Saturday, May 27, 2017

Breath of the Wild Review, Another Perspective

GUEST WRITER N.C, Esq.

I hated every single Zelda game, from the very first, The Legend of Zelda to Skyward Sword.  The dungeons were uninspired and the “find the tool, and use that same tool to kill the boss” becomes old, stale and tired. The graphics, pop-ins, frame-rates, story, characters were all inane, to say the least, and tread on down-trodden ground, I cannot count the amount of times. The boss designs are not creative, even as they are buoyed by the grand music, the design and animation failed nevertheless. Using the double (or was it triple) hook-shot and the glider to maneuver through the centipede (?) boss on multiple levels was a general trope taken from the very worst action-adventure RPGs. I don't quite see why Alice Chang, owner of this blog, nevertheless thought these games as "masterpieces", even as she admits that she didn't "quite enjoy the games".

Anyhow, it was with great trepidation that I played the newest Zelda incarnation, The Breath of the Wild on my Wii U. There was *no* way that I would invest over $500 on the Switch to play a series that I hate so much. This includes the system at $299, the game at $59.99, an extra memory disk to add to the meager 32 GB storage at $49.99, screen protector at $19.99, and the Switch Pro Controller at $79.99, and add 8% tax. My paws (I'm being cute and precious here to invoke the "cute cat" motif of this blog) won’t allow for such tiny Joy-Cons.

Monet, Water Lilies, 1916 - 1919
However, Breath of the Wild was a revelation, even so on the much-maligned (unjustly so) Wii U--on that point I do agree with Chang's love for the Wii U. The graphics are astounding. I think even 20 years from now (centuries in video game terms), it would still be revolutionary as it takes the concept of “gouache” to the next level in gaming. I see touches of Manet and Monet (especially the Water Lily series) in the Hebra mountains, as well as the Cezanne-ish forward thinking of what the future might hold, in terms of abstraction.  For instance, the ruined Temple of Time invokes Cubism, following the traditions of the lesser known Braque, who was actually the founding father of Cubism, but the tradition was disseminated more due to Picasso’s (dare I say stolen) take on Cubism, purely due to Picasso’s sheer name recognition and sparkling celebrity status.

Kandinsky's Color Study: Squares with Concentric Circles
But I digress. The organicity of the Great Plateau cannot be overstated. This area practically screams and rivals Kandinsky.  As I was chopping the trees in the area, the far-away rocks have a dynamic pattern of circularity (exposing one of the many delightful Koroks), imposed on a rather vertical structure (i.e. the mountain).  This reminds me of Kandinsky’s Color Study: Squares with Concentric Circles that is so well-known and beloved, that it is almost a cliche at this point. But, it has been discovered in modern art theory that depicting a painting as a whole, rather than part and parcel, is extremely difficult, and certainly not a tired rehash of cliches. As you are aware, Kandinsky was one of the major proponents of this school of thought.

According to this theory, children have this capacity of conceptualizing organicity, but then it tends to get lost as one gets older, as adolescents and adults might veer to more realistic depictions at the risk of forgetting how to plan objects in space in unity. The understanding is that adolescents and adults tend to feel that realism is more “advanced” (perhaps superficially so), and by clinging to that misguided conceit, they lose their abilities to conceptualize the picture as a whole that appears to be innate in young children. I found that the graphic designers noticed the trend of realism in video games (Call of Duty being one of the more egregious offenders), and opted instead for the more artistically daring, difficult and challenging vision of organic models.

I can go on about the other areas, from the majestic snowy mountain tops to the hot, barren desert.  I shiver and sweat, respectively, whenever I enter these areas, so realistic they are. The reason why they feel so real is because not only is the frame-rate mostly locked at 30fps (although I was hoping for 60fps as is the Nintendo Standard), while galloping with Epona (I was one of the lucky ones who has the Amiibo), the landscapes evoke emotional responses that remind us of the Romanticized past, precisely due to the framing and organic placing of objects and items, rather than scattered about in an incoherent manner, as often seen in the usual AAA titles.

