How Breath Of The Wild Made Me A Zelda Fan 20 Years Later

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Many herald The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time as the greatest video game of all time. Whether you were 13 years old or going on 30, the title changed video game design forever. With its vast world, puzzle-laden dungeons, and innovative Z-Targeting lock-on system, the project led to the emergence of the 3D action-adventure genre. Wind Waker and Twilight Princess followed suit, further validating the success of Ocarina's revolutionary format. However, while Ocarina of Time was a defining experience during my childhood, I never considered myself a fan of the series. 

Despite owning a Nintendo 64 as a kid, my family didn't have the money to purchase games for the system. Instead, we spent our evenings and weekends combing through shelves of rentals at our local Blockbuster, checking out popular titles like Super Smash Bros. and Super Mario 64 for a few days at a time. Zelda: Ocarina of Time was often included in this rotation, too. While rentals allowed me to play a little bit of everything, they prevented me from experiencing the full breadth of the console's seminal experiences. For the longest time, my experience with the Zelda series was one of frustration. However, all of that changed when I played Breath of the Wild in 2017.

Hey, I’m Alex Van Aken from Game Informer, and this is how Breath of the Wild made me a Zelda fan nearly 20 years after I first played Ocarina of Time. If you enjoy this video essay, be sure to watch my previous essay, How Base Building Saved No Man's Sky, or Associate Editor Jay Guisao's essay on The Weight of Departures and Reunions in Final Fantasy 7 Remake. Looking for more Zelda features? We recently celebrated Zelda Week and published five days of coverage surrounding the iconic series, which you can read here.

We recommend watching the video essay with headphones to appreciate the full experience, however here's the transcript should you need it:

Many herald The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time as the greatest video game of all time. Whether you were 13 years old or going on 30, the title changed video game design forever. With its vast world, puzzle-laden dungeons, and innovative Z-Targeting lock-on system, the project led to the emergence of the 3D action-adventure genre. Wind Waker and Twilight Princess followed suit, further validating the success of Ocarina's revolutionary format. However, while Ocarina of Time was a defining experience during my childhood, I never considered myself a fan of the series.

Despite owning a Nintendo 64 as a kid, my family didn't have the money to purchase games for the system. Instead, we spent our evenings and weekends combing through shelves of rentals at our local Blockbuster, checking out popular titles like Super Smash Bros. and Super Mario 64 for a few days at a time. Zelda: Ocarina of Time was often included in this rotation, too. While rentals allowed me to play a little bit of everything, they prevented me from experiencing the full breadth of the console's seminal experiences. 

Since most first-party Nintendo titles saved their data on the N64 cartridge, I lost my Ocarina of Time save file when we returned our rental to the store. I've watched Navi wake up Link in Kokiri Forest dozens of times, but unfortunately, I never saw the game through to the end. I didn't play subsequent entries because, for the longest time, my experience with the Zelda series was one of frustration; however, all of that changed when I first played Breath of the Wild in 2017.

I first fell in love with Breath of the Wild for its quiet moments, the occasions when Link trotted beneath the Dueling Peaks or unearthed treasure across the neighboring shoreline. At the same time, scattered melodies softly juxtaposed a Hyrule in ruin. It was a world I wanted to be in, and the longer I stayed, the more I realized how special it was. Breath of the Wild was a personal revelation for what an open-world game could be, one that wasn't concerned with busy work or task lists and instead facilitated emergent opportunities for exploration and experimentation. The game's main quest asks you to "Destroy Ganon," though you determine the method of doing so.

Link has everything he needs to complete the journey ahead from the moment he steps off of The Great Plateau. The paraglider allows Link to soar through the sky and cross great distances; the Sheikah Slate holds the power of Magnesis, Stasis, Cryonis, and Remote Bombs enable him to clear obstacles or enemies out of the way in classic Zelda style. The consistency of these mechanics and their interactions with systems like stamina, weapon degradation, temperature, and physics breeds creativity.

For example, many objects are flammable, including grass, wood, food, and even certain enemies. Setting grass on fire creates updrafts that players can use to aid combat or rise to out-of-reach places. Or, if they don't have a cooking pot nearby, they can light a flammable surface on fire and cook their food on the fly. Small decisions like these permeate the experience, and more times than not, you can enact whatever out-of-left-field strategy you dream up – and I love the game for it.

In its first hour, Breath of the Wild places a significant puzzle in front of players, The River of the Dead, and requires them to solve it. The torrential waters reside below Mount Hylia, and players must cross them to get to the shrine that grants them the Sheikah Slate's Cryonis power. Since it only takes a few seconds to die from hypothermia after being submerged, you must find another way to cross the icy river – especially without owning the crucial paraglider yet.

Perceptive players can use their newfound Magnesis ability to reassemble the scattered metal pieces of a broken bridge. Or they can take the less conventional approach by finding an axe wedged in a tree on the riverbank, chopping down the conifer, and using the floating logs to make their way to a wooden raft in a nearby eddy. If you discovered the Korok Leaf earlier, you could use it to sail the raft to the opposite bank, thus solving the puzzle. Zelda: Breath of the Wild celebrates curiosity at nearly every juncture, and it embraces this philosophy through the end of the game.

Breath of the Wild feels like a reconstruction of the inventive format that Ocarina of Time popularized; a passing of the torch. In the same way that fans look back at 1998 as a moment that shaped their taste in gaming, I view 2017 as the year my expectations of open-world games changed forever. Breath of the Wild is a game that's not afraid of the quiet moments, nor is it cautious about asking its players to find their way. It's a freeing experience that grants its users full agency over their journey through its world. 

By coupling Breath of the Wild's commitment to exploration with stimulating combat, gorgeous art direction, and a memorable soundtrack, Nintendo has yielded one of the most notable video game experiences of my life. Twenty years later, I now count myself as a Zelda fan, and it feels damn satisfying to say so.

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