Just when I thought I couldn’t get any more excited for Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Nintendo worked their old black magic and, predictably, raised my hype to a higher plane. Say what you will about Nintendo’s presentation to promote their new console, they closed it with one humdinger of a trailer. Now I would buy anything with the word Zelda on the box (and have—yes, I’m talking the Complete Animated Series here), but this trailer seems to have gotten everyone excited for the game— even the usually jaded crowd on NeoGAF. Just peep this forum thread: word on the street is it might be the best trailer for a Zelda game ever!
But let’s slow it down there. This might just be the anticipation talking. Zelda releases are Nintendo’s matinee events, and they’ve put out some truly amazing trailers for their games over the years. Could the Breath of the Wild trailer really be the best ever? To answer that, we’ve first got to break down just why it’s getting such a strong reaction from the internet. Let’s start with…
The fundamental promise of Zelda games lies in their ability to the give players the impression that they are exploring a landscape far greater than themselves. The original Legend of Zelda’s central conceit was free exploration of a large map, and Nintendo outdid themselves when they first led us into a fully 3D Hyrule Field in Ocarina of Time. Breath of the Wild is supposed to be the first truly open-world modern installment of the series, and it’s appropriate that this trailer opens with shots of vast landscapes, untamed but not lifeless, including a snowy valley (aww, the snow fox!) and desert plateau (ahhh… the sand… walruses??). After these “establishing shots” the trailer transitions to an over-the-shoulder view of our hero, Link, looking ready to guide us into the wilds that have just captivated our wanderlust.
Zelda doesn’t just give the player a large world, but a way of moving around in it that is new and exciting, whether it be on a horse, a bird, a boat or a train. In this trailer, we see Link ride his horse across the plain and glide out over treetops: Breath of the Wild promises us freedom of movement, a freedom that is fun in itself. Next, the trailer shows Link engaged in combat with enemies, because what is a wilderness without danger? Some promise an intimate showdown, others push him into a corner in the frame with their massive size. These are the two kinds of encounters that have distinguished Zelda since Ocarina of Time: the first variety emphasizes the swordplay of childhood samurai fantasy, the second the resourcefulness of a Jack the Giant-Killer or Odysseus as he faces an apparently invincible foe.
Each installment of Zelda, with a few exceptions, has no direct continuity with the plot of the previous games. Nevertheless, they are all linked by certain constants: hero Link, damsel Zelda, baddie Ganon (to name a few), and each game makes nods to the ones before it. This trailer sticks firmly to that legacy by including a shot of the perennial Master Sword that echoes its original concept art from pre-1991, surely touching a lot of old-timers in the process. We are introduced to other familiar elements recast in a new light: witness the “more-kawaii-than-ever” Princess Zelda, ominous phantom in the shape of the pig-beast Ganon, and Hyrule Castle in full, blinding glory. That some of the dialogue hints that the story will take place on either side of a one hundred year interval only further emphasizes the themes of timelessness and ruin that have pervaded the franchise for almost two decades now.
If it wasn’t clear already, I’ll just say it: this is a masterfully crafted trailer. By the halfway mark, it has promised us beauty, freedom, excitement and nostalgia. But no other moment leaves as deep an impression as this: Zelda breaking down in tears. It’s already a beautifully composed shot, but the dynamic head-toss and her convincing expression of anguish establish it as the emotional high-point of the trailer. More than this, it’s surprising. Though Zelda games are known to invest players emotionally, they have never had anything quite this dramatic. Remember, too, that all installments up until now have eschewed the voice that other games have used to tell their stories for more than twenty years, making them something like the equivalents of silent movies if they were made in the 1950s. This commitment to emotion is an innovative one, aimed at impressing a modern audience used to the high quality of modern television and with a craving for Pixar-level feels.
Music has been one of the strongest and most sacred pillars of the Zelda franchise since the beginning. Songs from past games have taken on the air of classical works—there’s a reason these concerts sell out. The score is not particularly memorable in comparison to the other elements I’ve mentioned, but it’s essential to the overall effect the trailer has on us as it guides us from beat to beat— piano for the moments of quiet beauty, orchestra and choir for grandeur. As we draw near the Master Sword, we get an ominous variation on the iconic “Secret Sound” that typically plays when the player solves a puzzle; in the last moments, the soundtrack breaks into an awe-inspiring reprise of the enduring “Overworld Theme” from 1986. Though this trailer’s soundtrack may not go down in history, it is fully tapped in to the Zelda tradition and plays an admirable supporting role to the visuals and pacing that make the work as a whole a contender for greatness.
This is a meticulously well thought-out and executed trailer. It’s split into sections that serve an individual purpose, each building on the last. We’ve been introduced to new environments. We’ve been sold on the adventure-potential of the game as we never had before. We’ve been given a heaping-helping of fan-service, as is fitting for a franchise with as large and rabid a following as Zelda. I haven’t even mentioned the meaty 3:49 runtime and the many, many hints at the game’s story that the creators have jam-packed into it. As I write this, scores of eagle-eyed Zelda detectives are poring over its every detail. Even after the game is out and the hype is over, however, this piece of work will deserve to be watched carefully by students of the promotional art.
Is it the best of all time, though? I’ll ask you again: what’s the rush, cowboy? Of course I want do to say this might be the GOAT, but we’ve got to simmer down a little before we can make a judgment like that, at least until after the game comes out. For now, take a moment to savor this awesome trailer and embrace the hype for Breath of the Wild that it instills in you. If this trailer’s promises hold true, the final product might even be as enthralling as the first season finale of the animated series. And that's a pretty high bar.