A Breath of Fresh Air

Nerissa here.

Since I started working with Wyvern, I have had the chance to write about everything from games with Open-Interpretation storylines, major franchises, reboots, the gaming community, what happens when your choices completely change a game, and storytelling in general. However, I have been avoiding talking about the series that brings me the most joy since I started writing blog posts for Wyvern. All of the posts I write are to make a point, whether it be about the beauty of games or the direction they’re heading in for the future. I didn’t want to diverge just for the sake of fangirling. But today is the day: the day I can address it. So, here is the truth.

Ever since I was 8 years old, The Legend of Zelda series has meant more to me than any other gaming franchise in the world. It is, hands down, my favorite series of all time.

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I know, I know – Legend of Zelda? Really? To some people, this seems like an obvious choice, and to others this comment is kind of questionable. Why LoZ? There are several other series out there that I absolutely love and have a soft spot for. There are some games that are overall better than some Zelda titles. Even so, the LoZ series will ALWAYS be at the top of my list. Just to give you some context, the first game I ever beat was The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons for the Gameboy Color (back when they were still called gameboys. Wow, I feel old). Growing up, there were several games I was not allowed to play, but my parents always gave the LoZ series a thumbs up because they were all rated E for Everyone and by the time Twilight Princess (Rated T for Teen) came out, I was a teenager. I was obsessed with fantasy and loved rich worlds, so learning about each game’s new world rules and seeing characters carry over made the series my favorite companion on a long trip and my best comfort when I needed something familiar to go back to.

Granted, the series has its faults, as any other does: First off, as far as originality, this is one franchise where you can call the designers out for cutting and pasting puzzles and characters, because Nintendo does that literally ALL THE TIME. If you’ve played a few LoZ games before, you can start to recognize the patterns, especially where many dungeon-specific items repeatedly show up in almost every game in the series (Looking at you, grappling hook). The grunts and shouts from Link are incredibly mockable and some of the games in the series flat-out stink.

And don’t even get me started on the TV show.

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“Well excuuuuuuse me, Princess.”

But then, look at the flip-side. The first game in the Legend of Zelda series, aptly titled The Legend of Zelda, was released on February 21, 1986. In the 31 years since its initial debut, the series has been bringing non-stop innovations to the way that video games function. Many tropes that carry through to other games are taken directly from the Legend of Zelda. For example…

Z-Targeting – The gameplay mechanic used in games like Kingdom Hearts, Psychonauts, and Metroid: Prime was originally introduced with the release of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Nintendo’s developers were trying to not only create an expansive (by that time’s standards, anyway) 3D world, but one that players could easily move throughout. This was invented as a result of trying to figure out how to more easily fight and locate enemies within these 3D spaces.

Camera Control – While camera control in 3D games was introduced with Mario 64, it still had quite a ways to go when it comes to seamless control. And then, once again, everything changed when Ocarina of Time attacked – I mean, eh, was released. OoT brought in a much easier camera system to pick up on and 3D games have been adopting the camera control system using analog sticks ever since.

Context Controls – Press A to speak, B to use equipped weapon, Start for Menu, Select to Save/Quit, R to jump right, L to jump left. Analog stick/control pad to move. By now, these seem to be a given when it comes to designing a game, but this innovation didn’t exist in a way that allowed you to interact with specific world objects and characters in a more detailed way until, you guessed it, Ocarina of Time. Ever since appearing in there, it has taken over RPGs and platformers.

Save Points – With the release of the original Legend of Zelda games, players were shifted from a world of stagnant levels to replay over and over from the start to being allowed to play in sprawling worlds with multiple levels and checkpoints throughout.

The list goes on. The Legend of Zelda series made headway and, because of its expansive world-building, now classic story, and large maps full of ways to explore its corners, it has become one of the most notorious game series of all time.

Now, at a certain point, even when you choose to innovate, eventually new ideas become classics, then tropes, then annoyingly unoriginal ideas and last, if they get REALLY unlucky, memes.

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So, needless to say, after a while, the fairy companion, dungeon items, Master Sword, and the fights deflecting orbs of light weren’t going to cut it anymore. The series needed a revamp. And for a while, as Nintendo tried to figure out what direction to go in, they had a few stumbles. As much as some of their classic titles are legendary, a few of the new releases, especially for the handheld systems have been…well…

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Triforce Heroes: Where Fashion Rules all of the Drablands.

