Time for another episode of your favorite not-show on this blog! I’ve had a rough weekend, did an emotionally difficult thing, and just cannot shake the doldrums of my week because I’m in a tough but healthy situation of my own making that finally rejects the secret hope of my entire existence in order to move on with my life. No, I will not be getting more specific than that. Also, the day this is going up is my birthday and I can do what I want on my birthday, even if I’m writing this a week before my birthday.
If you’ve ever played Breath of the Wild, what was the first moment that made you pause and reconsider the game? I don’t mean reconsider playing it, I mean what made you stop playing and rethink the game as a whole the first time? For me, that moment was pretty early on. I’d been exploring the game, picking up stuff, and talking to the sole NPC on the plateau, and trying to figure out the controls (sprinting and then jumping while still sprinting took me a bit to figure out in a comfortable manner. I did this part from 1 to 2am after getting home from sitting outside a Best Buy for over 12 hours, so I was pretty out of it at the time).
As I explored and made my way toward the ruined temple, enjoying the incredible design of the game that made it clear to me what everything was, how I was supposed to interact with the world, and established a sort of baseline comfort, I found a bunch of ruined buildings. Running toward them, they didn’t look like much. The whole area was strewn with rubble and I was armed with a bunch of sticks and a single rusty sword I found stuck in a hill, so I was trying to avoid conflict which meant my ability to explore was hampered by my need to not run into any bokoblins. I skirted most of the ruins and headed for the temple because I figured that was a point of interest worth exploring, an idea that was reinforced by the little bit of direction the disembodied voice gives you at the start.
As I climbed and snuck toward the temple, I started my usual thing of circling the building, examining all possible entrances for my optimal route. I got distracted almost immediately though because, right beside the stairs, was a ruined building to use as shelter while surveying the path ahead. As I went up to it, it looked fairly basic. Even my inital scan of it didn’t reveal more than a chest I could easily claim. As I entered, though, the quiet (and masterful) soundscape changed. A few piano notes were introduced. I didn’t really notice them until I’d walked up to the chest and claimed the contents.
As I listened, trying to figure out why the music had suddenly caught my attention, I took a more thorough look at the ruined building I was in. Immediately, two realizations struck me. The first was that the quiet piano sprinkled into the sound design of this ruined building was playing Zelda’s Lullabye. The second was that this ruined building was a fascimile of the location Link and Zelda first meet in Ocarina of Time. It would have been an exact match if it hadn’t been destroyed.
As I processed this information, I felt an unexpected surge of rage as I surveyed what was clearly the ruins of a place both familiar and foreign. It wasn’t really the courtyard from that previous game, since this was a stand-alone building. It wasn’t even in the right place, since it was close to this temple instead of being located withing Hyrule Castle, but it looked so much like it that I felt like this place from some of my oldest Legend of Zelda memories had been destroyed. I ran in and out of the building a few times, trying to determine if the quiet piano was a part of the general soundscape or specific to this place, and determined that it only showed up when I was inside that building.
Instead of sneaking in, I ran through the front door and murdered every bokoblin I could find along my path. Stealth was for someone who wasn’t motivated by revenge.
I can’t count the number of times something came up in the game, quietly, subtly sneaking up on me until I realized in a moment what I was seeing. What was being implied by the scene, the score, and what little bits of found storytelling exist in the game. Finding Lon Lon Ranch. Makar Isle. Hyrule Field. My first guardian battle. My first time sneaking into Hyrule Castle with five hearts and almost two stamina gauges. Castle Town. Half the freaking memories. Just constant little digs as the game showed me what the world of this game had lost, what this Link had lost, by destroying things that I recognized from games past. By the time I was about thirty hours into the game, I had stopped thinking of it as a game and started thinking about it as a metaphor for loss and recovery, as experienced through gameplay.
If you follow this blog closely, you can probably see why that would stick with me. Maybe I’ll write all about that someday, but right now I just want to remember this experience and the catharsis it provided. The lessons I’ve learned about myself as I’ve played through it time and again. The conclusion it provides, showing that you can fix the problems, address the traumas of the past, but you can’t restore what’s been lost or broken because of them. The best you can do is set yourself up for a better tomorrow by working through it today.