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.

Fright-Bound in Earthbound

Oh man, you know what I haven’t fangirled about in a long time?

(Whaddya mean it hasn’t even been a full year? Shaddup.)

We are in that season where the horrific, grotesque, and frightening wrest center stage from every other genre style born of the imagination. In some expressions of the Halloween spirit, there’s very little nuance. The image of an ax buried in someone’s head, blood-soaked skin and clothes, malformations presented to shock the audience, or worst of all – CLOWNS. Yes, the doors open to the most extreme degree of unpleasantness this time of year, and I have to give some creative endeavors credit just for shock value.

But anything in large doses will soon create desensitization, or just plain old “squick” – not true unsettling terror. If that’s what you hope to achieve for your audience, more power to you. If you want to create an honest-to-goodness, scare, however, might I suggest…mixing your genres?

You see, Earthbound isn’t a horror game. In no fashion is it even advertised that way. But good gravy n’ biscuits, it will leave you scarred. Y’all fellow fans know what I’m talking about. But wait, others may say. It’s a game of silly word play, goofy enemies and bosses, and quirky NPC’s. This doesn’t compute. And I answer – EXACTLY. The majority of Earthbound plays out in light-hearted tones, several ludicrous premises strung together for maximum absurdity. It’s a story of boyhood adventure, coupled with comedy, coupled with HOLY FRIED BEANS WHAT PARALLEL REALM OF DISTURBING RANDOMNESS HAVE I STUMBLED INTO?

See, this game never lets you settle down. As soon as you think you understand its mood it breaks free and gleefully screws with your expectations. Were you enjoying that escapade in the mines fighting silly moles? Well, now get ready for melting Dali clocks, weird NPC speech patterns, and completely disorienting map mechanics. And an eerie gold statue will absolutely destroy you in your attempts to escape.

Moonside is more surreal than frightening, you might say, but the unsettling moments continue to ratchet up over time, giving the slightest uncertainty to where this game will take you in the end. Slogging through the swamp hazards of Deep Darkness, then delving into the enemy’s secret base as the whirring of their machinery grows louder…

We’re gettin’ all Stranger Things before Stranger Things was a thing up in here.

Still, there’s been enough light-hearted humor to keep your expectations in balance, right? But every moment of unease serves as a hint – this game ain’t playin’ the “get out scar-free” card. Our final boss Giygas is nightmare fuel from start to finish.

Were you expecting this the first time you played? (And if you haven’t played…sorry for the spoiler. #ruinseverything) There was always lead-up and these moments of discomfort sprinkled into a mostly whimsical story so you were never quiiiiite ready for what would make your stomach clench. Mixing your genres. It’ll throw your audience around like rag dolls.

Naturally, there ARE other methods to properly give your audience a scare; this is but one of several options available to the storyteller. How do you think your scare tactics would come across best?

 

Earthbound is the property of Nintendo and Shigesato Itoi. You can play it via the Wii U virtual console.

Emotional Connection – Dragon Quest V

Admittedly, I got into the Dragon Quest craze a bit late (like, just six years ago *cough*). It was Toriyama’s art that gradually drew me to the series. Though I don’t check out the anime scene too often anymore (except for Studio Ghibli; that stuff’s untouchable), Toriyama’s work has always somehow had a nostalgic pull on me. Chalk it up to my endless love for Chrono Trigger?

If you can’t handle this awesomesauce, then GET OUT. (…Just kidding please stay I need readers.)

Now, Dragon Quest keeps things rather predictable in terms of overarching plot: Big Bad plans to destroy world, heroes stop Big Bad, turns out there’s an even Bigger Bad to defeat so we can enjoy more world-building and increase those skill points. DQ‘s charm has never been in its stunning plot twists.

But lemme tell you: it’s a champ at using RPG tropes for storytelling OOMPH (in-game pun possibly definitely intended).

Being late to the Dragon Quest fan base, my first gaming experiences were in the DS remakes. Dragon Quest V intrigued me with its focus on choosing a bride and eventually having a family (the Harvest Moon devotee coming out in me). Little did I know I would be struck most poignantly by the part of the game before those domestic elements came into play.

For the first few hours of the story you are sweet baby Hero (name to be supplied by you) – just, like, what, six years old? And baby Hero has all these fun adventures – exploring a ghost house, rescuing a sabre-kitten, saving the fairy realm from eternal winter – while through it all, there’s reassurance his father Pankraz will be just a step away, guaranteeing his boy’s safety.

We gamers are familiar with the occasional need to heal party members between battles, and any time our little DQV protagonist gets too far injured Pankraz will cast “Heal” while on the map without player input. I remember being so charmed by this action and the way the game used an RPG trope to develop character bonds.

“Aww,” said naive li’l ol’ me. “It’s so sweet his dad’s always there to help him.”

Ha ha…ha.

In case you’re wondering, now is the time to sense foreshadow and bereavement. Because in comes Ladja (our Big Bad), and he’s ALL about jacking up your feels.

See, this whole time Pankraz has been healing his son, he’s also been showing his AI prowess in battle. NOTHING can take this beast of a man down. Not even Ladja’s henchmen.

…unless, you know, Ladja threatens to kill baby Hero.

(To watch the entire scene – which I recommend – click here and start at about 10 minutes in.)

At this point the game (at least the DS version) could have chosen to display Pankraz’s sacrifice through its overworld sprites bumping into each other with a few unfriendly whacking sounds and flickering characters. Instead, we’re thrown into a battle screen, where – like before – we have no control over Pankraz…or his subjection to enemy attacks.

I can recall lying on my bed, DS in hand, watching this scene play out as I went cold. I screamed for the baddies to stop as Pankraz’s HP slowly sank to zero. (This type of behavior is possibly why my duplex neighbors don’t talk to me much.)

The common RPG inclusion of the Non-Player Character is used to dramatic effect here. You, as the player, should have control over the battle commands, but when they’re stripped away during Pankraz’s fight, you yourself feel the helplessness of the battle. You are in the place of Pankraz’s son, watching him be pummeled and yet unable to stop it.

I’ve talked before about gaming elements that can tell a story unique from any other medium. I believe Dragon Quest V accomplishes this in regards to emotional investment. Because there is such player involvement in video games, the grief can strike one hundred-fold when done right.

There are other games that capture this investment even better, but of course – that’s to be left for another post. 🙂

 

Dragon Quest V is the property of Square-Enix. You can purchase it to play via Android, iOS, or Nintendo DS