When Will Gaming Studios Retire The ‘Breath of the Wild’ Landscape Shot?
Looking RIGHT AT YOU, Sonic Frontiers.
If you were to ask me what my favorite moment in gaming history is, I’d start painting you a picture. You’re a beloved character, being told to wake up in a stone coffin-looking thing. You put on some tattered clothes and stumble through a cave imbued with mysterious, ancient technology that feels distinctly tomb-like. The door opens, and you climb through ruins into the sunlight. You run out to the cliff, where you suddenly see the game’s landscape spread majestically before you, tiny in comparison. Welcome to Breath of the Wild, bitches.
For me, watching Breath of the Wild‘s big opening cutscene now, years later, still sends a chill through my spine. It still evokes the sense of magic, wonder, and excitement I felt in that moment, and which I’ve been chasing in video games ever since. But in the five years since Breath of the Wild‘s release (and as I wait eagerly-yet-patiently for the sequel), I’ve learned that the copying of this specific moment is definitely not going to inspire this same feeling again. Unfortunately, gaming studios have not gotten that memo.
As with anything popular and groundbreaking, multiple studios experienced the same cutscene as I did and thought to themselves, “The people love this! Let’s do it on our thing, and then it will also be good and popular!” And so, since The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild‘s release in 2017, we’ve seen this shot redone over and over again. A character will run out onto a cliff and see a gorgeous landscape. It’s become the way that a studio signifies, “Look at me! I’m an open-world game!” Bonus points if there’s a castle. It was magical the first time. Now, it’s been wrung out into a tired trope.
Take Tower of Fantasy, the new Genshin Impact-like MMORPG. Within the first ten minutes of the game, you play through your first taste of combat and pass out. Some unfamiliar strangers pick you up, and you awaken in their tech-y cave home. From there, you run out onto the cliffside and… ooh, music and the titles while surveying the wide new landscape you find yourself in! Sure seems familiar! I mean, hell, look at the key art.
Genshin Impact, of course, also has a ton of Breath of the Wild influence. Remember its announcement trailer? Literally, within the first fifteen seconds, the main character wakes up, heads to a (pointy) cliffside, and looks out upon the majestic landscape.
But the desire to recreate Breath of the Wild‘s magical opening hasn’t stopped at new series seeking a familiar foothold in the market. Established series with beloved characters — as established and beloved as The Legend of Zelda and Link — are getting in on this, too. For example, the entire premise of Sonic Frontiers seems to be, “What if Breath of the Wild, but Sonic?” Fans are concerned that Sonic Frontiers won’t actually feel like a Sonic game. Again, LOOK AT THE KEY ART. They’re using a version of this as the COVER.
Cliff! Castle! Green, open fields! Blue skies! It’s the same shot. Again and again and again. I’m losing my goddamn mind. It’s gone. Calamity Ganon’s gross muck got me after all, all those years ago.
Other branches of Nintendo are even getting in on the fun. Granted, I’m a bit hypocritical on this one, because a Breath of the Wild-like open-world Pokémon game is basically what I want most in the whole wide world. But it’s quite clear that the not-quite-open world Pokémon Legends: Arceus was channeling some Breath of the Wild vibes. The score in particular is very Breath of the Wild-y. They did a better job of riffing on the “cliffside epic view” theme, but again, look at the game’s key art which was condensed into the cover.
As a nice counter-example, take Elden Ring. Like Breath of the Wild, Elden Ring starts in a weird, creepy tomb-like place, and then — of course — dumps you into a sunny field. But that’s all it does. It doesn’t go for The Big Shot. A huge asset to differentiate Elden Ring in the open-world landscaping realm is that you’re always look up at the Erdtree.
Look. I know. Breath of the Wild is incredible. It is literally my favorite game of all time. But hey, with all love and respect — gaming studios? Constantly referencing Breath of the Wild, or using it as a starting point to show how epic your game is, isn’t going to win your game favors. It’s just going to make me wish I was playing Breath of the Wild instead. Still.
If I’m not playing Breath of the Wild, then as a gamer, I want to experience new ways which make an open-world game feel epic. Show me what’s different about your game, please. I’d like this era of games feeling tied to somehow one-upping Breath of the Wild on its own turf to be done with, thank you.
(featured image: Nintendo)
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