(*comment below if you caught that reference*)
Is Emily writing about video games? And did she just disappear for a month AGAIN after pledging herself to this blog? Yes to both of those, my beloved friends. *sighs wearily* It’s been a struggle trying to write for my (last three) summer classes and this blog, and it has had me feeling utterly defeated.
I am here today with a rather unconventional topic that I am so, so terribly excited to share with all of you. And yes, I did just call my favorite video game franchise a work of art.
I’m talking about Legend of Zelda. First released thirty-five years ago, it is still captivating and dazzling millions of international gamers, including myself. One of the newest games, Breath of the Wild amazed me with its open world design, game score, and world building. I’m still spending hours just wandering through its glorious landscapes.
It’s hard to explain, especially since I’m an art fanatic and literature major whose writing constantly focuses on literary classics, theology/philosophy, and the occasional study in aesthetics. But as odd as it may sound, I think video games can be included as a medium for art. I never used to think so, but Breath of the Wild makes me think otherwise. For starters, it’s the only game I’ve ever loved with an obsession due to its aesthetic pleasure, beautiful story, enchanting characters, and even philosophical elements.
There’s a reason the Legend of Zelda franchise is the only video game series that I’m emotionally invested in. I’ve played Super Mario Bros and a few other Nintendo franchises casually, but never really gotten into them. Zelda is the only series that has truly captured my imagination and…for lack of a better word, gotten me addicted. I’m not a full-time gamer by any means, but when I do play, it’s always Zelda.
So, without further ado, here is why I am convinced that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a work of art.
To be honest, it’s hard to narrow down everything I love about this game into just a few points in this post. But, most notably, I wish to discuss Zelda’s role in the games (and why the “damsel-in-distress” trope actually works), why Link is my favorite character in the series, Breath of the Wild’s intricate open world detail, and Breath of the Wild’s game score.
Princess Zelda as a “damsel in distress” (and why it actually works)
In the Legend of Zelda games, the main goal is always (more or less) the same: you, as Link, defeat the main series antagonist Ganondorf and set the princess Zelda free. After thirty-five years of Zelda games, you’d start to think this formula is getting a bit old. And maybe Zelda being a “damsel in distress” in every one of the games is getting too old fashioned at this point.
However, nothing could be further from the truth.
Essentially, Princess Zelda’s growth over the years has evolved dramatically, and one central element has kept her from becoming a boring glossed-over princess like Super Mario’s Princess Peach.
Zelda is not helpless, nor does she simply await rescue and pine for Link’s return. Princess Zelda, in recent games that I’ve played, at least, is always an active participant in the story. Using a power that she inherited from a literal goddess, Zelda is always prepared for a challenge. Every Zelda game shows Zelda in a new way, and in Breath of the Wild specifically, she fights with Ganon for a hundred years and keeps him at bay until Link’s arrival (long story).
Zelda is also an integral part of the Triforce, a magical power that Hyrule’s goddesses left to the people. It consists of three parts: wisdom, courage, and power. Zelda’s power lies in the Triforce’s wisdom, Link is always the one wielding courage, and the evil Ganondorf always represents (and steals) the power.
Zelda, therefore, represents wisdom, the light of the goddesses, and her abilities in the series are never diminished. Even as a princess in need of assistance, she is always capable, strong, and eager to do her duty to Hyrule, no matter the cost.
And, she makes Link who he is. In each Zelda game, Link is usually someone with no political or noble standing (farm boy, soldier, etc.), and it is only through his interaction with Zelda (and her choosing him) that he becomes something more.
Without Link, there is no Zelda, and without Zelda, there is no Link.
And I love them forever.
Now let’s talk about Link
My favorite character in the entire game series (and especially in Breath of the Wild), is Link.
One of the coolest things about Link is that he’s a mute. Or at least, he never talks, except for when you choose words for him in NPC dialogue and even then, there’s no sound. He makes little noises when he runs or jumps, but apart from that, he is never heard saying words.
Essentially, Link embodies the player (acting as the link between the player and the game), but he also embodies a sense of humility, self-sacrifice, and meekness. Wielding The Sword That Seals the Darkness™ (aka The Master Sword), Link fully understands the power he possesses. However, he’s constantly challenged by the fact that he’s quiet, smaller than other champions, and not expected to do well. Through it all, Link remains quiet, focuses on what must be done, and continues to impress those who underestimate his abilities. He never has to prove himself—he just does what he must and lets others think of him what they will.
Zelda (in Breath of the Wild specifically) is actually really annoyed by and angry at Link for the first half of the story. Given orders by the king to protect her, Link is constantly at her side making sure she’s safe. Zelda takes issue with this and constantly tells him off. And his little silent face always takes it without a rebuttal. *heart eyes*
Eventually, Zelda realizes how much she owes to Link and just how selfless and good a man he is. He’s always there for her, never throwing her failures in her face, never growing frustrated or impatient.
There’s nothing Link wouldn’t do for his Zelda. And this goes for every Link throughout the game franchise.
BOTW’s Open World
Maybe I’m just learning about a certain beauty that goes with all open world games, but Breath of the Wild took me by surprise with its absolutely gorgeous aesthetic. Every inch of landscape—be it a wide open plain, snow-covered alpine range, or sweltering desert—is so intricately designed, realistically drawn, and it feels as though one has entered another world.
I’m not sure how long I can go on about the locations in Breath of the Wild.
Would a few gifs help to illustrate the game’s beauty?
Is it not spectacular? Is it not beautiful?
And part of what makes the locations of Breath of the Wild so iconic is not only the attention to detail, but the music that accompanies each location, bringing me to my next point.
The BOTW Game Score
Each location in Breath of the Wild is accompanied by its own original music. And the music in this game . . . I cannot stress just how much I love it.
It combines motifs from past Zelda games (which is so incredibly nostalgic for old time players) and it incorporates a sort of Studio Ghibli style abstract piano into multiple parts of the game.
I encourage you to sample some of my favorite pieces from the game below . . . this score is usually my default study music.
And of course, I couldn’t leave you all with enamored descriptions of this game without showing you the magnificent game trailer, now could I?
The trailer theme is especially gorgeous as well.
Well, I think this about sums it up!
Granted, this isn’t a normal post on this blog, and depending on its reception, I’m not sure I’ll ever post about video games again, but it does beg the question. Can this game be considered art? Can the Zelda franchise as a whole be considered art?
I could go into all the symbols, story conventions, character tropes, and gorgeous imagery of the Zelda series, but it would simply take far too long. In short, yes—I see these games as artful stories, rich with development and theme the same as any novel or film.
I shall leave you with one sincere exhortation: if you can, play Zelda!
Until next time, my lovelies, I hope I’ve given you some interesting thoughts to think. 😉
Let me know how familiar you are with the franchise below! Any Breath of the Wild fans out there?