’t mess with the plans of the Gods. It doesn’t bode well for you.

The champions of each of Hyrule’s respective races also have memories that you can find in the course of your journey. My biggest issue is with Mipha, the Zora champion, because in addition to her robotic voice acting, her backstory with Link and subsequently developed affections for him are hilariously rushed and unconvincing. I had an easier time believing it when Ruto grew feelings for Link back in Ocarina of Time. The player took an active part in her rescue, however begrudgingly, and despite herself, she appreciated that effort and commitment.

 

Yes, she’s a textbook Tsundere. Say what you want about her; Ruto had the most defined personality of any of the female characters in that entire game. That’s probably why so many people dislike her, because she dared to be more than just a blankly smiling pretty face for dudes to interact with and save.

But I digress. Again.

As I said in the beginning, the story is still fairly compelling, despite not being the major “drive” of the game. It’s rare for the 3D Zelda games, but no so much for their 2D counterparts, which had minimal story but tons of exploration. It’s a blend of the two approaches, so it obviously won’t be completely without its hiccups, but for a first conscious effort, I think Nintendo mostly succeeded.

I’m still enjoying the game a lot, and the main story has officially run its course. Now, my sole purpose in life is Korok seeds, taking obnoxious amounts of screenshots, and watching Link cook various, bouncy food.

 

Best time sink ever.

8.5/10

*The images used in this post are all owned by Nintendo. 

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