THE LEGEND OF Zelda has always been been a misnomer, and not only because the franchise’s game has had very little to do with Princess Zelda (or really any women) in any significant way. Since the Nintendo saga’s early 8-bit days, the title has conjured images of grandeur, heroism, and myth—but the reality has always been, in the details, smaller and more intimate.
Instead, the series is best summed up by its second game, Zelda II: The Adventures of Link. It’s the title that marks the series’ true spiritual birth—and it’s the spirit that Nintendo Switch launch title The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild does its best to return to. The lonely journey of a boy without guidance, in a world much larger than he is. He has a friend to save, and a monster to stop. He finds a sword, then a bow, and he takes the rest one step at a time.
A Kingdom—and Formula—Destroyed
About three hours into Breath of the Wild, you receive a paraglider. You’ve been stuck, up until this point, on a walled-off plateau, hundreds of feet above the rest of the kingdom of Hyrule, which is itself pocked with mountains and chasms. In a land of extreme elevation changes, the paraglider grants freedom, opening up the entire continent to the player. It’s a vast, and often desolate place.
The once ascendant kingdom, you learn, has been in disrepair for the past hundred years. Back then, Calamity Ganon—the classic enemy of the series, Ganondorf, reconsidered here as a pollutive, impersonal force of evil—overtook it. Link and Zelda tried to stop it, but they failed: Zelda was magically imprisoned in the castle, and Link was locked in a chamber of resurrection. You play as that Link, the one who died and was reborn, and as you roam over Hyrule’s peaceful decay you realize that your job is to save it.
The task of defending this Hyrule is overwhelming. The world Nintendo has built is immense, your objectives scattered over miles and miles of virtual territory. You’ll spend most of your time in Breath of the Wild in transit, slowly creeping through the mountains, valleys, volcanoes and wetlands of Hyrule. Wonderfully, the designers largely leave you to it.