As promised last time, I’m ready to share my thoughts on Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. However, unlike my last two posts (impressions and a quickie rant on the rain), this will be going way into spoiler territory without any restrictions, so I would advise anyone who hasn’t experienced the game yet to refer to the impressions post for my thoughts on the game – essentially the same as they are now — which has clearly marked spoiler bits at the end. So last warning!
Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is indeed the breath of fresh air the franchise needed to regain its relevance. I don’t want to repeat myself, so I’ll leave my reasoning for why I feel that way (along with gameplay commentary) to my previous post. Here I want to focus on the strengths of Nintendo’s approach with this game, as well as a few small issues that I noticed along the way.
Let’s get the nitpicking out of the way first, as they are generally all minor in nature.
1) The final sequence fighting off Ganon with your horse was more obnoxious than I think it should have been. Especially when trees got involved. The camera was a little too uncooperative and I tended to run into the aforementioned trees as I was focused on Ganon’s weak points. After the intensity of the first part of this epic showdown, this was a bit of a letdown.
2) That’s not to say that here was the only issue with the camera, as I had occasional problems with it throughout the game. Sometimes it would just get too close to Link to see, or other times seemed to not really register my commands for its placement, or override my specific directive for what it thought was a better option. It’s not a deal breaker, but it made some of the combat situations and timing concerns a little more irritating.
3) The Korok Hestu — responsible for taking all those Korok seeds scattered all over Hyrule — shouldn’t have just vanished the way he did outside of Kakariko Village where you first meet him. I forgot where he said he lived, and wandered around for quite some time before I inadvertently bumped into the Lost Woods and the Korok Village. During that time, I had collected like 70 seeds…which really made me want to know where he went! I think he should have been treated more like the painter and popped up at stables and villages.
4) The dive animation kept throwing off my paragliding. Constantly. It became more infuriating when I didn’t know there was water beneath me when I leapt off of somewhere, disrupting my illusion of control.
5) As I typed up earlier, the rain.
6) The bestiary is decent, but I would have liked more variety in the monsters, especially given the scope of the game’s world. Throwing leevers or peahats into the Gerudo Desert, or like likes or tektites onto the beaches, or deku babas or dodongos into the jungles…I realize that the Wii U may have held up some of the memory potential, but still, seeing Bobokins and Moblins everywhere wasn’t as inspiring as it could have been if I instead stumbled upon some Darknuts or ReDead once in a while.
Those are the bigger complaints I have. And they’re pretty minor in the grand scheme of how much joy I got out of Breath of the Wild.
Nintendo made the amazingly brave choice of reverting so much of the Zelda core of gameplay design back to its NES origin. Link is thrust into a huge world, mostly left to his own devices on how to proceed. The tutorial area in the Great Plateau serves as the means for Link to get the skills, tools and story threads needed to set off on his way, and then once let loose the player is effectively free to explore at their own pace. One can march right up to Hyrule Castle and attempt to breach Calamity Ganon’s sanctum, or can power Link up as much as potentially possible (through shrine orbs, Great Fairy gifts, freeing and activating the Divine Beasts, accomplishing side quests, cooking, weapon management, finding the Master Sword, crafting the Ancient gear for the Guardian threats, getting a great horse, and expanding your inventory slots). And there’s incredible flexibility courtesy of the smart design that lets players go after these objectives in whatever order they see fit. Some are harder than others — you need fireproof gear or elixirs for the Goron area of Death Mountain, and the Gerudo Desert is a harsh wasteland that varies between extreme heat and cold, for instance — but because Nintendo put the majority of the mechanics into the player’s hands at the beginning, there is no wrong choice. Anything is valid so long as the player’s means and capabilities meet the challenges ahead. If they don’t, the game will let you know. The enemies are vicious (Lynels BTW are among the best fights I’ve ever had in a game), and the environments rough; you need to be prepared to march around in this game. But there are incredible rewards for being bold — amazing gear, awesome sights, astounding moments. I can look back and remember a ton of stunning segments in Breath of the Wild, ones that don’t happen with the frequency they do here for most other games.
The other big element that I think Nintendo got perfect was the way Link is actively connected to the narrative. I mentioned this before in the spoiler area of my last post, but Link is not some random guy who just so happens to be important to the overarching storyline — he was a crucial part of the lives of Zelda, the Champions, and several older NPCs. His heroics and defeat remain in the minds of the populace. In some cases, the failure to stop Ganon stuck a nasty thorn into their past, and Link’s return is a stark reminder of what was lost to those groups. Link has to regain their faith and justify that he is now able to do what he and the others were incapable of 100 years ago. And his bond to Zelda and the Champions makes those character’s fates all the more tragic and believable. You can see Zelda’s angst and anger about her fate in the Hyrule canon; trapped within her namesake’s lofty mythology and the demands to achieve that glory…something she would rather not wield, nor does she feel confident actually possessing. Many of the memories Link recollects involve Zelda’s struggles with her destiny, and how she would prefer to not be shackled to her legacy but instead wishes to forge her own path towards Ganon’s downfall. The stubbornness of her father and the people she will rule over command her to forego her own whims and focus entirely on her spirituality, and this clearly wrecks Zelda’s confidence. And Link knows it all, as he has been there by her side through all we see in these cutscenes. And upon relearning these fragments of his past, we too get to see how much Zelda means to him — and to us. The Champions get this opportunity as well, although not as significantly as the titular princess. Still, it is more than enough to connect to them and feel for their losses as you release the Divine Beasts (and their souls) from Ganon’s clutches. Mipha was my favorite, personally, as I felt a genuine resonance to her time with Link that the Zoras reinforced beautifully. The other three did not quite reach her level, but overall I felt close to the main cast in a Zelda game like never before. Typically it’s a sole character, like Midna in Twilight Princess, that stands high above the rest, but here it must be commended that all of the primary characters have a weight and significance to them that stuck with me.
I think Breath of the Wild encapsulates the Nintendo that rose from the ashes of the PR and sales disaster that was the Wii U (as much as it hurts me to type that). After the sensational Wii led them to (in my view) a creative roadblock, the Wii U’s tempestuous lifespan caused Nintendo to reevaluate their production and they cranked out some of their best games for the system. Splatoon. Super Mario 3D World. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U. Mario Kart 8. And now Breath of the Wild is a wondrous endcap to a system that reinvigorated that very creativity within Nintendo’s development teams. For me, it’s a nigh perfect experience that is only barely soured by its few flaws. Kudos for making what could be the grandest Zelda of them all, EAD.