It’s no secret that The Legend of Zelda has always been a popular series within the gaming community. The games have never failed to break the boundaries of their genre. The Legend of Zelda doesn’t play it safe. Each game cuts into new design philosophies, and with each new title comes a swarm of new fans. Anyone who has owned a Nintendo in their lifetime is likely to acknowledge the legacy of the series.
When it comes to shattering boundaries, Breath of the Wild is no different.
For starters, the free-roam atmosphere in BotW soars at unprecedented new heights. New activities like cooking and taming horses help break up the pacing of the game. BotW introduced a strict weapon durability system, heightening the survivalist nature of the game. BotW shortened dungeons, plentifully scattered to better match the pick-up-and-play design philosophy of the Nintendo Switch. Most importantly, though, was the breath of life injected into the story, exalting the long-standing Godai themes hidden throughout the series.
In Breath of the Wild, Link uncovers forgotten memories throughout the land of Hyrule. The series ventured into the realm of voice acting for its first time.
Now, I know the voice actor for Princess Zelda isn’t going to win any awards for her performance, but the Godai undertones in the story are nothing short of extraordinary now that they’ve been fully realized.
“What is Godai?” you might be asking yourself. It’s time to cast the suspense aside!
Godai is the Buddhist principle of aligning human personification with the attributes of ancient elements. It’s a prevalent influence in Western storytelling, too. Although, the idea has been refreshed and reimagined frequently, making it tough to spot a true-to-form model.
You’ve seen Godai elements shape the lore in:
It’s easy to guess the first four elements with an untrained eye: Earth, Water, Fire, Wind. Of course, each franchise incorporates spin-off elements, invented solely as an attempt to make the philosophy seem unique to them.
Link and his companions hold true to the Godai paradigm. Each species inhabiting the land of Hyrule may shift. Their roles may waver from one title to the next, yet the series has never strayed away from the original formula. I’d argue that the writers would be more willing to shake up their ongoing lore than to break the tradition of Godai. The ancient elements are sacred.
The Zelda franchise is pure, unadulterated, beautiful Japanese narrative. Unraveling one element of the human story at a time. Pieces clustering together, one by one, as though they’re part of a jigsaw puzzle.
I have a curveball to throw your way, however. The Buddhist philosophy features five elements. Our literal translation of Godai being – (go) translating to five, and (dai) translating to great. Godai philosophy became a prominent influence for combat in 1645 when a famous undefeated samurai wrote a book on swordsmanship titled, “The Book of Five Rings”. From there onward, it became the Godai that we know in action media today.
(More on that later.)
We’ll begin with Chi. The earth is Chi. It is said to engage all five senses, often represented in stone. When personified, Chi is dependable, solid, stubborn, hefty, and often dumb. If that ain’t a Goron, I don’t know what is.
Daruk had a deep gravelly voice, but his words were always affable and dependable. He was like Link’s supportive, grounded uncle with a deep and vivid understanding of his purpose.
Upon his first successful piloting of his divine beast, Daruk said to Link, “I may not know a whole lot about this Calamity Ganon thing… But mark my words, I’ll defend this land of ours to the death!” The fierce uncaring slopes of Death Mountain juxtaposed his kind words as they carried out for miles.
Daruk was a man of action. He was the unshakable ground that the other champions relied upon through difficult times. A strong foundation willing to thoughtlessly charge into combat when others would seek courage.
While he never made any outward complaints during ceremonial formalities, he wasn’t afraid to let out a sigh of relief once they finally ended. He let everyone know that formalities wore him out.
These ceremonies lacked something critical to Daruk’s values. They weren’t concrete. They weren’t physical.
There was an unsullied charm to Daruks heavy-set design. The mightiest Goron boasted the size and strength to knock the other champions around with undeniable ease, yet the hidden power he unlocked was the power of protection – a shield for utilizing his strength to defend the frail.
