“Legend of Zelda games are for babies. Babies and masochists,” I thought in 2016. But then I bought a Switch. The first game I played was The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I changed my tune after that.
I was a PC kid growing up, through and through. Instead of a steady diet of platformers, I was making touch-and-go landings at Meigs Field in Microsoft Flight Simulator. I did not grow up with Mario and no, I have never beaten the original Legend of Zelda. Say the word and I’ll leave my gun and badge on the desk.
But Breath of the Wild hooked me hard, almost immediately. Here was a game for adults, but one that wasn’t a grimdark exercise in ultra-violence.
Zelda let go of its saccharine past in Breath of the Wild. There was no fairy chirping in my ear, and no egg-headed nincompoop also functioning as a sailboat. I found a world that was stylistic, to be sure, but also gorgeous and seemingly endless. There was everything and nothing to do, and the game just shut up about it and let me stand in or explore beautiful locations for as long as I liked.
The game became much more technical once I got off the plateau, Breath of the Wild’s stand-in for a tutorial area. The combat is some of the best I’ve ever played in a role-playing or adventure game. It’s far closer to Dark Souls than Skyrim, even as it allows for creativity in how you approach each situation.
In the same way that other open-world games might allow you to solve a puzzle with multiple skills, here Breath of the Wild lets you solve combat encounters in a similarly dynamic way. I felt clever beating a rock golem over the head with a pick-axe in the same way that I felt clever in Half-Life 2 for boosting myself up onto a ledge with a hand grenade.
Breath of the Wild is also, by and large, bloodless.
I have two small children at home and I have very strong feelings about what I will and will not let them see on a television. Breath of the Wild is violent, to be sure, but as a parent it is much easier to stomach because of how that violence is portrayed on screen. If my girls can watch the original Star Wars trilogy and The Force Awakens, they certainly can watch me play Breath of the Wild. And they did, and we had an amazing time.
But the game is, nonetheless, mature. It also understands that the word means more than blood and cursing.
Inside every shrine is the mummified body of a saintly person, someone who has devoted their life and now their death to my return. Solving the puzzle and freeing them is given both meaning and emotional weight. My girls eventually started to cheer as they dissipated into a mist. They were moving on, and so were we.
And I have yet to beat anyone to a bloody pulp with a crowbar. There have been no gruesome dismemberments or decapitations. In fact, all of the enemies came back to life with the new moon. Their evaporation after death was not used simply to clear up memory on the console, it was instead baked into the game’s narrative.
Breath of the Wild grew up this year. I grew to love it due to those changes. And now, thanks to Nintendo, it’s something I can share with my girls as they grow up. They will be given a mature Zelda at a younger age than I was, and that’s a wonderful gift.