Launch periods of new consoles can be tough on both the players and the developer. There are often software bugs, hardware failures, marketing inadequacies, and an uninviting shortage of games. Nintendo have always been able to win over fans with their revolutions in practicality, family-oriented products, and for their hybrid Switch console, they have once again brought new innovations to the table, allowing the player to use the system as either a handheld or traditional TV console. Despite the rocky launch of the Switch, one release that has been exciting gamers all around the world is a new entry to the long-running The Legend of Zelda series.
In The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, you are thrown into the shoes of the amnesiac silent hero Link, who has awoken from a deep sleep 100 years after the sorcerer Ganon rose to power. Immediately, you are assigned to travel around the magical land of Hyrule to recruit a series of allies that can aid you on the quest to rescue Princess Zelda and defeat the evil Calamity Ganon, while also trying to recover your memory of the days before his conquest. The introduction of the ‘damsel-in-distress’ and ‘evil magician’ tropes at play here recur frequently in fantasy stories, though it must be said that these characters are far from being placed within these tropes and instead feel rounded and tangible.
As part of a radical departure in Nintendo’s design process, Breath of the Wild features a large open-world akin to modern RPGs such as the Elder Scrolls or Final Fantasy series. The player may explore Hyrule as freely as they wish, with many areas often yielding varied ways of navigation. Perhaps you want to walk around the mountain and go up the trail, or instead try scaling the side of the cliffs. Exploration and inquisitiveness on the player’s part is rewarded, with areas located away from the beaten path holding hidden chests, weapons, shrines and easter eggs. The feeling of not being restricted by the environment allows Hyrule to feel more like a real place. Despite being hand-built by developers, it’s non-artificial. It’s a real world with real consequences, akin to the same sense of minimalist loneliness as featured in games by Team Ico. Out of curiosity, I turned off most of the HUD which ended up being my preferred state for the rest of the game. Since most prompts can be delivered via environment cues, it’s more rewarding to remain perceptive of your surroundings than having it delivered directly to you. The most remarkable aspect of this is how you can reach a high vantage point and use visual aids such as shrines, villages and mountains to traverse. It was a more enjoyable and immersive experience.
After visiting one of the many stables located throughout the land, I hopped on a horse and began riding out through the wild meadows in pursuit of a nearby waypoint. As I became absorbed by the Ghibli-esque pastiche, I was overthrown by a low-grade blissful sensation. It might have been Breath of the Wild’s music score (composed by Nintendo regulars Manaka Kataoka and Yasuaki Iwata) which is subtle yet present, or the soft shapes and poetry of the grass dancing in the wind. In that moment, I was not playing a videogame but living a painting.
I stopped riding when I happened across a camp of troll-like bokoblins. Sneaking into a good position, I pulled out my bow and began taking shots at them, using the motion in my right Joy-Con to aim. They charged at me, but were easily dealt with after a series of retreats and assaults of my own. What I didn’t foresee was the dastardly wizzrobe that snuck up behind me, blasting me with his fire rod and handing me a Game Over screen. Having been too accustomed to demigod-like strength in RPGs like Skyrim and Dragon Age, I was amazed at how vulnerable I was in Hyrule, principally against the bosses that appear in the main story. It gave the game a Dark Souls quality, where conflict was dangerous and tactical thinking encouraged.
The meat of Breath of the Wild’s difficulty comes in the form of its shrine puzzles. Throughout Hyrule you can discover sanctuaries that lead you to an underground puzzle area. I found these to be a cakewalk at first, where I could use my special rune abilities to move boxes or navigate water to solve the puzzle immediately. However, the shrines got harder as I found more, and I eventually had to spend up to an hour trying to work out how to solve one. When the game isn’t kicking your arse for picking fights with tough enemies, it’s beating you down emotionally with its fair but challenging puzzle system.
As both a Wii U port and launch title for the Nintendo Switch, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild sets a huge precedent. It works as both a sequel for long-adoring fans and a title for entry-level gamers, with triple-figure hours of content and an enormous world to explore. It’s the best case for picking up a Switch I could ever make. This game proves that Nintendo are back on form with an exciting range of first-party titles, and I’m glad that I got to be there at the beginning.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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