Riding the Backlog - Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Part 11)

By Chris Pranger

Session 11: The Rainy Season

Greetings and welcome to Riding the Backlog, a series of articles written about games I’m playing while on an exercise bike. Right now we’re tackling Breath of the Wild and we’ve just hit upon the critical mission path for the Zora quest, so let’s get right to it!

When we last left off, I had just climbed to the top of the Lanaryu Tower and scanned the area into my Sheikah Slate. My objective is to get down to the water and speak with Prince Sidon of the Zora about some problem or another. I’d love to talk with him, really I would, but there’s a shrine begging to be cleared just past the river, so I’m going to glide there first.

If you’ve been following along with this series, then you know that I also scan my Zelda amiibo at the start of every session to see if I get anything special. From here on out I’ll only mention this activity if it yields something worth mentioning. Otherwise just assume it’s happened and all I got were some herbs and fish since that’s usually all that the amiibo gods typically grant me. This time I did indeed yield some fancy results, getting the Tunic of Twilight, matching my Cap of Twilight quite nicely. Being that Twilight Princess is one of my favorite Zelda titles, this combo makes me pretty happy, though the new tunic only has a defense of 3 compared to my current armor with a defense of 7.

Gliding down from the Sheikah Tower lines me up for a new shrine, the Soh Kofi shrine, home to a Minor Test of Strength. As previously established, I first encountered a Major Test of Strength, which took everything I had to come out alive, and then followed it up with a Modest Test of Strength, which felt far simpler. This Minor Test of Strength is laughable, only taking a single melee phase and an aerial arrow-time assault before success. From here on out, any Test of Strength shrines will just feel like a nuisance since they will not offer a single new element to deal with, save for needing to create ice pillars in some rather than hiding behind stone pillars.

A quick jaunt from the shrine is my very first encounter with the Zora of the hour, Prince Sidon. You may recognize this beautiful fish man from memes and fanart as he became an instant favorite amount players, due mostly to his really cool design and iconic pose. I like him, design-wise at least. His inclusion in the game may become a bit more of an issue, but we’ll get to that.

This first encounter tells me what I sort of already knew, which is that Zora’s Domain needs help from a strong Hylian and that I look like I fit the bill. When Link tells Sidon his name, he seems to ponder on how it sounds familiar, but moves on. I’m tasked with heading down an uncharacteristically linear section of the game to Zora’s Domain where further instructions will be given.

What’s weird about this meeting is that it exemplifies something that has always irked me about Nintendo games. The first scene with Sidon is a quick cutscene where he’s fully voiced, but as soon as he leaps down from a short lookout and says hello, the game transitions back to the standard blocking and he loses his voice. I know the game is huge, but this feels lazy. I’ve already had it happen once with the king, so knowing that this will be a regular tease is downright disappointing. Maybe next game they’ll do more? Probably not.

Sidon tells me that something’s wrong with the divine beast Vah Ruta, the first divine beast I’ll end up encountering in my playthrough. Before sending me on my way, he informs me that a lot of enemies stand before me and Zora’s Domain and that they’re gonna try and electrocute the crap outta me (my words, not his). He gives me an Electro Elixir and dives back into the water.

Getting this elixir really highlights something weird: I miss bottles. There was something really satisfying about getting a new bottle in Ocarina of Time or The Wind Waker or any of those previous games since bottles were raw potential. What will you carry? Will you keep a fairy in case of emergencies? Or a strength potion to make bosses easier? Bugs to solve puzzles? A bee to attack nearby enemies? In Breath of the Wild, I can already carry all of those things and I don’t even need a bottle. That should sound great, but in practice it makes me feel like I can cheese my way through anything by pausing the game and eating all the food I need. Instead of careful planning with limited resources, I can just carry around a bushel of apples and mow down whenever I take a stray shot to the head or something.

As mentioned before, I’m locked into the most linear path of the game due to perpetual rain, and though rain would normally frustrate me to no end, this is one of my favorite sections of the game. It’s also one of my least favorite sections of the game, but at its core I’m really happy with the designers being able to take such a large chunk of the world and guide me through it as they see fit, allowing for direct moments rather than trying to plan for dozens of possible angles players could approach any given area.

