The Legend of Zelda has always been a part of my gaming life. Playing Link To The Past still reminds me of my sister and I passing the pad to each other, taking turns to complete dungeons and defeat bosses. Wind Waker still reminds me of working in a small games shop in Carlisle. I recently bought a Nintendo Switch along with Breath Of The Wild. Despite the fact it’s a wonderful reworking of the entire Zelda formula there’s another big reason why BotW will live long in my memory.
My ten year old son is on the autistic spectrum and was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome a couple of years ago. Essentially it means that he often has routines that he sticks to and gets really concerned and scared when something comes along that may disturb that. It also means that anything new to him, be it places or people, has to be introduced gradually.
He often plays video games. Whilst his friends at school often ask him why he’s not playing Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty he prefers anything Nintendo related. He knows that games such as GTA are for people aged 18 years or over. Another part of his condition is his tendency to not want to break any ‘rules’. Obsessions can also be another part of Aspergers and one of his current, long standing ones is Nintendo. Others in his class may be taking control of Trevor Philips of an evening but he’s perfectly content with Mario, Yoshi, Samus or indeed Link. He will talk endlessly about them, make up stories with them as the central characters and draw them using the copious amounts of notebooks he’s gained.
One of the main problems he’s had in the past with games is losing. In his mind he would often build up the perfect story of being a hero, of succeeding against all the odds and coming out victorious. If any boss or another player came along and changed that by winning instead then it would be a break in the procedure and a big change. What he had envisaged in front of him was now not going to happen. He wouldn’t process it well, often breaking down and he’d switch it off and give up. Said game would never really be touched ever again. This wasn’t just limited to games either, anything that brought up any kind of resistance was met with him backing away. Any primary school teacher trying to teach him maths early on in his school life became well aware of this too.
His early gaming years were, like many kids his age, made in Minecraft. When put on creative mode there were no barriers put in his way in Mojang’s world. If anything proved too difficult then it could be scrubbed out and build over. He spent hours constructing large buildings and whole towns. Disney Infinity came along and served much the same purpose (the large army of plastic figures stored below my TV is a testament to this). This also kicked off a fascination with Marvel comics and Star Wars. Super Mario Maker meant he could delete and rebuild entire levels even if the end results often didn’t make a lot of sense to anybody else bar him.
I’d heard from a few people that Breath of the Wild was difficult and having had a few hours with it myself I can say that it does have something of a mean streak. The game gives no real indication of where to go and what order to do quests in. It’s appropriate that the Link of BotW has lost all his memory as a lot of the gameplay is rediscovering places and people in Hyrule thought lost. Much of the time is spent getting used to systems and walking around the map with the possibility of running into enemies that are far higher in skill and weaponry than you. Early on in the game when Link has only three hearts for a life bar and one stamina wheel it’s quite possible to get wiped out in one hit by something far larger than you are.
My son really, really wanted to play BotW and I thought the worst was going to happen. He’d try once or maybe twice, get slaughtered by a few Mokoblins and then he’d be sitting and watching me play.
This hasn’t really happened.
Breath of the Wild is the first Zelda game my son has had his own save file for as he said from the start he wanted his own decisions and experiences to count in this playthrough. Upon starting the game on the Great Plateau he quickly learned that Guardians are not to be messed with whilst you only have a tree branch. The laser fired right towards him and the Game Over screen quickly popped up.
Then he tried again, this time avoiding them and moving for cover if they discovered him. He got to the Shrine nearby and completed it in fairly short order. With it being the summer holidays he’s often spending time each morning playing a little more of the game and edging forwards all the time. Each death was greeted by him shrugging his shoulders and pressing continue, learning from each demise as he went. He’s spent more time with the game currently than I have, spending evenings telling me of his exploits in Hyrule, blissfully unaware of how spoiler filled it can sometimes get. I don’t really mind though, not when he’s getting this much enjoyment out of it.
Today we were both home together and he happened upon Sidon, the Prince of the Zora. Not only is he a member of a fish royal family but he’s also the most positive character I’ve seen in gaming for a long while. When he pumps his fist and says “Link, you can do it and I believe in you!” it genuinely feels like an in game pep talk.
Sidon wants you to help his people deal with one of the Divine Beasts which has been possessed by Ganon and is now causing huge amounts of rainfall around this part of Hyrule. In order to get to the Zora Domain Link must walk a mountain pathway full of various monsters, many of which are a step up from those he meets at the beginning of the game on the Great Plateau.
I sat with a cup of coffee and watched my son play through this section of the game. There were a couple of deaths and a few moments of panic as a sentry lizard found him and brought the whole camp down upon Link but in each case he tried again and kept on going. Eventually Zora’s Domain was reached and my son was wonderfully happy at reaching this stage of the game and even more ecstatic that he hadn’t given up. As I sat on the sofa next to him I shared this fantastic moment with him. It might only be a very small part of the game but it gained significance for us personally. It’s a complete change from instances in the past when he’s tried to play other games of a similar style. This is persistence introduced to him via video games, a thing he likes and cherishes. He may have slowly been coming around to this idea before and getting much better but Breath of the Wild is the game that seems to be sealing the deal for him not backing out at the first sign of anything not being part of the plan.
He ended his play session today after attempting to get to the Divine Beast itself. He died in the process and he’s agreed that perhaps leaping to battle a huge boss creature with only a four heart life bar maybe isn’t the best idea. Rather than pack in completely though he’s now determined to find more of the Shrines dotted around the area so he can get more Soul Orbs and increase his life bar. Every system in BotW is joined this way and there always seems to be something he can do. If the Divine Beast was a boss in a previous, more linear Zelda game then he’d be truly stuck there. Now however he’s working out different ways to solve it.
Because of all of this Breath of the Wild will certainly be added to the list of important Zelda games of my life. Even if I have to wait until he’s gone to bed to get my hands on the Switch to play it myself.