The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild

In taking two gameplay styles – open-world and Zelda – to their very apex by joining them, it earns the right to be called a classic

botw1Nobody, even the most creative artists, lives inside a perfectly sealed bubble. Writers, oftentimes unconsciously, pick up cues and stylistic choices from the texts they read; filmmakers drink from numerous sources and sew them together to form their own unique movies; musicians learn chord changes from songs that have already been put onto records; and the same magical process of creation applies to painters, sculptors, architects, dancers, and performers that pour out their souls into their labor to transform the raw assets that nature has given us into the art that captures the heart of many.

Game designers, for that matter, are not different; after all, the gaming industry has moved forward and built its library of classics through a collaborative effort that has involved the plentiful borrowing of new successful gameplay mechanics and an equally large amount of blatant inspiration. For some time there, though, it seemed Nintendo was partially alien to that trading of ideas and concepts: while their titles were influential to many, the valuable pieces of the major works of those that did not reside within the company’s Kyoto headquarters were never utilized in any significant way to boost Nintendo’s own franchises.

On one hand, such a closed environment lent great idiosyncrasy to their franchises; when Mario, Zelda, Metroid, and numerous other properties were stellar, they existed and operated on a level of their own, standing far above and away from anything else that had ever been made. On the other hand, when those series reached their dullest and least inspired moments, they felt almost antiquate; as if they were the output of a stubborn artist that refuses to look outside their own mind for inspiration due to the false belief that their prowess is self-sufficient.

botw4First and foremost, then, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – which works both as the swam song of the Wii U and as the fanfare that announces the arrival of the Nintendo Switch – is remarkable because it shows Nintendo stretching their necks above the walls surrounding their studio to see what is happening outside. More importantly, it captures the company jumping straight into the biggest fad of contemporary gaming – open-world gameplay – and using it to revitalize one of their greatest assets. However, even if it is following a trend instead of creating one, which is the opposite of what has been common throughout its history, Nintendo is able to turn their very first foray into the extensively explored landscape of open-world gaming into a glorious point of reference, not allowing it to become just another dot on an already overcrowded map.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild begins with a confused Link waking up from a lengthy slumber to the sound of a female voice urging him to move out of the dark chamber in which he finds himself. It takes approximately five minutes for players to free themselves from the shackles of that introductory portion and face the magnificence of Hyrule from the top of a hill. Aware that the greatest quality of this new adventure lies in the awe-inspiring world they have created, developers are quick to give players the freedom that is necessary for them to fully enjoy it. Therefore, Link is set loose into the wilderness of this kingdom armed with the branch of a tree, and with the knowledge that there is something terribly wrong and – for some reason – he is the one that needs to act upon it.

For a game whose stage calls for the use of all synonyms of the word “big” to try to do it justice, and for an overworld that is packed with so much detail it is fair to wonder how big of an army of developers Nintendo had to assemble in order to build it, Breath of the Wild is surprisingly minimalistic. In fact, minimalism might as well be its central theme. In storytelling, that means cutscenes, which include solid voice acting, are kept to brief durations and rare appearances. In the game’s opening hours, as players are trying to reach the four points on the map that mark the location of the challenges Link needs to clear to gain the abilities that will help him in his quest, Breath of the Wild reveals the bare minimum necessary to lure gamers into its world, and does a great job at that.

botw8Through the remainder of the adventure, it is purely up to the player (as it is the case with pretty much everything about Breath of the Wild) to decide if they want to pursue the extra tidbits of information – in the form of lost memories of a distant past – that add a great deal of emotional value to that initial setup or not. Thanks to that proactive approach to storytelling and to a script that decorates, with some pretty intriguing details, the traditional battle against an enormous evil that had once been sealed, Breath of the Wild is powered by a simple yet highly engaging plot.

Minimalism is also vividly present in the game’s music. Embracing wilderness as its main building block, Breath of the Wild leans on the sounds of nature to form its soundtrack. It is a choice that is quite effective in terms of immersion, as Hyrule comes alive and invades players’ living rooms. However, it turns the high-quality compositions that have always accompanied the series into supporting actors; they do exist, and when they do show up results are invariably remarkable. Yet, their presence is secondary, and they are often composed to complement the sound effects that surround Link rather than to call attention upon themselves; a style that is quite new to the franchise and that might leave some fans underwhelmed.

