Breath of the Wild

The Legend of Zelda: The Breath of the Wild launched in 2017 along with the Nintendo Switch, and despite it not even being a pack-in bundle, sold at a 1:1 ratio with the Switch. The Switch was an innovation in the console gaming market, and Breath of the Wild was a similar innovation in open-world gaming. In fact, it won Game of the Year 2017. It was the first game I played that I would truly call open-world, and on the launch week of its sequel, Tears of the Kingdom, I wanted to write down a few of my thoughts.
  • Open-World: Breath of the Wild deviated from the typical Zelda format, in that it gives you all the tools you need from more or less the start of the game. There's a "tutorial" portion where you learn the basics and acquire the tools, but from then on, you're allowed to go where you want and do what you want. This is what makes Breath of the Wild so special -- player agency is the core of the game. If you want to go straight to Hyrule Castle and free the kingdom from Calamity Ganon with nothing but shorts and a tree branch, there's nothing stopping you from doing so. What it gets so right is that it presents you with a myriad of problems, but how you solve them is up to you. There is no wrong answer when it comes to playing this game. If you need to stay warm in the mountains, you can: cook a bunch of chili peppers and ingest them for temporary cold resistance OR just cook a bunch of food to restore your health every time you take cold damage OR make some money so that you can purchase a cold-resistant tunic, OR make a fireplace and carry a torch around you to stay warm OR a bunch of things I haven't thought of!
  • Discovery: The first time I realized the weather played a role in this game, I died from the freezing climate of the mountains. I had to find enemy campfires and take them over to stay warm. Then I discovered that I could light my weapons on fire and travel with them to stay warm -- but then the weapons broke and I was out in the cold again. From there, I had to learn how to cut down trees, start my own campfires and use durable torches to stay warm, not tree branches. I arrived at this solution on my own, and it was a story unique to me. I was given the agency and the tools to discover on my own, and that's what Breath of the Wild does so well.
    • This sense of discovery is ingrained into the DNA of the game. 100+ hours in, I'm still discovering new tidbits in the game. Follow your curiosity and the game will reward you. Nowhere is this greater than with the Korok Seeds, of which there are 900 scattered throughout the kingdom. I'm writing this article with over 400 in my belt, and I look forward to the time when I can get more. Link wakes up in the middle of the kingdom in a special place called The Shrine of Resurrection. It's a teleport spot, and on one of my many teleports there, I decided to look back at the place that I woke up from, and there were special lights there. When I examined the lights, it was a Korok seed waiting for me, a little nugget of the game rewarding my curiosity.
  • History: The main character, Link wakes up from a 100-year slumber at the start of the game. 100 years ago, a blight fell on the kingdom and ravaged it, the Calamity Ganon. Nobody could stand against it, including Link. He wakes up with no memories of how he got there, who he is, or what he's doing. That's exactly where the player is at when you begin. I love this mechanic: both you and Link are starting at ground zero. The kingdom becomes a character itself, as the Princess Zelda has left you 12 pictures from different areas of the kingdom, for you to recover your memories. You have to explore the kingdom and find just where these pictures were taken from, in order to unlock your memory. Each memory is special and the feeling of finding another piece of yourself is so rewarding.
So many times I found myself moving my personal goalposts for the game, that special marker that I could consider it "finished" and move on to the sequel, sure to be another hit. My first goalpost was to free the 4 divine beasts of the Kingdom, recover all 12 of my memories and then defeat Calamity Ganon. Then I discovered that there's a 13th memory you unlock, allowing you access to the "true" ending of the game. Then I wanted to make sure that I could leave the hero in a comfortable position, so I went on a massive Korok Seed quest. I'm at 400+ now, but may call it, after completing my current goalpost: Tarrey Town.

"From the Ground Up" is a side quest in the video game that involves you helping to create a new settlement called Tarrey Town in the Eastern part of Kingdom. It's a winding quest that takes you across the 4 corners of the kingdom, and, in my opinion, it's a metaphor for post-racial society. Initially I learned about this sidequest when I was binging the game soundtrack, which has over 200 tracks and is amazing. The Tarrey Town theme is no different, as it iterates on itself. It starts with a quaint, peaceful theme anchored by a saxophone. As you add more people from around the kingdom, notes and themes from their villages of origin are introduced into the song. The lumbering, boisterous trumpet represents the burly Gorons who come to help mine the town. The graceful flute enters the theme as the skyfaring Rito set up shop and trade in the town.

It's a beautiful cornucopia of different people with different skillsets and a celebration of diversity. Everybody contributes their own skillset and everybody is celebrated, much like in the song. I helped make it happen; I helped create this harmonious community comprised of all sorts of people, and better than vanquishing a monster, better than finding the strongest sword, that's the greatest gift that this game could give me. Healing a kingdom in the face of calamity and trauma. I couldn't have imagined a better way to close out my time here. Goodbye for now, Breath of the Wild. Thank you for two months of joy.

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