Breath of the Wild challenges the formula for the typical Legend of Zelda game by letting players piece together plotlines however they want. In line with that, the game has two endings; one being the "true ending" that unlocks an additional cutscene. The player earns the cutscene if they free all four Divine Beasts and collects all of Link’s memories.
The true ending isn’t about fighting the final boss. It’s about wrapping up story and character arcs, which aren’t as apparent without the context of major plot points. Some reviewers like Screen Rant’s Steven Richtmyer even claim that the true ending can’t be fully appreciated without completing the full adventure. After all, how much can a two-minute cutscene really mean to someone who hasn’t seen the best the game has to offer?
It’s easy to write off Breath of the Wild as just another "hero saves princess" story. But if you pay close attention, you might notice how the plot leads into the ending and how characters complete their personal journeys.
Setting the stage for Hyrule’s heroes
The King reintroduces Link to his identity as Zelda’s knight and the chosen one to wield the Master Sword. The prophecy of Calamity Ganon’s resurrection prompted the excavation of the Divine Beasts, ancient machines that fought against the demon king. Hyrule picked four Champions – Mipha, Daruk, Urbosa, and Revali – to pilot the Divine Beasts and fight alongside Link and Zelda. In the past, a princess with "sacred power" and her appointed knight chosen by the "sword that seals the darkness" needed their help to defeat Ganon.
Despite their preparations, Ganon launched a surprise attack and hijacked the Divine Beasts. The Champions and those inside Hyrule Castle lost their lives in the ensuing battle. Zelda kept Ganon at bay for 100 years, waiting for Link to return from the Shrine of Resurrection after he collapsed during the Great Calamity. The King urges Link to save Zelda before her power runs out, and disappears into the ruins of the Temple of Time.
The story is what you make it
In an interview with The Verge, Breath of the Wild director Hidemaro Fujibayashi said that he and the team "wanted to make this kind of Zelda, one that doesn’t have one set path." True to his word, the non-linear storyline gives the player countless ways to reach the end of the game. Even main quests like recovering the Divine Beasts can be completed in any order — or not completed at all.
Once you retrieve the four spirit orbs from the shrines on the Great Plateau and trade them in for the paraglider, two quests appear: the first is Destroy Ganon, and the second is Seek Out Impa. King Rhoam encourages you to find Impa, but destroying Ganon is the only thing you really need to do. Still, some people like YouTuber 247MrNiceGuy discovered that three heart containers and beginner’s gear isn’t enough to finish Ganon off.
That being said, the other quests and exploration undoubtedly add to the overall experience. Gathering memories — and, in the process, parts of the story — adds to Breath of the Wild‘s narrative.
Either way, Link gets the job done
Link has two main goals: Defeat Ganon, and by extension, save Zelda. Some fans reference Chinese gamer @atomaruU’s claim that the Japanese versions of Link’s adventure log reveal more about his motivations like that he wants to save Zelda to "see her smile again." But North American audiences need to decipher his character through his actions.
At the very least, The Champion’s Ballad DLC adds some context. In Zelda’s DLC diary entries, she writes: "With so much at stake, and so many eyes upon him, he feels it necessary to stay strong and to silently bear any burden." So Link isn’t as emotionless as he seems.
However, he doesn’t fall to the pressure of high expectations. He faces challenges head-on with persistence and determination, like when Zelda insisted he leave her alone but he still followed and rescued her from Yiga footsoldiers. Even when he was gravely wounded during the Great Calamity, he stood up and fought until his last breath. This courage (though Zelda warns him about the fine line between courage and recklessness) defines his character and likely drives him through the life-threatening quests in the story.
Zelda’s date with destiny
Zelda’s own motivations and feelings drove her to where she is in the plot. From a young age, she was told she had a destiny to inherit — to seal away Ganon. However, despite her best efforts over many years, she couldn’t activate her sealing powers. Urbosa even mentioned that Zelda once passed out after hours of praying in freezing waters. Her powers only awakened after she jumped in front of Link to save him from a fatal blow during the Great Calamity.
