Breath of the Wild may be over a month old but it’s still fresh in our minds, and will likely remain a unique experience in the Zelda-verse in the years to come.
Narelle Ho Sang (aka Zarnyx) and I chat about our thoughts on the music, our journeys, and the awesomeness that is Revali* in the latest entry of The Legend of Zelda series for our review.
*Nach’s notes: clearly some people don’t know how to spell Urbosa.
Spoiler warning: we discuss everything in the review from story, characters, locations and even the final boss.
The Adventure Begins
Nach: The Great Plateau should be hailed as the best tutorial in gaming. Period. It prepares you for what awaits you in the world below (and above). Not only it serves as a tutorial, it also exemplifies how your adventure will be. You’re never tied to a single path, you can do whatever you want in the confines of the area, but as unique as it is, the journey within the elevated ridge is pretty much the same: Get the para-glider.
So instead of focusing on the plateau, let’s talk about when you first stepped into the Kingdom of Hyrule.
Zarnyx: I think I followed a road, got to Kakariko or a stable, whatever, and thought… “meh, what’s so different about this game anyway?” Then a blood moon hit. That startled me.
Nach: Hah… I pretty much did the same, but I had a slight detour. So as soon as I got off the Plateau, I decided to explore the area to the north, around the proper Hyrule Field. Got a horse, called him ‘Neigh’ cause he was ugly as hell. I kept moving north until I saw a tower in the distance, avoided some decayed guardians patrolling the tower and after much effort I managed to climb it and claim it as my own, “Screw you Ganon, this is my tower nao!”. Two minutes later I was promptly destroyed by a Guardian. So I though that maybe, just maybe I should follow the main quest and head towards Kakariko Village. That whole detour didn’t feel too different… it felt like a Zelda title with the caveat that anything could kill me.
So when I arrived at Kakariko and got the gist of the story and what’s going on in the world after I overslept for 100 years, I went and did every single sidequest in the town, not because I was scared of the world out there, but because I am the hero and should act as one. It definitely wasn’t that Guardian waiting for me on the hillside right outside of Kakariko.
Z: I think you did a lot more than I did. I didn’t even hit up the towers, or make that my plan to find the towers until well after conquering my first Divine Beast. Horses? Well I caught a cookie-butt spotted one but largely just forgot everything and played the game as directly as I could, from point a to b until after Zora’s domain. Then I didn’t know what the hell I wanted to do. I had to force myself to come up with a plan, otherwise I would have been truly lost and confused. I wasn’t having a good time because I was beginning to feel overwhelmed. This happens to me sometimes. But it’s not as though Zelda doesn’t give you a loose idea of what you should do—it’s just how you approach it is totally up to you, whether you really want to do any of it or not. I need that kind of sanity to keep me going, so I just told myself these things.
Okay, let’s talk about those Guardians though since you mentioned them. I was so scared when I went to find the second Sheikah, Robbie. That was a nightmare. Carrying the blue flame in the rain, and then seeing the Guardian near the hill? NO! Night terrors. But that’s what I love about this Zelda. So many approaches to one area. I ran away and hid, and skirted around it.
Nach: Heh, for me it was more difficult to carry that flame because IT’S ALWAYS RAINY IN AKKALA! I don’t know how many times I had to return to the previous beacon to turn on the torch again. In the end I decided that lighting up arrows and shooting the beacons was a better and faster option.
Z: Right, just another example of how to tackle the game through your creativity via any number of tools and intuitive play the game provides.
Nach: I think I need to make a parenthesis here, I wasn’t exactly scared of the Decayed Guardians because one of my goals during the demo of the game we played at E3 and then again at the Switch event in NYC was to beat the one you find in the Plateau. But that’s only because I already had the experience prior to playing the final version of the game.
Z: Show off.
Nach: Oh shut up, you were as annoyed as I was with that opening. “Link. Link… Open your eyes”
Z: Oh yeah, for sure. I didn’t want to play that demo for the fourth time between E3 2016 and the January Switch Event, as did you. But no, I mean you’re a show off for tackling a stationary Guardian. Not me. I was still scared. Incidentally, the ones crawling around gave me a less trouble once I knew I could slice off their widdle legs. Satisfaction. But of course, that was way later in the game when I gained that confidence. The game really prepares you to handle just about everything and you don’t even realize!
Nach: Oh yeah, once you’re strong enough to beat a Guardian Stalker… that feeling!
