The Best of the Breath: Part 3

This is the third, and probably final instalment of my favourite moments from Breath of the Wild. If you’d like to read my first two, you can read them here and here.


Several times upon my journey I came across a young couple named Tye and Sorelia. Newly married, they were roaming the forests of Hyrule looking for the rare flower called the Silent Princess. Tye had heard rumour that, if you declare you love before a freshly plucked blossom, you and your partner will live a charmed life. He had intended to venture out into the world on his own to find his flower and swear his love by it, and Sorelia could not bear the thought of the danger he was exposing himself to on the quest. She decided to buckle on her adventurer boots and go with him, to protect him and to share in their adventure together.

When I heard their story, the first thing I did was reach for the Silent Princess in my pack. I thought to myself, “Here at last is the end to their journey! No longer will they need to huddle in the rain and fight bokoblins every day.” And yet speaking to them, they were both overjoyed in the adventure they were living, full of risk and passion. I decided not to give them the blossom they were seeking, because in a way, they had already found it.


In the village of Hateno, there was a strapping stableboy named Manny who pined after Prima, the young mistress of the inn. It was the stuff of cheesy adult fiction, except that Manny could not bring himself to utter a word to his beloved. He besought me to inquire what Prima wanted most in the world, and when I asked her, she invented the idea that she would only be interested in someone who could give her one hundred Restless Crickets. Manny begged me for ten, which I gathered for him, which he did nothing with. Apparently he was paralysed by anxiety and couldn’t bring himself to find any others.

I however had no such compunctions. I took to the field, cutting grass and sneaking up on crickets day and night until I had precisely one hundred. I went back to the inn and, five at a time, dropped them in front of Prima. She did not thank me, and with an annoyed look, simply inquired whether I wanted a soft bed or a regular bed. I left her with her plague of crickets and turned my efforts elsewhere.


As I have said previously, combat has been my favourite part of the game. Eventually I became so adept that, for fun, I would drop down into a pit full of Guardians and fight off four of them simultaneously, deflecting beams back at their owners, darting in and out of cover, electrifying some, hitting others in the eyes with ancient arrows. For the ones that still had legs, I would cut them off with an ancient weapon before they even fully initialised, swinging my ancient battle axe in wild circles to end them before they even realised it had begun.

Imagine my delight, then, to discover that in the depths of a great canyon were the ruins of a Forgotten Temple covered in the decaying remains of Guardians. I strode right through the front door without attempting to take cover or stealth past them as five or six lasersights turned and locked onto me. Batting two of the beams aside simultaneously, I continued to walk right through the temple, an unstoppable force with impeccable timing, Guardians exploding all around me as I strode every forward. They protected an ancient shrine, and a priceless treasure: a statue of the Goddess Hylia in proportions scarcely before imaginable, easily ten times the height of me. It was a profound experience humbling myself before her and receiving her blessing.


I heard rumour of a ruined coliseum that monsters had since made their home. I could not resist the call of a good fight, and made my way across the mountains to enter it from above. I scoped out the place thoroughly, working my way around it from above and identifying what manner of creatures occupied it. Rather than approaching each of them stealthily as I normally would, I equipped my full Knight Armour (84 defence) and approached them in single combat, besting them one after the other. From moblins to lizalfos to bokoblins, and finally to the Silver Lynel at the base, I conquered them all without challenge. It was a brutal slaughter, and when it was over there was no one to hear me yell “Are you not entertained?!”

I was beginning to feel like the game had no more challenge for me. Until…


Far across the sea, I made my way to an island called Eventide. Once I set foot on the beach, the voice of an ancient monk resonated in my head and darkness overtook me. When I awoke, I had been stripped of all my armour, weapons and items, on an island full of monsters. My task was to find the three orbs and place them on their pedestals while surviving the trials of the night. It was exhilarating.

The first thing I did was avoid the bokoblins and set into the forest to find some tree branches as makeshift weapons. A storm came as I was carefully making my way across a bog, and I noticed that lightning struck the water not once, but twice. Curious, I pulled out my Sheikah Slate and discovered a metal chest at the bottom of the swamp. Inside it was a soldier’s sword, a much greater weapon than my humble stick. I foraged for mushrooms and crept through the night. I found a camp of bokoblins and killed them, cautiously using their campfire to roast my mushrooms and sleeping lightly until morning. It was exhilarating feeling so vulnerable.

It was a greater challenge still to fight a Hinox, whose healthbar far exceeded the capacity of my weapons to damage. It was only in hindsight that I realised I could have taken the orb around his neck by stealth, and instead I peppered him with the handful of arrows I had scavenged, broke most of my weapons upon him, and then used Magnesis to beat him with a metal crate for several minutes while he tried to climb the hill I was on. I was not proud of that particular battle.

By the time I climbed the summit of Eventide, I had acquired most of the weapons of the enemies on the island. I was once again a walking badass, a big fish in a small pond, and I was sad to end the challenge. The Trial of the Sword DLC looks to be exactly what I’m craving.


I always felt a little guilty exploring Hyrule, completing shrines, hunting dragons and spending weeks in the game chasing wild horses and falling stars while Zelda was locked in a life-or-death battle with Ganon. Whenever I spoke to Impa, she reminded me to save the Princess as soon as I could because she had been struggling for one hundred years straight and could use a break. When at last I unlocked the final memory, I realised that I did not want to delay any longer, and even though I had five shrines yet to be discovered, the time had finally come: I was going to assault Hyrule Castle.