…Bizarre, to say the least. Games like Spirit Tracks and Triforce Heroes, while relatively interesting gameplay wise, had MAJOR flaws, especially with the overwhelmingly ridiculous writing. In other LoZ games, most insane moments were left to a character or two to take charge of, such as Tingle. However, these games just took the Tingle recipe and drenched every single corner of the map with it, which made them hard to stomach.

And then, the incredible happened – the latest Legend of Zelda game, Breath of the Wild, was released.

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It’s…so…beautiful. Cannot…contain…

For the first time in years, the Legend of Zelda formula had been altered, and not in a minor way. This game completely changed the way that the story was told, the ability to explore, the way you live, AND the way you fight. Some people are even calling it one of the greatest games of all time. (I have one minor complaint about BoTW, but aside for that one I wholeheartedly agree). So, what made this game so incredible, for loyal fans and new gaming thrill-seekers alike?

  1. Open-World Exploration

Not only did Breath of the Wild allow for freedom of choice in the exploration by setting it in an open world, but it encouraged its players to play the game and explore the map in any way they wanted. The dungeons had no specific order and, in fact, if you don’t want to go through any of the main story, from the very beginning of the game, the entrance to Calamity Ganon’s chambers are unlocked. Granted, they are heavily guarded by Guardians and other obstacles, but if you wanted to, it would be possible to boost your health and items by completing shrines and exploring the lands, then take out Calamity Ganon without completing ANY of the main story. This sort of freedom of decision-making when it comes to the order of events and play-style is unprecedented with any of its predecessors. Also, the map?

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6 times the size of Skyrim’s, just to put it into perspective.

  1. Weapons don’t last forever

Breath of the Wild refuses to hold the players hand throughout the process. From the start, you will realize that weapons, depending on their size, shape, age, and materials, have different strength levels and can be easy or difficult to wield. Then, after fighting your first few Bokoblins with a wooden spear, another thing becomes painfully evident as the weapon disappears into the air in a flurry of glowing shards: Weapons in this world break. So don’t get attached to the Giant Boomerang if you get it because you will have it for twenty minutes and then your pretty little heart will sink.

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This thing was incredible, you guys.

Each weapon is assigned a strength and durability level, forcing the player to constantly adapt to new fighting strategies based on the weapons currently at your disposal. Some give you use of ranged attacks, while others require getting into very close-quarters in order to even land a hit. This made every single encounter a challenge, as you not only had to assess how many enemies you were dealing with each time, but how to use the environment and weapons you had to your advantage.

  1. The Master Sword WASN’T easily earned.

In almost all prior Legend of Zelda games, obtaining the Master Sword (or Picori Blade/Four Sword) is integrated into the main quest. As long as you’re continuing the main story, you will eventually gain access to this legendary weapon. However, in BoTW, the Master Sword is NOT easily earned – In fact, if you don’t know where it is or don’t work for it, you may not get it at all.

WARNING: FROM HERE ON IN, MAJOR GAMEPLAY/CONTENT SPOILERS AHEAD.

In this chapter of Hyrule’s history, the Master Sword is hidden. If you are a fan of the series, true to form, it IS actually somewhere relatively familiar.

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Like its predecessor, A Link to the Past, the Master Sword is being guarded in the Lost Woods. However, even after you explore enough of the map to actually find Faron Woods, then you have to get through the initial “navigate the Lost Woods” puzzle so you don’t wander into the fog by mistake.

And that’s not the hard part.

The hard part is that in this game, in order to wield the sword of legend, you ACTUALLY have to prove that you are strong enough to handle it or the sword will sap your strength until you die. That’s right, ladies and gents. In order to pull the master sword from the ground where it lies, you have to have a total of 13 Heart Containers. But the sword yielded major benefits once gained. The Master Sword is the ONLY weapon in the game that will never break – with continual use, it will “lose charge”, but then you just have to use other weapons for about 10 minutes. Just enough time for it to recharge and then to switch back. Not only that, but the sword also deals extra damage to the Guardians – for those of you who haven’t played the game yet, these enemies basically made traversing the landscape’s more difficult areas impossible in the beginning of the game.