Now, returning to the topic. I think I overstayed my welcome at Kakariko, because I didn’t return to that place until I discovered the rest of the regions in Hyrule. I also ignored all the Beasts until I had the whole map available. My focus was more on exploring than following a set path. The problem with it was… that some areas were extremely difficult when you only have four hearts.
Z: But that’s part of the fun, right? The challenge! I think this game lets you set your difficulty level, which is another way to look at it. I mean, it’s still hard as heck but like I said before, it prepares you and teaches you along the way without it being so obvious.
Nach: Yep, it feels very organic when it comes to difficulty and the amount of freedom it gives you. Which is okay... if you know how to pace yourself. Obviously, I ignored the pacing. I became fatigued early in the game because I was focused on doing everything I could in the town.
Z: I tend to approach games like that too and did it for this one, for the most part, but I’m so about getting tasks as groundwork for how I manage open world games that I really welcomed that. But then I let go of that and let Link’s legs carry me all over Hyrule. And boy is there a lot to see.
Breath of the Wild, Indeed
Z: I love how each area really feels like a distinctive ecosystem. I mean sure, there are large expanses of land to explore and so many mountains to climb but the weather system really makes the game feel legit. Endless rain on the East Coast of Hyrule? Just another of the game’s challenge to navigate. The different types of wildlife, or rock formations. I love that one area where you look into the water and there are huge underwater, gorgeous flora to gaze at. If I had a complaint, it’s that Link couldn’t dive deep to explore these areas. I really wanted to, though I suppose that would take away from the urgency of the survival aspect of the game.
It’s the same thing that got turned on its head for the fishing approach in this game. I just went through three games (Final Fantasy XV, Stardew Valley, and Yakuza 0) where a rod fishing is the norm. I love the activity in real life, and love it as a mini-game in most games so I was sad Breath of the Wild did away with the mechanic in that traditional sense. But from a narrative perspective, it made so much sense. Zelda’s waiting, Link is surviving and not actually stopping to smell roses. Every action and location has a point to it, whether that’s to build up your strength in a variety of ways (through shrines, food collection, cooking etc). When thinking about it that way, everything made sense.
I mean, except that time I brought the Lord of the Mountain down to a stable to register and then galloped across Hyrule to stable him at my home (and come now, did I really need to buy a home? Built in hotel for a life long fee, I guess) in Hateno when the stable rejected my ominous offer.
Nach: I agree, I also loved the way the world was built, unlike some other open world games this one feels extremely deliberate, each of the things that happen out there in the wild, as natural as they might feel are decisions that the design team picked. Have you seen the pictures of how the weather affect the puddles in the game? I mean… Puddles! They designed how the rain forms puddles!
Z: Did you jump in any?
Nach: Of course I did, I mean puddles exist to be jumped in. Other games also have puddles, I know FFXV did, but the way the they were implemented in BotW feels… I know I’ve said it before, but it feels natural.
About the swimming, I was talking to a friend, and the only conclusion I could come up with was that creating underwater areas would have been too complicated. They would have to adapt the physics engine to behave differently underwater, in addition to designing interesting areas (no one likes water levels), and of course animating Link and a bunch of underwater creepers. Nevertheless, I would have loved to explore an underwater cavern around the beaches to the east.
Z: That would have been amazing. I guess I was frantic enough in the water with all those stupid Lizalfos chasing me around. Which reminds me, how cool is the enemy AI in this game though? They converge on you and avoid bombs. They kick bombs towards you (and I died a couple of times when I didn’t notice and exploded myself. Embarrassing…).
Nach: AI can be quite surprising at first, it is also hilarious to see their magnificent plans backfire, like when they approach a fire to light up their weapons and end up burning themselves.
Z: Ha, yes. They’re kinda adorable even if they’re not always super smart. Remember when I donned my Lizalfos mask and infiltrated a camp? They cornered me, then licked me to make sure I was one of them. So gross!
Nach: The masks brought back memories of Majora’s Mask, they help you blend in with the enemies, that is until a Lynel kicks your butt when it realizes you are not a quadruped. Them Lynels, they got brawn and brains.
The amazing NPCs and the Majora’s Mask Connection
Nach: How cool is that every single character in the game has a unique model? Sure you don’t have bustling cities like Victorian London (Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate) or Lestallum (Final Fantasy XV) full of twins and generic NPCs, but I rather get smaller towns that feel alive. Almost every character in the game has something interesting to say, and there is a plethora of funny activities and sidequest because of all the care put into creating the towns of Breath of the Wild.
