It is probably safe to say that The Legend of Zelda series is one of the most beloved in video game history. With a history of 30 years and counting, it is only natural, then, that such a series would need to change, either to keep up with improving technology or to prevent itself from becoming stale. For these reasons, the series has indeed undergone many changes in its long history, with varying levels of success.
Ocarina of Time was revolutionary for the series just as Super Mario 64 was for the Super Mario Bros. franchise, for the Nintendo 64 characterized the grand change from the 2D games of the Super Nintendo era to brilliant, albeit rather polygonal, 3D. With the GameCube, we started seeing larger worlds with Wind Waker’s Great Sea and Twilight Princess’s expanded version of Hyrule. Twilight Princess also remains, to my knowledge, the only T-rated game in the franchise (probably because of Thelma’s…upper body), as this was apparently the series’ attempt to become darker and more adult. Skyward Sword for the Wii tried to mix things up further by placing some of the game’s challenges outside the dungeons and incorporating advanced motion controls.
While Ocarina of Time was most assuredly a success, even if it hasn’t aged quite as well as some would have liked, the attempted improvements of the games that followed were not quite as successful. The Great Sea and the larger Hyrule of the GameCube (and semi-Wii) era were bland and empty, with very little to do. Furthermore, Twilight Princess’ attempts at what I can only assume was meant to be a more mature storyline resulted in an opening bogged down with dull cut scenes involving characters no one cared about. And Skyward Sword’s extra, non-dungeon objectives were often boring and uninspired, from fetch quests to collecting musical notes, of all things. And let’s not forget that a great number of people did not enjoy the motion controls, which had a habit of going out of sync with frightening regularity. While the above games were still perfectly good additions to the franchise, there was still something to be desired in the supposed improvements Nintendo attempted to implement.
And then, in a divine moment of clarity, Breath of the Wild was born. When I first watched trailers for the game, my usual innate desire that everything stays the same forever and ever caused me to fear terrible things were in store for Zelda’s future. Voice acting? No more normal dungeons? Hunting and subsequently consuming the flesh of adorable, woodland creatures? Voice acting! How can the very fabric of reality not be threatened by such atrocities!
Fortunately, all my fears were completely thrown out the window when I first laid my awe-stricken eyes upon a game that promised to deliver something totally unique, but for the first time in ages, changes that were totally welcome, as well. Breath of the Wild discards everything you thought you knew, everything you thought you wanted in a Zelda game and proves to players that sometimes change is in no way something to be scoffed at, but rather, strived for. While on the surface, this game is nearly unrecognizable as a Zelda game when compared to past entries, at the same time, the game never felt foreign to me. The same grand sense of adventure is there. The same quirky characters. Fairies and Bokoblins and even Korok make a comeback. Now, I could go on and on about my experiences starting out on this grand, new adventure, but seeing as I already wrote several in-depth posts discussing this very thing, I better quit my rambling and get straight to what makes Breath of the Wild so amazing.
The Story: Before we get to the game itself, let’s take some time to analyze the story. The story in this game is largely minimal. You’ll spend far more time running around Hyrule than watching cut scenes or reading expositional dialogue, which is definitely a plus. (I’m looking at you, Square Enix. Stop with all the cut scenes. Just stop it!) Nevertheless, the story was interesting enough, and I think what intrigued me the most were two things. One thing is minor, but I thought it was a unique twist that Link had already been established as a hero by the time this game takes place, unlike previous installments where he is really just a reincarnation of a hero. The best part of the story, however, were the parts involving Princess Zelda. Despite the series being named after her, I don’t think our fair princess usually gets that much characterization. For once, we finally get to learn more about who Zelda is as a person, with her own fears and weaknesses, hopes and goals. Furthermore, the story is not forced on you, nor is everything explained, either. The events of the past, specifically Princess Zelda’s past, can be discovered through the recovery of Link’s memories or by reading journal entries written by people that knew her, so you’ll have to piece everything together yourself if you want to get the full picture.
