It’s been 12 days since I received my Nintendo Switch and a copy of Breath of the Wild, and it has taken exactly that amount of time for me to complete Breath of the Wild, spending on average about 7 to 10 hours per day playing. My Switch never once left sleep mode. I would put it to sleep when I went to bed, docking the Joy-Con’s so they could charge over night, and then pick it back up immediately where I left off in the morning. In fact, I eventually forgot that Breath of the Wild had a main menu because I just kept jumping straight into the game. If you can’t already tell, I was addicted to the game and rarely ever took a break to do something else.
Breath of the Wild, like most games before it, is set in the Kingdom of Hyrule. To be more specific, it is set in a Hyrule that has been devastated by Ganon and his minions and is at present starting to recover 100 years after his last attack, but with the threat of his return looming over all. Link awakens on the Great Plateau, 100 years after his defeat, and sets out to save Hyrule and those he cares about.
On paper, the story of Breath of the Wild is actually simplistic and, to be quite honest, you don’t even have to play through most of it. The games main story is carved up into segments. The only two segments you have to partake in are the beginning tutorial on the Great Plateau and the final battle with Ganon at Hyrule Castle. The moment you are able to leave the starting area you can head straight to Hyrule Castle without delay and try to defeat Ganon, though your odds of survival are quite low. If you decide to actually follow the story, you can do the story events in whatever order you wish because none of them actually take place before or after the others so it never feels disjointed. You don’t even have to finish all of them to go to the final battle. Like I said before, you can just go to Hyrule Castle whenever you want too. Finish one or two Divine Beasts then go to Hyrule Castle. Complete one or two more and then go to Hyrule Castle. Doesn’t matter, do it whenever you feel like it. Likewise, you don’t have to recover any of Links memories. Some are tied to story events, but at least 13 of them are entirely optional.
While I’m tempted to say that I fully encourage you to experience the story however you wish, I would recommend that you play through all the main quests, including the ones that aren’t just handed to you. While Breath of the Wild is an open world game that hands you your freedom soon after you begin, its legacy is that of a game driven by its story and characters, and that is still true here and quite frankly, despite how short the story actually felt, it easily topped Twilight Princess as my favorite Zelda game. All of the characters are in some way likable and despite the fact that many of them don’t get much screentime, they still feel just as important as Link or Zelda. However, if you just go straight to Ganon, you miss out on all of it. I won’t go into specifics just yet for the sake of avoiding spoilers, but I highly encourage everyone to go through and do every single main quest in the game in order to get the most out of the adventure.
This is also the first time that the Zelda series has had actual voice acting. Most of the characters are well cast and sound believable, though there was one voice that sounded off when you take into consideration the character with that voice, and Princess Zelda herself has a British accent, which while it does go with her more scholarly personality, it feels forced at times, she comes across as a bit hard to understand, and it sounds like the actor is constantly out of breath. Everyone else is just fine though, including Impa. All of that being said, I am disappointed that Link remains silent in this game. I know this is at odds with many people who believe that silent protagonists are better or cling to the old ways, but here it just seems odd. First off, his name is now officially Link. Before, you could name him whatever you wanted to name him, but here in Breath of the Wild his name is set in stone as Link and people will call him Link throughout the story. The oddness of it comes into play when characters directly address him and ask him a question... but he doesn’t respond. I’m not talking about the scenes where it’s just voiceless text and you select a dialog option, I’m talking about the full cutscenes where the other characters actually speak. Link sits there like statue saying nothing while people talk to him. In some scenes this makes sense, but in others it seems strange that he doesn’t speak. A character even addresses it at one point. The voice acting added some much needed emotion to scenes and I loved it, but Link being dead silent just kind of killed his interactions with Zelda at times.
The Story - Spoiler Edition
Skip down to the next header and image to avoid all of this, you have been warned.
On the surface, Breath of the Wild’s story is simple if you follow it to completion. Link awakens on the Great Plateau 100 years after being defeated by Ganon after he corrupted the ancient Sheikah technology and turned it against Hyrule. He has lost all of his memories, but regains at least the basics after some guidance by the spirit of the deceased King Rhoam, Zelda’s father, who took up residence on the Great Plateau to await Link’s return. Link is given these two task by the King and Princess Zelda: Free the Divine Beasts and the spirits of Champions that commanded them, and save Zelda who has been keeping Ganon at bay for 100 years.
