Going back to basics

“Breath of the Wild embodies the freedom and danger that made the first Zelda game so enthralling, and captures the feeling of awe that came when Ocarina of Time hit the scene, in this case by layering unspoken variables into seemingly every facet of the game. Based on our early impressions, it’s safe to say that Breath of the Wild will forever change what people expect from the series.” Gamespot

As the reviews for The Legend of Zelda, Breath of the Wild start coming in, one thing seems clear: This game is really good. Maybe even revolutionary. But why? What does this Zelda game do that is so amazing? What sets it so far apart?

Well, Nintendo has been clear that for Breath of the Wild will “get back to the roots” of Zelda. So have they? And for that matter, is that necessarily a good thing? After recently acquiring an old Nintendo Entertainment System and a copy of the original Legend of Zelda and playing through it for the very first time, I felt like I was in a good place to judge this.

Please note that at the time of writing all I have to go off for BotW are the first five hours of play, but even still I think the answers to “Have they really gone back to their roots?” is perfectly clear.

Part I: Difficulty

“There are really only two things I feel I need to talk about. First, Breath of the Wild respects your intelligence as a player more than any Legend of Zelda game before it. And second? Breath of the Wild demands your respect. And if you forget that for longer than a few minutes it’ll remind you by knocking you flat on your ass.” Polygon

Now, if there’s one thing that’s come out about this BotW already it’s that this game is really, really hard. Multiple reviews make clear that players are dying over and over, sometimes to the most basic enemies in the game. And trust me, that sounds very familiar. One of the reasons I’d never really played the original Zelda before was the sheer difficulty of the thing! I must have died at least five times before stumbling my way, broken and bloodied, into the first dungeon.

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Walking into that first dungeon, seeing those statutes staring at me as the dungeon music starts to play? I was more scared of what waited for me in those halls than any of the recent Zelda games’ flashy cut scenes have made me. It wasn’t because the game was trying to scare me. Quite the opposite: It wasn’t trying to at all. And yet, without even trying, it had left my beaten to a pulp already. Knowing I could die at any moment is what made the tension in the original Zelda’s dungeons so palpable. And while it seems like the original dungeon structure is out the window, that dread of death being around the corner at any moment is one embedded in the world of BotW itself.

Part II: Freedom

“It’s the biggest Zelda yet. This might seem obvious given that it’s the first true open world Zelda game, but Breath of the Wild is even bigger than it appears. With a lengthy story, an absolutely massive world, and plenty of secrets to discover, this is a game that goes well beyond the 25 to 30 hour average of most games in the series.” Games Revolution

The very first thing that made my jaw drop over BotW was the scope of the world. According to reports, it is enormous. And yet, full of things to do. For a start, there are over 100 mini-dungeons called shrines scattered around the world for the completionists out there to tackle. But a massive world does not a good game make! I found the small, claustrophobic feel of Batman: Arkham Asylum far more compelling than the expansive brother Arkham City.

The real key here is that you are, for the most part, left to do whatever you want in this world. An often overlooked feature of the original Zelda is you don’t need to get a sword if you don’t want to. Sure, you can’t really beat the game that way, but you can go exploring without one. How you play the game is left up to you. And BotW knows how much fun this is. You can, from minute one of this game, you have the option to make a beeline straight for the very end of the game and take on the final boss. That’s amazing. It’s something I’ve wanted ever since playing Pokémon for the very first time; I couldn’t help but think how much fun it would be to go to the Elite Four right away and get my butt handed to me, left thinking “Man I can’t wait to get that strong.” If you ask me, I can’t wait to see just how weak I really am.

Conclusion: Going back to your roots

“The result, for all the longevity of its series and the familiarity of the open-world genre, is a game that evokes feelings we haven’t known for 20 years. Not since Ocarina Of Time have we set foot in a world that seems so mind-bogglingly vast, that feels so unerringly magical, that proves so relentlessly intriguing. Plenty of games promise to let us go anywhere and do anything; few, if any, ever deliver on it so irresistibly. Nineteen years on, Ocarina is still held up as the high-water mark of one of gaming’s best-loved – and greatest – series. Now it may have to settle for second place.” Edge Magazine

So what does this all mean? Will this game change the world and cure all disease? No. Like any game, some people will say it’s great, some will say it’s bad, and most well say it’s just pretty good. When I started this article I asked two questions: Is this game going back to its roots, and is that a good thing. Although it is worth noting at this point nothing published about this game is even remotely bad, and as such I think when it comes out the game will have with tremendous critical success, the real thing to note here is that this game will be truly revolutionary.

 

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When Miyamoto first made the original Zelda, he very famously based it off his experiences exploring the Japanese woods as a little boy. Exploring forests, caves, graveyards and finding treasure. And, as a boy exploring the world, you aren’t constrained to going to each cave in a certain order, and it feels like the whole world is ahead of you, that you could find anything in your journey. Do I think this game, or the original Zelda will end up as the definitive best Zelda? No. That will never happen. It may not even be my own personal favorite Zelda (Majora’s Mask will always have a special place in my heart.) But what can’t be denied is this game, for the first time since the original Zelda, this game is made with that central idea of childhood wonder and exploration.

I, for one, can’t wait to experience it myself.