Voice Acting: Since we’re on the subject of story, I am pleased to report that the voice acting was far less offensive to me than I had originally expected. There is actually very little voice acting in this game, and what we do hear is perfectly good. It’s not the best voice acting I’ve ever heard, but it’s far from the worst. In fact, it blends in so naturally that I rarely even remembered that this is the first Zelda game to feature it.
The Music and the Graphics: To be honest, I didn’t care either way for the game’s soundtrack. Personally, I think the music in this game is not nearly as memorable as previous entries. At the same time, the soundtrack greatly complements the game, and I appreciate that there is very minimal music when Link is lost in the great, open outdoors. Instead, the main thing you’ll hear is the sound of wildlife or the wind or Link’s own footsteps. If we had been accompanied by something grander whilst on our journey, I think that would have easily taken away from the feel of being alone in the wilderness. As for the graphics, while they are certainly not on par with the PS4 or XBox One, Breath of the Wild is still a beauty to behold. The colorful graphics only add to the landscape rather than detract from it. The land of Hyrule has never before looked this good.
The Gameplay: Now, this is a broad topic, so I’ll just try to summarize the most important points. In fact, many of the sections that follow will expand upon this subject. For now, let’s start with selecting items. In past Zelda games, you would revisit your pause menu quite frequently in order to assign your various items to specific buttons. One thing I love about this game is the fact that many items can now be accessed without pausing the game. Weapons, shields, bows, and Shiekah Slate powers can all be accessed using the control pad, which is a surprisingly nice improvement.
Furthermore, you are solely responsible not only for your own health, but items, as well. You can no longer cut down tall grass and get hearts and convenient bundles of arrows. Yes, there are still plenty of ways to obtain arrows, such as by opening treasure chests or defeating enemies. Heck, you can even just provoke an enemy into shooting at you and pick up the arrows as they strike the ground (provided said enemy doesn’t have good aim, that is). It’s just not so effortless to restock on arrows anymore, okay? (As an example, in Majora’s Mask, you could usually revisit some random save point, cut the nearby grass, and get 30 arrows, 20 bombs, and a fairy all at once. You can’t do that anymore.) Likewise, with the lack of hearts, health is restored by cooking and eating food. This can, in a way, make the game easier because you can stock up on three pages worth of hearty meals with which to soothe Link’s injuries, and his belly, as opposed to only a couple bottles of potions. Nevertheless, you still must be prepared. Three pages of food can quickly run low, and if you fail to keep up, you can’t just rely on enemies to drop a bunch of hearts when they’re defeated.
Fragile Weapons: One thing I could see bothering people are the breakable weapons. While I will admit that weapons do break quite frequently in this game (either Hyrule is known for incompetent blacksmiths or Link has inhuman strength), the further you progress, the less of an issue it becomes. After a while, I was throwing out weapons constantly because I had too many to carry, and it was actually a relief when a few weapons broke because that meant I could obtain the spoils from treasure chests without having to toss something first. And since your weapons can be used a limited time before they inevitably shatter, this gives you all the more motivation to change weapons frequently and try new things. And there are plenty of weapons in this game. Fire swords, electric spears, ice rods, boomerangs…mops. Rather than be an issue for me, fragile weapons only added variety to the gameplay, which I grew to appreciate after a while.
The Difficulty Level: I have mixed feelings about the difficulty level in this game, mainly because losing 15 hearts in a single hit is really frustrating. Nevertheless, I concede that this game’s increased difficulty level is nothing but a good thing. I never felt like past Zelda games could be completed with one hand tied behind my back, but they certainly weren’t the most difficult games in the world, either. Breath of the Wild has plenty of moments where the challenge is maddening, and in the end, as angry as I sometimes got at the TV for a death I felt was unfair or a puzzle I thought was particularly baffling, I am so happy that we finally got a Zelda game that requires a good deal of effort.
The enemies in this game are far tougher than in previous games, as well, the Lynels in particular, which will destroy you if you’re not exceedingly careful. If you are too slow to lift your shield, you’re dead. If you’re standing in a puddle when an enemy shoots a lightning arrow at you, you’re dead. If you’re minding your own business, and you have no idea a Lynel is standing on the other side of a hill, but knows you’re there, and arrows start raining inexplicably from the sky, you’re dead! That seriously happened. I lost several fairies before I figured out what was going on. Oh, and you can also die if it’s too cold out. Or too hot. Or if you get struck by lightning.
