April 28, 2017
In recent days, Breath of the Wild is a topic which enters conversation frequently alongside numerous subsidiary topics ranging from the breakable weapon system to the Divine Beasts and shrines replacing staple dungeon mechanics and nontraditional story structure. This last point is something I have dwelt upon for a few weeks after completing every primary story quest and numerous side and shrine quests. With this abnormal approach arises what I believe to be the best story-telling gaming has ever seen. I say so because of how the player discovers each unique character and their story ties eventually back to the main quest and how both of these mechanics were presented as a direct consequence (or a reward even) of exploration.
I believe each character, despite having less screen time than average, improved the story to greater effect than any other game, at least in the Zelda series. I will cap this off by presenting my choice for the most important character, and I was surprised by my own opinion so I think you will be too. If you haven’t gathered by now, this article will be heavy laden with spoilers, so be aware before continuing, but otherwise buckle up for an idea I consider a thrill ride of discussion.
To commence the conversation, we must contemplate which characters are compelling enough to compete in the first place. As one might imagine, Link himself holds heavy impact on the story. Alongside him the four champions, Daruk, Mipha, Urbosa, and Revali reveal much of his clouded past aided by the new generation, Yunobo, Sidon, Riju, and Teba. Other key players in the story include Impa, the Sheikah elder; Rhoam, King of Hyrule; and the titular Princess Zelda. So which of these incredibly useful plot devices is the most important to delivering the story? Let’s dive in, shall we?
The Champions are all valuable in their own way as they present a party dynamic as seen in RPGs as well as the new mechanics driving the story. In this game, players can do any dungeon in any order and discover the story from a variety of different angles based on which order they choose. This is enhanced greatly by the presence of the Champions; a stunning cast of vibrant characters full of their own charm. From Daruk’s casual, carefree attitude (as Gorons are known for) to Revali’s quick-tongued almost likability, each shows a great deal of personality despite having such little screen time.
Link gleans glimpses at these wonderful personalities through the “Captured Memories” quest, particularly at the ceremony where Zelda swears Link into her service. In certain scenes, their interactions depict them possessing flaws as well. Daruk is impatient, Revali is arrogant, and Mipha is caught in a love triangle (or square if you count Paya). No person is perfect, so why should a Zora or Rito be? These flaws could be argued to have done each one in at the hands of the elemental blight beasts wrought by Ganon, simultaneously showing that they were strong willed enough to stand and fight when they could not win.
The flavor behind the Champions tickles my personal fancy just so, but my thoughts wander to the generation eventuating from the legacy left by these heroes. Mipha played a rather robust role as Link’s (not so) secret admirer, but would she have been remembered as well at the end of the game if not for the story of her family leading up to her appearance inside Divine Beast Vah Ruta? Dorephan, the King Zora was one of few characters who actually recognized Link, showing he had direct impact on the world for over one hundred years, but his significance to the story at hand was even overshadowed by his son and Mipha’s brother, Prince Sidon. This spiritual heir to the original Champion was the only reason Link was able to board the Divine Beast in the first place, and the length of his story outstretched would encompass Mipha’s in a matter of minutes after meeting him, and his charisma and courage made him shine through in a way Mipha’s short yet satisfying story line could not.
The same could be said for Yunobo to Daruk, Tebo to Revali, and perhaps most of all the Gerudo Chief Riju to Urbosa. Riju’s story was one surprisingly similar to Link’s. Both were born into a particular role and had their duties thrust upon them; Link being the knight chosen to seal away Ganon and defend the princess, and Riju being heir to the throne and being forced into a leadership position at such a young age. Her story is as much tragic as it is a fairy tale. To be suddenly and forcibly flung from any social life one may have had and told to operate an economy, facilitate trade with other countries and command armies to war when necessary would be a daunting task at any age. Riju faced this challenge with at least the dedication Link had to his own task, and showed true wisdom and poise in the face of adversity. In this regard, I would argue that her character is the most important to Breath of the Wild on a global scale, but is her impact on the story enough to say she has that covered as well? With such an eclectic smattering of characters, narrowing down importance of this kind is tricky.
