I’ll be completely frank with you all here. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild holds a very special place in my gaming collection as one of the, if not the, best games I have ever played. Anybody that has spoken to me about this knows how much I adore this game. Few games have evoked the emotion of utter joy and excitement in exploring a new world with limitless interactions. The opening sequence is one of the best openings for me, showcasing just how vast Hyrule is. Like a lot of people, I put some serious time into this game, and after engaging Calamity Ganon in the finale and playing through the Trials of the Sword DLC that released earlier this summer, I shelved the game for a bit.
After Nintendo surprised the world at the 2017 Game Awards showcase with the sudden release of The Champion’s Ballad, it was just a matter of moments before I got my Switch all charged up and downloaded the new update, which added new shrines, expanded on the Champions’ backstories, and gave Link a motorcycle. I need not stress how cool that sounds. I don’t think anybody saw this one coming, except for a very subtle cue from a GDC presentation where Nintendo showed an early concept of Link with a motorcycle.
Be fair here for a second, and indulge me. The maximum enjoyment a player will get out of this package depends entirely on how they perceive The Champion’s Ballad will play out. Those that expected to complete a grand restoration of Hyrule in the postgame with Zelda will find themselves disappointed; on the other hand, those that will more than likely derive maximum enjoyment from the content will be those who enjoyed getting lost aimlessly exploring the world and how everything comes together. The story isn’t going to beat anybody over the head with the complexity of Death Stranding. You’re looking at the wrong game if that’s what you were hoping for, but what you will find is the reason why the Champions are champions of the realm, and some interesting quirks about them that add a bit more subtle development to their characterization than the initial release failed to capture.
This, though, is a tale with a tragic ending: while it is very nostalgic to remember that Link had some great times with these comrades, the reality sets in near the end of it all that this was all in the past, with only the memories to go by. They fell, 100 years ago, and they’re not going to come back, having blessed Link to save Hyrule in their stead. The ending of the story, with the final cutscenes and soft melancholy notes of the Champion’s Ballad melody did get me a little emotional.
The core gameplay of Breath of the Wild has not changed. The first half is more of a warmup lap. Given the One-Hit Obliterator weapon, a weapon that allows Link to stomp down any enemies with one shot, true to its name, Link must pay the price of using it by sapping his life force down to a sliver of what he should normally have: one shot, one kill applies to Link here as well. In this first segment, Link has lives to ruin on the Great Plateau and several new shrines to beat, which are a delight that reminds players that, even with hundreds of hours of play, Nintendo still has a few tricks up their sleeve to provide a challenge. It was more enjoyable to remember what my techniques were while using the Obliterator; once the techniques came back, things got incredibly fun.
The second segment of The Champion’s Ballad brings Link back out to the main world, where he has to complete challenges/trials of the goddess in order to unlock his potential and earn his own Divine Beast. While the shrines themselves are Breath of the Wild at its best, the bosses culminating each of these portions felt underutilized as they were the same renditions of the Blight bosses fought in the original release with some handicaps. The challenges in the lead up to these shrines were also stretching the bounds of the game’s already incredible physics engine – techniques I had gotten rusty in, like shield surfing, became techniques I needed to quickly remaster. While the motion control portions did prove to be a bit irksome, the moments are few, thankfully. The final segment is a challenge aboard a new Divine Beast, and the final boss of The Champion’s Ballad is one to remember. This dungeon was actually difficult and stretched the limits with some great puzzle mechanics.
Nintendo returns to the field with an excellent musical number for this DLC pack, invoking a lot of the memories that made me enjoy Breath of the Wild so much. I’m a pianist, and I loved the prominent focus of the instrument in the game’s many themes and storytelling elements. As a complete package, this is the essential Zelda game that deserves every single one of the awards it has won or been nominated for. While the first DLC brought a temporary challenge, this one brings a (hopefully not!) complete package to a close. If Nintendo is still considering, please consider adding a story portion that takes place at the end after Calamity Ganon has fallen. I think it would be intriguing to see how the world recovers from a scenario like that! Even though the story didn’t develop in the direction I sought after, it developed in the way that it was originally intended: naturally, with a focus on wanderlust and bringing out joy. The Champion’s Ballad is an excellent last hurrah from Nintendo on Breath of the Wild, and a wonderful way to cap off an already excellent year for the company.