I don’t know if any of the designers behind The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild are trail runners, but they certainly managed to capture some essence of what makes travelling on foot, off the beaten path, so beautiful.
This is old news, of course, Breath of the Wild was received as one of the greatest games of all time on it’s release – owing to the immense beauty and freedom which was offered by up it’s delicate worldbuilding and intricate layering of game systems – but I recently found myself revisiting Link and Hyrule, and thinking about the adventure in new ways.
I was not a Nintendo child growing up, so I have no real nostalgia for The Legend of Zelda series, and in truth some of the more game-y aspects of BOTW grind on me a little. I have no patience for some of the more pedantic quests, and feel restless in some of the more populated, noisy, centres of the game. Even the major temples – the Divine Beasts – although smartly challenging, are far from my primary reason toplay.
For me, BOTW is engaging when it isn’t really trying to be. On the trail (back in reality) the eye is often drawn to paths unknown even, or especially, when your true course is known. Where does that go? We find ourselves thinking. Can I link this path with the last? Will that turn loop to my destination, or beyond it? What will I see? What will I feel? The reality is that sometimes these paths lead nowhere. The reality is that sometimes they lead us so wildly off course that we have to backtrack. The reality is that sometimes they lead us somewhere far more beautiful, far more surprising, than that which we had planned. And what exactly is the reward for this exploration when it goes well? Nothing tangible. A view, perhaps, or some smooth, flowing portion of trail. The reward then, is the exploration itself, which means that even if it goes wrong, it was worth it. I find this to be a suitable summation of why I enjoy running so much, and also BOTW.
In running it is all a journey. Even if there is a specific race at the end of a training block the chances are that there’s just going to be another one after that, and after that, and after that. Which runner successfully pulls off a race and then thinks, ah that’s it then, I’ve done it, I’ve completed running?
That is what BOTW does so well. It is rewarding in and amongst itself. The journey is the game, not the destination. It isn’t about completing levels, or gathering loot. In fact it’s tangible rewards are a bit naff. Quite literally some of the rewards – the Korok seeds – are little pieces of crap. Weapon caches are exciting to begin with, but the game’s harsh durability system makes these short-lived. The fun of the experience is on the trail; in spotting a path through a hillside which leads to a gorgeous, dusky, cove; on seeing a line of trees in an oddly symmetrical pattern and wandering over to see if that actually means anything. The fun is, bizarrely, much the same as trail running – albeit in a more type I, rather than type II, kinda way.
Thankfully, despite this game now being over 4 years old (!!!) I constantly see new bits of information and videos emerging as players continue to explore and experiment in the world, which reassures me that there are still plenty of miles for me to virtually cover as I rest between my (erm) reality miles, before the second installment sets us out on another ceaseless adventure.