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When I was a child, I went hiking and found a lake. It was quite a surprise for me to stumble upon it. When I traveled around the country without a map, trying to find my way, stumbling on amazing things as I went, I realized how it felt to go on an adventure like this.

That is a quote from Shigeru Miyamoto, the mind behind the creation of Nintendo characters such as Super Mario, speaking on the inspiration that went into creating The Legend of Zelda, the original classic video game for the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) console.

Commenting on the Zelda canon can be a daunting minefield of potential pathways. There are 30 years of history in place, along with a fanbase of millions. Can you bring fresh insights to the series, while still enjoying the payoff of knowing the strokes of story that have led us to this point?

If Breath of the Wild itself tells us anything, the answer is a resounding, authoritative “yes, you can,” or perhaps “yes, you can, and it’s frickin’ wonderful.”

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Let us address the criticisms right away, in one fell swoop, so that we can approach this review the same way one should approach the game, with arms wide open for an opportunity at a joyful experience: No, it’s not perfect. I had a few frustrating moments of being befuddled with crafting quandaries and recipe management. You can hurl similar visual critiques as Skyward Sword received, akin to Nintendo having a beautiful presentation while managing to dodge an earnest attempt at modern graphics. I will not be the first to make a comparison to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, as to how Breath of the Wild sets a new table while retreading a lot of familiar ground, with a barb on the treatment of female protagonists. There are some specific environment interactions that seem a little more buggy, out-of-place, or in need of refinement. You can definitely accuse the designers of purporting an open-world experience while, in actuality, just doing a sneakier job of disguising their pathway gatekeeping. You are going to hear hot takes on how, by doing a Zelda game in such a new way, Nintendo is actually alienating long-time fans. You will hear the wearisome criticisms of a writing that, yes, squeezes in a few meme-like lines here and there.

And if you had any hope of reading an ‘objective’ review in this space, toss that hope out the window right away.

Here’s why:

Hours into Breath of the Wild, I found a cave. As I entered/Link entered/I watched Link enter the cave, I noticed a modest campfire. Sitting behind that fire, inside the cave, sat an old man.

I froze. I had a potent mix of feelings pass right through my body. I held my controller steady and just stared at my television screen. I looked at the fire, the way it moved, the way the lighting splashed and danced. I looked at the old man, the beard he had, the robe he wore, the colors and the sizing and the posture.

I felt a form of decades-long payoff that a non-fan simply could not have, and in that moment I knew I was a hopeless fanboy, but I was going to be okay with it and enjoy the ride.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild follows our hero, Link, who is awakened inside the Shrine of Resurrection, summoned forth to go about his heroic world-saving duties against the devious Ganon (Calamity Ganon, this round) once again. There is a play on light and dark, on vast firmanents of good and evil, on alternate worlds tinged with shadow. This is definitely one of those “it’s about the journey” experiences, seeing as how the actual plot can sound awfully cookie-cutter, and even for the canon itself spends chunks of time across a familiar motif. Enjoyably so, nonetheless (the first time I spotted an owl, I smiled, and definitely wanted a closer look).

Link is dropped into the middle of the Great Plateau, and from there is free to venture forth into a wide, wild adventure. He can climb anything, from landscape to enemies, and will engage in hobbies ranging from weapon-collecting to campfire recipes. Bits of amber and feather meet salvaged swords and bows to create new opportunities in enemy suppression. You want armor? Link gets armor. All of it has your requisite stats for comparison’s sake, and much of it has a dreadful knack for wearing out.

Across grassy plains, over rocky mountains, and through fiery deserts, Link will explore the land of Hyrule more thoroughly than ever. There are your traditional dungeons, yes, but there are also over 100 Shrine of Trials set pieces, where the player must use might and wits alike to recover a new prize, often a tidy artifact – and, importantly, runes that unlock new abilities altogether.