My preparations were extensive. I made one hundred ancient arrows to deal with the Guardian Stalkers, Turrets and Skywatchers. I had already upgraded every single piece of armour in the game to maximum defence (save one pair of earrings which required a fragment of a falling star). From my home in Hateno, I took from their displays the weapons of the fallen Champions: the Lightscale Trident, the Boulder Breaker, the Scimitar of the Seven, Daybreaker and the Great Eagle Bow. As I was preparing, a blood moon began to rise so I cooked dozens of dishes to maximise my health and defend me against every element and condition I might face. And the dawn broke, I made for the Castle, not wanting to risk another blood moon whilst I was inside.

Inspired by the final memory, I chose to wear the Hero’s tunic and Hylian trousers, wielding nothing more than the Master Sword and a shield. It would have been safer to equip full Guardian armour, but I wanted the Ganon to know I wasn’t scared of him and was more than a match for his sentinels. I enabled the four talents of the Champions (I usually kept Daruk’s Protection and Urbosa’s Fury disabled because they interfered with my playing style) and strode right up to the Castle gates, cutting my way through dozens of Guardians and reflecting their beams right back at them.

Having announced my presence and defeated all of the sentries perched on the exterior of the Castle, I began to explore in earnest. I wasn’t expecting such a complex dungeon, and it took me several hours to uncover each of the rooms and their many secrets. I loved discovering the ancient barracks, whose inhabitants reached for the gleaming weapons on the walls when they noticed my intrusion. It was a great pleasure, too, swimming through the docks and finding the many ways which the palace might be breached. I felt a chill run over me as I returned to Zelda’s study and the lone Silent Princess growing there. When I discovered her bedroom nearby, I loved that she had a Royal Guard Bow on her mantelpiece, and I was deeply moved by finding her journal on the table. I was stunned to find that Link was not in fact mute, and chose to be silent for his own personal reasons. And what a thrill it was to find King Rhoam’s hidden study, where he wrote in his journal about the struggle he had with himself for pushing Zelda so hard to be the Princess his Kingdom needed.

Most exciting of all though, earlier in the game I had paid an absurd amount of money to a crazed shield surfer and he imparted on me the rumour that a legendary shield lay waiting somewhere in the Castle. After many hours of searching, deep in the bowels of the dungeons I came upon a test for knights who wished to prove their skill. The skeletal giant, Stalnox, lay waiting in a chamber for me to approach, and I defeated him swiftly and without issue. And then, after so many hours of dreaming, it was finally before me: the iconic Hylian shield, to join me at last, in the last of my adventures.

It’s hard to describe how much I love Hyrule Castle, and how much it means to me. It’s dangerous enemies, secret passageways and powerful items and that incredible music tantalised the adventurer in me. It might well be my favourite place in the game.


When I finally entered the Inner Sanctum to confront Ganon, we battled magnificently, and I loved every moment of it. After it was over. my save file+ told me that I had completed 46.15% of the game after sinking 185 hours into it. At first I didn’t know what to do with my life: I had been so invested in the adventure, and now it was finally over. Eventually I decided I didn’t want to 100% the game (those Koroks, man, I still had 635 of the 900 to find), but would at least find the remaining shrines to free those monks from their 10 000 year wait, complete the compendium (I had about 18 photos to go) and finish off the last side quest, cooking royal cuisine for that enthusiastic stablehand. I had finally relieved Zelda from her long struggle, and there will still adventures yet to be had. Hyrule is a large place with many secrets yet uncovered, and I have many hours ahead to experience them yet.

Best of the Breath Part 2: The Mounted Edition

Following on from my previous post, I have continued to collect stories about my incredible adventures in Hyrule. I’ve noticed a strong theme of quadrupeds in this post, so here’s my Mounts Special!


Early in the game you are invited to catch a wild horse and claim it as your own. (Now that I think about it, it’s kind of awful to horsenap a member of the horse community and just force it to serve you for as long as it lives. But let us assume that, living in companionship with Link, all the horses he catches are given chances at better lives of being cared for in stables rather than surviving in a wild and dangerous land.)

At any rate, I brought back to the stable the first two horses I encountered – they were nothing special in terms of their strength, speed and stamina, but they were faster than running. And then I noticed a blue horse. I immediately dismounted and abandoned the horse I was riding, equipped my stealth gear and started stalking it.

It noticed me, once or twice, and trotted effortlessly away from me with a toss of its mane. It easily outpaced me, and I realised that this horse was fast. In the end, I approached during a rainstorm in the dead of night so that it was less likely to hear me. When I mounted it, it thrashed and bucked wildly, and it took a huge amount of stamina for me to master it. I hurried back to the stable, and in honour of its fleetness and the storm that bore it, I named him Raiden.

Raiden was my favourite horse in the game, and he carried me through many places as swift as the wind. Whenever I noticed enemies in the distance, I would dismount and approach on foot. I didn’t think horses could be killed, but I didn’t want to expose him to danger or pain either way. You can imagine then how horrified I was when a stray Guardian beam caught Raiden full in the flank and he fell with a great whinny and perished. I killed the Guardian immediately and was paused the game, in shock at what had happened. I thought about it long and hard, and reloaded the save file because I didn’t think I could go on without him by my side. It was not until much later that I would meet Melanya…

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Raiden, my first beloved mount


I was exploring the hills of Faron when I noticed what appeared to be one horse standing by a herd of wild ponies. Then as I approached I realised that nope, they were horses all right – they just had a giant of a beast among them. He stood apart from the others, with a charcoal coat and a mane of fire, alert while the other horses grazed. It struck me that he was keeping watch over the herd, and I was reminded powerfully of Spirit of the Cimarron. And once again, my first instinct was to tame the beast and take it away from its friends and family, leaving its wards vulnerable and alone.

