This is the story of how The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild help me get through one of my darkest times in life as a migrant.
I’m tired. I get back from the tour and park my bike while thanking everyone who came for their time and effort. I politely ask them to leave a tip if they feel the tour was worth it and then I quietly sneak to the end of the hallway in the back of the room.
An unassuming white door awaits and, behind it, a frighteningly deep darkness that tries to consume me before I reach for the switch beside the doorway. A flickering white light comes alive, then another, and another one after that until a long flight of metal stairs descends into my current living quarters.
This is the entrance to my dungeon.
It’s spring of 2018 and I’m a bike tour guide in Barcelona. My tours take people around many of the city’s (and the world’s) most popular landmarks. Sagrada Familia? First stop on the way. La Pedrera and Casa Batlló? I’ll even tell you the story of Sant Jordi to go along with the visit. I have a set of fool-proof jokes during my narration and they always kill.
The tours are just part of my duties at a hostel that will remain unnamed, where I’m also in charge of cooking dinner for guests six days a week. I do this because I can’t get a proper job and in exchange for my services, the hostel management has lent me a tiny room with a twin-sized bed in the basement.
So, I land on the room at the base of the stairs and check the gallon jugs to make sure they’re not full yet. Three humidifiers are slowly humming along, catching the humidity in the air and storing it in tanks, which I dump every morning into the jugs until they’re full.
The basement is separated into two rooms and what feels like a living room with a rug and a couch. In spite of the racks with cleaning supplies and bags of new toilet paper, it feels cozy enough to keep me from screaming.
One room is filled with all sorts of things: old mattresses, black trash bags filled with blankets, boxes with old door knobs, painting brushes and all manner of screws. The other room is where I currently sleep.
In addition to the aforementioned bed, there’s a desk with a chair, an IKEA carpet I brought from my previous apartment, and two wooden racks to place my clothes and other belongings. And among those belongings is my most recent and amazing acquisition: my brand new Nintendo Switch.
I only have BOTW in it, but it’s more than enough and the game is the biggest and best present I have given myself since coming to live in Europe. Let me tell you about this game, fam.
My First Impression
Breath of the Wild takes Zelda to its roots again, but you already knew that. If you’re a Zelda fan or even a Nintendo fan, you’ve heard, seen and probably smelled this game and all the great praise it’s received over the last year since its launch. I’m just late to the party.
I too was deep in the Z-hole of information surrounding the game, except I had no friends with the console I could go visit to play it. No stores nearby would put the game up for testing and queues to play it at local gaming events were impossible to get through.
For a year, all I did was dream about buying the Switch so I could then buy Breath of the Wild.
In my first playthrough of the game, I had the console hooked up an LCD screen at my ex-girlfriend’s apartment. It looked better than my dreams. I lasted for all of 45 minutes before turning it off and going to bed and didn’t even make it past the very first shrine in the game. The reason? I kept getting sidetracked and stopped to gawp in awe at every minute detail of my surroundings.
There’s this great interview by Stephen Totilo on Kotaku where he questions Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Super Mario and Link, about how every Zelda game since the original has progressively delayed the player’s access to the first dungeon. Skyward Sword is the most egregious transgressor, clocking in at 70 minutes before you get to anything you can call ‘fun’.
Not the case with Breath of the Wild. At my leisure, stepping into this version of Hyrule took less than 5 minutes and it actively encouraged me to play with it. It’s not like in Metal Gear Solid, where a button prompt needs to be showing so I know what button to press to make Snake do something. Instead, this Zelda wants me to try and see what happens.
Jump at a tree, see if I climb. Oh, I can climb! Cool. What if I walk up to a wall? Oh, I’m climbing that too automatically. Nice. Swimming? Just dive from a ledge and see if you survive. For a man cooped in a basement in Barcelona, this expansive and mysterious world was te textbook definition of freedom and escapism.
I caught a rhino beetle leaving the cave where I was resurrected. Whatever. I found a better pair of pants and tried to explore every nook and crevice in the ancient Temple of Time. If it had been a stream, my poor viewers would’ve passed out of boredom just watching me poke at the game and trying to climb everything in sight just to see if I could.
But this story isn’t about the game; not entirely, anyway. It’s about how, every time I came back from another bike tour, I would take off my white Chuck Taylor low-tops, get on my bed and instantly escape from the confines of that old damp basement and into the lush and sunny pastures of the Great Plateau.
It made a big difference for my mood, because the first few times I did the tour, I had to reign my excitement at discovering the best route to guide my guests around town. For the first two weeks, every tour was an adventure, not just for them as newcomers to the city, but to me as a guy who had lived for almost 3 years in the city and knew next to nothing of its history.
By the first month, though? I was focusing more on the guests than on the route itself. Depending on who showed up to the tour, I would tailor the commentary, omitting certain off-color jokes or adopting a different persona in the service of being more likeable and getting better tips.
All I wanted was to get the tour over as fast I could to get my ass back down to my lair and play around some more hours in Hyrule.
My Big BOTW Moment
I tested everything. Instead of starting with the typical lava or water areas, I headed straight for the Gerudo Desert. Oh, so you say I can do anything I want in this new Zelda? I’m gonna test that right now.
Indeed, the first real boss I faced inside the ancient beast, Vah Naboris, turned out to be the hardest I would face in the game. Not just because of my lack of expertise with the controls, but also because Thunderblight Ganon was one of the hardest bosses, period.
Meant to test the players reflexes when parrying and dodging, this evil entity strikes with lightning bolts and a deadly sword slash that pummeled my Link time and time again, getting me closely acquainted with the game’s game over and continue screens.
I must’ve died about 50 times, easy. I had, maybe, 5 heart containers in all, no special or upgraded armor, and my stamina was still in its newbie levels. Later I would find there’s an entire set of rubber armor that nullifies thunder attacks, but I got it around my 120th hour with the game.
But on my life #51, when I finally dodged this turd biscuit’s horizontal slash, and Urbosa’s voice cried ‘YES!’, with perfect timing as the camera slowed down, my heart swelled up like it hadn’t playing a game in over a decade.
That was it. That was the moment I knew I would make it alright through the next two months living in the basement at that hostel and whatever life threw at me I would bravely withstand in spite of the odds being against me.
Call it a tale of fanaticism or the joys of capitalism, but the fact is investing in a Nintendo Switch and in a brand new video game turned out to be an investment in my joy and therefore my mental and emotional welfare. A creamy heart soup for the soul, if you will.
I don’t know that another game will make me feel this good in the nearby future, nor that I will ever experience hardship in the way those three months of my life tested my will and perseverance. It almost makes me curious enough to get in trouble again just to see if Link or some other hero will save me once more.