Assaulting the castle

What an extraordinary experience.

*Spoilers follow for Breath of the Wild*

I finally finished Breath of the Wild over the weekend. With all Divine Beasts freed, all memories unlocked, and the Master Sword in hand, the only thing left for me was a full-on assault against Ganon. Earlier, I had explored the rear entrance of Hyrule Castle briefly (based on the advice of one of the NPCs), and accidentally found myself the Hylian Shield, but upon realizing how badass the music was – infused with Zelda’s Lullaby and the main theme as it was – I felt morally obliged to take on the castle in a single sitting.

And that was a great idea. Hitting the castle from the front, taking the obvious path outlined on the map, fighting Ganon, and watching the credits and cutscenes took about an hour. The music invoked a sense of inevitability and duty, and taking on the Guardians one by one let me feel a real sense of progress as I made my way up the structure. The ending itself was more emotional than I was expecting; seeing the four Divine Beasts unleash their power against Ganon made me realize the enormity of Link’s task, and fighting the multi-limbed creature in the castle’s sanctum was exciting for the battle’s entirety, despite its simplicity and reliance on skill more than abilities.

But little did I know, that was not the boss battle. No, the real boss battle – the final battle – took place outdoors, in as beautiful of a setting I could ever imagine. The soundtrack called back to the main theme revealed in last year’s E3, sprinkled with almost senseless and grating piano lines, and yet had an overarching sense of elegance that was at times both harmonious and conflicting with the Bow of Light and the battle’s location in Hyrule Field. Taking on Ganon astride my trusty blue steed Thunder (I actually underused the horse mechanic in this game, preferring to do my travelling by foot; I am curious as to how this final battle would have panned out if I had never domesticated a horse) with Zelda’s voice in my mind, I was finally struck by the game’s duality of giant scale and great, intense focus. Through looking things up after the endgame, I realized I had achieved the true ending through completing all of the main quests, and that ending really made me feel empty once I realized the game was over. I only wish there was a playable epilogue that detailed Link and Zelda’s journey to restore Hyrule; perhaps in one of the planned DLCs.

In conclusion to an amazing game and extraordinary experience, Breath of the Wild left a lasting impression on me. Everything was possible; I just had to have the right mindset and the right strategy. The story, if weak and a little simple, was fulfilling. Maybe I didn’t finish all of the side quests – and it’s entirely possible I haven’t even found all of the side quests – but Breath of the Wild has already taken its place as my favorite game of all time.

Breath of the Wild: a breath of fresh air

How Zelda is both new and old.


You’ve probably heard some things about Zelda‘s latest title, a little thing called Breath of the Wildreleased for Nintendo Switch. No biggie.

It’s been covered to death, and ever since seeing the E3 2016 trailer (somehow I missed the first 2014 one…?) have been very excited for the game. You may remember the Twilight Princess reveal, one of the most genuinely enthusiastic responses of a video game I can think of; when BotW was revealed last year my friends and I basically lost it in a similar fashion.

As of writing, I have yet to finish the game, but I’ve put in enough time to free all of the Divine Beasts and reclaim all but one of my memories. I have also done a little over 50 shrines and unlocked the entire map. Before the summer ends I should be ready to fight Ganon; the only reason I haven’t done so is because the lead-up to Hyrule Castle has such a heroic soundtrack that I feel morally obligated to do the entire thing in one sitting.

Anyway. It’s tough to say whether BotW is the most like Zelda or the least like Zelda. On one hand, it takes a stark departure from the somewhat linear progression that the Zelda series has used in the last few years; on the other hand, it’s so close to the original Zelda that one might consider it the ultimate Zelda game.

By which I mean its completely open world. If you recall, the original Zelda game had no instructions whatsoever; you were allowed to go in any direction from initially spawning – technically you didn’t even have to grab the sword. You could tackle the dungeons in any order you desired and secrets were unlocked by using your brain. Conversely, Skyward Sword infamously had Fi, who held your hand at every corner and turning the game more into a list of chores to do.

BotW takes the best of the original Zelda and supports and structures it with modern technology. People drop hints but never tell you explicitly how to achieve a goal. The search for the Master Sword was particularly good; through talking to four or five people, you eventually synthesize information to realize it’s hidden in the Lost Woods, and in order to navigate the Woods you need to watch the wind.