  1. What you wear and what you eat matters.

Aside from drinking potions and Lon-Lon Milk, most other LoZ titles don’t include consumables. However, these have become rather commonplace in games like Bioshock, Dark Cloud, and Fallout: New Vegas, where alcohol could give you the pick-me-up that was needed while also blurring the screen for a few seconds. So Legend of Zelda followed suit, and then some: Not only did food give you health and stamina, but you had to cook all the foods yourself in order to get the real boosts you need and, on top of that, certain ingredients and recipes give you boosts to your speed, climbing ability, cold/heat resistance, and more.

You don’t have to eat your weight in game to get boosts, though. If you’re in an area that is consistently cold that you will need to be in for a while, there are different pieces of clothing that can be found, earned, or purchased that give you resistance to these weather factors. So if you don’t have peppers for cold resistance, no problem – just put on the Snowquill Tunic and you’re good to go!

  1. The story is presented out of Chronological order

As mentioned previously, BoTW allows players to explore the world in their own way, at their own speed. This mechanic carried over to the story, where, by gathering memories and awakening the Divine Beasts (which, in this game, serve as the “dungeons”), you begin to understand what happened with Link, Zelda, the Champions piloting the Divine Beasts, and why they failed against Calamity Ganon during their original quarrel. I remember that the first memory I ever found was one of Zelda trying to get into a Shrine, realizing she was unable to do so, and when she saw me, brushed me off and shouted at me to stop following her.

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But…Whuddidido?

Oh. Okay. THAT’S an introduction.

While you have no choice in what you say or in the direction of the plot, like the choice-directed stories in the Dragon Age, Fable, and Mass Effect games, the presentation of these memories in different orders for every player makes each experience and how the pieces come together unique. Once you gather all the memories, you CAN go through them in the actual order that they happened, but during the actual events of the game, I found it fascinating to see how the picture came together for me personally. It left me wondering how other people felt during their playthroughs. It may not be the choice-based story that I personally would love to see in the future, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

  1. For the first time in a LoZ title, actual Voice Acting

You know how I said I had one problem with the latest Legend of Zelda title? Yeah…This would be it.

In keeping up with the times, Nintendo decided that the logical next step for the Legendary saga of Link was to add voice acting; mind you, Link is still the silent protagonist (with mild grunting interspersed) that we have come to know and love, but all the other main characters are voice acted during cut-scenes. This doesn’t happen during every scene, mind you, but often enough that it is a large element contributing to how the game is experienced.

As an actor myself, I found the voice acting in the game to be…well, pretty underwhelming. On one hand, some characters were handled rather tactfully, such as the Champions Daruk and Urbosa who get extra stamps of approval in my book. However, most of the other performances are just average and Zelda’s is probably the worst in the game. And considering this is the first game where the story is really hers, not Link’s, you’d think that would be the voice they put the most thought and work into. Yet sure enough, as you play, she perpetually sounds like she will burst into tears at any moment. Even when she is happy. Or angry. Or joking. ALWAYS sounds like she is whining. Nintendo, you are a company worth millions, yet you couldn’t put a little more effort into the casting process?

Now, this isn’t to say that the CHARACTER Zelda is whiny, because she is most certainly not. In fact, the past few titles have made more of an effort to give Zelda depth, starting with Windwaker, moving forward with  Skyward Sword, and now leading into this. By the time we hit Breath of the Wild, Zelda has become a legitimately strong character. In this installment in particular, she is fascinated by the sciences, the technology of their ancestors, and works relentlessly to unlock the powers she is supposed to have due to her bloodline. It shows how jealous she is of Link for his talents and the fact that she hasn’t been able to live up to the expectations of her kingdom. And in the midst of war, even when she hasn’t unlocked her powers, SHE STILL CHARGES HEADLONG INTO BATTLE LIKE THE TRUE CHAMPION SHE IS. This bit got me going, guys. Out of all the archs we’ve seen in these games, for Zelda, this one takes the cake. The story was so great that the voice acting was something I was able to overlook if, for no other reason, to see that plotline through to the end.

The Legend of Zelda series has been seeking a new path to push forward in for years, and since its inception, has been at the forefront of the gaming industry. With this new release, both the saga itself and other fantasy games like it have a new standard to try to live up to. Exploring the world of Breath of the Wild was exciting, beautiful, and with its originality all-around, served as a breath of fresh air.

 

–Nerissa Hart, Director of Marketing and Writer at Wyvern Interactive

 

The contained images are not property of or created in association with Wyvern Interactive, LLC.

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