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Monday, 20 March 2017

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild — Wild and free in Hyrule

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.

NEED A BIGGER SWORD: Typical, I go for walk in the woods and suddenly Im faced with a Shadow of the Colussus scenario.
Typical, I go for walk in the woods and suddenly I'm faced with a Shadow of the Colossus scenario.

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.

WELCOME TO THE OPEN WORLD: As with all great open world games, if you can see something of interest, you most likely can go there and check it out. And there are many, many interesting things in Hyrule
As with all great open world games, if you can see something of interest, you most likely can go there and check it out. And there are many, many interesting things in Hyrule.

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.

A KINGDOM LOST: Theres something deeply sad about seeing the ruins of a once great civilisation, and it drives you to right what once was wrong and protect anything that remains
There's something deeply sad about seeing the ruins of a once great civilisation, and it drives you to right what once was wrong and protect anything that remains.

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.

Our hero Link upon waking up in a shrine and about to embark on an epic adventure.
Our hero Link upon waking up in a shrine and about to embark on an epic adventure.

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.)

SURVIVAL 101: This might sound antithetical to an exciting adventure, but finding supplies like wood and food is one of the more enjoyable aspects of Breath of the Wild.
This might sound antithetical to an exciting adventure, but finding supplies like wood and food is one of the more enjoyable aspects of Breath of the Wild.

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.

POWER UP: There are many ways to grow stronger in your adventure, but youll never be so powerful that the danger loses its edge
There are many ways to grow stronger in your adventure, but you'll never be so powerful that the danger loses its edge.

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.)

SHRINE ON YOU CRAZY DIAMOND: Shrines provide a more traditional Zelda puzzle challenge, with a proper answer that needs to be figured out.
Shrines provide a more traditional Zelda puzzle challenge, with a proper answer that needs to be figured out.

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.

MOMENTS OF QUIET: The visuals and music encourage you to pause for a moment to simply admire how beautiful the world is. Right before you bomb that wall to see if theres treasure behind it, of course.
The visuals and music encourage you to pause for a moment to simply admire how beautiful the world is. Right before you bomb that wall to see if there's treasure behind it, of course.

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.

FAIRY GOOD: If youre having trouble surviving in Breath of the Wild, find some ponds with fairies and sneak up on them. Theyre basically 1-UP mushrooms.
If you're having trouble surviving in Breath of the Wild, find some ponds with fairies and sneak up on them. They're basically 1-UP mushrooms.

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.\

GHIBLI ROBOT: Oh look, its a Ghibli robot. If Ghibli robots were homocidal and out to kill you - RUN
Oh look, its a Ghibli robot. If Ghibli robots were homicidal and out to kill you – RUN!

It has the best story section, in my opinion, and has a graceful payoff for new ­adventurers.

Adventure On!

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.)

NO BORDERS: Like the very first Zelda, Breath of the Wild is an open world. You can climb walls, swim across rivers, paraglide across mountains - there are no borders to your curiosity.
Like the very first Zelda, Breath of the Wild is an open world. You can climb walls, swim across rivers, paraglide across mountains – there are no borders to your curiosity.

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.

Comic by SHAUN A. NOORDIN

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
(Nintendo)
Open world adventure game for Nintendo Switch, Wii U
Website: www.zelda.com/breath-of-the-wild/
Rating: 5 stars
Price: US$59.99 (RM269) 

Tags / Keywords: Science Technology , The Legend of Zelda , Breath of the Wild , Link , Nintendo Switch

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