My Top 20 Zelda: Breath of the Wild Moments

In less than one week, it’s probably fair to say the most anticipated game of the Nintendo Switch’s life will release at last. It follows the single longest development cycle for a main series Zelda game in history, six years and two months after Switch launch title Breath of the Wild. To mark this momentous occasion, I’m going to do something I’ve never done before: resurrect an old article I’ve had floating around in my drafts folder for years and publish it in a fresh light.

This one was initially thrown together in the hazy afterglow of completing BotW in late May of 2017, envisioned as a 20-screenshot roadmap of my own (at the time) 140-hour path through the game. However, the draft was already well past 30 entries and nowhere near the end of my journey when I first gave up on it, as I was unable to cut out anywhere near enough moments to prevent the list from ballooning into a true word count monstrosity. It’s also easy to forget in 2023 just how many articles, critiques, videos and morsels of general coverage this revered game was receiving a mere two months after launch, so I hardly felt like I’d be making enough unique noise to stand out from the crowd and justify such a massive piece.

That task is much easier now. Separated from the game by more than half a decade – I have not touched this one since its excellent dungeon DLC came out at the end of 2017 – only the moments I remember the strongest get to stay. Thus, right before the launch of its sequel, we can reflect on the legacy of one of Nintendo’s most impactful games and have a bit of nostalgic fun along the way. After a touch of reformatting and an emotional scroll through thousands of compulsive screenshots, here are my top 20 moments from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, presented in chronological order.

1. The Plateau

It’s been said in approximately a million video essays: The Great Plateau of Breath of the Wild is one of the best tutorials in gaming. Over an area that feels impossibly massive at first, you learn and test interlocking mechanics over four multiple-solution tests that get you well and truly into the groove of the weirdest Zelda in decades. For me, this was undertaken in the small hours of the morning while staying at a mate’s place post-midnight-launch, with my body screaming at me for daring to deprive it. I obviously didn’t care; after multiple rewatches of various gameplay demos from the previous year’s Zelda-only E3 show, I was enthralled at how many new approaches were still apparent.

2. Out of Link’s Depth

I cannot separate my memories of Breath of the Wild from the conversations I was having with anyone I knew or met who was playing at the time. And nor would I want to; in my opinion there have only been two games since that could possibly challenge it for water-cooler chat value: 2020’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons and 2022’s Elden Ring. From those very chats I picked up rather quickly that most people go directly east after the Great Plateau, following the only real suggestion the game gives you other than the refreshingly direct “Defeat Ganon”. But I wasn’t about to let a game that bragged about being this open tell me what to do: I went north, towards the castle. I died. Again and again and again. Soon enough I discovered a shrine and eagerly dived in to escape the high damage output all around me – only to be met with one of the game’s longest and most intricate shrine puzzles: the Trial of Power. Yeah, that took a while, and it left me with some massively overpowered weapons, but I adored the feeling that I could do it anyway.

3. Stumped

Eventually I decided all those luxurious red Guardian lasers in the fancy-pants north weren’t for me, but not before one of two Korok seed challenges I will probably never forget as long as I have my mental faculties. Right in the middle of the gorgeous open plains of BotW’s Hyrule Field lies a small forest that offers a bit of relieving cover from the crossfire, and at one end of that forest sits a stump with a pinwheel attached. At this point, already multiple hours into the game, I knew that meant a Korok seed hid nearby, but I hadn’t yet obtained enough of them to know exactly what kind of challenge a pinwheel entailed. Cue at least an hour of spinning the pretend windmill, smacking and then cutting down every tree in the vicinity, burning down every patch of grass nearby, collecting stray bugs and plants in every conceivable direction, and yelling at three of my friends present in the room – all to no avail – before I gave up and decided to head vaguely east at last. It wasn’t until dozens of hours later that I realised I should’ve been looking for distant targets to shoot when the spinning started, and lo and behold, there’s a devious barrel that pops up to the west just beyond the treeline that unlocks the Korok when sniped.