Her biggest wish comes true only after the deaths of her father and fellow Champions. Despite that, Zelda doesn’t waste time mourning. She orders her remaining men to bring Link to the Shrine of Resurrection and entrusts the Master Sword to the Deku Tree. Now backed by the power she sought after for so long, she sets out to seal Ganon on her own.
The true reason for Zelda’s spiritual block remains a mystery. The Hidden Triforce team suggested that Zelda’s loss of her mother and her kingdom’s era of peacetime deprived her of the guidance and life-threatening conflict that would have clued her into the mindset to use her powers. On the other hand, fan theorists often reference The Legend of Zelda‘s recurring theme of the Triforce and speculate that Zelda needed courage to unlock her powers.
Ganon always loses
Ganon, sometimes known as Ganondorf, fails as much as Link and Zelda succeed. He returns multiple times throughout The Legend of Zelda timeline, only to be defeated by the princess of light and her chosen knight. Sometimes, like in Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker, Ganon appears as a Gerudo. In Breath of the Wild, he’s mutated into a more monstrous form.
"To know Calamity Ganon’s true form, one must know the storm from an age long past," King Rhoam says. He explains that Ganon was born into this kingdom, but his "transformation into Malice" turned him into the dragon-like beast of overflowing dark energy that surrounds Hyrule Castle. Ganon has six forms, including the four blights that hacked the Divine Beasts.
If you don’t rescue any of the Champions’ spirits, then Link will need to fight all of Ganon’s different forms in one go without their help. However, Zelda always guides him in the final battle against Dark Beast Ganon. Ganon’s malicious energy protects him from regular attacks, but Zelda creates glowing targets for Link to exploit with the Bow of Light. After Ganon is defeated, Zelda seals him away.
Mipha says goodbye to her loved ones
Princess Mipha and Link were childhood friends before he became Zelda’s knight. In "Mipha’s Touch," she reminisces on their past and swears to always heal him like she did when they were kids. If the player completes the Zora quest, they also learn that Mipha had feelings for Link. The proof is in the Zora armor she made for him, which would typically be a gift for a Zora’s betrothed. She keeps her promise to protect Link through her armor and healing ability, Mipha’s Grace, that she gives him after he beats Waterblight Ganon.
Mipha wished to see Link one more time before disappearing. While looking out at the Zora domain from Divine Beast Vah Ruta, she apologizes to her father for leaving him behind and wishes she could see him again too. She isn’t able to greet her family in person (or in spirit), but in the true ending, Link and Zelda head to the Zora domain to repair Ruta and offer the king closure for his fallen daughter. Link honors Mipha’s memory during his quest by donning the armor she made for him and continuing to support her family and kingdom in her absence.
Daruk wishes his people the best
Daruk accepts his role as the Champion of Divine Beast Vah Rudania because, as he writes in Daruk’s Training Journal, "The Great Daruk never turns down someone in need." Piloting the beast wasn’t always easy for him either, as Link had to shove him into Rudania for him to get the hang of it. Daruk’s positivity and desire to help others shines through even as he apologizes for the inconvenience his death caused. He looks to the bright side, saying that Link’s victory over Fireblight Ganon opened a new opportunity to carry out the plan that they devised 100 years ago.
Daruk carries a strong sense of responsibility. The Goron champion worries about how his people will fare without him as he activates Rudania for Link’s confrontation with Ganon. His worries only subside after he sees his descendant Yunobo below him on Death Mountain, who proves that the Gorons are "still going strong."
Urbosa entrusts Zelda to Link
Urbosa was close friends with Zelda’s mother and cared for the princess from a young age. Zelda often went to Urbosa for comfort like when Link found her resting on the Gerudo chieftain’s lap in the Divine Beast Vah Naboris. Urbosa also used to give Link insight on Zelda’s feelings.
