The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

[ゼルダの伝説 ブレス オブ ザ ワイルド]

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (2017)

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo EPD
Director: Hidemaro Fujibayashi
Platform: Nintendo Switch

Awakened from a 100-year slumber, the hero Link must recover his lost memory amid a ruined Hyrule and gain the power he needs to vanquish Calamity Ganon.

It took me quite a while to get used to the controls because I had 20 years of muscle memory that had to be chucked out the window. In this respect, someone new to the franchise might actually pick it up faster than an old veteran like myself. Once I did get used to the changes, it all works rather well, though I still can mix up the shoulder buttons at times. The use of the Joy-Con's built-in gyroscope can be very handy when doing precision aiming, but if you're not expecting it, it may take a little getting used to, particularly if you don't have the most steady hands. (The gyroscope feature can be toggled off if it's a problem for you.) The absence of rolling is missed by old-timers such as myself, but I imagine they'd just have it drain stamina like nobody's business.

One of the things we've been hearing people complain about all these years is that the series doesn't do enough to shake up the formula. I'd certainly say the formula has been shaken up here. Gone are the traditional dungeons, replaced by dozens of little shrines scattered throughout the world. Most of the traditional tools have been replaced by the functions of the Shiekah Stone (or Shiekah Slate for NA players). While Zelda games have almost always given you some measure of latitude, this is the most nonlinear experience since the original, a vast open world where I didn't accomplish some of the most basic main story tasks until about halfway into my playthrough.

On the note of the open world, you see the influence of a lot of other games and franchises fused with the culminated 30 years of experience from the Zelda series. The open world and resource gathering feels much like an Elder Scrolls title with the free climbing of Assassin's Creed, the physics puzzles of Portal, and the giant battles of Shadow of the Colossus. You also see characters on the time-based cycles of Majora's Mask and the open exploration pioneered in Wind Waker and Skyward Sword (though given greater realization).

An interesting thing is the greater role stamina plays. Running, climbing and gliding, all are limited by your stamina and you have to make a choice between increasing your hearts or your stamina gauge. You can make up for the exchange with potions and that leads me into the crafting system, which is a huge part of survival. Even with upgraded equipment, enemies pack quite a wallop and you're going to need to be well equipped to face them and the elements. Then there's weapon durability. While we've had weapons that break before, now just about all of them break and even if you find gear with enhanced durability, they're not likely to survive more than a handful of battles. It's ironic that Fire Emblem ditched weapon durability with FEif and we gain it in Zelda here. I will grant that it forces you to try out just about all the weapons in the game, but it does get a little annoying. (The ability to repair gear on the verge of breaking and craft enchantments for stat boosts would've been nice.)

In keeping with the nonlinear quality of the game, there are many ways to tackle problems and half the fun is coming up with new and exciting ways to solve puzzles or clear out a nest of baddies, especially as new equipment opens up new possibilities. There's so much to do that it's simply amazing. There's no other word for it.

One of the few negatives for me was the camera. Maybe my experience is atypical, but I spent a lot of time fighting the camera, almost as much as any enemy. When doing close-quarter combat with big enemies, it's particularly annoying. Also, the lock-on feature didn't seem as strong as previous games, which greatly reduces its utility. And while I appreciate giving horses some personality to encourage you to strengthen your relationship with them first, I found horseriding to be such a pain that I would only ride on rare occasions and the two quest-based horses I acquired never left the stable once they were registered.

Zelda games have become increasingly plot-heavy over the years and this one does a rather good job of it. The amnesiac hero is a trope that's been played a little too much in my opinion, but it's a better alternative than once again starting at the beginning of the Hero's Journey. The events of 100 years ago have these tantalizing hints that make you eager to learn more. Honestly, I would've loved a game about that story, which we only get glimpses of.

I do believe that this game's version of Zelda is my favorite in the franchise, dethroning her Ocarina of Time counterpart. Skyward Sword's Zelda had promise with the initial setup, but that potential was wasted by taking her out of the story most of the game. I really like the idea of a Zelda who doesn't come by her powers naturally and takes an interest in science to compensate, struggling with the weighty expectations leveled on her shoulders and a massive inferiority complex. The original Champions are also a cool bunch and I was hoping for the opportunity for them to be playable (thereby exploring new playstyles with the different races' particular abilities). The new generation wasn't bad either. I really liked Prince Sid (Sidon) and Rouge (Riju). Perhaps the only thing I'd complain about is that some characters like Purua (Purah) immediately lose plot significance after their introduction, but I guess the sense of being alone is a key part of the game.

I probably focus on the past so much because the present world feels so desolate (by design, of course). I still remember how strange it felt when I met my first other person in the wider world (not counting the old man who helps you in the starter area). While there are a few standout personalities among the minor characters, I never felt too attached to any of them, but I guess that was because I always felt the part of both the outsider and the drifter. I've never felt such a disconnect in the series before, but because that's part of the intent, I have to say it's well done.

To accommodate the nonlinear design, you may find the story lacks meat outside the major objectives. It's a fair critique, but I was too enthralled by the experience to notice while I was playing.

Taking advantage of the new hardware, the game delivers a visual feast to say the very least. We have a sprawling world with a great variety of environments. The character design is appealing, having a fairly similar art style to Skyward Sword while using cel-shaded character models as in Wind Waker. (One thing was that I wasn't a huge fan of the Moblin design.) We get rather nice draw distance, which is good for taking in the grand vistas from the great heights of Hyrule or while paragliding from those great heights. It may not stack up to the latest GPU-melting monstrosity from the competition, but it's the best looking game Nintendo has delivered to date and I don't have any complaints about the visuals.

Particularly in light of the bombastic score used in Skyward Sword, I found myself wondering, "Where's the music?" early in my playthrough. The music tends to be subtle or even absent in many places, only to fade into village themes or swell with battle music. It's an effective technique, but the downside is that the score doesn't leave as much of an impact on the whole. Then again, tracks like the one when the Guardians have a lock on you are bound to haunt your nightmares. The Rito Village theme stands out to me for being rather Ghibliesque, appropriate given the kind of scenery we have. As usual, we have remixes of classic themes that'll appeal to longtime players.

This entry makes a significant departure from the past by fully voicing cutscenes. I want to give particular credit to Yu Shimamura for her amazing performance as Zelda. She really knocked it out of the park.

I can't personally comment on the DLC as of yet. The first DLC pack doesn't really have anything to justify the purchase, but we'll see what the second round has to offer. If it seems worth it to me, I'll update the review with my impressions. I also haven't tested out any amiibo goodies, not that I have some of the necessary amiibos in the first place.

It hasn't been since I was first introduced to gaming in a 3D environment in Super Mario 64 that I've felt so amazed at the possibilities open to me. This one's got me seriously agonizing over my ranking of the series' titles. I think it's only my great sentimental attachment to A Link to the Past and my love of Midna that are keeping it from the #1 slot. There's a good reason there are more copies of this game sold than consoles to play it on. This is a must-have game, one of the greats that will have people talking for years to come. We haven't had an event like this since Ocarina of Time. I honestly believe this represents that much of a game-changer for the series. By all means, get it for yourself and treat yourself to this experience. Just try to avoid quite so many Darwin Award-worthy deaths as this reviewer. ^_^;

Treasure It