Zelda’s latest instalment, Breath of the Wild, takes you back to Hyrule – but this time, there are no invisible borders or arbitrary limits to stop you from going on a grand adventure in a beautiful, living world.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is one of the most breathtaking (pardon the pun) adventure games I’ve ever enjoyed. Playing it makes you feel like you’re inside an exceptionally beautiful Studio Ghibli film, albeit one where you can hit things with a sword.
The world you explore feels alive with mysteries and surprises waiting to be discovered; and since the gameplay doesn’t hold your hands, every secret uncovered feels earned and every little side trek feels like a genuine adventure. I’ve never been happier being told to get lost.
Five stars, highly recommended, best played on the new Nintendo Switch.
Now that’s done, let me explain: the summary is usually reserved for the end of the review, but I wanted to get the recommendation out first, for people who’d prefer exploring Hyrule with no spoilers whatsoever.
Don’t get me wrong – this is absolutely a game worth talking about, but at its heart, Breath of the Wild is about the joy of discovery, from the excitement of unravelling the very premise of the story to the glee of finding out for yourself what the game mechanics let you get away with. (Spoiler: it’s a lot.)
So for everyone still reading, let’s head into Hyrule!
Return to Hyrule
As Breath of the Wild starts, our hero Link wakes up in an abandoned shrine to find that ages have passed, and the once-glorious kingdom of Hyrule is now devastated.
The lush greenery and teeming wildlife belie the danger lurking in the dark, and overgrown ruins of grand temples tell of a civilisation lost to calamity – your civilisation. From here it’s up to you to discover what happened and, of course, find a way to set things right.
Unlike recent Zelda games, Breath of the Wild isn’t interested in holding the player’s hand and telling you what to do. You’re free to begin exploring any way you want, and like an actual adventure, there’s a genuine danger of getting lost.
However, since Hyrule is so gorgeously handcrafted with surprises waiting wherever you go (or stumble into), finding your own way becomes part of the fun.
The game will give you basic instructions, like “press A to pick up this Tree Branch, press Y to attack with it”, but it won’t tell you that it has a fully-realised physics engine and AI systems that practically make Breath of the Wild a believable simulation of the wilderness. (So like the Star Trek holodeck, except when the digital characters try to kill you, it’s meant to happen.)
You’ll need to figure out yourself that the branch can be used as a makeshift torch to scare away wildlife, or to start a campfire so you can cook, or to set a monster camp ablaze.
The game encourages creative solutions to problems, so discovering the various open-ended ways you can reach a seemingly impossible destination or defeat an ostensibly unbeatable monster feels incredibly satisfying.
A different Zelda
If you’re hankering for classic Zelda-style puzzle rooms though, there are shrines placed across the realm that provide such a challenge, and a few proper dungeons. But in almost every other case, Breath Of The Wild abandons the traditional conventions of Zelda games to create something fresh and new.
Hearts and Rupees no longer drop from grass, for example, so collecting edible plants and saleable materials becomes an interesting facet of your journey. Weapons now break from overuse, giving a tactical edge to combat and encouraging you to overcome monsters in unconventional ways. (Personally, I drop a bomb then run like heck.)
But best of all, instead of having a prescribed “correct way to do things”, you can play Zelda any way you like – there’s plenty to enjoy whether you faithfully follow the main missions for the story; or randomly pick a direction to explore just to see what’s there; or carefully note the details hidden in the world to uncover its many, many mysteries.
Go on, get lost
I do have some advice, though: if you want a true adventure in the wilderness, switch off your minimap and disable all mission markers, and then – in the best way possible – get lost.
The game is especially rewarding when you have to pay close attention to details like geographical landmarks, posters on walls, and even the songs people sing to discover where you can go and what you can do.
Conversely, if you want an easier time exploring Hyrule: stockpile arrows for the big bosses, run away from as many smaller fights as possible, collect fairies (sneak up to them), upgrade your slate ASAP, and, when an old lady tells you of four Divine things, head north-east into the watery Lanayru region first.\
It has the best story section, in my opinion, and has a graceful payoff for new adventurers.
Since I’ve already given my summary/recommendation, let me take a moment to share why I personally enjoy The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
It’s not just that it lets me freely explore a world that’s both wildly imaginative and feels believably alive. It’s not just that simply playing the game creates so many special stories I love to share with my friends and my family. (My mum’s a big Zelda fan herself, even if she spent a part of her Hyrule adventure getting chased by a bear.)
Rather, it’s the fact that this videogame touches a part of me that yearns for adventure, so much so that it inspires this lazy ol’ city boy to go out and have a proper adventure of his own.
Perhaps I’ll go somewhere pleasantly green under clear blue skies, so I too can enjoy the breath of the wild.
Of course, I’ll still bring Zelda along with me – that’s why I got the Switch, after all!
Pros: A vast living world filled with secrets waiting to be explored; rewards creative thinking and paying attention to details; looks and sounds beautiful.
Cons: More achievement-oriented or competitive players will not enjoy how easy it is to get lost and sidetracked.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Open world adventure game for Nintendo Switch, Wii U
Rating: 5 stars
Price: US$59.99 (RM269)