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From the humble beginnings in Majora’s Mask (a pictograph with memory for 1 black and white photo), the Zelda games have dabbled more and more into the photography realm. In Breath of the Wild it’s an incredibly finely tuned feature, and one that invites deeper examination.
Having been hiking to the top of mountains for over ten years, there’s little more I delight in than venturing to some hard to reach place, and finding something unique and beautiful. Needless to say, I found this in great quantity in the latest Zelda title. My focus in this blog is on stories and locations that are only hinted at or untold in the core experience.
I’ve taken over 300 photos in this game, and with great effort, have distilled them to my favorite 25. WARNING: There will be some slight SPOILERS in this post, mostly for smaller side quests, nevertheless I will be revealing some delightful moments that are best experienced on their own without prior knowledge.
Here are my postcards from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Taken on the west slopes of Mount Lanayru
This one reminds me of duck hunting with my dad as a kid. We’d wake up long before sunup and walk out in darkness to the creek in the cold Minnesota autumn. Sitting near the water surrounded by silence, we’d watch the stars slowly turn into a blanket of warm colors.
Taken on the southern slopes of Death Mountain
A staple of the Zelda series, Death Mountain has seen many iterations. With its swarms of monsters, sweltering heat, and fountains of lava, this version more than any other felt like it truly earned its title.
Taken in Kakariko village
Among the villagers in this eastern Hyrule settlement, the story of Dorian with his daughters Koko and Cottla is by far my favorite. Originally a member of the infamous Yiga Clan, Dorian left to start a family with his newly found wife, and they had two daughters. The Clan, in their fury, killed the mother. Now every morning Dorian gathers with the little ones under a tree outside their home to tell them stories as their mother did. The eldest daughter Koko (right) spends all her time looking after her younger sister Cottla and trying her best to fill the role of their dearly departed mother. While Cottla plays in the hills above the village, looking for her mother whom Cottla insists is "hiding".
Taken in the Lost Woods
Another reoccurring location in the Zelda series, the Lost Woods have varied much in their depiction. This is the only one that made me feel both threatened and intrigued in its mystery. With no clear indication for how to navigate this foggy maze of a wood, I stood in silence with only my torch. And slowly, the drifting embers from my flame beckoned me forward.
Taken in the Ash Swamp of Necluda
A small detail, but one worth noting. The search for Link’s secret and final memory leads him to the remnants of a battle fought ten decades prior. The scene depicts Link about to die while protecting Zelda, as her sealing power finally emerges. 100 years later, this site serves as a memorial to Link’s final battle, where numerous blades overtaken with rust and decay sit thrust into the ground in tribute to this heroic last stand.
Taken in Heteno Village
Sunset in the valley of the Fir river. Untouched by the great Calamity, Heteno village enjoys peaceful travelers and bountiful harvests. Pictured here, Link stands outside his newly-acquired homestead, watching over the saplings and flowers in his garden.
Taken at the Outskirt Stable
Rumors on the western slopes of Central Hyrule speak of the fabled Lord of the Mountain, a mysterious spirit that watches over the land. Some say it is the soul of a sage, whose name is long forgotten. My journey brought me to the summit of Satori Mountain, investigating a strange blue mist, and discovered a gathering of other-worldly creatures circled around a majestic beast with four glowing eyes and two horns in the shape of golden ferns. With a great bit of stealth, Link mounted steed, but no stable keeper would take it in, fearing some vengeful curse for doing so.
Taken in the Lanayru Wetlands
I made a very clear decision not to go anywhere near Hyrule Castle until I was ready to take on a Guardian. I had seen them in the distance. Their spider-like movements and long range death ray was something I wanted to avoid until I had at least ten hearts and a dozen bomb arrows. But one night while looking for shrines is the swamp near Kakariko, I heard the prattle of six legs and the dancing piano that signified a Guardian with a bead on Link’s head. I stood there frozen as it raced towards me, and at the last second I ducked behind this piece of rubble. Inches from a certain death, my heart pounded as the Guardian, with its line of sight broken, slowly turned back from its hunt.
Taken on Talonto Peak in the Hebra Mountains.
When visiting the bird-like Rito people of Hebra, several of them tell stories of the mountains looming nearby, with treasure in wait. After equipping myself for the bitter cold of the climb with full Rito garb I found myself atop a lone peak on a lead to find a mythical snow-white bird, or so local legends tell. Save for faint echoes of a fox across the ridge, the night was perfectly still, when I looked up and saw an Aurora Borealis shimmering brilliantly in the northern sky.
Taken in Heteno Village
All day she sits on a small bench on the eastern hill of the village, overlooking the windmills. All night he does the same. Rhodes and Ralera are a newly married couple who run the wind-powered flour mill in Heteno. Ralera, born and raised in a fishing village to the south, left her family and moved north where her beloved lived after the wedding. Now as they work in shifts to run the business, Ralera spends most of her time alone on the hill thinking of her father back home. Every day for one small moment she and her husband exchange a longing glance, and continue on their way.
