The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Review

Having not played a Legend of Zelda game since A Link to the Past, Breath of the Wild was a wholly new experience.

Fully 3D and open world meant complete freedom. Praise for this game has been about how if you can see it, you can get to it. And it’s true: there are no invisible boundaries that block you. Any hindrance I encountered was more about if I didn’t have enough stamina or the right clothing for the environment.

Other than somewhat confining me to a beginning area (although fairly large) to casually introduce game mechanics, the game never dictates what a player should do. You could even rush right into the final area to confront the end boss if you wanted to. You’d be almost guaranteed to fail, but the game doesn’t exactly say no to you. Open world has never felt so… open.

The storyline is fairly standard Zelda fare: Link is a legendary hero, Zelda is the princess in peril, Ganon is the big bad, and Hyrule is the expansive world in which to explore. Outside of the main quests and some side missions, there’s really no storyline or dialog. Players are free to run around and discover the environment.

That’s where the beauty and richness of this game really shines through. Instead of heavy exposition or long pages of text to flesh out the world, Hyrule casually and subtly presents itself by exploration and discovery.

I continually marveled at how almost every location I wandered into felt like it had a deeply baked-in sense of history unique to other locales. Ruins of long-gone structures told as much of a story as talking to inhabitants of villages. Even small touches, easily missed such as a patch of cobblestones among the overgrown grass would hint at a history to that area.

Enemies are littered throughout the land, but other than in the first few hours of the game where I lacked equipment and hearts, none of them ever felt challenging. In fact, they never level up with my character’s progression. Soon, my Link became an overpowered beast, easily mowing down hapless goblins with the same sticks and clubs they had when I first encountered them in the game.

But it makes sense that the enemies are only a secondary element. In Breath of the Wild, Hyrule is the singular focal point.

In an age where games usually hold a player’s hand, to the point of just providing a line to the next location, Breath of the Wild almost never tells you where to go or what to do. The game never falters to portray freedom, discovery and wonder, all without sacrificing tight, robust mechanics.

In fact, it’s amazing that the puzzles are all so well executed in a way where there are multiple solutions. I solved a few of them with an absolute knowledge that I somehow did it in a way the game probably didn’t intend.

Nintendo really outdid itself with this iteration of The Legend of Zelda. And that’s saying something. It’s amazing how so many developers struggle for years to output a game and Nintendo’s teams continually create innovative, polished games so often.

As games head towards more cinematic experiences, relying on motion capture, vocal performances, quicktime events, dense worldbuilding exposition, Breath of the Wild proves that a video game can give an equally immersive experience without any of those elements.

Even after beating the main villain, I can’t wait to jump back in and see what else Hyrule has hidden away, waiting to be discovered.

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Persona 5 Review

I finished Persona 5 last night, clocking in 100+ hrs in a single playthrough.

I have to say… “Wow.” I’ve never played a Persona series game before so not sure how it stacks up to the rest, but this game was incredible. This could be the most perfect iteration of turn-based RPG mechanics I’ve ever played. Very rarely did I ever feel like it had become a slog to fight, and whenever I lost I never felt like the game was being unfair or cheap.

I think the story was pretty intriguing, even though it probably could’ve been cut a little lighter in the middle portion. But the jumping timeline and the calendar system kept the propulsion of the pace going.

If anything, I felt a bit constricted at times by the calendar. I would’ve liked to spend more time exploring or meeting up with friends but time was a valuable commodity.

My other gripe might be that items to replenish SP were few and far in between. Especially by the final few battles which you had to play back to back to back and every member on my team had used up all their SP long ago. I wasn’t even expecting the end to come so soon but the game really forces you to just hunker down and play the final 4 or 5 hours nonstop.

But the time I spent in this game really allowed me to feel invested in the characters and the game itself. [Minor spoilers] When a teammate makes their exit in the end, I actually teared up. Of course the game cops out by having the character come back, which while it made me happy, I sort of wish they hadn’t done that.

And the graphics… Oh my god, the graphics! This is such a beautiful game. Not just that the top-notch animation of the characters and cutscenes felt like watching an anime, but every tiny bit of this game was given the time and attention to craft what is pretty easily the most boldly stylish game I’ve ever played. Every other developer really needs to examine this game when they start considering their own UI and navigation system.

Finishing the game has definitely felt like an achievement. I feel a bit exhausted since I played through Persona 5 almost exclusively, without many other games to break up the experience. i will 100% jump back in for another playthrough… eventually. Mostly to try to max out my confidants and try a different romance option. Or just to listen to the amazing music again!

I have Zelda and Horizon next on my playlist, but this could be my vote for Game of the Year.

Let’s Play: Night in the Woods

I jumped onto another short indie game in order to take a break from my 90+ hrs of Persona 5. Night in the Woods had been mentioned a couple of times so I decided to give it a run.

I almost didn’t play past the first Let’s Play episode just because I wasn’t sure what I was getting. The game features cute animal characters and a playful art style, yet the story and gameplay deal very much in the mundane. I have no problem with walking simulators but I guess I was expecting some kind of platforming or puzzle element.

While there are mini games, they vary radically in terms of actual skill involved. There’s Guitar Hero style button matching and some minor platforming traversal, but then are some very basic move the cursor to grab an object that barely seems worth the effort.

Over the course of the story though I found myself getting attached to the very likable cast of characters. And I started to realize what the game was going for.

Themes of transitioning into adulthood, living up to expectations (or failing to), and having to let go or feeling a sense of loss, are all very mature topics that this game deals with. The cutesy style is an interesting juxtaposition to that. In fact, this game swings wildly and unexpectedly from humor and whimsy to very morbid and morose conversations. I’d be laughing one second at the insult tradeoffs and then suddenly become speechless at a friend’s dilemma over her mentally failing father. I also appreciated the subtle way they treated a LGBT couple in the game.

When the final act starts to bring up the heat on a more mysterious, fantastical story beat, I actually began to wish that the game hadn’t resorted to such tropes for tension and interest and just stayed invested in the tragedy of the mundane. To their credit, when things get really metaphysical, the game still steers away from any overt reveals or explanations.

All in all, this game ended up winning me over with its witty dialog and endearing characters. I think some actual voice acting and foregoing the more pointless mini games would’ve made for a better experience. Hopefully the success of this game will allow the developers to stretch their legs more in their next effort.