The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Characters, Part One
Like so many Links before him, Breath of the Wild’s Link is a silent protagonist. The addition of amnesia makes him even more of a blank slate, as he has little context to inform his interactions with the world. Both his amnesia and his silence limit his growth, but Breath of the Wild finds ways to develop him despite those handicaps. His long silences are remarked upon in the journals of those who knew him best, and restoring his missing memories is an optional quest. Unfortunately, beating the game without restoring Link’s memories does nothing to change Link’s actions in either the climax or the wrap-up. Hence, it would be incorrect to refer to the ‘Captured Memories’ quest as a character arc. However, these memories provide both background and motivation for Link, so they still develop his character even without triggering his growth.
When the player first begins a new file in Breath of the Wild, they’re plunged into the role of the amnesiac Link, who awakens in a strange chamber with no idea how he got there or how much time has passed. Although players can conceivably take this amnesiac directly to the final confrontation with Calamity Ganon, they have the option to explore the world and help Link discover who he was before the Calamity destroyed Hyrule. Since a hundred years have passed since the Calamity, there aren’t many living who knew Link personally, and the few that remain didn’t know him well. Fortunately, those closest to him—Princess Zelda and his fellow Champions—all left journals behind, each of which reveals information about Link’s pre-Calamity character. Together, they combine to create the image of a skilled swordsman who spoke little but always aided those in need.
Princess Mipha, Champion of the Zoras, provides the earliest insight into Link’s personality. Her first meeting with the four-year-old Hylian left such an impression on her that her journal begins with the following entry:
“He was curious and full of energy, with a ready smile. Are all Hylian children that way? One thing that surely sets him apart is his swordsmanship, which I hear is exceptional. He has even bested adults. He must be somewhat reckless, however, as he was covered in bruises.“
When Mipha and Link next meet, she notes afterwards how the passage of time has changed him:
“He no longer resembles the child I first met. He is now an accomplished knight and keeper of the sword that seals the darkness. I am so proud. However… He hardly speaks anymore, and smiles even more rarely. He is still the kind soul I knew, but something has changed.”
Although Mipha sensed a change in Link that day, she still thinks of him in positive terms, extolling ‘his kindness and determination to help those in need,’ as well as his skill with a sword. This skill is remarked upon by another Champion, Daruk, when he writes in his own journal: “I couldn’t help but admire [Link’s] Goron-like strength.” His praise only grows in further entries, as he states: “[Link’s] the type of guy you can trust to have your back and also have a nice hearty meal with.”
While Revali and Urbosa also acknowledge Link’s skill, their writings focus more on Link’s inscrutable silences. In one entry, Revali states: “That annoyingly silent knight was as emotionless as usual. I can never tell what’s on his mind. Likely nothing at all.” Urbosa, showing more compassion than Revali, reflects on Link’s similarity to Zelda. After meeting with Link in the desert, she writes: “In a similar yet distinct way [to Zelda], Link seems to have trouble expressing himself. Perhaps the two can help each other…”
It turns out that Urbosa’s instincts were correct, as Princess Zelda reveals in her own diary sometime later. In one of her entries, she states:
“When I finally got around to asking why he’s so quiet all the time, I could tell it was difficult for him to say. But he did. With so much at stake, and so many eyes upon him, he feels it necessary to stay strong and to silently bear any burden. A feeling I know all too well… For him, it has caused him to stop outwardly expressing his thoughts and feelings. I always believed him to be simply a gifted person who had never faced a day of hardship. How wrong I was…”
With the addition of this journal entry, Breath of the Wild takes the largest handicap to Link’s character development—his silence—and turns it into a defining characteristic. In previous Zelda titles, Link remained silent so that players could imagine themselves in his shoes, but Breath of the Wild gives that silence both a source and a social cost. Link feels he has a duty to remain silent around others, and this silence ironically makes it more difficult for others to relate to him. It’s a compelling conflict that gives his character a degree of depth he lacked in previous titles.
