Why Breath of the Wild Is Not a True Zelda Game

By Nate Merritt
September 25, 2017

Sure, ZELDA is in the title and the game does involve a Link, a Zelda, and a form of Ganon, but I would argue that this is where the majority of Zelda’s MUCH LOVED culture ends for this game. I mean is a game simply the name of its title?

It’s my belief that a game, or any media format for that matter, is the sum of its environment, culture, atmosphere and lasting effect or impression. The Goonies, for example, one of my favorite movies of all time, is its own cultural entity altogether, though on the surface it is really just a movie. However, when someone who knows The Goonies, hears The Goonies mentioned, it is immediately associated with mystery, adventure and treasure. Or by hearing the name Stephen King, we know automatically it has something to do with horror. We know that the next book Stephen King writes will be horror, or thriller at the very least, involving some aspects that you would find in a horror novel. Likewise, if there were ever to be a Goonies sequel, one might imagine that it too, would follow in the footsteps of its predecessor and be about mystery, adventure and treasure.

This brings me to Breath of the Wild. I will grant that Nintendo did come out and say they wanted to take Zelda in a new direction, but Zelda Breath of the Wild is NOT a true Zelda game.

I’ve played through 120+ hours, completed all shrines and beat the game. The whole time I was making my trek across Hyrule, I had a feeling of emptiness, like an ingredient was missing in the chili, or that someone didn’t put enough sugar (or Splenda) in the Kool-aid. And what I come to miss in this Zelda, left me feeling disappointed and as if I had just played some other game….Skyrim perhaps?

They left out essential elements that make a Zelda title a Zelda game!

Before I go any farther, yes I did enjoy the game. I liked it, and thought it was fun, but at times I did feel like it was more a chore, something that I had to finish just because I started it. That is something I’ve never felt playing a Zelda game before. In fact, I still love replaying the Zelda games of old even though I’ve played them several times, especially Link’s Awakening. I don’t see myself replaying Breath of the Wild for any reason, ever. The sentimental attachment just wasn’t there this time around. Here are a few reasons why:

  • No sense of discovery
  • Lack of excitement/mystery/secrets, especially when opening chests
  • Lack of tools
  • Lack of musical involvement
  • Lack of dungeons and amount of shrines
  • Shrine puzzle difficulty
  • Level of boss difficulty and lack luster boss fights
  • Master sword needs recharging (seriously?)

(Aww, doesn’t he look so happy? I would have liked to look like that in BotW)

Discovery has always been one of my favorite parts of Zelda. Discovering a hidden chest with a special tool that’s not needed to progress, but fun to play around with, or discovering someone hidden in a tree giving away a heart container, have always been wonderful staples in Zelda. Furthermore, I’ve always been excited to the mystery of what’s hidden in the chest. When I saw a chest, across the screen, that was hidden away, deep in a riddle filled dungeon or behind a cracked rock wall of a mountain, nothing motivated me more to keep playing to see exactly what wonder I was about to obtain. You know what I’m talking about. Many would go through great lengths to get to said chest, and were very enthused to do so. It’s as if the events leading to the chest was a volcano gaining strength, to which the explosion came at the reveal of the item. Definitely something that Breath of the Wild did not do. What was once such a feeling of accomplishment and reward turned into monotony and bore. I can’t tell you how many times I skipped chests in Breath of the Wild, not caring, because I knew the contents within were not exciting. No, I do not need another rupee, thank you.

What about the little secrets like Zelda A Link to the Past had, such as throwing in your boomerang or shield into a pool of water, in exchange for a magical boomerang and more powerful shield? Or in Link’s Awakening, when you gather up all the hidden sea shells, you get your sword charged up to shoot a projectile, let alone the smaller rewards you get as you collect the shells along the way. Little hidden secrets like that is part of what makes a Zelda game separate from other games. It’s mystery, it’s excitement – it’s Zelda.

(Zelda weapons, items and tools)

Tools. Where were they? I really missed using an array of tools in this game. From the boomerang to the hook shot, there was plenty of tools left out, which could have given gamers a lot of fun to play around with. How much fun would it have been using a hook shot, going from tree to tree? Or tree top to mountainside? Or even more so, using those tools to find chests that are hidden about, which contain other tools?! I hope future Zelda games do not go this direction. First off, I want more tools. Secondly, I would much rather discover my weapons and tools throughout the game, and use them to get by barriers that are otherwise impenetrable without them. The game can still be entirely open, like BotW, but have hidden areas, that you need to use tools found throughout the game to get into. That would have been a nice touch, at least for me. Take a look at the most coveted of Zelda games, and see how many tools it had.

