The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild the first open world Zelda game.
That right there was the first reason why I lost complete interest in it since day one. Well great, another open world video game in a market where have one too many sandbox adventures. These games are all about excessive space, most of it serving no real purpose to the gameplay or game design. Be it role playing games, first person shooters, or straight up action games, we have seen far too many open world games and it’s become the most saturated sub-genre of gaming. Given the power of current technology, they’ve done away with intricate level and game design, instead providing vast amounts of nothing to traverse through. It’s hard to invest yourself in these sandbox worlds when they feel so devoid of life and meaning.
There were exceptions, and I don’t know if I would call this an open world game per se, but Shadow of the Colossus on the PlayStation 2 thrust players into a desolate land, containing remnants of a long forgotten civilisation, a haunting adventure where despite the lack of information, the game world still felt authentic and alive. Shadow of the Colossus is a rare instance of an esoteric, and dare I say even spiritual, experience in gaming. It’s easily among my top five of all time, and just a few months before I replayed it in HD. It was a beautiful reminder of how video games could be so much more than gratification and entertainment, so much more than just being a run of the mill game to complete and master for the sake of bragging rights. Shadow of the Colossus showed me that video games could provide enriching life experiences.
Shadow of the Colossus was a surreal gaming endeavour for a 17 year old me back in 2005, and it was the inspiration and muse that gave me the spark to write my very first video game review, send it out to the newspaper, and see it published a week later and the rest, as they say, is history. This was nearly 12 years ago now, and the joy of seeing my words get published has fueled this passion of mine to this day, no matter what changed in my life I still kept writing about games even after a pseudo retirement in 2011.
Speaking of which, I was planning to effectively retire in a few months, make my review on Sonic Mania my very last SnapThirty piece before moving on. I also felt like my days as a gamer were on borrowed time, as despite being able to afford the latest releases I just completely lost my ability to suspend belief and become a part of a video game. It reached a point where video games stopped being an escape, they had to fit into my life otherwise they just weren’t worth my time.
I wanted to get the Nintendo Switch at launch simply because I felt like this would be the last time I would be part of a launch day excitement, and so for the first time I placed a preorder. So here I am at the counter and the clerk is trying to sell me all these other things and extra warranty (because that’s what they have to do I guess) but I kept insisting I wanted the system only and Super Bomberman R. The clerk gives me a funny look “So… you don’t want… Zelda?”. I then thought to myself that I didn’t want to be that guy who didn’t have Zelda at launch, and geez it would be pretty stupid to not have Zelda if I’m going through the trouble of getting a Switch at launch. And so, I included it in the preorder as an afterthought, simply as a game I could try in between Bomberman sessions. I sound insane right? Or worse, a neurotic hipster, but please bear with me.
Launch day came and I picked up my stuff and a good of mine friend visited town to spend the weekend, and being able to share that system launch with a buddy I’ve known for 8 years was great… that was exactly what I wanted to do. We naturally spent a lot of time playing Super Bomberman R and man it’s a fun little game. We completed the story mode and all its creative boss battles, and then teamed up online against others. But at some point we needed to try something different and that’s where The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild came in.
Boy was I apprehensive towards Breath of the Wild! To the amusement of my friend who was watching me lose my cool over it. Here are some choice lines:
“God damn it old man! tell me where the hell am I supposed to go!!!”
“A tree branch!? Are you kidding me, where’s the damn treasure chest with the **** sword!!”
“I have to COOK and FEED him!? What is this? Grand Theft Auto: San Adreas!!?”
“DID I JUST FREEZE TO DEATH!? ARE YOU KIDDING ME”
*after I dropped the metal platform into the river
“NO!! NOW WHAT?!!”
And boy was I cussing at the menu and inventory system.
Breath of the Wild was nothing like a typical Zelda game, where there’s an illusion of an expansive world but within it were these self-contained dungeons structured in a way that ensured that you had a sensible weapon early on. Not in Breath of the Wild, for the longest time I was waiting for some cutscene where I got the sword. I wanted this game to behave in a way that respected my time and demands. I was butting heads with it, and in the end I felt Zelda had lost the plot, had become too practical for its own good, and I just did not enjoy the first few hours with Breath of the Wild.
I was in some snowy mountain, on my last heart, near a fire place with all my main weapons broken after use and with no food. I couldn’t get hearts or rupees in the field like in past Zelda titles. I was handicapped. So I saved there and just didn’t have the energy to deal with the impending failure that was about to come.
I didn’t touch the game until a week later, in the meantime enjoying Super Bomberman R and Neo Geo Shock Troopers. Quick and mindless gratification, and so 2 days ago I very reluctantly fired up Breath of the Wild and decided then that if Link froze to death immediately that was going to be it, I was going to return the game and get something else.
Well I didn’t freeze to death, I completed the Shrine trial all by myself, and I kept going.
And going… to the point where I couldn’t turn back and I didn’t want to, I wanted to go further and deeper.
To fall in love with The Legend of Zelda: The Breath of the Wild, I really had to take a step back and alter my perception. This skill holds true in any facet of life, but I never thought I had to apply this skill to a piece of entertainment. I can tell you now, as I write this, I am completely under the spell of Breath of the Wild, I am completely immersed in Hyrule, and I finally was able to understand the game’s language, and internalise its esoteric qualities.
Breath of the Wild quite simply emits the esoteric energy of video games, and not many video games do this. Perhaps they do, but you almost have to be a sparkly eyed 5 year-old to pick it up, an age where imagination and wonder are its best and most pure. That was the main thing I tried to achieve when I altered my perception, to think like a 5 year old with no money, no jobs, no bills, and no relationships. Just an unconditional attachment to a fantastical setting being provided by a game. My enjoyment of Breath of the Wild increased exponentially when I did one thing I should have done from the get-go (and I’m sure most of you already did): Take ownership of my adventure.
When I stopped getting frustrated over what needed to be done text and started asking myself “what do I want to do in this game world today?” then suddenly I stopped horse visioning on mechanics and tangible objectives, and instead broadened my horizons and saw that this adventure in this new Hyrule was mine and mine alone.
When I took the journey at my own pace the frustrations melted away and when the pressure to progress was pushed aside I could set my own goals and limits. I went from treating Zelda like a typical structured video game, to treating it like a canvas and world where my sense of wonder and imagination could run free, no pressure to prove progress, no pressure to achieve a sense of accomplishment or bragging rights. Today for example, my task was to tame different kinds of horses, study differences in their stats, and give them quirky names like Balaam. Once I stopped caring about progress, I went on these little tangents to discover things for myself, I couldn’t care less about reaching the end, I want to live in this game world endlessly.
Breath of the Wild didn’t want me to rush through dungeons in a predetermined order, it didn’t want me to get good at it, and it didn’t want me to clear a certain % of the map or get a grade.
Breath of the Wild simply wanted me to be.
This is such a profound and powerful sense of escapism, the notion to simply suspend yourself into something, blocking out all the noise in your mind and around you, it’s been years since a video game helped me achieve this.
No matter what stage of life you are in and what your circumstances, the experience of Breath of the Wild is honestly productive and good for you. For the first time in years I didn’t feel any guilt or remorse over the time and money I spent on a game, nor did it feel like a toxic life-controlling addiction. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a once in a lifetime adventure that is positively enriching and inspirational. You will walk out of this game feeling better about you, and feel inspired to take on life and its challenges. No matter what happens, you will have the esoteric magic of this adventure coursing through your veins. Years from now, you will tell people how you experienced such an important technological, artistic, and cultural marvel of your time.
Go on, venture forth into The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Life can wait.