Hall of Fame: Revisited – Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

After six years — Terry Randolph finally played Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. See what his thoughts are, as well as if he feels it’s still a Hall of Fame game.

A Journey Designed to Take Your Breath Away – Review

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Release Date: March 3, 2017
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Genre: Open World, Action Adventure
Rated: E10 for Everyone ages 10 and above

When I first touched Breath of the Wild after acquiring a Switch in 2018, I shelved it immediately. Over the course of the next year and a half, I would play it furiously for a few weeks, get frustrated, and then step away. There were several reasons for this, the most eminent being that I always reached a point where I felt like I was playing it more out of obligation than enjoyment. For years, I’ve told myself I need to finish my backlog of games, and this was one of them. 

Second, I felt like people would backseat drive me, even though they were just trying to help or advise. Finally, I am someone who wants to burn through all of the sidequests as quickly as possible before completing the main quests. Going into the main storyline without any distractions makes the story feel more cinematic to me. As anyone who has played Breath of the Wild knows, that’s next to impossible. I put the game away after finishing 75% of the main storyline, fewer than half of the shrines, and a heap of sidequests. I felt I’d had enough.

So when I put down the game for the final time, I found myself agreeing with all the ‘hot takes’ about Breath of the Wild rather than really challenging them to determine how I really felt. Is the world too empty? Absolutely. Weapon/shield/bow durability? Poor game design? This wasn’t a roguelike game, so it only made the game worse. Enemies were boring? Agreed. Whatever curiosity and excitement I had from the trailers was eradicated by a crappy experience. I would tell people I need to finish the game eventually…but never found motivation to do so.

It was only when Tears of the Kingdom was given a release date trailer, and I felt that excitement swelling up, that I knew I had to finish Breath of the Wild. After all, it had been nearly four years, so I went for it. “What could go wrong attempting it again?” I reasoned. I asked my friends Jake and Marshall if I could write a review of my experience as a Hall of Fame: Revisited piece, and they agreed. You should read Jake’s review, as well as Isaac’s review, if you have the time!

After having finished all of the side quests and shrine quests of the base game (didn’t finish the DLC, I’ll expand later), acquiring all of the Divine Beasts, maxed out Armor Set, Master Shield and Hylian Sword in a little over 100 hours (116 to be precise if my numbers are accurate – 70 on my first playthrough, roughly 185 after this one), I can easily say that this game is a masterpiece and deserves to be a Hall of Fame game.  In fact, I’d argue it’s one of the strongest entries in the series.

Breath of the Wild is a game of consistency and exploration. The game builds its world as much as it leaves it a mystery, it never fully holds your hand but gently guides you to places to explore. From Hyrule’s inhabitants, the ‘Rumor Mills’ books, hidden treasures, shrines, ruins, or Korok seeds, there is so much to see and learn. Combat is never too easy or too difficult with the game’s difficulty curve, as well as the hidden experience points bar and enemy progression (yes it is a thing, believe me). Puzzles range from being simple, to “scratching your head in confusion until you realize the solution is in front of you” difficult.

This game does what I feel many games try and either fail or nearly succeed in doing and does it masterfully; it makes you relax and take your time. That’s why this game deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, and should be in your gaming catalog.

A Story All Too Familiar but Distinct

Legend of Zelda is a storied franchise spanning nearly four decades with 20 main entries and countless remakes, side stories, and collaboration projects. Simultaneously, it’s one of the most convoluted timelines in any videogame franchise, and if it wasn’t for the Hyrule Historia book Nintendo published in 2011, it would remain a mystery. It’s a timeline that has four games that serve as the start of the timeline, with Ocarina of Time being the one where things veer in different directions. Three different timelines span from that, one where ‘the Hero is Defeated’ (Link to the Past, Link’s Awakening, Oracle of Ages and Seasons, Link Between Worlds, Tri Force Heroes, The Legend of Zelda, and Adventure of Link), or ‘the Hero is Triumphant’ timeline splitting into two other timelines: ‘the Child Era’ (Majora’s Mask, Twilight Princess, Four Swords Adventures) or ‘the Adult Era’ (Wind Waker, Phantom Hourglass, Spirit Tracks). Somewhere at the end of each timeline (Nintendo has kept this part under wraps) leads to Breath of the Wild.