Where minimalism really comes into play, though, is in Link’s quest itself. After the hero is done with his four initial challenges and has recovered his lost abilities, Breath of the Wild sends players out of the starting plateau – which is quite big on its own – and considerably opens up. From that point onwards, Nintendo – like a joyous kid with a brand new toy – has a blast merging the unmovable staples of the Zelda franchise, such as dungeons, with the thrilling freedom of open-world gameplay, which – in its state here – is brilliantly dressed up with survival elements that make the exploration of Hyrule a constant search for the vital assets that allow a hero, who was originally almost naked and totally inept, to become a real threat to an unspeakable evil.

botw3Breath of the Wild does not hand anything to players for free. Rupees and health-recovering hearts, for example, are no longer dropped by defeated enemies. Likewise, there are no stores in the astounding expanse of Hyrule that sell shields, bows, and swords. Consequently, it is up to Link himself to track down these goods, which – in a world that is packed to the brim with all sorts of enemy camps, powerful mini-bosses, and foes that can kill an unprepared hero with one hit – are absolutely necessary for his survival. Thankfully, though, the wilderness of Hyrule is relatively generous, because it gives – with a certain level of abundance – what it asks for.

Rupees – which are used to purchase arrows, different kinds of armor, and more – are acquired by mining for ore and then selling it at nearby stores or to the dozens of traveling salespeople the game possesses. Shields, bows, and swords are either dropped by downed foes, found lying around their camps, or located inside chests that are simply well-hidden or locked up until all of Ganon’s servants are wiped out from a certain base; and the game forces players to always be on the lookout for arsenal pieces by implementing a weapon-degradation system that is quite aggressive, as all of these items break within a handful of combats. Finally, hearts can be recovered by gathering ingredients found in the wild – such as mushrooms, herbs, fruits, vegetables, and meat from prey that must be hunted – and cooking them by the fire to produce nutritious meals, which may (depending on the components employed in their preparation) even have secondary effects like increased defense, stealth, and others.

The utmost need for those assets and the laborious way with which they are acquired make the open-world component of Breath of the Wild incredibly strong. Link’s ultimate goal of visiting the land’s four races – the Goron, Zora, Gerudo, and Rito – and restoring the ancient artifacts they once used to help the legendary hero fight evil is, thereby, filled up with a world that is not there for the sake of forcing him to walk interminably through a vast emptiness, but for the sake of being thoroughly explored for reasons that are intimately connected with the title’s core gameplay.

botw5Moreover, Link’s own stats need to be developed through exploration. As the game begins, his stamina bar (which is used for running, swimming, and, mainly, for climbing up walls and mountains) is small, severely limiting the places he can reach; the number of hearts he carries is laughable, making him an easy target to even the most insignificant enemies; and the slots for weapons in his inventory can be counted in one hand. Solving those issues, though, is quite simply a pleasure, as it involves going out of the beaten track that leads to the game’s main goals and falling victim to the embrace of the beauty that is Hyrule. Its mountains, rivers, lakes, deserts, glaciers, beaches, forests, canyons, villages and plains are appealing enough to lure players in visual terms alone, but the fact they hold dozens of sidequests with interesting stories and goals (a nice change of pace considering the emptiness of the two most recent 3-D Zelda games) and other uncountable secrets makes them downright irresistible.

Link’s stamina and hearts are increased by clearing shrines, mini-dungeons – which also serve as warping points – that center around puzzle-solving or combat. There are 120 of them in total, and even though Link’s arsenal of skills is shorthanded when compared to those of other Zelda games (he can only use bombs, employ magnetic powers to move metallic objects around, create ice pillars from water, and lock objects in place for a short while before they regain their movement), Nintendo was able to build plenty of clever and entertaining shrines, some of which whose challenge is not in their clearing, but in finding them or making them emerge through the solving of highly engaging environmental puzzles in the overworld itself.

