Riding the Backlog - Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Part 5)

By Chris Pranger

Session 5: Onward to Kakariko
Welcome again to Riding the Backlog, the only article series (to my knowledge) where the writer plays a video game while riding an exercise bike and then writes about it. I’ve been riding while playing Breath of the Wild and I just activated a Sheikah Tower next to the valley between the twin peaks on my way to Kakariko Village. Let’s pick things up!

When we last left off, I’d gained an ability called the Sheikah Sensor, pointing me in the direction of nearby shrines. Immediately upon activation it starting pinging, letting me know that paragliding off the tower should lead me closer to the shrine. And that’s exactly what I do!

While on the ground again, I take the chance to do my daily amiibo scan. I get the typical fare, with herbs, fish, and some barrels from Ganon, though his barrels are full of Rupees so maybe he’s not such a bad guy after all. Toon Link also provides another boomerang, giving me two. The weapons you gain from amiibo tend to have some added properties, with one boomerang having a bit more attack power than the typical boomerang and one having a bit more durability. These little bonus perks are quite nice, but you’ll find yourself hoarding these weapons more than others since there’s a part of your brain that’s convinced you’ll need to save these until the perfect moment, but then the weapon drops surpass the weapons you’ve been holding onto and make hoarding pointless. It’s a constant struggle.

Being off the Great Plateau grants me a new amiibo bonus from my Smash Link amiibo: Epona. She is the best horse in the game and totally borks an entire mechanic, that of finding, taming, and forming a relationship with your horses. Normally, you’ll find wild horses all around Hyrule that you can sneak up behind and mount. Breaking them in requires stamina and without enough stamina you’ll be bucked from the horse and probably have to try again. Acquiring a horse means something, especially since you have to get it to like you before you can register it at a stable, and then when you do you get to name it. I don’t mind this system, but the Link amiibo takes that and throws it away, which is a shame because I’m using the Link amiibo to try and get some new clothes, not a horse.

Epona is THE horse for Zelda games, dating back to Ocarina of Time. She appeared again in Majora’s Mask, though it just now dawns on me that we never actually learn how Link managed to get Epona between the two games. Was it a gift from Zelda for when he left Hyrule? Did he tell her all about this awesome horse he had as an adult and then Zelda though, “Eh, why not, I’ll just go buy it for you from Lon Lon Ranch”? These are the real hard-hitting mysteries the no one has been brave enough to address until now.

I think it’s a major strike in the negative column that Epona can only be obtained via amiibo, first because she would have been much cooler if any player could find her in the world, perhaps as part of a side quest late in the game. Cutting off content from players who don’t own an amiibo is garbage, which is why it’s frustrating that I can’t get a wolf companion unless I have the Wolf Link amiibo and can’t get the classic NES Zelda tunic unless I have the 8-bit Link amiibo. Shameful.

Secondly, having Epona now before I’ve even been instructed in how to catch and raise horses means that once I learn how, it’ll feel pointless. “I know that you already have a horse with max stats, but would you like to learn how to catch a trash horse instead?” Huge blind spot in development. Either buy an extra piece of plastic to unlock something in the game and make an entire feature pointless, or ignore the piece of plastic and never get that thing. That doesn’t feel good any way you look at it.

I’m not much for horses anyway, so while I’ll ride Epona through the ravine and follow the river, I’m not doing so because I really want to. More that I have to take her with me to then go dump her at a stable in a little bit, otherwise she’ll just be stuck somewhere in the overworld and it’s not like she comes when I call her from two feet away anyway.

While galloping along the bank of the river, I start to see chunks of sparkling, differently colored rocks. Pulling out my iron hammer I go to work on them, busting the rock with one swing and gaining some precious ore in the process. Still don’t know what they do, but this method of mining is way more satisfying than what you see in Skyrim.

