After Breath of the Wild, where does Zelda go from here?
by on May 3, 2017

Breath of the Wild has obviously made a big splash in the video gaming community at large. It’s selling consoles, bringing Zelda fans back from “retirement,” reinventing the series, and rekindling the love that some have lost for the franchise. Some are even saying it is the quintessential Zelda game. So after such an amazing release such as this… what is next?

I’ll be the first to say that Breath of the Wild is a breathtaking game. The systems blend together seamlessly, the world is beautifully hand-crafted with sight lines and vistas, the gameplay is tight, there’s just a sense of wonder that flows throughout the whole game… the list could go on and on. I loved every minute that I played. When I was going through the honeymoon phase with the game, I honestly thought to myself, “I don’t see how they can top this.” But after my initial hype died down, the flaws of the game did start to poke through more and more. There is room to grow and improve.

Now, mind you, I would still give this game a 10/10; it is truly brilliant. In fact, part of the reason I’m writing this article is to force myself to look critically at this thing that I really do love. So while this thread is going to look at the shortcomings of the newest Zelda game, I hope to do it in a positive way that looks toward a bright future for my favorite gaming franchise.

Production

o dispense with the easiest one first, there are obvious improvements to be made on the technical end. Anyone who has played Breath of the Wild will notice that there are significant frame rate drops at times, particularly in grassy or wooded areas. The stability patch a few weeks ago has helped this issue, but it hasn’t solved it completely. I also had a recurring problem that the game would hitch, sometimes heavily, when I laid a heavy hit on a Moblin. (This only happened with Moblins. Why that one specific enemy?) Now that it’s not the ‘90s anymore, Nintendo has stopped focusing on being the cutting edge of technology and instead focusing on quality gameplay experiences, but games are, by nature, technical, and the next Zelda game should definitely pay attention to consistent frame rate. Hopefully the next game can improve in that area while still providing us with beautiful imagery.

Another common criticism for the game is the voice acting. I was personally skeptical of voice acting in Zelda in the first place since I am somewhat of a traditionalist — but don’t worry, this isn’t an “I Told You So.” I thought the voice acting was a welcome addition to Zelda. But Mipha’s voice, in particular, is terrible. This is a shame because I liked Mipha as a character, but she was just hard to listen to. I’ll personally defend Princess Zelda’s VO, but that performance has room for improvement as well. In a world where Uncharted 4 and The Last of Us exist, any sub-par voice acting quality will be exposed in the gaming community. Should Nintendo choose to employ voice acting in the future, they may need some better talent scouts. (Note: I have only played the English version of the game, and I’m not aware of the quality of VO in other languages.)

In a world where Uncharted 4 and the Last of Us exist, any sub-par voice acting quality will be exposed in the gaming community.

Writing

or years, fans have been asking to have freedom and for Nintendo to stop holding their hands all the way through the game. Skyward Sword was the epitome of over-explained and over-guided narrative that dictated the game’s progression. As a very clear reaction to that, Breath of the Wild offers freedom unparalleled in the 3D Zelda universe, becoming the truest sequel to the original Legend of Zelda to date. And yet, in spite of giving the player that freedom, Nintendo still managed to piece together a compelling narrative, ironically, perhaps the most compelling narrative that Zelda has had to offer since Majora’s Mask.

In the end, though, the story fell pretty flat. The four main characters of each race (Sidon, Yunobo, Riju, and Teba) were built up well, and yet they went absolutely nowhere when you were done with their respective areas. I realize some sacrifices had to be made to keep the non-linearity of the game intact, but these four characters represent a pretty big area of missed potential. Honestly, if it weren’t for the slide show during the staff roll, I might have forgotten about them completely. Heck, I had to go to Zelda Wiki to make sure I got their names right. This game handled the Hyrulian races better than any game in the past, but their main characters ended up amounting to very little. And while the Champions themselves were cool, it did get tiring to hear the exact same lines of dialogue in every dungeon. Again, I get it — they wrote the dungeons so you could go to any of them first. But all four dungeons were essentially the same in form, function, and progression. Next time around, I’d like to see stronger side characters and more interesting dialogue across the board.

