After the reveal of The Legend of Zelda‘s official timeline as part of the release of Skyward Sword and the series’ 25th anniversary, Breath of the Wild boldly charts new territory for the series by establishing its own separate continuity at the end of the official chronology, thousands of years removed from the events of all games that precede it. In kicking off the beginning of a new era for Zelda, the game pays homage to what came before while also introducing a brand new version of the settings, characters, and conflicts fans have grown to love over more than 35 years. And, like many other games, Breath of the Wild rewards diligent players and completionists with a secret bonus ending at the adventure’s conclusion.
While both endings are largely the same and don’t differentiate much in terms of bidding farewell to players and making them feel wistful about their time in the new, beautifully realized open-world version of Hyrule, the secret ending does help set up the eventual sequel. Considering that this eventual sequel to BotW, Tears of the Kingdom, arrived in May of this year, it’s worth taking a look at both the backstory and plot setup of Breath of the Wild as well as how each ending concludes the tale while also setting up the events that initiate Tears of the Kingdom‘s main conflict.
Zelda: Breath of the Wild Backstory
Following the events of Ocarina of Time, the Zelda timeline branches off into three separate realities. Each of these branching timelines result from Link’s success or failure in the final battle against Ganon in Ocarina of Time, and whether he remains an adult or travels back in time after defeating the Demon King. Regardless of which of the branching timelines players follow, Breath of the Wild marks a new unified timeline for the kingdom of Hyrule and its heroes, taking place thousands of years after the initial break from the Unified Timeline following Ocarina of Time.
In this new timeline, Hyrule enters a state of technological advancement thanks to both the Sheikah and a mysterious race known as the Zonai. However, this era of prosperity and advancement is fleeting, as the ancient evil Calamity Ganon awakens to destroy Hyrule. To protect the kingdom, four great warriors piloted living machines (the Divine Beasts) to weaken Ganon while the descendant of the goddess Hylia (the princess) and her knight (the chosen hero) were successful in sealing him away.
Ten thousand years later, Hyrule regresses to a medieval version of itself, and the Zonai all but forgotten, the people begin to recognize the signs of Ganon’s return. The new princess, Zelda, appoints four Champions to pilot the recently excavated Divine Beasts and appoints a young knight named Link as her protector. Unfortunately, Calamity Ganon can control the Divine Beasts and turn them on Hyrule itself, killing the King of Hyrule and the Champions in the process. To prevent Ganon’s success and the destruction of Hyrule, Zelda seals Link away in a restorative slumber while also hiding the Master Sword in the care of the Great Deku Tree.
Zelda: Breath of the Wild Final Battle
100 years later, Link wakes up in the Shrine of Resurrection and sets off on his journey to both recover his memories and stop Calamity Ganon once and for all. This journey of adventure and discovery is what players experience in the gameplay of Breath of the Wild. Although the adventure itself is non-linear, there are specific memories of the past for Link to uncover around Hyrule. After cleansing the four Divine Beasts of corruption, Link is ready to face off against Calamity Ganon, who now resides inside Hyrule Castle. The initial battle against Calamity Ganon is a success, but at this point the ancient evil assumes its true form — Dark Beast Ganon.
Fleeing Hyrule Castle and appearing on the fields just outside, Dark Beast Ganon takes the form of a giant evil boar and begins to destroy the world around him. Link, knowing he must stop this evil entity, heads toward the chaos and receives telepathic communication from Princess Zelda. Using her goddess powers to bestow Link with the Bow of Light, the chosen hero is able to weaken and then eventually destroy Dark Beast Ganon, saving Hyrule from the Calamity and restoring peace to the kingdom.
Ending 1 – Hyrule Is Saved
In the first ending to Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Zelda reappears following Dark Beast Ganon’s defeat and reunites with Link. After thanking Link for his service in stopping Calamity Ganon and helping her seal him away for good, Princess Zelda asks Link if he remembers her (which gives players a subtle hint toward unlocking the game’s true ending). As the princess and her chosen hero reunite and enjoy their victory, the spirits of the King of Hyrule and the four Champions look down in approval from atop Hyrule Castle. Finally, the camera focuses on a lone Silent Princess flower, symboizing the return of the princess and the bond she shares with our hero Link.
Ending 2 – Setting Up Tears of the Kingdom
In order to unlock the true ending to Breath of the Wild, players must first make sure that they take the time to collect all of Link’s memories during their journey across Hyrule. Collecting all of Link’s memories that provide important character development and backstory for Zelda: Breath of the Wild leads to the true ending playing after defeating Dark Beast Ganon. In this bonus 2-minute cutscene, Princess Zelda and Link stand atop the plains in Hyrule looking on at Hyrule Castle. Zelda acknowledges that their work is just beginning, and that they will have to endure the pain of their defeat and the friends they’ve lost (specifically the Champions).
Still, Zelda remarks that, even though her powers are diminished, she feels up to the task. We’re left with the impression that Link will be her protector and companion no matter what, and that the two of them will stop at nothing to restore Hyrule to its former glory. The secret ending helps to set up Tears of the Kingdom by explaining that Zelda and Link are on a rebuilding and peace-keeping mission around Hyrule in the wake of Calamity Ganon’s defeat. Additionally, the extra cutscene clarifies why, at the beginning of Tears of the Kingdom, Link and Zelda are beneath Hyrule Castle investigating the lingering corruption there as part of their rebuilding efforts.