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Game Anatomy: Breath of the Wild Horses

It has been way too long since I had a chance to do one of these.  Part of it is that I’ve only been playing Final Fantasy games and World of Warcraft for the past couple of months, so I need to break away from RPGs.  I also need to play more Final Fantasy IX, because I really want to finish that.  I’m really liking it.  Anyway, enough blogging.

I have a stable full of horses in Breath of the Wild, but there’s one in particular that stands out to me.  Her name is Paladin, and she’s a white horse, and if the quest text is to believed, she’s a descendant of Princess Zelda’s horse.  I had to hunt her down, only knowing of her existence because a random stable hand told me a story about beautiful white horses, and I found her among a pack of other horses.  She was a gorgeous, tall horse with a blonde mane and she nearly threw me off when I came to find her.  When I found her, I immediately rode her back to the stable, and from then on, she was at my side.  When I fought the Dark Beast Ganon, it was her that rode with me.  When I traveled to the coldest parts of Hyrule, or rode up to the top of a mountain to fight a dragon of wisdom, she took me as far as she could go.  I love that horse.  She has great stats, some of the best of any horse that I have, but that’s not what made her special.  I found her, I tamed her, and she became my companion throughout the latter part of the game.


Copyright Nintendo and Zelda Dungeon (https://www.zeldadungeon.net/wiki/White_Horse)

I have another horse who is almost as important.  His name is Warlock, and he’s the giant horse, descended, possibly, from Gannodorf’s black stallion, and the last of his kind.  He did throw me, several times, and one of those times, I wound up getting killed by a lynel because I couldn’t tame him.  He isn’t as graceful as Paladin, but when I absolutely need to mow down every single bokoblin that comes after me, I mount up Warlock and I take them down.

Paladin, though, was my main horse.  The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is possibly the most peopled Zelda game in the series.  It has more towns, more characters and stories than any other game in the series, but it’s fundamentally a lonely game.  Sure, Link can get a house (that might have just been his old house…) and hang out with all sorts of colorful characters, but Link spends the majority of his adventure alone.  No one goes with him and he comes from a completely different era and time.  The closest thing Link has to a friend or traveling companion throughout his journey are the spells granted to him by the spirits of his dead friends, and his memories of Zelda.  Link stands apart from everyone else on his journey in every sense of the word, physically, emotionally and in time as well.

In a lot of ways, it’s a melancholy sort of game because of this.  Link journeys through a vast kingdom, much of which lies in ruins because of his personal failure, and he comes from a world that almost no one remembers and he is forever disconnected from, and he does this alone.  This is where Paladin comes in.  When I found Paladin, I felt like I had a connection.  She can’t talk, Hell, I’m actually assuming Paladin is a “her” based solely on the fact Zelda’s horse was female, and she can’t really fight or do anything more than cart me around, but I have a connection to her more than any other horse in any other game I’ve ever played.  Shadowmere, Epona, Roach, none of them hold a candle to Paladin and this is due to a couple of reasons.

First, she’s my one companion.  This can be true of any horse in the game, I’m just using Paladin because Paladin was special to me.  The horse is the one thing you can take with you.  Purah isn’t going to leave her lab, and Impa and her family aren’t leaving Kakariko Village.  Your horse, though, is going to go with you no matter what.  Once the horse is tamed, they follow you anywhere, until you leave them at a stable or they die.  See, that’s the thing, the horses can die.  Any horse can die, even unique horses like the Giant Horse, and while Malanya can wish them back, the Horse God is way out in the boonies and it’s not cheap to bring them back.  As such, that means your horse, your loyal friend, needs to be protected.  I can ride Paladin into battle, or out of it, but an errant couple of guardian lasers can kill the poor girl easily.  Epona, in other games, can’t die, Roach doesn’t die and Shadowmere can reform in 10 in game days in Skyrim and is immortal in Oblivion.  Paladin can die.  Paladin is as mortal as I am, and that gives me a connection to her in a way that no other horse ever has.  She’s not a fantasy themed car or motorcycle, she’s a living being, and I have to protect her.

Even more, the horse isn’t simply given to the player.  It’s possible, if somewhat tedious, to play the whole game without a horse.  In order to have such a companion, the player has to seek one out, tame the horse, and then build a bond with the horse.  Sure, there’s the common Pokemon way of bonding with the horse, and that’s by riding it everywhere, but the real way to build trust with a horse is to feed them apples and carrots, ride with them all over the place and always, always give them pets whenever possible.  However, it’s the finding part that’s important.

To get a horse companion, the player has to sneak up, jump on and ride the horse like a bucking bronco tapping the run button over and over, and hoping that there’s enough stamina left over.  To do that, though, finding a horse is important too.  That makes the horse the player’s horse.  Even without an “official” quest to find a horse, like I had with Paladin, finding a horse is a quest all in of itself.  It’s the perfect kind of quest for a game like this, where the world is the player’s to explore in.  Very few things fit as well into the type of game that Breath of the Wild is more than the horses.