Link then sets out on his journey, stopping along the way to recover his memories which reveal that while at first Zelda did not care for him, the two grew closer over the course of their journey to find a way to stop Ganon when he returns. Link also visits the four Champions: Princess Mipha of the Zora, Rivali of the Rito, Daruk of the Goron, and Urboshi of the Gerudo. Mipha was in love with Link, something proven true by the fact that her ceremonial Zora armor, something that all Zora princesses offer their chosen husbands, only fits Link. Rivali felt that he was superior to Link because he could fly and thus was the only one who could reach the Divine Beast Vah Medoh in the skies. Urboshi cared deeply for Princess Zelda. And lastly, Daruk was always prepared to smash heads in and treated Link like his best friend. All of them took their duty to Hyrule seriously, so when the four Champions were killed by Ganon it was a massive blow, not only to all of Hyrule, but to Zelda and Link as well. For 100 years their spirits were trapped inside of the machines they swore to operate. One by one, Link frees them and they resume their mission even in death. Rivali admits that Link had grown and that he was wrong about him, and all of the others are proud of him for coming back and doing what they could not.
It’s obvious from the memories and other characters comments that Link took their defeats personally as he could not protect them and in the end nearly died himself. The same can be said for Princess Zelda though it’s far more obvious. Like her ancestors, she has a special power capable of stopping Ganon with the assistance of the hero, but no matter how hard she prayed and tried it would not awaken. And before it could, Ganon returned and laid waste to Hyrule. She had failed her duty, failed the entire kingdom, they had lost and it was all on her. The weight of that failure was heavy to the point that she begged Link to leave her behind when they were surrounded by Guardians and he was knocking on deaths door. It was only just before the death blow was dealt that her feelings for him became apparent and awakened the power inside of her, saving both of their lives. This renewed her determination and after seeing that he was sealed in the Shrine of Resurrection, she faced Ganon alone and sealed him away for 100 years while she awaited Link’s awakening.
As Link frees each Divine Beast from Ganon’s control, their respective Champions reflect back on all that has happened, providing bittersweet moments for characters whose time has come and gone and watch over a boy who carries the future of all of Hyrule on his shoulders. As he traveled between freeing the Divine Beasts, Link entered the Lost Woods and rediscovered the Master Sword. It had been damaged in the battle 100 years ago and placed back in its pedestal by Zelda following Link’s defeat so that it could be repaired over time, awaiting its masters return. A voice inside the sword told her to do so, which could have been none other than Fi, the spirit of the sword who had been slumbering since the events of Skyward Sword hundreds of thousands if not millions of years before the events of Skyward Sword. Link proves his strength of heart and courage and manages to pull the sword from its pedestal once more, and after completing all 120 of the Sheikah monks tests, he receives the Tunic of the Wild, the familiar green garb of the Hero. After all is said and done he storm Hyrule Castle and confronts Ganon just as Zelda’s power weakens enough for him to free himself. Ganon, corrupted by the substance known as Malice, attempts to kill Link, but fails. This prompts him to adopt a form created from all of his pure, concentrated hatred, forsaking reincarnation in favor of one final attempt to kill the Hero and the Princess who bares the blood of the goddess. Despite all of his efforts, Ganon is felled by Link with Zelda’s aid and is consumed by Zelda’s power. While Zelda states that he had given up on reincarnation to enter that final form, he is only gone for the time being, and they then pay one last visit to Hyrule Castle. The spirits of the King and the Champions look on from the top of the castle, watching as Zelda and Link leave to begin rebuilding Hyrule and healing the land.
In a post-credits scene, Zelda and Link overlook Central Hyrule while Zelda mentions paying a visit to King Dorephan of the Zora, Mipha’s father, which is more than likely a hook for the story DLC that will come as part of the second half of the season pass. All in all, the tale that Breath of the Wild tells is an epic one. I wish more was told about the previous battle with Ganon 10,000 years before, which is only seen in the form of a tapestry and told through tales, but alas it is not meant to be, at least not right now. The story we have here was darker than I expected, but throughout it all it retained a sense of hope that is generally lacking in other games that try open worlds set in a time where the apocalypse is nigh. It’s hopeful and peaceful, yet also uncertain and wary. Nintendo nailed the story of Breath of the Wild and that is all I could ask for.
