The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Review

*Review based on the Nintendo Switch version*

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a beautiful contradiction. It is at once the grandest adventure Nintendo has ever made, and their most minimalistic. It defies the established conventions of the Zelda series, while simultaneously celebrating the franchise’s legacy. It’s Nintendo’s first foray into the open-world genre, and yet it’s the best game said genre has ever produced. In short, Breath of the Wild is nothing short of a masterpiece, and the new standard for the Zelda franchise.

When Nintendo claimed they were making this newest Zelda title an open-world experience, it was all too easy to assume Nintendo had done something they rarely choose to do, and caved in and conformed with more contemporary gaming conventions. Nintendo is usually known for going by the beat of their own drum, but it seemed Nintendo had finally opted to do what everyone else was doing. Though titles such as Grand Theft Auto and Skyrim earned their place in gaming history, the open-world genre has been teetering on overexposure for years now. Did we really need Nintendo to throw their hat in this ring?

As it turns out, Nintendo was still doing their own thing in regards to Breath of the Wild, as it redefines the very definition of open-world gaming in a way that makes the genre truly live up to its name.

Breath of the Wild begins with Link, the series’ iconic protagonist, awaking from a hundred-year slumber. His memories of his past are wiped clean by this mysterious sleep, and he is only awakened by the distant sound of a woman’s voice.

Link follows the echoing voice, which leads him out of his rejuvenating chamber, and grants him the Sheikah Slate, a mysterious tablet that becomes an invaluable tool in the upcoming adventure.

Link soon learns that, during his slumber, the evil Ganon has been sealed away within Hyrule Castle by Princess Zelda, with the princess having trapped herself within the castle to hold Ganon at bay.

Ganon – now more of a physical, evil presence than a man or monster – will soon break free from his century-long prison to wreak havoc on the world. Should Ganon break free, it would spell certain doom for Zelda and all of Hyrule.

It’s a simple enough plot, but it plays to the game’s benefit because – as is the case with the gameplay itself – it employs both a grand scope and a sense of minimalism, with the details of the plot being unfolded piece by piece only if the player seeks them out. The story has a certain sense of mystery about it, and searching for the pieces of the story to rekindle Link’s memories gives it a sense of personal intrigue.

The truth is, you are able to go straight to battle Ganon as soon as Link awakes from his slumber if you choose, as ill-advised as that may be. The way the adventure unfolds is left entirely to the player, making Breath of the Wild the most open-world of open-world games.

The very foundations of the Zelda series have been rearranged. No longer does Link need to go from one dungeon to the next, grabbing specific items in each dungeon to solve its puzzles, and be rewarded with a Heart Container and a story item upon felling its boss. Those elements are still there – the dungeons, the items, the puzzles, the Heart Containers, and so forth – but Nintendo has completely overhauled how they all fit together.

Link now relies on the myriad of weapons he finds along his journey, or picks up from defeated foes, instead of simply finding a new toy in each subsequent dungeon. Even the iconic Master Sword is an optional component of Link’s arsenal. There are no mandatory weapons, only what you can find.

The weapons can break upon repeated usage, leaving the player to take to battle more strategically than ever before. But certain enemy types may favor particular weapons, and certain regions may be more keen on particular elemental items than others, leaving the player to learn the best places to acquire their favorite weapons.

Similarly, the more puzzle-oriented items in Link’s inventory have found a new life, as they are simply abilities provided by the Sheikah Slate, and are all acquired within the game’s introductory segment.

Bombs – which now come in round and cuboid shapes, leaving players to contemplate the physics involved with the item and environment – are now magically produced through the Sheikah Slate, so there’s no need to stock up on them or to be teased with the traditional bomb flowers early on. The Shiekah Slate can also produce icy platforms in bodies of water, manipulate metallic objects like a magnet, and temporarily freeze objects in time, allowing Link to strike with a bevy of hits. Later on, the Sheikah Slate even gets a camera function, allowing you to take photos of the people and creatures of Hyrule to fill up an encyclopedia.

