August 22, 2017
I finally beat Breath of the Wild recently. I’ve had a lot of thoughts about the game I wanted to express, but I wanted to give myself some time to digest the game and see how I felt after putting it down for a little while. Now that about a week has passed, here are some general thoughts and feelings I have about the latest entry in the Zelda franchise. This is not intended to be a comprehensive review, or an attempt to rank it, but rather just an “exit survey” of sorts expressing my opinion on the various aspects of the game. There are some spoilers in here, so proceed with caution. And now, after 120 shrines, 4 divine beasts, 76 side quests, and 18 memories, here are my thoughts on Breath of the Wild.
First and foremost, I think it’s impossible to talk about BotW without starting with the game world. I can’t say how much I love it! It is easily my favorite version of Hyrule, and honestly one of my favorite game worlds of all time. Even though it’s mostly in ruins, the bright colors and art style make it such a beautiful world to explore. Almost every Zelda game has featured various terrains and climates, but BotW took it to a level we’d never before seen in a Zelda game. The transitions from region to region were seamless and felt natural. And more so than any other version of Hyrule so far, I thought this one felt the most alive. Beyond the eight villages and handful of smaller settlements, there were treasure hunters out exploring ruins, lovers trying to collect flowers, sisters searching for truffles, explorers camped out or taking shelter from the rain, traders traveling from town to town, and so many other little touches that gave Hyrule a real sense of life.
Now, what’s a huge, beautiful game world without interesting characters to fill it? As with most Zelda games, BotW had a rich cast of supporting characters that Link encountered throughout his journey. The most important ones, in my mind, were the descendants of the Champions. Sidon, Yunobo, Riju, and Teba were all integral in helping Link free the divine beasts, and they reminded me very much of the role the sages played in Ocarina of Time. I do wish we spent more time with these characters, because each one had an interesting backstory. The game tried to make the Champions (Daruk, Mipha, Revali, and Urbosa) seem very important, but I found it pretty hard to care about them. Outside of a few memories and a brief chat with each spirit at the end of each divine beast, they don’t make an appearance or really aid Link in any way. That made it difficult to feel any connection to them. I would, however, be remiss if I didn’t mention my favorite new character: Kass.
I loved spotting him in each region, hearing his accordion from a distance, and getting a riddle from him at each stop. And the payoff when you complete all his shrine and side quests was one of the most touching moments of the game.
Speaking of shrine and side quests, BotW is filled with these optional missions. With 42 shrine quests and 76 side quests to complete, there is a ton to do in Hyrule. While many of the side quests are of the “go here, bring me 10 of that” or “go there, kill that monster” variety, there were a few that were truly memorable to me. From the Ground Up and Special Delivery, specifically, were two of my favorites. As for shrine quests, they mostly consisted of solving puzzles or clues given to you by various inhabitants of Hyrule. These were in general more interesting than the regular side quests, particularly Stranded on Eventide (my personal favorite shrine quest!) and The Stolen Heirloom.
When it comes to story, there’s not a whole lot to get excited about when it comes to BotW. It basically boils down to this: Ganon is about to escape, go destroy him. Oh and while you’re at it, maybe free some divine beasts. That’s it. There are no real twists, surprises, or major plot developments as we play through the game. There is a strong back story to the game though, taking place 100 years prior, that helps to give the game some sense of purpose. Collecting the captured memories gave us insight into the gathering of the Champions, the bond developing between Link and Zelda, Zelda’s frustration, and ultimately Ganon’s escape and Link’s fall. However, once we spoke with Impa for the first time and got our mission, the actual game story itself was as bland as it gets. There were at least plenty of smaller stories happening in the game that were way more interesting to me. I loved the underlying conflict between the Sheikah and the Yuga, especially as it played out in the Stolen Heirloom shrine quest. The story of Riju, a young girl thrust into being leader of the Gerudo, was interesting, and I wish it would have been explored more. The distrust and outright hostility the elder Zoras showed Link was a great story element, since in their minds, he had robbed them of their beloved Mipha. All of these little story elements help to make up for the generally disappointing main story.
Despite the tepid story, Breath of the Wild was still filled with the moments that make Zelda games so magical. I’ll never forget stepping out of the Shrine of Resurrection and seeing Hyrule spread out before me. Or paragliding out to Eventide Island (those Link’s Awakening memories!). Or the first time I saw Dinraal flying across the night sky. Or seeing Zelda finally awaken her powers in the hidden memory, after Link falls in battle. Or Hudson and Rhondson’s Tarrey Town wedding.
These moments are what will really stick with me when I think of BotW weeks, months, and even years from now. And despite its weaknesses, BotW is a game I will be thinking about for years. Nintendo managed to create one of the best open worlds in gaming history in my opinion, and managed to pack it with small-scale, personal stories and moments that made me feel a real connection to that world. And to me, that’s what Zelda games really are about.