New series (maybe?) where I review games as a late-to-the-party, filthy casual and make recommendations based on my thoughts about them. My criticisms will cover 4 categories. Gameplay (encompassing controls, difficulty, the like); visuals (art and graphics); sound design (music, sound effects); and story (think characters, plot, and setting; difficult to narrow down due to my background in English studies). After I lay some thoughts out based on those categories, I’ll make a recommendation (or not. We’ll see). The inaugural review will be for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild due to how familiar I am with the game and the hours of fun it has brought to me.
Tight and fluid controls make or break games, and Breath of the Wild (BotW) packs tight and fluid controls in spades. With techniques such as shield surfing, paragliding, climbing in addition to basic running, jumping, and swimming, there are more than enough ways for Link to navigate Hyrule. Swimming and climbing require stamina, so increasing the base stamina wheel early on is advisable to make traversing tall towers and swimming wide rivers a little easier. While the controls feel good, they are kind of complicated and present something of a learning curve. There are “quick select weapon/shield/bow/arrow/slate powers” that I honestly kind of forget exist. I find myself opening the main inventory to change weapons and arrows instead of using the quick switch menus partly because I forget they exist and I have to relearn some of the controls whenever I pick the game up from months of absence and partly because the menus are sensitive to whether or not Link is using a weapon and shield or a bow and arrows. Sometimes I want to select an arrow but end up opening the shield menu instead simply because I’m not holding a bow. The only quick select menu I use consistently is the “slate power” menu because it is always up on the D-pad and it stays that way, making it easier for players to remember. Shield surfing is fun, but requires a little learning to pull off. The player must make Link block with a shield using ZL, hit X to jump, and then hit A mid-jump to make Link jump onto his shield and “surf.” This is simple on paper and easy to pull off, but the combination of buttons and sequence to remember can be tricky at first. Once learned, it makes for quite a bit of fun.
The environment is also a factor in gameplay and said environment can hinder Link if the player doesn’t use the proper food, potions, or armor and gear. Lightning is attracted by metal shields and weapons, so better get the wooden and non-metal gear out for a little bit. Death Mountain is an active volcano; wooden weapons burn and so does Link if he doesn’t use fire proof potions or armor. Buy the Flamebreaker armor. It’s goofy, looks like an old diving suit, and it doesn’t require the use of potions that wear off. Mountains are cold, and cold weather gear or food/potions with a warming effect negate the effect of the cold. Once again, get the armor. The Warm Doublet and Snowquill armor help with cold environments. It is better to go for armor and gear instead of potions because potions are temporary and take up valuable inventory for food that restores health and for potions that increase speed, attack, defense, and stealth properties. Get the armor, get the armor, get the armor.
Combat is fun due to various weapon types. Players can choose to go in with big and heavy weapons like two handed hammers or claymores, keep their distance with bows and arrows, use spears to poke the bad guys into poofs of nothing, or use the classic sword and shield combo Link is best known for. These simple options allow players to fight how they want. However, it is annoying that the weakest and earliest game equipment wears down and breaks so quickly. As players progress, stronger and tougher weapons become more plentiful, mitigating that annoyance relatively early on in my opinion and experience. By at least the first Divine Beast, having enough gear on hand shouldn’t be an issue. Progression comes via beating the Divine Beast dungeons, finding shrines and obtaining monks’ blessings, and good old fashioned exploration–which this game pulls off right and well.
The shrines and Divine Beasts are a twist on dungeons. Some shrines are puzzle based, others are combat based, and some shrines give the player an award for just getting there. These shrines end when the player gets to the shrine’s monk, who awards them a “Spirit Orb.” 4 Spirit Orbs can be traded in at Goddess statues (they look like praying angels) for health or stamina increases. The shrines also offer a means for the player to navigate the map because they function as warp points once activated. You don’t have to beat a shrine to make it into a warp point, so if you get frustrated, you can warp back and complete it at anytime so long as you’ve activated it. A big map requires plenty of warp points, and thank goodness BotW has so many. The Divine Beasts are one part set-piece, one-part puzzle, and one-part dungeon. They are a bit like super shrines, which makes them underwhelming in hindsight as “traditional dungeons,” but their twists on traditional dungeoneering is refreshing and they’re so interesting as big puzzles to solve that I can forgive being underwhelmed by them in hindsight due to how much fun I had getting to them and climbing around their innards to restore them. They also make for memorable experiences, especially Vah Nabooris stomping through the desert like some sort of Zord from Power Rangers or riding on Prince Sidon’s back and shooting arrows at a giant robo-elephant was great.
