The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild


This version of Zelda is definitely not the one you know from recent entries.  It’s an ‘open air’, choose your adventure kind of Zelda.  The narrative starts out as compelling as ever and then abruptly drops your ass out into the wild void of busywork.  The sheer volume of freedom right at the outset is inspiring and unlike anything I’ve played.  It takes your breath away in it’s simplicity.  You walk to a tree or a cliff-face and start climbing not because a tutorial told you to but because you just know you can.  You grab an apple out of said tree because it feels like you should.  It’s intuitive, engaging and awe-inspiring.  It’s the epitome of the silly claim “see that mountain, you can go there”.  And that’s where this game really shines.  Everything feels so effortless at the beginning, in that way that only a game that’s been meticulously and thoughtfully crafted by experts can.  You kinda know that the whole world is a video game constructed by people for you to play because you’re a human with a brain holding a controller but you really feel that you’re simply Link, wandering this ancient Hyrule.  It absolutely encapsulates you.  In these ways, BotW is an unbelievable achievement and success.  Almost every inch of the world is at least somewhat interesting, the controls are wonderful and random exploration turns up almost unlimited rewards.  The feeling this game gives you will carry you extremely far in BotW, maybe forever.

ride like the wind my lovely friend

And what’s so wrong with that?  I mean, as an open world exploration game…nothing.  Those qualities are excellent.  They’re so great in fact, that my personal grievances for this particular Zelda didn’t develop for many hours.  It wasn’t until I finally set my sights on the final battle that my negativity matured into a strong opinion.  I even remember my exact tipping point.  There was a moment of clarity when I realized that, after completing the fourth ‘dungeon’, I just couldn’t bring myself to repeat another session of: 1. unlock a new tower 2. scope out the land and mark interesting locales/shrines I could see and 3. wander generally towards my markers whilst getting distracted every 10 ft and never actually arriving at my goal location.  It became tired, a chore even.  With little to no narrative left to speak of, the force driving my exploration was suddenly absent.  The little quirks and repetitions became more hollow.  The fucking STORMS and RAIN became MORE ANNOYING.  The constantly breaking weapons and seemingly endless korok seeds made me feel like I was running on a treadmill indoors, not taking the final hill as I approached the goal line of a marathon.

Naturally I felt inclined to conquer the last bit of story left, the ever-looming and mysterious Hyrule Castle.  And then I snapped.  Just as I had finished my hour of preparation and began my final hike to the castle…food and equipment all meticulously arranged and at the ready… a lightning storm began.  Poetic?  Not exactly!  The absolute fucking maddening task of OPENING MY FUCKING MENU ONE MORE FUCKING TIME to UN-EQUIP ALL MY METAL SHIT was enough to tweak me.  Could I have slept at an inn?  Sure, why not?  But that was so far beside the point at that particular moment in my Breath of the Wild experience.  Also, that’s simply another rigorously stubborn, time consuming design choice that forces the player into a rigid workaround for the inconvenient crap the game throws at the player.  So I do the menu shit, it’s quicker, and get Link so his ass doesn’t get fucking blasted by lightning and I start running.  Soon enough I run across a cliff that’s my most direct path forward at the moment.  Well, we all know what good climbing in the rain does!  This was my moment.  The things I found novel and interesting at the beginning had now sent me into a rage.  I literally just wanted to get to the end and the game wouldn’t let me.  I felt like I was going to be stuck in fucking Hyrule for another five hours and, in that moment, nothing felt worse.  Of course I made my way through, ignoring the splendor and design of Hyrule castle and quickly ascended to the promised place where I easily ganked the dumbass robo Ganon and his over 9,000 pig form in what is easily the most underwhelming final boss scenario is Zelda history.  Thank god that shit was over.  Turned it off, put the disc back in the case and filed it away for good.

