The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild saved me

The Zelda series is something that has always been near and dear to my heart. I never imagined how much this iteration would mean to me.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was a highly-anticipated blockbuster that launched alongside the Nintendo Switch. It saved Nintendo, to an extent, after the disastrous cycle of the Wii U. It also saved me. Photo credit: Right Down Euclid

When I write a story I usually have a plan or a basic outline of what I will discuss. But, with this one, I haven’t planned anything out. I’m just going to rip it straight from the heart.

So, I believe it was the summer of 2016 when I moved home from college after graduating with my bachelor’s in biomedical engineering and was living with my parents and brother. I’m one of two and the only one who can carry on my family name right now. I don’t know if I’ve disclosed that information or not. But, hey, at least now you know. Don’t worry, more personal fun facts are coming very soon.

The luxury of moving back home was I could save a ton of money on rent while I started my next chapter professionally. I was working for the Ohio-based branch of the company I interned with and college and making fairly decent money then. But, I had a nearly two-hour commute each way so it felt like the money would evaporate from the cost of travel, which my company wasn’t going to cover. That was mostly on me since I wanted to save money by moving back home rather than to the town where my company was. The irony of the situation isn’t lost on me to this day, trust me.

Unfortunately, as you might know, this five-day cycle and fatigue were wearing on me and I was quickly knee-deep in a quagmire of depression. I would be awake by 4:30 AM and wouldn’t get home until 7:30 PM. Sure, there were eventually days I could work from home and avoid the long commute. But, I was still stuck in the swamp due to not putting my mental health first. Thankfully, that would change several years later. But, until then, my career had consumed my life. It was a sobering realization of what being an adult was truly like and I was unhappy with the first impression.

Thankfully, there was something I could latch onto on the horizon.

Around the same time, Nintendo finally gave a title to the next highly-anticipated chapter in their Legend of Zelda saga. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was a deviation from the typical script of The Legend of Zelda series. It was open-world and drew much inspiration from the first iteration in 1986. You were free to explore and discover a completely different version of Hyrule with many of the same familiar themes fans grew to love.

Nintendo also announced that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild would be a launch title with their newest system: the Nintendo Switch. The move was genius from a marketing sense since the Wii U was a colossal failure compared to the Wii and Nintendo needed to pivot to something new and having a headliner like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild would be the perfect fit to launch their new system. The hype for it was real and I, like many others, pre-ordered the system and the game without any thought or hesitation.

Full disclosure: The Legend of Zelda has always been a series near and dear to my heart. I have the Hylian Shield tattooed on my left forearm and my office is littered with Zelda paraphernalia. Nevertheless, my first exposure to it was watching a childhood friend playing Ocarina of Time. I fell in love with the concept and mature themes it carried, especially for what was considered a kid’s game. Eventually, my favorite iteration in the series, up to that point, was Wind Waker. In fact, I loved Wind Waker so much that I watched the trailer for it continuously and was so anxious about playing it that I pretended to be sick so I could stay home from school and play it all day long.

When the time came to play Wind Waker, I was on bated breath. I put the disk into the Gamecube my parents worked extra hours to get and was lost. The Celtic-inspired music wrapped around me, took me on an adventure across The Great Sea and struck a chord with me in a way I didn’t expect. Considering I was only nine then, I didn’t have a full scope of what a truly great video game was other than Pokemon Silver. But, to me, the hype and anticipation were worth it for Wind Waker and in my eyes, the Zelda series could do no wrong. So, when the trailer for the beta version of Twilight Princess dropped at a stunning 144p, you best believe I was peeing my pants excited – even if my mom said it was “too dark” for me to play.

Similarly to when I was nine years old, as a 24-year-old man I was feeling similar anticipation for Breath of the Wild. Sure, the depression and general day-to-day angst were still there. But, I would pull up the trailer on my phone whenever I was feeling down, watch it and use it as a catalyst to keep moving. In hindsight, does it seem pathetic? Absolutely. But, at the time, it was all I had to keep me sane during what was becoming one the lowest points of my life – especially considering how I felt about video games.

My love for video games started to wane as I entered the early stages of adulthood. Breath of the Wild changed that. Photo credit: Right Down Euclid

My love for video games started to wane as I went through college. Big-budget, triple-a titles felt like scripted movies that always tried to be bigger, bolder and more violent and brash. Uncharted 3 was the closest I felt to something but, everything truly felt like more of the same. With Nintendo, my all-time favorite company, struggling at the time it made me feel jaded and lose my passion for one of my favorite forms of entertainment. But, with Breath of the Wild, I felt different. It felt like there was something magical waiting for me and it gave me hope and anticipation that I hadn’t felt since I was in fifth grade and calling from the nurses’ office, saying I threw up all over the bathroom. Which was a lie since I only wanted to come home and play Wind Waker.

