Funny To A Point – The Great Breath Of The Wild Debate
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is easily one of 2017's biggest games, and you'll find no shortage of fans who consider it winning Game of the Year a foregone conclusion. But the fact that Zelda fans love the new Zelda game isn't exactly a revelation, and they aren't the only ones with opinions about Link's new adventure.
I started playing Breath of the Wild a few weeks ago, and as my previous column may have intimated, I've got some beefs with the game. Sure, seeing Hyrule rendered as a big open world and hearing all the familiar musical cues again is great, but some fundamental design choices are so baffling that they make me wonder how anyone can ignore them – even diehard Nintendo fans, who are used to putting up with ridiculous crap. As my faithful readers know, I consider it my duty to expose these kinds of truths to the hard light of day, even when it involves a beloved franchise. Zelda is no exception.
I knew the debate format would be the best option for airing my Breath of the Wild grievances and drilling down to some real answers – the only question was who to berate debate. Sure, Kyle "Perfect 10" Hilliard seemed like the obvious choice, but H.R. tends to frown on us yelling at our fellow coworkers for their stupid and wrong opinions.
Then it hit me like a clay pot to the head. Why not debate the only person I have a vested interest in convincing: the 10-year-old me who still thinks Zelda can do no wrong. After all, I was as big of a Zelda fan as anyone when I was a kid, and I still consider A Link To The Past my favorite game of all time. If I can't come to terms with my own childhood nostalgia for the series, why should anyone else?
So without further ado, I present to you The Great Breath Of The Wild Debate between Kid Jeff and Adult Jeff. I have problems, I know.
Adult Jeff: So, we've been playing Breath of the Wild for the past two weeks, and it's...
Kid Jeff: THE GREATEST ZELDA GAME EVER!!!!
Adult Jeff: Lemme stop you right there, big guy. Saying Breath of the Wild is the best Zelda game is like saying The Human Centipede 3 is the classiest Human Centipede movie. You can't qualify a game – especially in game-of-the-year discussions – by solely comparing it to other titles in the same series. One of the challenges of critiquing a game like Breath of the Wild is not letting your beloved childhood memories for previous titles in the series cloud your judgment of THE GAME YOU'RE ACTUALLY PLAYING, which is something that seems to happen a lot with Nintendo games.
Kid Jeff: What's a human centipede?
Adult Jeff: Don't worry about it. The point is a whole lot of games have come out since Nintendo established the Legend of Zelda formula, and a lot of advancements have been made. Breath of the Wild may be innovative compared to previous Zelda games, but it still makes some glaring mistakes that other series figured out years ago.
Kid Jeff: I don't care about other games. I just want to play more Zelda. It's fun!
Adult Jeff: Then let's get into it. Is it fun when your sword breaks every 15 seconds during combat and you have to open up the weapon menu to select another one?
Kid Jeff: Not really. But it makes you use all the different weapons, and there are so many more than previous Zelda games!
Adult Jeff: Again, you're limiting it to just Zelda. Plenty of games have way more weapons than Breath of the Wild. For instance, there's this one series called Borderlands that has millions...
Kid Jeff: I DON'T CARE, I ONLY WANT ZELDA!
Adult Jeff: Fine! But there are better ways to encourage players to use different weapons. The smart way is to make them all unique and useful in different situations, so players naturally want to switch between them. The easier way is to make them incrementally more powerful – so that +5 pitchfork still feels like an upgrade over your current lame-o sword. Forcing you to change weapons by making them break after a few swings is just lazy game design, and it limits player freedom.
Get used to seeing this message constantly...
Kid Jeff: Well, my friend Billy said that weapons are kind of like ammo in other games...
Adult Jeff: Billy is an idiot and you shouldn't hang out with him anymore. Even if you want to think of BotW's weapons like they're ammo, which you shouldn't because it's dumb (bows already have real ammo!), they are still way more limiting – most action games pour the ammo on because they know that running out in the middle of a battle sucks. BotW's weapons feel more like ammo in a survival-horror game, but even then you still usually have an unlimited basic attack to fall back on – like a damn melee weapon, which is what Breath of the Wild's weapons actually are!
Kid Jeff: You said a bad word!
Adult Jeff: I can do that, I'm a grown-up. But be honest: Having to constantly pause combat and switch between weapons isn't fun. It's a hassle and makes Link feel weak. It undermines half the treasures you get, because you know that fancy new sword/bow/shield is just going to shatter into dust after a few minutes of use. Nintendo chose a bad solution to fix a nonexistent problem. None of the previous Zelda games suffered from players not constantly switching up their weapons – who wants to use anything but the Master Sword anyway?
