If there’s one thing Breath of the Wild showcases to a delirious extent, it’s that Nintendo never, ever makes software that doesn’t fit its own platform. Not a Mario nor Kirby left behind.
That’s just smart business. Bring lovers of your properties the proper way to play said properties. So with the launch of the Switch – Nintendo’s white-hot hybrid machine that can go anywhere and do anything, ever – The Legend of Zelda had to follow suit.
As a result, players have one of the purest forms of the Legend of Zelda formula in Breath of the Wild in a fully-open, breathing world. To the surprise of no one, the combination is a winner all around, critically and commercially acclaimed through the roof in a year of big-hit contenders. To the surprise of a few, it may also be the best Zelda game in existence.
Backing up a bit, the world is the largest part that makes Breath of the Wild such an engaging challenge to play. Yes, a Zelda challenge that will spit you right back out if you try to get cocky. From the first hour in, which basically gathers together all the gadgets you’ll receive in the game, you’re free. Go, topple governments if you wish, move to Bermuda with your gang of Kokiri children, whatever. Take down Ganon, who is heard more than seen in this iteration, if you must. You have a self-directed difficulty slider based upon where you go and when.
Some slices of convenience include an overly detailed map and quest markers every which way. Breath of the Wild, famously, wants you to discover instead of follow, and given that people are still discovering tricks of the trade to this day, it’s fair to say substantive amounts of discovery can be found in Hyrule.
To me, that amount is practically endless. I’ve felt the exhilaration of moving a mountain only to find a dragon at the peak and organically discovering how to save it from Ganon’s darkness. No quests, no markers, just undiluted discovery. I struggle to call any game realistic and I won’t start here, but Breath of the Wild does offer a chance for discovery and a private sense of appreciation that hasn’t been in the series consistently for 30 years.
To the largest controversy we go with the weapon degradation system. I understand both sides, I do. Nintendo wants you to not become complacent, but players also just kinda wanna play without having a full-on weapon-tastrophe on their hands. For me, weapons weren’t my first line of defense or offense. The tablet and the physics of the world gave me my first real options, so I adapted to study the world through that lens first. Can I roll a bomb down to that enemy base? Then boom, done. Some are smartly constructed to even limit those options, and that’s when you better have some good weapons on hand or it’s curtains.
With the abundance of options, said weapons already felt naturally disposal (this side of maybe two that I found that were both repairable). That was my mindset, and it created an environment where I was just using what I had on hand at once without really caring. Some boss fights can be made more simple with certain weapons, but with every creature dropping another pokey stick, it wasn’t difficult to find one…
I know, I’m all over the place. Breath of the Wild certainly didn’t offend me with the weapon system, but does it really bode well that Nintendo is asking you to not feel so attached to a system inside a world you’re clearly meant to care for?
Speaking to the stamina system, I had no issues at all here. I understand the quick connection in a lot of minds between “go anywhere, do anything” and “at my own pace”, but that was never what Nintendo was promising here. I’d imagine that comes too close to the vapid survival simulators for their taste, for better or worse. For me, limitations give me ways to move forward and be creative inside of a world built to be strategic. The limitations of the stamina just weren’t overbearing enough to bring down my experience.
On this episode of Hyrule Trouble Makers, we see Link awakening from a 100 year sleep after having his ass thoroughly kicked by Ganon and the possessed robot machines. Zelda has been holding him back all this time, but her fuse is nearly spent. Again, it’s a loose story with loose objectives such as “free the sacred beasts to help you against Ganon” that you can completely ignore on a whim. There’s also a certain sword you can claim and countless side activities awaiting discovery, all as organic as a farmer’s market egg.
Breath of the wild offers an unusual amount of characterization around Link, Zelda, and the four Champions that you meet. Those latter five even feature voice acting, which is a “dramatic gopher” moment to be sure. Their quality is a variable, but there is still potential for emotional scenes. During some optional quests where you gain glimpses into what happened 100 years ago, Zelda takes center stage as an impertinent speedster that both wants her freedom and shuns the responsibilities of the throne. I won’t spoil where that goes because the emotional burst, which is exactly what this game needed slightly more of, is worth the entire journey as far as I’m concerned.
Should you take the long-way-round as I did, you’ll run into four main dungeons outside of the shrines. Individual shrines are single-puzzle areas using what you have on hand (usually) that offer you orbs to upgrade your health or stamina bar. These come with a huge amount of variety with a shockingly high number of them remaining engaging even into the end game.
The four main dungeons have a centralized puzzle that evolves as your progress towards defeating gooey eyeballs and freeing the beast within, Purge style, through a Phantom Ganon. Given that you do fight basically the same enemy at every major turn in the already-vague story, these dungeons don’t ever seem to end with much of a bang. You’re just there to go through the motions, it seems, and then gain another ally in the ensuing battle. What that ends up meaning is a slightly easier fight with the final boss, which is already pretty easy if you come prepared. There just wasn’t enough payoff for the loss of puzzles and creative finishes inside those main dungeons.
Adjacent to the entire experience is cooking, which has more of a role than I think anyone ever thought it would. Some areas nearly require you to gobble up a heating potion or overcharge your heart container. It is, to my giddy pleasure, a blast to watch the dumb morsels bounce until their done making whatever fresh new hell of flavor you’ve discovered. As mentioned, this can give you huge advantages in battle and be carried around in your sizable inventory for later. It makes Overcooked look…*snicker*…underdone!
Breath of the Wild rounds out to an incredible gaming experience with some blemishes at a few of the many levels of design. You’re talking about a legion of bananas with only a handful of bruises. It’s a complete triumph in every sense of the word that resets a Zelda formula that needed it desperately. We’ll see where Nintendo turns next, but I’m not looking to leave this version of Hyrule anytime soon either.
Breath of the Wild Score: