Breath of the Wild Has Stolen My Life

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The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has consumed my world. I am facing an overpowering addiction, and am loving every minute of it. I can’t not talk about this game that is taking over my life.

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Week One: Exploration

Video game grinding has never been an issue for me. While some may try to find the quickest route to the end, I’ve always reveled in exploration. That’s why the Metroid Prime series was a thousand times more interesting to me than the objectively more successful Halo franchise. In Halo‘s main campaign, for most games at least, the player follows a linear path having the story told to them as they shoot a succession of silly bad guys. In the Metroid Prime series, while there was certainly a linear story and certain objects that had to be met before others could open up, there was a sense of adventure, as players could go off the beaten path, photograph and study random plant and animal life, experience environmental changes, and fight certain bad guys out of order.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was designed with me in mind. As soon as I completed the opening plateau section, which took me a while as I wanted to find every unlockable I could before moving on, I set out into the world. The first house I stopped at offered me a Shrine-seeking quest involving a cursed statue, but I ignored it, preferring to push on to a menacing-looking bridge filled with enemies way more powerful than any of my weapons at that point. After several ignoble deaths, I persevered. The next several days were spent exploring as many places as I could, seeking out Shrines – sometimes just for the purposes of finding travel points – and treasure.

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I scaled mountains that pushed beyond my limits, sweated my way through the deserts where the sun beat down by day and biting cold by night, struggled through frozen tundra while eating as many warm meals as I could, and rushed through lava fields, drinking tonics to protect from fire while avoiding instant-kill lasers from patrolling Guardians. Each location came with its own rewards and challenges, often providing easier means for transgressing after initial struggles (it took me every last fireproof potion before I reached a shop where someone would sell me a fireproof suit).

It was glorious.

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Week Two: The Main Story

After finally reaching the top of Akkala Tower, the map had been uncovered. I still hadn’t explored everywhere yet (part of me wonders how possible that is), but I’d uncovered a lot. Some areas were clearly meant to be found later, like a literal bottomless pit surrounded by the game’s equivalent of devil-worshiping iconography, and some areas proved just too daunting without the upgrades that would come with the main story and additional Shrines.

So I returned to the main story. This was now an entirely new game.

Voice acting and more cinematic cutscenes certainly placed this game above the rest of the Zelda pack, but the story itself was enthralling. Previous games in the series, going back to the very beginning, allowed players to re-name the hero (I never did, partially because I’m a traditionalist when it comes to story, and partially because I’m boring), this game firmly established the hero as Link. He is, however, a Link with no memory of his heroic past, the friends who love him, or the people who need him. It’s clear – by the very nature of this being a video game – that Link is inherently heroic, even if he doesn’t recall the whys or hows of it all.

The story also provided secondary and tertiary stories. The eponymous princess of Hyrule has a surprisingly deep character arc even as it is told – often out of order depending on the player – in snippets of flashback. Those that remember Link’s former glory days have also been changed, and watching both their present fortunes or misfortunes, and their connections to the story’s tragic past is both fascinating and engrossing.

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Along the way, additional stories have appeared. That bottomless pit filled with apparent devil-worshipers? Yeah, that came into play. Suddenly, the game felt like a throwback to Majora’s Mask or Wind Waker, with stealth missions and stylized colorful villains that required specific means of defeat. Some side characters begged for Link’s help, others begrudgingly accepted it. Some fought alongside you, others cowered as you saved the day. Certainly a well-rounded world.

And the ever-looming threat of (the Calamity) Ganon. He isn’t mentioned immediately (though nowhere near as late as in Twilight Princess), and is not a constant presence, and yet his presence is always felt. Be it in the tales of horror or general fear, or in the mechanical Guardians that had me running for my life every time one came to life.

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Week Three: The Puzzles

Most Zelda games follow a fairly simple Mega Man-like formula. You fight your way to a particular boss, get some special ability, then use that ability to beat the boss and unlock the next area. It was tried and true. This formula was thrown for a loop with games like Link Between Worlds or Tri-Force Heroes, in which heroes could access weapons at any time, or at the very least, would not have to uncover them, but this game went even further.

While the first area does include a handful of unlockable abilities (and these powers can be somewhat upgraded later, after that) the rest was up to the player to figure out. At a certain point, I realized I needed more power and really wanted that Master Sword, so I had to return to so many of the Shrines that’d I’d passed up in the name of adventure.

The Shrines all shared the same aesthetic and end-goal, which was somewhat disappointing, but the tasks could be beat in a variety of ways, unlike previous Zelda games which required solutions so specific they caused as much heartache as joy (the water temples!). One Shrine called for exact timing, but after a few close attempts, I realized I could beat the entire thing using the Cyronis ice powers. No fuss, no muss.

The four main dungeons, such as they are, are also very different from past games. While each had their own gimmick, again, the aesthetics were identical. No more mini-bosses or dungeon-specific baddies. But, like the smaller Shrines, each of the Great Beasts required puzzles, and while powers earned from each Beast were not needed to beat the next, they certainly helped.

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Week Four: The Side Stories

Okay, the Beasts have been conquered, dozens of Shrines are down, and the path toward Ganon is illuminated… but… but I wasn’t ready yet. So what else was there? Those side-quests, so many side quests.

And while some are simple fight-the-bad-guy missions, and others may be glorified fetch-quests, many led to other wildly different stories as well. There are a pair of mad scientists obsessed with twisting life in different ways – they are clearly good, but in any other setting might be bad guys themselves. There’s the lost wife, or the missing child, or the mysterious white horse, or the dragons – oh man, the dragons.

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And that first house, the one with the cursed statue? I finally went back to that. Unlike previous games that would give direct hints – a character might say “If only I had a boomerang I could do it,” or words to that effect – this game provides only scant clues. So the cursed statue’s eyes glow, but the professor won’t tell me how, when, or why. By this point, I’d seen enough glowing to figure out what might be needed. Another quest had me looking for a bone-crowned beast. Of course, my first thought was the skeletal Stalfos, but that description didn’t match any I’d seen. The solution, of course, was much simpler.

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Week Five: Ganon

By this point, with dozens (hundreds?) of hours into the game (why is that scary to admit?), I wasn’t ready to finish the game, but my hand was forced. A pack of young relatives came over and begged to see me fight the boss. The four-year-old girl was excited to learn there was a princess to be rescued. Upon seeing the confusing castle map, she immediately yelled out directions: “go right, then right, then left!” (She wasn’t wrong.) Her eight-year-old brother cheered me on like a superfan on gameday, yelling out plays when he’d figured out Ganon’s weaknesses. And I beat the boss. Sure, I was overpowered, making the battle a bit less challenging, but I’d done it.

But, I’m still not done yet.

Heck, I just figured out the deal with the dragons, and I still haven’t figured out how to mount a Lynel. And now I hear there are different endings? I feel like if I played this game again, I’d find several new adventures and side stories, and seek out different goals.

This game was designed with me in mind.

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