Meanwhile, the slots in Link’s inventory are increased through Korok Seeds. They are awarded to the hero by the little creatures themselves whenever he is able to find their hiding spots, which can be anywhere from rocks lying around in suspicious places and trees that are arranged in odd patterns, to air balloons in the middle of nowhere. Found in the hundreds, the Korok Seeds are the most significant example of the exuberant amount of detail that was poured into Breath of the Wild’s world, from lightning that strikes grass and makes it catch fire to a weather system complex enough to allow players to witness rain falling in the distance, the game is an endless source of surprises, both little and delightful, and huge and overwhelming.

botw7Walking through Hyrule is, invariably, an experience that involves noticing something curious on the horizon – be it a mighty tower that, if climbed, unveils a large portion of the map; or some intriguing ruins – and stopping whatever it is Link is up to in order to discover what is there to be found. Shockingly, there is just so much to do and to unearth that these detours will almost always yield some sort of productive result, even if it is just a picture of a never-seen-before animal or vegetable to be added to the Hyrule Compendium, an encyclopedia of sorts that can be filled up by dedicated players; a mushroom with heat-protection effects that will let the hero walk beside that lava river flowing down Death Mountain without burning; a mysterious salesperson with a weird fetish for monsters; or mythical creatures that add magic and awe to the greatest open-world ever conceived up-to-date.

Within the immensity of that open-world adventure lies a truly excellent The Legend of Zelda quest. In terms of sheer content, it is much closer to Majora’s Mask than it is to Twilight Princess or Ocarina of Time, meaning it contains a mere four dungeons, putting its focus – therefore – on the wonderful extra content. However, what little there is of a Zelda quest, which should last for around twenty hours, is very well-designed. Firstly, walking hand in hand with the game’s overwhelming freedom, Breath of the Wild borrows the original Zelda’s concept of allowing players to tackle the dungeons in whatever order they see fit and transports it to a 3-D environment. In fact, Breath of the Wild is so wide open that it is possible to ignore the dungeons and the races that are related to them altogether, and even leave the Master Sword in its resting place, and run straight into the final boss, even if such a decision will most likely lead to an embarrassing defeat due to a shamefully under-prepared hero.

The four pieces that make up the quest may be unique in how they can be tackled in any order, but their structure itself is pretty traditional: Link must solve a problem that is plaguing the race in question, either by finding important items, saving someone important, or sneaking into hideouts, only to then gain access to the dungeon. The main difference rests in the dungeons themselves, which instead of presenting an assortment of locked rooms that need to be cleared in a specific sequence are actually relatively wide open, as Link needs to figure out a way to get to five spots marked on the dungeons’ maps to activate special switches.

botw6The approach works. Dungeons may be briefer and lighter, but they are challenging enough to cause sighs of amazement whenever their puzzles are solved, and also widely original in their design. In particular, their most impressive quirk is how the mazes are puzzles themselves, as Link must manipulate their structure from within – one dungeon, for example, can be tilted at will – to reveal hidden paths or to simply get a structural helping hand in getting somewhere. The only couple of disappointments regarding this particular aspect of The Legend of Zelda saga, which is greatly revitalized here, are how the bosses are a bit lackluster, given their design is slightly repetitive; and how the dungeons all look pretty much the same, offering neither unique visual cues nor mesmerizing architectural features.

In concept alone, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild does for the franchise what only two other installments (The Legend of Zelda and A Link to the Past) had been able to do: it does not merely advance the saga, it dares to press the reset button on one of gaming’s greatest and most acclaimed properties in order to build it from scratch. In doing so, the game opts to retain many of the series’ vital staples – dungeons, tight controls, puzzles and thrilling combats – while also borrowing the open-world gameplay that has become one of the highlights of contemporary gaming. Not content with merely borrowing, though, Nintendo takes a hard look at the issues and qualities of that gameplay style and opts to get rid of the former by leaning on survival and sprinkling the map with mysteries and rewards, and keeping the latter – and augmenting it – by taking the freedom and the allure found in a well-constructed world to their very extreme.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is, then, not a continuation, but a new and exciting beginning. From this point onwards, it becomes the guiding light that will illuminate the path of not only future Zelda installments but also of any open-world game. Surely, there is room for improvement, as the Zelda aspect of the game could have been a little bit meatier in order to offer a more significant counterbalance to its open-world tendencies, which can take gameplay time up to one hundred hours. However, the existence of such shortcomings does not – in the slightest – mean Breath of the Wild is disappointing; it actually makes anyone who goes through its adventure become thoroughly excited for the road that lies open up ahead. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild may not be a pioneer, for it borrows more than it creates, but in taking two gameplay styles – open-world and Zelda – to their very apex by joining them, it earns the right to be called a classic and to become one of those tall poles that divide history into two parts: what came before it and what will come next.