I ate some food that would maximise my stealth and approached it slowly, placing obstacles between us to break its line of sight. When it was unguarded, I leapt on it from behind and it bucked like the wild beast it was. It took most of my three stamina wheels to avoid being thrown off. Having survived the ordeal of mounting it, I hurried it along the path back to the stables and it fought me the whole way. I’d try and turn left, it would turn right. I’d urge it into a gallop, it would whinny and swerve. The path was made all the more dangerous by passing not one, but two white-maned Lynels that fired Shock Arrows after us as we narrowly avoided them. Through fighting it all the way back to the stables, we forged a pretty solid bond. In the end I named him Cinnamon, both for his mane and for the Stallion he first reminded me of.

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Stallion of the Cinnamon

 


While exploring the frozen peaks of the Gerudo highlands, I came upon a slumbering bear in a small copse of trees and berries. At first I assumed, like the many wolves that inhabited the mountain, that it was an enemy that was safer to kill than to let harass me. I equipped a spear and crept towards it, but it woke suddenly and noticed me despite the deep snow muffling my footsteps. We battled and I stabbed it about as often as it mauled me. Then, as it charged past me I saw an indicator flash up on the screen: Ride. I immediately put my weapon away, equipped stronger armour and spent the next several minutes chasing it around being mauled until, eventually, I grabbed it by the neck and swung myself up onto its back. Bleeding and panting, we walked through the mountains together for a while before I realised he couldn’t climb the slopes. I dismounted and he immediately ran off, and I decided not to torment any bears similarly in the future.

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Not the actual bear I caught but this picture was too good not to share


One of the most memorable scenes from Ocarina of Time is the flight of Impa and Princess Zelda, when Link attempts to bring the three sacred stones to Hyrule Castle. On a pure white horse on a dark and stormy night, the pair fly past as Zelda hurls the Ocarina of Time into the castle moat. In Breath of the Wild, during a flashback from 100 years ago, Zelda is seen riding a similarly white horse. Now in the present day, there was a rumour that a pure white horse was roaming a certain plateau, fabled to be from that same royal pedigree.

I climbed the mountains nearby, using my scope to find the herd that lived in the plains. I did not see the white horse among them, so I decided to stake the joint out in my full Sheikah gear, making a campfire in a sheltered part of the cliff where the horses were less likely to be spooked by it. Day after day, night after night, through rain and fog I studied the herd: horses came and went, but never was the white stallion among them. I thought harder about what the old man at the stables had told me: that it stood apart from the others. I decided to take this literally and began searching the nearby hillsides when I came upon it grazing in a nearby ruins. My breath caught in my throat as we locked eyes for a moment – and then it fled. I maximised my stealth again and began stalking it through the afternoon, and then into the night as it kept a watchful eye on my and pranced out of reach each time I approached. I was starting to get desperate when, at dawn, a traveller came the other way from the top of the ruins catching the white horse off guard. It panicked and fled down the road, fortunately right into the path where I was concealed and I seized it by the mane. It bucked and kicked for any age, perhaps even longer than the Cinnamon had, until at last I had settled it.

I rode it back to the stables proudly, and decided not to show her to the old man until I had made her more presentable. We became fast friends through gentle riding and a bit of a bribery (we shared many apples that day), and when it was clear that our bond was a strong one, the stablehand allowed me to change her harness and saddle. I went for the extravagant raiments and regally approached the old man. He was deeply moved at the sight, and gave me an even finer gift: the original trappings that Zelda herself had used on her mount, passed down through his grandfather. Yuki, as I named the horse, and I flew through the mountains, and we shared many an apple any time we had to part.

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Yuki, from a long line of Royal White Stallions


 

Last year, the Head of Nintendo, Satoru Iwata, died from failing health. He was my favourite person in the video game industry, with his quirky sense of humour, his deep humility, his genuine inquisitiveness and his gentle heart. I watched all of his Nintendo Directs (where he would bring news, Directry to you) and Iwata Asks videos. His death rocked me hard, and I was deeply moved by the many tributes of Nintendo fans who wanted to honour his memory. Imagine then how moved I was to discover Satori Mountain in the game, a place teeming with life, rare flora and fauna and untold treasures.

I’d been there many times, but I noticed one night from a neighbouring peak, a strange glow coming from the mountain. I thought it was perhaps a shooting star, or some kind of aurora borealis and decided to investigate. As I approached the source of the glow, I entered a kind of haze, and I felt that every step I took was taking me into a different world. This kind of game mechanic was used to enter the realm of the spirits in Okami, and chills ran down my spine as the whiteness enveloped me. When I came through the other side I began to lose it.

In a misty glen, perhaps a dozen or more glowing blue rabbits hopped. They were Blupees, supernatural creatures with gold antlers that vanished into thin air when approached. I had only seen a handful of them in the game, rare and elusive creatures as they were, and to see so many of them in one place was a wondrous site indeed. Yet I stayed my bow, quelling my first instinct to shoot them for rupees – it seemed too precious a place to disturb with violence. And then I saw him: a shining blue creature somewhat similar to a shaggy horse or elk, with two golden fronds of antlers and four glowing red eyes. I took out my camera, which identified the creature as the Lord of the Mountain. I quietly approached and he, and almost all of the Blupees in the glade suddenly noticed me and vanished. I quietly and reverentially continued to explore, and to my amazement he reappeared before me again. I caught him off guard as I mounted him, and after a brief struggle he didn’t seem to mind me settling onto his back. Slowly and carefully we rode down the mountain together.

