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The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – Switch

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – Switch

Platform: Nintendo Switch

Developer: Nintendo EPD

Publisher: Nintendo

Genre: Adventure, RPG

Release Date: March 3rd, 2017

Nerd Rating: 9 out of 10

What? It’s been three whole months since its release, and still no review of the new Zelda game? Well, we can’t let that stand, can we? I mean, modern gaming without the legacy of Zelda is simply unthinkable, so it’s only natural for us to pay our respects. I’m here to set things right. This is a much-overdue review of the latest entry to the fabled The Legend of Zelda series: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

TLOZBOTW [Original]

For those of you who are new to the series, The Legend of Zelda spans a long and very important part of video gaming history. Invented by Nintendo mogul Shigeru Miyamoto, who is credited for many more Nintendo titles, such as the Super Mario series and even Pikmin, the original Legend of Zelda was released for the Famicom in 1986. It became famous for its standoffish, yet compelling design that promoted what many critics refer to as the purest form of adventure gaming. Since then, The Legend of Zelda has earned a cherished place in gamers’ hearts. With the release of concurrent titles, the series later broke out into the 3D realm and has, for better or worse, since fallen into a demonstrable routine, where structures and motifs have become ever more apparent and recognizable. Because of this, many have lamented that The Legend of Zelda is a dying series, unable to innovate in enough ways to maintain consumer interest.

Enter The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. After a couple of setbacks along the way, the much-awaited title finally hit the shelves back in March, met widely with critical acclaim. Does it stand up to its predecessors while innovating enough to justify its place in the pantheon of Zelda games? Let’s find out!


TLOZBOTW [Ganon]

The premise of Breath of the Wild is that Ganon, the series’s ageless super-villain, is once again on the cusp of conquering the fantasy kingdom of Hyrule, killing the kingdom’s greatest warriors and conquering the capital. 100 years later, the Hero of Time, known as Link, awakens from a deep sleep with the goal of vanquishing Ganon once and for all, with the help of Princess Zelda, of course.

Exiting the cave of Link’s refuge, the player is dumped into the vast world of Hyrule. And my, what beauty. The first thing that stands out to the player is just how large and beautiful the world is. In the distance are mountains, tundras, deserts, plateaus, and valleys, all beckoning the player forward in equal measure. What’s a guy to do?

Explore it, of course! But how? Luckily, like just about every other Zelda game (minus the first one), there is handy tutorial section, where an old man guides Link through a lot of the main facets of the game, allowing the player to try out their figurative wings before being invited to explore the world on their own.

TLOZBOTW [Landscape 1]

Wow.

Unlike plenty of Zelda games that precede it, Breath of the Wild does not funnel the player through various choke points as they beat the dungeons in a dull, pre-determined order. Instead, the map is completely open, allowing the player to go where they want, when they want, carving out their own path and unique tale. Along the way, the player will be “legging it” a lot to get from point A to point B. This is done through a handful of different methods; you can travel on foot, you can ride a horse, you can climb a damn mountain, or (and probably the most exciting) you can float on your glider. Awesome! This is the most impressive variety of travel featured in any Zelda game, making traversing the map one of the most fun aspects of playing Breath of the Wild. This variety of travel options introduces a dynamic decision-making system where you are encouraged to make judgement calls on how you are going to get to your destination.

And this decision-making has a lot to do with the level design. Mountains, lakes, deserts, tundras, and sometimes hordes of enemies all act as obstacles for the player, presenting challenges that complicate your path to your destination. Since Breath of the Wild has done away with the old method of cordoning off areas until you’re ready, it instead relies on danger and intimidation to influence your decisions. The more intimidating the level design, the more likely a green player is to turn back and try a different direction. At the same time, this provides plenty of opportunities for individualized storytelling, allowing players to break sequence and try something they’re not ready for, even if it might end in frustration and brutal failure. Breath of the Wild has already been compared to Dark Souls many times on forums galore, but at least in this respect, they’re not wrong.

TLOZBOTW [Cubby]

As you can probably tell, I think the level design is excellent. There always seemed like there was something else worth exploring. The world of Hyrule is filled with tons of environmental hideouts and cubbies, each of them featuring their own unique adventure waiting for you. There are a lot of explicit quests linked to these hideouts, but not always. This allows Breath of the Wild to preserve more than a few pure adventure gaming moments, doubly awesome by the fact that plenty of players will experience them differently, and even more players won’t even experience them at all, making these areas and these moments that much more special.

