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The Great Calamity is an event from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. This event serves as the main historical context of the game. It corresponds to the disaster caused by Calamity Ganon throughout Hyrule that occurred one hundred years ago before Link's awakening from his deep slumber inside the Shrine of Resurrection. After he awakens and leaves the Shrine, Link discovers a ruined Hyrule, devastated by Ganon's forces.

The prophecy

Spoiler warning: Plot or ending details follow.

Calamity Ganon first emerged in the distant past. Ten thousand years before the events of Breath of the Wild, Ganon transformed into a monstrous creature of pure Malice known as Calamity Ganon. He ravaged Hyrule before being sealed away by the chosen Hero wielding the blade that seals darkness, and by the princess with divine powers. Assisting the hero and the princess were the Guardians and four massive mechanical animal constructs called the Divine Beasts. The Ancient Sheikah tribe developed these machines with their unique technology, to help the Royal Family of Hyrule.

According to the Sheikah Cado, his tribe had long been heralded as people of great wisdom since their ancient technology became the key in sealing Calamity Ganon ten thousands years ago. Their technology was at first praised as the power of the gods. However, the people of Hyrule began to fear it as a threat to the kingdom. As a result, the Sheikah became outcasts and was forced into exile. Although most Sheikah chose to cast off their technology and live simple lives, others fostered hatred towards the kingdom of Hyrule, leading them to swear allegiance to Ganon. This resulted in the creation of the Yiga Clan, who dedicate themselves to eliminating all who stand against Ganon.

The preparation

Ten thousand years later, and one century before Link's awakening inside the Shrine of Resurrection on the Great Plateau, it was foretold by the fortune teller that the return of Calamity Ganon was inevitable. This prophecy drove King Rhoam of Hyrule to create an archaeology team to search for the fabled Ancient Sheikah's technologically-advanced relics. King Rhoam decided to act in accordance to their ancestors' plan and excavated the relics, including the Guardians and the four Divine Beasts. The Sheikah still loyal to the Royal Family including Impa, Purah, and Robbie assisted them in studying this ancient technology. They recovered the mechanical army, and were successfully able to reactivate and use them. Zelda assisted them in their research due to her interest in science as she had trouble awaking her powers. Many believed them to be simply a legend but their discovery made this legend a reality for them.

Realizing this, the King selected the hero chosen by the Master Sword, a young recruit of the royal army named Link, as the personal knight of his daughter, Princess Zelda. King Rhoam then formed a group of exceptionally skilled warriors referred to as Champions. He requested each race of Hyrule choose a Champion, and four elite warriors were selected from across the kingdom, Mipha the Zora Champion, Daruk the Goron Champion, Revali the Rito Champion and Urbosa the Gerudo Champion. They were tasked with the duty of piloting the Divine Beasts to assist the Hylian Champion, the knight Link, and to use them against the demon.

The final key to defeating Calamity Ganon was the divine sealing powers of the royal family's bloodline, and the recent death of Hyrule's Queen saw this immense duty fall to her only surviving daughter. As she was now sole bearer of their birthright, the King ordered Zelda to focus on mastering her control over the Divine Power to the exclusion of all else.

The Great Calamity

While the other Champions piloted their race's respective Divine Beast, Zelda was sent on a pilgrimage under Link's protection, praying to statues of the goddess Hylia for the power to defeat Calamity Ganon. Feeling jealousy towards Link for being successful as a knight, in sharp contrast to her success as the princess of Hyrule, Zelda acted unfriendly towards him. During their journey, the two were ambushed by the Yiga Clan, who were planning to assassinate Zelda. Despite being ambushed, Link protected Zelda and drove them away.

Feeling grateful towards Link and realizing the errors of her way, Zelda decided to apologize and talk to him. In response, Link slowly opened up to her, allowing him and Zelda to befriend one another. Eventually, Link told Zelda why he maintained a quiet demeanor, which was because of the pressure he felt as the chosen hero. Empathizing with Link, Zelda reprimanded herself for being absorbed in her own problems, to the point of not realizing how others have their own hardships as well. No longer consumed by fear or doubt, Zelda wholeheartedly hoped to know more about Link and eventually tell him about her own troubled feelings.

