A Fireside Chat: The Nintendo Switch and Legend of Zelda

Today we are debuting a new feature for the site! Sciezka and I often go on at length over text messages and emails over random topics and we thought it’d be fun to publish the discussion.

To kick things off, we both started playing Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on our brand new Nintendo Switch consoles. What follows is a collection of our thoughts regarding Nintendo’s new machine and the craziness that is Breath of the Wild.

Allen: Before we get into the real meat of our discussion, I feel it’s best to address the elephant in the room. How many times did I tell you I wasn’t going to buy a new Nintendo console?

Sciezka: I think it was about 42. I had a lot of faith in Nintendo to get this right, so I’m not surprised you relented! Nintendo consoles are like Star Trek movies or Windows releases – every other one is great. So what changed your mind? (Other than Metroid)

A: For context, I had purchased a Wii not long after it came out and enjoyed a smattering of its titles (though mostly the virtual console). With third party support drying up–which was the same reason I abandoned ship on the Wii U–it was hard to stay interested in Nintendo in light of what Sony and Microsoft were doing at the time.

Metroid had a lot to do with me going to the Switch. I love that series and it annoyed me that Nintendo always seemed to forget about it or not pay nearly much attention as they did to Mario and Link. So when I heard it announced at E3, I knew I was on board. However, seeing Super Mario Odyssey and Mario X Rabbids pushed me way over the line.

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S: I’m glad you did! What are your thoughts on the Switch so far? Is it a transformative console or merely a serviceable one? For example, I love my PS4, but for me, it’s basically a solid game playing box.

A: The Nintendo Switch is, undeniably, really slick. While it has a gimmick, it feels far less “gimmicky” than the Wii and the Wii U. In fact, the Switch is what the Wii U should have been from the very beginning. it’s a slick piece of hardware that does as advertised. I like that I can play a game on my TV and then pick up the console and play on the go or in bed. The PS4 (which is my number 1 console at the moment) does this well enough with Vita’s Remote Play but the Switch does it so much better.

I have a real gripe with included controller frame that you slip the JoyCons into. It’s just too small for my hands. If it were wider, it’d be a great little accessory. How are you playing games on the Switch? Separate Joy Cons or with the included accessory? I hear the Pro Controller is supposed to be pretty good.

S: I’ve only used the Pro Controller actually. I’ve never used the Joy Cons for anything other than the initial set up. I like the Pro Controller a lot! It feels a lot like a PS4 controller, it has all the buttons in the right places, and it doesn’t hurt my hands. I’ve had some marathon sessions of Zelda and haven’t had a single issue with the controller. It’s a bit pricey as an add-on, but it’s been well worth it for me.

What do you think about the account set up on the Switch? I have a long history of accounts with Nintendo. The hoops I had to jump through to connect my current accounts were frustrating. Now that it’s set up, I feel it’s working well.

A: I’ve always felt the account stuff has always been a boondoggle for Nintendo, especially considering how easy it is to get up and running on PSN and Xbox Live. That said since I had a Nintendo account already when I got the Wii U, I felt the process was pretty OK. I still think the whole Friend Code system is garbage.

Let’s talk about games!

We’ve been spending our time hiking, climbing, and fighting our way through a post-apocalyptic version of Hyrule in a quest to defeat Calamity Ganon. What’s your experience with Zelda?  Is this your first rodeo? I can only think of three Zelda games I’ve played–but never finished–which are Zelda II, Wind Waker, and Ocarina of Time.

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S: I’ve only played two of the 3ds games, but I’ve watched my husband play the NES and SNES games. He’s also watching my playthrough of BoW and calling out references to me.

A: Oh, there are references to other games? Yeah, I’ve completely missed those! I did notice the large volcano that seems to live past Castle Hyrule. That was where the rock dudes lived in Ocarina of Time, I think.

So, what’s your status in Breath of the Wild? What have you done/accomplished/defeated at this point?

S: Yes, there are a ton of references! The place names, the different types of people, even where you find the Master Sword is a reference. I’m sure I’m missing a lot of them.