The Goron as a species had dialogue that showcased hard work, duty, and stubbornness in their beliefs. Goron people show endurance. They carry on day in and day out through the harsh volcanic climate of Death Mountain without a single utterance of hardship. They are immune. Solid, stubborn, hefty, and lovably dumb.
Sui is water. Formless and personified by raw emotion, crashing and clashing, like seabound waves under the merciless confinement of the shifting phases of the moon. Water takes the shape of its container, which can nurture or neglect.
Sui has the strength to erode all matter over time.
Mipha was an empath and an introvert amongst the champions.
There was a pivotal moment in the story when the princess rehearsed her power to seal away the Calamity Ganon. Zelda returned from her hike with the dead eyes of failure. The champions of Hyrule stood disheartened, staring haplessly at the ground or offering blind encouragement that lacked any real value.
Mipha attempted to offer personal advice to Zelda – by placing herself in Zelda’s shoes. Mipha wanted to let the princess know what she personally feels while attempting to use her healing power.
Nobody else stepped up to the plate because they seemed to have drowned out their emotional understanding to fulfill their duties to the vast expanse of Hyrule. They were out of touch.
Mipha fumbled, overcome with a tide of emotion, and her window of opportunity escaped before she could finish her sentence.
In her cutscene of training baby Sidon to swim, Mipha stood atop a grand waterfall in the gilded Zora domain speaking with Zelda. She noticed Sidon’s struggle from a distance, his timid eyes aghast with fear.
She dived down and spoke with a gentle voice, “We’ll go together so you can get a feel for it.” She was the most intimate character in the game – the only character to feature such robust motherly qualities.
Upon growing up, Sidon developed an aura of grandeur, but he proclaims having an eye for talent upon first meeting Link, making a bold claim that he could feel strength by studying appearances.
Sidon is expressive and easily excitable.
There’s a reason the Zora are such a popular species. Raw emotion gushes within their veins, making them the most approachable species in Hyrule.
Sidon tracked down Link not once or twice, but three times on his voyage to the mysterious Zora’s Domain. Each time he was overflowing with excitement for Link’s arrival, offering encouraging words that would make Mipha blush with pride.
The Zora, collectively as a species, prattled dialogue that was very much bound to emotion. Resentment, admiration, fear.
Jiahto, a proud historian, allowed his resentment toward Link’s failure fester into a convoluted xenophobia toward Hylians. His work suffered for it. His stubbornness thrusted away the helping hand of a competent champion. But, again, emotions ebb and flow like a roaring current.
Jiahto surrendered a heartfelt apology when Link vanquished the Divine Beast Vah Ruta.
Ka is represented by fire.
Ka is said to have motivating energy that lifts, animates, and ultimately destroys all matter on Earth. Ka is yearning and desire. Ka is the fuel for creativity – drive, passion, and intention.
The Gerudo are a species that harbor resentment. They live with the unsung plight that Ganondorf took the form of a Gerudo. Dense pollution, the stench of shame fills the tart air of Gerudo Town. They went as far as to ban all Voe from their capital city. Complete discrimination against all men.
It was seen as means to an end, and not much else.
Urbosa was a champion consumed by desire. She was strong. Her words did not falter. The qualities she noticed in the characters surrounding her were dependent upon how hard they pushed themselves to reach their potential. Urbosa respected the princess more than any other character in the game.
Urbosa pushed the princess. She outwardly projected onto her. Fire emanated from her strong Gerudo spirit as she playfully sparked a jolt of lightning to wake the princess from her slumber in Link’s memory.
Every fiber of her six-and-a-half-foot-tall amazonian body was bursting with passion and drive.
Her successor, Riju was similarly driven by a desire to prove herself to the Gerudo, despite already being accepted by her people. She was strong. Still, she was driven to reach for the strength and impact of her predecessor – a trait that seemed to be missing from the other champion descendants entirely.
Fu is the wind. The fumes of the lantern.
