Updated: Apr 15, 2019
Ever since I was a child, I've always had a love for Zelda games, particularly Ocarina of Time, Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks (which are all great games if you've never played them!). However, the most recent instalment in the franchise, Breath of the Wild, really tops it for me. Visually, the game is stunning, especially due to the open world nature of the game- but I also love the cell shaded style. It gives the game a fresh feel, and although stylised, somehow creates a more tangible feel than previous Zelda games. I'd like to share some of my favourite views achieved in the game and share concept art designs for different characters, clothes, enemies and environments.
I love how far into the distance Link can see when he's standing high up - you can really feel the time put into designing the landscapes so that whether they are viewed up close or far away, they still look impressive. I particularly love the way the grass is animated in the second screenshot below; it sways in the wind, giving texture to the ground, making it feel much more realistic.
I really love the combat in this game. Despite the fact that every weapon you pick up breaks really quickly (which can leave you defenceless at very inconvenient times) there's a wide range of weapons to choose from. This means that you can play to your strengths, which for me means only using the bow and arrow if I really really have to because I have terrible aim. I also really love the range of enemy designs in the game- from stone octopus like laser shooters to giant one-eyed trolls, dragons, and teleporting thieves disguised as people who need your help, you encounter new enemies wherever you go. I really like the variety in the designs of the characters too; though it's always clear when certain enemies are related to others in some way as they maintain key features while being slightly different colours or sizes.
Another note I want to make is about the game's HUD and UX design. Although I'm not really into that kind of thing, I really love the style of the icons, map and typography in the game as it creates a more modern look compared to previous Zelda games but also reflects the fact that the technology used by the characters is ancient. I really love the typeface choice as it does the most in terms of creating this feeling.
One visual aspect of the game I really love are the glowing elements, whether that's fire, the magic blue liquid embedded in shrines or an enemy attack. These elements always really stand out from the rest of the environment and create a much more dynamic look, especially in the more dull environments like Hyrule. Note that the second screenshot below is of Link cooking a meal over the fire - I love the cooking mechanism as it adds to the realism of the game while allowing you to create your own custom dishes from ingredients you've collected or gained from slaying a monster. These dishes can also give you special abilities like extra speed / strength or immunity against the cold of the mountains / heat of the desert - just another extra detail demonstrating the time put into building the game's world.
Below are some character designs from the Breath of the Wild concept art book; it's really interesting to see how a developer as big as Nintendo tackles the task of designing so many characters for the same world at once. All of the characters have a slight steampunk style to them, with a lot of metal and leather and old technology / weapons - this is a key factor in getting the characters to feel cohesive and from the same universe while maintaining each individual as unique. It's interesting to me how there's the least sketches for Link and Zelda, the two arguably most important characters - though they are based on existing designs from previous games rather than from scratch. I love the amount of thought and depth put into the character designs for Purah, Daruk and Impa though. The concept artists have really thought about how the characters interact with their props and how their personalities are reflected in their proportions, clothing and features. I found it especially interesting that they focus more on character turnarounds than demonstrating character's expressions; though with the intention being for the characters to be 3D modelled, the wealth of perspectives would be more useful for a modeller than expression sheets.
Below are some environment designs for the game; These are really impressive to me as someone who has never really designed a realistic environment before. the buildings do really show their age and damage clearly while still appearing structurally realistic. I particularly love the Rito Village design (bottom right) as it pushes realism to the limit but is more playful than the other environment designs.
Lastly, I'd like to finish on clothing designs. This is one of my favourite parts of the whole game: for the first time, Link's clothes are totally customisable. You can mix and match the sets (although you do get defence bonuses for having a complete set) or dye the clothes any colour you choose. Some of the clothing looks kind of comedic to me, like the Hero of Winds set and Barbarian set, as I would have never imagined Link in those clothes. The Gerudo Set (bottom left) is also quite funny to see Link in - he uses it to disguise himself as a woman and gain access to a city that doesn't allow men inside the city walls. Overall though, I love the details added to each set to make them unique and the nods to previous games and characters. I personally really love the Soldier set and Stealth set; the symbols and details in them make them appealing to me. Also below is the Master Cycle Zero design; I love this as a really unique bike design - it looks ancient but technologically advanced at the same time due to the bright blue and orange lighting paired with the brown skeletal style of the shell. The bike also resembles a horse, which is Link's traditional mode of transport, so I like this as a nod to his past.
In conclusion, I feel really inspired by the designs and style of this game in every way; I particularly love the details in the character and clothing designs and how this creates a cohesive, believable universe which is also interesting to explore and absorb.