One thing I do want to address though is something that was brought up in a recent Kotaku article. I’ll keep it brief, but a cross-dressing scene was brought up and yes it does exist in the game. Link needs to get into Gerudo Town, but they don’t allow men. He overhears talk about a male merchant that snuck into Gerudo Town using an unknown method, which is revealed to be cross-dressing. The man sticks to his story that he’s a woman despite Link’s skepticism and offers to sell him clothes so that he’ll be able to sneak in too. He makes a comment about Link looking cute in them, the wind blows his veil up, and Link is stunned. You don’t see the mans face, and he simply says that it’s their secret. I honestly see nothing transgender about this scene and it certainly wasn’t poking fun at people who like to cross-dress and no beards were involved. It was a man putting on a chirade to sneak into Gerudo Town and he was very committed to the rouge to the point where Link eventually bought into it, only to be surprised when his initial hunch was correct. It’s simple, straightforward, nothing political or complex about it.
Breath of the Wild is a completely open world game that allows you to explore every nook and cranny of Hyrule. I mean that literally too. Unlike other games that may point at a mountain and say you can go there, and when you get there there’s no way to get actually get to the top without screwing with the games invisible barriers and physics, Zelda lets you climb everything using stamina. As long as you have stamina, the top of that mountain is an attainable goal. And that’s the beauty of this game’s core design philosophy: Discovery. You are told to go out into this world, into the wilds, and discover everything for yourself. The game does not hold your hand as much as some games might and the gameplay is practically reminiscent of Dark Souls. You will fight and climb your way through this vast world and discover new things everywhere you go. The game is so packed with content that I feel it’s worth more than the $60 I paid for it and that’s more than can be said for the vast majority of AAA titles these days that try and charge you full price for a very small amount of content and then charge you extra for the rest of the content that will be added at a later date. Zelda is a complete game from day one so you can rest assured that your money(and your time.) will be well spent.
One gripe I have is that I never had enough inventory space to hoard items. I constantly had to make a choice to discard a weapon and pick up a new one that was stronger, or that perhaps I needed to solve a puzzle of complete a quest. It was frustrating to have to keep chucking good weapons for a torch or korok leaf. The same can be said for the games durability system. Most early game weapons break really easily and so you’ll constantly be scrounging for weapons of any kind. As you progress in the game the durability of your gear will increase and thus you can use it for far longer, but against stronger opponents that doesn’t mean much. Now, I may be criticizing it, but it also added another complexity to the games systems. You had to decide what was worth keeping and what was worth throwing away, what weapons and armor did you need right then and there? You also had to take into account your weapons durability so maybe you wanted to save a weapon for a more difficult fight, prompting you to not use a one-size fits all weapon. There is an important weapon in the game that cannot break, but despite its importance it is weaker than a lot of weapons and thus relying on it for every battle is not a wise idea, and to my knowledge that has made quite a few people mad.
The weather system in this game is actually pretty neat. It rains, it snows, it gets hot, you combust, it gets freezing, there’s variety to the weather and at the same time it also feels natural. Snow only occurs in the Hebra region and snowy mountain tops, rain occurs anywhere that it isn’t ridiculously hot, which is to say, everywhere except Hebra, Gerudo, and Eldin. The kicker when it rains is that you can’t climb anything. You can try, but you’ll just continue to slip and waste stamina, so it’s best to wait it out, and if it’s storming, unequip all metal gear otherwise you’ll get zapped by lightning and 9 times out of 10 that’s a one hit KO. If you’re in Hebra or up on a high mountain, odds are the temperature gauge will dip into the cold side and Link will begin to freeze. You can offset this with special elixirs or foods that have cold resistance properties, or you can acquire special clothing that staves off the cold and lets you explore freely. The same goes for hit regions which will dip over to the heat scale. In Gerudo you’ll need cold resistant food and elixirs, or procure special clothing that staves off the heat of the region, but that is nothing compared to Death Mountain in Eldin where you will burst into flames even with heat resistance. Instead you need fireproof elixirs or a special set of armor that prevents you from combusting and protects you from the heat, though oddly enough it doesn’t work in Gerudo. Another point about the lightning though: Learn to weaponize it. The fact is that the lightning is drawn to metal objects of all kinds. If you throw a weapon at your enemies while it’s sparking, the lightning will still strike it. You can use it to hit enemies with a power lightning strike and defeat them without killing yourself in the process.
As far as dungeons are concerned, this game has a total of 124 dungeons. Four of these dungeons are the main four, which are surprisingly easy, as are all the boss fights in the game. The real test comes from the 120 Shrines scattered throughout Hyrule. Each of them offers a test of some kind. Most are physics based puzzles that take advantage of Nintendo’s new physics engine that is actually really impressive, while others are tests of your combat prowess, while a few actually have no tests and the test was getting to the shrine in the first place. Completing each of these shrines will net you a spirit orb and once you have 4 spirit orbs you can pray to a goddess statue and receive either a heart container or a stamina vessel to upgrade one of them. There’s also a prize at the end of the 120 shrines and I assure you it’s much better than the prize for gathering all 900 korok seeds that you’ve likely heard about.
