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Saturday, June 18, 2016

Article: An "Open-Air Adventure": The evolution of Breath of the Wild

If you were to look at the previous two entries in the Legend of Zelda series, it might be surprising to see where the latest entry, Breath of the Wild, has originated from. In many ways, the newest entry is a departure from the staples of the series- yet, it still possesses a good deal of what makes a Zelda game so unique.

However, Breath of the Wild touts itself as an "Open-Air Adventure" title, which is an interesting choice of wording, on Nintendo's behalf. With the advancements present in Breath of the Wild, is it really proper to call this game an Adventure title? One might argue the very nature of the word encapsulates what Zelda titles are- but the Adventure genre is well-defined, in a traditional sense. What changes has Breath of the Wild made that depart from this definition, or rather, embrace it more thoroughly? Are the new features of Breath of the Wild a step forward or a step to the side? We'll attempt to address this subject in the following article.

What Defines Zelda:

From the start of the series, Zelda was an open experience, favoring exploration and discovery. Zelda and Zelda II are great examples of this, though Zelda II takes a more direct approach to its progression of dungeons while leaving its character progression fairly open. The first title, however, has few boundaries- you can choose to enter dungeons in whichever order you please, and you don't even need to pick up the sword throughout your whole adventure. With A Link to the Past, progression was open in regards to dungeons, while character progression was tied to quests and secrets off the beaten path.

Of course, then the transition to the third dimension reared its head, and Nintendo was forced to smoothly iterate on their popular franchises while also redefining what it meant to control their protagonists in a 3D space. While Ocarina of Time has branching moments, it is more linear than the previous entries. Character progression is available, though more limited and, in some cases, necessary for story progression. While a masterpiece of the era and still widely considered one of the best video games of all time, it set a precedent for some trends that would depart from the traditions of Zelda.

As the series progressed, an emphasis on size and scope would remain, whether through the vast ocean of Wind Waker, or the "upgraded" Ocarina Hyrule of Twilight Princess- at least, that seemed to be the case, until Skyward Sword made a rather daring attempt to change the formula. While Ocarina of Time certainly deserves equal levels of analysis, Skyward Sword contains enough stark contrasts that it requires its own segment in this article.

What Defines Skyward Sword:

This title, for better or worse, can be considered a truly transitory experience, in terms of new mechanics introduced, and the evolution towards Breath of the Wild. Its motion-centric design was the standout inclusion, but there were a number of additional features that have made their way into the Wii U installment. Stamina and sprinting play a key role in Skyward Sword, as does the durability of shields. Collection of enemy materials also makes an appearance, and minor stealth elements and interactive features regarding enemies are a highlight. The major difference between Skyward Sword and the Zelda titles that immediately precede and follow is its reuse of areas in order to lengthen gameplay time. Dungeons have large amounts of mandatory quests in between them, which was not as damnable in Twilight Princess because of its scale and variety of location. Skyward Sword also focused on duels and equipping oneself properly, and had an extremely large amount of in-game text.

This is not to say that Skyward Sword is a bad game- in fact, I have a great fondness for the title, myself. But the central focus of the game was its control scheme, without a doubt, and other areas were less-defined, or overly explained, because of this. But while Skyward Sword seemed like a traditional Zelda title with a more concentrated scope, Breath of the Wild is certainly the opposite.

What Defines Breath of the Wild:

There are traditional visual elements in Breath of the Wild that make it instantly familiar to Zelda fans- the usage of hearts, the L-targeting system, distinctive landmarks and characters. Not only that, but its design hearkens back to the design of the original Zelda, as well as the non-linear A Link Between Worlds. However, its lack of hearts present in fields (and as recovery), the importance of selling materials for currency, and durability on even the most basic weapons set this title drastically apart from its predecessors.

With the inclusion of enemy hit points, weapon choice, and and open-world setting, is Breath of the Wild more of an RPG than it is an "Open-Air Adventure"? Well, from what we've seen of the title's survival elements, it appears free, statistic-based, and player-oriented- all elements that are relatively unseen from previous Zelda titles. But again, the inclusion of shrines and dungeons also changes things somewhat, or rather, keeps an important element constant. Puzzle-solving mechanics have become a staple of the series since Ocarina of Time and Link's Awakening, and this game seems to celebrate both the core of the original entry and the conventions of the 3D entries.

A poignant comparison to make with Breath of the Wild might be Metal Gear Solid V, in which open-world and free-choice were a key focus, as well as interactive elements. This seems to be the design philosophy for Japanese developers in regards to open-world games, and its exciting to see even Nintendo joining in on the effort. Since we know very little about the story, dungeons, and non-player-character interaction in Breath of the Wild, we can only eagerly await more information on what will certainly be a defining entrant in the Legend of Zelda series, and perhaps one of Nintendo's most exciting titles in a long time.

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