What you need to know is this; every story is reflective of the Triforce and the prototypical ‘Hero Fantasy’ storytelling long established; when a great Evil poses as a major threat (Triforce of Power), a Hero (the Triforce of Courage) will rise to fight it in order to help the Princess (Triforce of Wisdom). Most of the time, this is Ganon/Ganondorf being the evil, Link being the Hero, and Zelda being the Princess.

Breath of the Wild runs with the conceit but in a different fashion; we are awakened to seeing a bright light in pitch black, a voice that sounds familiar asking us to open our eyes and wake up. Link wakes up to find himself in an unknown place but finds a terminal not too far from where he has risen. He takes the item out of the terminal called a Sheikah Slate, the voice saying it will help guide him on his journey after a long slumber. A door opens to another corridor that Link has to work through, finding clothes left for him to put on. Another terminal is in front of him, the voice beckoning him to put the Sheikah Slate up to it to show him the way. It opens up another door to a stairway that leads to the outside. He’s told he is the light, and his light must shine on Hyrule once again. As he walks outside, the music has a beautiful orchestral swelling while we peer out into the lands and ruins of the Kingdom of Hyrule. In my opinion, this is one of the best openings to a game I’ve ever experienced; there is an overwhelming sense of awe and excitement in seeing a vast land to explore.

Over the course of several quests you have to complete at first, you learn more about yourself and the world around you; a great Calamity had befallen Hyrule 100 years ago thanks to Ganon. You, Link, were part of a group tasked with stopping Ganon and his Great Calamity but had failed to do so. Ganon had a trick up his sleeve that no one was prepared for; he had taken control of the Four Divine Beasts and Guardian technology that your crew had been using in preparation for his arrival. All the champions who were in charge of controlling the Divine Beasts had fallen to him, and the only thing holding him back from completing his Calamity is Zelda’s Divine Powers. She was awaiting the day you would wake up, holding on until Link had enough power to defeat Ganon and save Hyrule. However you see fit.

One could argue that Breath of the Wilds main storyline missions make the story simplistic, and I’d have to agree with you; that’s because you’d be missing most of the actual story. Most of the story is told in the background through sidequests, finding relics sprawled across the world, or people in places yet to be discovered. It’s told in the stories you hear of how the world is now by everyone around you, a world so flush and full of life.

For example, if the main storyline quests were to give 1/3 of Breath of the Wild’s story, I’d argue that another 1/3 of the story is told through collecting all of the locked memories for Link. These memories are unlocked by photos that Zelda had left for Link in his Sheikah Slate, passed on by Impa, who once served as a royal adviser to Zelda, and was now the Village Elder for Kakoriko Village. Each of these places help piece together the story leading up to when Breath of the Wild resides.

Thematically, Breath of the Wild is a beautiful story of doubt and struggle, with a dash of hope, tinge of perseverance, and a splash of redemption. In the Locked Memories that you can find in the sidequest, as well as the ones automatically unlocked in the Main Story line, you can see from the beginning how everyone questioned Link being chosen by the Master Sword as the Sealer of Darkness. Everyone was sure of themselves because they have their respective powers.

For Zelda especially, her doubt in Link being the right person chosen by the Master Sword reflected her own self-doubt in being able to awaken her powers to help seal Ganon. Just as they all felt uncertainty about his capabilities in wielding the Master Sword and its failure in choosing the right person, Zelda felt like she was a failure as the one chosen by fate, as evidenced in her questioning whether she really was the right person or wanted to be the chosen one to seal Ganon. As Hyrule falls, the champions along with it, and Link, we see Zelda’s power come to fruition. In conclusion, Breath of the Wild is Link’s story in overcoming Ganon, but becomes Zelda’s story of redemption.

