The Hero’s Journey – Breath of the Wild Part II

A Hero’s Journey must continue beyond isolated territory. Once familiar with the training grounds, the time comes to venture into a larger unknown…and learn from experiences there. How will events shape our hero in the long run?

The marvel of video game storytelling is – the audience can make these choices to tell the story they want. There are certainly more linear games which take you through a decided path, but the wonder of the Wild is – YOU decide your hero’s journey.

We saw how the gaming experience allows for player participation in learning the survival techniques for the journey. Now we come to discussing the way the player manipulates the journey set before them. Who is the Link of your story? How does he aim to save Hyrule? Choices as open as the game world itself spread before you when you descend the Great Plateau.

The thing is, you could choose to beeline straight for Hyrule Castle and Ganon if you wanted. In this manner, the Hero’s Journey is independent and solitary. You would use only Link’s basest skills to press forward, honing that button mashing dexterity (and obtaining bragging rights, who are we kidding) to survive situations far more perilous than your small heart meter should face.

This choice gives us the image of a dogged, self-actualizing hero. His fight is his and his alone. For the player looking to be challenged, this works nearly as a reflection of intent. If the player wants to work with minimal help, so does Link.

But if the player chooses to explore more of the world and its people, there’s an impactful shift to the tale. Of course, your arsenal increases, and more equipment is made available to you…

I mean, dag, yo.

…but that is more a gaming facet than a storytelling device. If we’re exploring the growth of our hero, there’s more to it than acquired equipment. In a full Breath of the Wild playthrough, the Hero’s Journey explores the value of honoring companionship – and the work of those who came before you.

Link’s amnesia and absence from the last 100 years is perhaps a gimmick for why our hero starts out so weak and wide-eyed in the world. But I think it’s more than just a cop-out ploy. Link’s strength literally comes from remembering and recognizing the skills of heroes past. He gains life and stamina through trials laid out by old and long-dead sages; he learns of his own past from Impa, Purah, and numerous others.

Most importantly, he rediscovers the lives of fallen comrades, redeems their sacrifices, and even protects and honors their tribes. In return, he receives their skills to aid him in battle, and – finally – their help in the fight against Ganon himself.

This journey becomes one of united forces. Our hero must still grow alone in many ways, but he finds strength now in the pursuit of others’ needs. And in regaining these connections, we have an oh-so-appropriate game mechanic where the four Champions pound their lasers into Ganon for half a health bar of damage.

Each journey offers a unique take on what it means to grow and challenge yourself. Is it in the adversity of going solo? Or in the extra effort made to reach out to friends and those in need – gaining their aid in return? That’s the brilliance in telling a story through a changeable medium. Where do YOU say a hero’s strength lies? Show it in your gameplay style.

 

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the property of Nintendo. You can purchase it to play via the Wii U or Nintendo Switch.

The Hero’s Journey – Breath of the Wild Part I

Think back to a big change in your life: entering college, starting a career, moving to a new area. We each have a journey on this earth, a story where choices and experience shape who we become. We meet new people, suffer hardships, grow in character, and overcome challenges. And we often find ourselves drawn to stories which reflect the same.

The Hero’s Journey – which takes us through a character’s quest and his/her corresponding growth – is a well-established trope, carrying through centuries of tales from multiple cultures. And while the fiction tends to be grander than our own daily struggles, its tried and true presence proves how easily we still relate. At a certain level, the human experience remains the same.

Countless video games employ the Hero’s Journey; it’s a no brainer for genres like the RPG, where the epic scope of the story allows the player to follow a character through diverse experiences and trials. Sometimes the journeys can go a little off the rails to pad gameplay: additions of alternate dimensions, several “big bads” in succession, or the convoluted inclusion of time travel…

The more I remember FFVIII’s story, the less I understand it.

But leave it to a hallmark series to convey the Hero’s Journey. Absolutely. Perfectly.

This isn’t bias speaking. I’m no Legend of Zelda rabid fangirl who squeals at the site of Link’s face slapped on random merchandise. (Though I’ll enjoy the heck out of his games, don’t get me wrong.) It might be ignorance due to the sheer scope of video games I’ve never played. But the thing about Breath of the Wild is – you live the Hero’s Journey. Not de facto, of course – I was relaxin’ on the couch while Link was roughing it amongst Bokoblins and Guardians – but far more closely than in the experience a book or movie offers.

How does Breath of the Wild play this out? Allow me to explain by example: Less than five minutes into actual gameplay, I fell off a cliff and died from running out of climbing stamina. (All the pro gamers say, “NOOB!”) In fact, I died quite a few times just being stupid in naturally perilous situations. There’s a parallel here: At the game’s beginning, Link emerges from the Shrine of Resurrection green as the beautifully-rendered grass on the Great Plateau. And since the game won’t hold your hand first thing, you begin just as unfamiliar with the world as he.

You’re guided loosely to your first destination, but the plateau is otherwise open to explore. Nothing stops you from freezing in the snow-capped mountains, or getting gored by boars in the woods as you learn how to aim and shoot with your bow. It’s Link who suffers the injuries, but it’s the player who learns and grows through adversity. Do you want to survive beyond the Plateau? Better get those skills in gear.

And maybe find some shoes.