I think the reason I love BotW is how it strikes a balance between abilities and mechanics. When you think about it compared to other open-world games, it actually features fewer skills that empower the player; much of what makes the game tick is under the hood. Tiny little details, really. Temperature, weather, a true, loading screen-free open world (save for dungeons and shrines), the ability to set things on fire, etc. etc. etc. Moreover, the game puts a higher emphasis on skill. People claimed that BotW took points from Dark Souls; the Souls guys replied by saying that they’ve been taking points from Zelda. While abilities help you solve puzzles, get around, and sometimes fight enemies, much of the game is based on your personal ability as a gamer to react, empowering you and making you actually feel like the hero of legend – especially if you elect to go with the reduced, “Pro” HUD (in settings). This is further seen in the different ways you can attack a challenge. With all four abilities plus the paraglider unlocked in the first half hour, failure at a challenge means you can hit from a different angle. Maybe a head-on rush against a monster camp doesn’t work, so try swinging giant metal boulders around, or gliding in from above, or lure a Guardian over or something.

That being said, I do have a minor complaint. Where is Hyrule? There’s a massive castle in the center of the world, but what is it ruling over? I realize that there are town ruins in the vicinity of the castle, but there appear to be very few citizens. It just seems strange to have a very large castle ruling over a very small amount of people, the Calamity notwithstanding.

Though I feel BotW would have been an incredible game no matter when it came out, I think it was released at a great time. AAA gaming is taking a far more businesslike model, and each day I’m losing confidence in the entire industry as a whole. I’ve long lamented how big developers seem to be putting in features for the sake of putting them in and not for fun (looking at you, Assassin’s Creed collectibles), but in BotW everything plays a part on the overarching story of Link trying to save a kingdom on the brink of destruction. Nintendo is usually seen as being somewhat conservative and backwards in terms of game development, but ever since Iwata’s tenure as president the company has almost always been experimenting with fun. They don’t always succeed (see: Star Fox Zero), and yet they are unique in their way of at least putting that first. In that sense, Breath of the Wild really is a breath of fresh air.

Pokémon No

Why Pokémon Go failed.

I have a major problem with Pokémon Go. Namely, I think it’s a joke of a Pokémon title. The problem is, it doesn’t quite feel like a Pokémon game. Now, granted, there have been some stranger spin-offs (Pokémon Trozei! in particular comes to mind), but Pokémon Go, to me, is one of the biggest failures in gaming this year, because it fails to capture the essence of Pokémon, yet attempted to appeal to our sense of nostalgia when it comes to the memories associated with the main games (and, by extension, the anime). It’s not necessarily that it was a bad idea; no, I think it was an excellent idea. Unfortunately, it was undercooked and failed to live up to the Pokémon name.

But what exactly makes a Pokémon game a Pokémon game? What was it that attracted players of all ages – kids, teenagers, adults, what have you – to these stationary sprites on a handheld device? Was it the story? The music? The level grinding?

No, it was all of that and more. It’s not the story, it’s the specific events that transpire (like battling AZ in Kalos or facing down Red at Mt. Silver in Johto). It’s not the music, it’s the emotional appeal attached to that music (like I covered last time with Kindred Spirits on the Roof). And, most importantly, it’s not the level grinding, it’s the immersion into the world of Pokémon: the struggles of training and the bond with your Pokémon, until ultimately your long journey culminates with the defeat of the region’s villainous team and your ascension to the title of Pokémon League Champion.

Let’s look at this last point, because this, to me, is what Pokémon is all about. It’s about building the bond with your Pokémon, and all of the stories you create while heading for the Elite Four: the blood that pumps in a close Gym match, the bitterness of defeat, the attachment you develop to these pixelated sprites on a small, six-inch screen; HGSS even allows you to have a partner Pokémon that walks outside of its Pokéball. You find yourself relying on some Pokémon more than others, developing their personalities in your head. As the game’s region slowly unfolds and you reach new cities or towns, you take in your surroundings, remembering key events or key people along the way that help you on your journey. This is what Pokémon is all about: the bonds you develop with your Pokémon on a long journey.

Even most of the spin-offs got that part right. Mystery Dungeon removed the human/Pokémon barrier completely, where you become direct friends with other Pokémon, relying on them and their courage as you took on dungeons with endlessly hostile individuals. Pokémon Ranger‘s entire theme centers on seeing Pokémon as partners and not as servants.

So let’s go back to Pokémon Go. Its trailer was very well done (as all trailers tend to be), appealing to this attachment by reminding us about that sense of exploration and triumph. Trainer and Gym battles are depicted as epic brawls, with you sending your Pokémon out to directly combat someone else’s, where winner takes all and losers graciously admit defeat. It then culminates with a battle for the ages, as you team up with other trainers to take down a legendary Pokémon, trusting your best friend to do the job.

