Nintendo had already told us before E3 that the only game that they were going to have playable on the floor would be the new Zelda. They said we wouldn’t be seeing the NX either. Given these announcements, we were expecting a moderately low key affair with their E3 conference. Sometimes though, it’s not actually that satisfying to be proved right.
The conference starts and Reggie Fils-Aimé appears on screen, sporting the rainbow ribbon pin that we’ve already seen from a number of attendees at the show. He opens with: “Before we begin, we want to extend our condolences to the victims of Orlando… At Nintendo, we try to make our fans smile but this weekend we will also be shedding a few tears. Please join me in a moment of silence.” The screen faded to black and we had some dead air before the show started. A very respectful moment from Nintendo.
He confirmed what we already knew about the booth being a Zelda-only zone. The stream came live from the Nintendo Treehouse, so it quickly became apparent that this was going to be an extended Treehouse show rather than a big reveal of loads of new goodies. We already know that things aren’t going well for Nintendo with the Wii U on its last legs so this shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. Nonetheless, there were a few things that were worth getting excited about.
Everything starts with a new Zelda trailer. It’s nothing we haven’t seen already but it is rather pretty. There’s a huge open world, we get lots of sweeping vistas. There’s ducks swimming in a pond, prancing deer, and the huge imposing presence of Hyrule Temple. Now we start to see some new stuff. There’s Link chopping a tree down to make a bridge, then he’s squishing them by pushing a boulder down a hill, followed by an acrobatic leap to kill some more baddies. It all finishes with a close up of the iconic master sword, and the game’s final title: The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild
We cut back to Reggie, looking very proud of this new reveal. He tells us about how alive the world should be in this new title. He announces how “Hyrule will be a resource, an ally and an enemy and always a place of discovery and wonder” We are told that Nintendo will be devoting most of this Treehouse live to the main area of the game, but first, they want to tell us about the biggest new adventure for the 3DS: Pokémon Sun & Moon.
We’re introduced to Junichi Masuda and Shigeru Ohmori from Game Freak, who discussed the game in Japanese with the aid of a translator. A trailer plays, which didn’t show us much that we don’t already know, but it ends with the release date. We shall be getting the game on the 18th of November.
The three starter Pokémon are confirmed: Rowlet, Litten and Popplio. And also the two legendary Pokémon who adorn the box:
Solgaleo is a psychic and steel type, their ability is called Full Metal Body.
Lundala is psychic and ghost type, their ability is called Shadow Shield.
The names of the titles are meant to evoke life, and reflect the tropical islands of Alola which the game is set on (Alola in fact comes from the Hawaiian word Aloha, meaning roughly "breath of life"). Their reasoning was that on earth, the Sun is the source of all life, and in the Pokémon world, it’s also a source of energy. So the names are an homage to the home world which is teeming with new life, including never before seen Pokémon.
With more of a 3D JRPG look than past games, it looks and sounds pretty good. The folks from Game Freak specified that they had spent time specifically on making the Pokémon move cute as well as look cute. They even took trips to Hawaii to get the look and feel of island culture down.
You will get to pick one of several player characters, and they are customisable too, with changes of outfits and appearance available. Characters now look more human-like with realistic proportions and attire appropriate to the tropical environment they are in. This extends to the NPCs, with the new Professor being a shirtless hunk!
Battles themselves are pretty much the same, but now you can see the trainers involved, which lets you see the proportions of the Pokémon compared to humans. There’s also some enhanced lighting and dynamic camera angles to make battles look more exciting. The time of day will now affect your view of battle and alter subtle things like shadow lengths and directions.
On the bottom screen, there’s some useful information. There’s an information button on each ability to quickly check what an ability does. When you've battled a Pokémon once, your move list will update to show which moves are especially effective against them and which are ineffective. You can also tap on a 2D rendition of your Pokémon, as well as your opponent’s, to see what status effects are currently active, if any.
There’s been an overhaul to the Pokédex, it is now the “Rotom Pokedex”. This is an evolution of what we’ve seen before. It’s not a character with arms and legs and helps you along your travels. It can give you tips about how to catch Pokémon or tells you where to go next. When you catch a Pokémon, there will often be a white Pokéball icon showing as it goes into your Pokédex. This means that there’s an empty space; either an evolution or another Pokémon paired with it, helping you to be aware of additional creatures needing to be caught.
