When The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild released in early March of this year, most of us were entranced by the inviting world of Hyrule. Not only was the game unlike any Zelda game to come before it, but it was, and is, unlike any other open-world game to date. Unlike other games that boasted players being able to go to any mountain along a path or plain, Breath of the Wild allowed us to take the path, or skip it and climb up the mountain itself, with the promise that, every time, the player would be rewarded. This wasn’t the limited climbing from Uncharted or Assassin’s Creed. This was the ability to stick like Spider-Man to virtually any surface, and scale it if you had enough stamina. Combine that with an infinitely versatile, yet simple set of four runes to solve the ingenious puzzles thrown at the player in the 120 expertly crafted shrines, an enchanting minimalist soundtrack, gorgeous visuals bathed in color, and some awesome, if short, dungeons, and congratulations! You’ve just created my new favorite game of all time! The only downside, in my opinion, was the lackluster story, which had most of the interesting events happen in cutscenes that took place chronologically before the game starts.
Due to a frustratingly vague description of the DLC even before the game came out, many people, including myself, believed that The Champions’ Ballad would take the time to flesh out the story, perhaps by having it be set in the past. This is not the case. The Champions’ Ballad very closely mimics the base game in terms of what it excels and falters at. However, considering the DLC’s foundation, that’s alright with me. If you’re looking for something radically different from what Breath of the Wild was, you won’t find it here. But if you want eight more hours to spend solving puzzles and fighting monsters in Hyrule, then The Champions’ Ballad has you covered. Oh, and you get a sick-ass motorcycle, too.
The Champions’ Ballad is only available for purchase as part of the DLC pack for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on Wii U and Switch. It also includes the previous DLC pack, The Master Trials.
Once you have tamed all four Divine Beasts, Zelda will call you, telling you to return to the Shrine of Resurrection. After the first set of challenges is complete, you are told to go to the four locations shown on the map. At each location, you will meet Kass, the traveling Rito minstrel, who is researching each of the four Champions in order to complete his late instructor’s ballad, hence the title. Once you have completed all of the challenges of that Champion’s respective region, Kass will perform his own song dedicated to that Champion, which will trigger a new memory for Link. Oddly enough, Link only appears in the final memory obtained from beating the entire DLC’s campaign, so it’s a bit ambiguous as to how he’s accessing these “memories” in the first place. In total, these five memories add up to about 15 minutes of view-time, and there is almost no plot in any of them. The first four consist of Zelda asking each to-be Champion to pilot a Divine Beast, while I’ll keep the last one a surprise. (Don’t get your hopes up too much, though.) While there is barely any more to the plot than that, the cutscenes are at least full of charm. They explore an aspect of each Champion’s characterization, and Zelda’s relationship with them. Baby Sidon is also adorable.
The voice direction, while maintaining the original cast, seems to be a notch up from some questionable performances in the base game, although they of course had less chances to mess up. I certainly didn’t find the cutscenes offensively bad or disappointing, but that’s because I went in with generally low expectations.
Additionally, there are four new diaries to peruse, each written by one of the Champions. From a story perspective, I enjoyed these far more than the cutscenes. They delve into the inner thoughts of each Champion at different events throughout the story, from their first interactions with Link and Zelda to days before the imminent strike of Calamity Ganon. Don’t expect Shakespeare, but they are generally well written, and are very true to their respective characters, for better or for worse. Mipha’s diary stands out in particular for being notably heart-wrenching.
On the other hand, I would not have known about the diaries at all, had I not heard mention of them online. If you go to the Champion’s relatives, there will be a new prompt to ask about them, and their relatives will tell you the location of the diary. The problem is that, aside from Kass mentioning them, you have no incentive to go back and talk to them! Perhaps I’m missing something, but I fear that these well written and fairly lengthy diaries will go to waste, simply because the game didn’t do good enough of a job notifying the player that they exist. Luckily, you have KeenGamer to give you the deets, but not all are so fortunate.