But that’s not what happened. Instead of partners, Pokémon in this game became stats. Instead of an epic battle, battles became rapid tapping excursions. Instead of appealing to the very core of Pokémon and its journey, Pokémon Go became a quick check of your phone for more powerful monsters to catch, without any modicum of the care you would put in for a real pet, or a real partner.

I so wanted to love Pokémon Go. I knew it was going to be nothing like the trailer, but I entertained the idea of going out to see the world with my Pokémon by my side. Instead, all we got was another mobile game: heartless and boring. Granted, the game does encourage exploration; you have to be willing to do some searching if you want to catch more Pokémon, but without that feeling of companionship that all of the main games afford, it feels empty – a waste of time. Maybe the idea was flawed in the first place, or maybe there was just no way to really implement these ideas into a mobile game. Maybe it may even be human nature that felled the title; in our inherent laziness, we developed apps that automatically locate Pokémon without even having to search for them. Regardless of the cause, Pokémon Go was a failure. In my eyes, it can’t even call itself a Pokémon game.

Monster Hunter gets a movie

Expect cats.


Monster Hunter is getting a live-action film. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that. On one hand, awesome, let’s kill some giant dragons and stuff. On the other hand, video game movie. I played one of the old Monster Hunter games on the PSP some years ago, so I’m really out of the circuit, but one thing I do remember is massive fights. That, and cats. I don’t even think my game was in English. Anyway, as always with video game movies, I’m keeping my hopes up but my expectations low. That way, I’m either not disappointed, or completely amazed.

Pokémon Generations

Animated shorts in the world of Pokémon.



I have no clue what this is going to be, apart from what the video says, but it certainly looks interesting. The stories in the world of Pokémon that this series will cover appear to be in the primary canon – that is, in the canon regarding the games, and not the anime. The animation style seems to be identical to that of Pokémon: Origins (which is now playing on the official Pokémon YouTube channel), which I consider to be far superior to the everyday anime starring Ash Ketchum and his friends. One of the more interesting things I saw in this trailer was what appeared to be some sort of raid, likely conducted by some sort of Pokémon SWAT team.

Whatever it is, Pokémon Generations certainly promises to be interesting.

Finally finished Skyrim!

Daar los fin oblaan.

Jesus, took long enough.

I was one of the stupid ones who never played Skyrim when it first came out five years ago(!), but I ended up buying it on sale sometime last year or the year before, and sunk about 24 hours into it without making a sizable dent into the story (I think I got up to somewhere towards the beginning of Act 2). Then I stopped playing, for whatever reason (probably me going off to college without my desktop…?), and when I picked it back up I had no memory of my character, so I ended up creating another.

Which was fine, because I tried to be everything with my first character and spec’d out as much as possible (for future reference, a magical warrior with archery skills and no shield isn’t such a great build), so my restart was a chance for me to actually make an effective character.

I ended up going with a fairly simple and pretty easy-to-play generic adventurer focusing on heavy armor, one-hand weapons (I tended to prefer swords), and archery. Apart from that, pretty much every other skill was up for grabs if I encountered an alchemy or enchanting table, anvil, or whatever (I kind of wish there was a cooking skill, though there almost certainly exists a mod for one). Since it was my first time playing, I spent pretty much all of my time exploring Tamriel and its magic. When the Greybeards sent me to recover the Horn of Jurgen Windcaller, I ended up becoming extremely distracted and before I knew it, I had houses in almost all of the major keeps, including Raven Rock (somehow, I never made it to Morthal in my adventures), was married to Ysolda of Whiterun, adopted two daughters and a fox, explored the four corners of the map, fought Miraak in Apocrypha, and met the Thieves’ Guild and Dark Brotherhood.

Unfortunately, my travels ended up making the main questline seem a little anticlimatic, because by that time I was equipped with Stahlrim items and received knowledge of many Dragon Shouts, not to mention having already unlocked hundreds of fast-travel points. After having spent over 70 hours dicking around as the Dragonborn on various unimportant tasks (especially given the threat of the dragons), discovering the Elder Scroll and defeating Alduin in Sovngarde took little more than three or four hours.

That’s alright, though. Skyrim is still a great game, despite its repetition (which is a problem with all RPGs), and I certainly plan to go back to it in a year or two, slap some mods on, and change up my experience again. I only wish I had played it earlier when it was a big thing.

On a side note, I also once wrote a lore-friendly bard song for a university project; maybe I’ll upload it sometime (and when I don’t forget).