The Death of a Legend: Breath of the Wild and the end of The Legend of Zelda


I know I’ve probably lost some of you (or induced some level of rage) with the title of this article so, if you’re still here, I appreciate it.

I’m not here to tell you that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a bad game. It isn’t. And I understand that The Legend of Zelda series is a cornerstone of video game history, and is beloved by gamers the world over. My favorite game of all time is from this venerable series. What I am here to tell you, however, is that Breath of the Wild is an awful Legend of Zelda game. And more importantly than it being a singular blemish on an otherwise storied franchise, Breath of the Wild will make an impact on the series that I’m not sure it can recover from. Before we get to all the doom and gloom, let’s go back in time a little and look at another entry in the Legend of Zelda series that illustrates the issues Breath of the Wild has.

Skull Kid wearing the titular Majora’s Mask. Credit: BagoGames

I remember finishing Ocarina of Time when I was very young. Even if you don’t play video games, you’ve probably heard of that one. A classic game, one often lauded as the best game of all time. I credit it as sparking my interest in video games in general. It’s not my favorite. My favorite, and my personal best game of all time, is its sequel The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask.  Picking up right where Ocarina ends, the game begins with Link riding in the woods with his trusted horse Epona and his fairy companion Navi (the source of all the “Hey! Listen” memes). Within an hour, Link has his horse, his fairy, and even his ocarina stolen from him by the game’s villain Skull Kid who, if you were more keen than I was at the time, you actually encountered at some point in the prior game.

He leaves you all alone essentially left for dead in the woods. The music swells every time Skull Kid is on screen, interrupting the normal melodies the franchise is known for with these discordant tones that highlight how unnerving this villain is. You chase Skull Kid through the forest, and eventually into the main city of Clock Town, and have a final confrontation with him atop a Clock Tower. Where Skull Kid tries to drop the moon from the sky and kill everybody. The only way to survive the encounter is to wrest control of your magical ocarina back from Skull Kid and use its power to travel back in time. After doing so, players are met with this visual.

Credit: Kigsz

You now have three days to stop the apocalypse from happening. Fun fact, this game is rated appropriate for children above ten.

As you can imagine I was terrified while playing this game. The first few hours are seared into my memory, but not because of the nightmares (and yes, there were plenty). It hooked me harder than any game has before. And it doesn’t get any less terrifying as the game continues, or on subsequent play-throughs. People have discussed this game and it’s themes for decades, from the game representing Link dealing with the stages of grief  to a theory that Link is actually dead the entire time. But, beyond all of the horror, the reason this game is so timeless is because it took a risk, while simultaneously staying true to the spirit of the series that came before. The game obviously has quite the strong narrative and is backed up by all facets of the game. As the three days progress, the music becomes more frantic and tense, building upon the suspense of the moon drawing ever closer. The townspeople begin to become more and more panicked as their doom draws near. But there’s evident progress being made. You can help some of these townsfolk, alleviating their moods. As you travel far and wide and meet new people, you make significant impacts upon their lives, and in turn they lend you their greatest strengths and abilities to help stop the oncoming disaster.  You feel Link getting stronger and stronger with every completed quest, every conquered dungeon. By the end of Link’s journey, you feel like a true hero.

Breath of the Wild has none of this.

You can go anywhere, but why would you? Credit: tofoli.douglas

Breath of the Wild feels like a hollow shell of an entry into the Legend of Zelda franchise. Its music is minimalistic at best, nonexistent at worst. There is no sense of progression, since most of the items and gear you obtain break after usage. There aren’t dungeons to speak of, the puzzles and epic boss fights that the series is known for are toned down to the point of being bland. But the biggest offender is the lack of story. It’s barebones in its strongest moments, with some brief exposition in the first few hours, backed up by small memory snippets Link experiences only six times during the course of the entire game. The sense of adventure and the journey of Link to overcome his nemesis and become a hero is just gone. And what did we get for sacrificing nearly everything that made Zelda games great? A sprawling open world to explore. Unmitigated freedom to explore the rolling hills, scale the highest peaks, dive to the lowest depths.

Rock climbing, suddenly a feature. Credit: BagoGames

Except there’s nothing to find at any of these places. The world is a vast, boundless, and utterly empty. Devoid of all reward. The fun is supposed to be in the journey itself, but it simply  isn’t. With Breath of the Wild, Nintendo has sacrificed the essence of what made so many fall in love with this series over the years. Instead, fans of the series, you and I, received a game derivative of the popular open world RPG games that critics love and sell well. And the game was undoubtedly a success. Metacritic, an aggregate for game reviews, has the game listed at 97 out of 100, with multiple perfect scores listed. It is largely responsible for the success of Nintendo’s new home console, the Switch. As of June 2018, the game has sold over 9 million copies. Series producer Eiji Anonuma, in an interview with IGN, that going forward, the series will continue in the vein of Breath of the Wild, saying “I think for me, especially just in terms of the Zelda series, the incredible freedom that this game offers you and how well that’s been received…to me, it means that freedom, that level of freedom is something that needs to be maintained in Zelda games going forward.”

The critical success of Breath of the Wild cannot be denied. Whether or not the new take on the franchise will continue to be celebrated by fans remains to be seen. In the past, The Legend of Zelda was a game to set trends, not follow them. This series is one near and dear to my heart. I can only hope that the next time we get to stand in the shoes of the Hero of Time again, it actually feels heroic.

 

2 thoughts on “The Death of a Legend: Breath of the Wild and the end of The Legend of Zelda

  1. I have a lot of feelings about this. Breath of the Wild is my first Zelda experience and the Switch is the first console I’ve owned (having been primarily a PC gamer in the past). All of the negatives listed were positives in my gaming experience, but that may be the point. I can see how the creators have sacrificed story and complexity for a wider appeal. I loved the game, am obsessed even. And the truth is, I wasn’t interested in Zelda until BOTW, so for better or for worse, it worked.

    • I think that’s perfectly legitimate, the systems in place have are fine in isolation. The issue, for me, is that they don’t really mesh with the “DNA” so to speak of the games that came before. And, like we discussed, maybe that is what will drive a wider audience to enjoy the next decade of adventures alongside Link. As a player who fell in love with the past decade of games though, it stings to have some of the integral aspects of the series tossed to the wind.

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