A way too late analysis of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Nintendo /
1 of 5

Three years since captivating audiences on Nintendo Switch, we revisit The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.


Studio Ghibli’s co-founder and legendary director Hayao Miyazaki uses the Japanese word to describe a certain feeling present in all of his movies. A moment or stretch of moments where the action on screen slows down, the plot stops, and the movie just breaths. Sometimes these are just brief moments (in an interview Miyazaki drew attention to the moments between a series of claps), and sometimes these are a whole scene (Spirited Away has the most popular example with the scene on the train).

In an interview with the late great Roger Ebert, Miyazaki said the following on the concept of “ma”:

"“If you have non-stop action with no breathing space at all, it’s just busyness… The people who make the movies are scared of silence, so they want to paper and plaster it over. They’re worried that the audience will get bored. But just because it is 80 percent intense all the time doesn’t mean the kids are going to bless you with their concentration. What really matters is the underlying emotion – that you never let go of.”"

When Zelda series producer Eiji Aonuma first set out to develop The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, he went in with the intention of rethinking everything that the Zelda series had ever been. 2014 had already seen the linear progression present in previous entries dissected, and readjusted in The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. 2011’s The Legend Of Zelda: Skyward Sword took the story structure that the series had popularized and questioned it.

Aonuma, alongside director Hidemaro Fujibayashi (writer and director of Skyward Sword, Phantom Hourglass, The Minish Cap), art director Satoru Takizawa, and writer Akihito Toda, set out to make the most ambitious Nintendo title ever created. A Legend of Zelda game that took place in an open world, building on and expanding upon concepts and small ideas that the previous titles had only played around with. A launch title for the Nintendo Switch, the game had to both help sell the system and show off the capabilities of the console, all while being available on last-gen hardware as well.

The game that staff created would soon go on to be the highest-selling Legend Of Zelda game ever, and be regarded by fans and critics alike as one of the best and most important open-world games in all of history. A game that broke the rules of Zelda by giving players free rein to do whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. A game that took nostalgia and innovation and created something new and captivating for longtime fans and newcomers alike.

A game that brought many people in for the Zelda, but kept them for hours on end with just one concept.

The concept of “ma.”

Breath of the Wild is stocked full of inspirations and nods to iconic Studio Ghibli movies, some surface on the surface level, and more are rooted much deeper. Everything from the art style, to the character designs, to the world design, to major themes, and even the soundtrack have taken influence from director Miyazaki and his most famous works. The most intentional and impactful inspiration, however, is the ability to properly capture and implement moments of “ma.”

Implementing moments of nothing in video games is a risky choice and one that developers do not make often. If players find themselves bored, they may stop playing your game and become uninterested in any DLC or sequel to the game. Thus directors work very hard to stimulate the gamer at all times and make the player feel engaged with the gameplay at all times. The more the gamer is doing, the better the game is, right?

Games like Doom (2016 but also the original to an extent), Cuphead, Hotline Miami, Dead Cells, and the Devil May Cry series are extremely stimulating experiences with little to no downtime. All of them experienced both commercial and critical success, with sequels and DLC capitalizing on that success. Action video games have made changes to better themselves by further implementing the adrenaline based, blood pressure rising styles of these games.

Breath of the Wild took the complete opposite approach.

Sure, there are adrenaline-pumping moments in Breath of the Wild: Running away from a guardian that you are not properly equipped to fight, being close to the top of the mountain you are climbing with very little stamina left, Hyrule castle. Traversing the world of Breath of the Wild can be an exciting and dangerous task, but the game is obviously not built around those moments.

The game is built on the moments where nothing happens at all; moments where Hyrule is able to be appreciated for the beautiful land it is, moments where the sun just starts to set over the horizon, moments where players, Link, and the world can just breath. The moments when you finish walking up a hill and can see the entire ocean in front of you, or the moments where you first watch one of the dragons descend from the sky. Moments where players stop, and for a second, or even a stretch of a minute, just appreciate the world and what is going on in it.

Breath of the Wild was vastly successful, due in large parts to these moments, prompting Nintendo to start development on the sequel that was officially teased at E3 in 2019. With fans expecting an update on the sequel any moment now, and the sequel being heavily rumored to be Nintendo’s 2020 holiday release, we decided to visit Breath of the Wild three years later and see what the Nintendo Switch’s launch title has to offer.