It becomes apparent almost immediately that this area wants me to attack from a distance since I suddenly begin stumbling over arrows. In a short time I’ll have over 100, which makes me a wealthy man indeed. I have a few different bows with 26 attack power, pretty strong for this early portion, meaning as long as I can land critical shots the enemies of this area will die in one hit.
Said enemies turn out to be Lizalfos, predominantly of the basic green variety with a few blue ones mixed in for good measure. I eliminate them extremely easily with well-placed arrows, but if they decide to rush in my melee weapons are also more than a match for them. I do however really like the design of the Lizalfos boomerangs, simple one-handed weapons with some basic damage and short range but that act like boomerangs when you throw them. These look cool and properly chaotic, just like the Lizalfos, made even cooler when you find the deadlier triple-boomerang version from the stronger Lizalfos. The weapon variety may not feel overly deep, but the designs themselves are great for conveying a sense of depth the the world.

While traversing this narrow path that zig-zags over a river, I’m reminded of the first time I took this journey. It occurred in my Wii U playthrough and had a big stupid moment at the very beginning where I suddenly realized how the amiibo rune worked and so scanned my Link amiibo, only to be rewarded Epona. I’ve already done this in my Switch version playthrough and have Epona safely tucked away at a stable. For the Wii U playthrough, I instead had to somehow bruteforce my way through this horse-aggressive pathway, ultimately discovering that despite all the sneaky ways I got Epona to Zora’s Domain that she could not actually enter, so I had to make the whole trek back.

This journey is being made sans horse, so I can do as I please. Some debris starts to drift down the river, including logs and wooden boxes. Smashing the boxes reveal apples and arrows, a regular sight during my travels. There are also some rocks along the bank that are begging to be pushed, so for no good reason at all I shoulder them over the lip and into the water. Why? Because I am a degenerate, that’s why.

Before I’m able to continue on the path, Sidon pops out of the water to tell me that I’m not at Zora’s Domain yet, which should be obvious as I’m clearly not there yet. It’s a strange little moment because he doesn’t really give me any new advice or offer help or anything, he just pops up to remind me that if I keep going the only direction I can go that eventually I’ll get to where I need to go. Cool, thanks dude.

Heading up this next leg presents some boulders rolling down the path at me. They’re easy to sidestep, but the question becomes “did someone push those or did they just fall?” It feels like a somewhat clumsy moment for a sequence that can otherwise be so delicately paced, but no matter.

Just past these boulders are a handful of enemies in an ambush formation. Not only that but they’ve finally pulled out the shock arrows and are ready to cause some major hastles. A shot from a shock arrow isn’t terribly painful, only doing two to three hearts of my six heart lifebar, but when shot I’m also electrocuted, briefly stunning me and sometimes making me drop my shield, weapon, or bow.
I actually like these early ambushes since the enemies don’t feel overly unfair. Plus, if I’m being sneaky, I can actually spring the ambush on them, which is a good feeling. So far so good.
Following the path leads me to a very tight space blocked off by some thorns, which can’t stand up to my fire arrows. Burning the thorns away shows me a treasure chest with some measly little reward like more arrows or something. Exiting the tunnel shows that I’ve somehow turned myself around and have to double back on my initial trajectory. The trick to taking the correct path here (since I’m not using the mini map) is to follow the lanterns.
After taking care of the enemies I spy another well with a metal boulder chained to it, which gives me another Korok Seed for my efforts. Knowing that there are 900 Koroks around the world means that there are likely repeats of similar Korok puzzles to ensure that everyone gets to try them all, but the rock chained to a well seems a bit too specific to appear more than once, especially here in the middle of nowhere. Why is there a well here? Just to have a boulder chained to it? For a game that does such a great job of world building elsewhere, it also has spots like this where the level designers seemingly just started hitting copy/paste.
From there I have my second Sidon interruption where he tells me that I am not yet to Zora’s Domain but that I’m getting closer and that he’s going to keep swimming. Yes, thank you, I’ll be sure to talk to you fully once I get to the only place this path will eventually lead me.

Lightning gets added to the rain for a brief period, forcing me to put away all metal armor and weapons and go wood and cloth for a bit, which makes for a good excuse to wear my Tunic of Twilight just a bit. I think lightning as a concept is interesting, but in practice when the solution is “go into the menu and micromanage everything you’re holding, then switch back when the rain stops,” it feels like lightning is a pretty shallow inclusion.

Continuing on has me taking out a few hapless Lizalfos huddling under a rock outcrop in a makeshift camp. I chuck a bomb into their little group and detonate it right next to some explosive barrels, blowing them to kingdom come. In a very random moment, a doe happened to be prancing by the camp at that exact moment, getting herself blown up in the process and turned to steak. It’s a little sad, a little funny, and a good counter-argument to my grousing. Sometimes the weirdness of the game creates fun like that.

