The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a big game.
That’s why we here at the Geekiverse didn’t rush to put together our official review of Nintendo’s landmark adventure; we wanted to experience as much of Hyrule as we could to properly assess this enormous title.
It’s also why we’re taking a slightly different approach. We’re giving readers more than just one perspective on Breath of the Wild, as Geekiverse founder Josiah LeRoy joins me in this review. I’m as passionate about The Legend of Zelda as it gets, having played the series for nearly 24 years, while Josiah, like many people playing Breath of the Wild, is experiencing the iconic series for the very first time with this game.
I’ve poured about 80 hours in and completed the main story weeks ago, while Josiah is still working his way through the enormity of it all. There will be some minor spoilers ahead, but we’ll abstain from pulling the curtain aside on major moments, events, and surprises in the game.
THE LAUNCH TITLE TO END ALL LAUNCH TITLES
Visuals and Tech
Jeff – Breath of the Wild is beautiful. It looks as if Studio Ghibli joined forces with Nintendo to create a video game. There are spots and characters all across Hyrule that evoke such classic Studio Ghibli flicks like Spirited Away, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, and perhaps most closely, Princess Mononoke.
It’s arguably one of the best art directions that the Zelda series has taken on, melding the vibrance and levity of games like Wind Waker and Skyward Sword with the austerity and realistic proportions found in such entries like Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess.
But a game can only look so pretty before it has to perform properly, and Breath of the Wild holds up the weight of massive overworld admirably. Loading screens only exist from traveling between warp points and in/out of shrines. Taking a jaunt across Hyrule means that you’ll never have to wait to see the landscapes materialize before you, and they’re always looming on the horizon thanks to great draw distance.
Where the game occasionally falters is in its framerate. Although it tries its hardest to maintain 30 FPS as much as possible, it doesn’t always achieve that. Expect to sometimes see it chug along if you’re moving through heavy foliage, along with especially-dense areas like Karariko Village and Korok Forest. A recent patch released by Nintendo attempted to rectify this, and while I can say that I’ve seen a noticeable improvement from earlier playthroughs, the issue is still known to rear its ugly head from time to time. It also didn’t seem to correct the problem of the Blood Moon glitch, which is very annoying hiccup that brings the action to a halt when it most certainly isn’t supposed to.
Josiah – Thanks to the power of the Nintendo Switch, Breath of the Wild is – breathtaking. The first time you emerge with Link to the land is one of my fondest memories in gaming. The sense of beauty and scope is unparalleled. The way the camera pans across the sunny, green fields combined with the wonderful musical score is something that conveys the overall vastness and feel of the game. It was as if Nintendo said “World, this is our finest work. Enjoy.”
The game looks fantastic when playing it as a handheld and somewhat surprisingly, doesn’t lose much graphical fidelity when it transitions to your big screen TV. As my colleague Jeff mentioned, there are minor hiccups at different times, but I feel they are minuscule. Though I did run into occasional texture popping, I felt those too were minor and didn’t feel that it impacted my performance in any way.
The art direction is unique, conveying a wide array of colors in its animated, cell-shade feeling approach. It’s quite the feeling to be playing a true high-definition Nintendo game. It’s simplistic, yet expansive in almost every way.
Sound and Atmosphere
Jeff – Breath of the Wild’s epic trailer at the Switch reveal back in January confirmed that sequences of full voice acting would make their debut for the Zelda series with this game. For as long as I can remember, this was one of the most polarizing topics among die-hard Zelda fans. Some have affirmed that it was necessary for the series to adopt voice acting in order to create greater atmosphere in its cutscenes, and altogether bring the series closer to its modern contemporaries. Others have decried it as an unforgivable break in tradition, and for the worry that poor voice acting would actually hinder the cutscenes.
So, how does Breath of the Wild’s limited voice acting fair?