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This is the first hint of how Nintendo has achieved an exquisite balance in Breath of the Wild’s gameplay: For people who love puzzles, there are puzzles, but they are neither bashed over your head nor are they dropped in the middle of your path with aggressive demands to be conquered before you can progress. If you enjoy things like deep-diving into every possible item combination, you can whittle away your evenings striving for the perfect steak recipe, but this is by no means a requirement. If you like optional sidequests, the Zen-state side of your soul may find solace in the fact that every rock face is asking to be climbed and you might be able to reach that snowy peak just over the horizon fairly soon if you can find a horse and start moving.

It’s great.

This is a spoiler-free zone, but I will say that, while newcomers to the series will encounter a fair share of memorable characterizations and intrigue, Nintendo has prepared a real treat for fans. I keep coming back to that theme, I know, but with the legacy at stake, it is a difficult one to peel away from. In any case, Link will progress through the plot through his discovery of villages and their histories, the hushed way their denizens speak of the Calamity, and the smiling optimism in the face of newfound friends.

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One new aspect is the Sheikah Stone, Link’s “iPad-like” device that serves as Chekov’s MacGuffin for all manner of effects: Entering the shrines, freezing space-time in a stasis field, performing feats of teleportation and magnetic telekinesis, mark locations on your map, etc.

The earlier Shrines, by requiring the player to go through some basic exercises with new Sheikah Stone rune abilities without lengthy dialogue-bubble tutorials, actually call back to another original entry for a different Nintendo series: Super Mario Bros (NES), the original 8-bit platformer, often praised for how its first level explains to the player the limit of their movements without having to say a single word.

This design philosophy will be welcome by many. The rampant hand-holding in previous Zelda games and yelling-at-you endured from companions such as Navi and Fi? Gone. No more two-hour tutorials, no more “hey we know you need to progress in the plotline but first you have to win this weird arbitrary race,” etc.

But, gosh, if you’re willing to invest a little training, this game rewards you. Well-timed dodges in combat unlock a moment of slow motion called Flurry Rush, during which you can land deadly blows, and executing these moves well enough to kill a foe in a colorful explosion is quite a feat of visceral satisfaction.

However, those expecting to be able to slash-and-bash their way through Hyrule may be disappointed to find that mastery of the environment and even some stealthiness may be required as well. Or, at least, they will make your way a bit easier to survive – a survival dependent on weighing the risks of elements such as temperature and elevation as well.

The thing I may love most about this game, though, is how it rewards creativity. Do you want to snowboard on your shield down a snowy slope into a gathering of enemies, throw an old sword at them, then magnetically guide the sword into an explosive barrel to take out the whole lot? You can. But, even better, you might perform amazing feats accidentally. I remember laughing out loud when I accidentally back-flipped off a bridge, only to slow-mo arrow-headshot a different enemy below me anyway. It was glorious.

Part of what spurs this exponential growth in interactive possibility is an emphasis on the meld between magic and technology. Whereas some Zelda titles (or, heck, other games entirely) focus on more of the medieval fantasy feel, it turns out that the Sheikah have quite the tech at their disposal, and players might find themselves feeling a little bit like Tron Link is wielding a laser rifle in a techno cathedral by the quest’s latter chapters.

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The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild fosters favorable comparisons to classic non-Nintendo games. Some will still prefer Skyrim, but at least the hardcore Big-N fans now have their own version. If you like Shadow of the Colossus-type battles, you will find some tasty morsels. Calling it Grand Theft Auto: Hyrule might be a bit much, but in its scale and sense of just being a good ol’ romp, it hits the mark.

And that is where I stand in conclusion – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is simply a lot of fun. In a big-picture way, it does represent some positive notes from Nintendo’s design brilliance and a refreshing reinvigoration for a fond franchise. There is going to be a lot of discussion around this title, likely deservedly so. But, really, at the end of the day, it serves as a delightful reminder of what video games can be at their best: A lot of immersive fun with a surprise around every corner.

On a personal note: I enjoyed Skyward Sword, but this is a greater experience, and I am glad to see more ambition from the Zelda camp. The fanboy in me was pleased, the gamer in me was pleased… the human in me was pleased. As someone whose favorite Zelda game is Majora’s Mask, I love the melancholic feel of castle ruins and a foreboding darkness we find in the Wild. Great game.

