I have never replayed The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. That’s not a scathing indictment of the game’s quality. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. I have never returned to BOTW’s stunning rendition of the Kingdom of Hyrule because my first experience was so magical, I’m worried a revisit would taint those memories.
To give some context, Breath of the Wild was my first-ever Zelda game on my first-ever Nintendo home console. The experience of finally getting to play a title in a series I'd only ever admired from afar was a special one, and not just because of the quality of the game itself.
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However, my adoration for BOTW has had an unforeseen knock-on effect over the last few years. In many ways, the latest entry in the franchise actually ruined the Zelda series for me.
A breath of fresh air
Breath of the Wild was touted as a radical departure from the traditional Zelda style, so there was some skepticism pre-release from the gaming community at large. People needn't have worried, though. Nintendo knocked this one out of the park, and then some.
Moments like gliding off the Great Plateau, unlocking the mysteries of Eventide Island, and taking down a ferocious Lynel for the first time are among the most memorable I’ve had in all of gaming.
The sense of exploration in BOTW is something that no game since has matched. It felt incredible to just run in any direction and see what I discovered. The individual puzzle shrines were a delight to solve as well. While longtime Zelda fans seem to think that the Divine Beast dungeons are among the weakest in the franchise, I personally enjoyed them immensely.
Not my Zelda
Straight after finishing BOTW in March 2017, I was dying for Nintendo to port over as many Zelda games to the Switch as possible. I needed another Zelda fix, and I needed it quick.
Unfortunately, unlike on the Wii and Wii U, Nintendo has never actually launched standalone Virtual Console games on the Switch. VC, which let users purchase and play classic games on newer Nintendo consoles, is a glaring omission on the Switch to this day.
Instead, Nintendo has granted Switch Online subscribers access to a selection of classic games, which includes the very first Zelda game, originally released on the NES. However, a close friend advised me that I might find the step from BOTW back to the very fist Zelda a tad jarring. As such, I decided to wait for a more recent Zelda to make its way to the Switch.
In 2019, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening debuted on the Switch. While this game is a remake of the 1993 title of the same name, I assumed the modern coat of paint would ease the transition. I dove in expecting to have another magical experience.
That didn’t happen. I found Link's Awakening's structure to be rigid, its dungeons to be dull, and its endless backtracking tedious. At no point did I lose myself in the game world. I always felt like the game placed very strict limits on how I played.
I told myself that my feelings were due to playing a 2D Zelda — one that originally came out on the Game Boy, no less. If I gave a classic 3D Zelda a chance, I would find the same spark that BOTW ignited.
I decided to try The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess next, and was convinced that this time, my experience would be a positive one.
But it wasn’t. I certainly didn’t hate my handful of hours with Twilight Princess, but again, I found it frustratingly restrictive and struggled to lose myself in the world. The joy of exploration that fueled my BOTW addiction wasn’t there. Instead, I was stuck following a fairly plodding path that had already been laid out for me.
Playing the waiting game
Earlier this month, Nintendo announced that Skyward Sword is getting remastered in HD on Switch. Rather than being overjoyed that I would have the chance to play a classic Zelda game, I was just disappointed that there was no news about the BOTW sequel.
The pre-BOTW Zelda games are not in any way bad. The vast majority of them are considered gaming classics for good reasons. Even as someone who struggled to connect with them, I can respect their positions within the gaming lexicon.
I suppose it comes down to the fact that BOTW is my Zelda. Some players held strong connections to the traditional Zelda formula, and struggled to handle BOTW’s blatant disregard for it. For me, it’s the other way around. BOTW is my baseline, and the classic formula is the radical departure.
While I won’t be checking out Skyward Sword this summer, and my interest in further classic Zelda ports has waned, I’m eagerly awaiting any scrap of information about the sequel to BOTW. I cannot wait to lose myself in that version of Hyrule all over again.