To my delight, I found that he had infinite stamina and could gallop at a breakneck speed indefinitely, and we quickly found ourselves at a local stable that I hadn’t noticed before. The horsemaster there was horrified that I had brought the legendary Lord of the Mountain into his domain, worried it would bring a curse upon the stable. He refused to register him as a mount, and I while initially disappointed, I realised that so magnificent a creature deserved to ride free. I dismounted, and to my surprise he did not immediately flee but waited for me calmly. When it became clear that I would not ride him again, he faded into the mists once more.

I opened my compendium to admire the photo I had taken and read the following description:

“This noble creature watches over all animals that make their homes in the forest. Legends say this holy creature is a reincarnation of a sage that died on the lands it now protects. It has an acute awareness of its surroundings, so it seldom appears before people. It’s sometimes known by its other name, Satori.”

I paused for a moment while the magnitude of this hit me and then burst into tears.

They reincarnated Satoru Iwata into the guardian of all forest creatures, who died while he was still creating the game.

Great now I’m crying again. More adventures to come when I’ve stopped leaking.

Satori Lord of the Mountain Location

The Sacred Glen

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Satori, Lord of the Mountain

The Best of the Breath

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has some, forgive me, breathtaking moments. (Can we just pause to acknowledge that Nintendo absolutely nailed the nomenclature there?)

I never, ever would have guessed that the Zelda chain (on account of all those Links) would ever transpose well into an open world. However in hindsight, most of the Zelda games have been open world exploratory adventures, right from the first. I guess what blows my mind is the scope of the game, how very, very big it is, and how many small details and secrets are built into it. For as long as I could remember, I have loved the idea of secrets hidden in plain sight, and BotW is a dream come true for me. I would like to share some of my favourite moments of the game to date.

 


Early in the game I was exploring the headland of South-eastern Hyrule. As I ran towards the cliff’s edge, perhaps a hundred metres above the sea, I noticed a great hole in the landscape and I became immediately suspicious. I approached the hole cautiously and heard a peculiar rumbling. I decided to whip out my Sheikah Slate to see if I could get a better look down the hole when I lost my footing and found myself plummeting down it. I whipped out my paraglider to slow my fall and had a good look around as I descended. A shaft of light beamed from the hole cut into the high ceiling of the enormous cavern I was in, illuminating a sleeping giant whose snores seemed to cause the very ground to tremble. All around us glittered deposits of ore and precious gems, and it occurred to me that if I wanted to mine them I would need to first neutralise their guardian. I donned my Sheikah clothes for soundless movement and crept around him, wondering about the best way to defeat him. In the end, I tucked a bomb between his legs, crept around to his head, and detonated it as I began stabbing him vigorously. Suddenly a health bar appeared on the HUD, identifying my first overworld boss to be a Hinox. I broke several of my weapons upon its robust flank, peppering its eye with arrows until it exploded in a cloud of smoke. My heart raced as I gathered the rare ingredients it had left in its wake, and the whole experience left me feeling exhilarated. It would take me some time to realise that the thrill of battle and conquering a powerful foe was my favourite part of the game.


 

Rumour had it that a Spring of Power existed at the summit of Mount Lanayru. I decided to investigate and made my way into the mountain range that surrounded it. To my surprise, my warm jacket was not sufficient to keep out the cold, and I had to rely on food to keep up my body heat. In addition to the cold, I had underestimated the breadth of the mountain, and it took me several trips to reach the top (because I had to re-supply to survive the climb). As I crested the summit, I found a sickened dragon curled around the fountain, infected with Ganon’s blight. It fled, and without hesitation I launched myself off the mountain after it, shooting the blight off of it with precisely placed arrows. After chasing it from peak to peak and freeing it from the Malice, it landed before me and asked me to remove a scale from its own hide. I offered this to the Goddess of the Spring and was granted entrance into the heart of the mountain. It humbled me that, lowly as I was, I had been of service to the Goddess and its guardian spirit.


 

While visiting my brother, I played his copy of Breath of the Wild while he was eating dinner. I came across a lake and, as always, I used my magnesis rune to search for hidden treasure. As well as a number of treasure chests, I found metal boulders attached to chains which signified the hiding places of mischievous Korok’s. Just as I was about to leave, I noticed two wells that seemed to have been boarded up. After a little bit of experimentation, I used Cyronis and Bombs to blow apart the barriers. Underneath one of them was further treasure, but underneath the other… To my absolute amazement, a golden dragon flew out of the lake, crackling with lightning. It electrocuted me as it passed, and I paused the game to deal with my shock (forgive me). My brother resumed playing, and then promptly started running in the opposite direction, his natural inclination to avoid such a powerful creature. I was flabbergasted he did not want to pursue it. It was a powerful experience to come from out of the blue.


 

Still high off my victory over the Hinox, I found myself at a cliffside shrine. As I descended, I was informed it would be a “Major Test of Strength”. I was excited: I had seven weapons, six hearts and a large supply of food. I’d recently acquired Knight’s Armour, and had not yet found any of the fights to be a challenge yet. Enter the Guardian Scout, equipped with Ancient Battle Axe++, Ancient Spear++ and Ancient Shield+. Every time it swung its weapon, it would take me from full health to a quarter of a heart. Even with my armour and iron shroom skewers, it kicked my ass all around the room and killed me pretty effortlessly. I refused to leave, each battle improving my timing with dodges and shield bashes, opening room for counter attacks. My piddly weapons barely scratched its armour, and I broke sword and axe, spear and shield upon it without much effect. It took me many, many tries to survive the encounter, and eventually I succeeded by the skin of my teeth, breaking the automaton apart and harvesting its mechanisms. I promptly wasted those powerful weapons, not knowing how rare they were. I’ve participated in many Tests of Strength since, but with my Guardian Armour and Ancient Weapons, the thrill just isn’t the same. Like in the days of Morrowind, I am starting to crave an enemy who can best me.