Aside from the American voice actress attempting to add a British accent to Princess Zelda, there isn’t a character whose voice should ever grate on you, but the delivery isn’t always there. In several cases, the inflections feel off; an ordinary statement is made with far more vigor than it’s clearly meant to, while a dramatic line is sometimes delivered without the emotion it should be carrying. It’s as though the voice actors weren’t always provided with the context behind their dialogue. Given that fans have discovered multiple instances where the English release made mistakes while translating from the Japanese text (an issue I’ll bring up again later), it could very well be a case where the localization team couldn’t overcome the language barrier.
While Zelda’s first foray into full voice acting wasn’t squeaky clean, Breath of the Wild continues the series’ tradition of incredible music. The game takes a different approach from previous titles, noticeably in that you sometimes won’t hear any music, at all. Your travels across the overworld will sometimes only provide the sounds of nature as your ambiance: winds blowing, grass rustling, birds chirping, water flowing, etc. What music does join you while exploring the wilds is dynamic, often changing depending on what creatures you encounter and what kind of weather conditions you find yourself in. This also applies to the game’s dungeons, where the theme changes as you progress further, but serves more as an ambiance than actual track.
The game isn’t short on fully-orchestrated, elaborate tracks, however; they’re just reserved for primarily for major locations, setpieces, and cutscenes. Although it’s hard to imagine that any will be immortalized among fans in the way that iconic pieces like Saria’s Song, the Song of Healing, and Midna’s Lament were, it’s a strong soundtrack. Between idyllic melodies and rousing hymns, wondrous remixes and gorgeous original pieces, Breath of the Wild does the franchise justice with its musical score.
Josiah – Do you have a particularly fond memory that is invoked when you hear a certain sound? Breath of the Wild’s scope is visually sprawling, so it was no easy task to have the soundtrack match it, if not exceed it.
The musical score is often piano-based and completely matches the current actions of your character and where you are in the game. About to engage a few beasts in combat? The tempo quickens, bringing about a feeling somewhere between shenanigans and whimsy. Just discovered a new area? The score helps to emphasize the beauty of the natural land.
What’s more is that often times, there will be no music at all, leaving the player to the sights and sounds of the world. I can’t help but feel at peace when I hear the rustling of the grassy fields, or the tranquil movement of water in the nearby lake. I don’t think I will be able to forget certain moments of my exploration in Hyrule when, in real life, I feel the sun beating on my face, or the sound of the wind passing by. It’s moments like these that truly make Breath of the Wild legendary.
The voice acting found in the game is completely hit or miss, though I do enjoy the youthful feeling that comes from most of the NPCs I met along my journey. Often times, full dialogue isn’t present unless there is a cutscene. As expansive as the game is, I didn’t need for every character to have a full dialogue (the game tells their dialogue through text on-screen).
Jeff – Breath of the Wild wasn’t afraid to tinker with Zelda conventions; nor was it afraid to attempt things that had never been done in open world games before.
To give players the sense of unrestricted exploration that director Eiji Aonuma touted prior to release, the development team somehow made it so that any terrain is traversable. Whether it be tree, wall, pillar, hill, slope, cliff, or even the side of a darn mountain, Link can climb it, provided he have enough stamina to reach the top. This focus on vertical travel is something we’ve never seen to this extent in gaming, and it has huge implications on the way you approach your tasks. It could be a section of the overworld, or a puzzle; no matter where it is, you can often move toward it from any directional angle you choose. Very rarely do artificial barriers funnel you into a linear path.
That puzzle solving becomes open-ended in Breath of the Wild is just another of the game’s marvels. No matter where it happens–overworld, shrine, dungeon–the puzzles in Breath of the Wild don’t have such specific paths to their solutions, as in previous Zelda games. There is a greater fixation on the end result, rather than how you get there. Since most of the triggers built into each puzzle can be activated by any number of inputs, you’re usually not limited to a single item. You are presented with an environmental obstacle, and you have to use your entire toolkit of abilities and items to navigate it. Don’t be surprised if you end up solving a puzzle in a completely different manner from what your friends followed, or what the game seemed to intend.