Kid Jeff: Ooh, do you think we'll get it in Breath of the Wild?
Adult Jeff: Of course we will. It's Zelda.
Kid Jeff: I can't wait!
Adult Jeff: If it's more durable than every other weapon we've gotten so far, than neither can I. But the weapon durability is exacerbated by another problem: inventory space.
Kid Jeff: What does "exacerbated" mean?
Adult Jeff: It's like an extra dose of stink on something that already stinks. In this case it's being limited to only carrying a handful of weapons at a time – so when you do take down a camp full of bokoblins, you end up leaving half the loot they drop behind, or spend time cycling out your weaker weapons for more powerful ones. It's another layer of busywork the game doesn't need. How many times have we pulled a weapon out of a treasure chest only to watch Link shove it right back in because his inventory is already full?
Kid Jeff: One hundred and fifty nine bajillion times. But you can buy more spots with the magic seeds you get from the funny flower people!
Adult Jeff: Yes you can – slowly. So maybe 30 hours from now it will go from being totally annoying to just slightly annoying. And that brings us to the next big problem: the stamina system.
Kid Jeff: Ugh, are you ever going to say anything nice about the game?
Adult Jeff: Eventually – but everything that I do like about the game is hampered by Link's oppressive stamina meter. Want to climb that mountain? Or glide across that valley? Or swim to the other side of that river? Well, you can get about a third of the way there – then you'll come crashing down, drown, or have to sit and wait while the meter refills. CONSTANTLY.
Kid Jeff: Well Link isn't supposed to be a superhero, you know...
Adult Jeff: No, but he shouldn't be a big weak baby either, and that's exactly what Nintendo transformed him into in order to make it feel like you're getting stronger.
Kid Jeff: Isn't it fun to feel like you're getting more powerful, though?
Adult Jeff: Not when you're in a massive open world and can't run for more than five seconds at a time. The satisfaction of getting more powerful shouldn't come at the expense of the opening hours of gameplay. Or to put it another way, I shouldn't have to spend hours upgrading my character in order to make the game fun – it should start fun, and only get better from there.
Kid Jeff: Well I am ALREADY having fun, so by your logic it will just keep getting funner.
Adult Jeff: That's not a word.
Kid Jeff: It is according to the dictionary.
Adult Jeff: Well it shouldn't be. And I'm still enjoying aspects of the game too – but that doesn't excuse a bad system. Here's another example: Link climbs stupidly slow. You can speed it up by jumping, but that consumes more stamina, and running out will make you fall all the way back down. As a result, you just have to guesstimate the distance you think you can make, then watch in abject boredom as Link slowly inches up the wall. Unless it happens to start raining – then you just have to sit on whatever stupid ledge you're stuck on and wait for it to stop because Link can't climb when it's wet out.
So close yet so far...
Kid Jeff: But you can't climb when it's wet; that's just realistic.
Adult Jeff: It's the only damn thing in the game that's realistic! It's a game about bokoblins and fairies and a giant radish that plays the maracas!
Kid Jeff: I love that guy, his song is soooo funny!
Adult Jeff: The point is, the one thing they chose to make realistic makes the game less fun. Same goes for the climbing; I'm sure jumping as you climb would be more strenuous in real life than regular climbing, but you wouldn't lose anything from the experience in Breath of the Wild if they cost the same amount of stamina and covered an equal distance – it would just make navigation a little faster and a little less tedious. And don't even get me started on swimming!
Kid Jeff: Yeah, even I'm a better swimmer than Link...
Adult Jeff: Right? You can't even call it realistic – Link couldn't swim to the other end of a bathtub without drowning. And not being able to speed it up without using more of his pitiful stamina reserves means more waiting while he does the slowest doggy paddle ever. Having to cut a paragliding trip short because Link can't hold on anymore is also a huge buzzkill.
Kid Jeff: Link used to be a better swimmer...maybe he was secretly using water wings?
Adult Jeff: Perhaps, but either way, those three stamina mechanics – gliding, climbing, and swimming – can be a real pain when combined together.
Kid Jeff: They "exacerbate" each other.
Adult Jeff: Yes! We've gotten into some impossible situations because of that – like when we glided down into that cave to do a shrine, and when we came out we couldn't get back up! The canyon was too high to climb up, and there was a river at the bottom. Even if we had the stamina to swim across it, we would've had to immediately climb a wall on the other side.