that man

After roughly a hundred hours or so Breath of the Wild taught me a few things.  The most important of which is I don’t ever want to be held hostage by a game.  Which is decidedly different than holding myself hostage, something I frequently do and enjoy.  You like finding these cute little seeds?  Well there’s 900, so good luck.  Shrines are kinda fun right?  There’s not quite 900 but boy it’s sure gonna feel like it after you’re in your 75th one that looks identical to the 74 before and after it!  You want to fully upgrade all of your hearts like every other Zelda game ever?  Don’t spend orbs on your stamina bar then, because you can’t max both.  The game expertly dangles prizes in front of the player only to slide them out of reach every time you get a step closer.  The formula they’ve dreamed up is both maddening and addicting.  It employs a collect-athon mindset in a RPG framework that both seem to be at odds with the open world philosophy.  I can’t continuously be expected to feel engaged with messaging consisting of “the reward is the exploration of the world itself” when I’m on seed 658 and I feel like I’ve checked every area already.  And when you learn that the prize for finding all 900 is a worthless joke item, you feel like you wasted your time.  I wasn’t doing that just to collect seeds assholes.  It isn’t funny.

Secondly, I guess I want my Zelda games to have more story, dungeons, GanonDORF (remember him??) and maybe the FUCKING TRIFORCE than I got in BotW.  A good chunk of the story is told through memories (because Link has amnesia) that are triggered by special locations you have to go out and find.  It’s a great idea in theory.  Everyone will experience the narrative in a slightly different order, some people will see less…some more.  Honestly, the memories were probably my favorite part of the game.  Searching for them based on visual clues with the promise of a narrative reward was, I think, the closest this game gets to being an actual Zelda.  The backstory is interesting, the old heroes are dynamic and the bond they all share (or what little is shown of it) is compelling and heartfelt.  As the memories begin to weave into the present world, it elevates the new characters to a height they wouldn’t be able to achieve on their own.  Because memories are one of the only things in the game that are limited in quantity (there’s only 18!) it gives them a more special feel compared to everything else.  Uncovering one is much more fulfilling than hundreds of korok seeds, making them even duller in comparison.  I wish similar restraint was used in almost every other aspect of the game.

That isn’t to say the story is a home run though.  There’s no real baddie to speak of.  No face to the danger other than a giant monster with no real emotional consequence.  In fact, across the whole game there’s very very little in the way of a personal ultimate objective.  Yeah, Ganon is a big evil spirit monster and the four little versions of him that serve as bosses at the end of the dungeons serve their basic purpose, but Zelda games are built on emotionally driven showdowns.  Instead it seems the game nudges you toward the climax environmentally, fitting the design concept, but not nearly as compelling.  Hyrule castle is covered in black goo and sits in the middle of the world.  Okay, well I guess that’s the objective.  I feel like they were going for a more natural and intuitive approach to suggesting how to tackle their game instead of guiding you along a path.  Sadly, moments like Ganondorf galloping out of Hyrule Castle’s gate on a stormy night and imposing his fucking terror on little kid link in Ocarina aren’t even attempted.  That thirty seconds have more impact on the player and expresses more atmosphere than BotW’s entire geographical world could ever hope to achieve.  After going through four dungeons with nameless mini Ganon clones you knew exactly what you were going face in the castle: a big stupid Ganon that has no impact on anything other than being the biggest monster in the game.

I have many other small complaints…the game suffers from a litany of quality of life missteps that make certain things a chore (that could be fun).  I already mentioned constantly swapping equipment, how about equipment presets for certain environmental situations?  Many things you have to do repeatedly are three clunky menus deep and it just fucking wears a person down.  Ubisoft towers suck…Nintendo should be able to do better.  Rockstar employs a fog of war style map reveal in GTA V, why not copy that?  Weapon durability is fine for a while until it’s not.  The pressure of being in the middle of a tough fight and having your weapon bust is intense the first five hundred times, less so after that.  A recipe catalog would be amazing and should be in there.  My list goes on, honestly.

