Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Breath of the Cloud, Link to the Atlas

If you're not familiar with the film Cloud Atlas, it was a 2012 release (adapted from a novel of the same name) that featured a lot of big name talent attached to a very unconventional plot structure.  Unlike traditional movies that have a beginning middle and end, Cloud Atlas attempts to weave six stories (each separated by widely different times and places) into a single overarching narrative about reincarnation, karma and the course of human advancement.  Whether or not it successfully executes on its premise is debatable, but I personally enjoyed the uniqueness of the narrative structure and found myself pondering how it could be applied to a video game.

Enter The Legend of Zelda, one of the longest running franchises in the history of the medium.  Needless to say the writers over at Nintendo love to tell (and retell) the classic hero's journey.  While it can be said that each part stands on its own, thematic and visual elements resurface in subsequent iterations, creating a kind of continuity between various entries in the series.  This has led to a lot of speculation amongst fans that there might be a metanarrative loosely binding the entire IP together.  It's easy to dismiss all the theories and ideas presented on the internet as pure speculation, but hints sprinkled throughout the games themselves have implied that there is a recurring cycle tied to the Triforce.  In particular, it's three components are always represented by three distinct characters; Princess Zelda (Wisdom), Link (Courage), and Ganon (Power).  In all the games thus far each character has always been bestowed with the same piece of the Triforce, but what if that were to change?  Let's look at all the possible arrangements:
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Obviously the first possibility is the default, while possibilities 2 and 3 represent a role reversal and gender swap respectively.  Much how an actor (or actress) in Cloud Atlas plays radically different roles from one life to the next, possibilities 4 and 5 are unusual in that they cast Zelda in the role of a villainess.  It's something I like to think of as "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe" situation (named after the movie or book, take your pick).  The most outlandish arrangement to me though has to be the sixth and final possibility.  Not only is Zelda the heroine and central focus of the story, but she is up against a villainous Link with Ganon(dorf) in a supporting role.  What would this normally antagonistic character be like in such a situation?  Would he be an wise old hermit living a quiet existence in some remote corner of a vast desert?  Or would be a royal spymaster, playing a deadly game of intrigue in the court of tyrannical Link the Usurper?  Perhaps he could be the deposed but rightful heir to the Kingdom of Hyrule?  In which case he might be trying to regain his throne with the help of a courageous girl garbed in green.  Needless to say, there are a lot of interesting interpretations even within the realm of a single possibility.

Changes to The Legend of Zelda formula have always been incremental and gameplay focused.  In some cases this has necessitated slight alterations to the basic story structure, but ultimately it has always been about the protagonist (Link) defeating the antagonist (Ganon) and saving the damsel in distress (Princess Zelda).  Suffice it to say, I think Nintendo should really consider mixing things up a bit more in the story department.  If nothing else it would give them a nice new jumping off point for the inevitable sequel to Breath of the Wild.

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