Latest Zelda game is a hit, with very slight misses

Sat, 2017/04/01

After some notable delays, Nintendo’s latest game in the The Legend of Zelda series finally made it to the Wii U and the Nintendo Switch on March 3, 2017. Boasting a wide-open world alongside elements that typically make up The Legend of Zelda, Breath of the Wild has a lot going for it. That said, does it hold up to the hype it has elicited since its launch? Has this one-man audience been blown away? Read on, a review awaits you.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was originally meant to release on the Wii U, and while it did eventually make it to the console, it ended up being a tail-end release in the already-mostly-dead console’s life. That said, due to this release timing, the game ended up a day-one title for the new Nintendo Switch, which worked in Nintendo’s favor, as it has been a very strong system-seller for those interested in the new console, with good reason. For the reader’s reference, I am going to be reviewing based on the Wii U version, though the differences are minor except in the case of game controls and some visual elements.First up is the story.

The  Legend of Zelda has always been known for generally simple stories, and while Breath of the Wild follows that trend, it has a few extra things that help give its characters more depth. First of all, in this game we are greeted with voice acting, which until this release was unheard of for the series (Link himself is still a silent protagonist). Now, the voice acting is certainly there, but it is saved for more important scenes such as Link, the main character of the game and franchise, recalling a memory of the past and such. With that out of the way, the main story is that a great evil has taken over the kingdom of Hyrule, which is nothing new, but in this title, we experience it 100 years after it all started. Link, who in this game cannot have his name changed by the player, has forgotten much of what happened so long ago, having been put in a form of stasis. There are certainly times where it feels like 100 years is way too long of a time span, such as when you meet a particular character who is still alive after all that time, but we can likely blame it on magic. That said, playing the amnesia trope turned out alright in this game simply because it was another way to place the player in Link’s shoes and feel for him due to a similar feeling of not knowing quite what is out there in the world. With the basic story out of the way, let’s move onto gameplay.

Historically, a 3D The Legend of Zelda game has entailed playing as Link (or however you would name him) and going on an adventure to stop a great evil. As far as progression goes, the The Legend of Zelda series has been very linear in its 3D games, with there generally being a specific order in which you have to complete dungeons and other types of quests. Those last two items still hold quite true for Breath of the Wild, with a few caveats, but the linearity has gone completely out the window, mostly for the better. For example, there are a great amount of quests that you can take up in the game, with unlimited time to do them, further adding to the non-linearity of the game. In addition, there are four major dungeons in this game with some smaller ones scattered throughout the world (called shrines), but these can be handled in any order, given that the player prepares themselves properly. Now, this is where the game shines, as there is not just one way to go about your journey; if the player travels to a cold area, they can counter the climate conditions by wearing warmer clothing, eating food that increases cold resistance, or by simply holding a torch. However, the most exciting traversal element is the sailcloth, which can be deployed in order to glide from a higher area and cover ground faster than if you had just walked or rode on a horse. In addition, the weapon and item system in this game is drastically different from previous games in the series, as there is the added aspect of durability. In the most literal sense, everything breaks in this game, from shields to swords, all to provide a more survival-style experience. And let’s be clear here, the durability of most weapons is quite low in this game, and you will often find weapons are gone about as quickly as you receive them. The saving grace is that weapons are plentiful, generally acquired by killing monsters or by opening treasure chests hidden throughout the world. When it comes to things like bows and swords, durability is based on your usage of the weapon, and, of course, the more you attack with them, the closer they’ll get to breaking. Shields also work this way, but aside from them breaking from blocking enemy attacks, they can be used for surfing down hills, which is fun but also quite damaging to the shield. Of course, no Legend of Zelda game would be complete without at least a bit of a puzzle aspect.

