“Open your eyes….”
“Open your eyes…”
“Wake up, Link!”
This was the first time I ever heard voice acting in a Zelda game. Frankly, it was a little unnerving. It wasn’t what I expected. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the game I’ve been waiting six years for, ever since the release of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword in 2011. A few 3DS games and Wii U remasters of older titles have been released since, but none of them could get me as excited as when I saw Breath of the Wild’s first teaser trailer in 2013.
I’ve been a diehard Zelda fan since I was eleven. I had downloaded The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time from the Wii Shop and played it through the Wii’s Virtual Console service. I was hooked instantly. Since then, I’ve played nearly every single Zelda game ever released, finishing many of them.
I know Zelda. I know the structure, the design, the layout. I know to expect every game with my avatar waking from a slumber. I know I’ll need to obtain the Master Sword to fight Ganon. I’ll have a wacky companion to give me tips on how to fight bosses. I know the gimmicks they switch around from game to game whether it be shrinking to the size of an ant, turning into a wolf, or sailing across the seas. I’ll go from dungeon to dungeon with side-quests in between. Get the map. Get the compass. Get the keys. Solve that puzzle. Fight the mini-boss. Fight the main boss. Get a heart piece. I know Zelda.
I don’t know Breath of the Wild. I had absolutely no clue what I was getting into. For the first time in a long, long time, The Legend of Zelda series has taken me completely by surprise. Around every corner, I don’t know what to expect. On every hilltop, I have no idea what treasures I’ll find there. Every dungeon is a mystery and every non-player character is an opportunity for a huge sidequest. It’s as if Zelda, Elder Scrolls, The Witcher, and Shadow of the Colossus all performed the fusion dance from Dragon Ball Z. It has created something shockingly different. But at the end of the day, it’s still The Legend of Zelda.
So What’s Changed?
For starters, you don’t name your character anymore. Gone are the days of naming your character “Dammit” so it seems like villagers are cursing every time they speak to you. Instead, you’re simply referred to as Link. This makes sense considering how difficult it would be to work around a variable name when voice acting is involved.
Which brings us to our next big change: voice acting! I remember being elated when I heard Princess Zelda’s voice echo in the first trailer. What kind of emotional heft could these voice talents bring to world of Hyrule? How much more invested will I find myself in these characters? I entered my first cutscene with wide eyes to find … that they sound like a bad American anime dub. Honestly, this is one of the only places this game has ever disappointed me, but it’s a considerable one. I can’t imagine what the size of this budget is or how deep Nintendo’s pockets are after the success of the 3DS and Pokemon GO. Couldn’t they have shelled out a few more dollars for better performances?
The other more maddening, but frankly brilliant, design choices of the game involve the weaponry. Every. Single. Thing. Breaks. No more unbreakable Master Swords and Hylian Shields. Instead you pick up sticks, clubs, bats, swords, axes, and at first I found myself very displeased with this system. I wanted to hack and slash my way through Bokoblins and Moblins and Keese. Instead, my arsenal would shatter to pieces after a few swings. Additionally, there isn’t a heart or rupee to be seen in this huge open fields. You can no longer “mow the lawn” of Hyrule field to pay for fire arrows. When you run out of life, there are no hearts hiding under rocks or from fallen enemies to rejuvenate yourself. When I began to realize how the game had left me so stranded, I was upset, until I realized its brilliance. Now, every single enemy is a threat. Every fight I enter, I have to plan and prepare. I have to grab ingredients to cook food for health. I have to create stamina elixirs and defense boosters before I sprint, flailing, into a camp of monsters. I have to be stealthy! Zelda has a fighting strategy now, and it’s all the better for it.
And lastly, the sense of exploration. I’ve always loved the Zelda series for how it made me feel like I was embarking on a quest larger than myself. Traveling across mountains, deserts and seas, visiting cities in the clouds and deep below the earth. The games always have felt so huge. But they’ve got nothing on Breath of the Wild. When I made my way out of the cave Link was resurrected in, I found myself walking out onto a peak where I saw the entirety of Hyrule laid out before me. It was waiting for me. I honestly started weeping.
Through some light internet research, I’ve calculated that the game map is six times the size of the island of Manhattan. It’s not procedurally generated like Minecraft either. Every corner of this map has secrets to unlock that were painstakingly crafted by a game designer, and the effort shines brilliantly. When you get your parasail and exit the quasi-tutorial plateau region at the beginning of the game, that’s it. No more instructions, no more roadblocks. You don’t have to come back to an area later because you don’t have the Super Bomb or the Swishy Wand. You get everything you need on that first plateau and you’re now free to go ANYWHERE. I spent probably the first ten hours of the game just traveling in between these huge towers to download the map schematics. I traveled to areas where I would get killed in a single swing because the enemies were too powerful for my armor, but the fact is I was still able to go there. I still climbed those towers despite being surrounded by enemies much stronger than me. I am absolutely free, bound by nothing or no one. It’s an amazing feeling that I haven’t felt since I played the first Legend of Zelda on the NES Virtual Console.
Robin Williams & Zelda
Robin Williams was a huge fan of The Legend of Zelda, so much so that he named his daughter after the titular princess. Shortly after his death, a petition was sent to Nintendo, asking that a character inspired by Williams be put into the game. Since he’s a personal hero of mine, and he loved The Legend of Zelda so much, I’ve named every new Zelda game file after him since his passing. I think it’s the least I can do.
During a recent gaming session, I was sent on a side-quest to a science lab in a region called Akkala. Surrounding me where lush autumn colors and a soft breeze as I trekked my way up a large hill to the lab. This person was supposed to be able to help me forge ancient weapons to destroy the autonomous robot guardians roaming about Hyrule. When I made it to the lab, I found myself face-to-face with a little man with wacky goggles, crazy hair and a spunky, energetic attitude. He reminded me a lot of the absent-minded professor from Flubber.
Now I can’t say anything for certain. This could be a huge coincidence or even a misdirection for the real tribute. Regardless, when I finally walked over to speak with him, he introduced himself as Robbie. When I realized a few days later whom I had met, a I felt a warm glow ebb inside me.
I love this game. It feels like a game I’ve been waiting my whole life for and will continue to play for years in the future. This game is special. You can tell from the very beginning. When I play it, I get that feeling you get when reuniting with an old friend.
Brendan Coyle is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.