Three-Act Structure, Act III
Narrative Analysis: The Basics
The climax of a story is where everything that has been building since the Inciting Incident comes together. It’s the moment when the protagonist faces off against the antagonist, and only one of them can triumph. As the vast majority of stories end with the protagonist succeeding, audiences need more than a victory to be moved by a climactic scene. K.M. Weiland, author of ‘Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story’, notes how difficult it is to craft a satisfying climax, as: “Inevitability and unexpectedness are the two ingredients necessary in every perfect ending.”1 In other words, it is not enough for a protagonist to win; they must do so in a way that leaves audiences feeling both satisfied and surprised.
The Climax of A Link to the Past combines surprise and satisfaction in its final dungeon, Ganon’s Tower. The dungeon itself is a fairly standard arrangement of enemies and puzzles, and the rematch against Agahnim follows a similar pattern to the previous fight, but Link’s victory comes with a twist. When Agahnim collapses, Ganon appears above him and turns into a bat, then flies away. When Link catches up with him, Ganon reveals that Agahnim was an alter-ego he used to sneak into the Light World undetected to open the Triforce seal. Now that the seal is open, he has the Triforce in his possession, and can return to the Light World as an unstoppable force. Only Link can stop him here and now—which he does, eliminating the twin threats of ‘Agahnim’ and Ganon in one blow.
The Wrap-Up plot point functions as a story’s epilogue, showing how the characters and the world around them have changed for the adventure. Blake Snyder refers to this moment as the Final Image and emphasizes the importance of relating it to the opening. “…[The] final image in a movie is the opposite of the opening image,” he states. “It is your proof that change has occurred and that it’s real.”2 In shorter stories with smaller casts, a final image may be just that—a single image to define the story—but in large, sweeping stories with many characters, audiences typically want to see what’s become of the story’s different players after the climax. Video games, with their expansive worlds and ensemble casts, will often use a montage over the closing credits to touch on the minor changes that have resulted from the protagonist’s success. The major changes—the ones that directly impact the protagonists—are the ones that get their own cutscenes, uninterrupted by credits.
A Link to the Past features both a closing cutscene for the protagonist and a montage for the larger cast. In the closing cutscene, Link is seen approaching the Triforce, which speaks to him about Ganon’s evil plans for the Light World. Thanks to Link, Ganon is gone, and the Triforce needs a new owner. All Link needs to do is touch it with a wish in his heart, and the power in the Triforce will make it come true. While Link’s wish is never explicitly stated, the montage that follows makes it clear what he wanted: a return to the peaceful world that existed before Ganon opened the seal to the Dark World. Sure enough, the Triforce functions as promised, healing all those who have been injured (or worse) and restoring the King of Hyrule to his throne. The final image in the montage—the image that ties it all together—is the Master Sword resting in its pedestal. Just as Link’s journey began with the quest to find the sword, so too does it end with the sword returning to its rightful home.
The Three-Act Structure has endured as a narrative standard for thousands of years, serving as the skeleton for countless stories since its inception. Although other structures have come and gone, the Three-Act Structure continues to remain a favorite of both teachers and writers because of its logical simplicity. Just as every action must have a beginning, middle, and end, so too must every story. This inarguable truth forms the basis for narrative analysis as a whole, offering guideposts for authors and audiences alike. Video game narratives add to the rich legacy of the Three-Act structure by adding player interactions to the basic framework, creating immersive stories that can be studied alongside those from other forms of media.
1 Weiland, K.M.. Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story (Helping Writers Become Authors Book 3) (p. 126). PenForASword Publishing. Kindle Edition.
2 Snyder, Blake. Save the Cat (p. 90). Michael Wiese Productions. Kindle Edition.
* Reference Run: Nintendo Complete. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES) Playthrough – NintendoComplete. YouTube, 2018.
** Reference Script: Davogones. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past – Text Dump. GameFAQs, 2002.