In this Soapbox article, Nintendo Life contributor Arjun talks about Breath of the Wild and its nature as a '3D Zelda game'.
Before I begin, let me clarify one thing - Breath of the Wild is one of the best games I have ever played. Pun intended, it truly is a breath of fresh air when it comes to video games in general, and I still find myself going back to it now and again to attempt to 100% it as well as explore its nooks and crannies, even seven months since its release and with so many other games to play.
But a true fan of anything should also be the first to admit flaws and share constructive criticism. While Breath of the Wild is a revolutionary, blockbuster entry in The Legend of Zelda series’ illustrious history, I believe that it fails to grasp some of the core ingredients that many 3D Zelda games possess. With that in mind, here’s my personal opinion on how Breath of the Wild doesn’t quite stack up to the 3D Zeldas of yesteryear from a typical Zelda perspective, which marginally lets the game down as a 3D Zelda game, not as a game in general. Once again, I can't stress enough that it is indeed one of the best games I've ever played, but I'm just assessing it as far as 3D Zelda games go, so hold onto that thought while reading the rest of this soapbox!
Warning: potential spoilers ahead.
Kicking things off with the game’s narrative, there’s actually nothing wrong with the story presented in Breath of the Wild in my opinion. We’re introduced to some great characters, and we’re treated to many glimpses of Hyrule 100 years prior to the game’s events. The problem I do have, however, is how certain aspects of the story aren’t mandatory to encounter and can thus be missed altogether, which isn't the case in most if not all traditional 3D Zelda games.
A great example is obtaining the Master Sword. This item is a staple in the Zelda series, yet I know many players who have slain Ganon without knowing the legendary blade even exists in Breath of the Wild. For most open-world, free-roaming adventure games, this non-linear approach is completely fine and understandable. However, wearing my Zelda hat here, I personally would like to have been guided to and through some of the main points of interest throughout my adventure.
Had I not unintentionally caught a glimpse of the Master Sword’s location on social media, I reckon I would’ve completely missed it during my first playthrough. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not confusing the game’s story with its side quests – these optional tasks have always been present in Zelda games – but I believe pivotal story points to the franchise's lore should be compulsory “checkpoints”. Of course, the game’s first DLC – which focuses purely on the Master Sword – helps rectify this, but aside from this the Master Sword is never really treated as a staple of the game. Besides, it's fair to say that most players would have completed the game's main story before attempting its first DLC challenge, therefore increasing the likelihood of them missing the legendary blade altogether.
Another example is collecting Link's captured memories. Finding each memory reveals a part of history of Hyrule’s demise, which helps add more of a story element to the game. However, I was astonished to find that this main quest is also optional. Quite simply put; the only objective is to destroy Ganon – it doesn’t matter how players get there or what they do before deciding to do so. To many, that sounds great, but to me I would have liked some form of linearity with the game’s storyline and pivotal plot points.
To expand on both of these above points, with a more structured story also comes more cutscenes, something I feel Breath of the Wild doesn't grasp quite as well as other 3D Zelda games. Link's memories are more or less as close as we get to fully-fledged cutscenes, but if you only look at what's mandatory the amount of actual cutscenes are minimal – it's mainly dialogue between characters instead. I used to always look forward to passing a certain point in a 3D Zelda game knowing that a juicy cutscene would follow, but what we have here is more of a flowing, less-segmented approach. Again, all of these examples don't necessarily strike points against Breath of the Wild as a game – it actually makes sense when you understand what it aims to accomplish – but for fans longing for a quintessential 3D Zelda experience, the absence of must-dos and cutscenes could perhaps have a negative impact throughout their playthrough.
Enemies & Bosses
A major box I look forward to being ticked when venturing into any new Zelda title is discovering the game’s plethora of enemies, and witnessing the imagination that the game’s creators have poured into the design of the many different creatures throughout its world. This was – and still is – one of the reasons why I love titles like Ocarina of Time so much. As arguably annoying as Navi may be, I love reading her descriptive analysis of the game's enemies, some of which that can only be found in certain locations. They help build the lore around Ocarina of Time’s world, and also provide useful insight into getting around opponents. I therefore went out my way to read these – not only to indulge my nerdy side, but also to plan my strikes carefully on opponents that were unbeknownst to me.
