Unpredictable is a column from Caty McCarthy about recent games and other happenings bustling in the world of media. This week features the game The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and film Okja. A word of warning: this story contains sometimes-only-vague SPOILERS for the main quests and certain moments of Breath of the Wild.
When The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild released to widespread acclaim, boasts of "this is the greatest game ever made" flooded it. People loved it. They wanted to name their firstborn kids Link and Zelda after it. They claimed that this game, yes this game, would be used as a blueprint for years to come, as Shadow of Mordor once had claims regarding its nemesis system. And then critic Jim Sterling reviewed it, giving the still-positive score of 7/10, and fans were angry about the less-than-perfect score.
In the weeks after release, when I myself got a chance to play through the adventure game, I found myself agreeing with Sterling (even if I felt a tiny smidge more positive). Breath of the Wild is a game with an incredible sense of exploration—exploration that sets it far above most open world games. But it's also missing so much.
Every enemy is a familiar variant, and hardly breaks away from them. It's missing varied dungeons, something that I've come to love from Zelda games over the years. In Breath of the Wild, bosses share the same skin both between the confines of larger dungeons and out in the wild, and the dungeons themselves all wield the same logic (move the structure by using the map!). The game was missing memorable characters. There was no Tingle equivalent here. No Midna. Hardly a Zelda, even. The first two only come in the masks that you get in its new DLC.
That says a lot. Breath of the Wild is only concerned in characters when they're callbacks to the old Zelda, the ones with more structured experiences. The gorons you meet remind you only of the more colorful gorons in every other game. When you meet the Zoras, you wish you had more time to get to know them. Breath of the Wild is a game of brevity through and through, it never lingers. Its shrines hardly last longer than a few minutes (minus a select few), and its main quests end usually in under an hour. The longest main mission is the one that has you traipsing to the Gerudo Desert, then outwards to a hideout, and back again.
The Gerudo Desert section, despite its own problems, felt the most like a Zelda game of the entirety of Breath of the Wild. There was an arc to this particular dungeon, and memorable characters you met along the way. The rest were over shortly after they had just began, and mostly left you alone at the core of it. By its end, I wished the rest of the game's main quests were like the Gerudos'.
That's not to say Breath of the Wild doesn't have amazing moments. Its moments just happen outside of the main story. My favorite moment in the game was climbing atop Mount Lanayru after someone in a nearby village told Link of its mysteries. I clambered up the snowy mountain to find an enormous dragon. Poisoned with black and red ooze, left only for me to glide after and cure it. The dragon was thankful for me. It was a magical moment, in a game of truly wondrous exploration. Alas, it left me wishing for more moments like it.
Breath of the Wild's first DLC, The Master Trials, seems to only exemplify these qualms I had with the game. It's the DLC only for the most hardcore of players, the ones who enjoy the challenge and couldn't care less of the actual Zelda-ness of the game. It features nostalgia quirks: a literal Majora's Mask, a full-body Tingle suit that scares passersby for unknown reasons. They're all callbacks, not canon to Breath of the Wild's universe.
I'm curious about Breath of the Wild's next DLC, the story-driven The Champions' Ballad. I wonder if it will deliver the story I craved in Breath of the Wild, even after I disappointingly chased after all the Memories and felt unfulfilled. I wonder if this expansion will bring players a new area—something that would be incredibly exciting, as exploring unknown spaces and stumbling upon new places is no doubt Breath of the Wild's strong suit.
Alas, The Master Trials are very much not for me. Nor for most players, I imagine. Of most of the people I know personally who were playing Breath of the Wild, so few actually finished the game. Instead they happened upon remarkable moments, we swapped stories of our respective unique adventures, and few cared to even see the story through. The players that craved the challenge will find lots to enjoy in its DLC, but for everyone else, we're left starving for something else.
Thinking about it, I guess that's why I've always played Zelda. Not for the story, but for the sense of adventure it had. The memories I've had with Zelda have never been directly tethered to the story itself, but the bosses and dungeons I faced with Link along the way. Breath of the Wild swapped that usual type of adventure (of the epic proportions variety) for a wholly different, quieter adventure. And it's still a great game. (And as many have argue, one of the new "greats.") But I wonder if the upcoming DLC beyond The Master Trials will tempt me and others to return to Hyrule, or if this is a story that I just have to close the book on for good. Hopefully for the next Zelda game, we can get a little bit of both brands of adventuring.
Last week I watched filmmaker Bong Joon-ho's latest film Okja, which is streaming now on Netflix. The film follows a young Korean girl and her friendship with a giant "superpig," which looks more like a hippopotamus than a pig. Unlike Hippopotamuses, which kill thousands of people every year, the superpig is sweet and gentle. It made me want a pet superpig.
The superpig is part of a bullshit ploy of ethical capitalism, a ten-year plan by a corporation to breed a new kind of experimental beast, one that can be slaughtered and consumed now that the world is allegedly running out of animals to eat. Essentially, the world is farming the world dry of animals, so the United States decided to make a new animal to help out the shortage.
It's a cruel notion. The movie sees the young girl travelling literally across the world to save her superpig while getting tethered to an eco-terrorist organization somewhere along the way. But what I loved most about the movie wasn't its heartfelt tale that would make anyone consider vegetarianism, it was the breezy kid-like pacing of the movie. Like an old school Spielberg film; the type that takes its kid characters seriously.
Kids movies exist in a world of their own. Their action trots along at a fast pace, as to keep a young one's attention. Its story is often simple, but not too simple. In some of the kids movies I've loved most in recent years, they're easily relegated to a single sentence. "A girl befriends a demigod and together they save her island." "A boy goes on a journey to destroy the evil that has consumed his grandfather." In Okja, the story is just as simple: a girl tries to save her best friend, a big ol' pig, and will do so at any cost. It just so happens there's a few swear words and adult moments sprinkled in-between.
That innocent perspective and liveliness is what makes Okja so special, and my favorite movie of the year so far. It's tonally weird, mixed between humor and earnest drama, similar to the messy depiction of class disparities in Bong Joon-ho's Snowpiercer. Okja's not without flaws—it falls apart a little bit in the middle—but its opening and final third are so excellent that it's easy to forgive. While Ahn Seo-hyun, Steven Yeun, and Paul Dano are the movie's clearest highlights, Jake Gyllenhaal gives the performance of his career. Or earns the Razzie of his career, depending on how you look at it.