Tag Archives: Breath of The Wild

Horse Music

Breath of The Wild, like most 3D games in the Legend of Zelda series, gives you a horse. It’s absolutely vital in this open-world game, as walking through much of the massive map would just take too long. It’d be really easy for the horse to just be a tool, a vehicle, a perfunctory mechanic that lets you move faster and mixes up gameplay a little.

And mechanically, the horses of Breath of The Wild works just fine. On horseback, you move faster, and it facilitates hit and run attacks. Different games do horses differently. Wild lets you talk to people on horseback, but you’ve gotta dismount if you wanna pick up that random acorn rolling on the ground. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey does the inverse; you can loot on horseback but not y’all to folks. The horse in Metal Gear Solid V operates essential like a vehicle, albeit a quiet one that’s less likely to draw the attention of patrolling soldiers. Gameplay-wise, as in when it comes to you, the player, interacting with the game, your horse does all the horsey things it needs to horse-do. 

Cool.

Breath of The Wild is also a quiet game. There’s not much in the way of music when you’re out exploring the wilds. Combat, villages, and stables have their themes, but you won’t hear much while roaming the hills of Necluda.

Unless you’re on a horse.

As you ride your horse, scattered piano starts to play. Over time, that piano coalescences into a slow, mournful rendered of a familiar tune.

For someone like me who’s played his share of The Legend of Zelda games, the theme music is something loaded with meaning and memory. It heralds a title screen and announces the start of a new adventure. It’s a musical cue that’s oddly absent in Breath of The Wild, not showing up in the title screen and there only being echoes of it when a traveling bard gives you a history lesson. 

So hearing the theme is made special by its scarcity. It’s a particular moment getting to hear it, especially in the mournful orchestral rendition it takes in the game. When the song plays, it plays. Chalk it up as another way that Wild makes established conventions feel fresh and new again. 

But why does the theme play here, in this exact moment? Why now? Why not have it play when you’re doing Something Awesome or, as with most other Zelda games, over the main menu?

Saving the iconic theme music for this is a deliberate choice by the developers, one that I think speaks to the central ethos of Breath of The Wild. The music only kicks in if you’ve been riding for a bit of time, it doesn’t strum up instantly, so you’re unlikely to hear it if you ride only in short bursts. It also won’t play if you’re in battle, as that’s when the battle theme kicks in instead. You’ll only hear it if you’re on a long ride at a steady gallop through the wilds. 

In this way, Breath of The Wild shows how it values long ride on horseback and the peaceful exploration and it entails. By making the circumstances for the music playing so singular, the game encourages you to fulfill those requirements. If you’re roaming Faron on horseback, the allure of the music subtlety discourages you from engaging in wanton combat or stopping to pick apples. The focus right here is on your ride, your exploration. That the horse automatically veers along a path allows you to focus your attention on looking around and really taking in Hyrule. Exploration and bothering camps of Bokoblins have their place, but right here is a moment to stop and enjoy the scenery. For all its wonderful innovations, Breath of The Wild knows that a key part of The Legend of Zelda is the expanse of its world, and it’s that conceit at its purest when the theme finally plays.

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The Joy of Exploring

I continue to be endlessly fascinated by Breath of The Wild’s open world. Since the last time I talked about the game I’ve taken on one more Divine Beast, but I still spend so much of my time exploring Hyrule and trying to find everything.

Which of course makes me wonder why I find this wandering so satisfying. I have a completionist streak in me, a part of me that wants to finish everything. Get all the dang feathers in Assassin’s Creed II, unlock every character in LEGO Avengers, get the Platinum Trophy in Burnout Paradise. Open world games are thus a scary beast for me; sure, it’s fun to explore and stuff, but I also want to Do All The Things. I’m terrified of missing something, of there being some little nugget of fun that I glossed over.

In many ways, I’m very grateful for the map and its icons in Spider-Man. One glance and I know if there’s still stuff to do in any given neighborhood, I know if I’m missing anything. There’s a bit of a freeing feeling when you have that reassurance that you’ll be able to get to it later and there’s no harm in running up the Empire State Building again. Since it’s so clear what I ‘have’ to do in the game, the potential shenanigans are too.

Conversely, Breath of The Wild is absolutely taciturn with its goals. Sure, there’s a quest tracker, but beyond that you’re in the wind. The map is barebones, displaying only region names and the occasional marker for towns once you discover them. Those shrines and Korok scattered everywhere? Yeah, they’re only added after you find them. Massive monsters, treasure, and all those other little secrets will forever remain unmarked, unless you manually add a note to the map.