However, there are issues related to two features in particular. 1: Rain. Rain makes climbing more difficult because wet surfaces are slick surfaces. Rain also douses fires, making waiting by the fire (a handy mechanic for time sensitive things come a little quicker) or cooking impossible. 2: Waiting for events. This is most obvious with the dragons and a few other little spots, but for the most part isn’t that bad. Waiting could have been mitigated with a better time skipping system wherein a player “waits for X hours” ala Skyrim. These are relatively minor complaints for me, but are complaints I’ve heard from a friend who also played and enjoyed BotW.
With the exception of the Gamecube (Soul Calibur II, Metroid Prime, and Super Smash Bros. Melee still look gorgeous), Nintendo has rarely been the gaming company to push high fidelity graphics. Instead, they have relied on art and style to keep their games looking good. It’s why titles like 2002’s The Legend of Zelda: the Wind Waker age so gracefully while contemporary titles such as Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind haven’t aged as well. BotW is much like the former; the visuals rely on art, bright and beautiful colors, cel shading, and memorable landscapes to wow and suck players into the world rather than voice acting for every NPC and “realistic” graphics. With environments ranging from fiery Death Mountain, serene Zora’s Domain, to quiet Kakariko Village, and the melancholic ruins scattered throughout the greater part of Hyrule Field, the landscapes and scenary are breathtaking to behold.
Each monster design is memorable and stronger monsters are color coordinated. Red bokoblins and moblins are the weakest forms and have the weakest equipment while different colored bokoblins and moblins–such as blue or white–are the strongest and best equipped. These visual cues help players recognize serious threats from peons and plan accordingly, especially in early game because three or four peons can trounce the ill-prepared, overconfident Zelda vet into a frustrated, controller gripping mess. Other visual cues that help players are the sparkles added to items that can be picked up such as ingredients to make food and potions. Little things like this seem obvious ands simple, but in a world as big and colorful as BotW‘s Hyrule, these little sparkles and chimes help players find items to restore health and take the fight to Ganon.
BotW is a fairly quiet game compared to the bombastic and bold soundtracks present in past Zelda titles. Sometimes the only sounds present are that of the environment, and the background music is soft and calming. Hell, I’d even go so far to say the music is inviting and encourages the player to enjoy the game more than past sound tracks, and I love myself some Zelda soundtracks. Music can encourage a players’ pace; it’s why Payday 2‘s music is so pumpin’, thumpin’, beatin’ FAST!! That game wants players to move quick and shoot quick. Mega Man 2‘s fast-paced 8 bit melodies are fun earworms to keep players moving through the levels. BotW‘s development team chose a calmer, slower tone with the soundtrack which works to the game’s advantage and invites the player to wander and explore Hyrule instead of rushing from one goal to the next. Said music also picks up and changes in the presence of dangerous enemies such as Guardians and mini-boss like enemies such as Hinoxes and Taluses to get the player to move with some urgency.
On the topic of sound design, many sounds are satisfying to hear. The quick ping of hitting an enemy in the head with an arrow is great to hear. The zoooom of time slowing down when Link focuses his bow cues players to use the time well and wisely. Related to visuals, items chime slightly to help players find them. These are small details, but small details can make or break a video game, and these small details help BotW be a great game.
The voice acting is…uh…passable? I’m no voice actor critic, and I thought the voice acting in this game was ok. It’s nothing fantastic or stellar and is mostly present in important cutscenes, but it’s nothing worth bashing. It works for the most part, each character sounds unique, their voice and mannerisms match their personality and I say it’s fine.
