Review by J.T. Johnson
It has been one year since the Nintendo Switch was released and “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” launched with it. Now that I’ve finally gotten my hands on a Switch of my own, I wanted to bring back my “Random Select” article by looking at Nintendo’s latest and greatest Zelda title!
ORIGINAL RELEASE DATE: March 3, 2017
DEVELOPER: Nintendo EPD
When I first put “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” into the Switch, I’ll be honest when I say that I didn’t quite know what to expect. Even when I first started playing, I didn’t quite know where this was going to lead me. Still, I could tell right away with both the huge open world and the new Sheikah Slate that this was not going to be your usual Zelda experience.
My absolute favorite Zelda title, and my favorite game of all time, is “The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past”. Ever since that game was released, the later titles all felt instantly familiar. “Ocarina of Time”, a classic that propelled Zelda into the 3D realm, is pretty much just a 3D remake of “A Link to the Past” when you get down to it.
Most of the titles afterwards followed the formula with Link needing to find a few items before getting the Master Sword and taking on a few more dungeons before finally fighting Ganon himself. Rinse and repeat. While the formula worked for the most part, it was becoming apparent with more recent titles that Nintendo was relying on the tried and true system just a little too much.
That’s why “Breath of the Wild” is such a refreshing departure. It’s like Nintendo took all the great elements of an open world environment and improved upon them with their own designs and signature Zelda ingredients.
THE STORY: A KINGDOM IN PERIL
Even though the gameplay has changed significantly, the story at the center is as old as the series itself. Hyrule has fallen into disarray since Calamity Ganon took over 100 years ago and he is only held at bay by the power of Zelda within Hyrule Castle. Link, a knight that was injured severely in a battle with Ganon all those years ago, was put into the Shrine of Resurrection and has finally healed from his wounds.
After meeting a mysterious old man (a nice nod to the old man you meet in the cave in the very first Zelda game), Link learns that he must regain his strength and his memories of the past in order to finally take on Ganon. He must also free the spirits found within four Devine Beasts, ancient technological vehicles that also act as the game’s four main dungeons.
LEARNING FROM OTHERS
Despite a narrative that tells you that you should free the Devine Beasts, find your legendary Master Sword, and then take down Ganon, the game pretty much frees you from the linear restraints of past games. You can choose to go after the Devine Beasts, conquer the game’s 120 shrines, go after the Master Sword, and defeat Ganon.
Or you can choose to just go after Ganon straight away. Even though that would be a much tougher battle, you can technically “beat” the game’s story before you even get a chance to visit most of Hyrule Kingdom. This level of freedom is what makes “Breath of the Wild” stand out and it definitely takes inspiration from other open-world games such “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” and “Assassin’s Creed”.
“Skyrim” has the biggest influence with the game pretty much just throwing you into the world and letting you decide your own path. You can not only go anywhere you want, you get most of your equipment from the land itself with food and ingredients for potions and you can gather additional weapons from the battles that you face along the way. You can also sleep at inns and buy certain supplies from stores and merchants that you come across in your travels.
I mentioned “Assassin’s Creed” earlier due to the handful of towers that you have to climb in order to map out the various regions in Hyrule. Now, in “Assassin’s Creed”, this is often a repetitive chore at times as all you really do is climb someplace high, hit a button and the areas of the map become available to you. In “Breath of the Wild”, though, this never becomes a repetitive task as you face different challenges at almost every tower and there are not as many of them as in “Assassin’s Creed”, so it’s familiar yet once again somehow new.
SMALLER DUNGEONS, HIGHER QUALITY
The game only features four main dungeons and they are also smaller when compared to those featured in past games. Yet, the puzzles found within are fun to solve and the boss battles at the end can be challenging yet fair. Beyond the four dungeons, though, the game also contains 120 shrines to discover and conquer. These are small rooms with various puzzles and combat trials.
Once you conquer a shrine, you get a spirit orb from the monk who set up the trial. Every time you’ve gathered four spirit orbs, you can find a fairy statue and pray for either another heart container or additional stamina so that you can gain more health or run longer and climb further. Most of these shrines are fun and engaging, though if I were to nitpick, I would say that the few shrines that offer combat trials can get repetitive due to a lack of diversity in what you fight.
ZELDA… BACK TO ITS ROOTS
I could honestly go on all day about how much I loved “Breath of the Wild”, but it really is something that should be experienced. The old Zelda formula was still working before Nintendo made their changes, but it was definitely beginning to show some age. By adapting to a non-linear open world, “Breath of the Wild” actually goes back to creator Shigeru Miyamoto’s original concept of uninterrupted exploration and ultimate freedom.
I can’t say just yet whether “Breath of the Wild” is now my favorite Zelda title. “A Link to the Past” still holds a special place in my heart, but if there was ever a contender for the throne, “Breath of the Wild” is most definitely it!