Sidon appears a third time to interrupt me without offering anything new, which has now gone from being a cute little thing to a full-on bother. I’m not sure if his constant popping out of the water to check on me is supposed to be a running gag to evoke humor, because if so it’s a joke that doesn’t land. Part of the problem is that I’m too overpowered to be bothered by anything on this path, with the only real enemy being the rain itself forcing me along a very specific trail.

Despite Sidon’s interruption, I’m given a chance to remark on the Zora architecture and theming. The Zora have built the bridges around this area as well as little lanterns along the pathway, and the world building gets deeper still since you can easily pick out something related to the Zora. As I’d mentioned in a previous session, the Zora style is sleek, silver, blue, and somewhat aquatic. They favor spires and elegance while the vegetation nearby looks like a type of coral. It’s very cool.

Running up this path presents more falling boulders, which are yet again easily sidestepped. Not a few steps past those first falling rocks and I’m stopped by a path-blocking boulder that appears like it was just sitting, waiting for me to see it so that it could instantly roll into the way. If the first rocks seemed clumsy, this one feels downright amateurish.

A little beyond, I have my first encounter with a large wall of ancient text in a series called History of the Zora. The stone carvings tell the story of the Zora people, adding to the lore in a strange way. Yes, it’s nice to learn more about the Zora, worldbuilding is always a plus. However, the fact that this important history is written in random locations all around the area, not necessarily along the path and not necessarily in order, totally busts that feeling of stumbling into the world. These are video-gamey locations to find for a quest, not actual world building. Tisk tisk.

Moving on, I come to an area with much teeth gnashing. Lizalfos are stationed around this narrow corridor through the wet cliffs with their shock arrows ready, placed in such a way that there’s always a Lizalfos ready to fire. Normally I could just use the ol’ serpentine method to dodge arrows, but since these are shock arrows and everything is wet, I’m getting shocked constantly from splash damage, quite literally. It’s clever that electrocuting the puddles I’m standing in actually hits me, but not so fun when it means there’s no way to avoid the damage. My only tactic is to bull-headedly charge forward until I’m able to kill every last Lizalfos, chewing through my supply of apples and herbs along the way.
With the locale beset by rain, exploration off the defined route is discouraged. However, looking around even a little bit shows me a few more Zora history inscriptions. These, sadly, are not really meant to be found just yet. Most of the ones within sight are located across the river and down below, meaning that gliding to them will result in a full progress reset. I do manage to locate one fairly near my current location, just a quick hop/glide down from a ledge, but after reading the lore I’m left without a way back up other than to keep going down to where this portion of the path began.

My second run along the path once more has me dodging the same trio of random rolling rocks, followed by the large path-blocking boulder. This confirms my suspicions about the rocks. Seeing them behave weirdly once is fine, but seeing that they reset to their default locations as soon as I lose sight of them is a real disappointment.

I make it to another bridge, this one far above the river. I must have crossed four bridges at this point. This region shall henceforth be known as Bridgetown, Hyrule. The bridges themselves are just flat pathways that cross over the river, but the Zora architecture gives them further purpose as part of the world.

And of course crossing the bridge means that Sidon feels the need to pop his head out of the water to let me know that I’m almost to Zora’s Domain and also that there’s a monster right behind me, look out!

It’s a strange little moment, but the game transitions from this little text conversation scene to actual gameplay in a slow, awkward sort of stumble as a blue Moblin lumbers up behind me with a giant club. He doesn’t pose much of a threat, but in essence this should feel like a cool encounter on a rainy bridge similar to the coolest Zelda bridge encounter in Twilight Princess against King Bulblin. It falls flat, but it’s a nice attempt anyway.

From this bridge I can see Zora’s Domain proper, looking otherworldly and impressive not too far in the distance. I should be able to reach the settlement after rounding one more ridge.

Along the way are more deer. I make a valiant effort to hop on and ride a doe, but she bucks me off too easily. See, taming the animals--usually horses--involves sneaking up behind them, jumping onto their backs, and hitting the left shoulder button to sooth the creature in an attempt to gain their trust. The first horses you encounter are trash ponies, so they take very little convincing. All the wild animals you can ride though, those will require some stamina strategies, either via having an expanded stamina meter or by replenishing stamina through meals or elixirs in the pause menu. Regardless of the answer, I didn’t have the means to tame that deer. It’s a real shame.

Continuing on raises my hackles with the telltale jingle/giggle of a Wizzrobe of the electric persuasion. My bow is strong and my aim is true, so a few critical face shots and some shin slashes end the wizard before it can even pop off a shock spell. I’ve already got an electric rod, so it feels pointless to pick up this other one. A simple enemy simply dispelled.