I like it. I would recommend it.

This has been rolling around in my head a little bit.

Since I have become more vocal about gaming controversies (and, specifically, how silly they are), I have sometimes received comments from people. Many agree with my thoughts, some do not. But somewhere in the rarified air of the Nuanced Middle Ground, I have received this sentiment from a handful:

“Eric, I agree with you – I agree that getting angry about localization issues is ridiculous, I agree that passion for any hobby can be overdone, and I agree that I prefer to have fun with video games rather than be angry about them. However, when you said ‘video games aren’t important,’ I cannot agree with you there. Video games are important.”

… Okay.

What they are usually pinpointing is a phrase in my “Confession: I don’t know anything about video games” blog post [ note: you can actually see a relevant exchange in the comment section there ], in which I do say, “Video games just aren’t that important.”

Which means that they are likely ignoring the word “that” in there, which refers to a specific level of importance that I do not believe video games reach. Video games have an undeniable significance, in some ways. They are a colossal economic force, a rich cultural tapestry, etc.

Even when I really press in and emphasize that video games aren’t that important In The Big Grand Scheme of Life, the Universe, and Everything, I still get counterpoints, and there are a couple I can even respect:

1) “Video games provide my livelihood.” – I think this is a worthy distinction. If your financial well-being (which, in the modern world, means your general well-being, right?) and the support of yourself and your loved ones depends on video games… then, wow, of course you have a higher stake in them than I do! I can even 100% understand if you get up in arms about certain issues, because certain issues might actually directly affect the quality of your life.

2) “Video games have provided a great benefit in my life.” – This one tends to tread into a fuzzy gray area, but it is a good one, a warm sort of fuzzy. There are many testimonies out there of how video games have simply helped people. Is that not a worthy cause? I have heard stories of gaming helping people cope with being bullied, with life-threatening (or chronic) illness, or even assisting in enhancing their education, their physical fitness, and being a catalyst in their social life or long-term relationships. Given this evidence, how dare I imply that video games are unimportant?

… maybe I would kinda point out that the good that games can do actually supports my view that anger is a terribly poor response to them, but…

Look: I think it is worth mentioning that there is a broad gulf between Worthy Action and Awful Action. If you thought I said “video games are not important” somewhere, I can almost guarantee that it was within the larger context of them not being worth being enraged about as my more-specific point.

Remember: I really like video games, and have written words to defend them just as I have to condemn them. Like most other issues, painting me into one shade of opinion might be convenient for you, but it will not reflect a complete accuracy – just like thinking video games are All Great or All Evil would probably not be a constructive conclusion either.

But!

I wrote all of those words to get to this one thought I want to put out there, and it was probably a dumb decision on my part to drive people away with such a chunk of text before getting here. Nonetheless, here it is.

I have a question, one for everyone. I am curious:

How do you, personally, decide if something is important or not?

What criteria, for you specifically, determines a thing’s importance?

I mean this on a personal level, in your real life.

I would love to hear some feedback on this. Please, please feel free to leave a comment on this post, or hit me up elsewhere. Thank you for your thoughts.

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I have a confession to make:

I don’t know anything about video games.

There it is. I said it. The truth is out there, now.

I have never beaten Mega Man 2. I have no idea who composed the music for any Final Fantasy title. I have no clue what the chips were called that enhanced certain SNES cartridges. I do not know the hardware specs for any system you could name. My knowledge of localization differences, development staff names, release dates, programming tricks, and event history is near zero.

And, to be clear, I am not asking you to fill me in on these topics. If you feel compelled to leave a comment with links to longform features on these subjects, you are missing the point. Please keep reading.

To be even clearer, though: I think it’s really cool when people do know this stuff. I think that is great. Sometimes, yeah, I am curious and would love to know more. Learning is a great force in life that has significant value. If you know a lot about video games, I can respect that entirely, and find it of great interest.