Z: For sure. Let’s not forget how most of them are so sassy too. General weirdos. The personalities are bold, large, and strange in this game.
Nach: In that sense, Breath of the Wild feels similar, albeit not as deep as Majora’s Mask.
Z: Well, it’s hard to replicate the best Zelda game. But good try, Breath of the Wild.
Nach: This game has made me think about which game in the series is my favorite. For years it has always been Wind Waker, and while I still prefer boats over horses (it’s probably some Caribbean-related crap, after spending most of my vacations closer to the sea rather than the mountains), the sense of the adventure in BotW is overwhelming.
One thing I can say for certain, Breath of the Wild is not the best game in the series. After spending over 200 hours in Hyrule, the one thing the game has made me realize is that Majora’s Mask is my favorite Zelda.
Z: Clearly, you’ve been hanging with me too much.
Nach: Hahaha it has always been a close race between Wind Waker and Majora’s Mask, but the vast size of Hyrule made me appreciate the smaller scale of lands like Termina.
Z: I know many reviewers were super happy with Breath of the Wild, and I absolutely think it’s deserving of a lot of the praise. Its scope alone is amazing, combining all the little things that make it wonderful, it’s quite the feat. It’s definitely an excellent game, and a great Zelda game. But Majora’s narrative thread and creativity in how it executed its main gameplay mechanic still has that uniqueness that has yet to be matched, for me. I really do appreciate how much of the Zelda games across the series was implemented into Breath of the Wild. Some of the best parts to make a whole.
The Narrative of The Forgotten Kingdom
Nach: Forgotten ruins, destroyed towns, remnants of an ancient civilization, each area of Hyrule is unique in its own right. The best part is the story told by the world are cryptic enough to let the player construct them. I can’t tell you how excited I was once I started to make sense of Akkala. I don’t care what people say about the perennial Seattle weather in the region, everything about it is amazing.
I won’t talk too much about it because it’s such a vast and large region, but I’ll say this: Stop complaining about the weather and explore Akkala, it’ll be worth your time.
Z: I liked Akkala too. I spent a lot of time in the region and missed the rain once I got to the desert. The desert was probably my least favorite area but that’s a general rule for me in most games. It did have that hilarious monster. I took the dumbest photos of it. That aside, a few of the game’s shrines had some standout puzzles but the ones attached to some sort of environmental challenge were obviously the most memorable. There’s Eventide, of course, but Thyphlo Ruins was probably my favorite and most challenging. And well, The Lost Woods. That place was creepy, and felt a focused game all its own.
Nach: Yeah, there’s something amazing when the game “takes away” the control from the player, as evidenced in those three locations you mentioned.
Z: Absolutely. They’re welcome changes. You know what else I loved? When you can see your challenge in the distance. I was upset when I saw that “thing” climbing up Death Mountain and knew I had to deal with it sometime. But there was also this scene:
How friggin’ cool! I was so excited yet very apprehensive about what I’d find.
The True Meaning of a “Live” Soundtrack
Nach: You know what helped create such a believable and breathing world?
Z: My nightmares involving the Great Fairies and the Horse God?
Nach: Nope, that could be a discussion for another day. Let’s talk about how ditching the epic orchestral sound of Zelda in favor of a more organic soundtrack that benefits the game, at least in my opinion. What did you think about the first time you stepped out into the world and hear nothing but the wind, the birds and maybe a few piano cues?
Z: Are you sure you don’t want to hear about my recurring nightmare about the Horse God? No? Okay. Alright, so I’m still wondering if I could find that one owl who hoots the loudest whenever I’m roaming Hyrule.
Nach: I was wondering the same, other than the Rito elder I’ve never seen an owl out in the wild. Just a bunch of sparrows.
Z: Yeesh. I could never catch a good picture of those blasted sparrows.
But seriously, music wise… I liked it. I liked the absence of the reliance on a score. When the particular pieces did come in, they were meaningful and gorgeous. I’ll say that it was a joy visiting Robbie and Cherry. Fit right in for the mechanical, playfulness (and cringe-worthy relationship). It reminded me of another theme I just thought of in Saga Frontier.
It was an appropriate decision that lends to that feeling of what the game is by not having it overrun with a score. But as I said, it just turns whatever is played into something even more special. They’re all just really good. Which were your favourites?