The Puzzles: Continuing from there, some of the puzzles are truly brilliant, as well, and the Divine Beast dungeons are some of the most inspired things I’ve seen in a while, if not rather short. Yeah, some puzzles are a bit overly frustrating. Yeah, some of them even go so far as to incorporate the dreaded motion controls, which sometimes require me to tilt my gamepad in such a way that I appear to be attempting to get my car out of a spin after losing control on an icy road. (Which has, fortunately, never happened to me, but if you had seen the ridiculous dance that controller and I were forced to engage in…sigh…well, suffice it to say, it’s best you didn’t…) Nevertheless, all in all, the puzzles in this game are some of the best the series has to offer and have a certain Portal-feel to them, which I love. Of course, some improvements would be appreciated. As in, I would like motion controls to forever die so I never have to rely on them to complete a game ever again.
Things to Do; Things to See: There is so much to do in this game. 120 shrines. 900 Korok. Side quests and main quests and memories to recover. Rare horses to tame. And just pure, breathtaking scenery to enjoy. This game is also filled with plenty of surprises that are simply there for your gaming enjoyment. Massive dragons. Skeletal horses. Even a celestial creature from the heavens that only appears on select nights. Watching a gigantic serpentine dragon fly through the sky never gets old.
Glorious Freedom: Of course, the biggest area where this game excels is freedom. They were not kidding when they called this game Breath of the Wild. Wilderness? Aye, there’s tons of it. Forests and beaches and mountains and deserts, and after what I’m sure would be a disturbing amount of hours spent on the game that I care not to think about, there are probably plenty of nooks and crannies I have yet to visit. Not only is this game huge, but I love the fact that there are no boundaries. Mountains are only there for you to climb, not to prevent you from proceeding. Forests are…just like real forests. Just trees and trees and trees, with none of those suspiciously steep hills or flat walls showing 2D forest scenes to get in your way.
And when I speak of freedom, I don’t even just mean the massive, open world. This game gives you freedom of the mind, as well. As soon as you leave the Great Plateau, you can go anywhere your heart desires. Since you obtain essentially every power right from the start, there is absolutely nothing barring you from going wherever you want. Not only can you visit locations and perform tasks in any order, but nearly everything in this game is optional. You can literally reach the final boss as soon as you obtain the paraglider. The memories aren’t required. The Divine Beasts aren’t required. The entire game is one massive playground designed to allow you the freedom to prepare as much or as little for the final battle as you want. This really puts all the power in the player’s hands, and it’s a level of freedom I’d really love to see again in the future.
Problems: I have minimal issues with this game. I can safely say this is one of the best games we’re going to see for a long time. Nevertheless, it’s not perfect. For one thing, I had a decent amount of freezing issues. The game never froze entirely, but I found that I had to avoid attacking Moblins with any sort of melee weapon, for fear of causing the game to temporarily freeze, sometimes several times in a row. Keep in mind that I was playing this game on the Wii U, so I can’t speak for how it performs on the Switch. Most of the time it wasn’t a problem, but it could certainly be startling when it did happen. I also really wish the four Divine Beast dungeons were longer. While I enjoyed the majority of changes Breath of the Wild had to offer, I was not exactly happy that the large dungeons of previous entries had more or less been sacrificed. Sure, the game is massive in all other areas, so how can I really complain? Well, I am complaining, and I’d love to see those large, in-depth dungeons return in the next game. Okay, Nintendo? Please.
Breath of the Wild is the new and improved Zelda experience we never knew we wanted. While I am typically the type to fight change, this is one instance where I hope the changes are here to stay. I want to see where the Zelda series goes from here, and if it can continue from where Breath of the Wild left off, I see a bright new future for The Legend of Zelda ahead of us. For those of you who have also played Breath of the Wild, what are your thoughts on the game? What were your favorite aspects, and what do you think needs to be improved? Please let me know in the comments below!
Color This Duck Impressed
This post was originally published on Virtual Bastion on April 18, 2017.