 

I spent many, many hours in the mountains of the Gerudo Highlands, searching for the rumoured statue of the Eighth Heroine of lore. I became extremely proficient at riding my shield down the slopes ala Legolas, picking off Lizalfos with fire arrows as I went. I combed almost every inch of those peaks looking for that damned statue, and it was during those lonely nights in the frigid mountains that I saw him: Soaring through the air in a streak of plasma was the Lightning Dragon, Farosh. I was, forgive me, electrified. Somehow I had gotten it into my head that the dragons would take me to a Great Fairy Fountain, or a place of great power, so I immediately set out in pursuit of him to do what my brother would not. Farosh quickly outpaced me, and I realised that my chase would be a long one. I built campfires (no mean feat during the blizzards) and waited until dusk, marking on my map each point of his journey and running alongside him for as long as I could manage each night. As I sprinted along the peaks, I would sometimes get caught in his updraft and rise to fly alongside him. Once, I flew too close and actually collided with him in a shower of sparks and pain. After many nights of tracking his path, I eventually saw his departure: he flew into the distant skies and disappeared in a maelstrom of clouds. We flew together through those lonely peaks, and I never did find that fairy fountain.


 

Speaking of lightning, I was once again at my brother’s house playing his copy of Breath of the Wild when I was telling him about how much better I was at fighting Lynel (mighty centaur creatures) now, and how ashamed I was that he saw me struggle so much with the one I helped him kill. Literally moments later, the camera panned and we saw another Lynel on a nearby plateau, this one with a blue mane, far stronger than the one I had initially killed. He handed me the controller and said, “Well there’s your chance,” and I vowed to beat it without needing to eat once. And, as it happened, my brother had almost no food, only one good sword (50 damage, compared to his other weapons of about 20 strength) and only a handful of arrows. As I approached, it began to rain, and soon after my weapons started crackling with the static of a thunderstorm. I engaged the Lynel as lightning flashed, setting fire to the trees all around us as we did battle upon the mountaintop. I admit, with his squishy clothing and limited supplies, I died many times. But eventually, right when it seemed all hope was lost, I got into the zone. I dodged every attack perfectly, creating opportunities for flurries. I switched between my wooden and electrified weapons with just enough time to do decent amounts of damage. I shot him in the face and rode him like a pony, stabbing him over and over again until I was victorious without having taken a single blow. It was a glorious battle.


 

High above the hidden village of Kakariko, at the summit of the tallest peak, I found a half-buried metal chest. Using magnesis to wrest it from the earth (and then again to catch it as it promptly started sliding off the mountainside), I found an exquisite sword. It was an Eight-fold blade, a traditional Sheikah weapon that someone had gone to great lengths to store. To give you some context, I barely made it to the summit in my full climbing gear with the help of a stamina potion approaching the peak. I often wonder about the person who dragged that chest all the way to the top, and what secret they were burying there.


 

Searching still the peaks of the Gerudo Highlands, I came across a single Bokoblin holding something that was glowing red and tentatively looking at some blocks of ice. I crept closer, curious, and realised that he was surrounded by several Moblins and Bokoblins who had been frozen solid. I started to wonder about what had happened: a villainous Ice Wizzrobe had trapped all of his friends and family and he, the lone survivor, had made the perilous journey into the lowlands to find a way of freeing them. Conquering trial and tribulation, he had eventually discovered a source of heat and warmth that could not be extinguished: the fire rod of a Fire Wizzrobe! Through cunning strategy and courageous battle, he bested the Wizzrobe in combat and took from him the source of his power. Making the long, cold journey back to the mountains, he had just reunited with his comrades and was in the process of discovering how to free them. I killed him immediately, took his fire rod, thawed the ice and killed his companions too. The rod was pretty handy to have until it ran out of fire.


 

There will be more stories to come!

A Genogram of the Elder Blood

The Witcher books by Andrzej Sapkowski make references to “The Elder Blood”. The Elder Blood was, in essence, a powerful combination of genes allowing the carriers to have profound magical potential. Starting with the Elven Sage Lara Dorren, her descendants carried diluted and mutated genes finally ending in Cirilla, Lion Cub of Cintra, Child of Destiny.

For my own pleasure (yes, pleasure), I drew some genograms by hand to make sense of the complex family tree. Realising my mad scribblings might be useful to others, I googled free programs for genograms and came across Smart Draw. After two hours of fiddling around with the trial (and there was much fiddling – the basic program wasn’t equipped to show second marriages let alone incest), I finally produced a straightforward lineage of the Elder Blood.

To my great astonishment, and then rage, I discovered there was an indelible watermark stamped across the whole thing, and it would not be removed unless I bought the full version of the software. Still, I didn’t want the fruits of my labour to go to waste so I’ve decided to preserve it here. I hope you find it useful.

