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March 9, 2017

How it Feels to Play Breath of the Wild.

You know, lately it seems like I’ve been having a hard time coming up with titles for blog posts.  Not because I’m drawing the proverbial blank; no, it’s more because I’ve got so many ideas for titles that I end up getting paralyzed in my seat.  I feel like I’m getting close to the end of Tales of Berseria, but even if I’m not, I’ve still put in enough hours to say something substantial about it -- but the problem is that I’ve gone through about six separate titles without typing out a single word.

That’s one example, yet it’s not the only one.  Here we are, with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild firmly in the midst of gamers -- in its final, retail form, armed and ready for mass consumption.  Where do you even begin with the Wii U’s final game (worthy of major headlines, at least) and the Switch’s first game (of the same quality)?  There are plenty of options -- like a blanket statement of whether it’s good or not -- but I think I’ve come up with one possible answer.

That answer is a question: as of right now, if I had to sum up Breath of the Wild in one word, what would it be?

And the answer to that question (which in itself is an answer) is this: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is raw.

I’m not even going to pretend like Breath of the Wild is worthy of asking the question of “is it good or not”.  Of course it’s good.  It’s a Zelda game, and -- as long as Nintendo’s holding the reins -- you already know that it’ll be worthy of the 9s and 10s it’s earned across the board.  And we’re not just talking the usual 9s and 10s a huge swath of AAA games are bound to see as if it’s their birthright (*stares daggers at Final Fantasy 15*).  No, the way people have talked about this game implies that this is basically the second coming.

I’m…not sure I’d go that far with BotW.  But transcendental or not, I absolutely agree that it’s a great game, and I hope its early 2017 release doesn’t keep it from being forgotten once it’s time to start putting together Game of the Year lists.

Obviously, I’m still in an extremely early part of the game -- and judging by the game’s supposed size, I suspect that I haven’t even hit a fraction of what’s there on display.  (I’ve heard that you could play for nearly 5 hours and still have your progress listed as zero percent.)  There’s still a VERY good chance that the novelty will wear thin, and/or the faults will become more apparent over time.  I acknowledge that.  A dark part of me expects that to happen before long.  But for now?  I’m enjoying the shit out of this game.  I’ve still got to finish Berseria, but I don’t want to play anything else.  I feel like I should get around to comparing Horizon: Zero Dawn to this new Zelda, but I don’t want to play anything else.  I have a copy of Nier: Automata locked and loaded, but I don’t want to play anything else -- not even a Platinum game.

Here’s the thing, though.  As much as I’m enjoying BotW, it’s inspiring strange feelings inside me.  I’m not getting blown away by the thrills, or the hype, or the sights, or the sounds, or anything you’d usually expect from a top-scoring game.  No, I think that (for now) the game’s greatest strength is its ability to suck you in.  It’s that immersion that games and their PR departments have tried to push for the better part of a decade -- the promise of games becoming “experiences”, even though that buzzword has slowly become an anathema.  Even when I’ve got that GamePad in my hands, I don’t feel it a bit once I start playing for a few minutes.  There’s essentially no filter between me and the game -- between the real world and the fantasy world shown off on my screen.  No lies, no tricks, no gimmicks.  It’s not just Link going on an adventure; it’s me.

That’s kind of what I mean when I say that it’s raw.  For the most part -- probably a good 90% of my time spent with the game so far -- you’re in the wilderness trying to survive and complete your missions, myriad as they may be.  More specifically, the first major, quest-progressing task you’re charged with is to go explore a set of shrines throughout the Great Plateau so you can convince a “perfectly normal” and “totally not suspicious” old man to give you his Paraglider.  Sounds simple enough, right?  Well, here’s the problem: those shrines are a HUGE distance away from one another, necessitating a journey through forests, plains, ruins, and mountains.  Notably, said mountains are cold and snowy enough to present an actual threat to Link’s life if you’re not properly protected…which is kind of hard when all you’ve got on are too-small pants and a shirt.

The danger level in BotW is exponentially greater than anything presented in earlier Zelda games.  Even if you sailed across the Great Sea in The Wind Waker and flew through the sky in Skyward Sword -- both of which presented threats to your life, including but not limited to giant squid attacks -- you could still reasonably and reliably make it to your destination without much of a struggle.  Meanwhile, BotW has you contend with

*deep breath*

squads of demons on sentry duty, swarms of bats, skeleton warriors (no relation), frigid temperatures, rain-slick cliff faces, easily-burnt dry grass, lightning storms that WILL strike you down if you’ve got a metal weapon equipped, murky swamp water, the oozing and corruptive malice left by Calamity Ganon, rock monsters that shrug off wood-based attacks, ancient robots that can one-shot you with their laser eyes, ancient robots that can one-shot you with their laser eyes that can run across the landscape, freefalls from a dozen stories up, and much, much more.

