Disclaimer: This article was written by a member of the Hidden Triforce team. The information, opinions, and beliefs displayed in this article belong to that of the author and do not represent the Hidden Triforce as a whole. This article also contains character and location related spoilers.
Nintendo has re-introduced open world gaming with its most recent release: Breath of the Wild. Going back to their roots from when the series began brings back the original spirit of The Legend of Zelda series: exploration. This genre of gaming isn’t hand holding, allows freedom of choice, and often makes the game re-playable if done well. However, despite the near impenetrable Nintendo polish, their switch from linear plot to open world exploration was not a totally smooth transition. This is a warning to players and a critique for the game because both can be at fault for ruining one’s experience in Breath of the Wild, most especially the ending.
From the very beginning when Link runs out of the Shrine of Resurrection onto the hill overlooking Hyrule, you’re sucked into the game and reality seems to disappear around you. Breath of the Wild has taken open world gaming to the next level. Its formula to grant freedom of choice to the player gave some very needed breathing room for Legend of Zelda fans. (We’ve waited too long for the strict linear plot to die out.) But how much freedom is too much and does Breath of the Wild grant more than what is necessary? It is challenging to gauge how difficult a boss battle should be when a player has outstanding freedom over their progression. I’m not going to say that the amount of freedom given is ultimately bad because it isn’t, it’s a step in the right direction. The first time I happened upon a Stone Talus was so momentous an occasion as I’m sure multitudes of other players would agree. These bosses, and others like them, played well into the element of exploration in the wide expanse of Hyrule. These mini-bosses fit in so seamlessly because of their simplicity. There wasn’t a specific weapon assigned that was required to beat them. You could get creative as a player and that was awesome. The moment this freedom becomes an issue though is in the main quest: The Divine Beasts.
The Divine Beasts were the one contradiction to Breath of the Wild’s open world experience. The main quests were obviously meant to be the more linear and story driven part of the game. That doesn’t work particularly well in an open world game, at least the way these specific quests were done. One of the most important aspects of a game is how challenging it is to the player. If it is too challenging then the player will get too frustrated and might lose interest. If it is too easy then a player will again lose interest. The goal for game developers is to find that sweet spot in between the two.
My personal experiences with the Blight Ganon bosses were unmemorable. I was too over powered that I won on my first attempts with each one. These are supposed to be four of the five top bosses in the entire game and they certainly didn’t leave that impression in my play through. Breath of the Wild offers so much freedom to the player it is difficult to systematically plan out these bosses to make them challenging enough for varying open world characters within a linear plot line. It wasn’t only the linear layout of these quests that made them fall short. Another fault in these quests were the Blight Ganons and how they functioned as bosses. They fought very similarly to Zelda bosses from prior games. Zelda bosses are well known for how simple and easy they are to defeat, at least in comparison to other games. Their attacks are repetitive and easy to overcome. Granted the Blight Ganons didn’t have the giant eye as a super obvious weak spot but these bosses didn’t match the same change to open world mechanics that the rest of the game had. These bosses were made for a player following a linear plot line with a gradual progression in power and capability, making them an awkward fit in the open world game they were placed in.
My experience with Calamity Ganon was no different from the Blight Ganons. I was able to defeat Ganon on my first attempt with little to no struggle. I had everything I was told I needed and more left with the impression from many NPCs that this would be an incredible battle. I was blessed with all the powers from the Divine Beasts and had a plentiful stock of hearts and maxed out stamina; I was superbly over prepared. As I rushed into Hyrule Castle I was coursing with adrenaline as Calamity Ganon burst through his pulsing chamber. He fell hard, collapsing the floor beneath us and we fell together. ‘This is it!’ I thought. ‘This is the embodiment of evil that had slain my companions and nearly me one hundred years ago. Vengeance has finally come!’ Then, almost immediately, a large blue beam blasted Calamity Ganon from above and half his health had been taken away. Before it even began it was already half way over. Before that moment I remember wondering how the spirits of the Champions would help me against Ganon and how they would be incorporated in the final battle to save Hyrule. It was very disappointing to see them merely blast him for a few moments and then have no further part in the battle. Their attack was too helpful, anti-climactic, and lacked the bond between companions like in previous battles against Ganon.
When it was my turn to face up to Ganon I was so decked out that I was able to defeat him in about thirty minutes. The disappointment proved to be nearly fatal for me. Half of the fun in any battle against Ganon is the blind fury and panic that comes with it. These battles should bring about an immobilizing sensation that makes you forget you’re playing a game and puts you into survival mode. This battle didn’t even hold a candle to other final battles in the series, and it was partly my own fault. I was honestly enjoying the rest of the game so much that I persistently procrastinated facing off with Calamity Ganon. I had completed a little over one hundred shrines before deciding it was about time I save Hyrule. I had made the decision to play for so long that it made me too powerful to even enjoy my one on one with Ganon. Is it fair though that it is possible in the first place to become that strong without knowing how it’ll affect the rest of the game? No, it really isn’t. A game should not punish you for playing it. Open world games are meant to allow freedom of choice but should still succeed in providing a challenge for all players, especially in their main quests.
In past Zelda titles Ganondorf was a man with evil and malicious intent. He was easy to hate giving the player someone to root against. His destruction to Hyrule was a threat to peace and one of Link’s motivations to defeat him, but it takes more than a destructive monster to make a good antagonist. In addition to preserving the peace Link had personal reasons for challenging Ganondorf. In Ocarina of Time he is avenging the death of the Deku Tree. In Wind Waker he is saving his sister. In Twilight Princess he is saving his best friends. In Skyward Sword he is saving his childhood friend. Ganondorf had affected all of these previous hero’s personally. In Breath of the Wild the personal controversy is present but it isn’t the same as before. Link is protecting Zelda initially out of duty to the King. Certainly more honorable than prior hero’s of Hyrule but not nearly as interesting or as invigorating in a rivalry.
The Hidden Memories quest reveals a more intimate and personal connection Link once had with the four champions and Zelda but these were merely cut scenes and were more disengaging to the player than engaging. I didn’t feel more put together as Link every time I found a memory. With each memory I felt more like a spectator to events I was never truly a part of. Link was there for all of it one hundred years ago, but I as a player wasn’t which made that quest ultimately disappointing. If these moments of realization for Link had been interactive, had I been able to play as Link in the past and participate and interact instead of just watching what happened, that would have made these past moments far more personal for the player. I would’ve cared more about avenging Mipha, Daruk, Revali, and Urbosa, but I didn’t. I didn’t truly know these people. Instead I was doing it for those I did know and had helped me reclaim the Divine Beasts: Prince Sidon, Yunobo, Chief Riju, and Teba. I had my own personal interactions with these characters and felt attached to and responsible for them. So when up against Calamity Ganon I was prepared to do so for all of Hyrule, but had no personal qualms against him. He wasn’t even a person anymore. He had reverted to his beast form. He was simply a monster that needed to be contained.
Simply put the main quests were reflective of traditional Zelda games in that they were linear and that type of structure contradicted the open world and exploratory genre the game was going for. The most monumental parts of the game were left up to the interpretation of the player which clashed with the aged and repetitive fighting tactics of the five main bosses. The lack of camaraderie built between Link and the five other main characters left the plot feeling disengaged and mostly pointless. The game was not fully prepared for the amount of freedom given to the player and can result in its main quests being dull. Do your research on how your decisions affect your game play. Overall this game is perfect to play over and over again. Re-experience and try new things to get the most out of this game.
Thank you for reading.