Katawa Shoujo: Hanako’s Path

I’ve have just finished Hanako’s path, and once again I’m struggling to process the wave of emotions that I’m feeling. Disorganised thoughts to follow, as well as the usual spoilers,

To my amazement, I only teared up once or twice throughout her story. It surprises me because Hanako seems like exactly the sort of person that I would fall head-over-heels, gather-up-in-my-arms-and-ride-off-into-the-sunset in love with, and I thought I’d be bawling my eyes out. I kept expecting her to open up, sweep back her hair and smile from her heart because she found someone who accepted her unconditionally. But the game took a different approach to unfolding their relationship.

I got the good ending first, and the path seems so clear to me in hindsight. I must admit, I’m finally starting to see Lilly’s mothering, protective nature as disrespectful – she doesn’t see other people as equals, but rather as part of the flock that she’s taken under her wing. Trying to surround Hanako in cotton wool might have made her feel less uncomfortable, but it didn’t help her grow any stronger either. By constantly making the choices to shelter her, Hisao and Lilly ended up seeing Hanako as someone fragile and (as she put it) “useless”. While they loved her, they disserviced her by underestimating her resilience. When I replayed her path to get the neutral/bad endings, I realised that those small choices were not overtly about protecting her, or even trying to force her out of her comfort zone; they were about treating her as a person, worthy of love and respect, who had the strength and resources to deal with her own problems in her own way. Because Hisao respected her as a person, she was able to tentatively voice the dreams and desires she kept so closely guarded. I now see Hanako as an incredibly strong person, constantly battling the judgements of the people around her (the “That’s just how she is” attitude) in order to feel like her life was worth living.

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I’m glad, too, that the trauma around her birthday was explained. Hanako always felt that she just caused trouble for others, making them uncomfortable with her scars or making them go out of their way to care for her. She hated that about herself, and deep down she believed it would be better if she didn’t exist. The falsity of a birthday celebration, that one single day where people treated her like she was special, felt like a cruel juxtaposition to the other 364 days of the year.

And despite knowing how much stuff she was working on, I’m impressed that Hisao didn’t try and be a therapist for her; he recognised that she already had someone fulfilling that role in her life. Instead he wanted to be a guardian, or a friend, or a more-than friend. This theme of friendship (and defining its roles and boundaries), like in Rin’s story, was explored beautifully. Truly, it was only until the very last few lines of dialogue that Hisao was brave enough to realise that he didn’t just want to be friends with Hanako, and he was fighting for something more. His tip-toeing around her only served to frustrate her and drive wedges between them, and it was only when he opened himself to her in all his fear and vulnerability that the two of them could finally see eye-to-eye.

And it surprised me that one of the significant barriers to connecting with her was one that Hisao had constructed himself. He so wanted to make her feel comfortable that he always held her at arm’s length for fear of (literally) scaring her off. This distance served to drive her away, and every time they came close it undermined their relationship. It was a tragic story of two people wanting to be open with each other, but fearing that they wouldn’t be wholly accepted and repelling one another (like magnets caught in each other’s orbits). Each time they did get closer to each other, one of them would hurriedly withdraw. Hisao stopped Hanako in the library when she tried to tell him about life in the orphanage, and he stopped her again when she opened up at the jazz club. She started skipping class and avoiding him, wanting to be close but hating how he felt she was so useless he had to protect her. The majority of their problems were due to a heartwrenching case of miscommunication (which, if unresolved, lead to the neutral or bad ending).

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And despite all the time they spent together, they hardly knew each other at all. Certainly Hanako started spending more time with Hisao and became more comfortable in his company, but she remained almost entirely enigmatic, her thoughts and worldview completely unfathomable to him. Those tiny slivers of her true identity (her unexpected love of singing, her fondness for experimentation in the kitchen, her love of games of all kind and her genuine dislike of other people) were hard-won glimpses of who she really was. It seemed like Hisao had to earn each and every one of her smiles, those cracks in the armour that let the light in. I recall at one point just wanting to grab her by the shoulders and shake her, saying “Open up already! Face the world and grow into the person you want to be!” But, as Bruce Lee would say, Hanako wasn’t in the world to live up to my expectations (nor was I in the world to live up to hers). At any rate, it was satisfying in the end when they both admitted how little they knew about each other, but they enjoyed each other’s company enough to give their relationship a chance.

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One of the things I really loved most about their relationship was the silences between them. A lot of people are scared of silence, but it was nice to see a version of Hisao that was comfortable in it. Well, for the most part anyway. I can foresee a future in which Hanako and he spend many meals together in companionable quietude, and yet are wholly open with each other. It was a bit sad that this sedentariness didn’t leave him in the best physical shape, and it made it hard for them to be intimate. I hope that this version of Hisao goes into the future and decides that becoming healthier is one of his goals.

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Once again, Hisao had no clear vision for what he wanted to do after graduation. Happily, unlike in Rin’s story, even though he wasn’t clear about what he wanted to do with his future, he knew that he wanted to do something. And so in order to develop himself as a person and deal with his restlessness (of wanting to take control of his life), he hit the books as a way of preparing himself for whatever the future might bring. He made a conscious effort to not let the past hold him back, and to follow Mutou’s advice of claiming the education and opportunity that Yamaku afforded him.

Katawa Shoujo is a game that makes me laugh, cry, smile wryly, pound my fist in fervent agreement, yell at the monitor in distress and inspires me to be a better person. I’m kind of unsettled now that it’s over, having finally achieved 100% completion. I guess I’m left wanting more, to relive those experiences when they aren’t a little familiar already. I’m quite sure that I’ll go back and replay it (particularly Lilly’s path – I want to see their relationship unfold again now that I have a much better understanding of her personality!), but now that the experience is over it leaves a void that is hard to fill. KS has been such a wonderful influence on me, and I’m sad that none of it will be quite as fresh ever again.

