The Hero of Time Finally Returns
There are very few gaming moments that were as revolutionary and beautiful as standing in Hyrule Field for the first time in Ocarina of Time. Stepping out into the magical world of Hyrule, no longer pixelated or two dimensional, I couldn't help but just stand still for a moment. I stared out into an open field that for the first time I could entirely explore on my own. I looked up and saw Death Mountain towering over me, terrifying and yet begging to be climbed. I gazed into the vast depths of Lake Hylia with a sense of awe, just yearning to jump in and find out what awaited me at the bottom. For the first time, I could be the Hero of Time, and I could be him on my own terms. For the first time, I WAS the Hero.
It was these moments that changed gaming into an art form. It created a whole new way to tell a story, and paved the way for new genres. These moments were so ground breaking and unforgettable that any attempt to try and recreate them would surely fail. And for years it kind of did exactly that. I'm not saying that Nintendo didn't bring out great Zelda games. I mean, Majora's Mask was a step in the right direction, but the story didn't quite hit the mark that Ocarina of Time did. Windwaker was Nintendo's next attempt to try and recreate the story that everyone fell in love with so much. The beloved cell-shaded art style, care free and happy attitude, and ocean exploring were what made the game great; but they were also what made the game fall short. Then Twilight Princess was released. It went back to the darker roots of the franchise, and brought the series closer to the masterpiece it could have been. Using the new Wii controls the control scheme was new and invigorating, and Links relationship with his new friend Midna was beautiful and heart wrenching. But the world seemed bland, and didn't have the same sense of exploration the others had.
Nintendo kept pouring out new games, that while decent in their own way, never lived up to the greatness that was Ocarina of Time. What would make Breath of the Wild any different? Keeping up to date on videos, and gameplay trailers, I became apart of the hype along with everyone else. Although I was excited, I expected the same slight disappointment that followed all the other releases. I picked up the Nintendo Switch and my copy of Breath of the Wild from my local GameStop at an early release, got home, set up the Switch and loaded up Breath of the Wild with excitement. I walked out into Hyrule Field, and just stood still for a moment. From the very first step I took into the light, not only was I the Hero of Time, I was 6 years old again.
The Open World of Hyrule
The second I stepped out into the world I was hit with just how insanely huge it is. Things that seem only a few hundred yards away, take over 10 minutes to travel to. The thing that makes the world so astounding, is how real and believable it seems. I would adventure to the tops of mountains, where its so cold that Link will freeze to death unless he has either warm clothes, a torch or a sword that's on fire. I took a journey to Death mountain and it suddenly became so hot that my wooden shield burst into flames leaving me weaponless while enemies attacked me from the lava. While trudging my way through a dark swamp I would see my screen flash and hear the roar of thunder as rain would start pouring down. I remember the first time I got outrageously confused because I didn't take off my metal helmet and sword and got electrocuted by lightning. It was these little interactions in the world that awe struck me. Every time I slipped off of a cliff because it was wet; Every time I swung my sword and saw the grass in front of me get cut and I watched little bugs fly out; I realized how much thought and effort was put into this game. The creators of Breath of the Wild partnered with Monolith Soft, the makers of Xenobloade Chronicles, to help them forge this epic wonderland and man does it show. The wonderful world has all sorts of incredible landscapes to explore. You journey through towering ruins of an old coliseum, to beautiful 400 foot waterfalls, to the dense and wet forest of the Thunder Plateau, to gigantic barren cliffs, through a vast desert, down to a beautiful tropical area with little islands. Every environment that you enter, has its own enemies and wild animals that just make sense. With enough determination you can get to absolutely all of these places whenever you want to. They are all so vastly different from each other and yet all apart of the same world. It's breath taking at times.
The Beauty Is In The Details
Usually when I play an open world game it isn't ridiculously easy to pull my attention away from what I'm doing. When I play a game, I usually am so story driven that I power through main quests and whatever advances the story. Breath of the Wild was the first Open World game I ever played where I got truly side tracked the whole time. One of the most beautiful experiences I have ever had gaming had absolutely nothing to do with the story. The sun was setting as I defeated a group of enemies that left me hurt and all of my weapons broken so I climbed a cliff into a forest area with a beautiful waterfall and started picking plants to make healing elixirs. I turned around to leave and as this beautiful oriental style music started playing, an incredibly large blue serpent like dragon emerged from the top of this waterfall. I ran over to a bridge to get a better look, and it just slowly flew. So incredibly graceful and fierce at the same time, it just carelessly flew over me and into the sunset. The solemn and mysterious music stopped, and as quickly as it had showed up, the dragon vanished. And I just sat there for a few minutes, in fantastical wonder. I am not a good enough writer to be able to articulate how absolutely magical it was.
