Nintendo’s latest instalment in The Legend of Zelda has been the subject of almost unanimous acclaim since it’s release. But for me, Breath of The Wild is the fulfilment of a promise that was given three decades ago.
I first played the original Legend of Zelda in the early 90’s at a friend house, but in all honestly, it was probably the game in the series that I had played the least. I had a copy of The Adventure of Link for a lengthy period of time (not that my 8-year-old self could have progressed beyond the first area), and it was A Link To The Past that was where my love for the series truly began.
But my inexperience with Link’s debut adventure led to the game feeling too obtuse for me at the time. Sure, it’s a groundbreaking classic that paved the way for action-adventure games – But when you’re young and getting into video games, this is the sort of title that doesn’t give anything away (and if you didn’t have the manual, then you were pretty much screwed). The same was true of many NES releases, most of them in fact – But from the magazines I was reading and the Captain N and Legend of Zelda cartoons that I woke up early to watch, I knew that this game was a big deal. I just didn’t have the capacity to enjoy it at the time. I had to grow up future instalments before I could learn the unwritten Hy-rules (*groan*) of the series, and take that learned knowledge back to the very first game.
As I said, A Link To The Past was where it all started for me and Zelda. With a proper world map and the occasional window of dialogue text that was translated properly enough to actually make sense, it clearly gave you an idea of what you had to do next. It was the hand holding I needed, pushing me in the right direction, while giving me the freedom to explore – To a certain extent, anyway. After all, the typical Zelda progression was built on similar foundations to the Metroid series: Explore until you reach a dead end, find an item/ability to help you progress, backtrack and use that item or ability to find new areas.
From Ocarina of Time onwards, future games would slowly begin to not only hold your hand but keep you firmly on your bike with stabilisers, for fear you would fall off. Each new release would mollycoddle the player with early game tutorials, with some instances where you’d be repeating tasks over and over again in the early hours that would only be used once or twice in the game proper. Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword were the nadir of tutorial-itis, as good as those games were once part those plodding introduction segments.
If you haven’t seen, read or played by now – Breath of The Wild strips all of that away. Actually, being more specific – It strips most of the well-worn Zelda formula away, leaving a game that has more in common with that original NES release, than any other game since. And yet, it goes even further with that level of simplicity – Where any previous Zelda game (or most games with a level of player freedom) allows you to explore only as far as the developers want you to with your current game progression, abilities or skill; this latest game technically gives you everything you need to finish the game, within the first hour or so.
Want proof? Within days of release, speedrunners already took the game apart, going from start to finish in around an hour. Anyone can do it, so long as you have the skill – But most of us don’t, or even want to. Practically every sheer wall is climbable if you have the stamina. Every enemy is can be defeated if you have the skill and/or the equipment. Your freedom to explore is bound only by how you choose to do it.
And with that freedom, comes a sense of adventure that comes beyond anything any prior Zelda game has ever had, aside from the very first game. But this time, it’s forged by three decades of lessons learnt through the multitude of Link’s adventures that Nintendo brought us over that time. It’s packaged in a world that has rules based on exaggerated versions of real world physics and chemistry – Fire burns wood and grass which, creates heat that generates wind currents that can be used to lift objects high. The Stasis ability allows the player to freeze an object’s state, allowing them to store these objects with potential energy which is unleashed as soon as the Stasis state finishes, throwing objects into the distance. Climb that object before it’s launched and you can travel along with it. There is no “correct” way to complete puzzles or even play the game – There’s only your way.
Thirty years after The Legend of Zelda’s promise to give you a world of exploration and adventure and Breath of The Wild has delivered it. It isn’t a game for everyone, and it is certainly not without its flaws and annoyances. But if you are looking for an example of a game that shows the potential of what games can achieve, then look no further.