This Breath of the Wild Review contains no spoilers whatsoever. Just good feelings.
The first and last time I’ve picked up any Zelda game before Breath of the Wild was sometime back in the early 90’s. Even though we had a Casio PV-7 at home, I wasn’t able to play anything other than Pac-Man, Galaga, and some weird penguin game that Hideo Kojima apparently worked on. So I often ran off to friends’ houses – with their Famicoms, SNES’s, and Genesis’, to get my mind blown away by stuff like Super Mario Bros., Contra, and others.
Since these friends were all into couch co-op, the game I’ve always wanted to play – the original Legend of Zelda – was on the pile of games, untouched. After badgering people that I wanted to give it a try, I booted it up, went to the overworld, and died. Died a lot. After a few minutes of trying to get the hang of Zelda while everyone was watching, I gave up and agreed to get my ass kicked on another couch co-op game that I can’t remember.
So what I’m saying here is that I’m a lapsed gamer. I’ve skipped entire generations of consoles, save for the brief time I had the original Playstation, and I’ve never experienced the evolution of the Zelda franchise. I’ve kept up as much as I can, and when I finally got my hands on the Nintendo Switch, I booted up The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and prepared to explore Hyrule.
And I died. Died a lot.
And I loved it.
Breath of the Wild does not hold your hand. It opens up to Link waking up after falling asleep for 100 years, his memory lost. We know just as much as he does. We are then rudely thrown into a post-apocalyptic Hyrule. Monsters roam the land freely, and getting caught unprepared could kill you.
Of course, the game walks you through the very basic mechanics. To get past the erstwhile tutorial section, though, the game lets you loose in a huge area called Great Plateau. Players can speed run through the tasks, or they can just run around and fight. There’s no wrong choice.
Once you get past the initial tutorial area, however, the map opens up even more. Breath of the Wild’s Hyrule is so huge that over 140 hours of exploring later, I don’t even feel like I’ve cracked half of the map’s secrets. And I don’t even feel like heading off to Hyrule Castle to defeat Ganon just yet. There’s just so much to do, so much to explore, so many choices to make. Why rush it?
The abundance of choice never rang true so much for me until last night. I ended up in a Shrine that I’ve been trying to solve for the last few days. A part of the Shrine involved giant spiked balls on chains that I had to swing around and run past quickly before they hit and kill me. After several frustrating days, I discovered that I can just lift the spiked balls and hang them from ceiling rafters in a way that they won’t block my way. Was this how this puzzle was meant to be solved? Definitely not. But I was damn proud to find a solution that didn’t play by the rules.
The fact that I can spend IRL hours exploring while Princess Zelda is stuck in Hyrule Castle, fighting off Calamity Ganon alone, exposes one of the game’s few glaring weaknesses. There is no sense of urgency. Zelda’s been waiting for 100 years already, what’s a few more days?
The lack of urgency also seeps into the story. There is essentially a backbone of a story, told in flashbacks in locations that you must hunt down so your memory will kick in. But the meat of the story happened 100 years ago. Almost everyone who experienced the fall of Hyrule is dead. Almost everyone you encounter has no memory of a world before Ganon. There is just this world where people have picked up the pieces and have no idea that things can better.
However, the open world nature of the game necessiates this choice. You are encouraged to explore, to find solutions around problems this world presents to you. If you don’t explore and find ways to make Link stronger, this brutal version of Hyrule will kill you. I feel that forcing a player to strictly adhere to a timetable might not make the game very fun. Any sense of wonder you can get out of exploring the world will be lost.
So, how did this lapsed gamer find his return to gaming? I’m having a fantastic time. I am so happy to explore Hyrule, and I will probably spend a few more hours before I decide to take on Ganon. The brutal world of Hyrule is untameable, but it won’t stop me from having fun trying over and over again.
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