After playing it sparsely for a number of months, I finally reached a point in Breath of the Wild where the game systems “clicked” with me, and suddenly I’m gobbling it up. This game is huge!! How does a game this huge manage to maintain a sense of genuine discovery and not eventually reduce itself to checking a bunch of boxes like 99% of open-world games? Why does this version of Hyrule feel more tangible and real than any other open world map in the genre? (Because virtually every component and object in the world is directly interactive and the level designers thought to make verticality matter for more than just visual scope, that’s why.)
I’ve been extremely cut off from the gaming commentariat beyond the occasional Tim/Yahtzee/Dunkey video or r/Games drama thread since, like, the mid-2010s (Gamergate and its fallout pretty much killed off the last of my dwindling interest in that space) but I gather a lot has been said/written about this game. I feel like I don’t have a whole ton to add, except that it simultaneously lives up to the hype and still feels on some level a tiny bit disappointing to me. My main issue with the game feels a little bit like a nitpick: it seems to me as though the game’s narrative and aesthetic design doesn’t quite live up to the virtuousity of the actual game design. This isn’t exactly a new or surprising issue with large studio-produced video games, but here it particularly stands out. For as much as I loved the 90s/early 00s Zeldas as a kid, this one’s aesthetic trappings feel uniquely childish and uninteresting to me. For once the team has got the right ideas in terms of influences: those older Zeldas, along with Ghibli-esque fantasy media, informing a wistfully sparse high fantasy aesthetic full of dreamy saturated colors and little bits of emotional gristle (the postapocalyptic setting, the omnipresent threat of death, the casual cruelty with which Link kills wildlife and even monsters for survival - wish the game punished you more for being too rapacious actually).
But despite the stated and self-evident intent to achieve a minimalistic presentation, frankly there’s still way too much talking. Supporting characters prattle on and on and they have nothing interesting to say compared with the visuals. The writing goes for those bittersweet notes from the older games, but doesn’t end up with anything as quietly affecting, understated and emotionally astute as the Yoshiaki Koizumi-supervised scripts and world design from Link’s Awakening through Wind Waker. It’s just a bunch of shonen high fantasy nonsense and eyerolling melodrama about saving the world. There are no vivid and haunting side characters like the fairy-child bully who grudgingly comes to accept you or the pasty misanthrope who only leaves his home to sit in the village square at night in Ocarina, or the rancher and her cursed fiancé in Majora’s Mask - just shouty “quirky” toons with cutesy speech affectations. There’s voice acting now, and it’s really boring (even in Japanese). The piano-centric score is schmaltzy. The Western high fantasy fairytale schtick has a broadly generic Japanese flavor slathered all over it, but it fails to distinguish or add depth to the setting in the way it was presumably supposed to. Unlike the rest of the game, it’s all still very much post-Koizumi Zelda in the most tiresome way.
I find myself wishing the game had a more “adult” narrative, and wondering if I might find that more appealing or simply more alienating if it were just as bland. People say Witcher 3 is the closest equivalent, and has the kind of folkloric richness I want from this kind of high fantasy setting - but idk. I wish I could have the robust skeleton of this game’s design, its emphasis on physicality over numbers, the sheer sophistication put into its environment design and traversal, in a more mature, less cookie-cutter body. I guess Death Stranding sorta shoots for this, but I never vibed with that game in the end. idk.