But what’s not cool is when you belittle other video game fans for their lack of knowledge. That is exactly the opposite of the sort of behavior that benefits a community. When you participate in elitist gatekeeping, you are being an awful person — you are behaving in a way that is much worse than, say, not being very good at your favorite title.

I don’t know anything about video games… and that’s okay.

It’s okay to not know every minuscule detail about a particular title or series or whatever. It’s okay if you only play video games for five minutes a year. It’s okay if you don’t know who Mario or Sonic are. It’s okay if you’ve never played a first-person shooter.

It’s okay.

Video games just aren’t that important; and even if they do hold some level of Cultural Significance or whatever, they are still definitely not worth being angry over, and assuredly not worth being a whiny little insecure dumb jerk over.

So if you want to leave me negative comments berating me for having never played Metal Gear Solid or forgetting the name of some ‘legendary’ developer or not really caring about music, go ahead; just know that in the meantime I’ll be doing something else more valuable, like clipping my toenails.

I figured it out!

You see, I am passionate about not being super passionate about video games.

I think gaming is a fine leisure activity that can provide a warm, cozy source of stress relief and simple enjoyment. It can even be an cathartic outlet, a social catalyst, and enhance one’s mental faculties. Gaming is capable of greatness.

I like video games!

I tweeted this image earlier today, and got quite a wide range of responses:

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The ones that fascinated me were the people getting defensive. Often, this was due to misinterpretation; I mean, honestly, the image I created isn’t saying “never tweet angrily,” or “games are completely unimportant,” etc. — the point, more so, is that considering your words is a valuable act, and often in the gaming hobby I notice people getting upset over stuff that… well, they just shouldn’t be upset about.

Other times, though, I was being met with people really, truly trying to evangelize me on how utterly significant video games are, and that getting angry about their issues is a truly noble cause. Actually, I am going to go ahead and single out one reply in particular, just to try and show how bizarre this was (to me?).

Keep in mind, I am a fairly average, non-notable guy overall. I am 30 years old. I have a job, a wife, a kid. I am taking a college course this summer to further my career. I am a Christian. I enjoy other hobbies, such as writing, and playing basketball. I have dreams, goals, and fears. I have anxieties. I have a lawn I have to mow. I shower every morning. I need glasses. There’s a roll of duct tape on my desk right now and I’m not 100% sure why. I just had a snack of cashews and granola mixed in a small bowl. I watch stuff on Netflix. I am a Star Wars fan. I frequently tweet about coffee and bad jokes.

Considering all of this, and my fully-vivid big-picture experience of Life, I said this phrase to a couple people in the mentions fallout of the above tweet: “It is difficult for me to imagine a gaming issue worth being angry over.” And that’s true: I just, to try and put it as simply as possible, have other stuff to worry about.

So then someone, this actually happened, someone started giving examples of gaming-related items that might make me upset. Like, his point is to try and give me an example of a gaming-related issue that I would get emotionally torn up over. Here is his attempt:

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Now, okay, I’m trying to imagine this.

I’m trying to imagine a typical day, in my real life. I have a solid, productive day at work. I get home, and greet my wife, and my kid, and my kid smiles at me and gives me a hug and melts my heart. I catch up with how my wife’s day has gone, and it has been kinda frustrating, so I listen attentively and, although I cannot relate this day in particular, I can nonetheless empathize and have compassion. I try my best to help out with dinner preparation, but mostly just get in the way and try to wrangle the kid instead, since I suck at cooking in a huge way. Me and the kid go outside, and I find joy in her curiosity about the world around here, and am amused at how she stops to look at some dog poop. I have to prevent her from grabbing it, because she is so curious. We go back inside, eventually, and the wife has made her famous chili, and it is delightful, it is hot and hearty and tasty all around — but we are not eating alone, as soon two of our friends arrive, with their own daughter. They are expecting their second kid soon. We talk about that, but we also discuss happenings at church, and how his job is going as an English teacher, and what card game we are going to play after dinner, and who we should all hang out with soon. I offer my friend a beer.