Final Score: 10 – Masterpiece

29 thoughts on “The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild

  1. Reblogged this on Miketendo64! The Place To Go For Anything Nintendo and commented:

    The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is, then, not a continuation, but a new and exciting beginning. From this point onwards, it becomes the guiding light that will illuminate the path of not only future Zelda installments but also of any open-world game. Surely, there is room for improvement, as the Zelda aspect of the game could have been a little bit meatier in order to offer a more significant counterbalance to its open-world tendencies, which can take gameplay time up to one hundred hours. However, the existence of such shortcomings does not – in the slightest – mean Breath of the Wild is disappointing; it actually makes anyone who goes through its adventure become thoroughly excited for the road that lies open up ahead. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild may not be a pioneer, for it borrows more than it creates, but in taking two gameplay styles – open-world and Zelda – to their very apex by joining them, it earns the right to be called a classic and to become one of those tall poles that divide history into two parts: what came before it and what will come next.

  2. This game kind of reminds me of Chrono Trigger in that there is very little stopping you from marching right to the final area early on. I mean you’d have to be crazy to do it, but it’s entirely possible. Apparently, you get a bad ending, but I’m not sure what it would be; I haven’t gotten far. It looks like this follows in the footsteps of Skyward Sword in terms of difficulty, which is fine; I would definitely trust Nintendo with making a tough game more than most companies. Must be pretty good if you broke out the ten for this one; that’s the same score you gave Super Mario Bros 3. (though in hindsight, I’m a little surprised you didn’t give Mother 3 a perfect score).

    1. Breath of the Wild can be quite tough, especially early on when you do not have many hearts and it’s possible to bump onto enemies that are far more powerful than you are.

      It certainly deserved a 10, like Super Mario Bros 3 did. I love Mother 3, but it is a bit slow at some points. =P

  3. That intro… LOVE IT! Truly a game designed with everything Nintendo’s team could put in, and yet so minimalistic as you said. I’ve always thought of the music and low dungeon count as something rather minimalistic, but I’ve never heard it refer to the whole game until now. And I have to agree with you. The quest really is is minimal, probably because nothing is handed to you on a silver platter. From important items to plot points, you have to find these on your own. They lead you for sure, but the entire game is indeed your playground, and I enjoyed that about it. I think we’ve had this dungeon discussion before, but I still enjoy that they remind me of Majora’s Mask, one of the few games I still like over BotW (blasphemy, I know). I hope they do more dungeons in this style, but with more enemies, rooms, and challenges – sort of like a mixture of old dungeon design and what they have here. Anyway, BotW is truly an exciting reboot, a new beginning, and I look forward to whatever comes next! If anyone can top their own amazing 10/10 game like this, it’s Nintendo! Spectacular review Matt!

    1. Thanks! I am glad you enjoyed the intro! At first I thought it was a bit too long, so I am happy to know you liked it.

      Yes, it is quite amazing that even though it is a game that has everything Nintendo’s team could put in it, it is also rather minimalistic. It’s awesome that you have to be proactive about everything, from getting stronger to finding pieces of the storyline; the game never sends you towards those objectives, it just shows to you they exist and let’s you decide whether or not you are going for it.

      Majora’s Mask is an awesome game, so I am not surprised it remains your favorite. There are so many unique things about it that it’s hard to mention them all.

      I am also looking forward to seeing how Nintendo will implement the dungeons of the next Zelda game, and what they will do about the game as well, of course. Since this dungeon style is quite new, there’s still a lot that can be done in that regard. It will be a great journey, I am sure. They can sure top Breath of the Wild down the line.

      And thanks once more! =D

  4. I find it strange that one thing that comes up again and again about this game is the music and its lack compared to previous Zelda games. I get this one was going for something a bit different but I really feel that Zelda needs to hold on to that truly iconic music.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it.

