On this week’s Kotaku Splitscreen, Jason and I were joined by our boss Stephen Totilo to talk about The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild with full spoilers. We started with the final boss fight.
You can listen to our discussion starting at 22:56, and the full Zelda conversation actually goes on quite a bit longer than what I’ve transcribed below.
I’ve made some edits for flow and readability. Obviously, spoilers for Breath of the Wild follow!
Jason Schreier: So Stephen, you were actually texting us frantically because you beat Calamity Ganon last night for the first time.
Stephen Totilo: Yes. So I’ve been playing the game since a little bit before it launched, because like you guys, I had a Nintendo code in late February. And I’ve been playing on and off. As I mention on like every podcast appearance I go on, I had kids recently, and that’s affected my playtime. But the Switch has been great, and I’ve been able to play Zelda, mostly in portable mode. Any time I play it on my TV, I’m shocked by how big-scale it looks, which I’ve mentioned on this show in the past.
To give a dramatic re-reading of text messages: 9:47 PM last night, text to Jason and Kirk. “Trying to beat Calamity Ganon for the podcast and getting my ass handed to me. Is he invincible when he’s glowing?” Kirk didn’t bother to help, Jason immediately…
Kirk Hamilton: So, I was busy. I think I was watching TV, so I tuned in to this conversation when it was all nice and resolved. Which was really a relief for me, so Jason was most helpful to you.
Stephen: Jason responds, “Yeah, use counter attacks, or reflect his lasers.” And I say, “Can’t skip these cutscenes. Argh.” Because, as you guys know… well, did you guys fight Calamity Ganon having beaten, or gotten control of the four divine beasts?
Kirk: I did, yes.
Stephen: Ok, so we all had the same experience.
Stephen: There’s a ton of cutscenes. They’re cool cutscenes, but I couldn’t skip them. Jason says you can if you hit the plus button.
Jason: I could skip them. Because I fought him ten, fifteen times—this was before the game came out, so I couldn’t look up strategies or anything. And I skipped the cutscenes every time.
Stephen: You couldn’t text people, and hope that [they might help you]
Kirk: I only fought him once, because I just kicked his ass. But that’s also because I was pretty OP by the time I got there. I had an absurd number of hearts and the best armor in the game.
Stephen: Jason, how many shrines in were you?
Jason: I don’t know, maybe twenty or something? [Editor’s note: Jason had the Master Sword, so this number seems low.]
Stephen: Did you have a second row of hearts?
Stephen: Oh, one row.
Jason: I was relying on food.
Stephen: Okay, so what’d you go in with?
Jason: So my battle was actually really epic. I got all four divine beasts, but because I was reviewing the game, I had to be playing pretty hastily. So I didn’t take my time and explore.
Stephen: You wrote about this recently, that when a reviewer rushes…
Jason: …how it ruins everything. Although they gave us a fair… they gave us enough...
Stephen: They gave us a week. And you and Kirk were going to GDC, but you were able to [play on the plane].
Kirk: I think the challenge was more that you were gonna be traveling for the last four days before the embargo lifted, than that we didn’t have enough time.
Jason: It was bad timing. But anyway, so I got there, and I actually skipped all of Hyrule Castle by jumping up the water falls.
Kirk: Which is too bad, because Hyrule Castle is really cool! I’m sure we’ll talk about that in a moment.
Jason: I’ll come back one day. So I got there, and I had all this food…
Stephen: So Jason, what were you wearing?
Jason: In the game? Or…
Kirk: In real life? Some sport shorts, an undershirt…
Jason: I think the Champion’s gear that you get from Impa? The blue tunic, the stuff that Impa gives you.
Stephen: Wait, Impa gives you more than just the tunic?
Jason: No, just the tunic. That’s what I’m talking about.
Stephen: I thought you were saying there’s a whole ensemble.
Jason: No, no.
Stephen: There’s not like, a champion’s hat.
Kirk: I had been under the impression that there was, and was sort of bummed that there wasn’t.
Jason: Wait, I have to finish my story, and you guys keep interrupting.
Stephen: We’re excited!
Kirk: Yeah, yeah, yeah, finish your story.
Jason: So I got to Ganon, and I have a single row of health. I’m running out of food. It took me like ten tries but eventually the way I beat him was this epic journey. I couldn’t figure out how to counter, I didn’t realize I had to counter attack when he was invincible. So I would just run up to him and mash the attack button. I found ways to do damage to him… I think if I used arrows at the exact right time? It just took me forever.
Kirk: You can use Urbosa’s Fury, as well. That was what I figured out, because I broke like four shields trying to counter him because I had never really learned how to do it. And you can charge up Urbosa’s Fury and it knocks him on his back and makes him vulnerable as well.
Jason: Yeah, yeah, that was helpful. So by the end I was completely out of food, it was epic.
Stephen: So you were eating for attack power, or for just health, or what?
Jason: Everything. By the end I was eating anything I could. I was eating raw apples.
