Casper: Stian purchased a Nintendo Switch way ahead of me and also finished Breath of the Wild before I even got around to buying my console. Like the gentleman he is, he kindly avoided spoiling the game for me, but did caution me that it was a disappointment for him. When I did get around to reviewing it, the game earned a respectable 78/100 with particularly high scores for the story and extras. Moments after publishing it, Stian messaged me stating he was surprised about my opinion on the story. And honestly, so was I.
I personally felt that the story was a bit rough around the edges, yet had plenty to offer that made it worth bearing with. As I argued in my review: it’s the most lively, beautiful, and interactive version of Hyrule we have ever seen. Being able to hop around it and meet various people was perhaps the most fun part of the game for me. No longer are random NPC’s just there to spout one and a half line of semi-funny dialogue, now they are actually going about their business, offer side-quests, or have interesting stories to tell that expand on the world.
But before I start to ramble… what exactly is it that you dislike in the story?
Stian: I will first start with that you made an important and valid point about the atmosphere in Breath of the Wild. It is a beautiful and hostile world where civilizations are few, but effective because of the big contrast to the wilderness. I can’t say I remembered the NPCs too well, though I did enjoy a couple side-quests and loved the immersion it provided, even if what you did in these optional missions were not that interesting.
My biggest problem with the story, was the main plot. Let’s start with the main character of this story: Link. He is actually not a character you can name yourself after anymore, he is THE Link, wielder of the Master Sword, hero of Hyrule, and so on. This is an interesting change as it could allow us to get a more personal Link and not just a representation of you, but he is far worse than any previous incarnation, even from the NES-days. He has so few emotions to anything that happens, with my biggest example being a love-scene where he simply does not seem to care, or when he realizes that some of his closest companions are gone. It drives me insane, especially when Wind Waker’s, Skyward Sword’s and even Twilight Princess’s reincarnation of Link could react and have so many emotions.
Because of Link’s lack of diverse reactions to events in Breath of the Wild, I react the same way and stop simply caring about the characters you meet. Though to be fair, they don’t convey much to Link’s journey. The main-warriors you will meet are simply there for getting you to a temple and that is pretty much all I can remember besides fanfiction. They are lovely designed visually, but as of personalities or culture, I can hardly remember anything. It almost makes them seem put in for nostalgic reasons alone.
We are almost getting over to Zelda’s role in this Zelda-game, but how did you react to this?
Casper: You made this point in our last call, but I don’t honestly see the relevance in naming Link to begin with. Naming Link, in past entries, was really more of a way to track your save file and manuals would still refer to him as Link, everybody knew him as Link, it was really not that important. These were never games in which you had much choice, whether you called him Link, Casper, or something naughty, the events of the story and his reactions to it would unfold largely the same. Stealing in Link’s Awakening aside, that is.
But I do agree that Link is a weak link (ha!) in this version. Giving the characters voices and steering towards a more emotional plot kind-of necessitates that Link follows suit, which I don’t think Nintendo was quite ready for yet. Voice-acting was always a big debate in the Zelda community and, now that it is made, whether Link will get dialogue himself is the next big leap. Whatever way that turns out, I do have to admit that even mute, he could respond more emotionally to the events unfolding before him. His emotional range is small and previous incarnations of the hero have done better.
With that said, I did enjoy the cast of characters we got to meet and would actually have enjoyed it if Nintendo did more with them. Sure, each one of them is very much attuned to their race, but that is not inherently bad. I enjoyed hanging around the Gerudo town and trying to find different bits of dialogue for Riju, like her asking Link to ignore all the plushies in her room. There is a lot of optional stuff out there and I also enjoyed some of the character dynamics, Like Revali’s half-serious rivalry towards Link or Daruk approving of Yunobo and making him happy after completing his dungeon. It’s stuff like that which really made me appreciate the story by the end of the game.
Did you experience this differently? And what about Zelda?
Stian: While this is true that these games aren’t about choices, everyone you met in the game called you by the name you chose, which showcased that they wanted to create a link between the player and the game. That is at least the reason why he is called Link according to the developers. I also think this holds especially true since, to be frank, Link is a cardboard box. He is a good man who wants to save the world, but nothing else, and since he is so simply written, he is made to be a character easy to put yourself into. That is at least what I get from this, when the world around you is filled with more personality. Though I do think a good punishment for being a rotten thief was a welcoming addition.
I don’t actually 100% agree here, as Metroid Prime 3 had also a lot of voice-acting with Samus staying mute, and it worked great for carrying a simple, but entertaining plot forward. I think Nintendo is ready, and while they are definitely moving for a more emotional plot here as you say, with how well smaller scenes have been handled in previous games (Wind Waker Link’s reunion with his sister for example), it makes me rather puzzled on how sloppy Breath of the Wild’s setup is. Maybe it is rather because they wanted to create a game with scope and provide a free-roaming world, which thus made them unsure on how to make a plot work within this? This kind of game is definitely harder to work in a focused and character-driven story in.
