Monday, 17 July 2017

How My Family Bonded over Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

I usually reserve my posts for the socially approved stuff we do, because The Internet Judges, and I have to make sure Our Family Is Better Than Yours, or else why do I even have a blog?

However, the truth is that we are a nerd family. We parents grew up playing videogames and getting very into those videogames. So the Internet-reading mother side of me gets very anxious about screentime, while the geek side of me is all: "Omigosh, did you see the trailer for the new Zelda game?"

No, really. Did you?

Breath of the Wild came out to great reviews and great word of social media, so after a couple of months, we took the plunge and bought a Nintendo Switch so we could play it. (And the internet-parenting-one-upmanship side of me feels compelled to assure you all that this is the first games console we have bought in years.)

Prior to this, we had played Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword with the children, which had a game feature where you could teleport back to the home village at any time, giving the kids a safe area to play around in while their Dad fought his way through the main quest. Both children had got into the story as they watched Dad play the game, and they really enjoyed taking their own turns, even if they didn't do much more than mess around, maybe do a few side quests. All four of us went into Breath of the Wild as firm Zelda fans.

First off, Breath of the Wild is fantastic, whether as a stand alone story, as the latest installment of the Zelda franchise or as a gaming experience. It has a very open game mechanic / storyline, so while you begin the game with amnesia and are effectively guided through the first section by way of introduction, after that you are unleashed on a beautifully rendered fantasy world with only suggestions of where to go—and even if you follow these, you're soon left with a scavenger hunt of tasks that you may accomplish in any order.

Without restricting your exploration, the game still manages to unfold a compelling storyline, as you discover the events of your past in random order. Most of this revolves around the tragic figure of Princess Zelda, who becomes the best-developed character of the game despite being trapped in the castle for the entirety of it.

Secondly, this may be the best family game we've ever played. Dad was the only one of us with the nerve to take on the various monsters, but gradually we all started taking our turns to explore. As in Skyward Sword, you can teleport to somewhere safe at any time—but in Breath of the Wild there are multiple safe zones and these all have their own sidequests where you interact with the residents of Hyrule and discover their stories: some silly, some tragic.

It was thanks to the kids that we discovered what happens when you attack a Cucco three times. (Try it for yourself, then imagine that repeating for ten minutes straight and you'll understand how I suddenly became a lot stricter about limiting screentime.) The kids also proved to be astonishingly good at identifying the assorted flora, fauna and weapons in the game. "That's a Hearty Bass, Mummy! You can tell because it's blue."

My six year old daughter was a little young to fully engage with the game in the way we did. She generally wanted to spend her turn changing the appearance of the hero and/or his horse, but she also took care of the homeowner sidequest more or less by herself. My eight-year-old son was much more invested with the main quest and was full of suggestions for where to go and what to do next—he was also by far the most observant of us at spotting treasure chests. For both kids, the favourite character in the game was Hestu, and they can now perform his dance on command.

Beyond monster battles, a lot of the game advancement—particularly when it comes to making yourself stronger—is based on puzzles which we all worked together to solve. I loved the story of Breath of the Wild, and exploring different areas of the map was insanely addictive, but my favourite moments of playing the game were the whole family trying to figure out the various shrines. One person makes a suggestion, somebody else makes a connection, and suddenly the apparently impossible has an obvious solution. High fives all round.

There are few things that all four of us genuinely enjoy as a family. Getting to geek out together was very much a treat, and something that will give us in-joke fodder for months to come.

Anyway, while we still haven't finished exploring Hyrule (and will likely never finish finding those bloody koroks), we did complete the game this weekend. For the foreseeable future, I will try and assuage my Net-Mum-Guilt by going full "Fresh Air and Exercise!", but the actual, Who-I-Am-Mum side of me is really pretty damn satisfied with how we've spent the past couple of months.