4. A Zelda Game Appears

Battered and bruised but loving it, I headed along the riverbed towards Kakariko Village with all kinds of thoughts swimming in my head. Because I’m a bit of a Zelda tragic, most of those were attempting to contextualise the open-ended survival-tinged experience thus far within a triple-decade history of more linear prior Zelda games, and I hadn’t seen much in the way of series staples to help me do that. A town of any description would be a good start, and boy did Kakariko deliver on that front. From the Okami-esque eastern aesthetic and layout to the heavy usage of Sheikah iconography and the ability to trade materials towards an actual Sheikah outfit (12-year-old me may have passed out at seeing that) to the sidequests given by real characters moving according to their own schedules; it was all I didn’t know I wanted and more. The fact you could just enter a house without a loading screen was the cherry on top.

5. Riverside Revelation

This one happened almost immediately after the previous one, but it’s worth the whole slot because in this exact position alongside the riverbed, right after catching a glimpse of this beetle and creeping up to it Animal Crossing stealth-style, I vividly remember feeling that a-ha moment that millions of people around the world felt at different points throughout Breath of the Wild: I realised I might be playing not only one of the best videogames ever made, but – perhaps more importantly to me – one of the best Zelda games ever made. Maybe it was the vibe of that cosy cabin just ahead, or the soundscape designed to complement said vibe; maybe it was the way that beetle approach (in conjunction with the stamina wheel) represented Nintendo’s commitment to build on the stuff that worked from Skyward Sword, rather than toss the game onto the design trash heap as I had feared before launch. It was probably a combination of all of the above, and much more.

6. An Evening on Eventide

This single entry almost took out the top spot for my favourite gaming moment of 2017 in a ridiculously crowded field, so you can read about it there if you fancy. But just in case you want to avoid accidental spoilers for Wolfenstein, Danganronpa or Persona games, let’s just say the night I spent on Eventide Island was my favourite part of the entire game. I ended up there because I headed south from Kakariko and crossed the sea on a raft, which meant I had no heart upgrades and two meagre stamina upgrades. I understand most people find this island by gliding from a cliff to the west late in the game, when the roguelike mini-adventure is supposed to present a stiff slate-cleaning challenge. Finding it within the first week of playtime only magnifies that challenge, but every death genuinely teaches you something new about how to proceed. Suffice to say I was yelling “TELL ME WHEN YOU GET TO EVENTIDE” to anyone who would listen that week.

7. Shocking Jungle Adventures

To the west I went, and before long it was clear I’d be spending several hours in the green tropical haze of Faron. This isn’t so much of a single moment as a collection of them: my first encounter with an (entirely unexplained at the time) enormous serpentine dragon; plenty of well-hidden shrine puzzles and interlocking lore; a new appreciation for electricity-resistant equipment in videogames thanks to a million storms and the Zelda franchise’s most consistently annoying enemy type, the Wizrobe; Zora references that hit me different because I hadn’t yet been to their city; all good stuff. Except for climbing in the rain. That sucked.

8. Seaside Surprise

Just an appreciation post for Lurelin Village, a fabulously detailed coastal town at the south edge of Hyrule with its own network of characters and mini-stories that I was entirely unprepared to find at the 30+ hour mark, mostly because none of my friends had mentioned it at all. It’s not uncommon to hear BotW players refer to Lurelin as the last real surprise of their playthrough, but my particular path chaining distraction to distraction below the Plateau led me to an earlier-than-expected delight.

9. To the Heart of the Woods

The Lost Woods may be a revered Zelda series tradition, but BotW‘s take on the area does not disappoint. This eerie locale is absolutely packed with audiovisual atmosphere and requires a fittingly devious wind-powered puzzle solution that took me far too long to clock. It also ends with an immensely rewarding encounter with the Deku Tree and his various associates – well, rewarding for everything but the game’s frame rate, of course.

10. The Flower Guardian Unleashes

An aspect of Breath of the Wild that still goes underappreciated in my experience is its humour, which one can find in plentiful supply within minor sidequests, dialogue and animation work given enough exploration. But the Flower Guardian shrine quest takes the cake as the most memorable moment of wackiness in the game for me, and it’s also low-key scary. May the memory of this devoted floral protector live long, and perhaps even return in some form in the future.

