I've just recently completed Breath of the Wild. With apparently 31:31 total hours (according to the WiiU's daily log, but not sure how much reliable this is), I managed to complete the game with around 60 shrines being done, 35 korok seeds, some sidequests and all the main story sequences done, which include the four divine beasts and every memory log. I saw the credits roll in satisfaction (even if the ending - with the True Ending being unlocked - was kinda meh), and I can safely say this is one of the best games I've played this year.
That being said, there's one issue - one that stands above several of the game's annoyances here and there -, one I couldn't shake by the time I was done with a second Divine Beast. Despite the game being a great experience altogether, it didn't exactly feel...The Legend of Zelda. Taking risks is a bold move. Being experimental, especially with such a longstanding franchise, is something I can truly commend developers for. Breath of the Wild certainly is bold, especially when compared to its predecessors, and it definitively breaks away from many of the franchises' conventions. At the same time, I can only feel I wish some of that predecessor's spirits were here.
To properly explain what I mean, there's several factors here that I wish to bring up:
· Dungeons and bosses. Probably my number one issue with this. The Legend of Zelda, as a franchise, certainly features a myriad of forgettable dungeons and bosses, but it can be said that most of them are rather unique, especially within each individual entry. I can vividly picture King Dodongo, even after so many years. If I were to inquire about a dungeon that you access through a water well, and you require a specific gizmo to see through fake walls, anyone who has played through it would know what I'm talking about.
How many of the main dungeons in Breath of the Wild can be defined as "approach them with a sidekick while you hurt the dungeon's vulnerabilities with arrows, sneak inside to get a map that allows dungeon-manipulation, reactivate 5 servers then interact with the core to fight a boss"? Surprisingly enough, 3/5 of Breath of the Wild's fit that very specific definition; and one of them merely misses it because instead of using arrows you use a goron. Dungeons in Breath of the Wild are repetitive, monotonous and hardly memorable aside from the in-built gimmick. I'd be hard pressed to remember the shape of any of the bosses, and while I get the design and the reason for the similarities, it works in detriment of it. Also the bosses themselves, aside from...two I think? can be easily beaten by merely spamming swords/arrows, without the need to actually use tools. This is a noticeable contrast on how bosses in the franchise generally work.
Hyrule Castle had a chance to be special too, but it just became a meaningless task of climbing and avoiding celestial weapons. It at least hides awesome weaponry if you choose to invest time exploring it, and it breaks the pace up a bit, but it's still kinda weak in comparison to many other dungeons in the franchise.
· Shrines. An extention of what I said previously. I guess in context, it's tradition in Zelda to gather four pieces of heart container to obtain a heart itself. But these felt like padding at times. They offered absolutely zero challenge, and those who did were cut short when things started getting fun. They're a repetitive affair over and over and the dungeon's layout is always the same, almost with the same flavour text and the same ending every single time, just with different challenges ahead. Would have hurt, at least, to reduce them 3/4 in amount, then offer bigger and more substantial shrines that reward you with a heart/stamina container at the end? Padding certainly isn't out of the question with the franchise (let's not forget Tingle ripping us off in Wind Waker and sailing to find all those triforce fragments), but I just felt that the game sometimes dragged way too much into investing time looking for these - and you absolutely need these if you want a chance.
· Optional story. This is a deliberate choice from the game, and it's a quite interesting one. You can basically beat the game neglecting almost the entirety of the story sans the opening part. And while it's great that the game does allow you to explore the story, the fact that you have to view it through flashbacks or repetitive, unsubstantial conversations with the townsfolk's leaders shows quite a detachment from it. I could hardly empathize with Zelda when I had to go and hunt for information about her, and instead of meaningful things I get sequences like her playing with a frog. I can't connect with any of the heroes when they all four keep saying the same information to me in a very repetitive fashion. Even Revali, who treats Link with contempt, goes through the cookie-cutter lines that all the other heroes do. Learning about the history through Nyel's songs or reading books without at least letting me breathe through that time was something that didn't sit all that well with me. It's a shame because you repeatedly interact with a key story character in the prologue of the game and he fills you in with past information as well as giving you insight in real time, and that's kinda what I missed from all the other places. There's a damn great moment, and that's when you retrieve the Master Sword - you not only get a flashback of why it was there in the first place, but you also get a character explaining you the importance of it now and the tribulations of trying to remove it from the pedestal, plus Zelda actually talks to you when you do so. This is a unique moment that, despite being optional, gives you a great story segment. But it's something the game barely pulls again.
· Lack of use for your tools. Not to be confused with "you shouldn't use your tools", as creative strategical use of your Sheikah stone tools on your own can lead to funny/interesting results. It's more like dungeons/shrines barely ever made clever use of these, and some puzzles were copy/pasted across several dungeon/shrines, making the classic "aha!" moment much less meaningful. On the bright side, Divine Beasts themselves also added the "manipulate the dungeon" gimmick, which gives an extra layer, but still...I never got the same feeling of clever tool usage than in other Zelda games. I wanna add here that "small keys" make such an unsubstantial return in this game. Unlike finding a small key in any other Zelda game, here it felt like a chore just to unlock the door next to you in a shrine.
There are a few other small problems in relation of being a Zelda game, but I think these cover pretty much my feelings toward this issue.
tl;dr: I feel it's not as good as a Zelda game because of weak and repetitive main dungeons, filler-padding shrines all across the map, story implementation feeling detached and no clever use of your Sheikah tools.
Thoughts on this?