My first in-depth experience with the Zelda franchise came with one of the series’ most beloved entries, Ocarina of Time. I sunk countless hours into the game and found it to be an incredibly rewarding experience when I was ten years old. It was a few years later that I began diving into the Zelda franchise at the behest of my best friend — who some may describe as a Zelda fanatic — and I discovered that what I thought about the series was vastly off-base. Ocarina of Time and the main console Zelda games following it led me to believe that the games are a combat-focused series with a heavy emphasis on mechanics that enhance and modify the way you interact with the world you inhabit. It wasn’t until I had played and enjoyed other games in the series — notably A Link to the Past, Link’s Awakening DX, and The Minish Cap — that I came to see how the main console Zelda games were more experimental with the format and formula than I thought.
What does all this have to do with Nintendo’s newest entry in the Zelda series, Breath of the Wild? After seeing what the game is based around, it’s clear that the console Zelda games are not for me. That’s not to say that they are bad, but if you look at all the things Breath of the Wild is adding to the franchise, it starts to stray further away from what I’d consider a Zelda game.
For example, Breath of the Wild is implementing a number of RPG elements that you’d be more likely to find in Skyrim than you normally would in Hyrule. There’s item crafting, item degradation (the gameplay I’ve seen showed Link‘s bow losing its stability after a number of uses), a more in-depth armor system that affects Link’s stats in more targeted ways, a food system in place for healing instead of using heart pieces, and a sprawling open world landscape that’s daunting to even think about. To reiterate, these aren’t negatives when you consider them simply as gameplay features. The sandbox Link is playing in is not only expansive but jaw-droppingly gorgeous, and the world looks like it’ll be a blast to run around in. As far as capturing the exploratory adventure that the Zelda series is known for, Breath of the Wind looks to excel in that department.
But these are all elements from other survival RPGs that feel out of place in the world of Zelda. Would people be as excited for this same game with these same features if it wasn’t called Zelda? Maybe. Breath of the Wild is looking to break from a lot of the expected tenants of the series, and experimentation is important when dealing with a series that has lasted as long as Zelda has. However, that same approach is what led to the grating and broken Skyward Sword, easily one of the most frustrating games in the franchise’s history. It’s obvious that the main console Zelda games need to do things that push both the hardware of the console and the scope of the series in order to compete with other contemporary games, but is that coming at the cost of distancing itself from being a Zelda game?
Some will say these are the unfounded and out-of-touch concerns of an old-timey gamer and they wouldn’t be wrong. The only Zelda game that has piqued my interest in the last few years has been A Link Between Worlds, a throwback of sorts that seems to embrace all the simplicities that I love about Zelda while still finding ways to experiment within that framework i.e. Ravio‘s item rental system. If the handheld Zelda games will be where “classic” Zelda makes its home, then I say the world is a better place for having different kinds of Zelda games out in the wild (I couldn’t resist).
All I know is that Breath of the Wild looks to be bringing aggressively new ideas to the franchise. Whether that’s good, bad, or inconsequential will be known when the game releases next year.