When early March finally arrived in 2017, the day had finally come. When I got home from work that Friday night, I immediately unpacked my Switch and copy of Breath of the Wild and plugged everything in. That’s when the game ruined me in the best way possible. When I saw Link leave the Shrine of Resurrection and run up to the cliff to take in Hyrule, 100 years after he knew it, I knew, “Okay. Something is going on here.”

For the next several weeks, Breath of the Wild consumed me. Besides working, sleeping and sometimes spending time with people when I could, I could only think about playing Breath of the Wild. The game rekindled the feeling I hadn’t felt in over a decade. That feeling where I’m completely immersed and it was a total escape. It gave me something I never thought I needed in a video game experience but also never thought was possible for me to experience.

The feeling I got from solving a shrine or completing a dungeon puzzle was satisfying. Discovering Koroks and collecting what I eventually learned was golden feces had me leaving no stone unturned. Regulating and manipulating the world around me and maintaining weapon durability gave every combat encounter levels of depth I had never experienced. Sure, I had things in my real life to be proud of. But, for whatever reason, Breath of the Wild just had me going deeper and deeper into the world around me. I dove head-first into it and became obsessed with Breath of the Wild.

One of the things that stood out to me most is the feeling of how isolated you feel in this form of Hyrule. Having Link, who had been asleep for 100 years, was the perfect conduit to experience it. Whatever the world around you had to provide, it was not just your first time experiencing it, it was the same for Link. Learning the characters’ backstories, what happened to Hyrule during Link’s slumber or the Champions’ fate or earning the right to draw the Master Sword was exhilarating. Breath of the Wild made you feel connected to a world where everything was so disconnected and made it an even more lively experience.

It’s funny that a game that’s so incredibly dark and makes you feel isolated and minuscule gave me so much happiness. In a time when I was super depressed and I didn’t have any direction, as stupid as it sounds, Breath of the Wild gave me purpose. From the moment I left The Great Plateau, I knew I had to complete everything the game offered. It wasn’t just because the game was fun, which it was. It was an escape. I desperately needed something I didn’t know I had until the credits rolled. After that, all it made me want to dive head first again, playing through another save file.

zelda champions botw
Whatever the world around you had to provide, it was not just your first time experiencing it, it was the same for Link. Learning the characters’ backstories, what happened to Hyrule during Link’s slumber or the Champions’ fate, or earning the right to draw the Master Sword was exhilarating. Photo credit: Right Down Euclid

Breath of the Wild made me fall back in love with video games. It gave me some control over my life and by the time I finished it, I was a better person for it. It didn’t give me the feeling that I wasted my time as I had with other video games, which were just mindless distractions from what I was dealing with in the real world. It was like if something like that can exist in this world, that’s a world I want to live in.

It took a virtual landscape and the people inhabiting it to make me appreciate my real life much more. A seemingly random fantasy game in the Zelda series known for its stellar entries (other than Skyward Sword) was the best video game I had ever played. It set me on this unfortunate course now where I wish every game were like Breath of the Wild and I still talk about it glowingly more than six years after its release. Whenever a friend picks up a Nintendo Switch, I tell them immediately to pick up Breath of the Wild, even if they aren’t a Zelda fan. It’s a game where there’s so much depth and at the center of it all, you have total autonomy over the outcome. Every experience in Breath of the Wild is entirely unique to you and how you play the game. It’s amazing. Trust me. Buy it.

Either way, Breath of the Wild invaded my brain and made me a lot better for it. It made me appreciate the artistic form of video game design and the love, passion and care that go behind projects as massive as this. It’s also why The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is one of my most-anticipated games ever. By the time you’re reading this, Tears of the Kingdom is out now and you can bet dollars to donuts that I’m playing it. I always thought a Majora’s Mask-like sequel to Breath of the Wild would be the right way to go about things and thankfully, it seems I was right.

I’m excited to dive deeper into this new form of Hyrule with more fine-tuned physics, puzzles and equipment that’ll likely invade my brain like its predecessor. I’m sure you’ll see me posting about it a ton but if it wasn’t for Breath of the Wild, I don’t think I’d be the person I am today. Breath of the Wild changed me and I cannot thank it enough for the experience.

(Please make a sequel to Super Mario Odyssey next.)

Evan Dammarell is a sports journalist covering all things Cleveland right off the shores of Lake Erie. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. You can also email him at [email protected] He can also be found three to five times weekly on Locked On Cavs, a part of the Locked On Podcast Network.

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