I found the first Divine Beast encounter, found the Master Sword (but have not obtained it), upgraded my inventory slots and heart meter, did a few side quests, beat one Guardian, and tamed a few horses. It’s easy to get side tracked in this game. There’s always another mountain to climb. What have you experienced so far?

A: I can’t say I’ve really accomplished much, haha. I’ve spent a good chunk of the game exploring and trying to get a feel for this very unique Zelda experience. I’ve reached Zora’s domain and feel like I’m being ushered to deal with my first Divine Beast but really, the majority of my time has been focused on exploring the game’s open world–of which I’m a really, really big fan of.

I’m kind of thrilled to that despite being an open world game, the world itself feels rather desolate. It’s also very quiet for the most part. All in all, it reminds me very much of Shadow of the Colossus, a game where you experienced very little until you reach one of the giant monsters. The time in between was spent just taking in the surroundings and admiring the game’s virtual natural beauty. This feels like a very different open world experience.

S: The world is very beautiful. But I think the sparseness of the environments makes the actual enemy and NPC encounters more meaningful. Which brings me to the subject of the NPCs. Overall, many of them are charming but not very memorable, but one NPC has quickly become my favorite: Hestu. Can we talk about awesome this guy is? He upgrades your inventory slots, so he’s super helpful. He’s adorable and can dance like a Carnivale dancer. I need a giant plushie of him in my life. Have any NPCs stood out to you yet?

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A: Is he the one who has the maracas and does the dance to give you weapon and inventory slots? That guy is fantastic. He’s really the only one I mind schlepping myself around Hyrule for. Other than Hestu, no one else has stood out much. I like the traveling salesman and his beetle shaped backpack but I find Zelda to be a mostly isolating experience. I’m kind of surprised that with the number of vendors I’ve found, rupees appear to be mostly non-existent. I remember in games like Ocarina and Wind Waker, you could break pots and trim hedges and find rupees spilling out. On the other hand, much of the stuff the vendors sell seems rather worthless so far. Considering the game’s ugly durability system, I’d expect them to sell a lot more equipment.

Before we go deeper into the game’s mechanics, what do you think of how death is treated in this game? Breath of the Wild has a generous save system that makes death more of an annoyance than a feeling of failure. What’s been your most spectacular or “whoopsie, I’m dead” moment? For me, it would be accidentally detonating a bomb immediately after I set it down.

S: Getting rupees is a lot different than previous games! I’ll confess, I looked up how to do it. They are worth it when you find a clothing shop. You’ll also want some for the Fairy Fountains and so you can buy your house.

My stupidest death is similar to yours – accidentally detonating a bomb I was holding. Oops! I’m glad the death penalty is minor. Most of my deaths have come from the strange controls and UI choices that the developers made. It’s my understanding that the game was originally designed with the Wii U in mind which explains some of the design flaws. The control/UI flaws keep this game from being a 10/10 for me. I’m getting used to them, but I would love a button remapping option. I would even buy DLC for it! Have the controls impacted your gameplay?

A: I’m in the same boat, really. My brain is having a hard time with sprint being mapped to the bottom button and jumped being mapped to the top button. It’s weird having to move my thumb across the pad if I want to do a running jump. I’ve accidentally thrown weapons away too with the right bumper instead of hitting the trigger to knock the bow.

Since we are talking about weapons, I thought it time to save the biggest gripe–my angriest gripe–the prevents this game from being totally awesomely perfect. That’s right, I’m talking about the weapon degradation system. I can sum up my thoughts thusly:

What.

The.

Hell.

S: Yes! My thoughts exactly! Weapon durability is rarely a fun mechanic in any game. It’s mind boggling that the developers thought it was a good idea. It doesn’t even make sense, story-wise. Are the smiths of Hyrule that incompetent? Is acid constantly raining from the sky, thereby degrading your weapon? And how come enemy weapons also don’t break in the middle of a fight? What makes it even worse is that when your weapon breaks, it doesn’t auto-equip another weapon, so you have to go through a bunch of menus to choose another weapon. Coupled with the limited weapon slots and the fact that you can’t pick up a weapon if your slots are full without jumping through hoops makes this one of the worst design decisions in the game. At least you get to see Hestu dance every time you upgrade the weapon slots.

