How Breath of The Wild Breaks the Zelda Mold
April 2, 2017
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The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, is the long awaited new title in the Zelda series. The 3-decade old series has been in the vanguard of video games for years but slipped a little bit after a lack of a new title. One of my fellow staff writers is answering the question whether or not Breath of the Wild, or BOTW, is the perfect game it is heralded as. I will be discussing how BOTW breaks the Zelda mold, for better or worse. Disclaimer: I’ve only played a few minutes of the first game and The Minish Cap, and only played through Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, yet I’m pretty knowledgeable about the series as a whole. And, as expected, spoilers follow.
First, let’s talk about the structure of the games. Zelda in the past has been rather linear. You complete this quest. Then you’re lead to this dungeon. You do a side quest here and there and then you have to take on the final boss. This is certainly not a bad thing, one reason being it allows for a more fleshed out story. But BOTW is as open world as an open world can be. If you really wanted, you could take on the final boss right after leaving the tutorial area. Obviously, this is not recommended, but the option is there. I prefer this in some ways, as you never feel unprepared for challenges as you have unlimited time to prepare, and you have the freedom to do what you like. But on the other hand, I sometimes find myself wondering “what do I do now?” A sidequest usually pops up, and I’ve never been bored while playing this game, but still, sometimes guidelines can be nice. Also, the story is half centered in the present, and how you’re saving the world, and half centered in the past. Link, our hero, has amnesia after waking from a 100-year sleep, and you uncover what happened a century ago through found memories. I have yet to find a memory, seeing as my stumbling around usually hooks me on a side quest or a shrine puzzle, and I refuse to look up their locations. Another important game design detail is the replacement of big puzzle dungeons with smaller “shrines,” mini, one or two room dungeons with either a combat trial or a mental puzzle. The only callback to the form “big dungeon” system are four dungeons, bigger than shrines but smaller than a traditional dungeon, ending in a boss fight. But these aren’t a requirement to finish the game. This makes it more accessible to gamers, but less entertaining to old veterans.
Another interesting change is in the characters. The Legend of Zelda is famous for its characters that somehow cross paths with Link over a millenia. While this game has some recurring characters, aka the titular Zelda, Link’s horse Epona, Zelda’s protector Impa, and the ever damnable Ganon, other series staples are notably missing. For one, Tingle the friendly cartographer.
Another very interesting mold break is the world. Zelda, like I said, used to be very linear. You go where the game wants you to. The weather is whatever the game needs it to be. In some iterations, you can even control the time of day, weather, or even season to your advantage. Now, Hyrule is alive. The time of day continues on despite your best efforts. If you get caught in the wild at night, and you find yourself surrounded by the dead who have come back to life, you’re stuck. Rain falls at random times. There is a very cool dynamic weather system, that in addition to rain, includes snowstorms and lightning. Temperature plays a big role, and one of my personal favorite features: in the desert area, the sun is scorching during the day, while the cold slowly kills you at night, just like a real desert! There are travelers roaming around, going about their own business. Monsters roam around, whether you’re near to them or across the map. Random encounters can happen. One cool moment in the game was when I saved two sisters from certain doom. As I was chopping down trees for wood (another cool feature) I heard piercing screams. I ran towards the sound to see two Bokoblins (goblin type creatures, the most common enemy) chasing a pair of girls. One closed in on one sister as the other swung his club, knocking the second girl out cold. As one stood over the limp body, ready to deliver a final blow, and the other reached girl number two, I sprung into action. I put away my ax in favor if a samurai sword, striking the one over the unconscious girl, sending him flying. I then shot the other with two arrows to prevent him from smacking the other girl. I made short work of him once I reached him, and killed the other as he fled. I watched the girls until both were conscious, and they explained they had been hunting for truffles when they were attacked. This encounter was entirely random, yet it sounds like something you’d see in a mandatory campaign of a Zelda game.
Finally, let’s go over items, a big part of the Zelda series. Missing is the famous hookshot, Link’s famous grappling hook. I feel this feature would’ve added a lot to this game, considering the amount of climbing you have to do. Another missing item is one of the random assortment of instruments Link is known to have. Gone are the days of creating rain with a song on your little flute, called an Ocarina. Now, players despise the rainfall.
In conclusion, this game is radically different from other games in the series. This article was just a quick skim of some of the differences. I could talk for hours on how this game changed the series and its formula. But those are hours that I can’t be playing more Breath of the Wild, and I need to fight some Bokoblins or the withdrawal symptoms will set in. I like the name Breath of the Wild for several reasons, but mainly because it is a breath of new life into the series.
Image from IGN