As noted by Chang, rather ad nauseum, the game has been criticized for the lack of anti-aliasing, but I find that this is *not* a necessary feature as the graphics and animations more than compensate for the aliasing. Who cares about “smoothing” the polygons when the impact of the design is rather to challenge *how* you view things, and the much hated “jaggies” are criticized rather unfairly by the owner of this blog.  Not only that, I believe that the blog owner's other criticisms include the lack of draw-distance and the so-called “pop-in” effects of the game. This is clearly designed with intention. When the enemies and animals “pop-in”, it is an unexpected surprise and you must get your bow and arrow ready at all costs. Such immediacy is quite compelling, and heart-pounding. This concept fits perfectly in with the surprise narrative, which appears to be one of the central tenants of this game. Hello, Chang, this is an action-adventure RPG, and you need such urgency.

Michaelangelo's Pieta is invoked in-game
Although there are frame-rate dips as I mentioned above (and I reluctantly concede this point to Chang); however, this is clearly by intention yet again--the many stuttering effects parallel the hesitation that Link has regarding his quest. Remember, at the start of the game, he has lost his memory, so who is he, and why should he save Zelda after all? This appears to be an existential crisis that brings tension and excitement to the gameplay elements. How certain can he be that the Princess is indeed an important figure to save, and thus agree to play the role of savior, invoking the Christ figure symbolism and/or the tired Virgin Mary giving birth to a new world theme? This may be a rhetorical question, but nevertheless gripping in its mystery. The stuttering was well-placed throughout the game to hit home the point of Link’s hesitancy, and such internal conflicts lend realism to the game.

The emotional characterization of Link also follows a Freudian/Jungian conceit. Although overstated and overanalyzed throughout the years, the super-ego versus ego versus id structure inherent in Link and others was expounded in a nevertheless extraordinary way in Breath of the Wild and lends our hero and NPCs depth of character. It is no surprise that he remains a silent hero, as he wrestles between whether he should express his true feelings (the id) or in a more “nobler” way, suppress his more base feelings and follow his super-ego of de-facto saving Zelda? I cannot answer that question for you, and the answers appear to differ upon each play through, lending a compelling richness, re-playability and depth to the game.

Text on Taoism
I argue against Chang, as Link is in fact a very developed character as noted by the psychological aspects described above. I applaud Nintendo for NOT having a female playable version of Link, but this somehow gave rise to indignation amongst the press. I feel that we Westerners do not understand the importance of balance in Eastern traditions, namely the Yin/Yang of Taoist philosophies, first expounded by Lao Tzu, and then comically applied in storied expositions by Chuang Tzu. Tragically, Aonuma-san, the game director, did a rather spotty explanation as to why Link is *not* playable as a female in Breath of the Wild which worsened the situation, but it's not his fault. It's rather difficult to explain the reasoning behind Taoism, and all falls on deaf Western ears, the language barriers exacerbating the matter. Aonuma-san may be a genius game developer, but he really needs to hire public relations for his interviews, especially with a Western audience.

I think what Aonuma meant to pose is the question of the esoteric (at least to us) female/male dichotomy in a Yin/Yang pull of the Triforce. I hope that in the next Zelda, there will be a role reversal so there will exist a Prince Male Link, the hero and main playable character is just plain old Female Zelda (no epithets to parallel Link as in prior Zelda games), and final boss Ganon (the vaunted Triforce), but keeping the male/female dichotomy untouched so as not to disturb such a Yin/Yang balance.

At any rate, even though Link's personality is just as well-developed (due to the more subtle show not tell approach of Breath of the Wild) as the more narrative-driven Nathan Drake of the Uncharted series, I don't see the media complaining about not having a playable female Nathan Drake.

Prince Sidon
I disagree with Chang's position that the NPCs are also devoid of personality. Prince Sidon is a much hyped-up character, which is understandable, as women and men swooned over his charms in the social media space. His toothy grin reminds me of “vagina dentata” tropes--again, although played upon too much in modern “art media”--it appears more subtle in this game. The auteur wanted to fool the audience into thinking that Sidon is this threatening menace (i.e. his teeth structure), but in a surprising twist, we discover that he actually becomes a pivotal part of your quests. Again, the vagina dentata motif is very compelling in forcing the gender of Link as male, as it simply can *not* work if Link is playable as a cis-female, as this in-game concept necessitates the presence of the phallus.