So, a mixed bag it is.  I like a lot of things about the game and I don’t like a lot of things.  And some of the things I really liked…I started to really not like over time.  By the end, so many things moved into the “not like” category that I ended up with an overall negative opinion brightened a bit by the things I was still really impressed with.  The art style is cool and the world is really inspiring.  I’ll never forget wandering into new areas and the sense of exploration I felt, or the freedom.  This version of Link and Zelda are great and the NPC characters are too.  It just didn’t feel enough like Zelda to me.  I know, I know…it’s okay for things to change and evolve.  Trust me, I get it.  I just prefer my Zeldas to be more Wind Waker and less Metal Gear Solid V.  I want real dungeons, real villains and real triforces.  Maybe on their next attempt they will stick with the majesty of what they created here and plug back in some of the traditional elements that were left out.


-LIST UPDATE: THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: BREATH OF THE WILD-

1. Vagrant Story

2. Chrono Cross

3. Xenogears

4. Final Fantasy XII

5. Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together

6. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

7. Resident Evil 4

8. Final Fantasy XI

9. Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door

10. Mass Effect

11. Dead Rising 

12. Batman: Arkham Asylum

13. Dynasty Warriors 7

14. Brutal Legend

15. Paper Mario

16. Radiata Stories

17. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
BotW is an impressive new take on the open world genre with little else going for it.  The story is the worst in the series and the enormous amount of busywork and lolopenworld stuff just isn’t all that acceptable to me, especially coming from a company that has made a name for itself by ignoring modern day gaming tropes and usually inventing their own shit.

18. Kingdom Hearts

19. Dissidia: Final Fantasy

20. Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars

21. Final Fantasy XIII

22. Final Fantasy XV

23. Dead or Alive Xtreme 2

-NEXT BLAST-

Advertisements

The Last Story

I don’t know exactly what to think about Mistwalker’s The Last Story.  Despite having “The Gooch” running the show, they just don’t seem to have made anything, like, super awesome yet.  Blue Dragon was interesting (but not quite interesting enough for me to finish it) and Lost Odyssey, to me, only had flashes of brilliance.  Considering Sakaguchi hasn’t really directed anything since about Final Fantasy V, maybe this can be his return to prominence.  Or not, who knows!

All things considered, I will purchase this game when it releases here and not necessarily because I expect it to even be good.

Other reasons include:
1.  I want to support localization of any and everything.  The more stuff we get here the better, especially RPGs.
2.  My Wii needs some love and Nintendo needs to show the fans that they’re willing to give us what we want.
3.  There’s a soft spot in my heart for old Gooch and Uematsu.  Their works more or less shaped my early gaming years and I’m willing to support/follow them through even mediocre games.
4.  THE ART

Special mention to that fucking crazy guy that looks like Ganondorf.  I mean…I haven’t been following this game that closely because there seemed to be only a slight chance that it was coming here but now I’m FUCKING JAKKKKKKKKKED.

So yeah, pretty cool shit.  Big ups to Nintendo for at the very least pretending to care about the fans.

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door

Sometimes it’s hard to compare sequels to their predecessors.  For this reason I wanted to postpone talking about Thousand-Year Door for a while…mostly because the initial shock of discovering the original Paper Mario’s greatness has yet to wear off.  Imagine my surprise when I find that not only is Paper Mario 2 a wonderful continuation of the innovative concepts the original introduced, but it’s one of the best RPG’s I’ve ever played.  It’s this revelation which encouraged me to push the title straight to the top of the queue.  Why would I want to stop talking about this series?

You see, Paper Mario 2 isn’t just a great follow-up… it’s a fucking study on how to make a sequel, an art that has never been a solid guarantee in any medium.  But, if there isn’t a category of game making that Thousand-Year doesn’t improve on over Paper Mario then I didn’t see it.  I reviewed the original by comparison with that other really popular Square Mario RPG, finding that Paper Mario was superior in many ways (read: almost every way).  I did that in an attempt to ground Paper Mario familiarly for myself, mostly because I didn’t really understand how else to describe how the fuck that game was so good, or even what it was.  Thousand-Year on the other hand, was the second game in a series.  A work that drew directly from an established blueprint.  That alleviated any sort of need to figure out what the concepts were or how inspiration became a working video game, because the foundation was already in place.  Well…it wasn’t just in place, it was a phenomenal beginning.  Thankfully, Thousand-Year has all that made Paper Mario great with that extra something that turns it from great into masterpiece.

