Nintendo’s tendency to live and create on the outskirts of the gaming industry’s trends has always been its greatest quality and the source of its biggest downfalls. On one hand, such characteristic has allowed the company to craft and develop properties that swim against the current, heading towards bright creative shores other developers seem to ignore, which causes its studios’ greatest titles to be rebellious sparks of color in a world where the mainstream looks black and gray. On the other hand, that stubborn bone has led Nintendo to arrive way too late to some of gaming’s most considerable advances, such as optical discs, sprawling online features, and high definition graphics; a reality that has undeniably been costly.
On the aftermath of the announcement of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, that analysis is relevant because – for what might as well be the first time ever – Nintendo seems to be paying attention to what has been going on outside of its walls. More shockingly, however, is the fact that the company that has always been a gameplay trailblazer, as it is evidenced by the numerous outside developers who cite its historic games as a source of inspiration, is following instead of leading; tuning its antenna to catch trends instead of starting them.
Ironically, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is, simultaneously, the most modern and old-school game the franchise has ever presented by a gigantic margin. Its modernity lies in its embrace of open-world gameplay, something that has become pretty much the standard for every current gaming blockbuster. The irony is that by blowing up the fences that had been keeping the series on a stellar, albeit predetermined, path since A Link to the Past, and heading full-speed towards the contemporary trend of wide overworlds where players are free to roam wherever they want and do whatever they feel like, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild ends up bumping into the NES original that started it all, where the ideas of freedom that are so prominent today were first implemented.
It is as if someone inside Nintendo, on a particularly inspired day, opened up the window, looked out onto the gaming world, scanned the horizon, and realized that what was going on outside and making a splash with audiences was something Miyamoto himself had basically coined back in 1986 with The Legend of Zelda. Only, during the time Nintendo had lost sight of that open-ended path, others had come in, taken it to unprecedented levels of quality and size, and gained a whole lot of money and praise while they were at it; it was time to come back.
It is hard to tell whether Nintendo is merely retracing its steps with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild or following tendencies – the truth likely, as usual, lies somewhere in between those poles. Two things, however, are undeniable. Firstly, there is the fact that the game looks spectacular, and the vast expanse of Hyrule and its apparently incredible design have made the wait and delays worth it: the world is gorgeous, alluring, brimming with details – both in the visual and gameplay fields, and packed with things to do, which adds fuel to the concept that players can choose their own adventure and approach the game in hundreds of different ways.
Moreover, given that Link is seemingly thrown into a despair-ridden Hyrule, now featuring technological touches that are nicely integrated into the Zelda fabric, by a mysterious voice that wakes him up from a long slumber, there is a huge door open towards a more hands-off approach to storytelling, which could be quite a shift to the franchise’s usual mold.
Secondly, though, in a more neutral light, is how not much of what The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild does is truly original. Open world games are so common nowadays they have almost become a genre of their own, with titles like Skyrim, The Witcher 3, Red Dead Redemption, and the whole Assassin’s Creed saga having already explored that field to a great degree. Additionally, other elements that make Breath of the Wild a truly remarkable step within the Zelda franchise have also been previously tackled by others: surviving by getting resources from the environment, for example, was a major theme of the classic Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater; and collecting various goods across the world to cook, upgrade weapons, get new ammo, and build the game’s central character is something that has always existed in RPGs.
Borrowing ideas, though, is not inherently bad. Not only is much of what the world creates grounded on previously established concepts, the fact that Nintendo is being heavily inspired by what is on the outside is incredibly encouraging. Although the Zelda series has a track record of creation and invention, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild does not need to be entirely made up of pieces that have never seen before; it simply needs to take all of those parts, make them its own, and build a truly impressive gaming experience with them. And, from the early looks Nintendo has allowed the world to take, the game seems to be treading that road safely.
The junction of an immersive open world that is colored by the palette of themes, characters, assets, and regions that exist in Hyrule, with quirks of modern gaming and the traditional elements of the Zelda gameplay, such as dungeons and cleverly designed equipment, is bound to turn The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild into a game for the ages.
On the surface, it may seem that the stubborn company that often refuses to conform to the norm is lowering its head and acknowledging the greatness of what the outside world has been producing. Below that veil, however, there is more than enough room for Nintendo to infuse The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild with their unmistakable charm. In the end, what the game might actually accomplish is proving to everyone that the house that invented that kind of gameplay some thirty years ago is still the master at that craft despite its lengthy absence from that field.