Also along the river is a new enemy, Lizalfos. Hey, another classic! These first show up in Ocarina of Time inside of fire-themed dungeons, but here they’re clearly water-based lizards, swimming through the river and squirting blasts of water at me. Lizalfos are obnoxious since they like to keep their distance, camping and firing the water squirts at me before I back up far enough that they need to quickly slink toward me.

My shrine sensor is still pinging, pointing me to a new shrine along the way, this one the Ree Dahee shrine and the trial Timing is Critical. I like this shrine a lot because the puzzle concept is simple but effective. You step on a button and a platform tilts while a ball drops. Your goal is to get it to properly roll and land in a hole to activate a floating platform. I like that one of these tilting platforms requires you to step off the button at just the right time to fling the ball upward a little, shooting it into the hole. It makes me feel clever, so this shrine gets a solid thumbs up from me.

There’s also a bonus chest in the shrine in clear sight, but one that requires some thinking. After activating the floating platform, I can step on the button and tilt the platform, which I need to run up to access the chest, but stepping off the button tilts the platform back. There are two solutions here, with the first being to get to the other side and find a metal barrel, then carry it back and place it on the button. The second option, which is what I used, is to press the button and then use stasis on it, keeping the button depressed for a few seconds. I like that this bonus puzzle has two solutions since it really does make me feel like I’m using Galaxy Brain there. Even better, the bonus chest contains the climber’s bandana, which is an essential item for the game. I’ve got a hat and my climbing speed is improved! Huzzah!

After getting my Spirit Orb, I make it through the twin peaks and discover the Dueling Peaks Stable. Stables are outposts brimming with life. You’ll usually find a merchant around here, you can board your horse and change their saddle out or update their mane, you can chat with other people and learn about quests of game mechanics, and you can rest in the inn to replenish hearts. It works very well to stave off the feeling of loneliness that can hit when exploring the world, letting you find these stables and connect with fellow Hyruleans in a safe place.
Speaking of merchants, our buddy Beedle is hanging out here. Beedle first appeared in The Wind Waker, being the game’s primary merchant in his special ship that roamed the sea. Here he does something very similar, wandering Hyrule with his bug-shaped backpack and selling random items such as bugs. Mostly, he’s a good place to stop and restock with arrows or dump a bunch of spoils for Rupees.

I overhear a pair of adventurers (possibly of the ne’er-do-well variety) talking about some treasure they’re looking to score. They get defensive when they find me listening to their conversation, but eventually tell me they’ll let me in on the hunt as long as I give them 100 Rupees, which feels like a scam. I don’t got that kind of money, punks!

Horse stables always have a shrine located nearby since shrines are fast-travel points and stables need to be quickly travelled to a lot. An archeologist is gazing at one sitting in some water with spikes surrounding it, commenting on the appearance of shrines and their purpose. I like that this shrine requires some thinking to get inside since the spikes present a simple and immediate problem that must be overcome. I choose the obvious solution, which is to use my cryosis rune to create an ice block near the spikes, then jump over them and into the shrine.

Said shrine is the Ha Dahmar shrine, host of a trial called The Water Guides. This is a shrine that stars the cryosis rune and shows just how nifty it can be, tasking you with creating frozen platforms right out of waterfalls. The classic Nintendo puzzle structure is at work here, giving you a problem (get up to the next platform by using cryosis to make an ice block), adding some risk (do it again but botching it makes you fall to your death), and then forcing the player to show mastery of the concept (using cryosis on a waterfall wall to properly guide a glowing ball to the activation hole). Best yet, the bonus treasure chest in this shrine holds a Purple Rupee (worth 50), which definitely feels like a reward this early on. Maybe I do got that kind of money, punks!

Leaving the shrine with my Spirit Orb, I see that the surrounding spikes have disappeared, as has the archeologist, which is a shame because I was certain that I’d blown her mind and wanted to hear her say as much. Sometimes the game rewards you with similar interactions, but not this time.

Right behind the shrine is a waterfall, and, I’m sure like many other players, having been tasked with using cryosis to climb a short waterfall, I feel the urge to climb a full-sized one just for the hell of it. What’s at the top? Absolutely nothing save for the satisfaction of climbing a waterfall and then gliding back down because I can.

