In the rain, I swoop down on my paraglider, line myself up directly above the giant ogre, then I plummet downwards, thrusting the sword into the ogre’s ugly head. This woke him up. After battling for a few minutes, shooting arrows into his one big eye, he dies and leaves me a cache of very good weapons (also some toenails), which I collect.
Walking on, I realise, in the fight I had got myself turned around and I was actually going back the way I came, I keep going anyway and climb up the hill heading to the ridge I’d climbed earlier, before it had started raining. Now it is night time, I reach the lip of the ridge and see the wide valley below, quiet in darkness. Suddenly from above, a shooting star streaks across the sky and into the valley. A bright yellow beacon of light shimmers at the point where it landed just ahead. I jump off the cliff edge, engage the paraglider and fly towards the beacon. As I get closer to it an unworldly humming gets louder. When I get up close, the beacon disappears and the point on the ground becomes a golden yellow nugget of star fragment. I collect this and keep running on.
On Friday 3rd March 2017, I was excited. I went to work slightly earlier than usual and walked a tiny bit out of my usual way to stop by the Argos on Tottenham Court Road, the staff out numbered the customers quite significantly. I shook off the rain from my umbrella and walked straight up to collect my pre-ordered item, having panic-ordered it that morning. I had received a last minute email from Amazon to say that my pre-order which had been in place for months was delayed and I wouldn’t be getting it on the day of release. Immediately at 6:30am by the light of my phone I ordered the same thing from Argos before I’d even received the refund from Amazon. The guy working at Argos saw what it was as he handed it over and said, “nice one”. After years of waiting I’d finally got my gay hands on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I walked to work under my umbrella and tried to focus on whatever student problems I was facing that day. After work I headed home and had a pretty normal evening with my boyfriend (now Husband). By around 10pm he said, “I can’t believe you’ve waited this long, if you want to play the game, you-” before he even finished the sentiment I was unwrapping the plastic case and firing up my Wii U console. I hadn’t the money or excuse to buy myself a Nintendo Switch, which was also released on 3rd March, but I was happy to play the game on the slightly inferior Wii U version, with plans to replay the game much later once I had acquired a Switch (this plan is still in progress…) Immediately I was overcome with the excitement and emotion that is hard to describe, something that reminded me of the excitement of going to the cinema to see the last Lord of the Rings film or the last Harry Potter films, or reading a new book from a beloved living author. I knew I was going to love it, the reviews had all been so ridiculously good, there was no way I wouldn’t. I was excited to get into this world I was so fond of, for another adventure.
Within a few moments, I was stood in front of that first grand vista, from the Great Plateau across this new Hyrule. The music swelled like it did in the trailer I’d watched a thousand times and I remember thinking, oh thank god, finally, I am here. That first night I spent shambling my way around the contained opening area, the great plateau, not really knowing what I was doing, where I was going or what to do next. All the reviews had said it, but it was true, this was a very different game to the other Zeldas. A little directionless, I kept on talking to the mysterious old man, to see if I had missed some info, but he said rather pointedly, “you can figure it out yourself!” He had given me the original task of finding these four shrines on the plateau and it was up to me to find them, unlike in other Zelda games, there wasn’t a prescribed order, there wasn’t a guiding voice that would stop you if you went towards the wrong one, you were left to just find them yourself. Once you’d done all that work, you would come back and see him and he’d give you the paraglider, allowing you to glide down off the plateau to explore the rest of the massive world.
