I’m going to be honest: I’ve never been a fan of Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda series. As an avid video game fan — and I’ve been one my entire life — I can understand how that’s borderline sacrilegious in this community. Nintendo as we know it today was perhaps built on Mario’s shoulders, but Link’s numerous adventures in the fantasy world of Hyrule have been arguably just as important to the company’s success as his plumber counterpart. Since the series’ first outing in 1986 on the original Nintendo Entertainment System, Zelda has been one of the most influential franchises in gaming, spawning dozens of sequels and spinoffs that have come to each of the latest and
greatest* iterations of Nintendo’s many consoles over the past 31 years. (*latest, sure, but we all know Nintendo has stumbled a couple times over the years with some of their consoles. But hey, this Switch seems pretty great!)
And through each stage of my life, I’ve tried to play another entry in the Zelda series, some of which are considered the absolute best the franchise has to offer. As a child, Ocarina of Time was my introduction. Then as a teen I found the before-my-time entry A Link To The Past. And most recently, as an adult, I thought the acclaimed A Link Between Worlds would finally be the one that converted me. And although these games are widely praised as being among the greatest games of all time, I’ve never even made it halfway through any of these; at one point or another finding myself bored by the gameplay and putting it down in favor of another game. This has all changed with Nintendo’s latest offering, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
While I’m not yet finished with Breath of the Wild (far from it, actually, having only dedicated roughly 15 hours to it at this point), I can say without a doubt that this is my favorite Zelda game. And although I’m quite early on in the game (if reviews are to be trusted, then I can expect to lose upwards of 100 hours to it by the time I put it down), I have the feeling that this will join the ranks of my all-time favorite games even before I eventually end up finishing it. I’ve not been so engrossed in a game’s world in years. Breath of the Wild is blissful in every aspect; a real masterpiece.
Breath of the Wild allows for true player freedom. Sure, there have been pitches in game demos for probably a decade now, where the demo’s guide says, “You see that mountain over there? That vast, open ocean over here? You can go there. You can explore anywhere in our game.” Well, you too can do this in Breath of the Wild, and yes, it originally demoed with this exact “go wherever you want to” pitch. But where Breath of the Wild stands out among its sandbox game peers is that it truly has the power to make you want to explore every last nook and cranny of its gargantuan-sized map, especially thanks to how fun and easy they make traversing the world.
Perhaps the best feature of Breath of the Wild is Link’s climbing ability. You can literally climb up 95% of the surfaces in the game. You’re sort of like a fantasy world version of Spider-Man, except without the tight, red and blue get-up…or web-slinging abilities…oh, and there’s no mention of spiders at all. So, maybe you’re not that similar to Spider-Man. But hey, you get the picture: Link is good at climbing. Why? No idea. It’s never addressed. (But it also doesn’t matter). Climbing up a mountain and using your glider to safely head back down is only one of the preferred ways to travel around Hyrule, being especially useful as it allows you to get way up above your surroundings and first scope out the environment before choosing where you want to go next.
I’ve actually found myself spending far more time just climbing up mountainsides and getting lost in wooded areas than I have been trying to make my way through the game’s main quest line. Just the simple act of exploring this version of Hyrule is enthralling — something I would usually find as being a chore in other similar open-world games. Because in most other games of this size, while you may find something worthwhile in your exploring random corners of the map, in my previous experience it’s more than likely that you won’t. In Breath of the Wild, however, it’s almost guaranteed you’ll happen upon something worth finding.
You may see a Shrine in the distance, which are mini puzzle/combat rooms placed across the map that, upon finishing, reward you with a Spirit Orb, an item you can later trade-in in order to upgrade Link’s health or stamina. Every time I see one, I immediately head straight there. These Shrines are optional (there’s 120 of them overall), but valuable in making yourself stronger in the long run. They also sort of act as separate tutorials for players, each one highlighting a different play style or teaching you a new ability which you can then go ahead and adopt for future use elsewhere in the game. And most of all, they’re just fun to do. I almost want to put aside completing the game until I’ve seen through each and every Shrine, but that almost seems crazy (but I still may do it).
Likewise, I’m constantly on the lookout for Korok Seeds. These are hidden collectibles scattered around the world, of which you can acquire usually through solving a tiny, almost too easy puzzle (which is fine by me, because the real puzzle usually comes in finding them in the first place). Similar to the Spirit Orbs you receive from Shrines, these Korok Seeds can be used to upgrade your inventory space, which is constantly being filled by new weapons and shields and various other things.
Speaking of weapons and shields, let’s talk about the exciting combat that awaits your return to Hyrule. The combat system in Breath of the Wild is both familiar and different at the same time, adopting a similar yet highly refined lock-on centric style of fighting seen previously in other 3D Zelda games, but with one big twist: loot. While there are certainly chests you can find that contain new items, most of the items you will use will come from the hand of your slaughtered foes. Every enemy you come across drops its equipment when defeated, which you can then pick up and use yourself, be it a bow or a sword or a shield. Each item comes equipped with its own stats, including the damage it will do against enemies and its durability.
Each and every item you use to battle can and will break (outside of a few higher level items, or so I hear), and even in the short amount of time I’ve played I’ve gone through more than a hundred weapons. Your equipment breaks quicker in this game than any other I’ve played before, with low-level weapons breaking in about 15 hits. Nintendo manages to make sure this doesn’t become irritating or annoying, though, with the durability system instead making for an interesting mechanic that forces you to really strategize how and when you use your items. And while it can be sad to part ways with an extra special, high-level weapon you’ve come to love, there’s no shortage of new weapons that will come your way, some that will be even better than Ol’ Reliable.
Outside of the fun moment-to-moment gameplay, Breath of the Wild stuns with its superb graphics and beautiful score. This isn’t the most technically impressive game I’ve ever seen; quite far from it, actually. The muddy textures, noticeably bad pop-in, and occasional framerate drops mar the game’s graphic quality. But these gripes can easily be forgiven due to the truly remarkable art style. The game can often look like a moving painting; its expansive world harboring inspired landscapes and a diverse cast of quirky, unforgettable characters that at times look like they’ve been plucked straight out of a Studio Ghibli film. This style will help to make the game have an almost ageless look that will continue to look great for years to come, whereas its peers who strive for the most realistic graphics will quickly become outdated when the tech gets better and newer iterations eventually blow them out of the water.
I’m outright telling you right now that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is one of the greatest games ever made. From nearly every standpoint it is as close to perfection as a video game has ever gotten. The gameplay is thrilling and addictive (even the act of cooking is fun!). The story, characters, and world are compelling and charming at all times. The visuals are outstanding and its soundtrack a masterstroke. It’s a game that deserves to be played by any and every fan of the medium, regardless of whether or not you’ve enjoyed previous Zelda games. I think I finally understand why people love this series so much, and I’m ever so glad I do.
Alright. Enough writing about it, now it’s about time I got back to playing it. I wonder what this Eventide Island is all about…
–Michael Lane, Blog Editor