A Link Between Worlds gave players the opportunity to buy any of Link’s items from the get-go, but Breath of the Wild takes that idea a step further by turning Link’s most unique items into different abilities provided by a single starting item. It streamlines the Zelda experience for the better, simply by condensing Link’s abilities, which are used in various ways, as opposed to many tools that have singular functions.

Link can no longer find hearts hidden in grass or clay pots for health. Instead, Breath of the Wild is given a survival element, as Link has to find and craft his own means of healing within the game’s world.

You can hunt animals for meat, find various plants around the world, and collect monster parts from fallen foes. Though eating some of these items as they are can restore a little health, cooking items together can create meals which can not only recover a large amount of health, but also provide temporary bonuses, such as extra hearts or stamina, stronger resistance to heat or the cold, or boosts in defense or attack, among others.

This gives the Zelda series a whole new layer of depth and challenge. Now players have to take notice of the environment and its elements (you don’t want to be wearing metal armor during a thunderstorm), and will have to make stronger preparations before heading into enemy territory.

When your journey first begins, Link may seem pitifully weak, with only three hearts, a small bit of stamina, and barely enough space to carry weapons and shields. This is where Breath of the Wild once again changes up the Zelda formula.

Though Heart Containers are still found by conquering the story-focused dungeons, Link no longer has to search for four Heart Pieces to increase his maximum health. Instead, players can travel Hyrule seeking out Shrines.

Shrines are either found lying around Hyrule, or materialize after finishing a sidequest or meeting a certain requirement. The shrines work like smaller dungeons, usually consisting of a handful of rooms, each containing their own puzzles and hidden treasures. The puzzles involved in the shrines are one of the game’s greatest highlights, as most can be tackled in different ways depending on the player’s thinking. The creativity and brevity of the shrine puzzles really bring to mind the various chambers of the Portal games, and I’d even say their consistent brilliance makes Breath of the Wild arguably the closest thing we have to Portal 3.

Once the shrines are completed, Link is awarded with a Spirit Orb. Every four Spirit Orbs Link obtains can be traded to goddess statues for greater maximum health or stamina, giving a whole new life to one of Zelda’s most recurring traditions. Stamina is used for running, climbing, swimming and gliding, thus making increasing your maximum stamina a worthwhile alternative to giving Link more health.

Similarly, there are Korok seeds that can be found by finding the many playful Koroks, who are hiding all over the place. Koroks may have you do something like lifting a rock at the top of a mountain or shooting flying targets from a certain standing point to make them appear. The Koroks will reward you with the seeds for finding them, and the seeds can be traded to a particularly large Korok for extra space in your inventory.

Finding things like a new shrine or a Korok hiding place (among other things) help fill Hyrule with things to do. This is a great thing, because the Hyrule of Breath of the Wild is absolutely massive, but that size wouldn’t mean anything if there were no substance to it. Thankfully, Nintendo really thought about how to keep things fun and exciting at every turn, so no matter what pace you choose to tackle the adventure, there’s always something to be accomplished, and a strong sense of discovery to be had.

Speaking of the size of the game’s world, it would have been easy for the simple act of traveling around it to become a chore in less capable hands. Thankfully, Breath of the Wild’s developers have streamlined the ways Link can get around Hyrule, meaning that traveling never becomes tedious.

Link can climb virtually any surface in Hyrule, and a paraglider gained early in the adventure means you can climb one mountain and glide to the next, if you so desire. The only surfaces Link can’t climb are found in the aforementioned shrines. Otherwise, player’s can find many clever ways for Link to get from one point to the next.

Additionally, Link can fast travel by teleporting to discovered shrines, as well as Towers (which unlock more pieces of the map when successfully ascended). So if you need to get to the other side of Hyrule in a hurry, you can simply bring up the map screen to teleport there, provided you’ve discovered a means to do so.