Princess Zelda, the heir to Hyrule’s sacred sealing power, is the primary driver of the narrative in Breath of the Wild. As the narrative is so tied up in her growth, much of her development is laid out in the Structural Analysis section of this study. Rather than reiterate how the events preceding Breath of the Wild drive the changes in her character, this character analysis will primarily focus on her motivations and characteristics at the start of the narrative.
Zelda’s main objective is to defeat Calamity Ganon, the evil force that has threatened Hyrule for millennia. As the King of Hyrule’s only daughter, Zelda is the lone heir to a power that can seal this evil away. This power has been in the family for generations upon generations, dating back over ten thousand years. Zelda’s grandmother possessed this power and trained Zelda’s mother to pass it on, but when Zelda’s mother passed, the young princess was left without a teacher. Urbosa makes a note of the impact this had on Zelda in her journal, writing: “Young Zelda kept her head held high as she said her final good-bye to her mother at the funeral. She carried herself as a true princess, but I can sense the deep grief she is hiding within.” A decade later, Zelda still feels rudderless without the guidance of her elders, as Urbosa reveals in a later entry. After pulling Zelda out of the freezing waters of the spring, Urbosa writes: “[Zelda] whispered over and over, “Why can I not do as the royal daughters of the past have done? What is wrong with me?“
As Zelda cannot access her family’s sealing power, she must leverage her determination and resourcefulness to find a new way to defeat the Calamity. When a fortune-teller predicts the beast’s imminent return, Zelda hurls herself into the study of the Guardians and the Divine Beasts, two pieces of Sheikah technology that were said to have driven back the Calamity ten thousand years before. She notes the importance of research in her diary, writing: “The return of Ganon looms—a dark force taunting us from afar. I must learn all I can about the relics so we can stop him.” Urbosa, Zelda’s closest confidant, reiterates this change in strategy to Link when they’re alone, saying:
“She once passed out in the freezing water trying to access this sealing power, and yet she has nothing to show for it. That’s the motivation driving her research. I’d be doing the same thing.”
Zelda’s research is not purely driven by her desire to defeat Ganon, as she is also naturally curious and delights in studying the natural world. The scene that best illustrates this enthusiasm for the sciences is the memory entitled ‘Silent Princess,’ in which Link accompanies Zelda on her field research. Not only does she demonstrate intimate knowledge of a variety of flora and fauna, but she also grows more excitable and animated. She even goes so far as to demand Link taste a Hot-Footed Frog, insisting that he’d be a ‘perfect candidate’ for a study of its effects on Hylian biology. This intellectual curiosity is further reinforced by the existence of Zelda’s Research Notes, a log of scientific observations Zelda kept separate from her diary. Her notes contain many questions, as well, emphasizing her fascination and her desire for further study.
Although Princess Zelda grows a great deal as a character throughout the narrative of Breath of the Wild, her personality remains the same from start to finish. She is determined, resourceful, and intellectually curious, straight through to the epilogue. This final scene shows her back in the fields with her Sheikah Slate, discussing the next steps as Link follows in dutiful silence. Even with the threat of Ganon vanquished, Zelda is still committed to her research, thus proving that the sciences were never just a means to an end; they were her passion, and the pursuit of that passion will always drive her forward.
The character of Ganon exists on a spectrum within the Legend of Zelda series, spanning from ‘ambitious mortal’ to ‘malignant force’. Breath of the Wild’s Ganon exists at the latter end of that spectrum. With limited consciousness, an amorphous form, and no stated objective, he has more in common with a natural disaster than a fixed character. All that is known about him with certainty is stated by Zelda before the final battle, as she advises Link: “Ganon was born out of a dark past. He is a pure embodiment of the ancient evil that is reborn time and time again…He has given up on reincarnation and assumed his pure, enraged form.” Although there is some ambiguity regarding his reincarnation, as Zelda remarks after his defeat that he’s gone “for now,” the nature of his present form is unambiguous: he is no longer the man he once was and has become the physical manifestation of the evil he sought for so many years.
* Reference Footage: Gamespot. All 18 Memories In Order – Zelda Breath Of The Wild **SPOILERS**. YouTube, 2017.
** Additional Reference Footage: Funderburk, Joey. All 18 Memories In Order – Zelda: Breath Of The Wild (No Subtitles). YouTube, 2017.