I have mixed feelings towards the Zelda franchise, on one hand I really enjoy the 2D entries with Link between Worlds being my favourite in the series. The 3D entries however never fully connected with me, they’d always have the same consistent flaws that make them slow and boringly easy. Breath of the Wild however seems to address a lot of my criticisms, here’s how Nintendo is trying to address and alleviate some of the franchises fatigue.
For the most part each game has a very simple story; Ganon or some other evil entity kidnaps Zelda prompting you to complete several trials to prove your worth as a hero in order to fend off the dark forces. This basic story complemented the simple design of the 2D games which were focus on getting you out in the field without intrusion as fast as possible. Nintendo however seems to have the idea that the story they’ve crafted is much grander than it should be and they dedicate hours of cutscenes in their 3D games.
So what we have is gameplay being constantly interrupted by Nintendo’s effort to be more “cinematic”. Wind waker’s cinematic attempt resulted in a heavily criticized mandatory stealth section. Twilight Princess’s attempt to set up Link’s background at the start of the game was criticized for being too slow. Skyward Sword’s attempt to tell a more personal story was heavily criticized for making the game too linear. The Legend of Zelda is beloved for dropping you in the middle of the world and allowing you to explore at your own pace. Players don’t want to see sages telling you how awesome you are while Link stares blank faced in silence, they want to play the bloody game. Breath of the Wild however seems to understand that the best way to tell its story is not to tell it all, let’s do a quick comparison.
In Twilight Princess the trailer is filled with epic orchestral music along with a dark and edgy tone, featuring other characters and the evil darkness you face. It all evokes the feeling of setting off on a hero’s journey to save the world.
Breath of the Wild however starts off with a simple piano tune, we don’t see any other story characters like Zelda, in fact we only get a small glimpse of the dark forces that we’ll encounter. Instead the trailer is purely focused on the world itself and the wildlife that lives in it, we don’t see any towns, only the broken down churches gives any indication that the place once held intelligent life. All this evokes feelings of a Ghibli movie where the world is the character and you are alone to explore it. The trailer does a beautiful job of announcing that they finally brought back the series grand sense of adventure.
The best I could say about the 3D Zelda’s combat is that it is simply serviceable, it does the job but it is boring. Most of your enemy encounters are resolved simply by holding the shield and waiting to hit them back. Wind Waker had some interesting ideas like stealing weapons but the games lack of difficulty made it completely worthless. Skyward Sword added a stamina bar and weapon degradation but the motion controls made it not appeal to all players. I always thought that if they simply ported Skyward Sword’s combat without all the motion control it would be decent, Breath of the Wild seems to have gotten the message but they also expanded it a lot to make it more interesting.
A lot of old mechanics have returned like stealing weapons, stamina bar and weapon degradation but none of these would be useful unless the whole combat system was change to be a lot more dynamics. Combat this time seems similar to a RPG game in way of customization; this time around you don’t get the Master Sword immediately, instead you are given a wide range of weapons with various attributes.
Axes are slower but powerful…
While others like spears are fast and deadly
The bow itself comes with a “bullet” time mechanic to pull off trickshots.
Enemies are proven to have tougher AI in groups and Guardians that take off chunks of your health with their laser blasts.
To combat this you have a wider range of combat options other than simply locking on and holding up your shield. You can now have different clothes and armors to equip and a fury attack that’s activated by a successful dodge and parry. You are also able to sneak up on enemies and firing arrows now have a visible drop. The game seems to have taken the best aspect of Dark Souls and yet retain the accessibility of the old combat
The worlds from each game vary in the sense of wonder, for example Twilight Princess had huge expanses of nothingness while Wind Waker’s islands lead to many possibilities. But what all the games shared thing in common is a lack of reason to truly explore. In Zelda the main incentive to explore the world is to gain access to chest rewards which contains either heart containers or rupees. Heart containers are useless because combat is way too easy while rupees are constantly hoarded and never spent since there is nothing useful to buy. Items like potions or ammo are almost never required because you can easily find them when you cut grass. Collectables like golden bugs are also mostly useless because your reward for getting them is even more rupee. It got to the point that I didn’t even bother opening chests in Twilight Princess because I always had a full wallet.
Breath of Wild negates this problem by conforming to a more RPG archetype. The first major change is that grass no longer spawns hearts or rupees, completely negating the hoarding problem. In order to regain health you have to collect food like fruits, hunt animals and cook them, meanwhile you can only collect rupees either from chests or selling items to vendors. Right immediately the game already gives you an incentive to explore, by adding fruits, animals and weapons you are rewarded by setting off the beaten path.Previous games also had rather static worlds that are only affected by specific items like bombs, but Breath of the Wild expands on the interactivity by including physics.
Wind now plays a much bigger role in the game, arrows and fires are now follow physics and an unattended campfire can lead to a bushfire.
Link realistically rolls when he’s blown away from bombs
Logs falldown down realistically.
You have to change clothes base on the weather conditions.
You can also dive, climb any walls, hand glide and horse ride to traverse the land.
All of these additions makes traversing the world more interesting and the sense of adventure has never been more amplified.
3D Zelda gets a lot of criticism of simply following the format of Ocarina of Time but it really seems their shaking things up and learning from it's predecessors. Eiji Aonuma stated that Link between worlds taught him that the franchise doesn’t require handholding and in this new title you can really see that he is really breaking the old traditions imposed by the previous game. Perhaps it’s too early at this point to tell but it really feels as if this game will finally be the one to return to its roots and find creative ways to retain its sense of adventure.
Also check out these harcore Link skills!