A Hero Struck With Melancholy

Often, as I near the end of an adventure role-playing game, I postpone the final battle until everything else has been exhausted. If a player is here to play in the world, but the hero is here to save it (ending the experience), how do we resolve the gap as designers? I’ll be using my experiences with The Legend of Zelda here: Specifically Wind Waker and Twilight Princess.

Dan Saad
6 min readApr 25, 2019


An Adventurous Spirit

There are a few reasons I play the Zelda games, but the big one is this: I want to see the world. I want to live it. It isn’t enough to just be Link, the Hero, and fight off monsters and defeat darkness. I want to step into a fantasy and see it all, soak everything up. I came here to care, and I’m looking for any excuse to get invested.

Masters of the Wind

When it came to single-player games, my brother and I would often play them together. We took turns (and fought) on shared save files, or alternated between our own, but either way we were both there. A hero and a watcher, switching back and forth as the adventure wore on. I would challenge the Helmaroc King, and my brother would vanquish Kalle Demos. I would venture off into the sea and get hints from a mustachioed fish and my brother would beat a letter sorting mini-game at the Post Office.

Sailing the open sea in Wind Waker

On Outset Island, we raised a small black pig into an enormous behemoth. We reclaimed the Master Sword, reforged the Triforce, and defeated old master Orca in a test of skill — delivering 1000 blows without suffering a single hit.

But even after all that, getting to the final boss was hard. Not from a technical sense — after all, we had defeated all of the bosses so far and had as much power as any player could get. It was much more an internal matter than that — to commit to the final fight would be to end the adventure.

And so we put it on hold. For months. Until we decided to bite the bullet, challenge the boss gauntlet, and face Ganondorf in the final showdown. Those of you familiar with Wind Waker will know that his speech is haunting, touching, and mournfully wistful.

Ganondorf’s speech before the final fight in The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker

For me, the hours sitting by the GameCube before deciding to beat the game were a stressful affair. After all, if I defeated Ganondorf, it would all be over. There would be no more sailing, or filling up another bottle with Grandma’s soup. The world was so bright and rich and full of life and to end it now would be a tragedy.

Link adrift in Link’s Awakening


Twilight Princess is immediately distinguishable from its peers — it’s dark, somber, and the music carries a regretful tone. The combat is fast and the techniques you learn from your previous incarnation make you feel like a master swordsman. While the world feels lived-in, the characters that populate it are constantly in danger, and this drove me throughout the game to actually face the world’s great threats.

And so, as I approached the final battle, I didn’t have that hesitation. I was here to end the Age of Twilight, same as Link. No 5 hours chasing down new bugs to catch in my net, or the last piece of heart to reach 20 containers.

Link overpowers the King of Evil in a contest of raw strength.

The great battle done, I again watched the ending credits, but something was different this time. As Midna returned to her own realm, and Link settled back down in Hyrule, it truly felt like the world was left better than before, and in good hands. There was an immediacy to the danger in the game, and resolving it blunted the edge of my sorrows at having finished the experience.

After the Epilogue

But how can we counteract this melancholy? Subvert this self-sabotage before the climactic finish?

As we saw, one of the solutions can be to take some of the life out of the world — make the threat more imminent, and its presence an obvious discomfort to the people living in it. Few things make you want to end Ganondorf’s rise to power as much as having to save NPCs from roving monsters, or watching guards cower in fear at twilight, even as they are sequestered in their castle walls.

But this still leaves me with the root of that disquiet. It’s still, in a very real sense, over.

Overcoming Finality

A weakness of many games like the Zelda series is that after you beat the final boss, the game is done. There is no way to continue playing that file without erasing your past progress and undoing the final fight. But what if we had a tool for letting players experience the final, climactic fight without then cutting from the credits to a menu screen?

One choice that cuts at the source of that melancholy itself is to have post-game content (and I don’t mean new game+ here). I mean to populate the now-saved world with old and new exploration and adventure tidbits that can allow the player to justify “ending” the story because they’ll know that it isn’t over just yet.

Developing DLCs with challenge events or small contained stories set after the final battle could go a long way towards actually compelling the player to finish the game proper. For example, Spiderman for the PS4 and The City that Never Sleeps. Not only does the game not end after you defeat the final boss, allowing you to continue slinging around New York, but you also have access to a side-story centered on Black Cat. Not only is there nothing stopping you from confronting the final battle, there’s life waiting for you on the other side. There are more adventures to be had, and a hero’s work is never done.

I’ve spent more than 200 hours playing Breath of the Wild. Of that, I spent three at most in Hyrule Castle proper. Even if nothing in the world changed after defeating Calamity Ganon other than that he was gone, I would have fought him a hell of a lot sooner. Probably before climbing every far-flung mountain peak and snow-capped plateau, attempting the Trial of the Sword, and embarking on a bloody gauntlet of Lynel Hunts.

Link facing off against a Gold Lynel in Master Mode

And even now, other than coming back to play the DLC or start a new file in Master Mode, I have found that I can’t really feel at home in my old game, the one I beat, the one whose save file was bookmarked directly before the Ganon fight.

But if beating Ganon brought life back to Hyrule Castle, let me walk around a world that was a little less dangerous, maybe one that still had space for a hero who had done his work…

I’d be back in a heartbeat.



Dan Saad

Game Designer, Storyteller, Dungeon Master, Artist, Engineer