The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, released in late 2017 for both the Nintendo Switch and the Wii U, is a universally-lauded title that breaks the mold for both the Zelda series and the open-world genre. Its lush environments, unique puzzles, and unprecedented levels of interaction mark a turning point for the series, as does its use of voice acting and nonlinear story structure. The game itself is littered with nods to these drastic changes, most notable being the switch from Link’s classic green cap and tunic to a free-moving ponytail and a vibrant blue shirt. Hyrule itself has changed as well; although the kingdom is larger than ever before, most of its prominent landmarks have been reduced to rubble by the demonic force known as Calamity Ganon. This is a different Ganon for a different Link, and a different world for a different game. Any one of these changes could have been enough to destroy the games’ credibility with series veterans who crave consistency, but Breath of the Wild handled them so deftly that the title received unanimous praise and remains the best-selling series title to date.
Just as Breath of the Wild’s gameplay and character designs challenge series convention, so too does its story structure. Rather than opting for a traditional three-act structure, the developers chose a nonlinear narrative structure that can be skipped almost in its entirety by players who wish to race straight to the end. For those who wish to experience the story in its entirety, Breath of the Wild uses a series of flashbacks to craft a hero’s journey centered not around Link, but the scholarly Princess Zelda. Her quest to overcome her failures and channel her divine power follows the hero’s journey beat-for-beat, resulting in a rich and satisfying narrative that reimagines the princess’s traditional role. At the same time, Link has his own story of self-discovery, one that allows him to help Zelda’s appointed champions through their own struggles. These concurrent storylines touch on complex themes of responsibility and regret, as both Zelda and her champions cope with the expectations placed upon them by their citizens and their friends.
By using a variety of storytelling techniques, Breath of the Wild successfully creates a vibrant world populated by conflicted, well-rounded characters with their own wants and needs. It doesn’t shy away from taking risks, and it is those same risks that put Breath of the Wild in a class of its own, both within the series and in the medium as a whole.