As briefly noted before, small dungeons are scattered throughout the world, called shrines. The goal of each shrine is to solve a relatively small puzzle and get to the end with the reward of a spirit orb, which can be used for stamina and health upgrades. Most of these puzzles are physics-based, ranging from completing electrical circuits to moving large metal objects with a magnetic device. Keep in mind that when playing on the Wii U, the shrines that require motion controls will ask you to use the Wii U gamepad, which for some players can be a turn-off, but should not be a deterrent from purchasing the game for the system. On the larger scale, we have the Divine Beasts, which themselves are each one large puzzle which must be solved by manipulating them in various ways (tilting wings, rotating individual parts, and more) and defeating a boss enemy at the end, earning a heart container and increasing your health. Speaking of, this game brings back the stamina wheel from Skyward Sword, which runs out over time when Link either climbs a wall or runs. The difference in Breath of the Wild is that the player can upgrade Link’s health and stamina every four spirit orbs that they receive from shrines, which is the key reason to visit them. In terms of health, this is both more efficient and, in a way, more fun than in other installments, wherein the player would have to collect multiple heart pieces (typically four) to then gain a new heart container. Essentially, instead of four heart containers, there are four orbs to collect per upgrade, and the player does not necessarily have to upgrade health in these cases, instead having the option to put all upgrades into stamina if they so choose. All said, how are the visuals and performance?

Breath  of the Wild has amazing visuals, and while it sacrifices frame rate for good looks -running at 30 frames per second versus 60- the general experience does not suffer, except in a few places, which will be noted in a bit. Much of the visual appeal in this game comes from its use of cel-shaded graphics, sometimes feeling a bit reminiscent of a Hayao Miyazaki film, which makes for rather lively landscapes, considering how empty some parts of the world can be. Of note is that the Wii U version runs at 720p whereas the Switch version runs at 1080p when in TV mode and has a bit more filtering, so in some cases players may notice some slight quality differences. That said, there is not a significant enough difference if you are someone who only owns a Wii U (like me) and are wondering if you should drop for the Switch version because of it. To get back to my previous point, while the game does look very good, there are times where you can tell that the game is pushing the console to its limits, which expresses itself in lag spikes when exploring larger areas (aka a lot of the game) and straight up freezes when hitting enemies. The freezing issue is thankfully not present as often as the lag spikes, but it is certainly disappointing to see the game slow down as often as it does.

Next up is the soundtrack. To be honest, the soundtrack for Breath of the Wild is not a lot to write home about, but in some ways that’s a good thing. The soundtrack consists of more ambient remixes of known themes from the series, such as the song featured in Zora’s domain. Otherwise, the game does not try hard to be epic or over-the-top, instead going for a more low key, sometimes playful tone, blending more into the background for the most part. That said, when the game decides to ramp things up a bit, it does so very well, most notably during boss fights or encounters with other stronger enemies, yet going for a less orchestral sound than in, say, Twilight Princess, with a greater focus on piano and other more low key sounds. A minor, but very neat little aspect of the game’s sound is how dynamic things like footsteps are, with very distinctly different sounds depending on the environment; if Link walks on a rocky road, then his steps very clearly reflect that, which is a very nice touch and apparently a bit more pronounced in the Switch version.

Overall, I am very impressed that Nintendo decided to go back to the roots of the The Legend of Zelda series and really emphasize the freedom of exploration, and while I feel it was worth the delays, there are some problems that exist in the game which are both objective and subjective. Objectively, the fact that the game lags as much as it does is only somewhat forgivable due to the quality of the rest of the game, and it will hopefully be fixed with future updates. On the more subjective side, having beaten the main story of the game, I have realized that the game banks on you exploring, and it does a good job of getting you to do that. However, there are some who may go into this game solely for completing the story, and may well be disappointed by how short the game actually is if going for a straight up story run. That said, I do believe you should go into this game expecting to explore, because that is very much the point of the game aside from its story, which I still feel was solid despite its actual length. If there is one telling thing about my experience with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, it’s that never in multiple years have I felt such a strong yearning to play a game, for five to eight hour sessions at a time no less. While I don't generally like to give value ratings, this game gets a 9/10 from me.