With Breath of the Wild, I felt the game failed to achieve this same feat, well, at least in ratio when the sizes of the two titles are compared. Throughout its enormous open world, the species players mainly encounter are Bokobin, Moblin, Lizalfos, Octorok, Pebblit, Keese, Chuchu, Wizzrobe, Lynel (which are damn cool), Yiga warriors, and Guardian. Sure, some of these are your iconic Zelda critters, and yes there are variations of each, but for such a large game I’d love to have seen many more types of baddies roam the vast lands of Hyrule, with more being pinned to certain areas, as well as being able to learn about them in some way, shape, or form. It's this lack of enemy and spawn variation that can sometimes lead to the game's combat becoming a little repetitive, for the same kinds of enemies can be found throughout most areas, more or less anyway. But hey, again, that's just me.
As for bosses, well that’s a whole different kettle of Hylian Bass. Four different types of Ganon?! Sure, it was probably implemented to make sense from a storyline standpoint, but having miniature, elementally themed versions of Ganon just doesn't quite cut it for a Zelda game to me. The other Zelda games really captured its players’ imaginations with a multitude of well-designed beasts, and it was so exciting to claw through an arduous dungeon knowing that something beyond our imaginations lurked at the end of it. Having said that, I am definitely a fan of the game’s overworld bosses (Hinox, Talus, Molduga etc.) – it’s a real thrill to unexpectedly witness them for the first time while roaming around. I knew I’d be handsomely rewarded for taking them down, despite how unequipped I was at the time; the reward was worth it. This is a feat not quite captured by other 3D Zelda games, so this is most definitely a welcome addition for me. But still, the lack of distinct dungeon bosses is disappointing. Breath of the Wild really could've really benefited from bosses along the lines of Twinrova, Stallord and Koloktus, but instead the climax to each Divine Beast is an unimaginative and uninspiring Ganon knockoff – at least in my opinion.
I bet everyone was waiting for this one. What’s a Zelda without its thought-provoking, mysterious, creepy, and enchanting dungeons? To be fair, there are 120 shrines within the game, which can be argued makes up for the game’s lacklustre dungeon total of four, but it just still doesn’t quite capture that Zelda magic. Some of the shrines are duplicates (i.e. all 120 are not unique) due to many of them being straight-up battles – there’s already a lot of that in the game’s overworld.
As for the main dungeons, well, this is probably my biggest disappointment of the game, certainly when approaching them with my Zelda hat on (literally and figuratively, by the way). Personally, I feel that they're short, repetitive, tedious, and quite frustrating. Of course, this isn't the first time a Zelda dungeon has been most – if not all – of these things *cough* Water Temple *cough*, but after completing the first two Divine Beasts I really wasn’t expecting much from the last two, and I was right. The puzzles are uninspiring for the most part and, as mentioned, the bosses of each are lacklustre climaxes to a short yet bothersome task.
Where I will give credit to the game's dungeons however, are the build-up missions before entering. Those were some of the best in-game moments I experienced, a great example being obtaining 20 Shock Arrows from a mountain inhibited by a ferocious Lynel, and then riding on the back of Sidon to "deactivate" Divine Beast Vah Ruta. Then again, these tasks aren't fun had from the dungeons' confines themselves, so maybe that just emphasises my point about the actual Divine Beast dungeons themselves. I will say though, I do commend and admire the creativity behind manipulating and traversing these colossal animal-like structures' innards, but I feel it just isn't enough when a Zelda fan enters a Divine Beast for the first time and expects a dungeon akin to past 3D Zelda games.
There also isn’t a sense of progression, for the four dungeons can be tackled in any order. This means that they’re seemingly supposed to be equal in difficulty, and thus the feeling of getting stronger for a stronger challenge is absent. If anything, it’s almost as if it gets easier the more dungeons players complete, for Link will have acquired new and stronger weapons and abilities by the time the next Divine Beast is visited.
Also, while everyone may not agree on this point, these dungeons did make me miss the dungeon-exclusive item/weapon formula Zelda has possessed over its years. Yes, not having this arguably makes the player think on their feet a bit more, but grabbing the dungeon’s treasure and using it to traverse the rest of its confines, take down its monstrosity, and then roam the rest of Hyrule with this spanking new gizmo in hand is a feeling I truly adore, and now miss.