The remaining 1/3 left of the story is found in the texts, or songs, or conversations scattered throughout Breath of the Wild, and it gives us beautiful insight into character perspective and thoughts. Like how Zelda grew to appreciate and connect with Link and to understand why he has chosen a path of silence (or really, the developers wanted to justify why Link is always a silent hero). Or how her Father, King Rhoam Bosphoramus Hyrule, felt guilty that he had to push his daughter to awaken her powers since the death of his wife.

In conclusion, Breath of the Wild is two stories in one game. Zelda’s story of redemption and fortitude told through the lens of Link’s memories and the lore hidden amongst Hyrule. And Link’s journey to defeating Ganon and restoring the world, told through the lens of the player’s experience. 

Adventure is Out There! There’s Treasure to be had!

Breath of the Wild’s core concept for gameplay is simple; explore at your pace, and play your own way. The world of Hyrule is expansive, with various different biomes presenting their own set of challenges and secrets to discover ranging from shrines, to subquests, to korok seeds, minigames, or other secrets! Find a spot that looks a little unusual? Why not go check it out? There’s a shrine that doesn’t look to be too bad of a climb, only one way to find out! Or, if it’s too much of a challenge going this direction, is there another route? The game rewards players for being curious, for wanting to see all of what Hyrule has to offer. In fact, I’d argue that it’s more than likely you won’t find everything in your playthrough unless you purposefully set off to find everything.

What I love about the sidequests in this game is that the reward feels two-fold; you’re only given hints to describe a location, and whatever you find in that location. For example, you might be told “hidden within the mountain, where the snow continues to fall, is where the bones of an ancient may lay,” and nothing else. The description piques your interest as a player and is enough to not hold your hand and give you the answer, and creates a sense of reward for discovering the space. Upon discovering the location as well as the item sought, like in this example leviathan bones, you get to take a picture and report back to the person requesting a photo. I cannot express how fun it was to go looking for these places and to not only feel accomplished in finding them, but be floored by the discovery itself. 

Puzzles can be both simple and challenging, finding that nice balance of giving something to get the brain rattling but nothing discouraging. In shrines, the ones that use the Switch controllers for movement I found to be a fun way to utilize the Switch’s capabilities (and the Wii U’s I imagine). In my playthrough, I found that the puzzles I had the most trouble with had the solution right in front of me, I just didn’t really think it would be that simple. I also really enjoyed the Korok seed ones of having to figure out where to place a block to match the formation next to it, or to determine what fruit to leave by the statue, or even how many fruit need to be on each tree. All of it is fun, especially when there’s no pressure in having to find them all. 

For the completionist enthusiasts (which, I typically am, but this game requires A LOT for 100% a game) there’s plenty to get through, find, and complete – like filling up the Hyrule Compendium, gathering all 900 Korok Seeds, getting all 120 Shrines, and fulfilling all 76 side quests (84 if you decide to do post-game content in getting the monster medals). 

Ultimately, this game is a treasure and testament to the idea of ‘enjoying the journey leading up to the destination’. It wants you to breathe, take in everything around you, and save the world when you’re ready to.

I’m Firing My Lasers

One of Breath of the Wild’s strengths, minus the weapon/shield/bow durability, is how creative combat can be in this game. There is no right way in how you can approach battle between the runes, gadgets, armor, and stat enhancing food Link could be carrying. For example, any time I was taking on a Lynel I made sure to wear my armor set that would add +3 to my strength, as well as eat food that would boost my defense for a time. Conversely, I might decide to take on Lynel by lobbing explosive arrow after explosive arrow with hopes I land a stunning headshot. There’s a sense of exhilaration, adrenaline, and in many cases dread at the threat ahead. 

Exemplary of this are the boss battles. Every boss, known as Blights in Breath of the Wild, are each unique in the challenges they bring. All of them have their own patterned movement, their own specific phases, and attacks that the player has to pay attention to in order to gain an advantage in battle. What weapons, runes, armor set, and stat enhancing food you choose to utilize can be the difference between winning a battle with ease, or getting defeated with ease. 