Fu is freedom, a bird taking to the sky. It is invisible to the eye until it makes contact with the other elements. The wind is personified as the mind. Mental agility, growth, change, and unwavering spirit.
Revali was overwhelmingly verbose. He could not keep his opinions quiet in a crowded room, let alone anywhere else. His doubt in Link grew tiresome quickly. Jealousy was rooted in his ego, deep as a wound from an old cut. His lofty, unrelenting posture matched the bitterness of his tongue.
Every now and again, we fumble across a character so despicable that we can’t help but to pat their creators on the back. Anyone with a pen in hand could develop a likable character. It takes a true artist to develop pure hatred-fuel that is still relatable and human.
It felt as though Revali needed to work more than the other champions to achieve the strength that the others naturally possessed. His character continued to grow as the story progressed until he finally accepted that he was not meant to have a larger role than what he was given.
A hard truth consumes the mind like a ravenous whirlwind.
None of the other characters could have had the courage to deviate so far from their original outlook – only Revali.
The Rito champion was the embodiment of change itself. He was the embodiment of the mind in action, constantly at war with itself. His final words were a breath of compassion, “After all these years I simply must admit the truth,” his soliloquy began,” Even without the power of flight, Link managed to reach this divine beast… and accomplished something that even I could not. I guess I was wrong” Another verbose speech from a verbose birdman. His words filled with a sentiment of difficult revelation.
It is Japanese superstition that the number 4 is a precursor to bad luck. A fairly sizable portion of East Asia has a degree of tetraphobia. Through examining languages, we can see that origins date back to old Chinese influence. The word for ‘four’ shares spelling and pronunciation with the word ‘death’ in Mandarin, Shanghainese, Cantonese, Korean, Vietnamese, and (you guessed it!) Japanese.
The real beauty in Japanese storytelling is often lost in attempting to encapsulate it in our four-element interpretation.
The void is a delicately balanced dichotomy.
On the surface, we see nothing but emptiness. We see an absence, a hole in our hearts. On the surface level, we see Ganon taking on new enigmatic forms to bring forth another onslaught to the people of Hyrule.
The vast expanse of Ku emanates much wider than that. Ku is the embodiment of wonder, misunderstanding, the unspoken.
In Buddhist temples scattered across Japan, the Godai is represented by a torch. Chi forms the foundation so the torch can rest upon the ground. Sui forms a reservoir for oil to inhabit, Ka forms the encasement to nurture the flame, Fu offers an exhaust for the flame to travel, and Ku is represented by an unopened Lotus Bloom.
Sure, to an untrained eye, it is merely a lid.
Inside of a Lotus bloom is said to lie the jewel of enlightenment. In Breath of the Wild, both Ganon and Link are predominantly silent. They are mere harbingers of a greater design. They are hollow shells with an unknown gem buried inside. Deep within them is a faint voice that is difficult to hear. A voice of purpose. A voice of primordial balance.
The void is more than a concept of heaven and hell. The void is an eternal scale tipping and tapping to preserve a sacred balance to the humble ecosystem of our world and theirs.
A hero is only a hero when his merits are needed. With the evident growth toward a Utopian society littered throughout Hyrule’s lore, a threat of imbalance was imminent for the flora and fauna of the land.
Ganon could not be sealed away 100 years ago, because he was Ku. Mysterious and beyond comprehension. He was an entity that held a purpose beyond anyone’s understanding. In many ways, he was much like Link.
The question becomes “Who exactly is Link?”. Is he a mere bodyguard? Is he a supernatural-being tasked with the eternal duty of slaying an omnipresent Ganon?
Even after granting voice acting to all other characters in the game, Link and Ganon remain silent. The two are woven into combat, from timeline to timeline. A representation of eternal struggle. They are a lotus bloom that may never reveal what lies within.
They are the culmination of all other elements coming together in the fated torch that we call human existence, for better or for worse. They are Chi, Sui, Ka, and Fu released into the universe that surrounds us.
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