Easy review, right?  It’s just an enhanced version of Paper Mario.

Nope, it’s more than that.  There’s stuff going on with Paper Mario 2 that deserves recognition.  Mostly brilliant design, but also part traditional thinking.  Thinking that has been lost on most developers for quite some time.  You can make cases for bad and good sequels all across the board in gaming, and it’s not restricted to any particular genre, but that’s irrelevant because the case I’m trying to make is clear and hopefully simple:  Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is fucking fantastic…and better than Paper Mario, most RPG’s and most games out there, really.

Specifically:

Really cool area and fun dungeon to boot

– The graphics are superb.
I know that some people may scoff at the whole “cel-shaded” concept but being of an artistic mind I find that there’s a bit more appeal to a cartoon look.  First of all, you can stylize your creation much more than something realistic.  As much as you want to fight this fact, The Wind Waker is more expressive, more endearing and just plain prettier to look at than any other Zelda.  Argue this point if you want, but you have no ground to stand on comparing the bloom effect riddled “realistic” world of Twilight Princess to the breath-taking and colorful cornucopia of style the is The Wind Waker.  The original Paper Mario proved that a cartoon Mario can shine, but Paper Mario 2 showed without a shadow of doubt that cartoons can just do more.  Everything in Thousand-Year’s world is refreshing and filled with life.  Subtle animations from wandering citizens and party members alike just couldn’t be pulled off with the same flair in a realistic world.  Is it me or is a goomba in 3D just not the same?  There’s something about this style that harkens back to the older days of gaming, but is pulled off in a modern way.  You get great graphics without jaggies, a huge world without long loading times, a super long and robust game without the need for repetition whatsoever (even the damn trees look different in each area).

– The characterization of the world and its denizens is charming and cohesive (what else should you expect from a Nintendo-made Mario game?).
I suppose this one piggy-backs off of the blurb about graphics, but art direction is critical in characterization.  I was literally never bored with Paper Mario 2.  Just wasn’t, and it’s a long game.  Most of that has to do with the complete and utter distinction between all of the areas and towns you visit throughout your adventure.  One chapter has you facing off in a sketchy tournament arena to unearth a conspiracy that has plagued that particular arena for some time.  Next thing you know you find yourself in an eery sort-of monochrome wooded area with a giant tree filled with little buggers.  There just wasn’t a single moment in this game that didn’t have something completely inspired going on.  Add in that each distinct area usually provided you with an awesome new unique character and you have one of the most creative games I’ve ever played.

Hero

Which is funny because I considered Paper Mario 1 to be pretty clever with its characters and world.  Being that Paper Mario 2 is a well-made sequel, these things were magnified just like everything else.  Admiral Bobbery is a sea-faring old Bob-omb veteran who lost his true love somewhere along the way.  In a chapter where you must travel to a haunted island there is no better man (or bomb) for the task.  BUT FIRST, you must convince him to enter the harsh sea of memories that have caused him to give up sailing and motivate him once again to get aboard a boat.  It’s touching in a way that shouldn’t be possible given the silliness of the world and this particular character, but it manages to tug at your heart strings just enough.  The original Paper Mario’s Bob-omb character was a cutesy little girl bomb.  You see where I’m going here?  All of the characters see upgrades in the way of story-telling and characterization…that isn’t at all to say that Paper Mario’s weren’t great, but they’re even more interesting and dynamic than before.

– The music is great and oftentimes quite memorable.
I was so-so on Paper Mario’s music save for a few memorable tracks.  I won’t say a lot about the music from the sequel because it’s nowhere near a Mitsuda’esque work of art, but the soundtrack for Thousand-Year Door is certainly better.  I felt like there was a higher quality and quantity of tracks…overall pleasantly surprised going into it thinking I would be mostly uninterested.

