Breath of the Wild summed up in one picture

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PurpleShyGuy

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Edited By PurpleShyGuy

The tease of a richer tale.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is one such game that I’ve always been meaning to go back to, and now due to a certain global pandemic which has allowed me more free time, I have. One task I’ve wanted to scratch off of my to-do list with Breath of the Wild is the DLC quests, and upon completing The Champions’ Ballard I’m immediately brought back to why this game frustrates me so. Because Breath of the Wild gives us glimpses of a greater experience, one that surfaces on rare occasion before being engulfed by glacial climbing and the dreaded fun killer known as rain.

I’m sure you’ve heard these complaints all before, but what I really want to talk about is the characters and story of Breath of the Wild. This might come as a surprise since the Zelda series is hardly known for its supporting cast or plot, but that doesn’t stop it from having its moments. The unexpectedly earnest speech Ganondorf gives in Wind Waker, Midna’s cold indifference melting to reveal a caring side in Twilight Princess, and the struggle to reunite Kafei and Anju in Majora’s Mask are all standout examples. And it drives me mad that Breath of the Wild shows the same promise, but never fully reaches it.

The most interesting parts of the narrative take place a 100 years ago, conveyed in fancy cutscenes complete with voice acting, well, fancy for Zelda standards. The scenes are brief, and yes, they aren’t going to blow your mind, but it was nice to see some humanity in the hours of wandering very pretty scenery. These scenes also make Link’s eternal muteness more apparent, as someone yaks away and he stares vacantly into the distance.

Not every game needs a voiced protagonist, Limbo wouldn’t be improved if the boy screamed, “Oh my god, a gigantic spider!” when the gigantic spider attacks for example. However, the further Nintendo push towards a more cinematic style, the more Link’s silence is going to stick out like a sore thumb. And I know that the voice acting in Breath of the Wild is far from stellar, but I actually thought it added some extra charm to characters like Zelda. I would even go as far to say that Breath of the Wild is my favourite version of Zelda, with her childish enthusiasm contrasting with her royal position. It makes a change from her spending most of the game trapped in a tower, or in a basement, or in some bullshit magical crystal.

And this isn't even the first time a fish woman has wanted to have sex with Link.
And this isn't even the first time a fish woman has wanted to have sex with Link.

We are reaching the point where Link is becoming an established character, his name is even spoken out loud for the first time in a mainline Zelda game – no, the CD-i games don't count. But Nintendo has settled on this bizarre middle ground, where people talk to Link like he’s a person, but he barely emotes to anything they say. I just wish the development team would commit, because if Link is going to be a part of this story, then give him a stronger relationship to the people around him. I want to see him react to Revali’s insufferable cockiness, or try to console Zelda who’s worried about her future role as Hyrule’s leader.

You get the sense that all the important events have happened already, out of view, and you’re just there to piddle around in a field for hours, looking for tree people so you can acquire their turds – you know what I’m talking about. The one time where I truly felt like I had agency was during the recapture of Hyrule Castle, an exceptional moment that acted not just as the culmination of the game, but the entire franchise. And this could have been made even better if you were allowed to travel through Hyrule Castle and its town in its prime, just to show how truly devastating Calamity Ganon is. But most of Hyrule’s glory is gone, with ruins providing the only reminder of the once mighty city.

Nintendo could have done so much more, because they have shown they can make interesting and memorable characters. Hell, the best part of Skyward Sword is the lovable dolt Groose, mainly because most of the game wasn't exactly great, but that’s besides the point. Instead, with Breath of the Wild, we have a game that spreads everything so thinly. Dungeons are shredded into tiny pieces and sprinkled around the land as shrines, stables are copied and pasted so Link has ample chance to get a horse for speedier traversal, and the story is hidden away in fragmented pieces. All in service of a land that is too big for its own good.

What really drove this all home was a picture of Link, Zelda, Daruk, Mipha, Revali and Urbosa, tightly huddled together during a photograph. It was a warming display of camaraderie, that for a brief moment almost tricked me into thinking that these were companions I had spent hours with. But in reality you don’t, you don’t get to really know any of these characters, and most died a long time before you even start the game. And just to rub salt in the wound, you don’t even get to view the photograph close up again – unless you frame it in Link's house. But what better way to summarise my feelings, a photograph of a better game that you only catch a peek of before it is tucked away deep into your inventory, to be forgotten about amongst all the sticks and roasted acorns.

Better times, truly.
Better times, truly.

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BisonHero

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I feel like Breath of the Wild gets a bit of a free pass from longtime Nintendo fans that wanted Zelda to be relevant again, which it now very much is because of the considerable success of the Switch/BotW launch. Zelda hasn’t been this mainstream relevant since Ocarina of Time. It doesn’t help that since OoT, Nintendo has mostly been copy-pasting the design doc/gameplay style of OoT into sort of the same console Zelda game over and over. A lot of people gradually stopped paying attention in this era, especially with the snooze fest that was Twilight Princess into Skyward Sword.

