The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Everyone plays open-world games differently. For an additional challenge — or maybe just because they can — some players like to impose their own rules on a game. Sometimes this is as simple as deciding to not use one of the options the game presents you with, like deciding to never ride a horse in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild or never using fast-travel in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (I actually have a friend who had a “no fast-travel” rule for Breath of the Wild). Or maybe this just means you’ll attempt to obey traffic signals in Grand Theft Auto V.

Personally, I decided to play through Breath of the Wild and get every shrine without using a guide.

The thing is, I don’t think I can do it.

I’ve already had to bend my own rules in some ways. For example, I’m allowing myself to watch other people play. I watched a friend play Eventide Island before I did, so I knew how to get there — as well as what happens there — before I ventured there myself.

I also know that there are 120 shrines in the game (I’m at 115 shrines right now) because I decided I have to be okay with other people telling me things about the game. I’m not going to shut out conversations in order to “not spoil anything.” That seems too extreme. If I completely avoided conversations about the game, I wouldn’t ever hear about others’ experiences (such as the friend who didn’t use fast-travel), and sharing these experiences is part of the fun.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

But at the same time, I could exploit these conversations in my favor. A friend told me where the last of Link’s “Captured Memories” was. I had convinced myself it was in Faron Woods, and she was just like “No, it’s actually in Central Hyrule.” So I know that one now. At one point, someone told me that one shrine is in Hyrule Castle, so I know that now.

I feel like I haven’t “broken” my own code. I wasn’t seeking this information exactly; it just was given to me. However, it does feel like getting away with something, and that makes me question my own code sometimes.

Where I’m at now, though, is that I’m having a hard time sticking to my initial plan. The thing is, I really feel like I’ve been everywhere in the game — and I mean everywhere. At this point, I will spend hours at a time — not even exaggerating here — just wandering and searching random places in hopes that I might stumble upon a new shrine. My shrine tracker hasn’t gone off in so long that I’m starting to doubt there are any left that don’t have prerequisites for appearing.

Here’s the story of the most recent shrine I found: I was wandering the Gerudo Highlands, just looking in places I felt like I hadn’t gone yet, and I found this random… I wouldn’t call it anything more than a shack. It was just a tiny building with a book inside. Lo and behold, that book contained a shrine quest, which had me cast a shadow on a pedestal. I found the pedestal nearby and the actual quest was super easy. The hard part, though, was wandering the Gerudo Highlands to stumble upon the book in the first place. Seriously, if the remaining shrines are this hard to find, and my shrine tracker isn’t going off anymore, do I even have a chance?

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

I wouldn’t say this is a failing of the game, though. There are 900 Korok Seeds to find in Breath of the Wild, and it doesn’t seem like it was ever intended that you’d find them all. Super Mario Odyssey has almost 1,000 power moons as well, so it seems clear to me that Nintendo’s design philosophy is built around dissuading players from becoming completionists rather than encouraging that sort of behavior.

I also know that completing all 120 shrines in Breath of the Wild earns me Link’s classic green tunic, but it’s not even that good compared to the other armor sets you’ll undoubtedly have collected by this point in the game (I saw a friend play who has 120 shrines — I promise you I didn’t read a guide!). The game also really only expects you to get 40 shrines before you can get the Master Sword, and on top of that, the Master Sword isn’t at all necessary to complete the game.

At the same time, though, 120 shrines doesn’t seem unreasonable on paper. I got 120 shine sprites in Super Mario Sunshine. There are 121 stars in Super Mario Galaxy, which is also feasible. To me, it didn’t seem like 120 shrines would be as hard as it is. But that type of thinking doesn’t factor in the enormity of the world in Breath of the Wild. In a lot of ways, an overworld this humongous is amazing. Unfortunately, when you’re trying to find the last five shrines in that world, the enormity becomes a bit too much.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

In some ways, it almost seems like I failed a test by simply asking, “Can I do this without asking for any help?” In response, the game seems to say “Theoretically, yes, but you’re going to really hate this by the time you do.” I can’t even begin to imagine what state someone would have to be in if they actually found every Korok Seed.

And I can point to this as a shortcoming of the game in some ways, because I do think a game should give you all the pieces of the puzzle. A well-designed game should give you a task that you can complete, and it should also provide all the necessary tools to complete that task. In the same way that we may discredit a game for having laggy controls or bad map design, it seems like a failure of the game if its tasks aren’t solvable in a way that feels satisfying. 

Or maybe I’m just attempting to justify my own perceived failure. I don’t know.

That being said, I still wouldn’t say the game failed the moment I decided to give up. Far from it. The fact that I’ve played Breath of the Wild for literally hundreds of hours — and enjoyed it for most of that — means It’s a rousing success. Sure, I eventually got tired of meandering for hours at a time. Sure, I’ve been avoiding combat, since I no longer have any use for it at this point. But a game that can keep me invested for hundreds of hours is doing something right.

And I should mention that the last ten or so of my shrines took hours to find with no guide, but when I did find them, it felt rewarding and relieving on another level.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

I know I’m an anomaly here. How many people have attempted to find all 120 shrines with no guide, and how many of them made it as far as I did? On the other hand, I’m also not that far from other players. A cursory glance at my Switch friends list shows the majority of them have 100 hours or more time invested in the game.

Breath of the Wild has been a major cultural phenomenon, and it’s been talked about ad nauseum at this point. The question of whether or not it’s good is… well, not really even a question.

As for me, while I’m probably giving up on the no-guide challenge, I don’t regret having tried it. If this game is truly about the player journey, well, I’ve had a pretty incredible one already. Whether or not I complete it, that doesn’t change. I’ve still invested hundreds of hours into Breath of the Wild, and I’m still psyched for the sequel, whenever that comes out.

There’s just a tiny part of me that wishes giving up didn’t feel so much like failure, when it doesn’t need to.

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Julian Watkins
3 years ago

I’m pretty much in the same boat. I think I’m probably close to about 100 shrines without looking at a guide, but I also got burned out just in general playing BotW and I doubt I’ll ever attempt to continue to blindly search for the remaining shrines.

For a while I was utilizing the feature where the map shows all of your footsteps to better find areas that I for sure hadn’t been too, and that helped me find a couple shrines off the literal beaten path. But, as you mentioned, if a shrine needs to be triggered it promoted to appear by a specific event and is otherwise not plainly, visibly obvious it becomes a daunting feat if not realistically just a fool’s errand hoping I have a snowball’s chance stumbling upon the secret handshake or hidden entry point I gain access, as it were.

Great article, thanks for sharing your woes.

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