Pretty simple when it gets down to it. You’re Link. Ganon has assumed a psuedo-spirit form, Zelda’s been holding him back for about a century while Link took a nice, restorative nap in Joe Rogan’s sensory deprivation tank, and now it’s time to save Hyrule. Get after it!
Related to the narrative are the characters, and BotW‘s Link is arguably the first Link to rival Wind Waker‘s Link in terms of characterization. Wind Waker‘s Link was motivated to save his sister and got dragged into saving the world as a result. He was comical, serious, and had a personality separate from the player’s. BotW‘s Link is a reserved knight who bears his heavy burdens quietly and is bent on protecting Zelda and Hyrule from harm. As the player recovers Link’s memories, they learn more about the character. Link has a softer side revealed in a particular cutscene with Zelda while the princess struggles with learning how to use a power to combat Ganon. Link turns around from standing guard and just looks at her. Zelda herself also undergoes an arc, going from an insecure young woman who feels unable to fulfill her destiny to a martyr like figure willing and capable of combating Ganon’s psuedo-spirit form alone while an injured Link recovers from his injuries to awaken and finish the job. This isn’t the deepest, greatest story telling, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t at least a little compelling watching these characters I’ve grown up with get some character beyond their usual archetypes of “courageous hero” and “dutiful princess.”
The setting of Hyrule in this game can be described as melancholic. Ruins litter Hyrule Field. There is decay present. Life exists mostly on the fringes of Hyrule. Guardians– machines built thousands of years ago to help Link and Zelda combat Ganon–have turned hostile due to Ganon’s machinations and influence. Some of the most welcoming sights in this Hyrule are the horse stables, which function as stables and places for rest and resemble camps more than proper, permanent settlements.
It’s certainly beautiful as well, but there are always hints and traces present to a better “what was,” giving players a little something to think about while they traverse Hyrule. In contrast, one of the side quests involves Link helping a construction company build a village in the remote Akkala region and its a fan favorite sidequest. Link gathers materials, travels across Hyrule to find willing and viable candidates (their names must end in “-son”) according to Bolson Construction’s gimmick to move to Tarrey Town and populate it. The end result is a colorful little town with cubey little houses. It’s a fun, involved sidequest that gives the player hope that Hyrule can be rebuilt one day and life will continue after Ganon is defeated. Whether or not that was intentional on the developer’s part can be questioned, but I’m glad its there because this side quest’s hopeful tone weaves into the story’s themes about restoration and salvation over rampant, malicious destruction that lead to a bright kingdom’s downfall. It’s a narrative better experienced than explained, and I don’t want to write on too much or else I’ll end up like a YouTuber producing 8 hour long exposes about why ZELDA IS THA BESTEST AND DEEPESTEST VIDJA GAME EVAR!!!11!!!
Now, I have to fortify my Dad’s house against the inevitable horde of torch and pitchfork weilding Zelda fans. Too bad I can’t fortify my own feelings against the Twitter onslaught this stupid joke may or may not cause. All depends on who I tick off and how big their audience is.
Arguably the most important part of a review, is this game worth playing? My answer is yes if you enjoy adventure games and want a game you can spend time with over several days to several weeks. This is also a good entry for veteran Zelda fans or for people who are new to the series. It offers fun and interesting game play, plenty of quests and side quests to fulfill, a large world to explore, and more than enough secrets to find to keep anyone playing for more than an hour or two at a time.
Be warned that this game can suck a person in: I’ve found myself losing track of time while playing, so maybe setting a timer for yourself isn’t a bad idea if you’re a responsible adult. Kitchens and dishes won’t clean themselves (yet). I wouldn’t recommend this game to someone who doesn’t enjoy long-form, single player adventure games, though. It has a slow to brisk pace and while there is a learning curve, it’s nothing that can’t be learned with an hour’s worth of gameplay.
I won’t say Breath of the Wild is perfect or flawless, but I certainly will call it good. I’ll go ahead and call it great. I had a lot of fun with it, and I’m on my second play through now after beating the DLC. It’s still fun so I say it’s worth playing if you’re willing to pick it up and enjoy it.