Weapons / Items
I’ve already just referenced the dungeon-specific items/weapons and Master Sword previously, but just to reiterate, I do miss items that Link can keep forever to aid him on his quest. Sure, Link can climb now, so items such as the Hookshot are arguably redundant, but the game mainly consists of melee weapons, shields, bows, and arrows that can all break or run out of stock. This definitely works in the game’s open-world, free-roaming setting, but again, from a typical Zelda perspective, I would have liked just a few items/weapons that Link could use permanently. Sure, the Sheikah Slate contains Runes (Magnesis, Remote Bombs, Stasis, and Cryonis), which in most cases achieve this, but gone is the magic of finding, acquiring, and keeping hold of an actual item/weapon that players can use throughout their adventure.
Other than its amazing gameplay mechanics and memorable characters, the Legend of Zelda series has always stood out with its awe-inspiring music. So much so in fact, that there is a Zelda-dedicated orchestra that travels the world to perform the franchise’s most iconic music, called Symphony of the Goddesses. My daily playlist is filled with songs from Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask, The Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, and Skyward Sword, and so when Breath of the Wild was on the horizon, I was super excited to add its music to my list of delightful ear candy.
Upon playing the game, however, I was quickly made aware that this game is like no other Zelda in terms of continuous music accompanying Link’s journey. Instead, tranquil sounds of the world’s natural environments and subtle instrumental noises sprinkle themselves in from area to area. Now, I completely understand why Nintendo opted for this approach – Breath of the Wild is the series’ first true open-world, free-roaming game, and having repetitive music would probably drive the player insane, especially as its areas are so vast that it could take some time for players to hear a multitude of songs on a single playthrough. However, even though the approach makes sense, it’s something I sorely miss.
Of course, there are a few exceptions – the Hateno Village and Zora's Domain themes are great examples of beautiful music isolated to one area – but there’s just not enough of this in the game to satisfy me from a music standpoint. And its mainly this reason as to why Breath of the Wild also doesn't focus on Link learning any songs to use for certain tasks. Sure, there is Kass and his trusty accordion, but this isn't quite the same - the player instead must use clues from song lyrics to solve puzzles. Now I'm all for change, but the fact that most Zelda games contain some element of learning and using music to the player's advantage is something I sought after in my playthrough.
As for Breath of the Wild’s main theme, well, this is something I thought I would hear more often throughout my adventure, but again I was sadly mistaken. It wasn’t like Ocarina of Time’s Zelda’s Lullaby, Twilight Princess’ main theme, or Skyward Sword’s Ballad of the Goddess – recurring themes that play throughout the adventure. As a result, the game’s main theme had – and still has – no impact on me, and thus I feel that there isn’t a single song that would prompt delightful thoughts of my Breath of the Wild playthrough like other Zelda games have done so well (well, maybe aside from the aforementioned Hateno Village). Even listening to the game's Sound Selection that comes bundled with its Collector's Edition, there's nothing there that really hits home. The songs are more subtle, and when compared to a soundtrack such as The Wind Waker, there's definitely a stark contrast. It’s a weird one, this. Again, I know why they did it, and it’s the right and logical choice, but it still – albeit slightly – negatively impacted my experience.
Going back to Symphony of the Goddesses here, I’ve booked my ticket to attend the event in London in November, making it my third year in a row. What makes this one extra special is that the team has announced that Breath of the Wild’s music will be added to their medley. But what exactly will they add? Yes, there are a couple of songs of notability, but will they strike the same chord as the others do, regardless of whether Breath of the Wild is a new game or not? I’m not sure, I guess I'll only know once I'm there, but here’s to hoping it’s awesome nevertheless.
And with that, I’m done. Once again, as much as this article may suggest otherwise, I truly adore this game. They key word here though, is that I adore Breath of the Wild as a “game”, and not as a “3D Zelda game”. Yes, homages of its predecessors are neatly presented throughout, but I feel they're not quite enough to bring upon the feeling that the player is indeed playing a 3D Zelda for the most part – that is if you strip away the obvious nods of the franchise, such as its world's races, enemies, and landmarks. Many of the points I've mentioned above seem to be decisions that can yield no win-win situation; as mentioned, I understand why the developers have done what they did from a logical standpoint in a game of such individuality among other 3D Zelda titles, but I still miss the Zelda-esque elements left out because of this.
Perhaps some of you can relate to some or even all of my points, but as mentioned – though potentially an unpopular decision – I wanted to write this as a dedicated fan of the franchise who feels passionate to address the handful of "Zelda flaws" of this stellar title. Regardless, Breath of the Wild still achieves a huge amount to please both new and seasoned players of the series, and will no doubt go down as one of the – if not the – series' greatest games of all time.
Agree with none, some, or all of my thoughts? As always, voice your opinion below!