This shock element lends an eerie foreshadowing of the end-game in rather nice parallelism. What if Ganon appears as a “sweet” creature, fooling you into thinking that he should be saved instead of destroyed as adhered by Zelda and her father? The fact that Calamity Ganon does not even speak to you (perhaps to disguise his intentions) is a clever counterpoint to Sidon (i.e. a role reversal).  So by appearing innocent, the shock is that Ganon is actually in fact a threat. These twists and turns are very much appreciated, and I don’t know why more video games don’t follow this model?

I believe the developers were concerned about the triteness in following the traditionalist concepts of Freud and Jung as discussed above, so there are subtle interplays further elucidated in characterization, invoking Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, that is much needed in the video game genre. Zelda did not succeed in defeating Calamity at the start of the game, but nevertheless she battles on for 100 years, keeping Ganon at bay. One then questions whether she can in fact self-actualize and help Link defeat Ganon? I was very concerned at this point, as per Maslow, basic needs and safety must be met FIRST before being able to self-actualize and transcend.

Therefore, the question is: has Zelda transcended so that she can not only contain Ganon, but additionally aid Link when it comes time for the final battle? Or by battling Ganon for all these years, has her basic needs *not* been met, thereby trapping her in the first rung of the hierarchy, namely, “Physiological” and perhaps the higher “Safety” step at best, so that no, she can’t help Link as there is no way for her to self-actualize? These worrisome questions lend tension and angst to the story, as it's unclear if we'll succeed against the threat. The emotional impact of this question pulls at the heart strings.

At any rate, I don’t mean to obscure the construct of hierarchical rungs, as this does not appear to be a “Dante’s Inferno’s circles of hell by the numbers approach” by the developers who eschew such simplistic explanations, but I could be wrong. But the richness is that I question whether it is better to analyze Zelda’s emotional and physical turmoils in a Maslowian manner as opposed to a more concrete “This is Hell” way. I fear that there are more interpretations to be had, that all theories and conjectures have *not* been extracted. In other words, more psychological analysis is needed here, and I leave this to the professional game journalists to explore, delve and discover.

So yes, Chang misconstrued the subtle presentations of Link and the NPCs personalities as lack of personality, crudely glossing over important Psychological themes and traditions so evident in this game. There is a richness and depth of characterization that surprises me, as we don't expect this in video games, or at least to this extent.

Further, Chang didn't even comment on the complicated relationship between Link and Zelda in the optional story cut-scenes. Although the cut-scenes present a Buber-ian vision of relationships, which posit that the very rare emotional connection and attachment to another is an expression of God (this is in his seminal piece, I and Thou), I feel that Aonuma-san goes even one step further from this great philosopher.

Yes, he depicts a Buber-type of bond, but at the crux there is conflict between the two, which implies that both needed to work through their dynamic relational issues throughout the century, but since that didn't occur (as Link was in stasis), it shows in the final cut-scene where it doesn't appear that Link and Zelda are truly attached, as they have not worked through or processed their relationship.

The question is what approach does the game use? I am emboldened to think that the game play elements show that adapting the tried and true structural family approach into couples therapy, may be a good strategy to use. In their family lines, are there relational patterns existing that echo their current situation, in which case, you need to break this unfortunate legacy? Or, does Aonumo-san posit the conflicts as more in the Beck tradition of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), where unrealistic distortions of how they view each other needs to be challenged? By replacing these negative, false views of each other, with positive realistic ones, the relationship will obviously improve.
The Master Sword

I think the game's richness allows for this ambiguity in the game play elements, as evidenced in the culmination of the Master Sword, as the triumphant symbolism of permanence, which Zelda preserved for Link. I believe Aonuma-san foresaw this, and that's why he made the Master Sword the only unbreakable weapon in the game, once Link and Zelda move past their problematic relationship. This is further expanded upon as it takes 13 hearts for Link to retrieve the legendary sword. The "working through" of their relationship is represented by the work you do in completing the shrines (4 shrines/heart). I like how this foreshadows the end as the hearts do represent their loving relationship, so it appears that after the final cutscene rolls, they resolve their issues and reconnect.

This is actually brilliant and clearly lost on the blog owner. As Chang didn't find these cut-scenes, I don't find her review as exacting as she had hoped.

