When you cover speedrunning for a while, you start to ask: "can I do that?" This weekend, I started doing my own runs in Breath of the Wild to see how far I'd get. As you might imagine, the results were messy.
I've always been interested in the kinds of glitches and tricks that speedrunners use to complete games quickly. I've messed around with glitch heavy playthroughs of other Zelda games before. A few years back, I did a very slow glitched playthrough of Ocarina of Time.
How slow? It took me nearly five hours to skip the Door of Time and become an adult. That trick takes actual runners a handful of seconds to perform successfully. A few months ago, I experimented with Majora's Mask 3D, where a single bomb boost took me two hours of practice.
Clearly, I was a speedrun master ready to take on Breath of the Wild.
I decided to focus on a modified version of the Any% route, in which the condition for victory is beating the game, no matter what percentage you've completed. It uses a few older, slower strategies but I'm not really trying to do much other than have a successful run of some kind. It doesn't need to be brilliant. My first task was figuring out my way through the game's tutorial area: the Great Plateau. Learning movement and tricks has proven to be a fun challenge.
To learn the tricks I needed, I watched various runs and consulted the information at ZeldaSpeedRuns.com. It provided a baseline that helped me understand the various steps required get through the game as fast as I could. My fastest time through the Great Plateau currently rests at 33 minutes, five seconds. Which is absolutely terrible. For comparison, the fastest route through Great Plateau lasts roughly 24 minutes and 48 seconds. Most of my runs don't survive the attempt. I've only reached Hyrule Castle or the final boss fights a handful of times.
Here are the five things I've had the most difficulty with so far:
Whistle sprinting helps cover distances faster. But it hurts my frail, late-twenty year old hands.
1. Whistle Sprinting
I can already hear the hardcore runners laughing. Whistle sprinting isn't hard to do, but it is exhausting if you've never really done something like it before. This is a movement trick. You use it between sprints to cover ground faster. Pulling it off is simple: start sprinting and hold down the whistle button, then tap your sprint button. You'll run pretty fast and regain stamina because it's technically not sprinting. Pretty cool.
It is also super uncomfortable! To whistle sprint, I hold my Switch pro controller in a clumsy claw grip where my left thumb is on the D Pad and my left index finger directs motion with the analogue stick. Easy trick, early arthritis.
You can safely fall from any height if you don't panic.
2. Fall Damage Prevention
This is also a pretty easy trick to pull off and something that dedicated runners nail without a thought. You can fall from nearly any height by pulling out your weapon to toss it and then releasing the R trigger before quickly unequipping your weapon or shield. Once you get the timing, it's simple. For me, the inputs aren't the hard part.
I'm a jumpy little bundle of nerves. Falling from the top of a tower still gives me a mini panic attack, so I'll sometimes lose my shit and mess up the trick. Usually, I unequip before removing my finger from the R trigger. It's an amazingly stupid way to accidentally die, which I've basically turned into an art form at this point.
3. I Don't Know Where I Am?
A reasonable person would do some practice through the plateau until they knew the lay of the land and understood the where they needed to go. I am not a reasonable person. My current route through the plateau is best summed up with the phrase: "This way, probably."
More specifically, I can't keep track of the tiny pit stops from shrine to shrine. The current route has been well outlined but I end up having trouble maintaining a mental checklist as I play.
Which herbs do I pick up and where? Is there a backup location to pick up elixir-brewing beetles if I forget? Would it be better to skip cooking hot peppers before head towards the cryonis shrine? Will I forget to pick up enough weapons in Hyrule Castle?
Gang, I can't remember if I had breakfast this morning. How am I supposed to keep track of my bomb arrow count while fighting Calamity Ganon?
Seriously, fuck this jump.
4. This Bullshit Right Here
You use a technique called shield jumping a few times early on during the plateau segment. To do it, you simply jump in the air and pull out your shield. This is normally how you shield surf down slopes, but the animation of Link pulling the shield also extends the length of your jump.
It is first used to skip part of the magnesis trial and cross a bridge on the way to the cryonis trial. Here, you need to use it to jump around a boulder you'd usually hit with a hammer during the stasis trial. When you pull it off, you feel pretty badass.
If you pull it off. I'd venture that I'm at around a 50% success rate on this jump. I just can't find the right angle sometimes. I'll jump into the void or trip on the ledge. This should be simple but it feels like the hardest thing in the world. It's my largest hurdle at the moment, even more than the monsters in Hyrule Castle. This friggin' jump is the game's true villain.
TFW you pull off your first stasis boulder trick. ? pic.twitter.com/HLYrrigeHz
— Heather Alexandra (@transgamerthink) April 2, 2017
5. The Boulder
The fastest way to get from the stasis shrine to the Temple of Time is to launch yourself there on a boulder. It's flashy and fun. You move so fast that the game takes a moment to load the rest of the map before you hit the ground. Japanese runner Sva16162 found a remarkably consistent setup for launching the boulder. Drop a bomb, tap it into a small crevice behind the boulder, stasis, swing your axe or hammer, blow up the bomb, climb on the boulder and wait for take off.
Even with that setup, I kept screwing up for a while. I'd be standing too close to the bomb and blow myself up. I'd fail to pay attention to my direction and slam into the nearby cliffside. I'd move on the boulder mid-flight and die instantly.
Me and the Boulder are friends now. Some practice helped clear up bad blood. But every now and then, it decides to fly off before I can hold on.
Honorable Mention: Horses
Many speedrunners use the Link amiibo to get Epona so they can make the journey to Hyrule Castle faster. (They also use Toon Link for some elixir ingredients.) I don't have an amiibo, which means I have to get a horse right outside the plateau. They're invariably mean and usually kick me in the head. Fuck 'em.
Obvious Mention: Ganon
If you don't complete the main dungeons before heading to fight Ganon, you also need to fight four blight monsters. Safe strategies have guided me through Windblight and some of Waterblight Ganon but it's still going to be really damn hard to defeat the rest with only three hearts.
Runner's Answer: "That Kotaku lady that won't shut up about BotW."
This list might as well read: "Everything is hard." In isolation, these are simple things to tackle and practice has already made a few of them less of an issue. But when you have to pull off all of these tricks at once, with the pressure on and the clock ticking, there are a lot of ways to fuck up.
Last night was the furthest I've gone yet. I died in the mini-boss rush before Calamity Ganon with around 59 minutes and five seconds on the clock. Running up some stairs, I accidentally climbed the wall and got hit by a spear.
Here's what that looked like.
There's a long answer to that but the short one is this: it's not easy. Starting my own half-baked journey through Breath of the Wild only stresses how much dedication and work actual runners put into what they do.
I hope to complete my own run soon, and I'll be grinding out practice every evening until I do. We'll see how long that takes. There's a lot of challenges ahead that will be even tougher than these. Particularly Calamity Ganon.
For now, I really need to figure out that goddamn shield jump.