September 12th, 2017

My Thoughts on Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild

This, being my first ever livejournal entry decided to review the most anticipated video game of 2017. The game is from Nintendo's Legend of Zelda franchise, titled Breath of the Wild.

The Legend of Zelda series has been around for over 30 years spanning multiple games on both console and handheld Nintendo hardware and have brought this to the table of video gaming: A structured story that revolves around questing for various items and tools that will allow you to defeat the main villain of the game, all the while helping people in various mini quests and playing games that will reward the player with additional abilities and upgrades. The original Legend of Zelda was groundbreaking in the idea that the player could go anywhere in the world and engage enemies to collect rupees and hearts to replenish health. During that exploration, players would find entrances to labyrinths that housed a special tool that allowed the player more access to Hyrule, a boss that guarded the triforce piece, and enemies to fill the rooms in between. Throughout the years, the gameplay has changed drastically (Think Zelda II, the first game I ever played) or has evolved in 2D and 3D ( A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time and beyond) and almost every game in this series is critically acclaimed, due to structured gameplay, creative themed dungeons, variety of enemies, an unforgettable story that flows with the gameplay questing, an epic soundtrack mixed with minimalist atmospheric pieces, and the reward of earning new abilities and upgrades for exploring world in general. Breath of the Wild, on the other hand, takes a majority of the elements essential for a quality Zelda experience out in favor of an open-ended, open world game with a story that needs to be told through exploring the massive overworld without the hinderance of doing anything in a fixed linear direction. Breath of the Wild got massive acclaim from video game journalists and players a like for "shaking up the formula" and "creating an open-ended masterpiece". My take is different. I feel that, as a result of removing a lot of said elements to the Zelda formula, the game lacks the spirit, the previous game possess and therefore think that Breath of the Wild is the weakest game of the Zelda series to date.

I began playing Zelda games since the early 90's when I first got the NES for Christmas in '89. My sixth birthday in '90, I got the gold cartridge Original Legend of Zelda. It blew me away because the only other games I played at the time were the Super Mario games (1,2 and 3), so a game without jumping and shooting fireballs, or having to make it to the right of the screen was totally out of my world. I played Zelda, and loved it, slaying enemies, going into dungeons, collecting items to progress, and upgrading my health with heart containers. At the time, there was no internet to go to for help, so I did not know where to find the final dungeon, until finding it by accident seven years later when I was 13, and finally beating it. Breath of the Wild was promoted to follow the original games open ended approach where you could go anywhere or approach any particular area from any direction without any loading times whatsoever. Despite particular concerns I had watching the gameplay for the game at E3 2016, I had the hope that Nintendo would bring forth a masterpiece like they have always done with their titles. I was wrong.

The beginning of the game, takes place on an isolated plateau, where you explore and find the four shrines that each have particular abilities that Link needs to conquer the wild in similarity to the tools in the previous game. Once you have all this, you are given a glider and the main story objective, which is once again, to defeat Ganon (Calamity Ganon this time). After that, you are on your own with how you want to proceed. The game is divided into Main Quest, Side Quests, Shrine Quests, Korok Hunting, and Location Quest that unlock cutscenes that explain Links motivations and his relationship to the other characters. The world is massive, so that means a lot of the gameplay time is running around from place to place which actually does not work as well as a lot of people claim. The design of this world has 120 orange glowing shrines, that all look the same aesthetically and 20% are combat challenges fighting the same enemy but at different levels. The world is post apocalyptic, therefore there is not a whole lot of settlements, not even a lot of structures other than the map towers, the shrines, and the guardian beasts which I will get to in a moment. For all the time refining the overworld, there was not much put in it that actually interested me in investigating because a lot of the areas looked the same, and a lot of them with the exception of korok puzzles, (900 scattered in the world with like 9 to 10 different puzzles) are generally barren of anything interesting. There are pros and cons of this game I'd like to discuss. I will start with the pros.

I'll be honest, the game is gorgeous, best looking game I've ever seen hands down. Reminds me of Studio Ghibli artwork, with Ni No Kuni in mind and the cell shaded Wind Waker. The combat in this game is different. The buttons used and the moves for Link are different and take time to learn with the added slow motion dodge that allows you to counterattack your enemy dealing massive damage as a reward for patient effort of learning and mastering the system. The abilities you get in the beginning of the game are new that help you solve puzzles, and defeat harder enemies allowing you to experiment with how you want to approach a fight, a puzzle, or any other predicament. The main quest dungeons or guardian beast had a new novel mechanic in manipulating the orientation of the beast so that you can access new areas, apart from the standard dungeon from the previous games. The puzzles in the guardian beast and in the shrines are, for the most part, well designed requiring the player to figure out what it is. That is pretty it for the pros, here come the cons and there is a lot of them.

I'm just going to say it now, I found this game very boring more than half the time. The exploration in this massive open world game was very tedious due to simply running around from place to place. The shrines (120) are in the world so that Link can upgrade his health or his stamina and that is basically the only way Link can do so which makes the shrines too predictable. The treasure chest in this game usually carry either rupees, or weapons. The problem with weapons in this game is that they are breakable and because of that, obtaining new weapons feels very hollow as a result since you will not have the weapon long. This was actually praised by critics because they feel it makes players make more careful decisions when approaching a fight, but to be honest I didn't have to be careful because there were so many weapons in the game as it is that it doesn't matter. Collecting treasure now is dull for this reason. There was also a lack of subterranean areas to explore in favor of the massive overworld, with not a whole lot of secrets, just more open space. The few people in the game that you talk to will tell you about certain areas to explore and certain to look out for but they never talk about the main story or Ganon and how the postapocalypic world affects their lives or anything of the sort. The shrines were aesthetically similar and had the same recurring music track that becomes annoying in a short amount of time.

The music of Zelda is a larger than life element that the has made the series unforgettable. This games soundtrack is very forgettable. The soundtrack is basically, once again nature and survival with some piano cues to point out the time of the day and the weather. Even the minimalistic tracks of Ocarina of Time are more memorable than what we got in this game.

The four dungeons in this game (yes for 12 areas of the map, there are only four dungeons) are mobile guardian beasts, that you need to complete to better stand a chance of beating Ganon. All four dungeons look the same, share a similar boss which is an offshoot of Ganon with different attacks, and lack enemies. The designs were not bad, but they could of included a variety of aesthetics and included some temple or dungeons or labyrinths that are not the shrines. For all that open world, there was too little story to discover in that world. Character development was lacking because you only had 15 cutscenes with characters you barely knew and their relationships. Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker do this flawlessly and I cared about the characters whereas in this game I did not. The upcoming DLC could remedy this though.

In conclusion, I felt underwhelmed by the gameplay experience, the lack of reward for completing new areas and dungeons, and the lack of finding upgrades in the world other than the shrines. The climbing ability is long tedious, and unrewarding in comparison to having the hookshot or similar tool to reach places you could not reach before. I find the open world game lacking if it does not have structure and this game lacks structure in favor of freedom to do whatever you want. I think freedom is boring and less compelling in comparison to a metroidvania style where exploration is rewarded with new abiities and upgrades that allow you to explore more areas and build up your gear so you can survive. Breath of the Wild does do this but to a minimum and therefore that is the reason why this game is my least favorite in the franchise. Its a decent game still, but its not an authentic Zelda experience. I hope games from here on will still adapt the original design but with the breath of the wild open world. There is a lot of potential in the future for a good quality Zelda experience.