Taken near the East Gerudo Mesa
A testament to the versatility of Link’s persona in Breath of the Wild, I would find myself donning full climbing gear and documenting the challenge of numerous pitches in the western cliffs of Hyrule with selfie photos. This stone devil had no patience for Link’s vanity.
Taken at Fort Heteno
The village, from which this fort is named, owes a great debt for its protection from the great Calamity. Fort Heteno stood as a last bastion against the onslaught of Guardians. As dozens of these machines swarmed the walls, the defense of the fort fell to a handful of local soldiers. Sections of the stone were blown apart and hewn this way and that, and were reinforced by the garrison with timber from behind the wall. It is likely that many Hylians were killed in this heroic defense.
Taken at Rito Village in Hebra.
Among the Rito people are a family of five young daughters. At the time of Link’s arrival, they’re distraught in various ways and distracted from their singing practice. But spend enough time with them they’ll help Link unlock an ancient shrine after learning to sing as one. I would sometimes stroll the quiet walkways of the village at night, as if to keep watch over the slumbering characters I came to know.
Taken in Gerudo Town
No Zelda game is without a measure of charm, and Breath of the Wild has it in spades. The child leader of the Gerudo, Riju, is a lover of Desert Seals. And while she maintains a stern resolve as the head of her people, behind closed doors she allows the child part of her some opulence.
Taken in Kakariko Village
One of the personas Link may adopt is that of his shadow-self: Dark Link. Late one night, watching the peaceful town from above, he swooped down to Lady Impa’s doorstep to test the resolve of her guards.
Taken in Hyrule Castle
Princess Zelda is a lover of many things: history, anthropology, and botany, to name a few. Among the ruins of the castle, Link may find her study, and her research notes intact. In these pages she mentions an army of Guardians hidden within five pillars beneath the castle, which she cannon find. An interesting discovery, pointing towards the purpose of the enormous spires that currently lie outside the castle.
Taken on the slopes of Mount Lanayru
The three dragon spirits are something of an enigma in Breath of the Wild. Named after their corresponding goddess symbol, they silently roam the land at night, as if restless spirits lamenting their failure as guardian gods. Naydra, the dragon of wisdom, drifts out of the mists above Mount Lanayru and roams the easter shore. A haunting, beautiful sight.
Taken near the Ta’loh Naeg Shrine
The sense of agency given to each NPC in Zelda is one of my favorite features, and goes a long way to give me an immersive experience. I only witnessed this once, and haven’t gotten it a second time. I was on the hills overlooking Kakariko and one of the male villagers ran up the hill, not to engage Link with some menial side quest, but to gaze at the swirling phantom around the castle and the wonderful sunset beyond, as if to draw an ounce of hope from the days last moments.
Taken at the front gate of Zora’s Domain
The Zora race has taken many forms across the Zelda series, but their art style and characterization in Breath of the Wild is by far my favorite. Elegant and symmetrical, the domain reminds one of the Elven race of The Lord of the Rings, if given an aquatic counterpart. Equally as satisfying is the Zora garb Link may wear, along with the corresponding bow, shield, and spear.
Taken on Safula Hill
This was one of my favorite moments in the game. Once ridden only by members of the royal family, all the white horses are thought to have died out since the Calamity. But the traveling merchants and adventure seekers meeting at various stables murmur excitedly about catching glimpses of a snowy steed in the grassy highlands. Following up on a fresh lead, I found myself near the Sanidin Park Ruins. I was nearly ready to turn back from the search when I rounded the peak of a grassy mound and saw it. The heroic steed grazing in a small patch between hills.
Taken near Hebra East Summit
Selmie is a legend among the shield surfers. Before meeting her in person, one gets the impression that she splits her time between shredding gnar and rebuffing the affection from a swarm of fawning admirers. Link finally meets her on the way to Hebra Peak, confined to a remote cabin dubbed “Selmie’s Spot”. She offers to teach Link the finer points of her craft, and seems friendly and energetic. But through the veneer of a mountain celebrity, Link gets a glimpse at what seems to be mournful loneliness from lacking a true and heartfelt connection.
Taken in the Citadel of Hyrule Castle
The “egg” (for lack of better term) that holds Ganon is a striking sight when first stumbled upon by Link in the final moments of the game. But the real significance of this moment is brought into focus by the pairing of the opening moments of the game.
Taken in the Shrine of Resurrection
Here we get a clear view of the dual nature of Link’s struggle with Ganon. They are part of the opposing forces of the universe, destined to fight time and time again. These two images show Link and Ganon emerging from nearly identical “Cocoons”, after a century of slumber. To me, the inclusion of this extremely subtle part of the game is emotionally stirring.
Taken on the Pillars of Levia
My final postcard, sunrise over Mount Lanayru, and a perfect way to articulate my journey in this game: Exciting, mysterious, visually striking, and a thousand hidden things that lay in wait.
I loved playing this game, and I have no doubt that the number of photos taken will soon eclipse the amount I currently have. Thank you for reading my first real blog post on GI’s site (took long enough!) And please let me know some of your favorite moments in the game. I’d love to hear them!
Email the author Wade Wojcik, or follow on Twitter, and Game Informer.