Holding out hope for DLC that involves these guys more.

The end of the game was also not as fulfilling as it could have been. I understand that Calamity Ganon is now essentially the embodiment of evil and malice, but would it have killed them to add just a few lines of dialogue? On top of that, the final boss is completely neutered if you go complete all the main quests. Instead of just cutting the final encounter down to 1/5 of its content, I would have liked to see a different ending based on what you did and did not accomplish throughout the game. Perhaps an ending that involves the new “Champions” rising up to their rightful positions? I hope the next Zelda game has a stronger ending that better takes into account the actions of the player throughout the game.

As a final note on the writing: Nintendo, you have played the Amnesia card. You cannot play it again. It was well-done, but the challenge is now to present a similarly compelling narrative without using that crutch. I believe in you. I adored the Memory cutscenes and the fact that the player could find them in any order that they want, but next time has to be different.

Gameplay

ombat is a huge part of Breath of the Wild despite the game not being necessarily “combat-focused.” Since it plays such a major role in Zelda games in general, I think there are aspects of the combat that could be made more interesting looking forward. Flurry Rush and Shield Parry are great techniques, but throughout the game I realized more and more that they were my only really interesting melee options. I don’t think any game has quite replicated the combat progression that Twilight Princess had to offer, and I’d like to see another attempt at it.

I don’t think any game has quite replicated the combat progression that Twilight Princess had to offer.

This entry in the Zelda series puts game physics in a much more prominent role. Physics interactions were some of the most-highlighted features in the press cycle leading up to this game, and rightfully so. Overall, they nailed it. In fact, I don’t really have a criticism here — I just want to point out that game physics have near limitless possibilities, and I hope that we see the catalog of crazy interactions increase more and more as the series progresses.

I’m a little concerned that Nintendo backed themselves into a corner with the climbing mechanic, because every Zelda from this point forward needs to have free climbing. To go back now would be crippling. This requires a ton of design work, because the climbing surfaces in this game are so amazingly hand-crafted and would need to be matched. For an example of the brilliance of the climbing, I’d recommend climbing the Dueling Peaks after you’ve finished the game. Remember climbing Dueling Peaks after leaving the Great Plateau and barely making it to the hand-holds to rest and get your stamina back up? Go back now, and it’s a cakewalk. That mountain was intended to be an early-game climb, and it is designed as such.

In the reverse, if you ventured into the Hebra Mountains early in the game, you might not have had the best time. That kind of artistry is necessary for all future 3D releases, including the well-placed sight lines and the importance of vantage points. Breath of the Wild made climbing exciting and rewarding, and anything less in the future will be a step back.

A certain developer of the game told us that “You can go straight to Hyrule Castle and beat Ganon if you want to.” And, by golly, you can! I think this is a fantastic feature that should also carry into future games in some fashion. I did this myself and found it to be a fun, satisfying challenge. What could use refinement, though, is how the endgame is affected by when you choose to go to Ganon. I touched on this in an earlier segment — I don’t think the reward for completing the dungeons should be a neutered final boss experience, but a different final boss experience. Games have had multiple endings for years — Chrono Trigger, for instance, has a similar mechanic to beat the final boss very early, and features a very different ending for doing so. Assuming the next Zelda game has a designed speedrun, it should flesh out multiple endings. The speedrun route should most definitely be harder and more challenging, and overcoming that challenge should be the reward in itself. On the flip side, the full-game route should reward you in a different way, either with a new final boss experience or a more fully satisfying postgame sequence.

Finally, I hope the next game has more interesting swimming. Not only is swimming pretty slow and laborious, causing me to basically avoid it at every opportunity, but you couldn’t dive or explore the water at all. Maybe Skyward Sword’s terrible underwater sequences scared them off from designing submerged areas, but I’d like to see those return if they’re done well.