Kid Jeff: Well, we could've used the fast travel at any point. We didn't HAVE to try and find a way out. Like how mom always tells dad that he can just stop and ask for directions when he gets lost.
Adult Jeff: Fair enough. But who wants to give up and warp home when they're on a fantasy adventure? There's a massive incongruity in Breath of the Wild, at least in what we've played so far: You want to charge out into the big exciting world and start exploring, but the actual mechanics make it slow and tedious. Hyrule is filled with strange fantasy creatures to slay, but even the lowliest skeleton makes Link feel weak, and battles are frequently interrupted by mandatory inventory management.
Kid Jeff: It's exacerbating.
Adult Jeff: Not quite – you should've stopped while you were ahead. And can we talk about when Link gets hurt?
Kid Jeff: Oh geez, I feel another gripe coming on...
Adult Jeff: The cooking!
Kid Jeff: What's wrong with the cooking? You can make a bunch of dishes that do different things, and the cooking song is catchy!
Adult Jeff: The cooking song IS catchy, but it's also a slow and cumbersome process. In previous Zelda games, when you got hurt you'd either drink a potion or pick up a heart from a defeated enemy or broken pot or some other object in the environment. In Breath of the Wild, it goes something like this:
1. Collect ingredients while wandering around the world (just be careful when you're swimming after fish because of the whole aforementioned stamina thing).
2. Find a camp with a pot or open fire.
3. Go into the menu and scroll to the food tab.
4. Scroll over the ingredient you want.
5. Select the ingredient.
6. Select "Hold" from the drop-down menu.
7. Back out of the drop-down menu.
8. Scroll over to the next ingredient you want to combine.
8. Select the ingredient.
9. Back out of all the menus to the game world.
10. Select the "Cook" option over pot.
11. Press the button to skip the song, even though it doesn't speed things up by much.
12. Press a button to confirm that you just got your new food.
13. Complete steps 3-12 for EACH MEAL YOU WANT TO PREPARE.
The game really needs a "recook this recipe" button.
Kid Jeff: Why would you EVER skip the cooking song?
Adult Jeff: Because I don't want to spend 15 minutes cooking up a stockpile of food for my next outing! This is Zelda, not Cooking Mama!
Kid Jeff: Why not just cook a few meals every time you go to back to camp?
Adult Jeff: Why is it my job to mitigate all of this game's annoyances?
Kid Jeff: It's rude to answer a question with a question.
Adult Jeff: These issues simply shouldn't be there in the first place, and while I appreciate the sense of wonder and discovery that comes from exploring, these systems slow everything down. That's especially a problem given how open-ended the world is. In a game like Dark Souls or Bloodborne, if you wander into a zone that you're not ready for, you'll know it and be out in a matter of minutes. In Breath of the Wild, you may spend 20 minutes trying to navigate a mountain or a canyon or get to a random tower, only to discover that super-OP Guardians are waiting at the end. Your options are to stubbornly butt your head against the challenge, or just accept the lost time and fast-travel somewhere else.
And we've had a lot of wasted time while playing. Like the night we got stuck in that open field and kept on getting electrocuted by lightning that was impossible to dodge.
Kid Jeff: Well, you were carrying a giant metal sword – even I could figure that one out.
Adult Jeff: Fair enough. But even after we realized the problem, we still had major issues, because all of our weapons were metal – we had cycled out all the weaker wooden weapons, because who would ever have guessed that random lightning strikes would be an issue? So we had to run through the field unarmed while getting swarmed by skeletons and bats.
Kid Jeff: I'll admit I didn't care for that very much.
Adult Jeff: And then when we finally got to the tower, there were more Guardians waiting to instantly annihilate us! Or how about the tower that was in the middle of the lake, with all of those electrified lizards guarding it?
Kid Jeff: We've had real string of bad luck when it comes to electricity...
Adult Jeff: Or that stupid floating ice wizard that kept on one-shotting us while we were already freezing to death, even though we ate a spicy dish that was supposed to warm us up, but apparently not enough to stop us from continually taking damage? I can't count the number of times where wandering off in a random direction has backfired, which is exactly the opposite of what you want in an open-world exploration game. There should be a second in-game clock that just keeps track of how much time you've wasted. Like when we collected all of those upgrade seeds and then the Radish guy just disappeared?
SHALA-QAH-WIT MOVING AROUND!
Kid Jeff: We eventually found where he went...
Adult Jeff: Yeah, after another hour of wandering around. I just wanted to upgrade our measly inventory space!