We saw two of the new Pokémon in the brief playthrough that we were treated to. First up was Yungoos, a beaver looking creature who is always hungry and looking for food. From the name you’d expect him to be a mongoose, but he doesn’t look like one. There’s also the Woodpecker-like Pikipek. This bird can peck up to 16 times a second. When it was caught, there were two white Pokéballs so we can assume this creature has two evolutions?
We also saw the new “Battle Royal” mode. In this mode there are four players battling. Each player picks up to 3 Pokémon and battles with one at a time. You’re facing off in an arena which looks akin to a boxing ring and it’s a free for all battle. The match ends once one trainer has lost all of their Pokémon. Once the battle is over, it then determines winner by tallying up how many Pokémon each player has defeated and how many each player has left.
Next up, we were back to Zelda, and this was what the rest of the conference focused on. We’re treated to extended gameplay sessions of the title, with special guests aplenty, including Eiji Aonuma, Reggie himself and Shigeru Miyamoto all grabbing the Wii U gamepad throughout the evening.
It all starts with the opening cutscene of the game. Everything is black. We hear “Open your eyes. Wake up Link”. Link complies, and now we can see an almost naked link. We learn that we are in the “Shrine of Resurrection” and we have a Sheikah Slate, which seems to be the Hyrulean equivalent of a Wii U Gamepad. Our first task is to find some trousers and a shirt for Link, which we do thankfully quickly.
The graphics are very animé-esque. We’re told that they are gouache paint inspired and also inspired by the French “en plein air” style of painting. This means “open air painting”, which is fitting as the music is also designed to have that open air feeling. Unlike previous Zelda games it doesn’t play throughout, but thematically cuts in to set a tone when required. When it does play though, we get that familiar style of sweeping strings and pipes expected of the series.
Openness is a recurring theme here. This is by far and away the most open world title in the series. In fact, it seems to have taken a huge amount of influence from western RPGs like Skyrim and The Witcher series. Link can jump and climb now, in fact he can climb almost everything with an Assassin’s Creed-esque level of agility. You’ll find yourself collecting items to craft and eating food to regain health instead of finding hearts in the tall grass. You can still cut the tall grass with your sword, but all it does now is make a mess. You can even jump onto your shield and use it as a snowboard!
The world is gigantic. We see a lot of beautiful panoramas and all of them are things that we can explore, not just some painted backdrop. The environments are vast and alive. Everything is interactive. You can climb trees or chop them down if you want. Set fire to things, move objects around, roll boulders. There’s destructible environments aplenty too, including that old videogame staple: the red barrel.
You have stats to consider now. Weapons and armour have durability and can break, and you’ll be comparing different items for different purposes. It’s not as in-depth as a game like Skyrim, but it’s there, adding an extra complexity to the game. As well as this, weapons can be created from many things. At one point, Link dismembered a skeleton and then beat it to death with its own still-twitching arm (no, I’m not even joking here).
The Sheikah Slate we mentioned earlier gives you a number of extra abilities as well as operating as a map and hint system. There’s a “scope” which allows you to see a long way away and also allows you to mark spots which will appear on your minimap as a waypoint. You can also use it to scout for enemies. Scope in and you can scan enemies to find out their strength and health before going in, meaning that you won’t jump into a fight that's above your current level, something which could be a risk given the completely open-ended, open world nature of the game.
We were also introduced to the shrines. These are like smaller versions of dungeons. We will still be seeing the traditional dungeons in the game, but shrines are littered everywhere, over a hundred of them in fact! These serve as exploration areas with treasures to be found, as well as housing some tough enemies to help you practice your sword fighting skills.
As you’d expect from a Nintendo game now, there will be Amiibo support. Remember that Wolf Link Amiibo that we were promised would function with it? Well, if you have one, you can bring Wolf Link along with you as a companion. Go near animals and he will hunt for you to make sure you always have a supply of meat. This also serves to give a companion to Link in a game where he’s largely alone, making Wolf Link the equivalent of Navi for this game. You know, if for some reason you missed Navi…
Overall, it’s very clear why this game has been delayed so many times, we’ve never seen a Zelda quite like this, certainly not one this massive in scope. At the time of writing, the conference was into its sixth hour and they were still playing! It’s almost The Elder Scrolls of Zelda with the amount of space, content and freedom we’re being given. It’s still instantly recognisable as a Zelda game, but it’s a much more grown up approach to a classic formula. Could this be the game that saves Nintendo? Only time will tell, but keep an eye out here on GameGrin and we’ll make sure that you’re first to find out.