The aforementioned toolkit is based in a nifty piece of ancient technology that you acquire early on, called the Shiekah Slate. This tablet-like device gives you expected features like your map and a camera, but also some wild abilities. You can use Magnesis to control metal objects, Stasis to freeze objects and enemies, Cryonis to raise pillars of ice in water, and create as many bombs as you like.
Being perfectly honest, I did sometimes miss the old item system. It felt just plain weird to play a Zelda game without the Hookshot, or the usual form of bombs, the boomerang, candles, or without something like a Megaton Hammer or Gust Bellows. However, I welcomed this change because of the experimentation that the Sheikah Slate allowed for, and because so many of those old abilities are still here, albeit in new forms.
Returning weapons like the sword, bow, hammer, and boomerang are there; you just won’t find one as the prized treasure of a dungeon. You’ll grab them from enemies, or from hidden chests littering the wilds and ruins of Hyrule. The durability factor needed a tweak or two–in a land this huge, I contest there should have been a blacksmith or two to repair broken/damaged weapon back to full strength–but it was a great idea that forced you to utilize your weapons wisely.
This applies to pretty much all finite items in the game. The conservation of weapons and arrows is a great aspect that adds importance to every last object in your possession. Given that shops are few in number, their stock is limited, and rupees are hard to come by, you must be prudent while using your wares. Still, given that you’re not going to find arrows, hearts and such by cutting down grass, as was the case in the past, this is the first Zelda in a long time where you’re likely to lean on the stock of different merchants, as well as the resources you gather in the wild. The rule of thumb is “If you see it, grab it.” Don’t worry if you can’t use it immediately, because you’ll likely have a need for it later.
After all, the game’s shockingly-deep cooking mechanic lets you create all sorts of different meals and potions (now known as Elixirs), and you’re definitely going to need your fair share of them to complete this adventure.
Josiah – One thing in particular that I love about Breath of the Wild is that everything you can pick up or buy works as it should in real life. You’ll experience this as you play through the game.
The true name of the game is balance.
There is no shortage of items to loot in various parts of the world, while others may feel a little barren. This is done to perfection. In my early hours in Hyrule, I picked up items left and right to build up a solid inventory. As time goes on, you realize how truly valuable everything is. I can’t tell you how many times I had trouble passing a certain puzzle or defeating a given enemy because I didn’t have enough arrows. While you can purchase items via the somewhat rare rupees, I can’t stress enough the importance of looting downed enemies.
The game is not linear in any sense of the definition, but rather gives you an end goal (extremely early in the game, mind you) and gives you the means to tell the story you want. It’s truly remarkable how vastly different my playthrough has been in contrast to, say, Jeff’s, or The Geekiverse’s Jeff “Beta” Dugan’s. I am also pleased to say that these varied lines and options aren’t here just for the sake of “choice,” but rather all contain deep, meaningful, well-constructed paths.
Your path does dictate how you want to build your character’s inventory and health/stamina. Jeff wasn’t kidding – you can climb anything you see. You’re essentially Spider-man. Your strategy must change based on the direction you’d like to take.
One small complaint is the usage of the left thumbstick, which controls Link’s movement. At times, the Switch’s Joycon can’t decide if you are telling it to head forward (up) or diagonally (top left or right). This happens inconsistently but when it shows up, it is annoying.
Jeff – Nintendo had an unbridled commitment to making Breath of the Wild a nonlinear adventure. As of this writing, there are fans out there who have managed to beat the game immediately after leaping off the earliest stage, the Great Plateau. Some of these speedruns have been finished in under 50 minutes.
Once you’re off the Great Plateau, which is still a huge section of the map that’s essentially a giant sandbox out of the gate, the world of Hyrule is at your fingertips. Invisible walls aren’t a thing in Breath of the Wild; if something keeps you from progressing further, it’s an organic barrier like enemies vastly stronger than you, a landform too tall for your stamina meter to climb, inclement weather etc. The option to do the story’s different quests in whatever order you please is a very obvious callback to the original Legend of Zelda on the NES, which was built upon the ideas of immediate, unrestrained exploration and freedom. Fans who have been yearning for that experience will finally be thrilled to see what Breath of the Wild offers.