Kid Jeff: But you were still PLAYING ZELDA that whole time – what else do you have to do?
Adult Jeff: Tons of stuff! I'm old! I have a full-time job and grown-up responsibilities! I involuntarily fall asleep at midnight like Cinderella's damn pumpkin coach!
Kid Jeff: I don't think that's how Cinderella went...
Adult Jeff: Look, I'd love to be able to play a Zelda game every day for six months without a care in the world, but I – and a ton of other gamers – don't have that kind of free time. I get maybe a few hours of game time a day if I'm lucky. Do you know how many other 50+ hour games I still want to play?
Kid Jeff: If you're that busy being a boring grown-up, then maybe we shouldn't waste anymore time complaining about the game?
Adult Jeff: Another totally valid point. Two more quick things, though. The A.I. is bad:
Kid Jeff: I guess, if you want to cheese the system.
Adult Jeff: Standing around a corner isn't cheesing the system. And you don't have to cheese anything to see enemies get hung up on geometry or run off cliffs. Remember the time the bokoblin guard alerted the entire camp to our presence, and then we shot him right in front of the whole tribe and they just all went back to dancing? It's like pulling the batteries out of the smoke alarm when your house is on fire and then going back to bed.
Kid Jeff: Fine, that's very funny. Just say the last thing already.
Adult Jeff: I don't like the aiming. It's too coarse with the joystick, and I don't like having to fine-tune my aim by moving the Switch around – especially in handheld mode when it's also the screen. You get into awkward positions where you're looking at the system sideways because you're trying to line up a shot on an enemy.
Kid Jeff: How can you not like motion controls? They make you feel like you're in the game!
Adult Jeff: Someday a thing called Kinect is going to change your mind about that. Anyway, I've done enough complaining. This sounds more negative than I actually am on the game. How about you list some of the things you like?
Kid Jeff: It's about time! I like sliding down hills on my shield! I feel like a Ninja Turtle!
Adult Jeff: I think they were going for Legolas, but I'll admit that's cooler than I thought it was going to be. But how do you feel when the shield breaks and Link falls flat on his face?
Kid Jeff: It's hilarious!
Adult Jeff: Fair enough.
Kid Jeff: I also like doing all the shrines!
Adult Jeff: I'd prefer more full-sized dungeons, but they are usually fun diversions, and I like the physics-based puzzles.
Kid Jeff: And rolling boulders and logs on bokoblins! And picking up big metal boxes and dropping them on bad guys!
Adult Jeff: I was not expecting physics-based gameplay in a Zelda game, but it's a good fit. How about taking pictures to fill out the compendium?
Kid Jeff: Meh.
Adult Jeff: Oh come on, that's cool – they add your pictures to all the descriptions of the enemies. It feels like you're actually creating the compendium yourself.
Kid Jeff: That's too much reading; it feels like a school project.
Adult Jeff: Well I like them. Tracking down where Link's old pictures were taken is also cool. Anything else you like?
Kid Jeff: Zelda! She's so beautiful, I'm going to marry her some day.
Adult Jeff: No you're not, and don't say that so loud; our wife gets strangely jealous over video game characters sometimes.
Kid Jeff: We're already married?! What's she like?
Adult Jeff: She's great; she let's us play video games as much as we want.
Kid Jeff: Cool!
Adult Jeff: Anything else? How about when we got our horse?
Horses make every game better.
Kid Jeff: Yeah, that was awesome!
Adult Jeff: We spotted the coolest-looking horse and chased it back and forth all over that stupid prairie. Then after getting bucked off about a dozen times, we tried one last time and ate the only meal we had that could boost our stamina...
Kid Jeff: We caught her with only a tiny sliver left!
Adult Jeff: Then we had to get her all the way back to the stable. It was super tense – we didn't know if we could lose her, or if she could buck us off.
Kid Jeff: And now we have a horse forever!
Adult Jeff: And it should make traveling easier.
Kid Jeff: So maybe you'll gripe less?
Adult Jeff: Probably. There are a lot of little things like that in the game that deliver memorable moments. My frustrations haven't made me want to stop playing yet (though there have been a few late-night rage quits), and I'm hoping the upgrades will help alleviate some of them.
Kid Jeff: So I was right! It's THE BEST ZEL... I mean, THE BEST GAME EVER, right?
Adult Jeff: Still no. In fact, at this point it's not even my game of the year.
Kid Jeff: What?! Why not?! What could possibly be better?
Adult Jeff: Well, let me ask you a question. How do you feel about robot dinosaurs?
Kid Jeff: I'm listening...