11. Where the Rito Roost

Coming up on 50 hours of playtime and with a stamina-first upgrade plan well along the way to completion, I made the call to return to the Plateau and fly off northwest. The fresh alpine air and dryer climate made for a refreshing change-up, and then it happened: I caught a glimpse of my first Divine Beast. The majestic Vah Medoh soaring overhead was certainly no shiny dragon, but it was very cool, and then things got even better when I found Rito Village. The town’s structure was unlike anything else I’d seen, and that music – ooooooh boy. Fans of The Wind Waker were eating well.

12. Snapping Into Place

By this point the shine of the shrine had begun to fade a bit; after all, one of the most common – and valid – criticisms levelled at Breath of the Wild is the lack of visual diversity and, in some places, content diversity (Tests of Strength, anyone?) within the 120 shrines it has to offer as de facto replacements for Zelda dungeons. But the methods hidden within the world to unlock or point out said shrines just kept on delivering, and this one right here is my favourite of them all. One of the best justifications for such a large world to be found in the entire game. If you know, you know.

13. The First Divine Beast

Seeing Vah Medoh fly above your head is one thing, but it is entirely another to fly through the sky with the help of a stubborn bird warrior to breach its defenses with fancy slow-motion explosions, before boarding the gigantic arcane machine yourself and getting to work uncovering its secrets. I know the other three divine beasts – and especially the DLC dungeon that kinda functions as the fifth – have their moments, particularly when the time comes to manipulate the very layout of each beast like you’re inside a mech from Pacific Rim. But I will always remember the first one I did the most fondly. There’s just something about witnessing scenery and clouds whiz by outside as you’re trying to get your bearings while a platform beneath your feet tries to send you into an impromptu skydive.

14. Monster Hunter: Breath of the Wild

I kept mostly ahead of any inventory dramas throughout my playthrough, because I had well and truly bought into the idea of using weapons as consumable resources and I was seeing out-of-place landmarks leading to Korok seeds everywhere. I was well en route to finishing above the 300 mark needed to max out all space upgrades (I was utterly floored when a mate later posted a progress screen with all 120 shrines complete, yet Korok numbers in the mid twenties – this game sure is many things to many people), but there was one thing still bothering me about the inventory system. Aside from dyeing, selling or occasionally cooking, it didn’t really feel like certain dropped monster parts had any real reason to exist (It sucks I don’t have any room to talk about the good times those mechanics gave me, just quietly). Then, on a rocky crag, I came across Kilton’s balloon-powered kit shop, and the potential of BotW’s economy was immediately laid bare. By now a few of my friends had begun to talk about the game almost like a Monster Hunter title, spinning tales of perilous trials in pursuit of building the rarest of armour sets. Though the thrill of early-game danger was long gone for us, there were plenty of reasons to keep exploring Hyrule yet.

15. You Would Not Believe This Korok Seed

Here’s the other Korok seed that sits alongside the early forest pinwheel in my long-term memory banks – for an embarrasingly similar reason. You see, I was convinced this east-coast steel Magnesis block puzzle was bugged or something, because I was dead-sure the free block needed to slot neatly into that recess on the left so the shape was close to symmetrical. I can’t use the same excuse here as I did for the earlier airborne barrel; I knew every seed of this kind was based on matching a metal shape to its nearby reference point. But by now I had been in the groove of playing Zelda daily for weeks, and that day had been particularly long. I was simply too cooked to realise this was the reference shape, and the deficient one was just behind me on the shore. No, I won’t tell you how long it took me to work that out.

16. Secrets, still?

A bunch of stuff worth shouting out happened between that last shot and this one – like Link claiming a home base in Hateno Village, happening upon the eerie skeletal remains of Lon Lon Ranch, or the brute-force apple-scarfing ascent up Eldin Volcano – and I was just starting to feel like I’d finally worked out the game’s patterns and rules for area design. Then bam, with almost no foreshadowing I almost landed right on top of Malanya, the horse-resurrecting “extra” Great Fairy with Rayman hands. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t used a horse in dozens of hours (there’s too much you risk missing on horseback!); I was just in disbelief that after 70+ hours I could still expect new discoveries.