I’m presented with a fork in the road, either sending me to Kakariko Village or Hateno Village. My next objective is in Kakariko, so we’re heading left. I’ll definitely come back this way to go to Hateno though since this particular pathway is looooooooaded with worldbuilding and I adore it.

On the path I find a really big Korok-looking fellow named Hestu, a name that should prickle the brains of observant players. This is the guy the Koroks first mentioned, which seems like he’s fairly important. I’ve got a handful of Korok Seeds rattling around in my pocket, so I’d love to find out what they’re for. Turns out Hestu is experiencing a bit of a problem as his maracas were recently stolen by some Bokoblins literally around the corner. He asks me to get them back, so I oblige.

It’s sort of weird that the Bokoblins in question managed to set up camp just a few yards away from where they mugged Hestu, and not only that, they built a little lookout platform and put a challenge chest on it, then put the maracas inside it and somehow enchanted the chest to only unlock when the three of them died. That’s weird and breaks all semblance of realism and I don’t care, I’m all for nonsense video game logic.

Once I return Hestu’s maracas he is both delighted and then immediately sad again, now because he realized that the Koroks managed to swipe the innards of the maracas that made them shake. Turns out those innards are Korok Seeds, so smelling the Korok Seeds on me perks Hestu right back up, offering to increase my inventory slots for some seeds.

This is definitely one of the big reasons that you NEED to travel this way early on in the game because more inventory slots is essential to success. Hestu is the only way to be able to carry more weapons, bows, and shields, and the more slots you have the less micromanagement you have to do. Part of me is guessing that Hestu appears in other parts of the world should you choose to go in those directions instead, but another part of me believes this is the only path that works. There are still a few other absolute essentials along this critical path, but I’ll make my stink when I get to them. For now, Hestu lets me give him three total Korok Seeds to expand my weapon slots by two, giving me a total of 10.

It’s just a little ways further to Kakariko through another small ravine. Along the way I manage to solve another puzzle block Korok challenge, plus the archway into Kakariko has a lot of suspicious arrows sticking out of an emblem that sort of looks like a target, begging me to add my arrow to the mix. Wouldn’t you know it, that makes another Korok appear.

This path also brings up another aspect of the game, that of random travelers. As you’re wandering around Hyrule, you’ll come across other Hyruleans just walking along the roads as well. Some of them happen to be selling various supplies, sort of like Diet Beedle merchants. They still go a long way toward making this Hyrule feel the most rich and full of life than any other version has ever felt. I liked the Great Sea in The Wind Waker, but there were very few other travelers on boats or islands. Twilight Princess has a great Hyrule Field, but it’s still lacking common travelers. In Breath of the Wild, it feels like Hyrule is vast and that people actually do live in it. Imagine that.

Kakariko Village is a welcome sight, being a Japanese-inspired village protected on all sides by tall cliffs. It feels pretty much required by all Japanese games to include “the Japanese village” eventually, especially prominent here since the Zelda series has yet to fall into that trope. I don’t mind it here in the slightest as it helps to establish each township as very different from one another.

While just sort of taking in the village, I get my first hint at an enemy beyond Ganon, that being the Yiga Clan, a sort of rival faction to the Sheikah and Kakariko. I don’t know anything about them other than they serve Ganon and are bad news, but the hint is enough to get me curious.

Since this is the first real village I’ve visited, I get to enjoy the fruits of civilization, such as supply stores, an inn, and a clothing store where I’m able to buy some real pants, not these default “I’m not in boxer briefs anymore” level 1 pants. They finally cover all of Link’s legs! Perfect!

I’m almost to my objective, but before entering the main hut, I see a set of frog statues, each with a basin in front of them. Four of the five basins have an apple in them, so I add an apple to the fifth, prompting a Korok to appear. Yet another aha moment to let me know to always have apples in my pockets.