But what it offers isn’t always incredible, or, more accurately, it doesn’t remain incredible. The primary quests that show off the game’s narrative, provide action-heavy setpieces, and take you into Breath of the Wild’s dungeons will likely amaze you the first time you do one, no matter which one you choose to do first (I recommend the quest involving the Zora, which I argue is the easiest to get to, but the very best of the lot).
The next one you do will still be very fun, but it won’t have the same impact. The third will see another drop-off in the “wow” factor. The fourth will likely give you a “been there, done that” feeling. In betting it all on nonlinearity, Nintendo allowed the necessary evil of repetition slink into the story’s quests. Each quest follows the same exact formula–come to the new race’s settlement, find out things are bad for them, grab a partner (who is woefully underdeveloped), engage in a setpiece battle that’s basically an on-rails sequence, and dive into the dungeon.
Each dungeon and its boss are victims of formula, as well. The first one which you do is likely to baffle you initially, until you realize that the dungeon is basically a giant toy box that you control. These dungeons are nothing like you’ve ever seen before, nevermind just in the Zelda series. The way they incorporate a sense of size and scale into their puzzle solving is nothing short of brilliance on the part of Nintendo’s developers. That first boss will also kick your butt and deliver a thrilling battle.
That’s the end of the surprises, until the very last leg of the story, which, thankfully, is quite epic. In following such a rigid structure, the story mode’s quests exponentially lose a sense of anticipation, surprise, and individuality the further you go along. There’s also a repeated drop off in difficulty, as you know what to expect every time.
The focus was clearly on the freedom of the player to do what they pleased in the vast world of Hyrule. Once you complete the 20-hour story mode, you’ve hardly scratched the surface of what Breath of the Wild entails. The game is at its best when you’re indulging in its ridiculous amount of side content, whether it be the great minigames, the slew of shrines [minidungeons], or the endless side missions that see you interact with plenty of likable NPCs. Aside from a pitifully-scant enemy list for a game this size, exploring every inch of Hyrule is a great time.
Josiah – In starting a playthrough of Breath of the Wild, I will admit that the game appears to be intimidating at first. With so much choice, which such a vast landscape, where do you go first? Which quest do you want to tackle? Will I be strong enough to complete a given task? These are all questions that I pondered early and once I decided that this wasn’t a race, my enjoyment increased exponentially.
The game is like a steak, not a burger – you must savor it.
I can’t believe I just wrote that, but it is so true. In addition, I recommend a few paths to help you in your Breath of the Wild experience. First, consult some friends. Make it known that things must be kept spoiler free, but comparing progress and even asking about their experiences will help to guide you in the right direction, particularly if they are deeper into the game. Secondly, it’s perfectly acceptable to check out a strategy guide. I recommend IGN’s version, as it is sensitive to spoilers and helps to give you an outline of the game’s main quests and where to go if you are lost.
Jeff – There’s a great story hidden somewhere deep within the vastness of Breath of the Wild–and I’m not talking about the Hidden Memories.
Everything is there for an intricate, engaging narrative; it’s just that the fractured structure of the storytelling doesn’t allow for progression. Arcs can’t happen when there’s so many ways for the player to go through the story quests. Characters don’t stick around long enough to develop. The game suffers from the Majora’s Mask dilemma when it comes to its characters being dynamic. The storytelling is too fragmented and too loose to allow for characters to go through arcs. Barely any are around for the long haul, too. They show up for a scene or two, and then disappear for good. The development that does exist is sudden and unremarkable. Sadly, few of the game’s characters will be remembered in years to come.
That’s the problem with nonlinear storytelling–you can’t build up to more intense or emotional moments. Context gets lost if background isn’t there. Very often, there’s little context behind the scenes that are intended to be poignant, as we haven’t seen the circumstances that built to them. More importantly, we didn’t get to see the progression of those events, and therefor, we, as the audience, didn’t experience that rise to emotion. This can become a big problem for someone who comes upon the Hidden Memories out of order and doesn’t realize it.
