Things being the way they are, it didn’t seem likely that 2020 would follow in 2019's footsteps in terms of ushering in new, fictional babies designed to capture the public’s heart. But then, Nintendo’s Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity demo came along and introduced a surprising bundle of joy into its already complicated story about a princess, her knight, and their fight to save to world.
Set 100 years before the events of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Age of Calamity chronicles the final days of Hyrule’s valiant battle against the resurgence of Calamity Ganon, a primordial evil that’s been fighting to overtake and destroy Hyrule for thousands of years. Like the original Hyrule Warriors game that essentially boiled down to being little more than a Zelda-themed spin on the Dynasty Warriors franchise, Age of Calamity pits players against massive hordes of enemies meant to be cut down with furious button mashing that results in a variety of ridiculous, gorgeous combo attacks.
But by being set within Breath of the Wild’s general timeline, Age of Calamity’s story beats take on a wholly different sort of significance. From the moment you begin playing, it’s already established that no matter how hard you fight, Link, Zelda, and Hyrule are all doomed save for one small, bright light that may come to play a major role in The Legend of Zelda’s future.
Though Age of Calamity’s demo spends a solid chunk of time acquainting you with younger versions of the major characters previously seen in Breath of the Wild—like Impa, King Roahm, and the original four Champions—as they gather for war, the game opens with a dramatic scene seemingly at the end of the conflict with the forces of evil having gained the upper hand. As Zelda and Link stare down one of the many-legged mechanical Guardians known for shooting on sight, the two heroes are engulfed in a bubble of blinding light emanating from Zelda’s Triforce tattoo. While it isn’t spelled out explicitly, it stands to reason that Age of Calamity’s first cutscene takes place at the precise moment when Zelda was able to seal Calamity Ganon within Hyrule Castle and spirit Link away to the Shrine of Resurrection where he could heal and eventually return to fight again as Breath of the Wild begins.
At the very same moment Zelda unleashes her power, though, a similar light begins to shine from within a room in the castle that’s not too far from the princess, and the source of the light is revealed to be a diminutive, three-legged Guardian. In Breath of the Wild, the larger, hulking Guardians stalk Hyrule’s open areas intent on killing Link after the machines are corrupted by Ganon’s energy. Age of Calamity’s baby Guardian appears to be special, not just because of its size or its resistance Ganon’s influence, but also its unique ability to open portals through space and time by playing a specific series of sounds.
As you play through the demo, it’s explained that, like the larger Guardians, the baby Guardian was originally designed by the Sheikah as a defense measure against Ganon. However, for reasons that aren’t explained, no one can recall specifically when or why the new Guardian was created. Though the baby Guardian isn’t particularly hostile, it refuses to be touched or held by anyone save for Zelda, again implying that it has a connection to her or that it was programmed to accompany her and her alone in her fight against Ganon.
Age of Calamity is the first canonical Legend of Zelda game where you can actually play as the titular princess (we’re not counting that time she was a disembodied spirit in a suit of armor). Here, Zelda hacks and slashes her way across the battlefield by casting a variety of runes with her Sheikah slate. Zelda’s game movements speak to Breath of the Wild presenting her as a being both a brilliant scholar who relies on her intellect as well a magical princess powered by faith. Zelda’s connection to the wee Guardian encapsulates both of these aspects of Nintendo’s current incarnation of the character, and when you take a step back to consider Age of Calamity’s Zelda, it’s very easy to imagine her leading the charge against Hyrule’s foes in a game while Link merely acts as a supporting character.
By jumping back in time before Ganon’s attack, the baby Guardian raises a number of questions about how Age of Calamity is meant to come to a close. Even though the baby Guardian is able to warn the heroes about what it’s seen in the near future, Breath of the Wild makes clear that as hard as the Hylians fought, they eventually lost to Ganon—and most of Hyrule’s heroes save for Zelda and Link died. Throughout Breath of the Wild, there’s never any mention of Zelda being accompanied by a personal Guardian, but Age of Calamity presents the baby Guardian as a key element of The Legend of Zelda’s larger, overarching narrative. And it’s difficult to imagine that Nintendo would drop this character into the mix only to immediately kill it off.
Age of Calamity could very well end up being a simple (though epic) bottle story chronicling Hyrule’s final days of glory in the past where Zelda’s newest companion is ultimately destroyed. But there’s just as likely a chance that there’s a greater significance to the time-travelling droid that’ll only become clear by Age of Calamity’s end, and perhaps extend even further into the upcoming Breath of the Wild sequel.
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity drops on November 20.
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