Unfortunately, this all brings me to one of Breath of the Wild’s few disappointing elements. Along Link’s adventures, Link can find wild horses, which can be tamed and registered to stables for later use. As you might expect, horses can move faster on foot than Link, but they might be stopped in their tracks by a large rock or tree, whereas Link can simply climb over it. It makes sense, certainly. But because Link is already a more versatile traveller, I rarely went through the trouble of taming horses, even if they are faster on foot. It’s ultimately a small quibble, but I do wish I had more incentive to claim a new steed.

Another highlight of the game are its more traditional story dungeons, which are only traditional in the sense that they are part of the main story, involve puzzles and enemies, and end with a boss. Otherwise, they greatly deviate from the series’ norm.

The dungeons are wonderfully creative, and come in the form of giant, animal-like constructs that would make the Power Rangers jealous. You usually have to go through a mini-adventure just getting to the dungeons through one of the lands of Hyrule’s different races (Gorons, Zoras, Rito and Gerudo), then you have a miniature showdown with the dungeon itself before making your way inside. Once inside, you’ll notice that the dungeons are as open-ended as anything else in the game, as they each contain five terminals which must be activated, but can be activated in whatever order the player chooses.

The best aspect of the dungeons is that, rather than a straightforward layout, the player can actually manipulate them from the inside. Rearranging the positioning of the dungeons and changing the perspective of their puzzles is a beautifully realized bit of creativity, and helps elevate the dungeon design as some of the finest in the series, despite their relative short length.

If there’s any complaint to be had with the dungeons (and I’m grasping at straws here), it’s that – despite the wonderfully varied locations they are found in and the creativity of their level design – the insides of the dungeons are all aesthetically identical, and their bosses also share similar appearances with each other.

Though that’s a non-issue in the long run, as the art direction and graphics, as a whole, are quite stunning. Aside from the Wii U re-releases of Wind Waker and Twilight Princess, this is the first true Zelda game presented in HD, and it looks absolutely beautiful. The environments are relatively realistic in appearance, and the game is so detailed that you can even see the differences in weather between different lands in the distance. The characters are cel-shaded a la Wind Waker or Skyward Sword, which adds to the game’s visual charms, and serves as a unique contrast with the environments.

There even seems to be something of a Studio Ghibli inspiration emanating from the art direction. Ancient robots (called Guardians) are strangely reminiscent of those found in Castle in the Sky, while many of the environments might remind one of Princess Mononoke. Even the walking dungeons may bring Howl’s Moving Castle to mind. Breath of the Wild feels as much like a Studio Ghibli game as Ni no Kuni, and it only adds to the game’s appeal.

Breath of the Wild is equally pleasing to the ears, with a beautifully minimalistic soundtrack that also seems evocative of the soundtracks to Studio Ghibli films. I’ve seen a number of comments disregarding the soundtrack as not sounding “Zelda enough,” but I find it to be a perfect fit for the nature of the game, with its gentle piano melodies and ambient tunes bringing the game world to life.

Similarly, the game features some exquisite sound effects. The different armors and weapons, as well as Link’s interactions with different environments, all have their own sounds, which helps add to the atmosphere and life of the world in a way not dissimilar to Dark Souls.

Perhaps more notable is that Breath of the Wild is the first Zelda game to feature voice acting during its major cutscenes. Though Link is his usual, silent self and Ganon’s status as an evil substance means that two pieces of the franchise’s trifecta remain voiceless, Zelda, along with various other characters, have speaking roles. The voice acting may not go down as some of the best in gaming, but it’s solid and works when it needs to.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild fine tunes the gameplay and combat first introduced in Ocarina of Time, and similarly perfects the explorative elements of Wind Waker. In the process, it also throws in a little bit of Skyrim, Dark Souls, Portal, Uncharted, Shadow of the Colossus and Studio Ghibli. The end result creates an exhilarating and unforgettable adventure that allows players to tackle it however they choose (I put more than 30 hours into it before I attempted the first story dungeon). Its execution is so well done that Breath of the Wild should rank along the likes of Super Mario World, A Link to the Past and the Super Mario Galaxy titles as one of Nintendo’s finest achievements.

