Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild [no spoilers] review

My first experience with the Legend of Zelda franchise was the third installment “A Link to the Past”.  It was a fantastic game, and I instantly fell in love with it.   I played it many times over, explored every part of the map, and bomb every crack I could find.  I was a big proponent of not just beating a game, but completing it.  I learned the game to the point that I could help my friends with it over the phone with no frame of reference other than my memory.  

Concerning the first and second games, I didn’t play those until years later, and when I did, I didn’t appreciate them.  Both were extremely difficult.  I remember using the Game Genie with "Zelda 2" and the game just frozen after the Thunderbird boss fight and it didn’t proceed to the final battle.  Even with “cheating”, I couldn’t beat "Zelda 2".  To this day, I don’t have a memory of beating that game, and I think I may have beat the original "Legend of Zelda" (LoZ) but I did so on an emulator with save states.

Fast forward to the present, and I recently revisited LoZ on the NES Classic console.  I actually did research to learn where the heart containers were located and I got the white sword before entering the first dungeon.  It made the game much more enjoyable, as I didn't have the patience to explore the entire map.  I know there are clues throughout to tell me where the secrets are, but my goal was to beat it and complete it at 100%.  At the end of the day, I did it and it felt good.  Even though the NES Classic does provide save states also, I found the overall experience was more enjoyable, and still very hard even with 100% item collection.

I recently read a review by Shigeru Miyamoto that LoZ was supposed to encourage social interaction.  You were supposed to chat with your friends, discuss your findings, and proceed accordingly.  I remember playing "Super Mario Bros" in 1986 and my dad coming home from work to show me where a secret warp zone was.  I assume that he was discussing the game with a coworker who found it and I recall him being excited to share the news, so it makes sense that LoZ was treated the same way; I just didn't have that experience during my childhood.

With all that said, after three years of development, we finally have Breath of the Wild (BotW).  With each passing game, the developers have challenged themselves not only to make a fun game, but for each game to be a little bit different so the franchise wouldn't get tired or boring.  They didn't want each game to be (1) collect items, (2) find dungeon, (3) defeat boss, (4) save the Princess. 

While each game does celebrate variations on that theme, BotW reinvents them by going back to its roots - the original Legend of Zelda (LoZ).  When a player begins LoZ, he/she has no items, no weapons, nothing.  The player is dropped into a world where there are monsters that damage him and when his hearts are depleted, he dies and must start over from the beginning.

BotW does the exact same thing.  There are a few breadcrumbs at the start to help push the player in the right direction, but those can be ignored and the player can essentially explore in any direction.  Even with the minimal amount of stamina that the player starts out with, one can achieve great heights in climbing in certain areas.  The game doesn't stop him until he reaches a height or an area that is too cold to explore without the proper protection so he is forced to retreat and explore an area where the temperature is more moderate.

Enemies don't drop hearts or rupees, but they may be cooking a steak over a fire that Link can obtain and eat to replenish him.  The enemies may keep their weapons leaning on a log nearby while they enjoy the fire they've built, so if Link is quiet enough, he may be able to grab one to defend himself.

I don't want to say much more as it may be regarded as a spoiler, but the game encourages exploration and it hands the player nothing.  In beginning, the player might find himself using a tree branch and only having a few apples to survive.  Once the player interacts with people, animals, and enemies in the environment, is when the game really begins to take shape.  There is a joy in finding and having a direction in the game only to be distracted by a task one may stumble upon and wanting to solve it before proceeding.

At the time of this review, the game has been out for 20 days.  During said days I've played it a total of 31 times and my total play time is 55 hours and 17 minutes.  There are a total of [redacted] and I believe I found and completed 56 so far.  I've completed possibly half of the objectives in the main storyline.  I've completed many side quests.  I feel like I've only scratched 1/4 of this game and I love coming back to it every day.  There are a few issues and nitpicks that I could only really address in a spoiler discussion, but those aside, I find the game very rewarding and enjoyable.  When I'm not playing it, I'm thinking about what I want to do next when I'm playing it.  Then when I start playing it, with tasks in mind, I find that I'm taken off task by something else fun I find along the way.

Side note, I’m playing the Wii U version of BotW.   If you have a Wii U, this is a must have.   I can’t speak to a Switch experience, but if I didn’t own a Wii U, I would probably have bought one just to play this game.