August 19, 2017
Since first experiencing its breathtaking, bad-ass spectacle, Ocarina of Time has remained my all-time favorite game. This feeling has remained constant, not wavering for a moment over almost twenty years. For the first time, I questioned this while playing Breath of the Wild over the past several months. While playing, I encountered that nostalgic factor that returns with every Zelda game, but this time it was different. Since the release of Twilight Princess, I had yearned for Zelda to take on elements from open world games. I believe my exact thought was “What if the next Zelda had a world the size of Morrowind?” Eleven years later, my wish has finally been granted, and this alone was enough to question whether Ocarina still could count as my favorite game, if it could back it up with a superb story, immersive gameplay, and most importantly excellent exploration potential. It did not disappoint, and I was so confuse that I undertook the task of replaying Ocarina to determine which was better. I was relieved as I played it that I still had the feeling of playing my favorite game. Now, however, I am working on a second play through of Breath of the Wild, and my questioning thoughts have resurfaced. I am still able to discover not only new side quests and collectibles, but mechanics that I have never seen before. I am finding myself solving puzzles in different ways from my first run of the game, sometimes finding easier or more difficult methods, but nevertheless achieving the same goals in a different way. This alone adds to the replayability of this game, and it almost makes it better on a second playthrough. So is Breath of the Wild strictly better? At the very least, Ocarina of Time has its first rival.
Last week, Hick posted an article, Why Ocarina of Time is Better than Breath of the Wild. Within his well-thought argument, I agreed with many of his individual points, however I think Breath of the Wild has at least as many ways in which it surpasses Ocarina. The two are both incredible games, and each has a counterpoint to everything in favor of the other. Here I will explore the various elements I believe make Breath of the Wild a better game. Remember this is all my opinion, and in this case I am not even sure if I think either one is truly better than the other overall, but there are enough points to explore on both sides of the coin that I thought this would be a fun way to continue the conversation Hick began.
While I believe the character development in Ocarina of Time was far superior, Breath of the Wild created my favorite method of story presentation in any game ever. The fact that players are not railroaded between any two points to complete the story allows exploration to take center stage. The story is really just a reward for exploration. As you search high and low for each memory, observing landmarks and attempting to triangulate their position, you are granted a piece of the story which often creates more questions than it answers, at least for the first few. This keeps you interested, and supplies a driving force through a desire to see the rest of the plot come together.
Ironically, the only other game to give me a similar feeling was Street Fighter V. The way Capcom presented it actually got me over the opinion that fighting games cannot have good stories. Within the game, each character had their own path to go through, and each one started in a fighting tournament only to find a conspiracy behind it along with a top-secret genetic experiment. Each character only saw a certain amount of this, however, as they traveled their own path separate from the rest of the cast. Thus to really figure out what was going on in the story, you must play through the story mode as every character. There is no real exploration, but the drive to discover more is still huge because each character only gives you a brief glimpse into the massive story in the backdrop, similarly to the way the memory mechanic functions.
Ocarina, while the story was compelling enough to do this on its own, kept directing players from point A to point B to progress. While this is not inherently bad, it made a disconnect from exploration and story, where Breath of the Wild combined the two seamlessly. My least favorite thing in gaming is railroading; the game forcing you to go a certain way to complete it, it feels confining. Story presentation becomes more difficult without it, however I think that if nothing else, Breath of the Wild proved the concept is possible.
Going forward, perhaps Link could be required to find several characters, places, or obtain a collection of MacGuffins to proceed. They could be scattered around Hyrule with vague clues once again, and each could reveal a little bit of the puzzle before finally seeing it complete. This idea gives players a reason to look everywhere, rather than the presentation in other games where there are a handful of towns you can hit in a linear path to complete the story but no reason to ever venture off course. You can have a giant world full of billions of collectibles, but if you do not give your players a reason to wander off the path, is that really enough?
Breath of the Wild broke a lot of conventional series mechanics, but none more so than the system behind using and equipping weapons and other items. While Link has been limited to a sword and shield combo in every game save Ocarina of Time with the Biggoron’s Sword, this year we were finally able to outfit Link any way we pleased, including the traditional sword and board, various spears, and heavy two-handed weapons like claymores and battleaxes. Within these categories there were even multiple uses to each weapon and several styles that could be used. A two-hander could be used in a spinning attack to deal massive damage very quickly while leaving you open to enemy attacks, or with a two-swing combo, you could knock any monster off his feet, and with some thought about trajectory, I used this style often to send Silver Moblins off a cliff and kill them instantly. Spears can attack incredibly quickly, or be thrown long distances for insane damage to start a fight, and of course, if you do not like these, you can usually stick to traditional Zelda combat. Also some weapons, like large axes, can chop down trees for materials very quickly, and heavy warhammers can smash ore veins to obtain minerals. Beyond combat, every weapon has a function to enhance gameplay.