Despite all of its inspirations, Breath of the Wild is still very much the Zelda experience we all know and love. In fact, it may just be the best of the legendary lot.

 

10

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25 thoughts on “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Review

  1. Rachel

    What an in-depth review! I haven’t played too far into the game yet, but I will say that Nintendo have really out-done themselves this time. They thought of everything and I remember being annoyed that they kept pushing the game back. Now I totally understand why they did.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. themancalledscott Post author

      Thank you very much! This review ended up being much longer than expected, but there’s just so much to talk about in regards to Breath of the Wild. Definitely one of Nintendo’s finest.

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      1. themancalledscott Post author

        I admit it was a difficult thing to write. I took a mental note of several things I wanted to include in my review, but as I was writing some of them, it just came off as rambling, and it was reading more like a manual than a review, so believe it or not this review could have been even longer!

        It definitely is an overwhelming game, but in a good way. There’s just so much to do, and new things to discover at every turn. My hat’s off to Nintendo for this one.

        Like

      2. themancalledscott Post author

        I should probably start making physical lists of notes for my reviews, myself. Currently I just try to remember stuff and then put it in the review. Probably not the best way to go about it.

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  2. Mr. Panda

    Fantastic in-depth review! I can tell you put in your all for this 200th review, and it shows! Just like Link, you left no stone unturned (yahaha!). I pretty much agree with everything you said, down to the Ghibli comparisons. I’m glad you enjoyed it so much, giving it the coveted 10. I know you’re more excited for Super Mario Odyssey before this came out (as was I), so I eagerly await that review! Maybe it will be 250 or some other big number too! Congrats on 200! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. themancalledscott Post author

      Thank you kindly, as always. 🙂

      Yep, of the 200 games I’ve reviewed so far, this is only the fifth 10 I’ve awarded (there are only a few others I’ve played that I would award such a score).

      I am still very much looking forward to Super Mario Odyssey. If it can live up to its goal of being a Mario 64 type game with Galaxy’s level of polish and execution, it would make a perfect companion piece to BotW.

      Mario Odyssey would certainly be a worthy “milestone” review, so we’ll see how close I am to one by the time it’s released. Originally, I was going to review a different game for number 200, but I was in the 190s by the time BotW was released, so I couldn’t resist.

      Thanks again.

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      1. Mr. Panda

        That’s awesome. Maybe Super Mario Odyssey may be your sixth. And not only does BotW deserve your 10, but it’s worthy of being your 200th review. What a milestone! I admire how much you get out, and I hope you keep it up! Always look forward to your reviews! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. themancalledscott Post author

        Thank you very much! I try to keep things updated as often as possible, so it’s good to know it’s appreciated.

        Here’s hoping Super Mario Odyssey joins the 10 ranks. Mario has a way of reaching that high mark.

        Thanks again for your continued readership and comments. Hopefully I can start doing some YouTube stuff soon as well. On top of trying to learn game design…

        Liked by 1 person

  3. AfterStory

    Excellent review as always my friend! Such a surprising score too 😉 Breath of the Wild is such a masterpiece and I’m constantly drawn back to it. I honestly think that BOTW ruined all future video games for me; I’m currently juggling between Horizon and Persona 5 but BOTW keeps distracting me.
    That’s a pretty good observation about the horses, they are rather useless when compared to Link’s versatile traversal ability. Combining the Rito Champion’s ability and fast travel, there really wasn’t much of a reason to ride a horse.
    I finished the game at 80 hours and I’ve already clocked in an extra 20 hours just roaming around and completing side/extra odds and ends. It simply has never failed to captivate me. A breathtaking experience to the very end.
    I’m glad you enjoyed it as much as the rest of us 🙂 and congrats on the 200th review! Such a grand achievement 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. themancalledscott Post author

      Thanks for the kind words, as always. 🙂

      Breath of the Wild has certainly raised the bar in many ways. It will be hard to not think less of other games because of it.