The characters definitely had potential, so I do agree that with more scenes featuring them, it could have become something truly special. I think, for example, the idea of Link having a playful rival would have been fun, but I needed more substance, I wanted to see how far back their rivalry went and why. I also liked the optional stuff, but I believe these should strengthen what I already enjoyed, not needed to actually enjoy the story. This is definitely debatable as well, but it is kinda like how you need to look for books and lore in the Elder Scrolls’ games in order to enjoy them storywise. After I was done with Breath of the Wild, I felt like there could or even should have been more to the story, as I really just went with a linear flow storywise that felt broken in pieces.
I think with a series that is named after the princess to rescue, we are going to have a lot to say here too. Would you mind then start this aspect of discussion by telling me how you found this incarnation of Zelda and why? Was she a princess worth saving, or did we also need the danger of Ganon inn on this ones again?
Casper: I can find myself in the argument that Nintendo struggled with how to handle the storytelling in this open-world format, especially because it makes it harder to implement characterization. Take a character like Grog; we know everything about him because, in his games, there are only like 40 or so significant characters and it’s easy for players to figure out what he’s up to at any time of the day. When you have hundreds of characters to work with across a huge world, that scope you mention suddenly means you need to look deeply to find the same amount of writing. This really is a game that needs to be data-mined so we can record every possible conversation somewhere without driving the wikia people crazy.
As for Zelda, of all the characters present I found her the hardest to enjoy. You only see her in flashbacks that show you parts of her developing friendship with Link, which can, again, be separated by hours of open-world tomfoolery. I ended up saving her quest to the very last so I could watch these scenes back-to-back and, honestly, I do enjoy her character. She’s not some typical princess, she is a bit of an excitable geek with a fascination for plants and animals, and she is faced with interesting challenges. The scene of her crying in the rain, I feel, is the game firmly stating its ambition to tell a more emotional-driven fantasy story. I also just like her more because every line of dialogue is actually voiced.
Stian: Think going overboard in those regards would be rather a Wikia-person’s wet dream. I will say I am very fond of the direction they have taken with Zelda, even if it almost feel like a part of a trend (Adventure Time, anyone?). Having a princess who actually wants to gain knowledge about the world, and is young and free-spirited, yet is challenged by her duties as a princess, is wonderful to see in a series with Zelda right in the title. Granted, I do agree that it is an issue that we only get this through optional scenes, neglecting the connection with our hero once again both through this, and that she usually speaks in monologues. Amnesia-plot be damned!
This also goes to the aspect of telling a more emotional-driven story. I do agree that they want to go this direction, and with the 4 main-guardians representing a form of trait towards Link, with of course Zelda showcasing a vast amount of emotions, I do definitely agree there now that you mention it. I just wish they could do more to make Link feel included. To be honest as well, whatever voice Link would have had, would cause controversy either way, so why not let him at least try? Speaking of which, while I am happy for the incarnation we got of Zelda at least, her voice-acting is controversial. I don’t really understand this though, as I found her direction solid, and the actress, Patricia Summersett, portrays her well as a royal princess that still has her childhood wonders intact.
Casper: We discussed this in our debate on voice acting: for any recurring characters, whatever voice they would pick would end up being controversial. While I don’t feel like naming Link added much to the story, the spaces Nintendo left to the imagination of its audience always were. For me, having the Deku Tree return with a voice was an example of such. While his character is largely the same as it was in Ocarina of Time, having him reappear with a voice takes that part of the Zelda universe I filled in myself and tells me I was wrong. I always imagined him sounding slower and more elderly.
For Zelda, I’d say the pick shouldn’t be controversial at all because of the cool reincarnation they went with. Patricia is a great fit for this version of Zelda and that doesn’t take away a part of the Zelda world I filled in myself, because this isn’t the Zelda from A Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, or Twilight Princess. She is her own character, a new Zelda. If we stick with that logic, I don’t think giving Link a voice should be a problem either. After all, that reincarnation will be that game’s Link, not the one from any prior game people might already have expectations of.
Stian: I never actually thought about it this way, but I suppose it is in many ways similar to how a movie-adaptation of a book can make or break for the audience. Though we have had one other version of the Deku with the Wind Waker’s adaption, so I never really thought about this. Maybe the legacy of the Deku Trees is similar to Zelda, with a new incarnation for every game? However, I can’t deny how iconic he is in the Ocarina of Time, so this is hard to say.
I think you make a fantastic point here. With a new incarnation of Zelda, there should be some changes to distinguish one from the other, and doing similar to Link without just the visual design, could definitely go a long way! I won’t say it will pay off right away, as fans are hard to please, but I am always happy when Nintendo takes big chances and goes all the way with it. Besides, he has been silent for long enough: LET THE HERO SPEAK! Just don’t go all Other M.
Casper: Never go the Other M route, mate.