So BotW is a good game, but there’s lots of room for improvement. Compartmentalizing Zelda dungeons into the Portal-esque shrines/Divine Beasts was a nice...change of pace, but I think it outlived its welcome after one game. They’re just too short, have minimal themes/connective tissue. Like imagine all the desert shrines looked...deserts on the inside. Something? Anything?

It was really monotonous that all interiors in the game were so repetitive: stables are all the same, shrines have the same black/tan surface bathed in blue light, Divine Beasts all have the same tan surface bathed in natural light. On the inside they all feel the same. Not to mention like a third of the shrines are copouts that are just a copy-pasted dull mini boss fight, or “walk inside, get reward” if you had to expend even a modicum of effort on the surface to unlock the shrine.

The art design on friendly towns and ruined former towns has a cool feel, but the art design on threatening environment (“dungeons”) is just really forgettable. I guess the Yiga Clan hideout and Hyrule Castle infiltrations are the only exceptions to this; I wish the game had way more areas like this.

Agreed with your points on the story/characters being solid, though yes, the cutscenes are incredibly sparse and you might go like 10-15 hours without seeing any more story. The titular Zelda has a more interesting personal conflict than usual, though I feel like on the flip side this is the most dull Ganon has been since the NES games. He’s just a big smoke monster that possesses everything, and has 4 dumb looking forms in the Divine Beasts, then a slightly cool form in Hyrule Castle, then back to dumb again with his giant boar form you fight in the field.

Also, I think they have to do *something* with the nuts and bolts combat of Zelda, which is one of the few parts that still feels lifted from OoT/Wind Waker, other than “you can toss weapons whenever.” At least the enemies can do scary amounts of damage in BotW, but in general “lock on, spam the incredibly safe backflip” is still way too effective.

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I feel lied to and want a refund.

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PurpleShyGuy

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@zombiepie: Did I lie?

Or did I do a Final Fantasy 7 Remake and subvert expectations?

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Tom_omb

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#4  Edited By Tom_omb

@purpleshyguy@bisonhero

I can't disagree with any of the criticisms both of you bring up, I share them. I particularly agree they'll need to mix things up for the next game I can't see them reusing the Shrine concept, I miss proper dungeons. That said, BotW is still my favorite game of this generation. Zelda has always been about the over world and how rewarding it is to explore ever corner of it. Climbing may be sluggish, but the fact that you can climb anything is one of the biggest revelations in games. Plus, it feels damn great coming down!

There are a lot of improvements needed in the acting department, and BotW doesn't have the most memorable characters of the series. It's okay that Zelda is not Mass Effect, but I would like them to do better. I still think it is a powerful idea that Link doesn't speak. He's a blank canvas for the player to project themselves onto. It's up to the player to find the courage to save Hyrule, you can spend all day smashing pots and hurting chickens or stop playing and never make it to Ganon. Link is the prototypical Adventure Game hero, I'd love to see them stick to their guns. I'm not sure I would trust anyone to cast a good voice actor anyway, Nintendo especially.

Whatever you feel about the story telling in individual games, there is a powerful idea at the core of Zelda. Every game is essentially the retelling of the same story for a different generation. Like real world myths and the tradition of aural storytelling. OoT introduced the idea that the Triforce was the three powers that keep each other in check.

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sawtooth

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PurpleShyGuy

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#6  Edited By PurpleShyGuy

@bisonhero: The issue with Calamity Ganon is that he doesn’t do anything after he takes over Hyrule Castle. He never attacks any place of importance, and during the entire game he just flys around like a big angry cloud. In Ocarina of Time, you could easily see Ganondorf’s influence after the time skip.

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BisonHero

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#7  Edited By BisonHero

@purpleshyguy: I mean, Ganondorf in OoT basically won, since Zelda goes into hiding/exile, while Link is trapped in limbo until he's old enough to be a hero. Literally no one opposed him. Comparatively, I think they lightly justify Calamity Ganon being inactive, though I still think it doesn't help that he's a dull, smoke-monster antagonist with no dialogue, motivation, or explanation.

I think the implication is that 100 years ago, when Ganon takes over all the Guardians/Divine Beasts, that is when all the human villages/farms anywhere near the castle got roasted. Then, after Link almost dies and Zelda goes Super Saiyan, she somehow confronts Ganon at the castle and somehow puts herself and Ganon in some kind of low power stasis. This lasts for 100 years, then her seal is starting to weaken and while Ganon is still trapped, his influence over Guardians/Divine Beasts reactivates, which prompts Zelda to reach out to Link and awaken him from his regeneration chamber to finish the fight, as it were.

I'm pretty sure the Divine Beasts were basically inactive for 100 years, because every major village in the game acts like their Divine Beast only recently reawakened and is causing problems, not that it has been terrorizing them for a century.

Anyway, I think that's what happened, though it's possible I am broadly assuming at least 50% of what I just said. They really don't spell out the timeline of the last 100 years in the game, and you have to do some guesswork based off of the cutscenes and what various NPCs say.