Friday, January 5, 2018

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

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the latest release in the Legend of Zelda series, which was simultaneously the final Wii U game from Nintendo and one of the launch titles on the Nintendo Switch, which hit store shelves on March 3rd, 2017 worldwide. The game was produced by mainline Zelda series producer Eiji Aonuma and developed by Nintendo EPD.

Breath of the Wild is a break from the usual Zelda formula and features a massive open-world environment and a bevy of new equipment for Link to procure and use throughout his adventure. Taking a page from the original NES game, Link is simply dropped into the world and given very little direction. The player can tackle the game in any fashion they want, trying to figure out the correct path to victory as they go.

The game was first announced to be in development as far back as 2013 and was meant to be the mainline Zelda title released on the Wii U. It had a slotted release date of 2015. This was initially bumped out to 2016, but was ultimately pushed out again to coincide with the launch of the Nintendo Switch to give the new console a heavy-hitter on release.

This decision, of course, ruffled a lot of feathers in the gaming community. There were many people who claimed they purchased a Wii U simply to get the next Legend of Zelda title that had been promised and felt burned that it would release two years later and on Nintendo's next system.

Any issues with the release of Breath of the Wild seemed to quiet instantly on March 3rd. The game has been universally touted as a wild success (pun intended), selling approximately 5 million copies as of September of this year across both platforms and taking home full marks from many of the biggest reviewing publications.

Now that we have all that out of the way, it's time for me to gush about how much I love Breath of the Wild.

As I've mentioned in a few posts and videos in the past I was initially grumpy about the Nintendo Switch and didn't intend on picking one up. I felt like it was just another gimmick and I had hoped Nintendo would stray away from the business model and try something a little more "traditional" with their next home console. Over the months leading up to its release, however, I realized that the majority of my gaming was played on a handheld and the Nintendo Switch would probably be the perfect console for me and I decided to pick one up on launch day. When I finally made that decision, it became clear to me which version of Breath of the Wild I would pick up, so I secured my copy and waited patiently for it to arrive in the mail a few days after the release of the Switch.

That was over nine months ago and I have just now, with over 115+ hours of gameplay, finished The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

The opening moments of Breath of the Wild are very much intended to take your breath away (again, pun intended). The player, as Link, awakens in a dark cavern with no memories, but you can see a light at the end of a tunnel. Making your way there helps give you a taste of the controls of the game. You jump and climb - completely foreign concepts for Link until this point - and when you reach the outside you are stunned by the immensity of the world outside as you first glimpse Hyrule.

Or at least that's how I felt.

I can remember being a little overwhelmed at first, but I decided to try and let the landscape lead me. Following a small path I found my way to the first NPC, who informed me that I was on the Great Plateau and gave me some starting directions on where to head to begin my adventure. Armed with nothing more than a tree branch and some old clothes, I set forth!

The Great Plateau, at first, seems in and of itself to be beyond huge compared to anything I had ever played in a Zelda adventure before. In fact, this area alone is bigger than the entirety of Hyrule in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Interestingly enough, there are several Zelda-theorists (yes, they exist) who believe that the Great Plateau may actually be the exact area of Hyrule in which Ocarina takes place! But, I won't travel down that rabbit hole just now.

This is really the only part of the game where you are given any sort of direction and it adds up to a tutorial on how to play Breath of the Wild. You are pointed toward the Great Plateau Tower as a focal point. Once you manage to climb the tower you learn that your Sheikah Slate, a mysterious device that you find in the opening moments of the game, can activate the tower. Now you have a map! And on the map are four Ancient Shrines. Once you travel to those, you can enter them using the Sheikah Slate.

The four Shrines found on the Plateau each give you an Ancient Rune. These Runes are used all over the landscape and in many of the Shrines across Hyrule. They give you tools like Bombs, which anyone who's played a Legend of Zelda game before will be used to, but also new abilities like Magnesis, which is a giant magnet, are added to Link's arsenal.

Now armed with your Runes and a basic understanding of how to play the game you are given the Paraglider. This is an essential piece to the Breath of the Wild puzzle. With the massive landscape to traverse and climb the Paraglider allows Link to leap from any height and softly land on the ground, provided he has enough stamina. With this you are no longer confined to the Great Plateau and can travel anywhere you want in the whole of Hyrule (for the most part).

