The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Themes, Motifs, and Symbols
Breath of the Wild’s primary theme is self-discovery. This theme is explored through Zelda’s hero’s journey, as she learns to access her inner power, and through the amnesiac Link’s quest to recover his memories. Both stories focus on gaining insight into the self: the former in a more metaphorical sense and the latter in a more literal one.
Breath of the Wild’s main narrative is about Zelda overcoming adversity to discover her inner power. This power is not only literal but metaphorical, as well. At the start of her journey, her focus is entirely on the destruction of Calamity Ganon, but exploring Hyrule with Link forces her to learn more about him, and in turn, herself. One such moment of self-discovery occurs after Link saves her from the Yiga clan. She’d previously been cold and short with him, but after he saves her, she’s forced to reflect on her own actions in her diary, writing:
“I’ve been cold to him all this time…taking my selfish and childish anger out on him at every turn… Still, he was there for me. I won’t ever forget that.”
Zelda’s relationship with Link inspires further inner growth after their first honest conversation. At the end of the day, she remarks on how the encounter has changed her, writing:
“Everyone has struggles that go unseen by the world… I was so absorbed with my own problems, I failed to see his. I wish to talk with him more and to see what lies beneath those calm waters, to hear him speak freely and openly… And perhaps I, too, will be able to bare my soul to him and share the demons that have plagued me all these years.”
Zelda’s quest to better know Link is seemingly cut short when Calamity Ganon rises from the earth, but the bond they’ve formed to that point is instrumental in helping Zelda access her own power. When Link falls in battle in the ‘Zelda’s Awakening’ memory, Zelda is so horrified by the thought of losing Link that she is at last able to access the sealing power hidden inside her. At the same time, she demonstrates inner growth by acting without a trace of doubt. Had Link not been instrumental in helping her grow, her concern for his well-being wouldn’t have been strong enough to overcome those doubts. At that moment, Zelda is able to access her sacred power precisely because she has discovered her inner power: learning to trust in herself.
Link’s storyline, the ‘Captured Memories’ side quest, is a much more straightforward approach to the concept of self-discovery. At the start of Breath of the Wild, Link awakens in a cave without his memories. To recover them, he must travel around the world to the places that were once significant to him. Each time he recovers a new memory, he is quite literally discovering himself. He’s also able to discover himself by reading the journals of those who knew before Hyrule fell to the Calamity, and those journals are spread as far around the world as his memories. For Link to rediscover every aspect of his identity, he must rediscover Hyrule itself.
Through the combination of Zelda and Link’s stories, Breath of the Wild manages to approach the theme of self-discovery from both a metaphorical and a literal perspective. The gameplay and the narrative work together to support this theme, driving the player to help the characters discover themselves.
Breath of the Wild features two prominent motifs: wilderness and technology. Although these two motifs are seemingly opposed to one another, they both serve the same purpose: encouraging discovery. Both the players and the characters are incentivized to learn more about their environment and themselves as they search every corner of Hyrule for new sources of power and strength.
Breath of the Wild’s primary motif, wilderness, pervades both the story and the setting, simultaneously reflecting the theme of self-discovery and encouraging exploration from both the characters and the player. The wilderness motif also connects to the events preceding the story, as Breath of the Wild takes place one hundred years after Calamity Ganon destroyed Hyrule. After a century without man’s intervention, nature has overtaken the once-populated kingdom, and many of the landmarks the amnesiac Link once recognized have been reduced to cinders and rubble.
Breath of the Wild also uses technology as a secondary motif to reinforce the theme of self-discovery. Technological instruments created by the Sheikah, such as the Sheikah Slate and the Shrines, aid both Zelda and Link in their personal journeys. When Zelda finds that she cannot use the Sheikah Slate to enter the Shrines, this foreshadows a truth she has been avoiding: she will not be able to use technology to supplant her missing powers. Conversely, Link’s strong connection with the Sheikah technology gives him the ability to rediscover himself by accessing his missing memories. Although their experiences with the Sheikah technology are different, technology plays an important role in their stories of self-discovery.
Breath of the Wild features two prominent symbols to reinforce its motifs: the Master Sword and the Silent Princess. It is no coincidence that these two symbols are featured in the game’s logo, as they are ever-present in both Zelda and Link’s stories.
The Master Sword takes in new meaning in Breath of the Wild, representing both Link’s successes and Zelda’s failures. As Link’s skill with the blade proves his ability to fight Calamity Ganon, it also highlights Zelda’s inability to do the same. This connection between the Master Sword and Zelda’s sacred power is emphasized after Zelda unlocks her power, allowing her to hear the voice in the blade. One hundred years later, when Calamity Ganon is defeated, Zelda realizes she can no longer hear the voice as she once did. She suspects her powers have weakened after the long fight with Ganon, but she does not mind the loss as she once would have, as her self-worth is no longer centered around her abilities.
The Silent Princess, a wildflower found throughout Hyrule, is another symbol that reinforces the theme of self-discovery. According to Princess Zelda, the blue-and-white wildflower was endangered within Hyrule even before the Calamity. “The princess can only thrive…in the wild,” she explains. “All that we can hope…is that the species will be strong enough to prosper, on its own.” A hundred years later, the Silent Princess persists, though only in places rich with magic. It lingers around fairy fountains and the Great Deku Tree, and a single specimen can even be found in the remains of Zelda’s study. Once Calamity Ganon falls, the flower returns to the world in force, covering the fields of Hyrule. The species flourished when given space to grow, just as Zelda did on her personal journey.
* 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.
***Additional Reference Footage: InbetweenGamer. ALL LINK’S LOST MEMORIES LOCATIONS! | The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Youtube, 2017.