– The gameplay, pacing and storytelling is absolutely flawless in execution.
I guess I also didn’t expect much new in the way of gameplay either.  Boy was I wrong.  There is a mile-long list of additions to the exploration and combat that I could tediously describe but I think I’ll stick to the main points in a numbered list:
1.  The hub city is larger with much more to do…
2. …like a ruined underground city that serves as a secondary hub/large dungeon with EVEN MORE STUFFS TO DO.
3.  The chapters are more robust and lengthy.
4.  They added an audience mechanic to the battling, where enemies and friendlies alike will fill up the seats based on how entertaining your actions are (got your timing right?)…and throw things at you.  Garbage and whatnot if they’re displeased or healing items and whatnot if they’re happy.
5.  There are cool new fun and engaging paper functions (like rolling into a tube) that are actually implemented in the world/dungeons in smart and fun ways.  I wish more games would use power ups as ways to grow the playable world instead of invisible walls that disappear arbitrarily when the game reaches some artificially scripted moment, ya know?  It’s those kinds of things that connect you to the world and make it interesting.
6.  THE BATTLE ARENA CHAPTER (one of the best in gaming, period)
7.  The little visits from Luigi after each chapter where he details his parallel “adventure” that you never actually get to see are absolutely hilarious.  Thousand-Year Door has some of the funniest moments in a game and these are a big reason why.  The dialogue that you can initiate with his newest party member that he shows up with are priceless and usually out Luigi as the bumbling brother that we all know him as.  PS.  I want them to make a spin-off game about Luigi’s epic quest…that would be a day 1 purchase.
8.  Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door has one of the best writing/localizations for a Japanese-made video game that I’ve ever seen.  It’s definitely up there.

TEC...what is love?

– The Peach and Bowser portions.
I can’t wrap up talking about this game without describing my favorite part of it, the playable Princess Peach sections.  They (of course) elaborated on the idea of being able to play as the captive princess once again and turned it into something even more awesome.  You will play really funny Bowser portions too, where he always shows up to the place where Mario and Co. just completed the chapter and get’s frustrated.  BUT, the Peach scenes are where I felt the real growth was.  She ends up running into the super computer that our villains use in their base of operations…named TEC.  The slow relationship that builds from chapter to chapter between this “computer that knows everything” and our lovely captured beauty begins when TEC asks her to explain what love means.  In between the big Mario chunks you find yourself as Peach, being led to TEC’s room where he begins to inquire about love, how it works and why it happens.  It’s actually fairly emotional and well-done for how ridiculous a sub-plot it is.  TEC starts to see Peach’s devotion to Mario and it moves him…as much as a data based computer can be moved.  It’s this perception of loyalty and feeling within the princess that not only causes TEC to question about matters of the heart, but slowly fall in “love” with Peach herself.  Because of this, TEC slowly but surely agrees to help Peach not only contact Mario through the network, but help him and her in any way he can.  You will come to anticipate what will happen in the mini drama that is TEC’s journey to discover love and you should, because it’s really well done.

And that by itself could sum up why this game is so superb.  They managed somehow to pack an emotional and mature punch into a MARIO game, ABOUT EVIL TECHNO-ALIENS AND ROBOTS.  No Mario game I’ve ever played has even begun to approach this level of nuanced storytelling.  In fact, many games that pride themselves on being story-centric don’t even come near to what these stupid little Peach/TEC sections do so effortlessly.  This is where I would normally cite examples of how games these days have failed us all and lost the ability to move me and etc…but I’ll leave that for another time.  The warm and cozy feelings that the memories I’ve drummed up to write this review have left me too happy to delve into the negative side of modern gaming.  Anyone who has avoided this series should make an effort to play through at least the original and Thousand-Year Door.  It’s a slightly alternative RPG experience that puts almost everything in a similar category to shame, and does so with class, a progressive attitude and a bit of old-school flair.  Plus it’s fucking fun, and Koops rules.

Are you ready to RAWK?

 

Click here to see where Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door placed in my Master List