The Champions of one hundred years ago along with their counterparts of today present a wonderful tale, but each of them has so little screen time that it is difficult to say any one of them could not have been omitted without a significant change to the story. The story must return to a character several times and rely on them as a driving force in order to be worthy of such praise. So what about the more recursive characters? Rhoam, Zelda, and Impa come up more in the primary story line than any other character, and each is vital to the open-ended storytelling Breath of the Wild so masterfully executed.
Rhoam is the first character the player can directly interact with. At the time, he is given the guise of a simple old man who chose to live on the Great Plateau alone plagued night after night by monsters and the harsh elements. In retrospect, it should have been obvious that something was up. This aside, he is the person who first presents Link with his objective of uncovering his past and rescuing Zelda. Without him, the rest of the story would not have had a chance to happen. Impa, on the other hand, is willing and able to guide you through the arduous process of collecting your lost memories and confronting Ganon. While taking time out of her normal routine of spearheading the government of one of the largest villages in Hyrule, she assists the hero in rediscovering who he is and why he decided to be that way. Zelda, on the tertiary hand, was the person who brought every one of the previous characters together. She was effectively presented as the leader of the Champions who, guided by Impa and her father, Rhoam, invented a plan capable of crushing the Calamity Ganon the moment he was reborn. Unfortunately things turned south and Ganon defeated them, however it was Zelda who took it upon herself to battle for one hundred years to seal Ganon until the Hero of Hyrule could return and destroy him. It was Zelda who sent Link to the Shrine of Resurrection to be healed in the first place. It was Zelda who waited a century to speak the words which allowed us all to embark on this enormous ordeal, “Open your eyes.” Zelda’s influence on the story far supersedes that of the Champions and other secondary characters, and why shouldn’t it? She is the game’s namesake after all. However I would contest her role as the most important character in this game.
The Champions of old and new, the King, the wise old sage, and the princess herself all fall short of one character which the “Main Quest” tab is decisively devoid. I speak of the one and only marvelous minstrel, Kass of the Rito. While the champions are arms and legs of Breath of the Wild, Rhoam and Impa hemispheres of the brain, and Zelda the heart, Kass is the skeleton which supports them all and joins each part to create a cohesive whole. Much of the story is left out since you experience fragmented memories rather than discovering them firsthand. It is only through completing the side quest string with Kass that players can discover all things between the lines. By studying the songs passed down by his Hylian master, Link is able to uncover many new shrines and treasures, and also thereby given a glimpse into the culture in the area, detailing more lore than any other two characters combined. After finding the answer to each riddle Kass presents in song, he retires to his home in Rito Village. At this point if Link speaks to him, he will be informed that Kass was entrusted with the task of delivering these songs to the hero. At the behest of his master who had known Link from the hundred years gone by, Kass details at this point tales alluding to the main story, and fills in every blank there was. Not only that, he states openly that Zelda’s power, which she had attempted to awaken numerous times, was awakened by her love for Link in a desperate attempt to save him from death. There’s a love story between Link and Zelda, and it could have been inferred otherwise, but without the explicit detail given by this birdlike bard, it would still have been considered fan-fiction by hardcore theorists. Even with ‘shipping aside, this is a vital detail of the story. The straw that broke the camel’s back and allowed Zelda to tap into the only power that could subdue Ganon at the time was her relationship with the hero in green. Well, blue in this game, but whatever.
It astounded me considering all the possibilities, but without Kass to hold the cogs of the story in their places, Breath of the Wild would have had an interesting but underwhelming story. The potential presented by his character was more than fulfilled by his ability to close story gaps and drive exploration and puzzle solving that are in my opinion, what defines the Legend of Zelda series.
Am I right? Did Kass overcome even Princess Zelda in story importance, or am I totally off base and really need to re-investigate Kohga? Leave a comment and keep the conversation rolling!