Okay, I didn't know where else to post this, and I absolutely needed to share it with SOMEONE, so I hope other people here will read and enjoy what I've come to experience about the story, which is widely regarded as one of BotW's lacking areas. I'm here to argue that it's definitely not, and subtly one of, if not the best, Zelda story to date.
LONG READ AHEAD, AND MAJOR SPOILERS IF YOU ARE STILL PLAYING THE GAME!!
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Alright! So yeah, when I finished the game, I was very sad and didn't want the experience to end. I kept playing, and I'm glad I did, because I ended up discovering things about the story that I wouldn't have otherwise. Now, I will say that the story is not presented in a very accessible way, which is the only reason why it may feel lackluster or disjointed. However, the game would've suffered a lot more if it had been presented in any other way. In order to make the game truly open world, Nintendo had to allow you to discover the story yourself, without requiring you to do certain things in order for the story to "advance". Nintendo's decision to reward your exploration with story is actually quite genius. There are a lot of critiques that because the story takes place in the past, and barely any of it in the present time, that it doesn't hold as much weight.
I can assure you that simply isn't true. Part of Link's adventure in the present is rediscovering what happened to him and his friends 100 years ago, and all of that just builds on his courage and determination to defeat Ganon and save Zelda.
Zelda and Link are a team. They usually are in Zelda games…they can't beat Ganon on their own, they have to work together. In Breath of the Wild, more so than any other Zelda game, we see Zelda putting in a ridiculous amount of work, so much that Zelda is actually the protagonist of this story, NOT Link. Zelda is the one with an actual arc and growth. Link is merely our vessel to experience Zelda's growth.
One of the best story rewards in the game is completing all of the Kass sidequests. If you do so, you're rewarded with a final song from Kass (which is a lovely accordion rendition of the Hero's Theme) and the truth about who Kass is. His teacher was the court poet for the Royal Family, and Kass has known the whole time who Link is. He reveals to Link, and confirms for the FIRST TIME in a Zelda game, that Zelda loves Link. Not only that, but it was her love for Link that finally allowed her to access her sealing powers after a lifetime of dedication and prayer that had failed her. Sure, that sounds a little cliche, but it actually goes a lot deeper than that, even after you take into account that Zelda held a deep resentment for Link because he was so easily able to tap into his power and speak with the Master Sword. Without Zelda's help, though, Link wouldn't be able to do much with that, because they're a team!
I decided to watch all the memories in order right before the final Ganon fight, and I was so glad I did so, because I caught several key moments that I couldn't have caught the first time around, either because I received the memories out of order, or because I got them so far apart in play time that I forgot minor details each provided. One of the biggest key moments was in what I think is the 16th memory, the one where the champions are returning from Zelda's failed attempt to access her powers at Mt. Lanayru and then witness Calamity Ganon's return. This was a huge one for me because that was the first memory I received when playing the game, so I knew nothing about these characters, specifically that Mipha AND Zelda were in love with Link. Watching this memory again with that information in mind changed how I reacted to this memory completely.
When trying to console Zelda, Mipha attempts to offer her advice. She said "Well, this is actually quite embarrassing for me to say, but, when I'm accessing my healing powers…it helps me to think about…"
And she's interrupted by the earth quaking and Calamity Ganon rising from the castle.
My jaw hit the floor at this moment because I realized "Oh my god. Mipha was straight about about to announce to everyone there that it's her love for Link that allows her to access her healing powers."
If Mipha had spoken up just ten seconds sooner, that may have completely changed the course of history and saved Hyrule! Wouldn't have made for a such a great game though, haha. In the second to last memory, however, Zelda obviously learns to access her power when she steps in front of Link to protect him from a guardian's death blow, an act of love and sacrifice. From that point on, you can see it in her eyes that she's a different person and knows why. And why, again, goes deeper than just her love for Link. But before I get into that, just a minor story point that I also found fun…in 18th memory, where Zelda places the Master Sword back into the pedestal and under the watch of the Deku Tree, she asks if the Deku Tree can tell him something for her. The Deku Tree tells her that whatever she needs to say would sound better in her voice…now, if this were any other Zelda game, I'd have not even considered what she needed to say to be "I love you," because Nintendo has never given such a confirmation on their feelings for one another before. But she was definitely going to say that to the Deku Tree.