I have always wanted to play games like this, fully open world games where, if you wanted you could just go on a nature hike (I have a great route across the western portion of Hyrule, scaling the mountains). Back in the day on the rare occasions I used to play Grand Theft Auto, I wouldn’t like to do missions (too much violence) I would just enjoy driving around, following traffic signals, watching the landscape change. Maybe I’d cut loose every now again and drive really fast and cause some car accidents, but I never did much else in the game. As with many other nerds my age, playing Ocarina of Time on N64 was an incredibly important moment for me, the freedom, the adventure, the whole living world that was so detailed and so full of humour, it was incredible. Alongside The N64 Zeldas (I played Majora’s Mask so much it actually gave me nightmares) I used to spend hours and hours at weekends playing Pilotwings 64. Pilotwings was a release game for the N64 back in 1996, released to showcase the 3D capabilities of the N64. Flight simulators were a jazzy way of doing this with new systems at that time (Microsoft’s Flight Sim 95 and Playstation’s Ace Combat were other examples). Pilotwings gave you various different aircraft to fly around various island landscapes. I spent hours and hours flying around these vast landscapes, the largest was a scaled down version of the USA, including a few major cities, the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, the plains of the midwest, Washington DC and Florida (complete with a rocket launching from Cape Canaveral). I flew all of the missions available, but I spent more time flying around just exploring the landscape. The potential to do this was almost infinite, there was no time limit and though there was only so much petrol in your aircraft you could land at the petrol station and fill it up again, then take off and keep flying. I loved the peace of flying and I loved exploring the landscape. I would set myself challenges, landing on roads and driving down them, or manoeuvring in between buildings, or flying from one city to another and landing carefully at the other end, imagining I had passengers. I loved spending my time doing this. I wanted more games that did this, but more and bigger and better.
Playing Breath of the Wild now, long after I have finished the story, I feel the same as I did when I was exploring in Pilotwings. Sometimes I consult the map and plot out a route, wishing to explore some mountain or valley I don’t think I’ve been to. Other times I will just wander, or ride a horse, following a path until I see something that peeks my interest. Breath of the Wild encourages this by placing shrines within the landscape with their distinctive orange glow, you might spy one of these and follow it not realising you will be walking for a long time (and have to battle through a enemy camp or swim across a river) to get there. One incredibly inventive way Nintendo encourage you to explore the landscape is through collecting Korok seeds. All over Hyrule there are 900 hidden little Korok creatures, some hide under rocks, some at the tops of mountains, others reveal themselves once you’ve mastered a little puzzle. They pop up, give you a seed and then you move on. It is necessary to collect the seeds early in the game as this is how you can expand your weapons inventory. After a while, once you have collected a good number of slots for weapons, the need to do this becomes less pressing. I have only recently started hunting Koroks for their own sake and now I am playing the game with a new purpose (I have found only 250 of the 900 available). Now, the game is about being within the landscape, consulting the map, looking at the signs, is there something suspicious about that tree? Does that little hillock look out of place, or have I scaled that particular mountain yet?
It’s not just Korok seeds, as you go through the game, even just idly wandering as I do, you’ll encounter beasts you need to kill and in turn your weapons will break, meaning you’ll need to seek out other monsters to kill in order to get weapons again. Sometimes you’ll be walking along and you’ll hear some distant accordion music playing, which means there’s a special little quest nearby set by a Rito (a bird man) who sings clue-laden songs about different parts of the world. Sometimes a character will just run up to you and tell you to do something, ask you to find their lost friends, or get a recipe from a book in the library in the Hyrule Castle (now overrun with horrible monsters). The game’s world is complex and sings with life. Along with the daily cycles of beautiful sunrises and sunsets, the weather conditions change every ten minutes, it rains a lot, meaning you cannot climb rocks or buildings until it stops and when you’re in certain tropical areas there will be spectacular thunderstorms, on the tops of mountains it will snow. The world of Hyrule is so vast, you can explore areas which suit your particular mood. If you tire of the epic sandy deserts of Gerudo in the South West of the map, you can adventure to the North East where you find the green rolling hills of Akkala, where the trees seem constantly to be brown and orange with Autumn. In Akkala there is a vast side quest where you end up helping to build an entirely new town on the lake. Venture further north in Akkala, following the coastal cliffs and, where the land runs out, there is a huge labyrinth across the water, where you can paraglide and then get lost and probably get killed by the mechanical monsters stalking its corridors.
What I am saying is, even months later, I am still exploring this huge world. I am still finding new characters I’ve never spoken to before and still very much finding more of the 900 Koroks that are hiding across the huge map.
Standing on the edge of the Great Plateau, in front of me was the vast Lake Hylia, with a huge bridge crossing its span, with a clutch of small islands on the lake over on the right hand side. Night had fallen earlier I was admiring the view on the clear night. Suddenly from somewhere down in the lake, a dragon came out of the water and serenely moved itself up into the air, a long ribbon of a dragon, with talons clawing at the air and a back spiked with blue ridges. The dragon didn’t attack me it just rose up into the air, circled the lake and then returned back into the water.