Nach: I think it was a wise decision to change the composer of the series. Sometimes you have to destroy what you have to come up with something new, in this case was ditching the sound set by Koji Kondo and replace it with two relative newcomers in Manaka Kataoka, who once worked in Spirit Tracks but is better know for the hourly tunes of Animal Crossing: New Leaf, and Yasuaki Iwata, better know for working in Mario Kart 8.
I think one of my favorite songs as of now is the uplifting melody of Tarrey Town. First of all the song doesn’t exactly fit within a Zelda game. It’s too mellow and relaxing, then again, Breath of the Wild is all about ditching all the conventions and tropes of a classic Zelda.
What I really like about this song is that it exemplifies the progress of your adventure. When you first get to the area that is to become Tarrey Town there’s no music, just an isolated mass of land that is connected and at the same time separated from the rest of world.
But as your advanced in the game and after triggering certain quests and sidequests, that small area gains a life of its own. The music kicks in with sets of simple piano chords accompanied by drums and an alto sax, the further you advance within the quest more instruments jump in. Each sequence brings a characteristic instrument and melody from the towns at the edge of the Hyrule until they all blend together and form what is Tarrey Town.
Where’s All The Wilderness?
Nach: I was disappointed at the variety of enemies in the game. Basically you have Ganon forces, the Sheikah machines, wildlife and………….. That’s it.
Wildlife is vast and varied but uninspired and the Ganon forces there’s only so much you can do with the Lizalfos, Bokoblins, Moblins and their undead variations. My complaint is that we needed more than just palette swap the enemies.
And I understand that in the context of the game Ganon doesn’t have as much power as in other games, but they could have least tried with the wildlife. For example, I don’t consider the Octoroks and their eagle-eye precision, to be part of Ganon forces, thus making them wildlife, but then you have regular deers, bears, foxes and wolves, and while amazing at first they’re just uninspired.
Z: Right. I agree there. The variety with the enemies came with their weapons. If they had different things, they were able to hit you harder but that’s a poor substitute for a range of attacks other enemies would have been able to bring to the game. As to the animals, you’re right. They may act realistic and cool but after a while, what’s left to interact with?
Nach: It’s funny how one of the game strongest point is also one of the weakest.
If It Ain’t Broken, Don’t Fix It... Right?
Z: The narrative thread is something that’s sort of lacking in Breath of the Wild. It’s not...terrible? But I was underwhelmed by the very last battle of the game. Like I had done so much which was a feat in itself to confront Ganon and well… it’s like getting a golden chocobo in Final Fantasy VII and Knights of the Round, then busting up the almighty Sephiroth with ease. Kind of a let down! (even though I had no idea how to effectively deal with Ganon’s first form)
Nach: I like to refer to the last battle as an interactive cutscene. It could have been so much better, and implemented the basic gameplay of the game in creative ways… but nope. It is the classic “attack the weak spot for massive damage”.
I could go on and give a million ways on how to make that battle much better, but I really don’t want to rant for hours. Instead, I will rant about the dungeons… or maybe not.
I really didn’t have any issues other than, they’re easy and short. Yes, the quests that lead to the Ancient Beasts are all the same. Get to town > Talk to the elder/leader > Do X requirement > Ride the Beast. The same can be said with their design and central mechanic. Given the context that all four Beasts were created by the same ancient civilization I can accept their lack of flexibility in the design (both in aesthetic and in gameplay).
Z: Yeah, the format approach to dungeons is shorter but not really different considering many of the 120 shrines out there act as individual puzzles that may have been incorporated into one dungeon. It’s basically the scale of a traditional dungeon broken into pieces and scattered across the land. As for the Beasts, I was really wow’ed when I did the elephant first and realized I could manipulate its movement and had to in order to get to parts I needed to. Same sort of impressive feeling from something like the upside down, Stone Tower Temple dungeon in Majora’s Mask. I can only think about how amazing a larger, dedicated dungeon using those mechanics would have been.
Nach: I appreciate a dungeon with the single central mechanic, which is why the similarities between the Beasts didn’t bother me. Yet, It felt like they ran out of creativity with some of them. I mean, Vah Rudania in Death Mountain, was pretty disappointing and the same can be said about the Giant Bird flying around Rito Village. I can only think that the reason why these two Beasts are less than stellar is related to a small flaw in the “do whatever you want” approach of Breath of the Wild. The designers created an optimal path to the main quest. And since the player can approach the game out of order there will be fluctuations in the difficulty whenever you stray from that path.