Hyrule is yours to explore, there’s very little in the way of guides to where things are or even how many of something there is (how many Shrines are there? I haven’t a darn clue). It’s kinda terrifying, there’s So Much to this world, and no way to know how much there is — unless I break out a guide or something.

Yet I’ve made peace with knowing that I might not be able to find Every Last Thing. Wandering Hyrule and discovering its secrets is fun enough in and of itself, plus there’s usually one of those Koroks hiding on the top of that really-hard-to-reach pillar. In Breath of The Wild I’m enjoying the journey.

Maybe this is because the Switch doesn’t have Trophies, and I know that it won’t make a difference if I’m missing one or two shrines in the run of it. I don’t have the pressure of a checklist of things to do while I play. Now, I do like Trophies; I like challenges to do on the side as I play the game. But the lack of them in Wild means I can really do whatever I want and not have some background concern that I’m not doing everything as it should be.

There’s also not really too much of an overbearing narrative in Breath of The Wild. Sure, there is the whole assemble the Divine Beasts and fight Ganon thing; but there’s little pressure beyond that. Link doesn’t say to himself “Hm, I oughta get to saving Hyrule.” In practice, doing whatever you want may as well be the story as it happens, and it’s so much better for that.

Hyrule is a world for you, as Link, to explore as you please. It’s baked into its DNA in a way that no number of expertly crafted side quests could ever muster.

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Exploring Worlds

I have a complex relationship with open-world games. On the one hand, it’s real neat to get to go explore a big world and do stuff. On the other, I really like the more catered, narrative experience offered by more linear games. On the other other hand, open-worlds are kinda the genre du jour for single-player video games, so I’m gonna end up playing them no matter what.

But first, a definition of open-world games. The idea here is that rather than having a series of levels or stages to play through, open-world games offer players a big map to run rampant around, with various missions/quests scattered about. In between missions, players have the opportunity to explore the world, usually leading to power-ups or fun narrative diversions.

My feelings probably stem from the fact that most open-world games tend to fall into one of two problems. Either the worlds, for all their massive play space, end up being kinda brining and repetitive, without too much variation in quests or landscape; or they end up with too darn much to do. I approached Metal Gear Solid V with some trepidation, given that this was a series known for excelling in linear games. I was pleasantly surprised to find a gorgeous world to explore, and missions that put the sandbox of the world to great use. There’s a multitude of different ways to achieve your goal (Sneak in? Gallop in on horseback, grab the target, and escape? Roar in, guns blazing, in a massive tank?), and so much to be found in the world that it’s overwhelming. I finished the story, and eventually had to make the decision that I was ‘done’ with the game and to stop trying to check every darn box. There was just so much.

I’ve been playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of The Wild for a few weeks now, and I have no idea how far I am into the game. I think I’m still relatively early narrative-wise, but that’s probably because I’m having so much fun exploring Hyrule.

Breath of The Wild’s Hyrule is gorgeous, evoking memories of Horizon Zero Dawn’s post-post-apocalyptic Colorado. Which makes sense, Wild is set a century after a massive cataclysm; ruins dot the world alongside the husks of ancient war machines. It’s a desolate world, rendered in a wondrous stylized palette. It’s a beautiful world to explore, devoid of the heavy bleakness that’s made some others laborious.

It helps that Hyrule is brimming with things to explore. Shrines all over the map hold puzzles and challenges that yield power ups (and are also just plain fun in and of themselves). Creatures called Koroks can be found under rocks, up trees, and, amongst others, by throwing rocks in ponds. These guys offer you seeds which in turn can be used for — you guessed it — power-ups. There’s always something new to be found, maybe just over that ridge. It could be a Korok or a shrine; maybe that group of monsters down there have a new weapon you can use.

Once, while exploring, I saw a huge dragon flying in the distance. Some time later, I was exploring a region to the north and, lo and behold, there was that dragon again. I eventually got close enough to see it barreling towards me in all its fire-enshrouded majesty. And then it was gone, flying up away. The game told me very little about this dragon; the in-game encyclopedia just telling me Dinraal, the dragon, was thought to be a myth and bore no ill-will. Later, I used a scale from it for a side-quest, but there was still that awe of the sublime that finding the dragon gave me.

It’s neat because that experience is almost entirely my own. It wasn’t scripted by the game, it just happened because of how and where I was exploring. Breath of The Wild is a game that invites exploration. Not just because it benefits your in-game character, but because there’s so much wonder to be found.

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