I know what many of you are thinking now: the combat was fun, but did weapons have to break so easily?” Well I actually liked the breaking weapons mechanic. Within the Great Plateau, most weapons broke after so few strokes that they would have to be replaced constantly. This actually was a valuable lesson for the starting area to present, as without it, many players may have just stuck with Link’s sword and shield and never known that other weapons can be useful in different situations. In addition, it slows down by the endgame so much that it is almost never a problem once you have a decently expanded inventory. You still have to shuffle around sometimes, but you can usually keep your best weapons as backup for when you find a boss fight.
There is one more reason I believe the breakable weapon mechanic is good, though, and this one really takes the cake. Say you are walking around past an encampment of Bokoblins. Without breakable weapons, you would probably walk right by it. You might stop and kill them all to farm arrows or get the small treasure at the top of the tower, but not all the time. Breakable weapons in mind, however, each foe you slay has a weapon for you to use. Those two Silver Bokoblins are going to be annoying to kill, but their swords are worth the fight. Not only does this draw you to combat more often, but it gives that rewarding feeling of new treasure every time. Even if the treasure chest has just another hunk of amber, the weapons you find after defeating your foes grant a sense of accomplishment and purpose for your mindless genocide.
The mechanic that was changed the second most is very closely related, as it deals directly with inventory as well. Clothing has been something which could assist Link since the original Legend of Zelda, but Breath of the Wild takes it above and beyond what it has ever been. Tracking down pieces of a new outfit is always a daunting task, as they can be found anywhere within the expansive world, and they are also much more rewarding, and much more useful than any clothing ever presented in the series. I will admit, I do wish the Zora gear let me swim and breathe underwater, but having a three-piece suit of barbarian gear increasing my attack strength and making charge attacks consume less stamina is infinitely more useful within this particular game. The best part is that this is only one of a few dozen unique suits, all of which can be upgraded to gain additional perma-buffs and/or better defense ratings. Overall, the inventory system in Breath of the Wild made for a superb and seamless experience between the usefulness of every weapon and a plethora of regalia to affect your effectiveness.
Ocarina of Time was among the first completely 3D sword fighters, and because of this, the combat was designed to be simple and fun. Ninety percent of the time, that meant combat was the B button. If you simply press this button repeatedly, almost every enemy in the game will eventually succumb to your blade. Not to say they did not keep it interesting by creating enemies with varying attack patterns and weak spots, but really, you could go through the game and other than bosses which need a specific item to stun, you could defeat everything with the single button.
In Breath of the Wild combat has evolved. As I stated previously, you obtain many weapons and can use them in various ways, but it is more than that. You can often gain an advantage by riding your horse into combat and slashing an enemy on your way by. Better yet, leap from your horse and lock an arrow onto your target in slow motion. Or approach stealthily and automatically defeat your foe with a strike from behind. Combat is so varied between possible techniques and weapon combinations that it outclasses Ocarina in almost every regard. I will admit, I wish constantly that I had a Hookshot or a boomerang that I could keep throughout the entire game, but overall combat flows so much better that it is not even a contest.
Here we go. This is my single favorite element in the Zelda series which keeps me returning on every release day. From day one, exploration in the series has been unparalleled. When the original game released, it was the premiere open-world game, and that is how it stayed until open-worlds became the ideal formula for western developers. I would say personally that I did not experience a world as fun to explore as that of the original Zelda until The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. There is a secret under every rock, there are tons of hidden characters to interact with, dungeons to find and explore, and even as technology improved, nobody really expanded upon this concept for some time.
Ocarina did marvelously with the transition to 3D, bringing to life that which was merely pixel art before. It felt very open at the time, as it gave you many options for directions to go, but there was always a correct way to go. This railroading, like all other instances, kills the exploration aspect for me. It was not all bad, and honestly my first time playing I would not have considered this a complaint, as nearly every game in that generation railroaded you at least as much.
Still, Breath of the Wild took everything that Ocarina did for exploration and did it better. After the starting area in Ocarina, you could explore Kakariko Village and Lon Lon ranch plus a few other locations you could not fully access. That was great, and at the time created a feeling of openness in the world, but as time goes on, naturally that which was good can be improved upon.