And I know for a fact that there’s much, much more.  Yes, I’ve only put in a little bit of time with the game, but (setting aside the fact that the temperature gauge swings to extreme cold and heat) my brother’s put in even more time.  I’ve gotten to watch him play through some slightly-later sections of the game, and it’s been both shocking and hilarious to see how much trouble Link has to go through just to get inside a dungeon -- or even complete a piddling little side-mission.  To wit: the first thing I saw from BotW in the flesh was my brother fighting against a centaur that utterly demolished him and served up nearly a dozen Game Overs.  That’s kind of to be expected when you’re up against a foe whose lightning arrows can strike you from nearly anywhere with the wrath of Zeus.

So on one hand, BotW feels like one of the absolute best games you could ever watch an LP or stream of.  The sheer amount of absurdity and mishaps are staggering, thanks to the insane number of variables that factor into any given trip from A to B.  Granted it’s not quite as funny when you’re the one playing and on the receiving end of disaster (imagine my surprise when I dealt with three Guardian robots itching to vaporize me simultaneously -- one of which just happened to scurry into my path because I was paragliding off a tower).  Still, in terms of memorable moments, it’s hard to deny that this game can and likely will be chock full of them, whether you’re the active player or a passive onlooker.  On the other hand?  This is absolutely a must-play game, because of the raw feelings it’ll likely inspire in you.

It was basically a given when the trailers started making the rounds, but damn does it feel good to have it confirmed in the flesh: BotW’s tone was utterly nailed.  Even if the world is expansive and empty, it still inspires no shortage of feelings.  Yes, the silence and solitude makes for a world that, for the most part, is utterly crushing in terms of its status.  Those who’ve been following the franchise for 10, 20, or even 30 years have ideas of what to expect, and opinions on what they love.  To see a ruined world where iconic elements are missing or just plain gone is harrowing. 

To wit: early on you get to visit the Temple of Time, or a version of it.  Circle around it, and you’ll find a small lake with a short plateau sticking out of it -- one with a sword embedded in stone.  “Oh, is that the Master Sword?!” you might exclaim, and swim over to check it out.  “I bet that’s a part of the plot!”  But once you get there, you find out that Nintendo trolled you in the most gut-wrenching way possible.  It’s not the Master Sword, or even a good sword.  It’s just a Rusty Broadsword.  Nothing more.

On the other hand?  The feelings of joy commonly outweigh the feelings of sorrow and dread.  And fear, while we’re at it; Bokoblins that would’ve been mowed down without a thought in earlier games are now in their own right (for now, at least) a legitimate threat that have to be approached wisely.  While the punishment for a Game Over is far from strict thanks to generous auto-saving and merciful respawns, resource management is extremely crucial.  Mess around while you’re on your mission, and you’ll burn through your food, your materials, and your equipment (the latter of which, clothing aside, has a durability level).  The sheer number of risks means that you’re always on the edge -- because even if death is a slap on the wrist, you can be put in an unwinnable situation later on.

The tradeoff is that the risks are worth the reward.  Overcoming the myriad challenges of the game creates a sense of relief -- of catharsis -- that’s hard to top.  Even if there are likely a million, billion, trillion steps on the road of BotW, being able to take even one successful step is its own reward.  You’re the one that gets to climb that mountain.  You’re the one that gets to land that Flurry Strike after a successful dodge.  You’re the one that gets to walk into a shrine with every last piece of equipment you could ever need.  You’re the one that gets to find a wild horse and ride it across the sprawling fields.  You’re the one that gets to sail through the air.  You’re the one that gets to do this, and that, and that thing over there, and this thing right here, despite every challenge ready to shackle you to the ground.  A raw sense of danger leads to a raw sense of satisfaction.

And it feels.



It goes without saying, but I’m going to keep playing BotW.  That’s to my detriment, because I still have other games I want/need to play/finish.  But I haven’t made it to a single dungeon yet, and I need to remedy that at the very least.  I’d imagine that, inevitably, that means I’ll write something about it in the future -- even if that doesn’t happen until a year from now, when I finally finish it -- but for now?  There’s not much else I feel like saying besides “If you have the means, then do yourself a favor and give it a go.”

And that’ll do it for now.  See you next time.  Try not to get sniped by Guardians before then.

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