TLOZBOTW [Dungeons 1]

Like any true Zelda game, Breath of the Wild features a tidy number of dungeons. And when I say tidy, I mean tidy. I won’t say how many, but all told, Breath of the Wild features probably the smallest number of dungeons out of any other Zelda game prior, including the first one. But that doesn’t mean that they’re not good. Any Zelda will be familiar with the traditional long-form dungeon where you move from one end to another, defeating a mini-boss along the way in order to obtain a unique item, and then defeating the final boss with that same item. Breath of the Wild offers a much-needed breath of fresh air, featuring concise and focused dungeons that present a twist on the classic structure.

TLOZBOTW [Dungeons 3]

These dungeons are much farther apart from each other, and a lot smaller. Enemies are few and far between, and mini-bosses are nowhere to be found. Instead, the dungeons are much more puzzle-focused, unified by gimmicks that allow you to change their shape layout, which forces the player to think of each dungeon as one cohesive piece. This reflects a design philosophy present in some of the most challenging and creative dungeons from the rest of the Zelda series, where you had to think about what effects an action would have in the next room and predict those changes in order to solve puzzles that sometimes spanned the entire dungeon. I was never a super fan of previous Zelda dungeons, so this more condensed and focused structure is a welcome change for me, but it may not be for everyone.

TLOZBOTW [Shrines 1]

Now, the dungeons in Breath of the Wild may be a lot shorter than those featured in previous Zelda games, but I think the game makes up for it through the use of bonus mini-dungeons that are scattered all across the map. Each of these dungeons, known as “shrines,” provide the player with a short challenge or puzzle that usually takes from five to ten minutes to complete, at most. They are creative, challenging, and sometimes, just downright hard.

TLOZBOTW [Shrines 2]

Seeking out and defeating these shrines would have to be another of my favorite parts of the game, providing all the fun of dungeon crawling and puzzle solving without the headache of spending hours buried inside a single dungeon. Also, the level of difficulty presented by the shrine challenges usually outweighs the challenge posed by the long-form dungeons in the majority of previous Zelda games, and I think this is a great compromise. Historically, Zelda games have been struggling to ride that balance between appealing to the masses while challenging the more seasoned gamers, and these optional shrines hit that much-needed balance almost perfectly, so kudos to Breath of the Wild.

TLOZBOTW [Inventory]

So I’ve said a lot of good things about Breath of the Wild. Time to lay on some of the garbage. The first bad thing I noticed is the inventory management system. You can pick up tons of stuff, including a ridiculous variety of food and ore that are scattered throughout the land. Collecting little hearts to heal yourself is no longer a thing. To heal in this game, you have to cook food, and it is tedious and slow. I hate it.

On top of that, your weapons will break after a bit of use, meaning that you’re constantly collecting new weapons, shields, and bows, all of which tend to break really fast, meaning that you’ll be collecting a lot of them. This is such a bad system, I don’t even know where to begin. Skyward Sword introduced the item-collecting element as well as the weapon durability element, but it was done way better in that game, so this is a real step backward. If the weapons were a bit more durable and if there were perhaps a few less items in the game that do the exact same thing, this system may have been implemented better. I do think the in-game currency system is really good, so this game got at least that right.

It's actually way less cool than this makes it look.

It’s actually way less cool than this makes it look.

On top of that, the combat is just terrible. There are a ridiculously small number of moves and attack types, resulting in a style of combat where you just mash the Y button to beat the shit out of your opponents before they can get a hit in on you. This isn’t interesting at all. Dodging and parrying are still there, but they’re hard to do and not very complex, in my opinion. Ocarina of Time, which was released four generations ago, had more interesting combat. Hell, even Skyward Sword was better, and that game used those Wii motion controls that never seemed to work quite right.

That said, Breath of the Wild introduces a couple of new mechanics, such as the ability to throw weapons and use the Switch’s gyroscope to more easily aim the bow during combat. You can also use bits of the environment to dispatch enemies through the game’s physics system, and the enemy AI is much more dynamic and interesting. All of these additions are cool, but not nearly cool enough to make up for how bland the rest of the combat is.

