When I initially played Breath of the Wild I was actually somewhat disappointed. As someone who loved Ocarina of Time’s balance between plot and gameplay, I found the narrative in Breath of the Wild somewhat lackluster. The story is told through flashbacks almost entirely, and while the story is good, I was disappointed with its presentation. Ganon didn’t turn up until the end, and he was just a mindless beast. It lacked the epic nature of Ocarina of Time. Story was sacrificed for exploration and freedom. I realized something though. While the overarching narrative wasn’t on the same level as Ocarina of Time (at least for me), there were so many amazing character moments. Breath of the Wild is a more personal tale in the same vein of Majora’s Mask, which some believe to be the greatest Zelda game of all-time. Everything else in Breath of the Wild reaches a level of perfection that no other game has if you take this into account. The puzzles are still there and you are always discovering something new. Yes, there have been some great games that have been released this year, and some better games yet to come, but Breath of the Wild is 2017’s GOTY because it has a level of fulfillment that no other game has reached. Ever.
The only word I can come up with to really encapsulate Breath of the Wild’s story is that it’s incredibly tragic. Hyrule is in ruin, with the population completely scattered about. The “memories” Link gains throughout his journey are the best part of the narrative, and Zelda, much like in Skyward Sword, has both a personality and develops as a character as the game progresses. The story is character-driven, not plot-driven like so many other installments in the Zelda franchise. Link’s bond with each champion takes a different form. Mipha is in love with him. Revali does not hide his disdain for Link, but begins to respect him. Daruk is like a big brother to Link, much like Darunia before him. Urbosa is a mentor figure. Much like Majora’s Mask, there are a plethora of sidequests in Breath of the Wild. I didn’t really complete them at first, which I believe is what lead to my initial disappointment. I wanted to finish the main story first. But each NPC in the game is unique and like a living, breathing person. They all have their own personality and spunk; you just have to put in the effort to dig a little deeper. That can be hard with such a massive game, but it’s totally worth it and adds to both the game’s level of quality and the quality of your experience.
The puzzles in Breath of the Wild are found scattered throughout 120 shrines in the game. There are only four dungeons in the game, although each of them use similar mechanics as far as the puzzles go (the Divine Beasts.) Now I personally play Zelda for the puzzles (and story, but the puzzles keep bringing me back.) The shrines in Breath of the Wild, while short, have unique puzzles which you can solve in a multitude of different ways. This is very cool. You gain each rune (which replaces traditional dungeon items) in the beginning of the game so you can complete each shrine (and dungeon) in whatever order you see fit. There’s also an exploration aspect to it as well, as the shrines can sometimes be very difficult to find, even with the tracker. They take maybe 10-20 minutes tops to complete, but it actually adds to the game and doesn’t detract from it. Given how massive the game world is, puzzles in smaller doses (though a lot of them) makes the whole game easier to swallow.
The dungeon design, as always, is superb. They aren’t very long, but the puzzles are incredibly clever and they are very different than dungeons from previous Zelda installments. It gives them a unique flavor. The bosses are also challenging and each form of Ganon uses the corresponding element from their given dungeon. It’s a little repetitive, but it works, and it’s fun. That’s what truly matters in the end and embodies Nintendo’s philosophy when it comes to making games.
Oh man. To say Breath of the Wild is an enormous game is a huge understatement. When Eiji Aonuma said that they were going to go back to the roots of the Zelda franchise, he wasn’t lying. The sheer amount to discover is astounding. It’s so much fun; discovering new weapons, new locations, new enemies, new Towers to unlock the world map. There’s simply so much to do. I’ve unlocked the world map (found all the towers), completed 80 shrines and all the Divine Beasts, found roughly 40 Korok Seeds, and I’m only at an 18.1% completion rate in the game.
This is the only game other than Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess that has given me this sense of wonder and novelty. I can literally just walk around the overworld, finding new weapons and fighting enemies, and I can have the greatest time in the world. It’s so fulfilling. It’s not an easy game by any means (at least combat-wise, with enemies being pretty difficult), but that’s a part of the fun factor of the game that was mentioned earlier.
Breath of the Wild Versus Other 2017 Releases
To be quite frank, software-wise, this year has been very lackluster (from a AAA standpoint.) Nintendo has been the only company who has a consistent release schedule throughout the year after their launch of the Nintendo Switch (which is a huge success). There were some other games that came out this year already that could compete with Zelda. Horizon: Zero Dawn was a superb game with a fantastic narrative, but design-wise, Breath of the Wild was far superior. Super Mario Odyssey will probably compete and is the only game that can reasonably challenge BoTW for Game of the Year, but I don’t think it will top it. Persona 5 was a great JRPG. In fact, it was one of the best of all-time, but that’s too niche of a genre. Uncharted Lost Legacy may compete if only due to the Uncharted name. It got good reviews but it did not live up to the Uncharted name. Two sleeper games are Call of Duty: WWII and Star Wars: Battlefront 2, but there are too many question marks, especially given the quality of the last outings from both franchises.
Breath of the Wild is the best game to come out this year and according to many, the greatest Zelda game of all-time. It shattered the conventions of Zelda and was both fresh and familiar, something every great game strives for. It delivers a level of fulfillment that no other game has ever given me (and many others, if the reviews are to be believed.) While it is not my favorite Zelda game (a part of that may be due to nostalgia, for the sake of transparency), many do consider it to be.
The real question we should ask ourselves is why shouldn’t Breath of the Wild be 2017’s Game of the Year?