Link From the Past
Written by Joshua David Anderson
Sometimes, the more celebrated a game franchise is, the harder it is to make a quality entry in that series. A developer has to contend with the history, the fanbase, and raised expectations. It can be risky to try something new. Considering there are few game franchises as venerated and as influential as The Legend of Zelda, Breath of the Wild is the riskiest take on the series to date.
The Zelda series has always played fast and loose with the story of Hyrule. Some of the games are light on story, like the first few entries, giving you just the basic details you need. Others, like Skyward Sword, attempt to contextualize all the previous games with an origin story. Breath of the Wild tries something new. You play as Link, who wakes up after being asleep for a hundred years. During that time, the unthinkable has happened: series antagonist Ganon has won, Hyrule has largely been destroyed, and Zelda has been kept prisoner for a century.
This gives the series a welcome change in scenery. Hyrule is free to explore, but it is an apocalyptic version of the land you’ve seen before. Everywhere you go, there are remnants and relics of the old world, one older players may recognize. The world feels lived in, but largely abandoned, which gives a plausible justification for the empty stretches of wilderness. There are a few villages, and the people of Hyrule are still trying to eek out their lives, but the game gives a brilliant sense of loss. Some characters are happy to see Link back, but some are upset and even angry at him for disappearing so long ago. It is a nice change from prior games where every NPC you meet simply loves Link for being the main character.
If the story felt like a bit of a departure, the combat and gameplay will continue that feeling with abandon. There are so many staple conventions of the series that Breath of the Wild simply does away with. First and foremost, you are given all of the different unique tools and powers within the first several hours of the game. This not only allows the player to get very comfortable with these powers, but it ensures that every puzzle in the game can be solved at almost any time. The combat system is also all new, with dodges, timing-based special attacks, and even parries. This is in addition to a new weapon system that has your swords and shields breaking from use, forcing you to always try new items and come up with new strategies on the fly. All of this is modified by a stamina system that governs everything you can do, from swimming, swinging swords, paragliding, and climbing. That last one is huge in the game as well, with a climbing system that lets you scale just about any surface in the world, provided you have enough stamina to complete your ascent.
With all of these new systems, Breath of the Wild requires a radically different design than previous games. This is where, in a long list of deviations, the game truly breaks out of the conventions of the series. Breath of the Wild is set in an open world, a large landmass that encourages exploration and discovery much more in line with The Elder Scrolls games rather than The Legend of Zelda. Dotted throughout this expansive land are countless things to find, solve, discover, and defeat. The game features 120 Shrines that are bite-sized puzzle dungeons that also act as fast travel points. Villages offer new equipment and mini-games to make money. Mysteries are everywhere, with NPCs giving riddles and clues to find treasures. There are 900 Korok seeds to find as well, if you are feeling incredibly obsessive.
Breath of the Wild is a masterpiece, a fresh take on the Zelda series and a high point in a list of games that are all considered classics. It successfully makes you feel the way the first game did, back on the NES. There is a sense of wonder and awe in the game that you simply don’t get often from games, and it certainly does not feel like any other game Nintendo has ever made. Whether you play it on the older Wii U or on the new Switch, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is worth all the time you can give it.
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