Okay, I’m probably reading too much into this but whatever, let’s go!
Major spoilers for Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, so if you haven’t played it and want to maybe get on that, eh? And if you haven’t played it and never will play it but want to read just because you love me (love you, too!) here’s a summary.
Breath of the Wild is my first Legend of Zelda game. Sort of. Back in the glory days of the N64 we did have Ocarina of Time, widely regarded as one of the best Zelda games, and…I mean, to say I bounced off it is putting it lightly. I think I played forty minutes of it and I was straight bored and completely lost as to what the fuck I was even supposed to be doing compared to the bright colors of Mario 64 it just looked so, so ugly to me so I gave up and never even tried to play it again. Thus was my relationship with Zelda until the Breath of the Wild sequel trailer dropped.
Yes, that’s right, I didn’t even get into it until the sequel was announced, and it was this specific video that made me want to try it. Watch the employees on the left side of the screen. One of them is gripping that station thing behind her like she’s trying to keep herself from passing out. Everybody is seconds away ripping off their shirts and fucking each other they’re so excited, so I finally realized I had to try the first one.
And I’m not going to get into how great it because I don’t have to because everyone else already has. It’s got a 97% on Metacritic and a 10/10 on IGN, and is now considered the best Legend of Zelda game. Three years down the line and everyone has time to get over the hype and it’s still called the best. Holy shit. I will say it’s a great game even if you’ve only ever played forty minutes of another Zelda game and thus have no idea who any of these people are or what these places are or don’t recognize any of the musical cues. It’s still so much fun.
The reason I personally like it so much is the same reason so many others play endless hours of another Nintendo game, Animal Crossing: it’s soothing. BotW is the most open of open world games I’ve played. There are huge distances to travel, any direction you look in you can see for miles (or whatever the Hyrulian equivalent of miles is, like I said, I haven’t played any of the other games), and once you’re off the Great Plateau, the game is like, “Okay, go kill Ganon, I guess? Or don’t, whatever. I’m not your dad.” And then you can just fuck off for as long as you like.
And the way I play games, that means fucking off for a long time. The game is soothing to me because I can spend hours wandering around different calming environments, listening to someone riff on the piano, and collecting hundreds of apples. God, I love me a game that doesn’t restrict how much I can carry. Oh, sure, occasionally you have to fight a monster. Occasionally that fight is hard. You know what this game lets you do? Warp away in the middle of a fight. So if the fight is too hard I can just double fuck off and go into a forest to pick up three dozen mushrooms I will do absolutely nothing with. The point isn’t having them. The point is collecting them.
The first time I played this I probably put two hundred hours into. Just one play through. Because of all the fucking around. Picking stuff up and running errands for literally everybody and taking pictures and generally having the time of my life. Fighting Ganon was a bitch and a half, a sentiment most people don’t have, because I spent most of my time taking pictures and not enough time learning how to fire arrows off a horse. I hated riding the horses because you’d have to get off to pick stuff up, and like, I’ve made it abundantly clear what I’m here for so you can piss right off with that shit. Then I find a giant horse and I name it Chonkers and I can’t put the good harness on it? Fuck you, horse system. I’m a free man and I’ve been asleep for a hundred years so I will just hoof it across the entire kingdom and then some, thank you.
So, two hundred hours and where is my favorite scene? At the end. The very, very end. Quite literally the last few seconds of the scene after the credits.
Sometime after defeating Ganon, Link and Zelda stand on a high hill overlooking the kingdom and discuss what the hell comes next. After Zelda admits she thinks her power has diminished and she very much doesn’t care, she gives Link the biggest smile she has given him the entire game, and Link runs to her. The scene pulls out as they walk to their horses together and the camera lands on a field of Silent Princesses blowing in the breeze and I’m on the couch silently weeping. Not because I ship the two of them, I actually really adore their platonic relationship. I love this scene because it recontextualizes everything Link has done the entire game.
As I mentioned in The Appeal of the Apocalypse, this story takes place a hundred years after Ganon has all but won. Hyrule is destroyed. What Link walks through is mostly ruins with the occasional secluded village. Link has awoken without his memories. He literally wakes up in a puddle in a cave wearing nothing but boxer briefs knowing fuckall about anything and the first guy he meets is a douche that makes him run errands for a fricking sweet hang glider before revealing himself as the spirit of the king of Hyrule and then fucking off without any further help. Thankfully, along the way he is sent to scattered locations that help him remember.
Remember what? Well, Zelda, primarily. But also the rest of his crew. The Champions that had come together a century before to try to stop Ganon. His friends. They all died. Link has met their spirits, but they are dead and cannot travel with him this time. He has the voice of Zelda guiding him, but that’s it. A voice. There are a few allies and acquaintances still alive that he runs into, but most of them seem shocked he doesn’t remember anything even though that was a known side effect of the fucking plan. Link is set to this task alone, and it is killing him. Maybe not at first, because he doesn’t know any better. But every memory is really just a reminder of what he’s lost.
Now, most video game protagonists are playing alone, so I didn’t think twice about it. Until this end scene. Until his little, barely controlled jog to Zelda. That’s when I realized that more than being glad they had finally defeated Ganon, Link was just happy to not be alone anymore. Whatever they did next, they were going to do it together.
Like I said at the beginning, I’m probably reading too far into this. But it was an honest, immediate reaction and I’m not lying about crying on the couch. And, given the minimalist music, the empty fields, the bare ruins, maybe it’s not so far out there to imagine the game has themes of loneliness.