Climbing the steps into the hut also has me meet with Lady Impa’s granddaughter and attendant, Paya. This meeting with Link struck me as particularly hilarious not because of the dialogue but because of the way Link looks when he’s talking to her. He’s standing with one leg up on the steps, hands on his belt, giving out some real manly vibes, and this poor girl is utterly unsure how to proceed, so she’s panicked. Ridiculous and uncomfortable and worth an absurd chuckle.

At last Link meets with Lady Impa, the leader of the Sheikah and Kakariko Village. She’s an old woman who’s been around for more than 100 years, saying that she knew Link from way back before he got wrecked by Ganon’s forces. This is also when we get crystal clear confirmation that Link has amnesia and can’t remember a thing which, eh, I’d care more if the story wasn’t already pretty clear on everything. It’s not like there’s some truth yet to learn about Link or his past. He’s a stoic nice guy now and he was a stoic nice guy back then too.

What Lady Impa does do is provide context for the real legend, the realest legend yet, this one dating back to 10,000 years ago. It actually takes a moment to realize that Impa is talking about revealing backstory as far back as backstories go, and 10,000 years is a really weird flex, but Hyrule was home to a super technologically advanced civilization way back in the day, resulting in the creation of the Divine Beasts and the Guardians. 10,000 years ago, a version of Link and a version of Zelda teamed up with the Champions to beat Ganon back. It took Ganon 9,900 years to recover from that apparently, which is when he returned and “killed” Link the first time.

Overall, this addition to the backstory doesn’t really give us any new information other than...actually no, it gives us no new information. We already knew that Hyrule of 100 years ago had unearthed the Divine Beasts and the Guardians and that four Champions were involved and that Ganon had been defeated at some point in the past but not for good. Impa’s story just reiterates that but places the timeline even further back. The point she really wants to deliver is that I now have further objectives added with spots added to my map, first to reclaim my memories by starting in Hateno Village, and second to learn more about the Divine Beasts by interacting with the other races of the world in the four corners of the world.

The whole time I’ve been in Kakariko, my shrine sensor has been beeping, which makes sense considering how fast travel works in BotW, requiring a shrine to exist at key places for warping purposes. So far the only exception is the rejuvenation cave which also acts as a fast-travel point. It’s weird, yo.

The pinging is coming from a shrine overlooking the village, just up a short pathway. This is Ta’loh Naeg shrine, definitely another tutorial shrine that presents the first combat challenge of the game, though “challenge” is used rather loosely here. In reality, this shrine is here to teach you the essentials of combat, including the flurry rush attack that you perform from either side-stepping or backflipping right as an enemy attacks, the shield parry for knocking enemies back right as they strike, and the charged attack for added damage. All of these are essential tools every player needs to know, and if you followed the core of Breath of the Wild’s world design and ignored the mainline quests to go explore, you’d have missed it entirely.

All of this really feels like stuff that should have been included on the Great Plateau. I shouldn’t be learning essential combat techniques now, I should have the whole game opened up for me to go get lost and find my own path. It all comes down to shrines being specific to locations in the overworld despite all shrines having the same aesthetic and in no way scaling like the rest of the game. Shrines should load randomly according to the game’s scale with some exceptions for shrines that require a riddle to enter it or something like that. That solves the problem of some player missing vital information entirely. Either you want players to follow the strict narrative, or you want them to explore. You have to pick one.

Now that I’ve completed another four shrines and have four Spirit Orbs, I can trade them again for either a heart container or more stamina. In my first playthrough, I thought I could only do this at the statue of the Goddess Hylia in the Temple of Time back on the Great Plateau, but in reality you can do this at any mini goddess statue as well, which most villages have. Detail I missed the first time and am pretty sure isn’t explained to the player ever.

Before running to Kakariko’s Hylia statue I press on into the trees above the village, encountering a glowing blue bunny creature. Shooting it with an arrow makes it drop Rupees, which is excellent. After the first shot it’s really difficult to tag it again since it starts zigging and zagging like crazy, but I do manage to get a nice bit of pocket change before it disappears.