The hero often begins his/her journey with little knowledge or skill to handle the challenges ahead. It’s a trope that plays out perfectly in a video game format as you gather materials and hone your talents with equipment. Do you know what lies ahead? Unless you’ve watched a playthrough (like a cheaterpants)…no. And neither does Link.

But his skills – and yours – will lead to moments of growth you never imagined.

Thus ends part I of II for this short series. What, did you think I could cover a 100+ hour game in one article? Get outta here!

 

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the property of Nintendo. You can purchase it to play via the Wii U or Nintendo Switch.

First Impressions Series – Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

[Currently listening to: this smorgasbord of Mother/Earthbound music.]

I’ve got ALL these ideas for series posts; you have no idea how EXCITED I am to subject you to share them all with you.

We’re currently in the middle of a three-parter talking about the importance of dynamic character introductions, so I thought: What better time to assault you with what will be another on-going VG storytelling series?

(There probably is a better time, but never mind that.)

This series will not be as condensed as our summer trilogy and will – in all likelihood – randomly pop up in different months when I’ve got some serious writer’s block. So…look forward to that, I guess?

But on to the post itself: What do I mean by “First Impressions”? Contrary to what it sounds like, this won’t be a look at reactions to different video games upon first playing them. Actually, the focus here will be video game openings.

Think about your favorite stories – books, movies, tv shows, video games, anything. How did they grab you? Typically if a story doesn’t provide interest within the first 50 pages/30 minutes (you might be more generous than I), it’s not worth the long-term investment. These mediums have to find a way to prove – in a short amount of time – that their product is going to deliver! But how is it done well?

That’s what I hope to explore in this series. There are a couple criteria that must be met for each game, however, which I will list as follows:

  1. The game’s opening must be judged on storytelling merits and not simply a “looks cool” factor.
  2. Any story elements that take place before the start menu will be disregarded, as they are optional to view.

Otherwise, the playing field is pretty broad. We’ll be considering how the game sets the tone/atmosphere, how it brings the player straight into the story, how it creates intrigue, how it establishes characters – you name it! There are many ways a good story can draw you in from the start.

So let’s hurry on to talk about our first example of first impressions:

Link to the Past1

The Zelda series rarely fails to deliver a great gaming experience, and it’s not too shabby with its openings, either. Let’s see what works in A Link to the Past:

  • Atmosphere

Why don’t we start with what this opening does best? On atmosphere alone I give LttP a 10/10. But before I get into the details, take a minute to watch for yourself:

(Start at 2:45 for opening. Video courtesy of Scott’s HD Walkthroughs.)

Notice how Zelda’s plea in the middle of the night immediately sets the tone of urgency. Link is startled awake by the call and soon afterward gets left alone in the dark house when his uncle goes to the rescue. There’s no music to start, only the sound of rain – which draws our focus to the omen of Zelda’s words and the question of what our hero will do next.

Once Link goes outside himself, the driving rain heightens the desperation. You can’t delay; even now you know that so much depends on you.

All these factors work to pull the player into the story. Now, I’m not saying that a calm opening can’t hook someone just as well, but there needs to be an active force of some kind that sparks the interest of the player/reader/viewer. Proper atmosphere is one excellent way to accomplish this.

  • Immediate Action

I don’t want to say we’re in the age of tutorials…but we’re kind of in the age of tutorials. Video games can get bogged down in “how-to-play” gimmicks, which also makes for sluggish intros.

I love this game, but dagnabit.
I love this game, but dagnabit.

Not so in Link to the Past. As soon as Link’s uncle heads out the door, you’re thrown head-first into the plot. Sure, you can go talk to soldiers guarding the perimeter and learn gameplay tips from them; but really – as a kid of the 90’s, playing this game for the first time, would you hunt down all those NPC’s and shoot the breeze with them?

Heck naw! You want to find the shortest distance to Hyrule Castle so you can learn more about Zelda’s plight, “how-to-play” tips be hanged! By motivation alone you figure out, okay, picking up weeds is a thing so let’s just look under them for a secret entrance into the palace…

Listen, when given enough incentive, you can figure out any ol’ game mechanics. Let ACTION be your tutorial.

  • Intrigue

Any Zelda fan by this time knows the franchise drill: get the Master Sword, beat the dungeons, battle some permutation of Ganon(dorf), rescue the princess. I’m of the mind that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it; and that doesn’t have to mean you need to sacrifice story intrigue.

First off, you share in Link’s own boyish curiosity when he leaves the house after his uncle. You just have to know what’s going to happen to Zelda, and how this Aganihm character figures into the overarching Zelda motif.

Later, you’re shocked by the sudden death of Link’s uncle. The loss has little emotional weight (we knew him – what – for two minutes?), but it sets the tone that this rescue is no light matter.

Link to the Past3

This sort of sacrifice can work to propel the narrative – get us interested in the action to follow. What’s going to come next? LttP wastes no time proving it’ll deliver twists and turns to keep you playing. I mean, remember that first time you found out about the Dark World? Maybe you’d never have made it to that amazing plot twist if it weren’t for the game gripping you from the start.


And so begins what I hope will be a fun series! There are plenty more intros to explore in the video game universe. If you have one you’d like to see dissected, feel free to suggest it in the comments below!

 

The Legend of Zelda franchise is the property of Nintendo. You can play Link to the Past on the Wii, Wii U, or Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console.