Dealing With Calamity: Princess Zelda’s Relatable Struggles in Breath of the Wild
The Legend of Zelda is a franchise that many have come to associate with high fantasy, but underneath the fairies and Goddesses, it’s a series of games that taps into intrinsically human emotions. These are touched upon in a lot of the main titles; however, the most recent installment, Breath of the Wild, is surprisingly grounded at times, proving to be one of the most emotionally complex games in the series.
This is my third time playing through Breath of the Wild, yet it is the first time I have an overwhelming sense of melancholia experiencing Princess Zelda’s story. Her struggles in this game are surprisingly similar to ones I am experiencing at the moment, and it genuinely took me by surprise at how affected I was by it, considering I am already so familiar with the game.
I feel that many of us in our mid-to-late twenties are going through a dilemma right now. I, for one, feel like time is slipping away from me—like I haven’t achieved much. A lot of this pressure stems from societal pressures, comparison anxiety, and my own ideas of where I wanted to be at this stage in my life; all these notions are also experienced by Zelda during the events of Breath of the Wild and are at the forefront in creating her character.
For a good chunk of the series’ titles, Zelda is basically a damsel in distress, being captured by Ganon with Link rushing to save her. However, in most games, she does have a major role, often wielding the Triforce of wisdom, which is integral to defeating Ganon. The Princess does have more active roles in certain games, like Wind Waker or Ocarina of Time, when she appears as her alter-egos who have very different “looks” to her typical persona; sadly, as soon as she turns back into Princess Zelda, she is either captured or put into hiding.
The Princess Zelda we get to know in Breath of the Wild is quite different from many of her previous incarnations. In this timeline, the power of the Goddesses is passed down from mother to daughter. But after her mother passed away when she was six, she’s left on her own to figure out how to unlock these powers. This sealing power is integral to keeping the threat of Ganon at bay, so when Zelda feels Ganon’s presence and is aware that he might strike any day, the pressure becomes completely overwhelming.
Despite keeping Calamity Ganon trapped in Hyrule Castle for the entirety of the game, most of the unlockable memory cutscenes are heavily focused on her. She is an active presence in the game, and her and Ganon’s roles are actually reversed; this time, she is the one keeping Ganon at bay, trapping him to the confines of the castle as she waits for Link to heal. Even though so many NPCs in the game tell Link to “save Zelda,” in reality, he is re-joining her—or, rather, relieving her of her duty—to team up to put an end to the Calamity. Link is also extremely weak at the start of the game; Zelda is the one who has everything under control, and it is your job to get powerful enough to help her. In your journey, you are stepping into Zelda’s shoes, going through that same sense of expectation she was going through 100 years ago.
It’s the journey to unlocking her sealing powers 100 years ago that shines in Breath of the Wild. We are presented with Zelda’s story from the first time she meets Link to when she places him in the shrine of resurrection after the first, unsuccessful battle with Calamity Ganon. From the get-go, it is clear that Zelda is not happy with Link’s presence. In the first memory, we see her conducting a ceremony, officially making Link a champion and her own personal knight. Zelda is visibly forlorn in the ceremony—she’s not quite present, which is only exemplified by Gerudo champion Urbosa stating that Link is a “living memory of her failures,” giving the first inclination to Zelda’s mindset.
It feels like at this stage in her life, Zelda has reached her lowest point. She is desperately trying to unlock her powers and here Link comes, being able to weird the Master Sword immediately and be successful in his destiny as she is left lagging behind.
We see this resentment grow into her, lashing out at Link when he follows her around. He’s a constant reminder for her that she is failing. Even when she is pursuing her scholarly passions, Link is always hovering as a reminder that, firstly, she is failing to acquire her destined ability, but also that she should be working on her power rather than pursuing what she loves. It’s only when she gets to know Link and opens up to him that things change. When he saves her from the Yiga Clan, for instance, is a turning point for her. She comes to realise that they are not as different as she thought—he goes through the same issues as her, to some extent.
In Breath of the Wild, we experience all of these memories in a different order; everyone will probably not experience each memory in the same order which, on a first playthrough, can make the emotional impact of Zelda’s journey a bit subdued. However, watching all of the memories in order (which you can do from the menu screen), really makes a difference to the story. You really get a sense of how Zelda has overcome certain things—you get the emotional impact of her struggles and how she worked through them.
The memory that really shows this pressure she feels is when King Rhoam unleashes an onslaught of reprimands upon Zelda, stating: “When will you stop treating this as some sort of childish game […] you are here wasting your time […] stop running away from your duty.” It is clear that we are meant to experience this memory later in the game as it is found in Hyrule Castle, an extremely treacherous area for Link at the start of the game. At times, without knowing Zelda’s story, it can seem as if she is being a little harsh on Link, but this interaction with her father is the point where it all comes together and we truly see where she is coming from. It hits especially hard because feeling pressure from parents and family members is something that a lot of people can relate to. Especially as a teenager, there is a great sense of not feeling understood or listened to, which is exactly what Zelda is going through.
Experiencing the memories in the correct order and straight after each other gave Zelda’s story more emotional impact and by the end of it, I was in tears. The frustrations she experiences on this journey are all ones that we may have faced or are currently facing. The expectations to be someone we might not want to be, the pressure of living up to our parent’s expectations, and the sense of disappointment when you can’t live up to the expectations of yourself and others. They are crushing, and it is so relieving to see these unfold in a Zelda game, especially one that has given me so much comfort in a different time in my life for different reasons.
This is what makes Zelda so relatable in this game; she’s the focus of the entire game, but in a different way than what we are used to, and it is honestly so refreshing. In Breath of the Wild, the writers made the decision to equip these characters with more “human” qualities than ever before. At the end of the day, she is a teenager that has the whole world on her shoulders and we are offered a deeper insight into her mindset.
Even when she is lashing out at Link, you feel for her more than Link—you see the nuances of the world and the people within it in a very different way than when you are playing, and it works so well. But there is also a sense of trying to relate more to the player when Zelda eventually comes around to the idea of Link and she realises that he has had the same pressures and expectations put onto him.
We, as the player, are just doing what we have been told to; even when Zelda is trapped, we are told it is our destiny to save her, and it is Zelda herself who asks Link who he might have been if he hadn’t been born into this destiny. It questions the players’ relationship to where they are in their lives: are we here because of our parents or societal pressures? Are we really doing what we want to do with our lives?
What is most successful about Breath of the Wild is that Zelda, despite having a ridiculous amount of pressure on her, eventually does manage to overcome it when she realises she is not alone. It could be interpreted that “love” is what unlocks her power, but I saw it as her finally accepting Link rather than feeling resentment towards him. And yes, there is probably an element of love there, but the focus is on her finally unlocking her power and letting go.
The Legend of Zelda has always been about finding your true self, unlocking your potential, and having a great adventure along the way, and this is still true for Breath of the Wild, but this time it went deeper; it became something so down to earth and human, giving us a game that is not only one of the most relaxing and beautiful experiences, but is also something to look up to and relate to. I only hope it continues on this route in future installments.