The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a great game, and a stellar Zelda title. With an amazing focus on adventure and exploration, Breath of the Wild is a fantastic journey, despite some noticeable hiccups.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Platform: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), and Wii U
It is often said that Miyamoto based the Zelda series on his exploration of a cave as a child. This sense of exploration and wonder is apparent in Breath of the Wild, the most open and free Zelda game to date. For the first time since Wind Waker, I feel as though I am exploring a grand and seemingly endless world with Link, rather than moving from confined temple to confined temple, and that is Breath of the Wild‘s greatest strength.
Breath of the Wild‘s story is pretty standard fare for a Zelda title, with the slightest bit more detail added in. As Link, you go through a number of “temples,” wonderfully turned into giant mecha-animals, to defeat Ganon and save Zelda. This time, however, Link has amnesia. He was a chosen hero 100 years ago, but something happened, plunging him into a deep sleep for an entire century. The concept is great, but nothing particularly amazing or ground-breaking happens. That’s not to say this is necessary, as Zelda isn’t known for its narratives as much as other game series, but it’s worth noting nonetheless.
The characters are as charming as one could expect of the Zelda franchise. Whether it’s the confident and goofy Prince of the Zoras, or the ever-so hard-working Beetle, both major and minor characters stand out thanks to their abundance of charm and quirky characteristics. Some of the dialogue for the major descendants of the “champions” is particularly well-written, earning a chuckle or a snicker out of me from time to time. These characters give life to the world of Breath of the Wild, which is by no means an easy task.
These characters also succeed in giving Link more character than he had in previous games. While it’s not a major rehaul or improvement, hearing older characters and Champions talk about Link’s adventures before his coma gives you a sense for how renowned and beloved Link and Zelda were before Ganon came and mucked everything up, and how they’re revered even after disappearing for a century. It’s an interesting bit of world-building that feels refreshing in a Zelda game, even if Link is ultimately meant to be little more than a player avatar.
“…hearing older characters and Champions talk about Link’s adventures before his coma gives you a sense for how renowned and beloved Link and Zelda were before Ganon came and mucked everything up.”
Breath of the Wild boasts fantastic gameplay overall, though it flew a bit too close to the sun in its embrace of an open world and looser narrative. Exploration is meant to be the highlight of Breath of the Wild, and for the most part, it works beautifully, but enhancing your stamina in order to climb and explore more parts of the world is oddly discouraged towards the end of the game.
In order to obtain a key item that is a major element of the plot, you need to have thirteen hearts, or “lives”. You obtain these hearts by earning “Spirit Orbs” from Shrines (short and small puzzle-based temples), which can be exchanged for either hearts or additional pieces of your stamina wheel, which is used to run, climb, swim, and glide. Since I wanted to explore as much as possible while keeping battles difficult, I put everything I had into the Stamina wheel, meaning I had to run around for hours, finding and completing new Shrines, in order to get enough hearts to obtain the item to advance the plot. I have no idea why Nintendo would put in a section that goes against the entire “exploration” theme that the game so openly encourages, so it’s frustrating that there’s a plot-wall to discourage you from upping your stamina or playing with low hearts for difficulty’s sake.
When you are exploring, however, it’s a magical feeling. Scaling walls, gliding off of mountains, or shield-boarding down hills feels more exciting and freeing than anything from a previous Zelda title, which is a welcome change of pace. The amount of hidden treasures and shrines that can be found simply by wandering sets what I hope to be a new precedent for future Zelda games, where adventure and open exploration is encouraged, rather than limited.
Combat is enjoyable thanks to the tried-and-true Z-Targeting system, alongside the ridiculous number of weapons and unique runes (the new “tools/items” of the series), which give the game a great deal of diversity. The biggest problem with combat is how every weapon, bow, and shield takes damage, and quickly breaks as a result. This creates an unnecessary feeling of tension that never goes away, as even the Master Sword and Hylian Shield, staples of the Zelda series, “run out of power” or break, making them useless for a long period of time. It’s a shame that everything breaks so quickly, as the sheer number of different weapons is such a fun change for the series.
“…it’s frustrating that there’s a plot-wall to discourage you from upping your stamina or playing with low hearts for difficulty’s sake.”
The Runes, on the other hand, have a great sense of variety that makes both puzzles and battles interesting, and up to interpretation. Can’t figure out the solution to a puzzle that requires you to climb up a wall? Then use your Magnetism Rune to pick up a metal box from elsewhere so that you can climb the wall, skipping the intended solution altogether. The Runes and solutions are all fantastic and creative features that I really hope are made even more unique in future installments.
Breath of the Wild‘s visuals are stylistically gorgeous, combining the more lively colors of Wind Waker and Skyward Sword with a very watercolor-esque style of blending. The enormous world is also full of unique areas, be they the crystal kingdom where the Zoras live, or the mountain-top wooden village where the bird-like Rito nest. Everything feels new and fun, which provides even further incentive for exploration. The only problem with the visuals is the frame-rate drops that occur just a tad too often to be ignored. Oftentimes, areas full of grass or trees will slow things down a bit, which takes you out of an otherwise immersive experience.
Breath of the Wild‘s sound is everything you should expect from a Zelda game: a memorable soundtrack with plenty of charming noises and sounds. Even the moments without the stellar music, like when you wander through an empty field, enhance the sense of adventure that Breath of the Wild so easily emits. The major sound addition to the game would be the addition of voice acting, which is, surprisingly decent. There are very few voiced moments however, so it doesn’t feel like too much of a deviation from the standard Zelda sound-design.
The Final Word
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a grand experience that stumbles a bit on its massive journey. These issues will hopefully prove to be growing pains that are worked out in future titles, but they aren’t substantial enough to stop Breath of the Wild from being an incredibly refreshing and immersive experience that both Zelda fans and newcomers will love for years to come.
-MonsterVine Review Score: 4.5 out of 5 – Great