I just finished BOTW and while I had my gripes, I really enjoyed it! But when a friend asked me what my take on the story was I had a thought "… I don't think it really has a story".
To frame everything up, I'm a screenwriter and a really common mistake when you ask a newbie what their story about is they'll say 'it's about a man who lives with his parents. He has PTSD and is burdened by a tragic accident that killed his brother and he takes it out on himself'. This is always met with a note that I 1000000% agree with 'Great! But what is the story?'
That note happens because the description the writer gave was only backstory. It tells us nothing about what we're actually watching/experiencing. Similarly a show I love – Man In The High Castle – takes place in an alternate reality 1960s where the allies lost WW2 and America is now divided into 3 sections. One for the nazi's, one for the Japanese and a neutral zone in the middle. But that's not THE STORY of it. The story follows characters that find films depicting our reality where the allies won and the opposing forces that aim to capture said films (for the pilot at least).
So to put this in context,what is the story of BOTW? Well hundreds of years ago Link and Zelda couldn't stop Ganon — Nope, that's backstory.
Divine Beasts were made 10000 years ago — Still no, more backstory.
Okay, your memories — Nope, elaboration on backstory. (Which in all fairness can help but I fully maintain that the memories were a huge let down. We basically know all of them already from the story the old man gives you at the start).
Alright then! The story of BOTW is : Link wakes up, an old spirit tells him he has to stop Ganon and save Zelda, to do so he needs to reclaim 4 divine beasts. Link does so while helping some people along the way.
The problem here is most of the time we distill stories into one or two sentences, we do so to condense it as much as possible to give the viewer/player a bit sized bit of info to intice them into watching/playing. It leaves us with just the essence of what the story is but we leave out the vast majority in an effort to reel in the viewer/gamer.
But with BOTW… That's it, just the 2 lines, there isn't really anymore to it. Sure you could point to a side quest you liked or how you got the shrines but… They don't impact the larger story at all. And sadly, same with the small character missions you have to do in order to gain entry to the beasts.
At first I thought this is where the story would somewhat come from, I thought because the original pilots of the beasts were dead then these new characters would take their places and because you helped them get there, then Link/us would be directly impacting and building the story by finding these new pilots for the beasts. But no, you do the mission, that new character gets pushed aside like they didn't matter in the first place and then the ghosts pilot the beasts so fuck me I guess.
This leaves it feeling really, really empty and completely emotionless. Other than freeing the beasts and killing Ganon, there is no meaningful story. We have no impact on any characters in a major way that connects it to a bigger story other than doing those 2 tasks.
And yes, just to avoid the hate, I know that the exploration and all that is really fun, I get that exploring is like 99% of the game and I like it but I'm only tackling story here.
To sum it up, I think even with the pretty justified criticism that the 'story' of BOTW has received, it's still much too generous. There is virtually no story, only back story and that is deeply unsatisfying.
I'd love everyone's thoughts and hopefully I can end up viewing the story in a different light because it really was a huge let down for me.
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