Kirk: Don’t you like the idea of, Link is in this throwdown battle with the ultimate evil, and he’s just like, hoarking down food that he’s prepared. Omelettes, and apples, just pausing in the middle of a fight to just eat and eat. He’s so full, he’s burping and fighting...
Stephen: So unless I missed it, they don’t actually put a fast travel point, like a shrine or anything, right before the encounter. Which is a little bit unusual. This game breaks a lot of Zelda conventions, and one of the conventions that it seemed to break at the end is that usually, if you clear a dungeon in a traditional Zelda game, or at least if you solved almost all the dungeon and have then gotten the big key to open the door to fight the boss, you’ve usually created some sort of pathway that allows you to quickly go from the entrance of the dungeon to that boss encounter.
Stephen: And in some cases, like Majora’s Mask, they do that because you eventually have to speedrun the whole game in the 24-hour cycle, or the 72-hour cycle or whatever. But in this one I was standing, you know, I’d failed, and it restarted me, and I’m standing right outside and I realized, I didn’t have a lot of hearts, I didn’t have a lot of cooked recipies. And I thought, I could warp away to a shrine and cook stuff, but then I’d have to climb all the way back there. And I didn’t want to do that. So I just took a cold, hard look at what my inventory was. I realized I had 45 spicy peppers, and I could just power-eat them if I needed to in order to fill up my [hearts].
Kirk: [laughs] and Link is just eating peppers, and crying…
Jason: Like those reviewers, those hot pepper reviewers!
Kirk: [still laughing]
Stephen: So at 9:47, I guess I was saying, he was kicking my ass. And I’m happy to report that at 10:01 PM, 14 minutes later, I text: “Got him, I think.” Jason writes, “Nice.”
Jason: Yeah, because I didn’t want to spoil.
Stephen: Also at 10:01 I write, “Oh, no.” And at 10:02 I write, “Fuuuuck,” with four U’s. And Jason writes back, “hahaha don’t worry.” And at 10:10, eight minutes later, I triumphantly report, “Got him with the glow bow.”
Jason: So the reason I said don’t worry is, I knew exactly what you were up to, and I know that if you die to Pig Ganon, you just start at the beginning of Pig Ganon, rather than at the beginning of Calamity Ganon.
Kirk: Also, if you die to Pig Ganon… I mean, did either of you die?
Stephen: Jason, did you die at Pig Ganon?
Kirk: ...because I feel like it’s almost impossible to screw that up.
Jason: Yeah, he kills you. Because if you get caught in his face energy beam, that kills you in one hit. At least it did for me.
Kirk: Oh, really? Yeah, I mean, I felt like that part was just a gimmie coda, where they’re saying, “Have fun, here’s an awesome bow that never runs out of super magic arrows.”
Stephen: Wow, I didn’t think [dying] was possible.
Jason: Well, you know what? Some of us were trying to review the game by deadline.
Kirk: You know, I didn’t actually love… I thought the ending was really dramatic. That final scene, that final fight against whatever he’s called, Ultimate Ganon [Editor’s note: The name you were looking for was “Dark Beast Ganon.”]
But I didn’t love how Zelda tells you exactly what to do. It felt very different from the rest of the game. This is actually one of my criticisms of the ending sequence—she says to you, she’s basically doing that Zelda thing where they say, here’s what you’re supposed to do, here’s how you solve the puzzle. [It’s something] the older games did, that this one didn’t. And it sort of bugged me.
I was like, okay, Zelda, I know, shoot the glowing spots on him, shut up, I get it. And she just kept telling me what to do.
Stephen: The final encounter is very dramatic. Both of the Ganon fights. But for all that the game deviated from the Zelda formula, they did not deviate at the end. And I think they just didn’t know how to end the game. A lot of open world games have this issue, in that they can be sprawling, and you can explore [them] in lots of interesting ways, but with the exception of maybe Red Dead Redemption, I can’t think of many open-world games that do something as ingenious with their ending as they did with some of the stuff that they put within the game.
And here, I mean, I knew instinctively that the ending sequence wasn’t going to take long. Because I thought, this game is designed, really, for you to just pile up enough statistical improvement so that you can fight this guy.
Stephen: Essentially, the whole game is a very big menu of ways to get lots of hearts. And which are you going to order up and do? And then, once you do it, they just need to give you a fight so that the credits can roll. But they clearly didn’t have anything super innovative, and I don’t know that I would’ve wanted them to. Because I don’t know that I want to have that be some ordeal, that any time I want to punctuate the game again, I would have to go through some long process.
Kirk: I think I agree. I think the way the game is structured overall is really smart because, specifically, the way they did that. The way they said, okay, the whole game is wide open, and the structure of this game is, there’s this one big fight, and the entire point of the game is to get ready to fight it. And really, that’s the story of Breath of the Wild, right? There’s these two parallel stories [between the past and the present], and the main story is just, Link went and dug up a bunch of shrines and got more powerful until he went and beat Ganon.
The three of us talked for a while longer about all sorts of other stuff related to Breath of the Wild: The story, the ending, Zelda’s role, the sidequests, the world design, and so on. Check out the full episode, and subscribe to Splitscreen for more conversations like that one.