As strange as it is to type this, I would recommend just letting yourself get lost in this new Hyrule. Don't worry about the final objective. It will be there no matter what. Instead, just travel around and let the landscape guide you. Follow that road over there for a bit until you see something cool and then go climb that mountain to get a closer look! That island over there looks neat. I wonder if anything is on it? Try and swim to it! The world is made for exploration. That's the point!

I can remember gliding off of the Great Plateau the first time and actually feeling a bit of anxiety, because the world was so immense and I felt like I had to see everything, but you need to reassure yourself that you just can't. You can't see every little piece of the world right away, so don't try.

Another first in the series is the equipment system. In Breath of the Wild you'll find multiple armour sets and a plethora of weapons and shields. You'll probably want to get rid of that tree branch pretty quickly, so take on some Bokoblins and see if they have any swords or spears. Try to find a bow! You'll definitely want to get used to those as early as possible as they are an essential part to the game, just as much as any melee weapon. There's one catch, though... they all break!

If I had one gripe about Breath of the Wild it's that when you first start playing the game everything breaks so easily. It isn't until much later in the game that you start finding equipment that can handle being used in more than one or two fights. I get why it plays this way, but when you finally find a sword in the early part of the game and it breaks almost as soon as you get it, it's discouraging. Also, you can't hold much in the way of swords, bows, or shields at first, so you can't really horde up as much as you'd like. In fact, right up until the end I was constantly leaving new weapons I'd find along the way or dropping one sword for another, which was a bit of a pain.

You can upgrade your equipment slots by collecting Korok seeds throughout Hyrule, but I found that to be annoying, as well. I only had 60 or so by the time I completed the game, which may seem like a lot, but there are 900! And each time you upgrade and add a new equipment slot it costs more seeds to get the next, which makes it harder and harder to add a slot as you go. I eventually just stopped adding shield and bow slots and focused on melee weapons, because I found those the most important.

So what is the objective of Breath of the Wild? Like any other game in the series, you have to save Princess Zelda and defeat Ganon. It's made pretty clear where Ganon and the Princess are in the game and how to find them, but it's the exploration of the game that leads to the story and without that you'd be going in totally blind. It's cool that you can and it's led to a lot of interesting speedruns, but to truly get the experience of Breath of the Wild you have to try and see as many of the environments that Hyrule has to offer. From the fiery peaks of Eldin, to the snowy fields of Tabantha, the lush jungles of Faron, the broiling desert of Gerudo, and the green plains of Central Hyrule, any and all landscapes can be explored. You might need some special gear or buffs to reach them, so make sure you talk to any NPCs you might find to help you traverse a new area.

Speaking of buffs, in another first for the series there is crafting in the form of cooking! You can cook two kinds of. There's food, which can heal hearts and sometimes offer buffs, and elixirs, which are typically more focused on the buffs, but can also heal hearts. You'll just have to try mixing and matching different items as you go to find what works best and sometimes you'll find recipes in different areas or from NPCs so make sure to pick the brains of anything you run across on your travels.

I'm starting to fall into the trap of trying to explain every facet of the game and I think that will take too long. I didn't even touch on hearts and stamina or horses, but I think I'll leave that to the game.

I can't recommend Breath of the Wild more if I tried. This has been a special experience for me. I haven't enjoyed a video game this much in a long, long while. I certainly can't tell you the last time I put 100+ hours into a video game. I hate to shift my personal top 10s or favourites in a series after one playthrough, but with my time playing Breath of the Wild I feel it's safe to say that it is probably my favourite in the series. As much as I loved Ocarina of Time I think I enjoyed Breath of The Wild more, but I guess that's something that I'll think about over time. But that's the thing, this game makes me think about that sort of thing. The order of my personal top 10 favourite games changes sometimes, but the games typically stay the same. Now I find myself trying to decide where I'd fit Breath of the Wild, that's how much I loved it.

If you have a Wii U or a Nintendo Switch, it's likely you have this game. It's selling like hotcakes, but if for some reason you've been sleeping on this title and you enjoy adventure games then I think you owe it to yourself to play Breath of the Wild and experience an all new Hyrule that you've never seen before.

Thanks for reading,
R