Products from Amazon.com
Breath of the Wild excels in many regards, though unfortunately, the story is not one of them; I’d argue that the game’s story was more than a little underwhelming, and it seems that many hold similar sentiments. Now, I never expected the game to be as narrative-driven as past games; given the game’s extreme degree of nonlinearity, this wouldn’t be reasonable. I knew coming into this that we weren’t going to get a plot on the level of, say, Twilight Princess or Skyward Sword. Yet even giving the game’s story some leeway for its open structure, it still turned out much worse than it should have. Many blame this on the fact that the game takes place long after the lives of the Champions and the events of Calamity Ganon, and while that’s certainly a drawback, they still could have done much better with the present-day plot than they did. I think that they had something special with the Yiga Clan, and could have done great things with them as antagonists, but totally dropped the ball.
The explanation for the Yiga Clan that we got pre-release was that they were a branch of the Sheikah that had decided to align themselves with Ganon after Hyrule had cast the Sheikah clan out due to their hyperadvanced technology. I had expected that the game would allow us a more in-depth look into this. What is it that the Yiga Clan hopes to gain through allying itself with Ganon? Do they merely seek the destruction of the world the Calamity threatens, or do they want to use Ganon’s power for their own gain? Is Ganon even aware of their allegiance, and if so, would he even be inclined to let them live? Perhaps they aren’t fully to blame for their villainy, and the Sheikah weren’t exactly pure of heart themselves, giving us a little bit of grey morality to ponder? Haha, NOPE. The game never bothers to explore any of these questions.
This is particularly regrettable when considering how much Breath of the Wild could have used a proper antagonist. We all know Calamity Ganon was an utter disappointment. The beast has no personality, no character, very little lore, and zero presence throughout the game. Being left with such a passive antagonist is a shame, though it could have been more excusable had they given us an active secondary antagonist to help with narrative development. A sort Breath of the Wild iteration of the Zant or Ghirahim archetype: and they very well could have given us this with Master Kohga, the leader of the Yiga Clan, yet that never happened.
I think that most will agree that the Gerudo story arc was easily the best of the four; and this is largely due to the inclusion of the Yiga Hideout and the boss battle that came with it, which gave the Gerudo section a leg-up in terms of substantial story content over the others. This left me wanting more: why not have Kohga and the Yiga involved in some way with each of the four main story sections? This could have gone a long way towards solving the game’s issues regarding the story. The inclusion of a Yiga subsection in each of the arcs would have added more playtime to the main story, which would have been nice given how short it is. The inclusion of other Yiga hideouts would have added some density to the often-empty expanses of Hyrule. And they could have had it so that each encounter with the Yiga/Kohga gave us more insight into their motivations and history, allowing us a greater sense of narrative progression than what we ended up with.
Of course, even if they did this, there’s another problem with the Yiga Clan that needs to be fixed: their complete and utter tonal disparity. One second the Yiga Clan is a terrifying band of assassins, and the next they’re a bunch of banana-obsessed clowns with a leader who serves as a punchline. Take The Stolen Heirloom for instance. The quest involves a former Yiga Clan member who left the Clan to live in Kakariko and had his wife murdered by the Yiga as a result. The Yiga are also scheming to kill the man’s two children, and Link must intervene and ward off the assassin after a confrontation with the former Yiga member. This should be a powerful moment of the game, except I’d already experienced the Yiga Hideout firsthand, and saw how comedically they were played as a bunch of banana-obsessed buffoons with a potbellied clown as their leader. So when the Yiga assassin yells out “For my fallen master!” prior to attacking Link, it’s impossible to take the situation seriously. It just doesn’t work. The amount of tonal disparity here is repulsive. You can either make them a terrifying, merciless gang of renegade Sheikah willing to cruelly murder a mother and her children, or you can make them a bunch of cartoonish banana-loving oafs. You can’t do both, and the fact that they attempted to effectively neuters any potential the Yiga Clan could have had. They should have just played them straight the whole way through.
They really did utterly waste the potential of the Yiga Clan, and that’s a shame, as there truly was a lot of potential there. I would be interested in seeing the Yiga Clan return if they saw fit to fix their problems, but if not, I’d rather they just remain relegated to Breath of the Wild.