Then I lean over, and with my brow furrowed in a genuine anger, I bellow, “Ugh, isn’t it awful how Mother 3 is not getting a proper Western release due to ‘concerns’ in some of the chapters?!” I make my anger clear: I bang my fist on the table. The children are startled. A glass falls over, spilling a beverage. My friends look horrified.

I don’t sound reasonable, I sound insane.

Try it sometime: The next time you’re in a public place, like a fast-food restaurant or a concert or a park or whatever, just approach a random stranger and ask them: “Aren’t YOU pissed off at how Polygon couldn’t get an expert FPS player for their Doom preview video?

Let me know what kind of reaction you get.

And, the thing is, like, I get being annoyed about this stuff, and I’m not saying that all the gaming stuff is good and you should be glad for it, and awful stuff truly does happen in any subject that one can make a good case for — but, oh my gosh, these are video games. They are a leisure activity; or, at least, they should be, I would say.

Video games!

Like, really? You’re saying I should be upset because I may never get to play one of them the same way they got to play it in Japan? How… how is that important? Why is that something worth getting emotionally invested in? When I wake up in the morning, why would video games be the thing I would be concerned about?

That’s… that’s really your example of something I should care about strongly? Of everything in the world?

And, as a couple people said, “But Eric, aren’t you kinda a hypocrite, by talking/tweeting/blogging about this?”

Well, sure! I kinda suck! You’re right, I should probably step back, huh? I am way too deep in gaming, and it would be wise to take steps back from it. No, really, I’m an awful person in general. I know I’m far from perfect — can you say the same?

Thus, my announcement: I am officially a hardcore casual gamer. I am hardcore about being casual. I am passionate about not being too passionate.

So if you see me actually getting angry about a translation/localization/whatever-the-hell else, please, reel me back in, and say, “dude, you’re being irrational. That issue literally doesn’t affect your life. Your priorities are truly messed up.”

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Really, though, just know that every once in a while, this idea (you can be into video games too much) is something I’ll be vocal about. Consider finding something bigger and better to get emotionally involved with, if you haven’t already. Lord knows I’ve wasted enough time on it.

 

I am launching a new blog called Faith, Family, Fun. It even has a fun URL: FaithFamilyFun.Life. And, of course, the Twitter account exists, if you want to follow @FFF_Blog.

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This blog will be more personal. If you are not into that, cool, that makes sense to me. My old-video-games shenanigans will continue as usual, I am not stepping away from the hobby or anything like that.

I just want to write about other stuff, too. This new blog will be fun for me, because instead of developing a Vast Land of the Internet sort of following, it is the one I will be sharing with my out-of-state grandparents, my childhood friends, my church family.

I’m just doing the courtesy of mentioning it here, too, so that if you were for whatever reason interested in seeing me write about Other Stuff in Life besides old video games, hey, I am mentioning it here so you can do that.

From this point forward, there won’t be a huge amount of cross-promotion or anything like that, so it’s just a heads-up, a ground-floor opportunity to take a peek, if you wish.

I think that’s it?

Thanks for your time!

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The Dragon Quest franchise of video games has amassed a sizable number of fans throughout decades of history and dozens of titles. But: What do we really know about the Dragon Quest series?

• In the early 1980’s, now-legendary video game designer Gunpei Yokoi began working on what he believed to be a concept with promising potential. He felt that the world audience was ready for a proper medieval adventure, taken off the pen-and-paper scene and into pixel gameplay. His tile-based role-playing game would come to be known as Dragon Quest, and its mechanic of capturing slime enemies of different colors would birth an entire movement of similar games, including the explosively popular Monsters In My Pockets for Game Boy.

• There have been over 6,000 different Dragon Quest games released, leading to entire subcultures of hardcore fans dedicated to maintaining semi-official lists of releases. Their exploits are often livestreamed on Twitch, discussed on social media and across various subreddits, and occasionally make headline news on all the big gaming websites. Since new games keep releasing, the question remains perpetually relevant, “Is this a Dragon Quest game?”