      I really want to get Persona 5, but I still need to play Personas 3 and 4. They’ve been on my to do list for a good while.

      I liked getting some horses, especially the secret ones like the Royal Horse and the Giant Horse (and the Lord of the Mountain, though sadly you can’t keep him). But after a while, I felt it wasn’t worth it. I can get to so many places as Link, and by the time I found enough shrines and towers, I could just teleport to the other side of the map, so I didn’t have much need for horses.

      You finished the game sooner than I did. I beat it at 105 hours. I wanted to get all 120 shrines first, and some of them were hard to find. 😛

      With Yooka-Laylee seemingly disappointing many (I’m reserving judgement until I play it myself), Super Mario Odyssey may be the one game that could possibly end up as entertaining as BotW. After all, if there’s one series that could potentially match (or top) Zelda, it’s Mario.

      Thanks again for the kind words! On top of the 200 game reviews milestone, I have another milestone approaching really, REALLY soon, so stay tuned.

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  4. Red Metal

    When playing Breath of the Wild, I can see elements of Shadow of the Colossus, Dark Souls, and Chrono Trigger. The world kind of has a quality akin to an empty void much like Shadow of the Colossus. Like Dark Souls, a large part of the experience is figuring out how to survive. Similar to Chrono Trigger, there’s nothing stopping you from attempting to face the final boss barely an hour into the experience. And you’re right, when going through the shrines, I was thinking of Portal in that they introduce the main mechanics early, and the remaining shrines are clever variants on those skills you pick up in the tutorial areas. It’s a very interesting take on the series, and I’m enjoying it so far.

    There was a moment when one of those guardian statues was aiming for Link and I managed get him to jump off a castle gate as the beam passed right over his head. That’s one of the cool things about sandbox games like this. If that was a scripted event, escaping it would’ve been predictable, but because I was playing the game my way, that’s a cool action scene I created myself.

    I’m only a few hours in, but I’ve really been enjoying it so far. Isn’t it great when a game actually lives up to the hype?

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. themancalledscott Post author

      It is indeed great when I play a game that manages to live up to the hype that preceded it. It seems to happen less and less (probably because hype keeps getting more and more ludicrous).

      Very well said about being able to create your own action scenes. I never thought about it that way, but it totally makes sense.

      Glad we noticed the same similarities to other games. All great comparisons, to be sure. BotW almost feels like a love letter to a number of my favorite games.

      By the way, did you get the game on Wii U or Switch? If you don’t mind, could I ask for your friend code (if Switch) or Nintendo ID (if Wii U)?

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
      1. Red Metal

        Yeah, why don’t you heavily promote a good game more often, critics? It’s not that hard with a little practice. That they went crazy over Undertale is a step in the right direction, to be sure.

        Anyway, I got the Wii-U version. I sent you the ID to your Gmail account.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: 200 Video Game Reviews! | Wizard Dojo

  6. Matt

    I hadn’t thought of the Studio Ghibli parallels, but you are absolutely right! Thanks for making me see them and thanks for the wonderful detailed review. I am glad we agree on how the inside of the dungeons could have used a better aesthetic work! I am sure Nintendo will get to it when the next Zelda comes around.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. themancalledscott Post author

      There definitely seemed to be a Studio Ghibli influence permeating from Breath of the Wild, a number of elements seem like obvious tributes (the Lord of the Mountain secret, for example, seems to be a blatant homage to the Deer God from Princess Mononoke).

      Yeah, the dungeon aesthetics could have used more variety, and I kind of wish not all of the bosses were avatars of Ganon (or at the very least, I wish they didn’t look so similar), but it’s ultimately a non-issue. The game is so brilliant it’s hard to hold that against it.

      Liked by 1 person

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