TLOZBOTW [Zelda 1]

The story in Breath of the Wild is great, and when I say that, what I really mean that it’s not very intrusive. Don’t get me wrong, plenty of Zelda games have had very interesting stories; it’s part of the reason why so many people like the series. But lately, things have been getting a little stale. So this time the developers pulled way back on things, to the point where you can avoid the story for the majority of the game if you want. I really liked this approach, as it emphasized the exploration and moment-by-moment storytelling over some grand epic that pummels you over the head with unnecessary exposition.

Plus, the annoying companions like Fi and Navi that live on in infamy are nowhere to be seen. This is a great step forward, showing that Nintendo is ready to start trusting players to want to play their games.

TLOZBOTW [Kass]

Characters featured in Breath of the Wild are good, but not great. While a few memorable characters from other games make some (rather unnecessary) comebacks, there are relatively few characters unique to Breath of the Wild that I predict will be remembered later on. The accordion-playing Kass is the only one that comes to mind. Some of the newer characters come with fully voice-acted cut scenes, which is a nice addition, but none of them are really given enough space to breathe and develop their story arcs, making any interaction with them feel extremely superficial.

TLOZBOTW [Quests]

One of the greatest characterizing elements presents itself in the form of the new quest system. In previous Zelda titles, quests were rather free-form and a little hard to keep track of, with very little to no recourse available to remind you of where you were supposed to go and who delivered you the quest. That system worked for those games, but Breath of the Wild is much bigger, making the old system almost impossible to implement. So this time around, there is a handy menu that keeps track of your quests, complete with map markers and objective reminders. At the same time, the developers avoided that little dotted line that plots for you the crucial path towards your objectives, instead giving you the chance to puzzle solve and find your own way to the different objectives. This is a great compromise in my opinion, keeping the quests both challenging and enjoyable in equal levels.

No make it stop.

No make it stop.

If you’re one of those people that gets upset when a Zelda game takes on weird new graphics, then have no fear! The graphics featured in Breath of the Wild are pretty unobtrusive, but very beautiful. Little touches, like explosions and magic beams, will receive a stylistic flair, but that’s about it. Probably the weirdest thing about the graphic design is the eyes. Goddamn they look weird.

And don’t even get me started on the music. Simply put, the music is fantastic. While just about every other Zelda game featured these epic orchestral scores composed by the great Koji Kondo, Breath of the Wild has scaled things way back to the almost exclusive use of a solo piano, with only a few orchestral scores sprinkled here and there for emphasis. On paper, this may not sound very impressive, but this game just nails it. The subdued tinkling of keys tinged with nostalgic motifs serves to emphasize the intimidating loneliness and vastness of the surrounding environment while also mirroring the developers’ judicious restraint in other areas of game design. I’m extremely impressed by such a bold move with the soundtrack, especially since it’s been years since the last 3D Zelda.


Overall, these elements come together to achieve a marvelous sense of adventure. Simply by tweaking a few long-standing and tired traditions of the Zelda franchise, Nintendo was able to recreate that raw feeling of awe and wonder that stuck with us as we played Ocarina of Time, Link to the Past, and others. Because let’s face it: The gaming world has grown up. We have all gotten older and we’ve learned new things about game design that have jaded us for the more traditional structures of adventure games. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild came in and broke all those rules, just as its predecessors did when the first game opened our imaginations to exploration, when Majora’s Mask encouraged us to play with time, and when Wind Waker beckoned us to conquer the open seas.

We are once again given a Zelda that we can invest our imaginations in, driven by a true desire to take some detours and find out what excitement is waiting for us around each corner. It’s not a slavish edition of previous games; a lot of things were stripped away in favor of a simpler, yet more unique experience like none other offered by the franchise, and for that alone Breath of the Wild is laudable. But it is also laudable for the execution of its vision, resulting in a Zelda that feels complete and whole, with no wasted parts or confused direction. While some of those parts may be somewhat lacking in character, the game certainly makes up for these shortcomings in sheer vision. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a great step in an exciting new direction, and I, for one, am looking forward to what other new ideas Nintendo has in mind.

It gets a 9 for such an inspiring twist on the classic structure, albeit with some extraneous parts that could have been done away with or polished a bit more. I had a lot of fun with Breath of the Wild, and I would recommend it for fans and newbies alike.

Written by Nips

 
 

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