One of the things I thought was incredible was that the second you wake up as Link, you can pretty much march right in to Hyrule Castle to confront Ganon. Everything in front of the castle will pretty much whoop your ass, but the game leaves it open to you. This is remarkable because the game doesn't make you go through all of these useless side quests before you can beat the game. It shows you that it is valuable to have an adventure. After the brief tutorial you get in the beginning, you are left to discover things on your own. You are meant to think for yourself, and come up with your own strategies. You know you have to go to a cold mountainous area, and when you try you quickly freeze to death. Your thought is "Oh man, I need to stay warm while climbing" and the game makes you find out how to do it in your own way. Because of this, every single one of my friends solved these challenges in a different way. I found a chest piece that kept me warm in the mountains, one of my friends used a lit torch to keep him warm, one other friend found hot peppers and cooked them to make an elixir to keep him warm, and another friend skipped the part altogether and was in a completely different part of the world I didn't find yet. And it was like this with LITERALLY everything. I would get to a large camp of enemies sitting around a campfire guarding a chest and I would immediately take them on. I jumped off of a cave they were sitting in front of, and in mid air I blasted them with an explosive arrow that blew them all up as I gently glided down for the chest. My friend snuck up and assassinated them all one by one silently with his bow, one friend managed to sneak in and steal their weapons away from them, and one friend dressed up like one of them and just walked right the hell past them and looted the chest. This is what makes this game so damn beautiful. There is no wrong way to do anything.
It is incredibly difficult to create a completely Open World game that still makes you care about the story. Breath of the Wild MADE me care. In the beginning they hand you one of the main missions in the game, and its to restore Links memories by finding almost a dozen locations just by looking at a photo you have. Once you find the location, Link is hit with a sudden memory of something that happened to him before he was put into his stasis, and you watch a movie scene. You go through all of these movie scenes putting together the broken pieces of Links life, and you cant help but feel attached to him. I felt like I was learning about my past and emotions along with Link. These movie scenes were no longer than a minute, but each one told such a large story about why Link is doing what he's doing. The movies climax with Link protecting Zelda in a heart wrenching scene, and Zelda saving him and putting him in the stasis so he could stay alive. As I watched, I felt my heart break for Link. This stoic hero, wanted nothing more than to protect Zelda and he almost died doing it. And he is willing to do it all over to save her and Hyrule again WITHOUT A SECOND THOUGHT. After that moment I traveled through the rain and darkness, walked right into Hyrule Castle, killed everything in my path, until I finally met him; Ganon. Ganon jumped to me, and roared in my face as menacingly as he could. And without moving a god damn inch, Link stared him in his eyes and proceeded to show him why the hell he came. Goosebumps. Every Time.
When the Nintendo Switch first showed off what it was capable of, there were a large amount of negative comments from multiple news sources I follow. I saw comments such as "Zelda is dead, along with Nintendo", and "This is the age of online multiplayer, Zelda wont ever sell anymore", and "Legend of Zelda peaked years ago". I would be lying if I said I disagreed with all of the comments. But every time I saw a video of gameplay or a poster, I couldn't help but feel a bit excited. I picked it up on a sudden impulse, and I can truly say that it was a decision that changed my perspective on games forever. I will just come right out and say it; Breath of the Wild is the best open world game ever created. It isn't my favorite, (The Witcher 3 holds that title) but I will without a doubt say its the best. The world is absolutely beautiful, with a color palette and art style that stands out from so many other games. The music is wonderful and brings new takes on classic Legend of Zelda songs. The story feels so damn personal once you go through it and took me through an emotional rollercoaster. There are so many little details in the game mechanics that I keep finding new ways to kill enemies or new ways to travel and I have over 150 hours into the game. There were a lot of people that hated the fact that almost all of your weapons break, but I loved it. The game throws in a little bit of a survival aspect and forces you to become resourceful with what you have. It makes you think about your fights before you have them, and makes you a master with every weapon and fighting style by the end of the game.
The thought of saving Zelda in the end and killing Ganon was almost too much for me to handle because it meant that the adventure was over. It meant I had to go back to my normal, boring life of not being in Hyrule. Breath of the Wild made me realize that there was something missing from a lot of video games. There are so many generic games that companies churn out because they need to hit a deadline, like the last like 4 Assassins Creed games, Halo 5, and every Call of Duty game since Modern Warfare. So many big name companies I feel have been making their games with no substance to them. I think Breath of the Wild is a turning point for the gaming world. It revitalized arguably the best franchise ever, and elevated it to a point where its untouchable. It is an entirely different game than every other Zelda before it, and that's okay. The best part about playing video games is that it puts you into a world that's better than the one you are living in and makes you a hero no matter who you are. Maybe we didn't need another Ocarina of Time. We needed a reminder of why we started playing video games. Breath of the Wild did that for me. And I know that somewhere, it helped show a little kid that maybe they could be a Hero after all.
A Masterpiece. Plain and simple.