REFLECTING ON BREATH OF THE WILD
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild begins with a rather frightening idea: One hundred years ago, you were charged with saving the world—and you failed.
The theme of failure is thick and steady throughout the entire game; it will haunt you through the hundreds of hours you can easily spend in the ruined Kingdom of Hyrule. As you travel through the fields of central Hyrule, you find yourself surrounded by crumbling structures, destroyed landmarks, and remnants of what was clearly a thriving culture—now taken back by overgrown grass, ivy, and erosion. And make no mistake: the kingdom is in ruins because of you.
Link (your character), was chosen to be the royal knight and protector of Princess Zelda. Along with the Princess and four Divine Beasts who were piloted by four “Champions,” you were called to defend the Kingdom from Calamity Ganon, an evil spirit who is determined to consume the world. One by one, the four Champions were defeated by Ganon’s minions. The huge stone/mechanical “Divine Beasts” they piloted were in turn possessed by Ganon. You were the last chance for the kingdom to defeat the monster, but you were simply overwhelmed. Princess Zelda, with the last of her fading power, placed you into a sort of cryogenic sleep as she attempted to seal Ganon to the confines of Hyrule Castle—long enough for you to regain your strength and try it all again.
One hundred years later, here you are. Your memory is gone, and Princess Zelda (still in the heart of the castle keeping Ganon contained) is weakening rapidly. Your inability to defeat Ganon is starting to catch up to you, and the world is once again at risk for it.
In your travels to defeat Ganon, you are challenged in combat and emotionally by the wake of your defeat. You see giant stone-like spiders, called Guardians; they are ancient machines created to defeat evil, but have since become destructive. Traveling to each of the four Divine Beasts, you realize that these powerful tools have become hazards to the small communities surrounding them. A giant mechanical lizard now terrorizes a mining quarry, a giant elephant-like creature threatens to flood a city—each waiting to be defeated and conquered, and each haunted by the spirit of the “Champion” who once piloted them.
Failure, failure, failure. The Guardians couldn’t be controlled. The Champions were killed by Ganon’s minions. The Divine Beasts were possessed by evil. You couldn’t defeat Ganon. Zelda is growing weaker by the second. There are even touches of failure in aspects that would normally be considered mundane in a game like this. Your weapons are fragile. After a fight or two, you may get a warning that your sword or axe is badly damaged, then in a critical moment it will simply shatter. It’s something that really comes through in the early hours of the game—you are weak. Maybe you were strong once, but that was then.
But that is not where the game’s message truly lies. Breath of the Wild threads an incredibly difficult needle when it comes to living and playing in this world of failure. As a game and a story, it focuses on what’s next, on what you will be capable of. It coaxes you, leads you, and drives you past failure to something new. It wants you to discover what happens if you try again.
You lost, Ganon won, and so much of the Kingdom is literally in ruins. Sure, but what now? What can you do now to fix it? The small communities and the characters under siege by the divine beasts have a similar mentality. This giant stone monster has been terrorizing our community for a hundred years. That’s awful! But what’s next? What actions can we take? What can we do about it NOW?
THE BLESSING OF FAILURE
Soon the hours of frustration and failure begin to wash away, and suddenly you’re faced with an entirely different game. You could go anywhere. You could defeat any enemy. There are very few areas that limit your access due to anything other than skill and thought. You are only a failure as long as you allow yourself to be. And the moments in which you find you aren’t strong enough, you have too little health, or perhaps you need more stamina to climb that mountain or tame that horse—you know exactly what you have to do, and you can do it.
In the end, failure in Breath of the Wild is a beautiful thing. Perhaps we should look to failure more often, in fact. Link is faced with a world that he failed to save. But that doesn’t stop him, or the people who populate this ruined world. Together, they can push on. They have faith in each other, they have faith in truth and justice, they have faith in Link. It doesn’t matter that he failed a hundred years ago. It doesn’t matter that he’s lost most of his memory. There is hope again, and that hope is infectious. We may have failed, but that doesn’t mean we won’t soon be better, and finish what we started.
Kyle Reardon | Southern Territory