Nintendo has plenty of revered franchises: Super Mario, Metroid, Pokémon, hell, even Animal Crossing is well-liked. But no other franchise has garnished the type of respect and admiration that The Legend of Zelda has in its existence. With 19 titles spanning across numerous Nintendo systems, gamers have battled against countless evils on their quests to save the kingdom of Hyrule and Princess Zelda. Due to so many entries and seeing other properties evolve with the times, Nintendo properly gave the franchise a much-needed breath of fresh air (pun intended) in the latest entry, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Before I begin pouring my thoughts about this game, I would like to mention that while there have been 19 titles, I have only played one Zelda game. I know, it’s blasphemy. Luckily, that one game was arguably the greatest game of all-time in Ocarina of Time. Now that we’ve addressed that elephant in the room, let’s dig into what makes and breaks Breath of the Wild.
First and foremost, the story was amazing. Waking up in the Resurrection Shrine and discovering that Ganon had essentially defeated Link and the other four Champions of Hyrule was a shot to the gut. To make matters worse this is all happened 100 years ago. As I made my way through Hyrule, many inhabitants loved to remind Link how he failed to defeat Ganon a century ago. Initially, I felt this weight of disappointment knowing that I had failed everyone. People all across Hyrule have had to suffer 100 years of Ganon’s evil and Zelda has been in Hyrule Castle fighting the good fight, all while Link slept. Nevertheless, that feeling of disappointment turned into determination. I was determined to save everyone in Hyrule, to save the princess, and to defeat Ganon. At the end of the day that’s exactly what Breath of the Wild is: a story of redemption.
The Legend of Zelda franchise have all been role-playing games; Link goes out into the world, finds weapons and pieces of armor that gradually increase over the course of his adventure to save the day. Breath of the Wild takes that formula and cranks it up a bit. The popular genre nowadays is open-world. Developers are creating worlds that allow players to explore freely and not be restricted to a linear experience. Open-world games aren’t for everyone; some games may seem a bit intimidating and intense. I’m generally a fan of them, but this was an instance where I felt a bit overwhelmed.
After you leave the Great Plateau, you’ll make your way to Kakariko Village to speak with Impa. She tells Link what’s transpired 100 years ago and what he must do to save Hyrule and the princess. Impa explains how there are four Divine Beasts being controlled by Ganon. These Divine Beasts were colossal machines that were intended to be used against Ganon, piloted by the four Champions of Hyrule. Before the beasts could engage Ganon in battle, his calamity killed the Champions and took control, wrecking havoc with the beasts throughout Hyrule. Impa instructs Link to seek out each Divine Beast and restore them from the calamity infection to help in the final battle against Ganon. There is no “correct” order of Divine Beasts to restore, so you can pick whichever order you’d like (I went Zora’s Domain, Rito Village, Gerudo Town, and Goron City).
Exploration throughout Hyrule is where Breath of the Wild shines, but fails. At the beginning, the map is blacked out until Link activates Towers across the kingdom to reveal sections of Hyrule. Unlocking the sections doesn’t necessarily mean you can fast travel to other areas (you can only fast travel to Shrines and Towers), but it’s a nice sense of accomplishment to fully unlock the map by the end of the game. Along the way, Link comes across many cooking pots in Hyrule. This where you can combine various materials to produce health-regeneration food items and elixirs to buff stats or provide resistance toward certain weather elements. Breath of the Wild does a horrible job explaining how exactly to create elixirs. Most times I found myself compiling random items together to see if I got lucky; it never worked. Sometimes you may come across a book of recipes or someone will tell you how to cook a certain item, but the overall cooking experience was very frustrating.
Many people tend to compare Breath of the Wild with Sony’s exclusive Horizon Zero Dawn, because both games are “in the wild” and feature two characters that happen to wield a bow and arrow. The big difference between the two, other than that they are nothing alike to begin with, is free climbing in Breath of the Wild. Link has the natural ability to climb near any surface in Hyrule, any explorer’s dream. There are some restrictions: if it rains Link will slip, and Link is unable to climb the walls in Shrines. Link will also slip and fall if his stamina wheel runs out. I understand the notion behind the stamina wheel, to try and bring realism to the game, but why? Yes, you can increase the duration of the wheel (at the expense of possibly gaining a heart), but it feels like Nintendo is being sticklers about it. If you’re going to let players free-climb nearly any surface, then let them. You got the realism when it rains and Link slips, which happened to me many times, so why continue to put handcuffs on the players?
Going back to what I said before, The Legend of Zelda games are role-playing games where Link finds weapons, shields, and armor. This might be the first game I’ve ever played where weapons and shields break and disappear when fighting enemies. Again, just like the stamina wheel, I understand the attempt at realism. But at what cost? The only way players can acquire weapons is from picking them up after defeating an enemy. If you don’t have a weapon, then Link has to resort to most likely using bombs from the Sheikah Slate. Not that using the bombs aren’t effective, but why include a mechanic in the game that destroys the players weapons when fighting enemies but have the main method of obtaining weapons be through enemies (weapons can be found in chests). I’d be more receptive to this mechanic if Link was able to purchase weapons, but the only thing that can be purchased are arrows. The only weapon that cannot break is the Master Sword, but there’s a catch. While the Master Sword cannot break, it can “power down”. Once the Master Sword powers down, it’ll take 10 minutes to recharge. However, if you complete the Trial of the Sword DLC the Master Sword will stay powered up forever.
In a year that’s been blessed with high-quality games, Breath of the Wild deservedly has a seat at the table. Link’s journey on the road to redemption is an epic one. Essentially coming back from the dead 100 years later to defeat Ganon might go down as Link’s greatest triumph. While I still believe Ocarina of Time is the best game in the franchise, Breath of the Wild gave it a run for its money. If not for little annoyances that stunted my gaming experience, such as, the stamina wheel, weapon degradation, and lack of cooking instructions, this game would be high on my list of the all-time greats. Regardless, Nintendo has added a quality title to its treasure trove and delivered yet another compelling tale in this storied franchise.
Final Score: 8.75/10