Urbosa entrusts Link to protect Zelda in her stead because she no longer can as a spirit. She acknowledges the trauma and guilt that Link and Zelda experienced by losing her and the other Champions, and asks him to tell Zelda that "no one need carry blame" and that she is proud of her. Considering that Zelda did break down in tears over her father and the Champions, Urbosa’s intuition was spot on.
As Urbosa said, "We Gerudo have no tolerance for unfinished business." She aims to finish the job she accepted by helping Link defeat Ganon.
Revali accepts he was wrong
Revali, arguably the most arrogant of the Champions, voiced his doubts from as early as Link’s knighting ceremony. The Rito champion boasted about his own skills and mocked Link’s lack of flight, saying that the only reason the king gave him the responsibility of slaying Ganon was because he could wield the Master Sword. He believed that he, the most skilled archer of all the Rito, was a better fit to lead the charge instead of assist.
After Link beats Windblight Ganon, Revali was still reluctant to thank or praise him. However, he showed his gratitude by granting Link his personal ability, Revali’s Gale. Privately, while piloting the Divine Beast Vah Medoh, Revali admits to himself that Link was able to do something not even he could do and that he was "luckier" than he thought. He finally acknowledges Link’s strength, even if he doesn’t say it to his face.
Fate of the dearly departed
The casualties of the Great Calamity are long dead, but they finally find peace after Ganon’s defeat. No matter the ending, King Rhoam and four Champions watch over Link and Zelda together before disappearing.
However, if Link completes all the Divine Beast quests, then the Champions get closure they otherwise wouldn’t have. All of them regret losing to Ganon. After Link saves each Champion from their respective blight Ganon, they reaffirm their resolve to help Link defeat him — not only for Hyrule, but for themselves. Somehow, even in spirit form, they take control of their Divine Beasts just long enough to weaken Ganon for the final boss battle.
Link doesn’t need the Champions to fulfill his destiny, but he does to unlock the true ending. This detail proves that, even if the Champions don’t play as big a role as Link and Zelda, they still make a difference. The final cutscene supports that idea as Link and Zelda help and keep in touch with the Champions’ home domains.
Why the final cutscene matters
Unless we’re talking about stats and items, Link doesn’t have character development. He completes his quest to save Hyrule because of who he already is. Zelda’s a different story.
Link’s memories give us insight into Zelda’s insecurities. She originally brushes him off and snaps at him when he tries to protect her. According to Urbosa, Link’s skill with the Master Sword "makes her feel like a failure when it comes to her own destiny." While Link seemed ready to face destiny, she wasn’t, no matter how hard she tried.
The final cutscene reveals that Zelda doesn’t hear the voice inside the Master Sword anymore, but she is okay with that. If you collect all of Link’s memories, you can see how her contentment differs from the frustration she used to feel when her powers wouldn’t respond to her. You can retrieve memories in any order, but you should watch them in the order Sheikah Slate lists them if you want to understand them chronologically.
Zelda asks Link, "Do you really remember me?" So it makes sense that earning the true ending would only be possible if Link remembers as much as he can about Zelda. His memories put into context the true ending, which ties up both of their destinies.
Link and Zelda choose their own way
Destiny might not exist, but choices do. Every Legend of Zelda game has some kind of prophecy. Link and Zelda must defeat Ganon. At the same time, Breath of the Wild‘s narrative design offers the player as much choice as possible. With Ganon gone and their destinies fulfilled, Link and Zelda choose a path committed to rebuilding Hyrule and keeping in touch with other domains. "Although Ganon is gone for now, there is still so much more for us to do, and so many painful memories that we must bear," Zelda says. Considering there’s a Breath of the Wild 2 in the works, she’s right.
Nintendo announced the sequel to Breath of the Wild in early 2019 and released a trailer at E3 2019. In that footage, Link and Zelda explore a cave and come across what seems to be a reanimated corpse. However, it is unclear where they are or what they’ve found. Since then, Nintendo hasn’t revealed much about the plot or development progress. Presumably, the plot takes place after Link and Zelda make an effort to rebuild Hyrule and some kind of darkness returns. Fans are left to speculate in update purgatory until Nintendo breaks more news on the matter.