What Breath of the Wild’s narrative was missing was what one of my film professors in college used to call the “‘Oh ****!’ Moment”. It’s the point in the story where the stakes are dramatically raised. Our protagonists suffer some kind of setback that emphasizes the peril that they’re in, or they realize that there is an even greater magnitude to their task than what they first thought. Breath of the Wild didn’t have a moment like when Ganondorf breaks into the Sacred Realm during Ocarina of Time, or when Zant mugs Link and Midna in the Lanayru Spring during Twilight Princess, or when Zelda crystallizes herself in Skyward Sword.
The urgency and the importance of Link’s quest to rescue Zelda, to defeat Calamity Ganon, and the to save Hyrule never heighten over the course of Breath of the Wild.
Timeline theorists within the Zelda community are also tearing their hair out over where this game fits in the chronological history of the series, seeing as how the game contradicts every last possible timeline that Nintendo has revealed to us as canon (seriously, what’s up with the Rito and Zora coexisting?). As of this moment, it doesn’t fit anywhere in the established Legend of Zelda universe. This currently puts fans who care about such at the mercy of Nintendo’s writers, but we have to accept it and hope that Nintendo will soon divulge the canonical information.
What’s not so acceptable is the litany of mistranslations that bilingual fans have uncovered in the English version of the game (I cannot confirm what translations are like for other versions across the world). Many of these are not simple mistakes; when critical dialogue explaining the origins of our villain, Calamity Ganon, or the history of Hyrule isn’t safe from mistranslation, it makes you wonder if the game’s localization had been rushed to release alongside the Nintendo Switch. It also brings into question an earlier problem addressed here, which was the bizarre trend of improper inflection for the voice acting. It’s very possible that the reason for the timeline inconsistencies is due to all of this, and that its the culprit behind Breath of the Wild’s lore being indefinitely tainted.
Josiah – I can’t give insight into how Breath of the Wild stacks up with other Legend of Zelda entries like Jeff can (as this is my first time playing through a Zelda game), despite having a rudimentary, baseline knowledge of the lore. And that’s the beauty of this review – a longtime veteran and a relative newcomer. However, I can agree that the story doesn’t hold a lot of weight when it comes to gravity of epicness.
Nintendo made a choice – playability over story telling.
And that is fine. It is admirable to pick a dynamic and stick with it. The strength of the open world gameplay, the visuals, and the sounds outweigh the need to also include an intricate, exciting story. If you’ve read any of my past gaming reviews, you’ll know that story is paramount to my general gaming experience. In the case of Breath of the Wild, I am happy with the choice to ensure a high quality playthrough at the expense of a more linear, traditional arc.
Our time with the Nintendo Switch’s launch title was beautiful, thrilling, nostalgic, peaceful, thought-provoking, and challenging. What we have here is an amazing base with which the “perfect Zelda” can be made. Breath of the Wild is the template that offers a way to build a peerless overworld, but needs some substance to fill it. Breath of the Wild’s game mechanics and technical achievements make up the body; a new Zelda with better variety in its setpieces, traditional dungeons, a greater enemy list, and a more focused narrative would be the soul. Until then, Nintendo can still hold its head high for the ambition that they successfully captured with Breath of the Wild. Much like the system and the game itself, we hope this review was worth the wait.
+ Gorgeous visuals and art direction
+ Phenomenally huge and teeming environments
+ A mind-boggling amount of content
+ A level of freedom that might just be unparalleled across the industry
+ Excellent game mechanics like item conservation, climbing, cooking, and open-ended puzzle solving
– Lackluster narrative, characters, and lore
– Extremely sparse enemy list for a world this size
– Repetitive and predictable story mode quests
– Poor framerate in busier areas, and some glitches like the Blood Moon glitch
Jeff Pawlak & Josiah LeRoy have shared just about everything in life – high school, college, jobs, hockey, secret Star Wars Trivial Pursuit matches, and now The Geekiverse’s first ever joint review. Catch them on the podcast, Geeks Got Game.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch. It is also available for the Nintendo Wii U.
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