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Breath of the Wild: A true work of art
March 3, 2016
By John Powell - G4 Canada
Although I consider the unforgettable film critic Roger Ebert one of my mentors and idols growing up, he was very, very wrong about one thing. He said videos games cannot be art. Zelda: Breath of the Wild would prove him wrong in every way imaginable. From the poignant soundtrack by Manaka Kataoka to the magnificent artwork by Satoru Takizawa, Breath of the Wild is as beautiful as any film soundtrack ever scored and any painting ever brushed by one of the celebrated masters.
Like its spiritual counterparts in the Elder Scrolls series, Breath of the Wild is a colossal, sprawling adventure in a world that lives and breathes, brought to live by Nintendo’s inventive developers. Hyrule is an intricate and captivating world you can easily get lost in for hours and hours at a time even when there aren’t any people or creatures to interact with. The environments themselves, the magnificent mountains, fertile forests and roaring rivers, themselves are such amazing spectacles that they are a true joy to explore.
After being asleep for 100 years, Zelda’s returning hero Link wakes up to find that he is indeed a stranger in a strange land as he cannot remember anything about his past life. Link eventually discovers that Calamity Ganon, a fiery, smoky dragon of some sort, has been trapped in Hyrule Castle but is slowly gaining power, readying itself to break free and continue its reign of terror.
Link, the Princess, the Sheikah spirit and army of four Divine Beasts managed to trap Calamity Ganon before and Link wonders if he can rally the forces of good to put an end to Calamity Ganon for good.
Naturally, Link’s epic adventure isn’t as simple as all that. Hyrule is a titanic territory, an immense domain and so there are ancient ruins to explore, villages to visit and with heroes in such short supply, friendly beings to lend a hand to in all sorts of ways.
After exploring the Great Plateau and obtaining a paraglider, Link soars over the cliffs and into the mythical kingdom of Hyrule. There, he runs into encampments of Bokoblins (Goblins), Moblin (Hobgoblins), Lizalfos (Lizard People) and all sorts of angry, nasty creatures like electric bats, elemental wizards, swarms of bees, blobs, globs and gargantuan bosses like a centaur who fires electric arrows that you need to collect in order to awake one of the four Divine Beasts. While there are countless side-missions to partake in the main mission is awakening those four Divine Beasts and locating the Princess.
Located around Hyrule are various shrines that also play an important role. The shrines are not always easy to find and some are in hazardous or challenging settings. For example, one shrine is surrounded by lethal thorns and the only way to access it is to paraglide onto its roof from a cliff high above. Another is on a cliff face that once again, can only be accessed by paragliding to it.
Inside the shrines are puzzles that once solved lead to great rewards. Each shrine has a caretaker of sorts who will give you a mystic orb for completing the challenge. Those orbs can be used to increase your health and stamina. There are also runes to download which grant Link special powers but more on that later.
Speaking of stamina, it determines a lot of what you can and cannot do in the game. If you don’t have enough stamina, you won’t be able to climb that mountain. If you don’t have enough stamina, you won’t be able to run very far. If you don’t have enough stamina, you cannot swim across that river and reach the shore on the other side.
Forget about those Bokoblins and Lizalfos though. The greater threat to your life are the elements and terrian itself. On your HUD, there is a temperature gauge. Enter into an arctic area without the proper clothing or defenses and you will take damage until you die. Enter into a volcanic area without the proper resistances and you will die as well.
Hyrule is an unforgiving kingdom, so be prepared to die a lot and to die often until you figure things out. Breath of the Wild doesn’t hold your hand. Instead, you expected to intuitively find your own way and that approach, although frustrating at times for the player, is a refreshing and welcome approach to game development. Placing trust that the gamer will find their way just enhances Breath of the Wild’s sense of discovery.
In addition to your weapons, the Sheikah Slate is an important survival tool. Even though it seems to be a legacy device from the Wii U development of Breath of the Wild, the iPad-like magical slate allows Link to view a map of Hyrule, scope out his surroundings and find those shrines. You can also take photos with it. It also is the device upon which runes from all of those shrines can be downloaded. These runes give Link the power to freeze flowing water into blocks of ice, move metal with magnetic powers, freeze time and create bombs out of thin air.
The one drawback of Breath of the Wild and it is a pretty major one is that all of your weapons, shields have a very short life span before they shatter. Many of the weapons only last for one battle, if that and then splinter into dust. You can pick up the weapons of your enemies but it is still very frustrating to have to hunt, gather for weapons or have to switch out in the middle of a very harsh, focused battle. There is no doubt that this mechanic may be a deal breaker for some, while others may be able to live with it. I found it to be an unnecessary hurdle that didn’t really add anything of substance to the experience. I think it makes things unnecessarily complicated, deviates from the Zelda formula far too much.
Since Breath of the Wild is all about survival, it makes sense that hunting, gathering and cooking would be an essential element. Through Hyrule there are all sorts of ingredients to collect and animals to hunt. Alone or mixed with other ingredients, these food items can do everything from restore your health to make you resistant to cold and heat for a period of time but in order to cook, you have to find campfires, cooking stations and they are not readily available.
Breath of the Wild has finally brought the Zelda series into the new era of gaming and the wait has definitely been worth it. It is the best entry in the franchise – seconded by The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time - but could possibly be the greatest game Nintendo has ever developed and published. It is the very best reason to pick up a Nintendo Switch at launch as you will certainly be engrossed in Hyrule and the adventures of Link for months and months to come.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Rating: 9.5 / 10
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