I think the reason this game makes me so happy is because it reminds me what’s important in life: Hisao takes such great pleasure in the company of his loved ones, and enjoying a quiet moment at the tea house, the quality of the light, the breeze through the trees… Those are the subtle moments built into the game, where he sighs with pleasure and smiles from his heart, that remind me I can do all of those things too, almost all the time on any given day. It inspires me to enjoy my life more, and I can say with utter certainty that it has changed me for the better. Katawa Shoujo may well be my favourite “game” of all time, and if you haven’t started playing it by this point, I urge you to download it for free and see for yourself what a wonderful experience it is.

http://www.katawa-shoujo.com/

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Katawa Shoujo: Shizune and Misha’s path

Gawsh darnit. Another blog post that comes either very late at night or early in the morning. It’s 7am and I’ve just finished Shizune’s path. Well, more correctly I finished it about 40 minutes ago and spent that time re-writing part of the wiki. (It seems that’s my thing now. It’s exhausting and time-consuming, but rewarding to do justice to the amazing characters of Katawa Shoujo.) I’m pretty tired, but I still want to write my traditional post-game blog. As expected, this contains massive spoilers for Shizune’s plot, so be forewarned.

Shizune’s path was a little different from the others because I couldn’t finish it over the course of a few days. When I first went through it, I made the terrible, heart-wrenching decision to comfort Misha. Let me first say that I absolutely love Misha. I have always loved the way she throws back her head and laughs unapologetically at the top of her voice: Wahahaha! She’s currently the background of my phone, and she brings me great joy every time I see her. Yet while I was browsing for pictures I could use, I came across this one:

screenshot0536 As I first spent more time with the duo in Act 1, I was secretly hoping that there would be a storyline where I ended up with Misha. How I regret that wish. I chose to comfort her, envisaging Hisao putting his arm around her and letting her cry, and then talk, and maybe hug. Instead they fell straight into bed and I was horrified. I was surprised the game continued into Act 4, and I thought that maybe there were further choices up the line that would enable me to redeem it. But nope: after four drawn out chapters of angst, the game ended with the trio basically never talking to each other again. It seemed particularly mocking that Hisao’s last words were along the lines of “I thought of all the choices I could have made that might have led to things turning out differently.” You gave me one choice, Game. One choice! You jerk.

It was several weeks before I had the time to play again, and I ended up replaying Act 3 just to remember what had happened and get back into the spirit of things. To my surprise, I had come to care greatly for Shizune, whom I had always considered the antagonist of Lilly (my first true Shoujo love!). Shizune drew me in with her childish competitiveness, and kept me around with her maturity, her passion and her intrigue.

I’ve realised that what I love most about Katawa Shoujo is that with every replay, my interest turns to understanding each of the characters. Hisao, the way he changes depending on who he’s with and they way they influence what he values. And the girls, who are profound in ways I didn’t expect. Everyone starts out seeming like a two-dimensional stereotype (see original concept art below) but are revealed to have pasts that shape them into complex, multi-dimensional people. And understanding who they are and why is deeply satisfying to me, especially when the characters realise and enunciate it themselves. I think these anagnorises are what I love most about the game, the growth of characters and the realisations they come to (and therefore I am witness to) as they see who they were and instead have chosen to become.

The initial sketch an artist casually produced that inspired a wave of people to actually create a game.

The initial sketch an artist casually produced that inspired a wave of people to actually create a game.

Understanding Shizune was as long and frustrating for me as understanding Rin and Emi. This time as I played I kept notes, jotting down revelations as they came to Hisao (and thus to me), and I ended up writing pages and pages. Shizune was more than just a deaf girl who liked competitions: one of the core pieces of her identity was the drive to be victorious, and without direction she applied this to every area of her life. Looking at her work in the Student Council, if there was a festival coming up she would throw herself at it relentlessly. But without an impending event, she would be restless and create mass amounts of busywork so that she had an outlet for her productivity and ambition. When there was a problem, she tackled it head on until it was resolved, and this is ultimately why she wasn’t able to understand why Misha was upset, or to respond in a way that was helpful to her.

screenshot0676 Another core part of Shizune’s identity was her love of passion. She became bored easily and didn’t like ordinary people: she thrived off excitement, and most importantly, passion. She loved arguing with people because it forced them to get fired up and fight for what they believed in, and regardless of whether she won or lost an argument, she was always impressed when people stood up to her. As a result, Shizune was always trying to create excitement for people, to do things that were spectacular and create that spark of passion in them. Ultimately what she was striving for was to improve people’s lives through her efforts: to be like a firework, bright and loud and fantastic, and to change their appreciation of the night sky if only for a minute. And so she applied herself to making people happy, even if they misunderstood her (rather forceful) efforts. Sometimes she felt that her efforts were impermanent and not worth celebrating, but other times she was deeply pleased by how much she accomplished through sheer force of will.

I’m also deeply impressed by how Shizune’s deafness affected her life. Her family not being able to sign was really hard for her, and she couldn’t even communicate with those closest to her. When she came to Yamaku and met Misha, things became easier for her, but she was never able to get close to anyone because she was always speaking through a translator. She could make conversation and exchange questions and answers, sure, but there was always the buffer of a third person that prevented her from really opening up or being opened up to. In the end, Misha was her only real friend, and she often took her for granted. It was good, then, that Misha decided to really focus on her studies halfway through the year and forge her own path that was not in Shizune’s wake.