While the terrain is slick, it’s still easy enough to climb up the rocks and make it to the peak of an overlook. At the top is a small rock that when picked up makes a Korok appear. I remember this being a fairly regular occurrence with Koroks acting as the rewards for scaling most mountains, so I’m not overly surprised to find one here.

While up this high, I finally get a decent look off in the distance and spy Vah Ruta, or at least his trunk as it pops out of a lake and sprays water continually upward, seemingly the cause of all the rain the area is getting. I sort of like that little bit of plot building as it grounds an otherwise arbitrary phenomenon of perpetual rain in a believable explanation.

Speaking of the vista, dang does rain tank the visuals and the draw distance. Everything looks muddy as far as the eye can see, which isn’t overly far considering how hazy everything is. Sure, it’s somewhat accurate to the effect rain would have on an area, but it’s still depressing to get up high and be greeted with blah.

I glide down from this peak and land right in front of the final bridge into Zora’s Domain, being delivered an impressive sight. Zora’s Domain is a village high above the river, suspended via the same sort of architecture I previously mentioned (long, sleek pillars bathed in silver and blue). There’s also a large mermaid tail motif happening high above everything, which completes the package nicely. I took a lot of pictures here using the Switch’s photo feature, partly because it was so pretty.

Since this is Zora’s Domain, I encounter more Zora, demonstrating that, similar to the Rito, the Zora models are diverse, meaning it’s not just the same fish person each time. Different colors, different sizes, different shapes, different features. All of this adds up to make the Zora feel like a real race rather than “the fish ones.”

Right at the entrance stands a pair of guards. I talk to one named Riven (hah) and he immediately remembers Link, indicating that he is a 130-year-old Zora. Riven gets a little confused, first happy to see Link and then certain that Link should be dead since Hylians don’t live for hundreds of years like the Zora.

This brings up a very quick thought: what have the Zora been doing for the past 100 years? Zora’s Domain looks great, not a single scratch on it. Some of the locals scoff at me with a few remembering who I am and that I’m a failure, but none of them seem to mention that they too are failures. Or maybe they’re not since nothing bad seemed to happen to the Zora people until Vah Ruta began causing endless rain? Seems even more strange that rain would be an issue for fish people but whatever.

In the middle of Zora’s Domain is a statue of the former Champion, Mipha. This is a pretty cool monument and brings the area together nicely. The Zora standing next to the statue tells me how great of a healer Mipha was, and that it was tragic that she died during Calamity Ganon’s rise 100 years ago, but as for the full story I’ll have to wait until next session.

But first there’s a shrine hiding in plain sight on the lower level of Zora’s Domain, acting as the necessary quick-travel spot for the village. This is the Ne-ez Tohma shrine, home to the Pushing Power trial, and this one is a doozy. I really wasn’t expecting much for a shrine located in a village, but I was certainly wrong.

The shrine is made up of one main puzzle. Most of the shrine is on a slope with various shapes popping up to create semi-pathways from the top to the bottom. While water trickles down the incline, so too do stone balls. At the top of the incline is a special orb seated on a high pedestal. My task is to get the orb down the incline and into a slot at the bottom.

It looks simple, and it probably is, but for me it got stupid real fast. Or rather, I got stupid real fast. In attempting to climb the incline I kept taking heavy damage from the stone balls, dumbly walking around a corner into a pair of them clacking together on me, and more than once having a ball roll me right off the edge and into the abyss. I’m not proud of how many apples I ultimately consumed before completing the trial.

Eventually the stone balls stopped rolling down at me, but now I had a new problem of getting the shrine orb down the ramp. I determined that I’d need to use stasis to freeze the orb in place and inflict some damage to at least knock it off of its pedestal, an assumption that was accurate. Arrows weren’t generating enough oomph to push it, but some bombs were. My first attempt sent the orb flying off the edge of the shrine, having to reset. My second attempt was very similar, but by the third attempt I’d figured out what I needed to do.

As the orb rolled down the incline, it ended up getting stuck between a pair of stone balls. Instead of more stasis here, I opted for some cryonis and lifted it up and over the balls. When it reached the end of the incline I hit it with stasis and poked it in the direction of the hole very slowly. I didn’t want to accidentally shoot it too far past the hole, so after three different stasis usages, I’d succeeded and claimed a Spirit Orb for my trouble.

But enough balls, it’s time to meet up with Sidon and get the full story of why he kept bothering me. Or rather, it WILL be time in the next session. Come back then to see how I can aid the fish people!
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