Z: At first I saw Vah Rudania as a relatively easy dungeon after grueling so much getting to that point. Death Mountain is tough to get through if you’re not paying attention, and it had a relatively long puzzle/mini-game sequence ahead of entering the Beast. So maybe after all of that, it’s a bit of a relief the Beast itself wasn’t so tough? I was also feeling very relieved it wasn’t like the camel. That was somewhat of a nightmare for me. Plus from a story point of view, Daruk had some initial troubles adapting to the Beast, right? They gave him the child’s play one. Hahaha. Ah, that’s how I like to think of it.
Nach: In the context of the game some of the “excuses” make a lot of sense. But then what about Revali? He claims he was the most skilled of the champions, or at least he made it look like he was the best… but Vah Medoh was a cakewalk hahaha.
Z: I’m sensing some Revali haterade here, and I’m not going to have it. He is the best. But yes, his Divine Beast was very easy. He doesn’t trouble himself with over-complicated nonsense. He’s above all of that.
A Tale Of Two Stories With A Single Link
Nach: Naw brah, you cray. Urbosa is best! But now that I’ve brought it up, what did you think about the story and the characters? We’ve established that we love all the NPCs but the vast majority of them don’t take part in the events of the main quest.
Z: Which is so sad. But then we have these Champions who are alright. I really liked them and based on the memories—here’s Link meeting his buddies again and those warm bonds he shared. I can’t say the same about Zelda because I hated actually collecting the memories. I did eventually and maybe if Zelda’s English voice acting was better, I would have cared more. Okay, that’s harsh. As a character, she was tortured and her relationship with her father was particularly good if you find his diary in Hyrule castle but I didn’t warm to Zelda until much later with the crucial memory at the castle, and the absolute final one. That’s a lot to ask of me as a player to flesh out her story when the “mandatory” memories tied to the Divine Beasts did only just a fraction of the reveal.
Nach: I can get behind the story even if it wasn’t the best. I think it’s the first time in 30 years that the story is actually about Zelda. Actually… let me change that, Breath of the Wild tell two stories, the legend of what happened one hundred years ago and your story as Link as you try recall what happened.
There are a lot of missed opportunities though. And I’m not talking about how some people complain that the Champions didn’t receive enough “screen time” or development. They were already established characters in their story, it was not needed for us to see how they grew into the champions. My gripe is with their current descendants.
Of the four descendants only one feels like it received enough time in the oven. Riju, the Gerudo. It’s established that while still young she’s mature enough to, maybe not understand, but at least try her best to deal with the issues of her town. Yunobo is a wimpy kid, Sidon feels obnoxious at times, even though he’s really cool (I can get behind why he’s like that), and what the hell is wrong with the bird?
Z: True, I can’t be too hard on Zelda because she did hold back Ganon for so long by herself, and unlocking the memory showing her get to that point highlights her strength. Even if the catalyst was ::yawn::-worthy and an expected, overused plot point. It was a matter of convenience but given everything surrounding the lore, Purah’s discussions and getting to that point, it’s a bit more forgivable. Her diary entries are also really cool for feeling so genuine, and even give some wonderful insight into Link! I loved that. I agree with the champions too. Their personalities are strong and clear.
I also liked Riju but I also loved Yunobo! I like that boost of confidence he got at the end of his arc. It was so sweet. The shark prince was alright with Mipha being the real star of the Zora section for me. And the bird...I forgot he was there. But once again, how can you compete against the greatness of Revali? You don’t.
Nach: Yeah, Revali was so cool because apparently no one except for two people in Rito Village remember anything about the events of 100 years ago, only that a Rito was once a champion. Must be the lack of oxygen or something.
Z: They’re birds. There’s a reason why there is an insult called “bird brain”.
Phew! That was a lot and more than we planned. Considering our combined hours amounted to over 300, we couldn’t help ourselves. And we still didn’t cover it all! The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild may not a perfect game. There’s room for improvement in how it handled enemy variety, and bringing same to the wildlife. There’s a lot more story to uncover if players put in the effort but it’s not the greatest a game has ever brought—not even for a Zelda game.
But overall, it’s hard to deny it got a lot right and the sum of its parts—how it utilized music, curious NPCs, creative puzzles, intriguing environments, and the influences from other games—made a special
All images via screen capture.
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