Just past this rabbit spirit is a strange cactus plant in the middle of a pool of water with pink fairies hovering all around. As an experienced Zelda player, this is a good sign, but one that has me scrambling for either a net or a bottle since this game hasn’t pointed out to me that, “Hey, you pick everything up with your bare hands this time.” That means fairies are easier to catch than ever and that I’m not restricted on how many I can carry, so I creep around and nab all five. Fairies can heal me right up if I’m injured, but they also act as a last-ditch save if I deplete all of my hearts. In Breath of the Wild, fairies replenish five hearts, which isn’t much but being saved from death is nothing to sneeze at.

The cactus itself turns out to have something inside of it. According to the entity, it is a Great Fairy and it requires Rupees to live again. All of that seems highly suspicious to me, but I take the bait. Unfortunately, the Rupee fee is 100 and I only have 60, so I’m no good here.

A quick trip back to town has me walk into the convenience store and sell 10 opals, valued at 60 Rupees appiece, sending me back into the world a rich man indeed. Now that’s some walking around money! I debate going back to the clothing store and purchasing the rest of the armor sets, but nothing is stronger than my current build, so there’s no need.

Giving the cactus lady 100 Rupees restores her fountain to its former radiance, revealing one hell of a Great Fairy. Each Zelda game has a different interpretation of the Great Fairy, with early Zelda games just making them look like large fairies or shimmering goddesses. Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask turned them into the more sexually liberated versions that we tend to remember as they’re curvy and proud to flaunt that fact a bit more. I remember being really uncomfortable as a kid first seeing the Great Fairy, thinking I’d get in trouble if my mom walked in to see me playing during that part.

In BotW, the Great Fairy near Kakariko Village is a glorious dynamo, well worth donating my 100 Rupees. She even offers to enhance my clothing, which is a definite perk. This is how Breath of the Wild handles upgrading, with each piece of clothing requiring certain ingredients to upgrade it. Some are simple and just need mushrooms or basic items, but others require more advanced parts from monsters or, in the case of my Tunic of Winds, a star fragment, which is super rare. For the time being I’m able to enhance my climber’s bandana from 3 defense to 5, as well as my new pants. Enhanced my pants. I feel like I can take on the world.

Back in Kakariko, I stop in at the arrow store to grab a few bundles, just to try and keep stocked. The shopkeeper gives me a simple task of lighting the torches around the Goddess statue next to the shop, which is done by dipping my arrow tips in a fire and tagging each of the four torches. Once lit she rewards me with some Rupees, then further mentions that her and her husband are currently separated, which is a really weird moment for the game to include. I don’t know this woman, and already she’s sharing some super personal information, and weirder still, it doesn’t feel like it has a place in this Zelda game at all. On the other hand, this is a chance to see how a Zelda game can handle a super serious real-world situation. It’s just...well I don’t care about this woman’s problems at all and want to leave the village ASAP because I have much more important things to do. Listen, lady, I’m suffering from amnesia and an ancient evil is about to devastate this land, I don’t care if you and your weiner of a husband aren’t getting along. I don’t care to learn your name. I don’t even care enough to SPEAK. Go find the Hyrulean equivalent of a marriage counselor and let me buy these damn arrows, jeez.

I retrace my steps back toward the fork in the road, though along the way I encounter a traveler that waves me over. This random guy asks me if I’d like to join the Yiga Clan, which is a hard no from me, prompting him to transform into a Yiga Clan member himself and start ninjaing at me something crazy hard. Yiga Clan members look pretty cool with a very assassiny look and a sickle weapon. They can also vanish and reappear for quick strikes. Killing this guy lets me swipe his gnarly looking weapon and some bananas for some reason that actually makes sense later.

For now we save and quit since I’ve been on the exercise bike for 90 minutes and it’s time to rest for the day. In the next session, we make our way to Hateno Village in search of further answers. See you then!
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