Three Weeks With The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
On March 3rd, Nintendo released the highly-anticipated, delayed-plagued latest entry in the heralded Legend of Zelda franchise alongside their new home console/portable handheld the Switch! As any true nerd and avid lover video games, I was there on day one with my Switch and my copy of Breath of the Wild.
(Watch me opening my Switch HERE, if you're into that kind of thing!)
Strange as this may sound, I was too preoccupied with other video game-related nonsense (including finishing up Paper Mario: Color Splash, trying out the over-priced 1, 2, Switch, and demoing another Switch exclusive, Snipperclips) on launch day, but I opened the game and began my journey back into the kingdom of Hyrule on March 4th. I've been overwhelmed with thoughts about this game since the word "go."
Let me start by letting everybody know where I stand with the Legend of Zelda series of games. I can't remember a time before I played the original Legend of Zelda. Thankfully, I had an older teen-aged brother who was pretty in-tune with video games and had the classics around when I was 3 years old. My earliest and fondest memories were jumping Goombas and kicking Koopa Troopa shells in the original Super Mario Bros. Likewise, I remember the lure of that shiny golden cartridge and the game I hold "Reset" when I powered off the NES, the original Legend of Zelda! (Yes, kids, that's how we had to save our progress 30 years ago!)
Also worth noting is that I would consider 1991's The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past to be the #1 greatest video game ever made. There have been several great Zeldas to follow that were every bit as good as Link to the Past. Ocarina of Time first, followed by Twilight Princess. There are some that tried and failed to work for me, like Majora's Mask and Skyward Sword, bless their hearts. Some tried to change the formula up and worked (I'm thinking Wind Waker and its cartoony DS sequels), and some just are flat-out terrible (I'm looking at you, Hyrule Warriors and Tri-Force Heroes).
From the information that had been dribbling out over the previous two years, we knew that Nintendo was working on something BIG and something DIFFERENT for it's latest installment. "Big" doesn't scare me, but "different" does. Four Swords Adventure was touted as being "different" for Zelda, which it was, and it was a turd on its best day.
When I began Breath of the Wild three weeks ago, I had absolutely no idea what I was in for. I was immediately gripped by the familiar sights and sounds, and graphical images that were the most impressive I've seen on a Zelda game. More so than any previous game including the first, Link starts out with NOTHING. Not even the clothes on his back, minus a pair of undies! Thankfully, Link doesn't stay half-naked for long, but you're still on your own as far as weapons go. You can find some debris nearby (or not) that you could faction a weapon out of. While a tree branch probably won't get you too far, it can hopefully help you knock at least one early enemy out so you can pilfer his weapon, whether it be a crude club, spear, or sword.
Also unlike any game including the first one 30 years ago, you can go wherever the heck you want to. Even the first, which was renowned for letting your carve your own path, kind of pushed you this way or that. You couldn't go down on that first screen, and let's face it, you couldn't really go left. While you could go right, let's be real, everybody goes up, and the usually left. My point is, there are only so many choices REALLY to make. Also, the dungeons have a clearly defined order, which you CAN do out of order in some cases, but nobody really does... This is NOT the case with Breath of the Wild.
While you have an objective on the map encouraging you to head a certain direction, do whatever the hell you want to! Sure, head right to talk to the stranger as your tasked with doing at some point. Would you rather head down the hill directly in front of you? What about scaling that mountain housing the cave you just came out of? Try it... It's your call! The cost of bucking their system, though, is that things will likely become a little difficult for your ability and you'll have to hit their main plot points at some time.
That theme will continue throughout the game as well. Like no previous game in the franchise, there is ZERO guidance regarding when you complete dungeons/bosses (referred to as "Divine Beasts" in this game). Actually, if you want to be technical, you don't HAVE to beat any of them. My understanding is that you can head towards the castle and face off against Gannon almost immediately if you so desire... You won't likely stand a chance, but you can power yourself up and give it another shot until you get the desired outcome... Or you can do what the rest of us do and beat the dungeons, which will help you in the final battle.
Other mechanics new to this game include COOKING, foregoing finding hearts after beating enemies; BREAKABLE WEAPONS as opposed to those everlasting swords from back in the day; DAY AND NIGHT CYCLES as well as WEATHER CYCLES, which can actually become annoying during times of rain and lightning; and SPIRIT ORBS replacing Heart Pieces that you can exchange for more hearts or more stamina, with the STAMINA WHEEL also being a relatively new addition.
These elements combine to make a game that I can only describe as possibly the most complete and fun game I've ever played in my life. There is just enough of the new mechanics combined with the right amount of familiarity that the game feels fresh and familiar. The map and the amount of things to do throughout are plentiful and seemingly never-ending. The challenge is fair, not a walk in the park, and not over-top-difficult. The story is paced nicely and hits the spot for long-time Zelda fans. I have never been so compelled to JUST EXPLORE in a video game as I have been by this one, welcoming those usually awful moments of asking myself "where am I," or "how did I get here?" The most important thing when judging a game's quality, though, is really how much fun am I having when I have the controller in my hand? With Breath of the Wild, I can not recall a more fun time in my 30+ years of playing video games.
I think it's a bit unfair to task anybody with ranking a game this big that has only been out for three weeks. A Link to the Past has been digesting in me for 24 years... I haven't even COMPLETED Breath of the Wild yet! Heck, I'm probably only about halfway through it! But it will be a contender for that top spot. Video games are my true passion as far as hobbies go, and I take them very seriously. I'm not someone who throws around the term "greatest of all-time" often. In fact since Link to the Past released in 1991, I haven't ever called another game THE GREATEST, with the closest being the first Resident Evil (the remake on the GameCube specifically). But I do have a feeling that when it's all said and done, there may be a new game to consider as my all-time favorite... I'm just glad it still has the words The Legend of Zelda in the title.
Oh, and lastly, the game tastes awful!