Just so we’re clear, I do take issue with just how simple and east the games boss fights are. They’re mostly pushovers and any difficulty they give you comes more from error on your side than the boss actually being hard. The fact that the main 4 dungeons are short and east was bad enough, but that’s compounded by the fact that the boss fight at the end is equally unsatisfying, and that goes for the final boss of the entire game as well.
It’d be a problem if I didn’t mention the framerate though. As you’ve no doubt heard the game has framerate problems, regardless of what system it’s on. This is indeed true. The game runs at 30fps normally, but it can dip below that at random intervals. Normally this can be associated with areas that have a ton of grass, but then sometimes there aren’t any obvious reasons for it. The drop, from what I understand, is worse on Wii U, but isn’t too much better on the Switch, at least when in TV mode. Oddly enough, it runs better when portable, likely due to the resolution dropping down to 720p. This leads me to believe that, at least for the Switch, it’s an optimization problem. However, despite all of this, the game is still completely playable, even in the instances where the FPS drops. You notice it, but it doesn’t feel like you’ll die if you get into a fight while it’s slowed down.
Breath of the Wild is an absolutely stunning looking game, whether it’s on the Wii U at 720p, the Switch’s portable mode at 720p, or the Switch’s TV mode at 900p. The fields of grass that actually react to your movements and things like lightning and fire are mesmerizing to look at and in all honesty it’s hard to believe the game is actually rendering all of that. then there’s the amount of detail that they were able to cram into most textures, though some do look muddy even on Switch which has better texture filtering. Tree’s look lush, rain soaks every surface making it look wet and you can even see the water flowing down the side of a cliff face. If you look up at the sky you can see the rolling clouds as they pass across the vast landscape before you. The lights given off by shrines and guardians in the distance are also very bright and clear, making them stand out even in foggy areas. And this is all in a cel-shaded art style that reminds me of a Studio Ghibli movie, something even the games general feeling/tone matches. The Switch may not be as powerful as the Xbox One, but Breath of the Wild can fight with the best of them. No one can really deny the natural beauty of this game, even if some of the models are clearly lacking in polygons. It’s made even more impressive when you consider the fact that all of this is being run on a handheld and at increased fidelity no less over the Wii U version. There honestly aren’t any major negatives to be had here, it’s a solid looking game.
After spending nearly two weeks with this game and compiling my thoughts on it, I can safely say that Breath of the Wild is a strong contender for game of the year. It’s a masterstroke and echoes back to Nintendo at their prime, but this is not the Nintendo of old. This is a revitalized Nintendo that is looking to their past for inspiration moving forward. If this is the future of the Zelda series and an indication of what we can expect from other major Nintendo first party titles? My money was well spent on both the Switch, Zelda, and in the future, games like Mario Odyssey and hopefully a new Metroid. If I had to give the game a number score, it’d be a 9/10, but I feel like that doesn’t work as well as I would want it too so I’ll simply say that I highly recommend you pick this game up whenever the opportunity presents itself(legally of course.).
Bonus: Breath of the Wild’s Timeline Placement
Nintendo released a little book called Hyrule Historia back around the time of Skyward Sword’s release, maybe a year after, I can’t quite remember. Regardless, it finally gave fans a visual timeline of where all the games in the series are set. Skyward Sword sits at the top as the start of everything, followed by The Minish Cap, Four Swords, and Ocarina of Time. Ocarina of Time then splits the story into three very different timelines. The first is the Adult timeline where the Hero(Read: Someone with the spirit of Hylia’s chosen hero.) no longer exists because he was sent back to the past. When Ganon returns, the king of Hyrule, King Daphnes, uses the power of the Triforce to eternally flood Hyrule. This leads to The Wind Waker, Phantom Hourglass, and Spirit Tracks.
The second timeline is the Child timeline. This timeline comes about due to the fact that the Hero of Time was sent back to the past by Zelda to live out the childhood he was deprived of, but when he returns to the past he informs Zelda and the King of Ganondorf’s intentions, thus preventing the events of Ocarina of Time from happening. Ganondorf is executed and the events of Majora’s Mask then take place followed by Twilight Princess and Four Swords Adventures.