• There has been some confusion over the years regarding the naming conventions of the Dragon Quest franchise and how this differs regionally. For example, the game known in North America as Dragon Quest II is very different from the game of the same title in Japan. In fact, in Japan, the game Dragon Quest IV is the one that matches the North American experience of Dragon Quest III. This is because the Japanese versions of Dragon Quest II and Dragon Quest III never released in North American, so the decision was made to artificially continue the titling sequence for an audience that was thus largely unaware that they were missing any Dragon Quest gaming experiences. Later, the two regions would “unite” in their titling, but confusion still arises occasionally.

• The Animatrix is great, yo.

• For years, Dragon Quest fans delighted in sharing their own theories as to how the timelines of the various entries fit together. When Konami released an official timeline in early 2011, not only were such fan efforts quashed,  but many regarded this as a poor move simply because it removed much of the mystery and intrigue of the fantastical canon.

• While the World of Dragon Quest MMORPG remains arguably the most visible game in the franchise, many forget that the “World” offshoot was predated by QuestCraft, a real-time strategy game that spawned a couple of sequels before fading into the void and itself spawned the spin-off SpaceCraft, which still enjoys competitive popularity today.

• The makers of Shovel Knight delighted countless enthusiasts when they announced in late 2014 that the popular Dragon Quest XXV protagonist, Rita, would be added as a playable character, along with her loyal puppy Lorenzo.

• One of the more fervent debates among the Dragon Quest fandom surrounds Dragon Quest 4, which switched to a more action-oriented gameplay than its predecessors. Some say that the game after 4 are no longer “real” Dragon Quest games, while others point to 4 as the pinnacle of the franchise altogether.

There might even be more facts out there to know about the Dragon Quest series.

What do we really know about Nintendo’s gaming renaissance?

Few brands have managed to capture gamers’ imagination as much as Nintendo. But in the past few years it seems that the company has struggled to keep up with the impressive next-gen capabilities of the PS4 and Xbox One.

However, there are signs that Nintendo could be on the crest of a promising comeback thanks to the surprising popularity of retro gaming, the rise of mobile games, and Nintendo’s highly secretive new console.

Retro gaming

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Many gamers were raised on the likes of Mario Kart and Super Mario Brothers, and the endless series of online resources that promise to deliver browser-based simulations of these titles is just a fraction of the evidence of Nintendo’s timeless appeal.

Even classic Nintendo titles such as the Harvest Moon farm simulation game have found new life and acclaim as Stardew Valley, and the simple aesthetics of many retro games offer a welcoming antidote to the processor-taxing graphics of many more modern titles. Even the incredibly popular Pokemon title has managed to find favour with a new audience thanks to its simple gaming concept and endlessly appealing aesthetics.

Mobile futures

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This week will also see Nintendo making its first venture into the massively popular mobile gaming market when Miitomo finally launches in the US. It will be an attempt to regain lost ground to wildly popular and innovative mobile games such as Minecraft that managed to attract an entire new generation of gamers, much in the way that many SNES titles did in the 1990s.

Many of the current range of mobile gaming heavy-hitters such as Terraria seem to revel in the 2D aesthetics of yesteryear. But because most online casinos feature HD graphics and brands such as Betway offer some impressive payouts, it’s thought that Miitomo will try and offer a similarly advanced gaming format that blends high quality graphics and surprising real-life innovations.

Console comeback

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A big part of Miitomo’s appeal lies in the way that it’s expected to use avatars as a way of blending the worlds of gaming with social media. Nintendo has always thrived upon their brand’s legendary innovation, and this is expected to be furthered with the arrival of the highly mysterious Nintendo NX console later this year.

 

So far it’s been rumoured that the console will be a handheld hybrid, and that it will feature controllers with in-built screens. But with unverified reports that the Nintendo NX could eclipse the PlayStation 4 due to a phenomenally advanced processing power, it looks that, much like the online casinos, Nintendo’s futures could soon be on the rise.

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