Now, I had a discussion with a friend about how this was the only Zelda game whose subtitle didn't have anything to do with the story. Every other Zelda game is very on the nose about what the major plot is…Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess, Wind Waker, Skyward Sword, Link Between Worlds…they all mention an object or person or situation that the game is centered around. Breath of the Wild did not seem to have any bearing on the story of the game. When I thought about it, what did "the wild" have anything to do with Link saving Hyrule? It seemed to be a departure from the normal Zelda naming convention, speaking more towards the actual play style and ambience of the game instead of its story.
I was very, very, wrong.
In one of the memories, Zelda is sitting in a field with Link taking pictures of flowers. She finds a "Silent Princess", a beautiful, rare endangered flower. She tells him that they've been unable to grow them domestically, and that they can only hope they're "able to thrive in the wild."
Okay, it's obvious that there is symbolism between Zelda and the flower by naming principal alone, but I didn't recognize how deep that symbolism went until I had learned about Zelda's love for Link and rewatched all the memories in succession. Zelda's struggle for her entire life is trying to access her sealing powers. She is told who to be and what to do by her father and by her kingdom. She has a heavy weight on her heart because of the duty placed on her, and her true wishes come forth in bits and pieces throughout the memories. Urbosa tells Link how undyingly dedicated she is to her duty, even though it's not what she wants. She tells her father she's doing everything she can, and her father says it's not enough. She hints to Link during a storm that she wants to follow a different path…that she doesn't want to be a princess with this duty…when she asks Link if "he had grown up in the royal guard, would he still have chosen the path of a warrior?" She resents Link because he chose the path he wanted, and was therefore able to access his powers seemingly so much easier than her.
After you defeat Ganon, in the final cutscene of the game, if you've gotten all the memories and completed all the divine beast quests, Zelda and Link are standing together in a field FILLED with Silent Princess flowers. This is symbolic of the nature of Zelda's growth. When she accessed her sealing powers by way of her love for Link, it wasn't just "love that did it." Zelda was allowing herself to love Link. She was shedding the path that she was given and taking the one that she wanted. Before that, Zelda was domesticated, and therefore was unable to thrive. Once she freed herself of what she was "supposed" to be doing, once she "breathed in the wild", she became so powerful that she was able to save Link's life and seal away Ganon for 100 years.
And once Link was revived and defeated Ganon completely, with Zelda now free to be herself, Hyrule begins to thrive, by evidence of the Silent Princesses.
Princess Zelda literally is "the breath of the wild." She is the true hero of Hyrule. Her growth and sacrifice is greater than anyone else's in the game, and because it is presented in such a disjointed manner, and also very subtly at times, it is easy to be missed. But she is by far the most interesting, well-rounded, and awesome Zelda there is to date, IMO.
So yeah. That's why this story is just amazing. There really is a lot of deep-rooted internal conflict for Zelda, which makes for a compelling character that you can't help but fall in love with.
As for placement in the timeline, I'm almost positive this is the the last in the timeline, if only because of Zelda's statement during the final battle that "Ganon has given up on reincarnation and taken a form of pure hatred and malice." The fact that he's given up on reincarnation and putting all of his power into this one form make it seem like he's been doing this for so long that he's putting all his chips on the table to make sure he wins and never has to return again.
I'm curious to hear anyone's thoughts on the above! I may be alone in my analysis and love for this game's story, but I truly believe it is the best we've seen from a Zelda game yet, and can't wait for it to be expanded upon in the DLC.