Although Hisao’s relationship was focussed on Shizune, Misha’s happiness also meant a lot to me, and I strove to understand the cause of her sudden misery. At first I thought it was the guilt of sleeping with Hisao, but even in the good ending where he refused her, she still became suddenly melancholic. I’ve come to realise that for Misha, the fear of graduating was far greater than she let on, and she was deeply depressed by the thought of leaving the school and her closest friend and loved one. A small part of her felt that she had been replaced by Hisao, both as a translator and as a lover, and it hurt her deeply to think she wasn’t needed any more. To protect herself from the pain of an inevitably sad goodbye, she tried to distance herself from both of them, withdrawing into her own self-pity. This was worsened by Shizune not understanding what was going on and giving her space. By the time she realised it wasn’t working and tried to forcefully cheer her up, it only served to push Misha further away. In the end it was Hisao’s gentleness that got through to her, his kind words of advice to treasure her friendships rather than let them waste away, that allowed the three of them to join hands again.

screenshot0610 One thing I’ve noticed is that I’ve been hitting my S key an awful lot this time ’round. A quick glance shows me I’ve taken 68 screenshots of Lilly’s story, 135 of Emi’s, 137 of Rin’s and… 338 screenshots of Shizune’s. When I first started Lilly’s, I reserved screenshots for perfect, idyllic moments, and I left out most of the really special moments because I didn’t want to cheapen the experience by trying to capture it in a picture. After my fourth playthrough now, I just snap away any time I laugh, or I see the essence of a character summarised in a sentence or two, or I am moved by the unfolding relationships and circumstances.

And you know? It continues to amaze me that without fail, every time I play (even for a few short minutes) I am inspired to be a better person. Hisao’s constant choices to improve his life and pursue his passions, as well as the tremendous bravery of the girls who do the same, remind me of the sort of person I want to be.

I have to say though, there is something that continues to irk me: it’s never clear whether Hisao stays with Shizune after graduation. When Shizune is telling them that they have to meet up again soon, she says “Both of you”, which makes me think all three of them are going their separate ways. And the last line of the game is “We’ll meet again” – does it refer to just Misha, or Misha and Shizune both?! Hisao says he wants “to chase her” by continuing teaching at Yamaku, and that he wants to enjoy the rest of his life in Shizune’s company… Arrrrgh what happens?!?! I guess I’ll have to assume they stay together for the sake of my contentment. Well, I’ve completed four of the five paths in their entirety, leaving Hanako’s til the end. I have a feeling I will be super protective of her (I’ve got a bit of a white knight in shining armour complex) and will fall deeply in love with her, but I guess we’ll see! Once I’ve completed the game 100%, I wonder what it will unlock? Can’t wait for that, either. If you haven’t already downloaded the game for free, for God’s sake just do it. You can thank me later.

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Fantasy Life

I may have become just a tiny bit addicted to Fantasy Life. Through the 100+ hours I’ve spent on my 3DS, I have honed a very fine appreciation for the nature of various jobs (“Lives”). I’ve reached Legendary rank (that is to say, I’ve done every possible quest in the game for these particular professions so I know them inside out) of the Woodcutter life, the Paladin life and the Angler’s life. I reached Heroic rank in the Carpenter life before I was limited by resources that I needed other high-level professions to access. I’ve since started a Miner’s life, in which I somehow reached the rank of Adept despite only doing the introductory quest. (The game appeared to glitch and gave me kudos for mining a bunch of gemstones I apparently gained from bounties.)

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Of the various Lives, I have this to say: each of them is appealing in its own way. I know it’s obvious, cheesy even, but the twelve Lives are so distinct that they each have their own charm and flavour. At first the idea of being a woodcutter repelled me: logging ancient forests for profit! But the game won me over by framing it in such a way that it was actually giving new life to old trees, transforming them into furniture. (It certainly helped alleviate my guilt when they all mysteriously grew back the next day.) And speaking of Carpentry, I find something indescribably charming about wearing a headband and sawing wood. The mini-game is pretty dull and simplistic, but it has its own satisfaction. The attitude of the Miner is not to look to the clouds to dream but rather to work hard and toil in the earth to find success. And the Paladin Life! Ohhh, the Life of my heartsong, defending the townfolk as a stalwart shield, slaying monsters as a champion of justice!

Every time I finish one Life, I think about which one I want to take up next. Although the land of Reveria is shared equally, only an Angler takes any notice of the fishing holes, and I find myself looking at the world in new light with each change in profession. Although there are some Lives I would rather avoid (*cough* Tailor *cough*), I can hardly decide between which adventure I want to set on next. (After mining, I’ll use that ore as a Blacksmith. And then perhaps after that I’ll fund my wizardry through becoming an Alchemist, master of potions.)

I am Snape the Potions Master

“I am Snape the Potions Master”

There is no better expression for the world of Reveria than the introductory movie they play at the start of the game:

Each of the lives are intricately linked, interdependent on one another. And there’s something just so gawsh darned wonderful about the childish message of “Work hard in Life and achieve greatness! Find what your heart wishes for and pursue it in everything you do! Shape the world for the better with the power you claim for yourself!” You just have to do it one tree at a time.

UPDATE: Before I stopped playing due to my crazy hardcore addiction, I became a legendary woodcutter, miner, blacksmith, paladin, carpenter and angler. I was a master tailor, and I was on my way to becoming a legendary mercenary and alchemist as well. I don’t think there was any reward for completing all the lives (apart from Bliss), and I realised that repeating the crafting mini-games for several dozen hours just didn’t appeal to me enough to keep playing.