    1. Thanks for reading and for the comment!

      It’s a different approach to music. I would say it is more in line with what you would expect from a Metroid Prime game than a Zelda title, as it is focused on the sounds that surround you, with the music appearing every now and then.

      I guess it comes up a lot because it is quite an unexpected way to do music for a Zelda game. It works, though.

  5. Excellent review, as always. BotW has become, bar none, my favorite 3D Zelda, and maybe my favorite Zelda. Period (guess what score I’m going to give it). Man, You, Mr. Panda and AfterStory have all beat me to reviewing this gem, but my review should be up in a couple of days (on a side note, it will be my 200th video game review on my current site).

    Again, terrific review for what I think is a masterpiece of a video game.

    1. That’s a great way to celebrate your 200th review! I am looking forward to reading it.

      I thought you would beat me to it as well, as it took me quite some time to
      sit down and write this one. I wanted to be done with all shrines before beating the game, and that took a while!

      Anyway, thanks! =D

      Breath of the Wild has also become my favorite 3D Zelda and favorite Zelda game overall. It’s just awesome.

      1. On a side note, I’ve noticed this is the fifth 10/10 you’ve given on this site. About how many other games do you think we can expect to get this score? (sorry, I’m a sucker for this stuff).

        1. You are keeping count more tightly than I am! =P

          Maybe Super Mario Galaxy, Ocarina of Time (the N64 version) and Super Mario World can get there, if I review them eventually. But that would be it, I think. That’s, of course, considering only games I’ve played already.

          1. Yeah, I have a weird tendency to keep track of these things…

            That’s definitely a great lineup of 10s. And not too different from the number of 10s I would give to games I’ve played (four of which I’ve reviewed already, and another one coming up soon…I wonder what it could be?). Hopefully we see a few more 10s in the next few years.

            1. I hope the Switch will have a bunch of perfect 10s! =P

              I am looking forward to seeing which games you will give perfect scores to next.

  6. Great Review Matt! I, just like Panda-San, really enjoyed that intro. Exceptionally well-written and thought-provoking! An absolute masterclass in game design, and if BOTW is any indication of the level of quality we will receive on the Switch, then Nintendo’s new console will be an excellent vessel for unparalleled quality experiences. Its sense of non-linearity, minimalistic design, and player freedom are second to none, crafting an experience that arguably triumphs most, if not all, that came before it.

    Great review as always buddy!

    1. Thanks a lot! I was worried it turned out to be too long, so I am definitely glad you enjoyed it!

      Yeah, I hope Nintendo keeps it up with their next releases for the console. Let’s see how Super Mario Odyssey will turn out!

      Thanks once more!

  7. As you know I’m still on the fence, but your glowing review is just getting me more exited! A 10 on every aspect!
    I like your description of how Nintendo stays on their own island during pretty much all their game designing. I hadn’t looked at it like that yet, but it’s very true. Good perception!

  8. Excellent review – super thorough and balanced throughout! I just beat BotW yesterday with most (but definitely not all) of the shrines, so there’s a lot going on in my head right now, trying to summarise and reflect on the enormous journey that is this game! One thing I decided when I’d gotten deep into the dungeons is that I’m going to do a fresh run of the game where I’ll try and beat Ganon in as quick a time as possible – preferably with no main dungeons, as few shrines as possible, etc. Basically take that knowledge from the close-to-full-run of the game and apply it to a stripped down Eventide-style challenge. I can’t wait. Like Red Metal mentioned, I really love the flexibility that this game has, where you can go straight to Ganon, mainline the 20 hour main quest or go all out 100 hour all shrines!

    1. It’s fantastic, isn’t it? Trying to do a run where you go straight to Ganon is an excellent idea! I might do that when I am done with all sidequests and Korok seeds. Good luck!

      And thanks a lot! I am glad you enjoyed the review!

  9. You love Breath of The Wild a lot more than I do :). It’s a really good game, but I can’t call it perfect when compared to some other open world games I’ve played.

    Great review.

    1. Fair enough! Thanks for reading and for the comment! What are the other open world games you liked better than Breath of the Wild?

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