By Dave Hill
Some people might hear that Zelda: Breath of the Wild is one of the greatest installments into the franchise and think to themselves, “Finally!” But hold on there. There is a lot more to this Zelda game than it being really good. While Nintendo is certainly not reinventing the wheel with this game, they are making the wheel from better parts. Like any new approach, however, there are some things that work, and some things that don’t. All in all, I have not been this consumed by a game since The Witcher 3, but that doesn’t negate that BotW and I had a pretty rough start together.
Nintendo really needed to hit this one out of the park and it seems safe to say that they have. This latest installment is so much of what I wanted and simultaneously unexpected. Everything from music to combat to story has had significant tweaks to it, giving us a more in depth Zelda game while maintaining the charm the franchise is so famous for. Let’s delve into this a bit deeper – here is my look back at Zelda Breath of the Wild.
Graphically, the game was not much to look at relative to what can be found in the gaming market today. That should not imply that the game’s artwork and style were not still beautifully crafted. The overall design of Hyrule as a grand, open world was wonderfully executed. Everything from the Gerudo Desert to Death Mountain and some other surprise areas were a joy to explore. The disappointment only comes when playing on a larger screen. Because of the Switch’s limited power Nintendo was only able to give us a 30 fps experience with some heavy aliasing at times. Playing the game on the Switch’s screen makes most of this virtually unnoticeable. Regardless of this, Hyrule has never looked more beautiful or inviting to explore.
Character designs still have the fun, cartoon aesthetic of many Zelda games, making the graphical limitations more acceptable. Nintendo has continued with many of the design themes from Skyward Sword and perfected them in this iteration. If you take away anything from this, it’s that you do not have to have cutting edge graphics to design a beautiful looking game.
This isn’t the only place where Zelda manages to be beautiful. I love the Ocarina of Time OST. The grand music of the opening title screen, to the solemn theme for the Temple of Time made for fantastic orchestrations. With Breath of the Wild Nintendo went in a separate direction. This time the music was softer, introspective and usually consisted of soft, solo piano measures. Rather than being an integral part of the experience, the music accented the moments of the game instead. The bittersweetness of these piano solos harmonized well with the story that contained elements of regrets and redemption.
All the classic Link screaming sounds can still be found in the game. More surprising this time – was that there was some actual voice acting. This was mostly confined to cut scenes, but it’s a step Nintendo has avoided taking. The results varied from actor to actor and scene to scene. It was not terrible and it gave the characters some new depth that was unseen (or heard) in previous titles. In fact, Zelda’s character was given some surprising depth as she struggled with guilt and resentment. It was not a lot, but considering how flat these characters tend to be, it was an intriguing new element to a Zelda game that didn’t feel forced or out of place. This did little to change the story which, as you can guess was: Gannon is bad! Stop Gannon with the help of these four other special people. In that regard, not much has changed.
The game, like Zelda bosses, does have one weak point: controls. Let’s ignore issues I have discussed about the Switch controllers themselves and focus mostly on the implementation and behavior of these controls in Zelda. While all the basic controls like running, jumping, swinging your sword all worked fine, others didn’t, including Nintendo’s refusal to abandon motion controls or inability to perfect continues to be frustrating in the Switch era.
Let’s start with a great staple of the Zelda franchise; “Z-Targeting.” I struggled a bit with Z-Targeting as it didn’t stick to the opponent well. The camera also did not behave in an expected manner. Often as a bokoblin and I circled each other in combat, the camera would not circle with me, putting my opponent out of frame and leaving me unable to react appropriately when the next attack came in. Usually releasing the ZL button and quickly engaging it would right the camera, but this seemed more like a broken mechanic rather than some feature of targeting. It made combat a clunky experience at times, rather than a smooth, graceful experience where I didn’t feel like the game was deliberately trying to get me killed.
Another great control flop happens with certain puzzles in the game. A few of the puzzles in the shrines are rolling a small through a maze on a floating platform. I find these puzzles a bit frustrating, but the controls made it worse using the motion tracking to tilt the platform to get the ball rolling. The problem with this mechanic is that it’s not perfect and eventually the platform can get out of alignment with the joycons. The ending result was me holding my controller sideways and mostly upside down to get a right-side-up platform to tilt slightly to the left. It made the experience obnoxious and there was no way to just use the joy sticks instead. None of these stop the game from being playable. These are just minor gripes I had with game’s control schema.
This Zelda marks a new approach for Nintendo as well. A truly open world experience awaits you in BotW. The opening scene of Link running out to the cliff to see the world laid out before him is just the tiniest crumb of all the places you can (and will) go. When I began my adventure, I went through the introduction and the plot was revealed. Next the game wanted me to go left. I went right. And while I was technically allowed to do this, I was punished for this by a lack of scaling to you character. Since Link doesn’t have levels I will let that slide, but the unforgiving durability system for your weapons Nintendo put in, can make your “Open World” adventure brutal. The vast majority of weapons you pick up break quickly and have low damage. Conversely, you can very quickly stumble across mobs you have no business attacking with only three hearts and a tree branch. Knowing where the good loot is hidden and how to get it is essential. I recommend with a first playthrough you follow the story a bit before you go wandering. This will save you a lot of aggravation.
I don’t fault the game for being difficult. I actually enjoyed it a lot. The new difficulty made me feel like I was playing a much more serious game and as a result as I improved my armor, increased my heart containers and got better weapons, I really felt like I was improving at the game.
There is a lot of new in Zelda. Nintendo did a lot right. This doesn’t feel like a totally new experience, but a genuinely improved one. This is still a Legend of Zelda game, just with some significant enhancements. It is as if they filled some of the cracks and rejuvenated the franchise. I’ve logged almost 100 hours into this game and that says a lot for me.
Are you enjoying Zelda?
– Dave Hill (GamingU Editor)
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