After completing the starting area in Breath of the Wild, you can go anywhere. Literally. Anywhere. On my recently started playthrough on Master Mode, the first thing I did was complete forty shrines to obtain the Master Sword. I was free to challenge the Divine Beasts or follow the story, but I wanted to see different characters react to seeing Link with the Master Sword the first time they meet. The freedom to go anywhere, in this way, even changes the story of the game ever so slightly. Improving exploration improves every other aspect of a Zelda game.
Another thing that just ended up being better was the collectible system. Pieces of heart were replaced with Spirit Orbs this time around, but essentially served the same function; improving Link’s health meter so he does not die every time he gets hit. But wait, there’s more! Spirit Orbs can also be traded in for upgrades to the Stamina Wheel, allowing Link to climb and paraglide for longer durations. Two functions are better than one, and added to that each heart piece in Ocarina required a small puzzle to be solved, while each of the hundred and twenty spirit orbs had a whole mini-dungeon built around it. Breath of the Wild wins this one too.
The other primary collectible in the games were Skulltula tokens and Korok seeds, respectively. Again, there are more of them, so that plays a big part, but also to discover Korok seeds you often need to solve a puzzle. Most of the time it is not a difficult one, but it adds a little charm to the friendly tree sprites that they hide their seeds and then give them out as a reward to clever adventurers. These characters are just so fun and whimsical anyway that this little detail never gets old, even when the puzzle is “look under that rock.”
Now, finally addressing the elephant in the room, let’s just compare one game world to another. Obviously Breath of the Wild’s is much larger. You might say that this is a natural difference that only exists because the Switch has an insane difference in power when compared to the Nintendo 64. I would agree. Is that a bad thing? When technology gets better, games should get better. If technology got better and all developers used it for was shiny graphics, we would be referring to Breath of the Wild like Sonic ‘06. That game looked incredible for the time, but be honest, who would not rather play Sonic Adventure? It may seem like an unfair advantage (because it is) but the size of the world goes a long way to improving exploration.
Various Odds and Ends
Here are a few thoughts I did not think fit into any other category, but are worth mentioning.
You know what I never thought I would say? Thank god for a jump button. I honestly never thought the series had a problem handling jumping except in Wind Waker where for some reason Link would occasionally just… not jump… Despite this element not really needing to be fixed, having this small improvement makes gameplay flow so much better by allowing more precise timing of jumps as well as use of the Paraglider as transportation. Paragliding was so fun that I almost never bothered to teleport, or even ride a horse. Walking around you can take in so much more detail of the world, and when something is just beyond your vision but looks neat, you can set a course and sail the skies to your destination.
To explain my last point, I must bring up another story about the Elder Scrolls series. In Morrowind, by jumping everywhere you could increase your jumping skill, and therefore jump higher and longer distances. Eventually, this made mountains more of a play area than an obstacle. With a maxed jump skill and clever positioning of my character, it was usually fairly easy to traverse even the largest mountain ranges and thus I could take any path I wanted to travel between any two points.
As much as I love Skyrim, I have always had a severe salty feeling due to one major mistake designers made close to the beginning of the game. They purposefully made mountains around the Throat of the World too high and steep for your character to cross in any way except for a single path. The rest of the game felt open and immersive, but this railroading really pissed me off for days. I just wanted to play the game my way despite whatever dangers I may have encountered.
Breath of the Wild has finally recaptured a feeling that the Elder Scrolls instilled in me, yet even its own series failed to replicate. The ability to climb any surface anywhere allows you to go to any point of the game through a literally infinite number of paths. It does this in a way even surpassing Morrowind, in my opinion, since the mechanic is built into the game rather than me simply forcing myself into areas I want to go. This mechanic creates the single best open-world feeling I have ever experienced, and Ocarina of Time cannot compare.
I have adored Ocarina since its birth, and it shall always remain the game that made me a gamer. Still, something better had to come along eventually, and Breath of the Wild certainly gives it a run for its money, if not surpassing it. As I said, I am still on the fence for which can claim to be my all-time favorite. It is difficult to imagine a perfect game, but each of these presents a truly unique experience and I feel like they are both differently perfect.
How about you? Now that Hick started the conversation and I have had my say, I would love to keep the conversation evolving with more input. Which is better, Ocarina of Time or Breath of the Wild? Are both opinions wrong, should we reevaluate Zelda’s Adventure? Share your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter, and also let us know if you enjoyed this response to a past article. We thought presenting multiple perspectives on a topic could be a fun way to begin the conversation in hopes that we might see some of the infinite other perspectives out there, so please let us know!