The lack of musical involvement in this game really irked me. And that is a big problem, when Zelda and its music are normally synonymous. The music is very well composed (yet doesn’t scream Zelda), but it has little impact on the player in this game. I can listen to Zelda music, from pretty much any other Zelda game, and pinpoint the game, and sometimes location on the map within the game, just by listening. This game’s music did not leave a lasting impression on me. Couldn’t they have put a newly composed version of the Zelda theme while traversing the map? They could have at the very least. I did like parts of Death Mountain’s music, and its subtle nod to Ganon’s dungeon in Zelda for the NES, but it wasn’t enough. The music is as about as lackluster as they come for a Zelda game, especially when we are talking about the biggest Zelda game of all time. The “synonymous” Zelda music didn’t sound much like Zelda to me, in BotW.

I’ve partnered these next two together, because they replaced one with the other, and it left a bad taste in my mouth. Shrines should have been an addition to the dungeons, rather than BotW’s only go to for puzzles. Dungeons, be the place you go to propel and enhance yourself for the fight against Ganon, and Shrines be extras, secrets, heart containers, fun areas for fun rewards. I’m not going to sit here and say we needed a typical 8 dungeons either. But SOME dungeons would have made the game feel more like Zelda. Also, when speaking about shrines, 120 is simply too many. I found myself so bored, going into shrine after shrine, going after the same thing: monotonous. Give me a few dungeons to explore deeply, and a few shrines to outsmart, I’ll be much happier, and I’ll feel like I’m playing a Zelda game.

Speaking of shrines, the puzzles were much too easy. Out of all 120 shrines, there was only one shrine I couldn’t solve the puzzle for, on my own. Just one. All the others, I was in and out within 10 minutes or less. I loved the dungeons that required you to solve multiple puzzles, to resolve one overall puzzle, which comprised a dungeon and made you pull everything together in order to progress. That used to equal a puzzle in a Zelda game. I remember spending days, not minutes, in places like the Water Temple or inside Jabu Jabu’s mouth in Ocarina of Time. I can even clearly recall spending hours inside Eagle’s Tower in Link’s Awakening, a 2-bit game. Zelda has also always been synonymous with its puzzles, sometimes long, drawn out and frustrating puzzles. I didn’t feel that this time. I didn’t feel Zelda puzzles in this game.

The boss fights and mini-boss fights were sub-par, in my opinion. I felt like half the fights were a masked form of a quick time fight- not good. I’ve never been a fan of quick time fights, because there really isn’t much challenge there. Each fight, for entry into each divine beast, was mind-blowingly easy. Each scourge of the divine beast fights, were some of the easiest boss fights among all Zelda games. If you’ve ever played Majora’s Mask, you’ll know the challenge a Zelda boss fight can bring.

(Who remembers this guy?)

Even A Link to the Past had some challenging fights, on the SNES going into the Dark Palace, Swamp Palace, Skull Woods, Gargoyle’s Domain, and Misery Mire. I consider all the aforementioned boss fights in the SNES version of Zelda, more challenging than BotW’s. Has gaming really come so far, as to take multiple steps back in the challenges we face?

(you’ll never need to recharge the sword in this Zelda game)

Finally, how could I write about BotW as not a true Zelda game, without mentioning the recharging of the Master Sword? Let me repeat that…Ahem, recharging THE MASTER SWORD! I went into this game, not reading anything about it. I wanted to be totally surprised by what was forthcoming. And since all the regular weapons break throughout the game (a concept that didn’t bother me at all), I just knew that when I finally got the Master Sword I wouldn’t have to put up with that bother any longer….boy was I ever wrong! The very reason I didn’t care about the weapons breaking, was because I knew the pay off of all the trouble, going through sword after sword, was that I would soon have the Master Sword and wouldn’t have to worry about with it anymore. But no! I would just like to know, in what true Zelda universe is the Master sword not strong enough to withstand a few swings into some moblins without needing a little time to recoup? Throughout every incarnation, every journey, every battle, alongside every drop of blood, sweat and tears that Link pushed through, the Master Sword was by his side. It never once, needed recharging. So why, in this version of Zelda, does it need to be?

In closing, I’m not bashing BotW or the “new direction” it has went. I would just like a few more additions….no, I would like a few more traditions brought back, Zelda traditions that is. Bring back those little pinches of salt and pepper that seasoned the so many beloved Zelda games that we are so fond of. The cherished games that created a culture and atmosphere, in which some of us live for.

But next time, hold the recharge on the Master Sword.

Counter: Flip Side: Why Breath of the Wild Is a True Zelda Game

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