The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is getting a sequel that looks scarier every time I watch the trailer.
The brief tease that Nintendo unveiled at the end of their E3 2019 Direct video presentation on Tuesday, revealed a Hyrule that is largely unchanged, and yet, completely different.
The Zelda games have often used art style as a shorthand to indicate continuity — Majora’s Mask reused assets from Ocarina of Time (allowing for a breathtakingly quick year-and-a-half turnaround time); Phantom Hourglass, the DS sequel to The Wind Waker, adopted its predecessor’s cel-shaded style; and A Link Between Worlds recreated the map of its classic precursor, A Link to the Past. “Breath of the Wild 2” looks to be no different; its graphics, as seen in the trailer, are virtually indistinguishable from those used in the first game. Additionally, a quick glimpse of Hyrule shows the same prominent castle and rolling green hills that defined BOTW’s landscape. Link and Zelda even sport the same blue clothing they wore last time around.
So, on the one hand, this is clearly a sequel.
But, as a mood piece, this first look suggests a very different kind of game. The trailer finds Link and Princess Zelda (who now sports shoulder-length hair, the symbolism of which this article does a good job of unpacking) with torches in hand, inspecting the runes along the dark rock walls in a cavern seemingly located below Hyrule Castle. The oozy black malice that flowed from Calamity Ganon in the previous game seems to have vanished entirely on the surface, but remains active (if in diminished capacity) underground. A dried out body, which fans speculate is the corpse of Ganondorf (though it resembles one of the ancient monks, who once would have congratulated Link upon the completion of a shrine), is shown surrounded by tendrils of malice. A neon bright severed arm juts from his chest. His neck snaps toward the camera; his eyes lighting up with an orange glow. Above ground, the earth around Hyrule Castle shakes, sending birds flying noisily away.
In short, to quote Ikumi Nakamura, it’s spooky.
Throughout its 33-year history, The Legend of Zelda series has been many things to many people. Majora’s Mask is horror with an impressively bold central conceit. Wind Waker is an almost ageless, surprisingly open (and waterlogged) world. Link’s Awakening is indelibly strange. And Breath of the Wild is as fervently beloved as it is for pulling off the lightning-in-a-bottle feat of making exploration feel truly adventurous; like anything could be waiting for, just out of sight.
In Breath of the Wild, it felt like anything was possible, in large part because so much truly was. If you were confronted with a chasm, you could chop down a tree to bridge the gap and walk across. If you needed to scale an unclimbable barrier, you could blow yourself up. If you wanted to kill a giant sand monster with a swarm of chickens, you could. Many small decisions added up to the Hyrule of BOTW feeling uniquely ripe with potential.
But, I’ve played Breath of the Wild. I’ve poured hundreds of hours into exploring its nooks and crannies; hunting its expansive map in dogged pursuit of Korok seeds and shrines and dragon lairs across multiple playthroughs on both consoles it released on. The sense of adventure still remains — last week, I used Link’s stasis ability to push a minecart to a shrine I had never seen before, and was rewarded with an uncommonly meaty series of puzzles — but I can never experience its world for the first time again.
That’s why “Breath of the Wild 2”’s teaser is so exciting. This sequel may be set in the same world as its predecessor, but the vibe this time around is vastly different. Breath of the Wild’s colorful world invited players to explore its delightful world, but the horror of the trailer suggests a Hyrule that will push back against its players; where progress will be hard-earned. Nintendo’s last Zelda game drew comparisons to Dark Souls for the steep challenge of early game combat encounters; the ease with which even low-level enemies could send you to a “Game Over” screen. I won’t be surprised if “Breath of the Wild 2” leans further in the Dark Souls direction, embracing the terrifying monsters and oppressive world design that define From Software’s RPGs. That’s another way to make exploration exhilarating; by making progress hard-won.
I suspect that, given the success of BOTW and the kind of games the dev team is playing, “Breath of the Wild 2” will still be an open world game. But, that mood piece suggests a world of terror, not of wonder.