Combat feels satisfying, like in the case of fighting Ganon as the endgame boss. Having witnessed everything you’ve worked towards leading up to the moment come together felt like a wonderful payoff. The fight itself is a treat, being one that offers one of the most challenging fights to do. Or, you could be like me, and abuse the powers you get from the Divine Beasts to win. By the time you let loose your final light arrow, and Ganon is vanquished, you get a feel like everything you’ve done has had meaning. 

I also genuinely appreciated that Breath of the Wild wants to reward you for understanding its combat mechanics. Much like the Soulsborne games that definitely influenced its system, knowing how to perfect parry or dodge attacks comes with openings and advantages players learn to take advantage of. Taking the time to learn and recognize each monsters strengths and weaknesses is something I’d urge players to pay attention to as well. 

However, what really brings this all together is the hidden XP system that’s in place that helps to gradually increase the difficulty for the different enemy variants. What it means is this; after defeating a number of enemies in a specific color, the game will bring in a new shade of an enemy that will be slightly stronger and have slightly more health. Universally, the colors go red, to blue, to black, to silver. The game never warns you of when it changes – you just find yourself wandering into an enemy camp and notice the change in color. 

Overall, I feel like the combat is challenging enough for players looking for skill-based battles, but is also accessible to those who aren’t as focused on that aspect. 

Sometimes, Extra Content Doesn’t Equal More Goodness

I’m going to cut to the chase here: Breath of the Wild’s DLC is a mixed bag for me. While I did enjoy the extra armor sets with their buffs, I found the Champions’ Ballads or the Trial of the Sword were just not my cup of tea. I went into these hoping that there would be more story, and instead found myself facing harder combat challenges with little story content to add to it. While the shrine puzzles that I did were a lot of fun, the way to find the shrines were not. Even the combat set up to start the quests were not as exciting. There was a point where I had to turn off my Switch in frustration, and come back to it the next day.

While I can see the Blight fights with the new combat restrictions being fun for those who really want a more Soulsborne experience in Breath of the Wild, I did not enjoy having to be as focused as I was. While that sounds like an admission of lack of skill, and maybe it is, I do not want to be in a spot where I have to make sure I land all 10 arrows as headshots, hope the two spears I have also can land a headshot, and retrieve them with Magnesis before he sends his ice blocks at me. Not to mention how little protection my armor provides, and how little food I have to replenish my health. These battles require a level of finesse I personally was not invested into putting into Breath of the Wild.

In all reality, Breath of the Wild’s DLC almost ruined the game for me. Luckily, I had a partner to learn to help me let go of my stubbornness (or ego, let’s be real here) of completing something I had no enjoyment doing. 

That said, if combat and skill-based challenge is your thing, then I highly recommend the DLC. 

A Masterpiece of Consistency

I’ll start by saying this; I can fully understand and empathize with the critiques lobbied against Breath of the Wild. I can see why there are people who argue that the world can feel empty, how it comes off as quantity and less quality. I can understand those who argue that the story is sparse, and that the game has a lot of repetition due to the ‘blood moon’ mechanic. I can fully understand if those who have tried it find it to not be their game. 

Conversely, I’d like to present my main argument for why Breath of the Wild succeeds; sustained consistency. What I mean to say is every single aspect of this game is built with a single concept in mind; let the player curate the experience they want for themselves. Breath of the Wild never wants to tailor the player’s experience; it wants the player to tailor Breath of the Wild’s robust story. Nearly everything in this game is perfectly crafted for people who are new to the storied franchise, and longtime fans. It’s a game that calls back to the days of old where there weren’t guides or anything to lead the player, but enough pins and stamps to help you find where you needed to go or points of interest. At the very end, when you look over the horizon at a world without Ganon, Zelda next to you, you can’t help but smile. You’ve done it. From beginning to end, Breath of the Wild is a masterclass of consistency, and deserves to be a Hall of Fame game should there ever be a Hall of Fame. 


Comments

One response to “Hall of Fame: Revisited – Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild”

  1. Janine

    What a great read! As someone who hasn’t played the rest of the legend of zelda games I appreciate the breakdown and discussion of the timelines