The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time fell into my hands after I played it at a friend’s house when I was a child. In a few minutes, I found the Kokiri Sword, something they had been unable to do despite owning and playing the game several times. They handed it to me, since I was “smart enough for it.”
My grandma owned a Nintendo 64, so I played Ocarina of Time at her house. Her and I grew close through it. I remember many late nights, both of us in the CRT’s glow as we worked our way through the temples. I wouldn’t have solved many of the puzzles without her help.
A few years later, I saw the announcement for The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker in a Nintendo Power. My grandmother went to Wal-Mart and reserved a copy immediately. The Wind Waker was easier than Ocarina, but my grandmother was there almost every step of the way. I remember beating Wind Temple, fighting Molgera and listening to that intense battle music one weekend morning. She was in the kitchen, making breakfast and my grandfather was outside, feeding the dogs and smoking.
We played The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess too. It was different. I was much older, a burgeoning teenager, and bought it on my own. I played more games like Halo 2 and Gears of War and those weren’t her taste. She enjoyed exploration and puzzles. She did crosswords and other paper puzzles every night before bed. I played Twilight Princess at her house for hours a day and beat it in a week. She played some of it with me, but it wasn’t the same. Maybe it was the game’s darker art style, or maybe because she was growing older and more frail, but the same magic from Ocarina and The Wind Waker wasn’t there.
My grandma, and The Legend of Zelda, were an integral reason that gaming became a thing for me. She always supported my hobby. When I was young, like really young, I remember talking to her on the phone at night while she read me the text on the back of a game she bought for me while grocery shopping, because she “thought it looked interesting” or “you might like it.” Looking back, I think those moments are why gaming became such a community driven passion for me. Art, and games, are more enjoyable when shared.
She passed away my junior year of high school, so we never played a game together after Twilight Princess. I inadvertently ignored the Zelda series for a few years. I didn’t own a Wii until my senior year of college, so I never played Skyward Sword until after graduation. The summer before that final year, I bought a copy of A Link to the Past and played through it on the same Super Nintendo her and I spent so much time playing Nintendo classics. A Link to the Past is great but the puzzles are almost nonexistent. I don’t think she would have liked that one too much.
Almost any game was enjoyable when I was a child. Things like genre and developer history and game mechanics were too adult. There is a true joy in picking up a game with no expectations and enjoying it for what it is. Too often, after much study in my adult years, I find myself critiquing a game as I play it. “It would be better if,” or “Why didn’t they do this?” It’s difficult to lose myself in a virtual world like I once did.
I thought that the industry grew stale or perhaps I was jaded. I felt doomed to an array of mediocre games or hours spent in multiplayer games because I had already tore through the few enjoyable, important single-player experiences that release each year. Interesting games come out each year but games like The Witness or The Beginner’s Guide are definitely not the norm.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild reminds me why games are special. Exploring Hyrule this time felt like it did when I was a child with my first Zelda games, or any of my early games. Back then, games were always full of surprises. Something else to learn, something else to discover. Those feelings were lost as I became more literate in the medium. Breath of the Wild reinforces the fact that those feelings are still possible. Games just need to be better to get there. More encouraging still, games can get there.
In Breath of the Wild, I truly find myself lost in another world in a way that I haven’t experienced since maybe vanilla World of Warcraft. I want to crest every hill to see what’s on the other side. Each side quest and riddle fills me with excitement for something else unexplored. I am absolutely enamored with all its possibilities every time I pick up the controller. Almost anything the player thinks is possible within the game’s established rules actually is possible. In over 50 hours, I have not once grown bored.
Adventuring around Hyrule is quiet. It was usually only me, sometimes my horse, and always my thoughts. Alone, in my apartment, I had plenty of time to think. A lot of it was about how wonderful the game is. I’ve told almost all of my friends to play it. It’s probably my favorite game of all time. I want to share the same wonderful, enthralling experience with everyone else.
I played the first few hours of this game alone before I had an overwhelming desire to stream it. I now realize that is because I wanted to share this game with more friends and people. A couple months ago, that happened outside of my stream. A friend came over to hang out and started a new save file from scratch. I watched him experience the same surprise that I did, the same satisfaction, the same pure wonder.
There was a time when I didn’t play these kind of games alone. I played them with my grandmother. When playing games, I often think about my grandma and wonder if she would have liked it or not. I think she would have bought Breath of the Wild for me the first day she saw it, even if we had never played a Zelda game before. Somewhere, I think some kid and their grandparent, or whoever, is having the same experience that her and I did when we first played Ocarina of Time. Breath of the Wild will be the Ocarina of Time for so many young gamers. I think that’s exciting. I think that’s something special.
I really like Breath of the Wild. My grandma would really like it. I hope you do too.