The third and final timeline is actually a theoretical one that Nintendo came up with known as the Fallen Hero timeline, or alternatively the Downfall timeline. In this one, the Hero of Time was defeated by Ganondorf in the final battle which then leads to A Link to the Past, Oracle of Seasons/Oracle of Ages, Link’s Awakening, The Legend of Zelda, and Adventure of Link.
After exploring every last nook and cranny of Breath of the Wild and consuming every little bit of information possible, I still find it hard to pin down the exact timeline of this game as I do not believe it’s a dragon break(A moment where timelines are created or merge together.). That being said, I want to try and parse it out.
First off, I think I can write off the Adult timeline completely. Many would argue the Rito and Koroks as evidence of this timeline, but the problem with that is both can exist in any timeline. The Rito evolved from the Zora due to the conditions the Great Sea created, but if separated a group of Zora from their watery home, it’s only natural that they would still evolve into the Rito. As for the Koroks, they originally took the form of the Kokiri, but that was only in Ocarina of Time. Since Link left the forest, there was no longer any reason for them to appear like Hylian children, so it can be said that regardless of the timeline they would have become Koroks to hide from humans and other species. Then of course there’s the rock salt that you can find just about anywhere. The description references an ocean, seemingly suggesting that Hyrule was once covered by water even up to the peaks of mountains, but even outside of the Adult timeline this would still be true because there was once an ancient sea that covered Hyrule long before the time of Skyward Sword. Not to mention that King Daphnes wished for an eternal sea, it would not be so easily drained by the Koroks and the only real way to reverse it would be to use the Triforce again which is at the bottom of the ocean to my understanding, an ocean that next to nothing can survive in. Not to mention the Hylians moved to New Hyrule in Spirit Tracks, so why they would ever want to return is beyond me.
Next we have the Child timeline. This one is more likely because in the first memory you can recover where Zelda is performing a ceremony for Link, she mentions a hero steeped in Twilight, an obvious reference to Twilight Princess, and the only other two stories she references in that same ceremony are Skyward Sword and Ocarina of Time, creating a straight line to Twilight Princess. There’s also the presence of the Arbiter’s Grounds in the Gerudo region and Ralis Pond in Zora’s Domain. The problem with those last two is that #1) the Arbiter’s Grounds existed both during and before the events of Ocarina of Time, it’s ancient, so it would exist in all timelines, and #2) Ralis would would have been born regardless of the timeline so a pond named after him isn’t much of a stretch. That reference to Twilight Princess though is blatantly obvious.
And of course we have the Downfall timeline which I believe to be the most likely. The developers stated that in BotW Ganon has been fought numerous times, and the Downfall timeline has the most encounters with Ganon. Zora Monument #7 also states that Princess Ruto became a sage and fought alongside the hero and the princess against a man bent on power, referencing the events of Ocarina of Time, something that would not have occurred on the Child timeline. On top of that, the Master Sword is located in the Lost Woods in front of the Great Deku Tree, the exact location that it’s found in on the Downfall timeline. Even the placement of flowers is exact, with the exception that it’s mirrored. And lastly, when you complete all 120 shrines you receive the Tunic of the Wild, Breath of the Wild’s canon green tunic. The appearance of this tunic is nearly identical to that of the tunic seen in the classic Zelda games, all of which are on the Downfall timeline. The discrepancies of course are that the River Zora seemingly don’t exist, replaced by their humanoid counterparts which weren’t seen on the Downfall timeline, only the Child timeline, and the aforementioned reference to Twilight Princess.
Taking all of this account, it can’t be the Adult timeline because no hero existed between Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker. That era of history is know as the the Era Without a Hero after all and is why the king needed to flood Hyrule. It’s also unlikely that the Hylians ever returned to Old Hyrule after settling New Hyrule, not to mention how unlikely it is that the Great Sea was ever drained. And while the Child timeline does have that reference to Twilight Princess and no other post-split game, it makes a strong case, but Zora Monument #7 contradicts the very foundation of the Child timeline, thus swinging it in favor of the Downfall timeline. Of course, we also have to take into account that in every game featured in the Downfall timeline so far, Hyrule has not been as technologically advanced as the Sheikah are portrayed as in Breath of the Wild, suggesting that if this is on that timeline, then Breath of the wild takes place after Adventure of Link, and not just by 10,000 years. Enough time would need to have passed for the Sheikah to develop this advanced technology, and then have it all be sealed away and lost to time for when it was needed again.
So my conclusion is that Breath of the Wild is the far future of the Downfall timeline.