It’s been a while, but I’m back! Forgive me... I’ve been playing Breath of the Wild a lot. I mean, if I don’t find those shrines, who will? Who will liberate those poor Sheikah monks’ souls if not me?!
SPOILERS FOR BREATH OF THE WILD AND AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER
Anyway, Breath of the Wild was a good time... is a good time (it’s not really a game that just ends, is it?). It may even be tied for my favorite Zelda title alongside Majora’s Mask: As many others have said, the game is epic on a scale the series hasn’t seen since its beginnings, and the way the story is told really makes you feel like the journey is your own. It’s a very different, but very rewarding experience from a Zelda game.
For those of you who don’t know about or have never watched the show, Avatar: The Last Airbender was a television program from the oughts that aired on Nickelodeon. It was anime-esque in that while it used anime-inspired aesthetics, it was made by a Western animation studio and staff (side note: this caused a small controversy at the time about what can be considered anime and what cannot). It focused on a young boy, Aang, who awakens from a 100 year cryogenic slumber in order to master the four elements of air, water, earth and fire and use this mastery to bring balance back to a world made unstable by the machinations of a power-hungry empire. Also of note is that Aang was involved in the start of the conflict before his sleep, but certain circumstances led to him being lost when the world needed him most. The show dealt in themes of Eastern spirituality and culture, using religious and cultural iconography from India, China, Japan, and even Inuit tribal societies to build its world and story. It’s also known for containing a large cast of quirky characters who are often more nuanced than they first appear, and the tone can shift from dramatic to hilarious quickly but without inducing whiplash.
If you’ve played Breath of the Wild, this is all probably starting to sound familiar. Like Aang, Link played a part in a destabilizing conflict that left him in a 100 year-long slumber, awakens to master divine beasts (each of which correspond to an element of air, water, earth, and fire) and to use their power to take down an otherwise almost unstoppable foe (I did say ALMOST; I know it’s possible) and thus bring peace back to the land of Hyrule. The game uses themes from Eastern culture and spirituality, like the feudal Kyoto stylings of Kakariko Village or the Buddhist-aesthetic posturing of the shrine’s Sheikah monks. And finally, the game has a cast of quirky characters that can change the mood from serious to humorous and back again without killing player immersion.
Finally, theres the music. I mean, listen to Avatar: The Last Airbender’s opening theme and then Breath of the Wild’s:
They are distinct from each other, certainly, but the songs use similar techniques and evoke similar emotions. When I heard the main theme from BotW, I immediately thought of Avatar, and unless I’m completely off base, I think you can hear why.
So, what should we do? Should we call up Nintendo and demand answers? Should we crowdfund a lawyer’s fee for the creators of Avatar so that they can demand royalties? Should we gather our pitchforks and Ancient Greatswords? No. While the game and show have many similarities, it’s also important to point out some of their differences.
First, Breath of the Wild can be a lonely game. Gone are the Navi, Midna, and Fi of yesteryear, and in their place is... no one. Meanwhile, Aang journeys with friends that almost never leave his side, and who are with him when he faces his toughest challenges. And yes, while Link has the champion ghosts, the King, and finally Zelda herself to help him, it remains that his journey is conducted, almost entirely, alone.
Second, in Avatar, Aang must master his own potential to wield the four elements, making the journey about him, a chosen one that has not learned the full extent of his power. In Breath of the Wild, Link had already obtained the Master Sword 100 years prior. It is instead Zelda who had not yet unlocked her powers, and the main story of the game is unraveling the steps she took towards that end and the uncertainties and lack of confidence she faced while doing so. While Link does have a mission based around mastering the divine beasts, it is not him who ultimately controls them in the final battle, but the ghosts of his friends the champions, and it is only the power that Zelda has unlocked by story’s end that allows Ganon to ultimately lie defeated. Unlike Aang, Link is in many ways himself a weapon, not the one who wields it, and the story is not really about him.
And then finally there is the difference in the nature of who Link and Aang are metaphysically in respect to their stories and worlds. Link is the latest incarnation of the Legendary Hero, wielder of the Triforce of Courage and of the Master Sword, destined to defeat the evil Ganon in his own latest incarnation. Aang, meanwhile, in his role as the eponymous Avatar is the very world itself, or at least its spirit (technically his soul is fused with the Spirit of Balance, as we find out in the sequel series The Legend of Korra, but that’s neither here nor there at the moment), and while he is a hero, he is not known as just that. In the world of Avatar, Aang is the bridge between the physical and spiritual worlds, more like Zelda, in her role of being the goddess Hylia reincarnated, than Link. The cosmologies of the protagonists in the game and show differ, in other words.
And there you have it, some similarities, and some differences between The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Avatar: The Last Airbender. What do you think? Let me know in the comments below, and thank you for reading this!