17. ****ing Golf

I haven’t really had room to talk directly about Breath of the Wild‘s truly insane physics systems – which appears to get even crazier in the impending sequel – but say the word “stasis” to me and this is where my brain goes straight away: an endlessly frustrating but gloriously entertaining pseudo-golf minigame that had me cackling out loud as my best-laid plans for a decent score went horrifically – and repeatedly – awry. The vast majority of my time with Breath of the Wild took place before the wider fanbase discovered the ridiculous possibilities of this physics system, but I did still have a ton of fun with it, and though it was a blast to flip a brand-new detached joy-con upside down to cheese a ball/maze puzzle, climb a waterfall one ice cube at a time or chain together loose metal weapons instead of blocks to complete an electric circuit, this is what I remember most fondly in terms of the game’s physics shenanigans.

18. The Desert King

It feels particularly rough to run out of slots right around Gerudo Desert time, because some of Breath of the Wild’s cleverest environmental puzzles and most amusing character interactions take place amid the sweltering dunes. I almost put the thrilling pre-Divine Beast chase sequence or the Yiga Clan infiltration mission here, but I have to go with the boss fight against Molduga – if only because there’s nothing else quite like it in the rest of the game. Challenging and immensely satisfying on a primal level, this bait-and-strike overworld encounter is probably the closest BotW comes to a traditional Zelda boss fight, and that’s kind of a shame because they tend to be pretty fantastic on the whole.

19. The Blue Carpet

Many Zelda games – particularly 3D ones – are great at delivering potent moments where Link’s increase in power can be measured directly against a formerly daunting challenge. The radically open nature of Breath of the Wild means it’s both full of such moments – kinda accidentally – but also essentially unable to deliver a grandiose one with the same effect as Zeldas past. The world can only scale so much to the power level of a thorough explorer, after all. But in a roundabout way, I got to experience one such moment in my playthrough, as I rolled up to the Zoras’ Domain I had heard so much about from friends with 100+ hours of playtime and all 120 shrines in the bank. I also had a full stamina bar, which meant I got in by climbing straight up the massive cliff behind the city and completely missed the signposted road with all the meme-ified Prince Sidon interactions. But I was hardly disappointed: the beautiful Ocarina of Time-infused score, the imposing luminous decor, the sheer scale of everything – not to mention a fun Divine Beast to come – I was stunned. This was easily the most impressive of the fantastical region hubs, and I was almost disappointed most players saw it first; it sets a spectacularly high bar.

20. That Castle Though

Obviously I could have put so many more moments before this one – or after it for that matter (I literally didn’t have any screenshots of the wedding ceremony at the end of the incredible Tarrey Town sidequest and I am very angry with my past self) – but the final word has to go to BotW’s version of Hyrule Castle. Easily the most intricate version of the classic building in the series, it’s also clearly the best-designed area in the entire game; I’m not even confident I explored half of it in my various attempts to reach the final boss. Outside of a brief taste of Master Mode, I deliberately avoided replaying Breath of the Wild for all these years in fear of tainting the wonder of my marathon first run, but if there’s one part of the game I’d love to tackle again it’s this one. I mean, the music alone…

You may have noticed that the vast majority of the moments from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild still at the front of my mind after six years relate directly to exploring the world and puzzle-solving, rather than combat or story; the trend sure hasn’t escaped me as I sit and write this. I suppose in 2023, that very excellence in rewarding exploration defines the game’s still-unmatched legacy in the face of all the games attempting to build off its success in the years since.

Tears of the Kingdom has plenty to live up to.

If you’re as ravenous for Zelda content as I am right now, here’s 2500 words looking back at Ocarina of Time, 5000 words on the remake of Majora’s Mask, 10,000 words on Twilight Princess and 12,000 on Skyward Sword.

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