Breathe with me
When the Nintendo Switch launched back in March 2017, it wasn’t alone. It launched with possibly the greatest launch title in the history of gaming, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Not only did it pick up that most coveted of awards, Game of the Year, it also received universal praise for shaking up a somewhat stale series.
Origins of Time
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was released in 1998, 20 years ago (feeling old yet) and it revolutionised the industry, in typical Nintendo fashion. Instead of replicating the tried and tested formula of the masterpiece that is The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and turning everything up to 11, Nintendo once again had different plans. By borrowing ideas from the recently released Super Mario 64 (another glorious example of innovation, but one saved for another time I feel) Nintendo managed to create 3D environments like no other.
Many people will likely never forget the 1st time they stepped out on to Hyrule field, the sense of grandeur that accompanied it. Or doing their best King Arthur impression as Link drew the Master Sword from the pedestal, the game changing consequences that followed. Do I need to put a spoiler warning here? Everybody and their Gran has played this game, right?
Anyway, my many digressions aside, the point that I was making here is while OOT completely reinvented the game, every core Zelda title since has felt somewhat repetitive. For the sake of argument, the Zelda franchise is my 2nd favourite thing on this ball of space rock that we call planet Earth, but I can accept criticism where it’s due. And man, it isn’t half due for some criticism!
Will the real OOT please stand up
The Wind Waker while an excellent game at times felt like ‘Cartoon OOT’.
Twilight Princess, which I admire for trying to be edgier feels very much like ‘Adult OOT’.
Skyward Sword, which in my opinion uses narrative in the most effective way of any Zelda game, certainly feels like ‘Modern OOT’ by which I’m referring to the influences from western game developers.
For example, the stamina meter and auto climbing when running feel as though it has been ripped straight out of the pages of Assassins Creed and revisiting areas you’ve previously been to, albeit with new items and different elemental effects in play certainly rings a bell.
Breath of fresh air
Breath of the Wild however was the 1st Zelda game since Ocarina of Time that really felt like an entirely different beast, an animal in its own right. With the amount of time this game took to make, it’s no surprise either. Do you remember the original trailer shown at E3 2014? And the promise it would launch the very next year?
Rewatching this, brings it all back huh? The delays, the anticipation, not knowing anything about where this game sits in the timeline.
I actually attended a Nintendo Switch Event in early February. I was lucky enough to be able to play the timed 10 minute demo that we’ve all seen a hundred times. Having to wait another three weeks after years of waiting, was the hardest thing that I’ve ever done. And I once ate an entire wheel of cheese. In one sitting…
Back to the topic
That seemed like a lot of set up, but all completely necessary for the point that I’m trying to get across. While the game innovated on so many levels, one aspect it never really addressed is its placement on the timeline.
The nature of the games open-world narrative, and the way in which memories are completely optional means that the story lacks the fluidity of traditional Zelda titles. Call it linear if you like but one of my personal highlights when playing a game is to be completely swept up in the story. And the Legend of Zelda series has certainly swept me up over the years.
During E3 2016 we saw the Koroks, so initially I thought it must take place after the Wind Waker, when the land of Hyrule had been flooded. That would at least explain why the land is in ruin and overrun with wildlife. When the game dropped however, I quickly became aware that this simply wasn’t the case.
Time after time
During a certain memory involving the titular princess of legend, along with the four champions in which the Master Sword; the blade of evils bane, is being discussed, Princess Zelda directly references the legendary heroes from all the aforementioned games. In my ever active mind, this got me thinking that perhaps we were approaching end game territory.
Imagine a merging of the timelines that would restore some order to proceedings. Skyward Sword set in place the entire cycle of a perpetual battle between good versus evil. Were we about to experience some finality to proceedings? Would the inevitable destruction of Ganon lead to the resurrection of Demise and a final showdown? Would we finally have some form of canon ending in this most convoluted of histories? How brave are Nintendo? How far down the rabbit hole were they willing to go?
I’ll just answer the last two of those questions.
No they weren’t and for now, not deep enough.
I almost feel as though they just wanted to fill the game with nostalgia. Even the DLC armour is all just recycled aesthetics from previous entries. Don’t get me wrong, I love running around this Hyrule wearing Phantom armour or wearing Majoras Mask I just wish it had some history or purpose, something to tether it to this most gallant of game worlds.
Eiji Aonuma speaks out
Zelda big wig and master of all things Hyrule, Eiji Aonuma recently, albeit incredibly vaguely, discussed Breath of the Wild and it’s relevance to the timeline
“Video games, not just Zelda, can go much, much further! We got a lot of responses from adult players who said they felt the same way playing this game as they did when they used to be hooked on video games when they were younger”
“We made this game with the intention of returning to our roots, so the response from players about feeling the same as they had when they were young is promising.”
“In books like the recently released The Legend of Zelda Encyclopedia, we revealed where each Zelda game fell on a timeline and how their stories related, but we didn’t do that for Breath of the Wild. There is a reason for that. With this game, we saw just how many players were playing in their own way and had those reactions I just mentioned.”
“We realised that people were enjoying imagining the story that emerged from the fragmentary imagery we were providing. If we defined a restricted timeline, then there would be a definitive story, and it would eliminate the room for imagination, which wouldn’t be as fun.”
“We want players to be able to continue having fun imagining this world even after they are finished with the game, so, this time, we decided that we would avoid making clarifications. I hope that everyone can find their own answer, in their own way.”
In typical Nintendo fashion it feels like the safest possible option. At this point you have to ask, do Nintendo even have a definitive structure to the timeline?
Maybe one day Nintendo will take a risk and close the story but for now The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild remains just another, although spectacularly sublime, entry in this seemingly never ending game franchise.
Until the inevitable follow up drops, most likely towards the end of the Nintendo Switch’s life cycle, how about a little something to tide us over Nintendo?
Either of these would be absolutely fine with me.
Why not both? If you make them, we’ll buy them.
Every. Single. Time.