The Zelda Diaries: Part 6 – A Beast of a Time

Last time, we talked about how Breath of the Wild makes use of its shrines as a short-form, handheld-friendly take on the Zelda series’ dungeoneering.

There’s another major part of the game that provides an interesting twist on this traditional aspect of the franchise, however, and that’s the Divine Beasts.

Providing significant, dramatic, story-critical challenges for Link to overcome, the Divine Beasts may, once again, be a bit of a deviation from Zelda’s previously established norms, but they’re still very cool.

From a narrative perspective, the four Divine Beasts are giant, mechanical monstrosities that were originally built as weapons to be used against Ganon. Since pretty much everything else has gone wrong in the ruined Hyrule of Breath of the Wild, however, it will not surprise you to learn that the Divine Beasts have been running somewhat wild, in each case causing considerable trouble for the very people they’re supposed to be protecting.

From a progression standpoint, the Divine Beasts represent major objectives that you should probably accomplish in order to beat the game. Note that I don’t say “have to” accomplish; it is indeed possible to beat Breath of the Wild without doing any of the Divine Beasts, and some skilled players have even made a beeline straight for Ganon as soon as they get off the Great Plateau in the early hours of the game.

I am neither a skilled player nor someone with a particular desire to speedrun or “sequence break” the game, however, so I’ve been gradually working my way through its various challenges a bit at a time. At the time of writing, I’ve beaten two of the Divine Beasts: Vah Ruta, which had been terrorising Zora’s Domain with a never-ending downpour of “rain” (actually water from the nearby reservoir); and Vah Medoh, which has been figuratively clipping the birdlike Rito people’s wings by unleashing aerial attacks on them.

Each of the Divine Beast encounters consists of a number of sections. Typically, you’ll begin a quest to approach a Divine Beast in cooperation with a major character from the locale they’re causing trouble in, and this quest will involve some sort of preparation. In the case of Vah Ruta, for example, you’re tasked with acquiring some shock arrows, which in Vah Medoh’s case you need to prove your accuracy with airborne archery to a Rito warrior who will provide your means of actually getting up to the giant mechanical eagle.

This is then followed by a giant boss fight of sorts, usually with a certain cinematic element. During this battle, you are tasked with destroying certain key targets on the Divine Beast’s body using the arrows you’ve collected (or been supplied with), but you’ll also need to fend off the Beast’s attacks, too. Much like in the rest of the game, there are typically multiple ways to do this, and experimentation with your abilities is key to find the most effective means of defending yourself. While you can fend off Vah Ruta’s ice block attacks with arrows or well-timed melee hits, for example, it’s much better to use your Cryonis ability to shatter them before they get anywhere close to you.

Once you destroy all the relevant targets, you’re able to approach the Divine Beast directly, at which point you enter its “dungeon” proper. The objective in each of these is the same: find and activate all the terminals which will allow you to wrest control of the Beast back from Ganon, and turn its power on Hyrule’s oppressor.

This, naturally, is easier said than done, with each Beast having its own unique internal layout and its terminals typically being scattered in some of the most inconvenient places imaginable. You’ll need to demonstrate a good understanding of your abilities as well as the game’s solid physics engine to progress, more often than not, but as is the pattern for the rest of the game, there tends not to be a single set solution to the problems you encounter.

One of the most interesting things about the Divine Beasts is that once you unlock the (not especially useful or readable) 3D map of them via a special terminal, you are able to take control of a particular aspect of their mechanisms from the map screen. You’re able to move the trunk of the elephantine Vah Ruta, for example, which can both allow access to previously unreachable areas and spray water in various places, and in the case of Vah Medoh you’re able to “bank” it in either direction, making previously flat hallways into uphill or downhill slopes.

Manipulation of the Divine Beast itself is probably the main mechanic you’ll need to master while attempting to overcome these challenges, and as always, experimentation is key. A bit of fiddling around will reveal that the exact position you put Vah Ruta’s trunk at will cause a waterwheel to rotate in one direction or another, for example, while those who have spent as much time leaping down mountains and hillocks out in the overworld as I have will doubtless realise that tilting Vah Medoh to an angle where a corridor slopes down and away from you will allow you to paraglide your way to a high-up ledge you wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach on the flat.

It’s this sort of “organic” gameplay that makes Breath of the Wild so interesting to play, whether you’re exploring the overworld or attempting to complete a Divine Beast. At no point do you feel like you’re stepping into a discrete, self-contained “puzzle room”; the Divine Beasts as a whole are effectively giant puzzles themselves, but the exact means through which you approach their challenges is up to you. Compare and contrast with a more traditional Zelda dungeon, meanwhile, where progression is much more scripted and linear, and you’ll see the difference.

It’s been a point of contention for some players who have been following the series for a long time, but as someone who was originally skeptical about Breath of the Wild when I first heard how different it was going to be from past Zelda games, I can say with confidence that I’ve been really enjoying this way of doing things. You feel like you’re overcoming problems with your own initiative and creativity rather than attempting to find the “correct” solution that the designers intended.

That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with the latter approach, mind — I still love me an old-school Zelda puzzle — but it’s just nice to have a bit of a change now and then. And Breath of the Wild certainly provides that.


More about The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

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