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A: I’ve tried but I really can’t come up with any sort of justification for the weapon system. On the one hand, I can see it as the game encourages the player to try out different weapons. Granted, there’s really no great discernible difference between, say, the Boka Club and the skeleton arm beyond the up and down arrows.

With as much action there is to be had in Breath of the Wild, it’s shocking that it drops the ball hard with weapon management. It is infuriating to have to deal with that crap during battle and, as you say, have to switch to something in the middle of a fight. It seems purposefully designed to provoke the player. At the risk of trying to connect every video game to it, at least Dark Souls gave you the means to maintain your equipment. Sheesh.

S: Speaking of Dark Souls, there are elements in Zelda that reminded me heavily of Souls. The fires serving as resting points, the ability to parry, the lack of hand-holding, and the way the games keeps from going to later areas mostly by making them too difficult for the average player. Do you see the similarities and do you think it was intentional? Or have Souls design elements just permeated game design standards?

A: It certainly feels like this Zelda has explored other games for its influences. Like I mentioned earlier, I find that it has the solitude of Shadow of the Colossus but I also see the vastness and “breathing world” flair of Skyrim and yes, even a peppering of Dark Souls. Since I haven’t played many Zelda games I don’t have much to compare it to but while it certainly feels unique for this particular franchise it all feels rooted in familiarity. It’ll be interesting to see what effect this game will have on other Zelda adventures going forward. Is this going to be a one off thing or will the response from the community dictate that this sort of design will stick around a little bit?

OH! I just happened to think of another thing I really like. While I don’t care much for the practice of crafting items, the music/rhythm piece that plays when you’re cooking things is so friggin awesome.

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S: I also don’t have a lot of experience with recent Zelda games, but I wonder if this game actually is going back to the series’ roots? The original Zelda games were as open world as you could get with 8- and 16-bit era technology. There was little impeding your exploration of the world except for your abilities or lack of hearts. I’ve read interviews with Miyamoto where he talks about wanting to capture the sense of exploration and adventure he had as a child with the original Zelda. This game seems to bring that from the 8-bit era into the current HD era.

The music for the cooking sequence is awesome! But I’ve enjoyed all of the music. Some of it contains callbacks to other Zelda games, which is a nice touch. Sometimes it gets a bit repetitive or the enemy encounter music starts when there is no visible aggressor, but overall, it fits perfectly in with the world.

A: I can definitely see that. I love the aimlessness of the whole experience and the “do what you want” attitude. But it still has some boundaries to push you along. Like for example, I feel like I’ve encroached in areas that I should come back to when I have more health and better weapons.

And what I love about the cooking music is that it has a nice audible cue to let you know if a dish is going to come out well enough. When you start hearing dishes break, you know you’re about to find out that the ingredients you put in will amount to a censored plate of gross food!

So I think we talked a great deal about the Nintendo Switch and Zelda Breath of the Wild! Do you have any closing thoughts you’d like to share about either? Or both?

S: I think that, despite the clunkiness of the controls and UI issues, Nintendo has managed to deliver on their promises of a great console and a great open-world Zelda. It’s nice to see Nintendo gets its groove back after the Wii U. That being said, they need to invest in a UX team to fix their ongoing issues with UI, account management, and online experiences. But maybe that’s any article for another day. How do feel about your Switch experience? Are you happy that you took the plunge?

A: I’m feeling much better in the first week of owning the Switch than I did the entire time I had a Wii U. There’s some inherent Nintendo weirdness with the console itself (Friend Codes and Splatoon 2’s odd MacGuyver-style voice chat setup for example).  I feel that the company has gotten on its feet again and I look forward to them supporting the console. As for Breath of the Wild, I find it to be a frustrating quite a bit but I’m really fascinated by it. 

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