Moblins
As for combat, I do find the melee and ranged lacking a bit here, although not nearly as problematic as Chang expounds, but the enemy AI is intelligent in design, and I love how the lead archer moblin, who is always placed on surveillance duty, signals the troops to attack upon Link’s approach, even when he does so stealthily. I dare say that this is rather Marxist in approach as I noticed, why is there always ONE who is always at attention slaving away, while the other moblins are either sleeping, eating or partying? Is there an anti-Capitalist slant here? In fact, the various iterations of Talus was also fruitful, lending you many valuable items upon defeat, perhaps symbolizing the slaying of the so-called “capitalist Pig”, which is rather ironic. One gets rich *not* through Capitalism (symbolized by Talus, the golden promise of wealth), but through Marxist slaying of Talus and these enemies?

Another deep game play element is the much argued pros and cons argument of the weapon degradation system. I'm going to take a balanced approach here and present both sides of what I think are the crucial points. The degradation of weapons evokes this exact anti-Capitalist thinking. Due to the conjectured decadent period that exists 100 years ago, equipment was built in a cheap way, to maximize as much profit, at the risk to quality, so as to enrich the few. Therefore, the weapons that Link finds degrade rapidly.
Aonuma needs to flesh out Marxist principles

I wonder if such realism is necessary in a fantasy game? Indeed, it was upsetting and taxing to have to switch weapons even within 1 moblin group battle, but on the other hand, it plays nicely with the anti-Capitalist themes here, which I believe outweigh the constraints. So, I find that the weapon degradation system is pivotal to the game.

I’m not sure if Nintendo thought through the rain elements (Link can't climb due to the slippery rain) because I don’t really see a consistent Marxist elucidation intrinsically in-game. I can stretch things to an almost ridiculous extent by perhaps conferring rain and hiking boots as being too expensive and out of reach of the noble masses, who are championed by Marx, 100 years ago. So flash-forward to the current time in the game, Link, our noble hero (symbol of the masses) has to suffer sliding off mountains due to this injustice. Again, this is a rather forced explanation, and it doesn't seem to adhere to Aonuma-san's vision as neatly as I would have hoped. I'm confident that Nintendo will flesh this issue out more in the upcoming DLC, and if not, in the next Zelda. Indeed, I'm pleased that Aonuma-san will continue the tradition of Breath of the Wild in future games.

As I've discussed at length, this game has extremely rich and subtle nuances to the story, character development, game play elements, and keen exploration into relationship dynamics, and I hope I at least touched on the basics. I was very impressed with Nintendo for really changing the Zelda series from the first unpromising attempt, to the majestic Breath of the Wild.

Conclusion: Due to the richness, complexity and depth of the game, that requires more analysis than I can put forth, I argue that this is not just one of the best Zeldas, but perhaps the greatest video game of all time.

-N.C., Esq.


6 comments:

  1. Compellingly argued, but what of the Kantian dichotomy of Link defeated by rain, and the Mario Brothers by tossed barrels? And where are the easter eggs of Zelda as Goya's Clothed and Naked Maja? Why are we letting girls play with ur games or cats write about them? Anything that bleeds for a week and still goes to yoga is icky. All cats are feminazis and cucks, and probably Pinkboys too. I need a Grolsch.

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  2. I can't quite comment on Kantian exposition as well as the more psychological theories of personality, as Kantian school of thought is not my forte, but I don't see where the Mario Brothers are relevant in this game? This is Legend Of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, unless I missed your mentioned easter eggs reference? I did scour the game in depth, but due to the breadth of the game, I can see myself missing these references, so I'll look for Mario-related items in my next playthrough.

    As for Goya, I believe the game is more influenced by the Impressionists and Abstract Expressionists, though I can see Aonuma evoke Goya in the next Zelda if he wants to take a more horror/realistic approach.

    Your arguments are compelling, but quickly degraded at the end, I'm sorry to say...

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  3. As Adam Baldwin, Vox Day, Sean Hannity and other sages for our time are quick to note, you can't trust the ladies, human or feline, to understand the nuances of higher trolling. Where's my Grolsch?

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  4. I don't quite understand what you're getting at, but I'll refer you to a male perspective. He does a better job at describing the history of Nintendo's struggles in popularizing the game for the fans than I did. He was able to go into gameplay elements more than I was able to, since my piece was in rebuttal to Alice Chang's review.

    https://www.google.com/search?q=destructoid+horizon+zero+dawn&oq=destructoid+&aqs=chrome.3.69i57j69i60j0l2j69i60j0.7834j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8#q=destructoid+legend+of+zelda

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  5. N.C. Esquire is a major beyotch

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