Finding Hope in Breath of the Wild 2
It’s time to rebuild Hyrule
I am one of those people who likes to say that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the best game ever made. That case has already been litigated, and I don’t need to litigate it again, suffice it to say that I’m going so far as to say ‘best’ instead of ‘favourite’. These things are, of course, subjective, but I’m doing it anyway.
Breath of the Wild’s Hyrule is a world I’ve been planning on delving back into and exploring further for a while now. I never 100%’d the game — I almost never feel the need to with any game — but I also take some comfort in the idea that there’s more Breath of the Wild there for me, should I need it. It’s a marvel.
So, of course, I’m all in on the sequel that was announced at E3, but what really excites me isn’t just the idea of more Zelda, or more to do in a Hyrule that I never really finished exploring. A Breath of the Wild sequel is exciting because this is the first Zelda game, to my mind, where I’ve desperately wanted to know what happens next after I finished it.
The Legend of Zelda games typically have solid plots, but they’re not necessarily known for their strong writing. But these games have always excelled in is showing an environment post-collapse. There are no audio logs or messages painted in blood across the walls — instead you get town squares that are bleak and full of ghouls, or encroaching moons that will destroy civilisation, or worlds that have been drowned following a calamity.
Breath of the Wild, of course, picks up a full 100 years after the tragedy at the heart of its story, and puts you into a world that isn’t rebuilding, but which has at least become accustomed to the malevolent forces resting just outside each village. You’re seeing people who have lived their entire lives under the shadow of Ganon’s dominion, who have resigned themselves to a world that is fundamentally broken but which they have no real power to fix.
And then, at the end of the game, you defeat those forces that were plaguing the land. Ganon dies, but we never get to see the aftermath — reload your save and it’ll plonk you right back before the final battle, the world unsaved yet again. This is a classic Zelda trope, and letting you have a proper post-game would have required an extraordinary rewrite…which is where a sequel comes in.
The next Zelda, surely, has to give us some insight into what happened after Ganon was defeated. The direct Zelda sequels rarely deal with this — Zelda II might as well be set in a different world, Majora’s Mask actually is set in another world, and Phantom Hourglass is really just another adventure that Link had immediately after Wind Waker rather than a proper follow-up. These are all tales of the hero’s journey, but so far Majora’s Mask is the only one that comes close to dealing with what it means when that journey ends. Even then, it does so mostly through metaphor — Link is displaced at the end of Ocarina, no longer fitting in as a child of Koriki Forest and no longer in the body of an adult, so of course he’s going to head off on a nightmare journey with the psychologically damaged Skull Kid.
It’s my firm hope that Breath of the Wild 2, or whatever it ends up being called, should be a more hopeful game. It’s my belief that a hopeful sequel about a world being rebuilt, even in the face of evil re-emerging, is what the world needs right now, as it so often feels like we’re on the brink of our own disaster. It’s not a direct correlation, in that Hyrule was seized by a single evil demon and our world was seized by capitalism run rampant (and the eventually effect might be closer to Wind Waker, honestly). But seeing what Hyrule did with a second chance could be very powerful right now.
I think we all need to believe that the world can come together and rebuild, and nothing at E3 excited me half as much as the idea of being able to see the results of what I achieved in Breath of the Wild. Imagine that world without Calamity Ganon — a version of Hyrule that you saved, and which has been allowed to flourish again. Imagine Lon Lon Ranch being rebuilt. Imagine new towns and settlements popping up. Imagine a world where hope has returned.
The original game already gave us a glimpse of this with Tarrey Town, an extensive sidequest you could undertake that eventually led to a whole town being built by enterprising folk who saw the potential for something new and better. It was a tiny, beautiful glimpse of something beautiful happening despite the daily horror of just existing. Breath of the Wild’s Hyrule was a particularly bleak rendition of the staple Zelda locale, but it was also beautiful, in its own way, and worth saving. The sequel better give us at least some feeling that, yes, we did manage to save it, even if just for a moment.
Something’s going to go horribly wrong, of course, and we’re going to have to save it again, because this is a video game. And that’s fine. Link and Zelda are, in their own way, fundamentally misplaced in this world — there’s no one left to swear fealty to Zelda, unless they’ve been reading an in-game Hyrule Historia — which the game will also hopefully deal with. It’s not clear how long after the first game this sequel will be set, of course, since we only have a short trailer to go by. I have long said that I would like a sequel to focus on Link’s son or daughter, twenty or thirty years into the future, but I suppose if five to ten years have passed in the game world that’s more than enough time for major change.
I don’t need a Hyrule that thanks me. I don’t need a statue of Link erected in a new Castle Town. I just really want a world that was given a chance to fix itself, without necessarily knowing where it came from, and took it. It’s a fantasy, but it’s a fantasy worth clinging to.