Image: Nintendo Life

Despite the overwhelmingly positive reception to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild when it launched back in 2017, there are undoubtedly those who yearn for a return to what they deem to be a more “traditional” Zelda experience. With its open world, shrines, weapon degradation, and ‘rune’ abilities, Breath of the Wild most certainly made some significant changes to the games that came prior, but we have to ask ourselves here: just what constitutes a “traditional” Zelda game, anyway?

From a story perspective, Zelda games have always followed a pretty similar path: you play as a hero who must embark on a grand adventure to save the land and defeat evil. That’s always been the case, whether you’re talking about the original NES game, Ocarina of Time, or Breath of the Wild. Some titles, like Majora’s Mask or Link’s Awakening, might well feel different in how they approach their respective narratives, but those games still boil down to the same essentials.

Zelda: BotW
Adventure awaits... — Image: Nintendo

So aside from the story, what else can we look at? Well, one of the most prominent narrative and gameplay mechanics in the Zelda franchise is the presence of dungeons. For the longest time, dungeons have always been presented as themed environments that offer up specific puzzles and enemies, most of which need to be conquered by the use of a particular item. Indeed, one of the biggest gripes that some people have with Breath of the Wild is that it doesn’t have any traditional dungeons. But is that true?

No, it’s not. While yes, the vast majority of your time in Breath of the Wild will be spent roaming around the overworld and visiting the 120 shrines dotted about the place, dungeons do still exist in the form of the Divine Beasts. They may look similar to one another in their overall style, but the four beasts are entirely unique in terms of the challenges they present. Heck, they’re even themed! Vah Ruta is water; Vah Naboris is thunder; Vah Rudania is fire; and finally, Vah Medoh is wind. So while you certainly won’t find something that looks like Ocarina of Time's Forest Temple in Breath of the Wild, there’s no doubt that dungeons do exist in the game.

Vah Ruta
The Divine Beasts are irrefutably dungeons — Image: Nintendo

What about themed items, then? Normally, “traditional” Zelda games will grant you access to things like the Hookshot, Iron Boots, and Spinner, for example, but these are most certainly missing from Breath of the Wild. Instead, upon completion of each Divine Beast, we’re granted access to abilities like Mipha’s Grace and Urbosa’s Fury. But really, just how different are these from the key items from the past? If anything, we’d say they’re even better, since you can benefit from their use at any location in Hyrule. We certainly can’t recall many instances of the Hookshot being useful on Wind Waker’s Outset Island, can you?

Our point is that you still gain new abilities throughout your time in Breath of the Wild just like those older Zelda games, only this time, you’re granted access to a whole bunch pretty much right from the start. We know that the runes and Sheikah slate don’t scream “ooh shiny new item” when you’re 20 hours into the game, but Breath of the Wild consistently introduces new and interesting scenarios in which to experiment with your loadout, we’d argue that the runes almost constantly feel fresh.

Hateno Village
Hateno Village in all its glory — Image: Nintendo

Now let’s talk about towns. For many, towns in Zelda games offer up some of the most memorable experiences in the entire franchise. Can you imagine Skyward Sword without its cosy starting location, Skyloft? What about Ocarina of Time’s Kokiri Forest? Again, we see the same complaint with Breath of the Wild that there simply aren’t enough towns, but this really doesn’t ring true to us. You’ve got Goron City, Hateno Village, Gerudo Town, Lurelin Village, Rito Village, Kakariko Village, and more. Heck, you can even build an entire town via the ‘From the Ground Up’ side quest.

Our theory with this is that because the land of Hyrule in Breath of the Wild is so vast, time spent in the various towns might feel more fleeting for players, but we’d argue that the settlements themselves are just as vibrant and full of life as any town found in prior games, with just as many opportunities for fun little activities or side quests.

It's definitely not a zombie... — Image: Capcom

We could go on and on about what constitutes a Zelda game and why Breath of the Wild most definitely fits that mould, but let’s take a look at a couple of other key franchises and see what’s going on there. First up is Resident Evil. When Capcom launched Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, many deemed it to be a return to form for the franchise after the disappointing critical reception for Resident Evil 6. But with its focus on a family of twisted individuals warped by the ghostly presence of a young girl, the entire premise of Resident Evil 7 is about as far away as you can get from the evil shenanigans conducted by Umbrella in the earlier games.

Yet despite this, it’s still irrefutably a Resident Evil game. Why? Because the inclusion of staple items and mechanics from the series, like herbs, typewriters (well, cassette recorders), item boxes, limited ammo, and lock picks are all still there. Yes, the game might look and even feel different from the earlier entries, but it still carries enough of the franchise’s core DNA to be deemed a Resident Evil game.

FF 16
No turn-based battles? No problem — Image: Square Enix

And what about Final Fantasy? There are many out there who are bemoaning the upcoming Final Fantasy XVI for its lack of turn-based battles and party management, but with the inclusion of Chocobos, Summons, stat management, and Moogles, is it really any less of a Final Fantasy game than, say, Final Fantasy VII? Are turn-based battles really the key identifying feature for Final Fantasy games? We’d argue not, and it’s not been that way for a long time at this point

Going back to The Legend of Zelda, we would argue that, much like Resident Evil and Final Fantasy, its identity can be felt acutely from the very first game all the way to Breath of the Wild. It’s taken some sharp turns here and there along the way, but we wouldn’t deny that Breath of the Wild is a Zelda game any more than we’d deny that Majora’s Mask is one. Ultimately, of course, what you’re personally after from a Zelda game may differ drastically from ourselves, and we wouldn’t dream of denying you the opportunity to experience a new entry that’s more up your alley, but when we see folks claim that Breath of the Wild isn’t a Zelda game, we can’t help but furrow our brows in confusion.

What aspects do you think mostly make a "traditional" Zelda experience?

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Can Zelda: Breath of the Wild be deemed a traditional Zelda game?

What exactly do you think constitutes a traditional Zelda experience, and do you think Breath of the Wild contains the right elements? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.