Unfortunately for us, Nintendo’s official art looks way more fun than the actual mechanic.

Design

his game is a masterful open world, but it is still Nintendo’s first real foray into that type of game design. There’s room to grow, and that’s exciting!

If I could change one single thing about Breath of the Wild, it would be its dungeons. I thought the Divine Beasts were fascinating–I loved how the maps controlled the dungeon layout, and all four of them had fun and unique mechanics to them. But just imagine a Zelda game with an open world as fantastical and sprawling as Breath of the Wild’s… but then has equally fantastical and sprawling hidden dungeons to explore, with item rewards and awesome variety of bosses. In other words, I’d love to see the next game incorporate the more classic approach to Zelda dungeons. Now, classic Zelda did get pretty stale in this area, I’ll admit. Items were rarely useful outside of the dungeon you found them in, and the dungeons themselves were not always the most interesting. But with some refinement and care, real dungeons could add so much to a game that is already bursting at the seams with great experiences. It would allow for more environments, more items (Can you imagine this world with a hookshot?), more bosses, more enemies, more gameplay, and just more in general. The development time and resources to achieve this dream would be sizeable, but worth it.

With some refinement and care, real dungeons could add so much to a game bursting at the seams with great experiences. Can you imagine this world with a hookshot?

Speaking of enemies, surely I wasn’t the only one who got sick of Bokoblins and Lizalfos by the end of the game. You can change their color palettes all you want, but they’re still just Bokoblins and Lizalfos in the end. I thought it was great to see the return of Lynels, but Zelda has so many enemies in its history that the sameness got really disappointing about halfway through the game. Like-Likes, Iron Knuckles, Beamos, Dodongos… hopefully we’ll see some of these in DLC, but we need to see them it the next game at least.

Cooking was an interesting addition to this world, but the system could use refinement. The balance is a little wonky — for instance, hearty items are ridiculously powerful and meat is fairly useless. But even if the balance were perfect, the main problem with cooking lies in the interface. It took me a bit to even understand how to hold items and put them in a pot. (I kept trying to interact with the pot in some way instead of diving right into my inventory screen.) Why is there no “recipe book” where you can select what outcome you want and then choose the ingredients to go into it? Why do I have to keep pressing +, sometimes LT/RT, both sticks, X, A, and B to make one simple meal? If cooking returns, as it probably will, it needs to be streamlined.

Shrines are awesome. Dedicated, Portal-like puzzle rooms with multiple solutions and multiple challenges, all for a nice, tangible reward. Shrines are one of the things that make Breath of the Wild as special as it is. But if Nintendo decided to use the same Shrine structure in the next game, I might roll my eyes. I don’t think there’s anything necessarily wrong with the traditional Piece of Heart model from previous Zelda games, and while a break from it was nice, it could be done again and done very well. There could even be shrine-like mini-dungeons all over the next game, and that would be awesome. But if that design effort is also split into more thorough dungeon design, I think it would be a worthy trade-off. Keep the idea of Shrines, but don’t just go directly back to that well.

Changing up the Shrine structure would also allow for more variety in aesthetics.

Changing up the Shrine structure would also allow for more variety in aesthetics.

In the end, Breath of the Wild is a masterpiece, and there are so many awesome lessons learned that Nintendo can carry forward into future games. I hope to see the DNA of this game throughout the rest of this series’ lifespan. But if the next game is simply Breath of the Wild 2, I’ll be disappointed. There are places to go from here, and I’m excited to see Nintendo go to them. I’ll gladly go right along.

Jared Natsis
Jared Natsis is a student, husband, father, Greninja main, and lifelong Nintendo fan. You’ll see him posting in various corners of the internet as Marilink. Follow him on Twitter for his thoughts on various video games and his suffering over Detroit sports teams.