Despite this new-found sense of hope, Zelda's powers did not awaken, and all preparation proved to be in vain. Before she could fully realise her power Ganon returned to Hyrule and immediately began wreaking havoc on Hyrule Castle. Having learned from his previous defeat, Calamity Ganon created four phantom embodiment of himself representing the elements of fire, water, thunder, and wind, each tasked with corrupting and taking control the Divine Beasts, and killing four of the Champions and imprisoning their spirits in the process.

Succeeding in taking control of the Divine Beasts, Calamity Ganon proceeded to take control of the Guardians with his Malice to use against the people of Hyrule. He then destroyed Hyrule Castle Town and devastated Hyrule, slaughtering countless innocents. Among the chaos, King Rhoam was killed and the remaining soldiers and Knights of Hyrule who survived the attack on the castle were helpless against the Guardian onslaught and were forced to retreat to the Akkala Citadel.

Akkala was where the knights and soldiers of the realm were trained, so the region already had a high military presence. Following the fall of Hyrule Castle, the vast majority of the standing Hyrulean Army could be found in the various strongholds scattered about the region, regrouping and preparing to repel the oncoming Guardian attack. A terrible battle took place, ravaging the region. The knights and soldiers fought valiantly, leaving a graveyard of Guardians in the Akkala wetlands, but were steadily pushed further back. The final remnants of the Hyrulean Army took their final stand in Akkala Citadel, the kingdom's largest stronghold, which was all but destroyed in the historic battle, leaving the once great structure in ruins. Some say the fall of Akkala was the moment the people of Hyrule realised their utter defeat at the hands of Calamity Ganon, for without a standing army to defend them, nothing could stop the advancing horde.

Zora's Domain was attacked at this time, though the bottleneck that is Zora River allowed the Zora to hold off the assault very effectively. At least one Guardian overcame the Zora warriors and made it close to Zora's Domain, but King Dorephan met the Guardian in single combat. After a gruelling battle, the King Zora picked up the Guardian and threw it from the Great Zora Bridge, causing it to crash down on the rocks below. King Dorephan was wounded in the battle but survived, and was revered by his people as a hero. He still bears the scar from the wound on his forehead.

Link and Zelda, meanwhile, had been unable to help in Central Hyrule, and retreated south to Fort Hateno where they made their desperate last stand against an army of Guardians. Although Link wielded the Master Sword with skill and personally destroyed countless Guardians himself, they were simply too numerous and he was eventually overcome.

Breath of the Wild Blade of Evil's Bane Zelda holding the rusty Master Sword (Recovered Memory 18 Cutscene)

Zelda placing the Master Sword in its pedestal within Korok Forest

As he stood there severely wounded and unable to fight any longer, Link prepared to take one final blast from an attacking guardian when Zelda ran to shield him from the fatal blow. It was here, faced with the impending death of a loved one, that Zelda's powers were truly awakened, allowing her to shut down the Guardians with a blinding ray of light. The Guardians had been stopped from destroying Link, but despite being saved by Zelda he still succumbed to his injuries and collapsed to the ground, seemingly dying in Zelda's arms.

Heartbroken, Zelda wept in despair. As if responding to her cries, the Master Sword activated on its own and spoke to Zelda. It revealed to her that Link was not yet dead and could still be saved.

Wasting no time, Zelda ordered her Sheikah allies, Impa, Purah, and Robbie, to deliver Link to the Shrine of Resurrection upon the Great Plateau, and to place him in the experimental Slumber of Restoration. Here, she prayed, Link would overcome his injuries and return once again to save Hyrule.

Zelda then returned the battle-damaged Master Sword to its pedestal in front of the Great Deku Tree, making to the blade the promise that Link would one day return for it. In a final sacrifice, Zelda marched alone on Hyrule Castle and used her newly awoken powers to seal both Ganon and herself inside.

Aftermath

After the fall of Hyrule during the Great Calamity and the sealing of Calamity Ganon by Princess Zelda, the surviving people of Hyrule attempted to recover and began to rebuild their settlements.