A way too late analysis of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Nintendo /
3 of 5
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Nintendo /

The Sounds

Initially, during planning and researching, this section was intended to be about BOTW‘s soundtrack and the Joe Hisaishi’s (Studio Ghibli’s star composer) deep and influential roots in music in gaming. This section was going to be exploring tracks “Ruins,” “Cave,” “Revali’s Theme,” “Lost Woods,” “Despair” as pieces of music straight out of Hisaishi’s personal notebook, and how they utilized his tendencies and styles to create deeply emotional pieces that conveyed complex feelings.

Then “Zelda’s Awakening” happened, and the plan changed.

“Zelda’s Awakening” and it’s immediate follow up “Zelda’s Wish” are the most Legend of Zelda songs in all of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, utilizing stylings that are series classics as well as incorporating and being built on some of the series most iconic songs. “Fi’s Theme” and the theme song of The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time make up the majority of “Zelda’s Awakening” before making way for what must be the most iconic song in gaming “The Legend of Zelda: Main Theme.”

A triumphant, proud, boisterous progression that signifies the transcendence and completion of one’s quest to become a hero. The sign in the LOZ series that it is time to take up your weapon, turn your eyes to the goal, and fight with unwavering and unquestionable courage to take back Hyrule from the clutches of Demise. Throughout the entire series, this has been a turning point for Link or the hero destined to take his place, but in this instance, it is not.

That’s because this time, the song plays for Zelda.

“Zelda’s Awakening” plays only once during the 17th (chronologically speaking) lost memory in BOTW, which displays some of the final moments of Calamity Ganon’s destruction of Hyrule that took place 100 years before the start of the game. Despite their best attempts at running and fighting off the hoards of guardians that have made their lives misery the last few days, they find themselves surrounded in the middle of a field with nowhere left to go. Link, the always courageous and powerful hero that has come from the brink of defeat time and time again, the man that fate itself has weighed and found destined to defeat the darkness, the man who has stuck down Ganon thousands of times in thousands of different lives, finds himself exhausted and spent. With the guardians coming from every different direction, Link digs deep for what little bit of courage and strength he has left, bringing his sword between the guardians’ wrath to do what he has done countless times throughout countless lives over countless ages: Save the princess.

This time, however, the princess does the saving.

Zelda had been traveling the Hyrulean countryside for years praying to the goddess Hylia and seeking the answer on how to unlock the power she is destined to wield. Each shrine she visited, every prayer she offered, all her desperate cries for help were answered in the same fashion; deafening silence. Every failure only made the weight on her shoulders even harder to carry, and despite her typically cheerful and laid back personality, she was hurting inside.

To fill the void of her failures, Zelda had turned to the creations of the Sheikah, utilizing her resources as the princess of the castle to have team excavate and repair the legions of guardians that lay hidden from the general public after the Sheikah left Hyrule. The same guardians that were chasing her through the fields of Hyrule were the guardians that Zelda had helped repair and make operational. The divine beasts that torment Link throughout his journey in BOTW are the same divine beasts that Zelda had breathed new life into 100 years prior.

Her failures just continued to pile on her: her inability to awaken her power, the mistakes she made with the Sheikah technology, the death of almost all of her friends, and the millions of others that were losing their lives because of the choices that she made. We can see the toll this takes in BOTW‘s 16th memory (again, chronologically speaking) where Zelda can not help but lose her composure and break down in what has to be the most heartbreaking scenes in Nintendo history (watch this scene with the Japanese voice acting, it is hard to watch for all of the right reasons). She has all but given up and her current goal is only to delay the inevitable, the death of her closest friend and confidant, Link.

However, in the last possible moment, that internal power awakens.

In a flash of light and power, all of the guardians begin to break down and overload, falling into humps of junk and giving the princess and the hero the first moments of peace they had experienced in days.

That is if the hero was still standing.

During Zelda’s awakening, Link fell to his back, out of energy, out of strength, out of time. Zelda rushes to his side, begging for him to come to, but his only response is a few coughs and his last conscious breath for over 100 years. The hero fades into unconsciousness as Zelda weeps, unable to bear yet another failure and yet another life lost at her expense.

Right then, softly a chorus begins to sing. Softly at first, but steady, and growing in volume and intensity with each note, and finally making way for a confident and lonely piano to pick up right where they left off. This piano single-handedly delivers the most somber yet emotionally bolstering rendition of “The Legend of Zelda – Main Theme” to ever be played, which fits the scene perfectly.

Zelda has finally discovered what it will take to defeat Ganon for the time being, she knows what courage looks and feels like, she can finally move past her failures and right her wrongs. This came with a cost, however: the lives of thousands including her father, the destruction of most of the civilized parts of Hyrule, and soon possibly the life of her best friend. The song symbolizes the time to take up courage, face those who oppose you, and ready your strength, but as the somberness suggests, it may be already too late.

Despite this, Zelda directs some castle guards who have finally found the heroes in the field to take Link to the shrine of resurrection as she makes her way into Hyrule fields, where she does what she must to stop Ganon. Her courage is steadfast, her heart is still, and the fate of the whole world now sits comfortably on her shoulders.

The shot of Zelda walking to her fate finalizes the memory and brings the player back to Link as he finishes remembering the events of that day. Zelda’s voice reach out to him, letting him know that now is the time, it is time for the hero to do what the heroes before him did: defeat Ganon, save the princess and with her, the world. All the while, “The Legend of Zelda – Main Theme” has returned, filling the player with courage, purpose, and directing them towards their fate.

This beautiful and moving scene is only possible due to the emotional music that plays with series tropes and the emotionally charged music that had been immortalized in gaming history. The moments after the scene use the same songs to fill the player with purpose, courage, and a reason to send Calamity Ganon back to wherever it is that Calamity Ganon came from. All the while using that same music to tell that player exactly what it is that they are supposed to be feeling, a job not many game composers have been able to do.