Posted on April 04 2017 by Andy Spiteri
From the first moments that I started playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, I could tell I was in for an amazingly rewarding experience. The world around me was captivating, breathtaking, and full of wonder at seemingly every turn. What the game lacks in plot, it more than makes up for in its ability to immerse you into this fantastical world, one where every blade of grass and every drop of snow feels like it tells a story. It’s one of a select few worlds that I feel like I could keep coming back to again and again and never lose that feeling of wonder I first had when I started my adventure some 150 hours ago. So in love with this rendition of Hyrule was I that I couldn’t help but be reminded of another world I feel the same kinship to: Middle Earth.
Now I know the common comparison to make when talking about Breath of the Wild is to compare it to games like the The Witcher III, Horizon Zero Dawn or Skyrim (heck, I even made that comparison myself). But the more I play, the more I think that the newest version of Hyrule has more in common with J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth than any of its other contemporary gaming brothers.
I wouldn’t go on record and say I’m an expert on Middle Earth – I’m not. I’ve read the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit and bits and pieces of his other works, but truth be told, I love the movies far more than the books. That being said, the original Lord of the Rings Trilogy, which will henceforth be referred to as LOTR, are my favorite three movies of all time and I must have watched them a hundred times each. So any comparison I make between those and Breath of the Wild should tell you how high in esteem I hold Link’s latest adventure.
At first glance, it wouldn’t seem like these titles have anything in common with each other aside from the medieval setting. But the closer you look, the more in focus some similarities between the two become. I remember hearing about the Calamity Ganon, an ancient ethereal evil that, while formless, was gathering power and cast a shadow over the land. My immediate thought hearing that was ‘Damn, that sounds like Sauron. Cool!’. But the similarities run much deeper than that.
As mentioned, the Calamity Ganon and Sauron share many similarities. Both were power obsessed warlords who reached the pinnacle of their power thousands of years earlier, only to be defeated in a last ditch effort by a band of very unlikely heroes. Both lost their physical forms but lived on through their spirit, which was full of hatred and malice. Sauron and Ganon both then bid their time, gathering strength until they could strike out again and reclaim their power. Both of these villains have a distinct visual they take on in absence of a physical form – Calamity Ganon breathes a dark energy around Hyrule Castle that can be made to look like his beast form, while Sauron famously has his eye at the top of Barad-dûr.
Another common thread between Breath of the Wild and LOTR is the appearance of a heir to the heroes that had defeated their respective enemies ages before. Of course, we know that Aragorn struggled with his destiny as the heir to Isildur’s throne, believing the same weakness that corrupted Isildur would do the same to him if he were to get involved in the conflict of the Ring. What I didn’t expect was that it would be Zelda, and not Link, that would act as a counterpart for Aragorn in this story.
While it’s probably more natural to compare Link and Aragorn, when you look at it a little closer, it’s Zelda and Aragorn that share a more similar path. Both are royalty driven by a belief that they aren’t capable or good enough to fulfill their destinies – Zelda, because her powers won’t manifest, and Aragorn, because of his corrupted lineage. Both must ascend to higher heights than all of their ancestors before them to defeat their evil threats. Both of them finally realize their destiny at a critical time that helped change the tide of the conflict – Aragorn, when he brokered a deal with the Army of the Dead to fight for Middle Earth in the battle of Minas Tirith; Zelda, when she realized her powers to defeat a seemingly insurmountable number of Guardians and save Link. Most importantly, both were willing to give their lives so that the chosen hero’s (Link and Frodo) would have a chance at victory – Zelda, when she seals herself away in Hyrule Castle, and Aragorn when he distracts the forces of Mordor and gives his famous “But It Is Not This Day” speech.
Of course, Link and Zelda couldn’t save Hyrule by themselves. They had an assortment of highly skilled champions representing every race of Hyrule backing them up… kinda sounds like the Fellowship of the Ring.
Indeed, just as the Fellowship brought together Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits, and Men to protect Frodo in his quest to destroy the One Ring, Breath of the Wild brings together a seemingly unlikely group of heroes as well. Dubbed the Champions, they consist of Rito, Gerudo, Zora, Goron, and Hylians, and their mission is similar to the Fellowships – protect and aid Link, since as legend tells, he is the one that must vanquish Ganon. You can even draw some comparisons between the Old Man and Gandalf – both are mentor figures that possess some pretty wicked powers.
It’s not all strictly story elements that made me compare the two though. I remember the single biggest moment I had playing Breath of the Wild where I went ‘whoa, this is totally like LOTR’ was when I was sneaking my way into Hyrule Castle. With enemies seemingly everywhere in this derelict land, I really felt like Sam and Frodo when they were sneaking into Mordor (minus Gollum, of course). Everywhere in the world though, there’s little things that just gave me that LOTR vibe.
The ruins of the Forgotten Temple, with its giant Goddess statue, reminded me of the iconic shot of the Fellowship sailing past the Argonath on the River Anduin; just seeing all of the horse stables (with literally a giant horse head on them), I couldn’t help but think of the Rohirrim and how their culture was so closely intertwined with horses; and who doesn’t get the Ent vibe from talking with the Great Deku Tree? Maybe the biggest thing that the two have in common is that in both LOTR and Breath of the Wild, the world’s feel alive. They don’t just feel like a setting; they feel like an integral character.
All in all, while the two are obviously vastly different, there are a number of similarities, both thematically and emotively, that make me feel like maybe these two worlds aren’t as far apart as you might think. I can’t stress my love for both of these worlds enough, and I’m sure that, just as I keep coming back to Middle Earth, I’ll always have a special fondness for Breath of the Wild’s Hyrule.
Andy Spiteri is a Senior Editor for Zelda Informer. For an overload of geeky thoughts, follow him on Twitter.