It’s been a little over seven months since The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was released. It was immediately met with huge praise from both fans and critics alike. However, I don’t think the people of the future will understand why.
Before going any further, let’s throw away any superstitions about a “Zelda Cycle.” My thesis isn’t built on memes. Let’s also throw away any idea that I believe Breath of the Wild is at all a bad game; it’s fantastic. In fact, I’d go as far to say it’s my favorite Zelda game. But the core game isn’t really why; the metagame is. Let’s jump back to March. Breath of the Wild was a fever. Everyone who could play it was playing it. In a similar vein to Pokémon GO, Breath of the Wild was a social experience, and one that went far deeper than any freemium mobile game ever could. I have such good memories of playing the game and sharing my experiences with friends. We would compare maps to find new shrines, help each other solve puzzles, and discover new secrets. We would excitedly report to one another when we found a new town, or a cool-looking weapon. Just the act of sharing how we did things differently was fun. And this extended to things less personal than private Discord servers; there was a broad sense of community penetrating everyone playing the game, figuring out everything there was to figure out. It really was an amazing experience, and it informed the opinions of most who played it, including myself.
Let’s jump to late April or so. More people are starting to get Switches after numerous stock issues, and the Breath of the Wild fever has died down. People who hadn’t played the game up to that point get it, because of a lack of Switch titles, and… …they’re disappointed. It’s good, sure, but what’s the big deal? I witnessed this firsthand with several people, and it was interesting to see. It’s what resulted in me reevaluating the game in the first place. Why is it, I wondered, that they couldn’t fully enjoy the game? The gears started turning, and I realized something: the fever is what made the game. It really was like Pokémon GO: something you needed to be caught up in to truly enjoy. I soon realized that these games weren’t alone, and this wasn’t a new phenomenon: in fact, it went back decades, to 1986’s original The Legend of Zelda, at least. Retrospective reviews of that game are harsh, yet those who played it at the time still hold it in high regard; it’s not nostalgia blindness, but rather that an element of the game, something that, intended or not, served to heighten the experience, is no longer really there.
I don’t believe that Breath of the Wild will ever be viewed in retrospect with the same level of negativity as games like the original Zelda. It’s a far more forgiving and reasonable game. But I do believe that in the future, many people will be scratching their heads at the high praise while playing the game on their Nintendo Switch Classic. If they can get one, that is. After all, some things never change.