There’s yet another hidden bit of story, and it’s even more ridiculously hard to find. If you approach a Divine Beast after defeating the Ganon Blights as part of The Champions’ Ballad, you can challenge them as many times as you’d like. For each time you defeat the Blight up to around the fourth time, you will get a few new lines of voice-acted dialogue from the Champions. It’s a nice touch and all, and it gives the Champions even more character, but I’d honestly suggest just pulling up a YouTube video to see what the new dialogue is instead of wasting your time beating all of the bosses a million times. I’ll fully admit that I did the former.
Finally, you have some familiar NPCs around the locations of the challenges. They usually have something witty to say, and it’s always nice to know how these characters are holding up, but it’s nothing more than a nice touch.
Once you place the Sheikah Slate in the pedestal where you first found it, you will start the first phase of The Champions’ Ballad. You will be gifted the One-Hit Obliterator, which can take out any enemy in a single hit. However, there is a catch. The second you touch the weapon, all of your hearts, save one quarter, are depleted, meaning that you can also be taken out by any enemy or obstacle in a single hit. You are also unable to use any other melee weapon until you finish the challenge. You are tasked with going to four locations around the Great Plateau, where you must destroy all of the enemies, at which point a shrine will appear. This leads to some of the most tense moments in the entire game, and it greatly changes the game’s dynamic. Suddenly, a silver bokoblin with a short sword becomes a much smaller threat than a red bokoblin with a long lance, or, God forbid, anyone with an elemental rod or bow and arrow. The shrines themselves are almost as tense, especially with one dimly lit one where you must slowly progress, checking around every corner to see what’s next. It reminds me of the tense moments from Skyward Sword’s Silent Realms, but with actual combat.
Once you complete all of these, you are tasked with going to the aforementioned four locations. At these locations, there will be a structure with three further locations of shrines. However, it is up to you to determine where these locations are, based on the geography of the aerial shots. Seeing as they’re all in the general area, it’s not too hard to cross-reference the map and picture with a press of the L and R triggers until you have the exact location pinned down, but it is fun to put your now extensive knowledge of the terrain to use.
At these locations, there will be some form of challenge. One is a race not unlike many korok seed puzzles, albeit over a longer stretch of land. My personal favorite was one that involved snowboarding down an entire mountain. This was something I loved doing just for kicks, so I was glad to have a real reason to justify my snowboarding addiction. The other common challenge was combat, sometimes just with one super tough enemy, other times with a series of smaller nuisances. These were generally the most uncreative, but the combat in Breath of the Wild is excellent, so you’ll hear no complaints from me. Finally, the third was usually some form of puzzle. Perhaps there is a location or objective that you need to hit at a certain point of day, or, as in one case, you need to find a way to stand on lava. My favorite, however, was when you need to throw a spiritual orb into the hole around which you originally fought Master Kohga. I won’t go into details beyond that, but it brings back two characters I was happy to see, gives me an excuse to re-explore a highlight from the base game, and has a pretty hilarious ending.
The shrines themselves are, at worst, up to their usual high standard, and at best, far above. There is sadly one exception that involved using ice cubes that was tedious and unwieldy, but I will admit that this was at least in part due to my stupidity. Otherwise, they brought back some old favorites that made me feel like I was living my childhood again. I used to play with electricity circuit sets and this ball called a Perplexus where you roll around a marble inside it. These shrines, as always, harken back to that wondrous, playful sense of experimentation, adjustments, and execution. This is what it would be like if chemistry class were actually fun.
Once you have all three shrines completed from an area, you can travel back into your memories (just… go with it, okay?) and re-challenge the Ganon Blights. The twist here is that you only have what the game gives you, which consists of three pieces of low level clothing, a bow with a certain number of arrows, a weapon or three, and three pieces of low-healing food. It reminded me a bit of the previous DLC pack, The Master Trials, in that you had to use what you were given to take on an enemy in a way you might not usually do. For one blight, I was given a single dinky weapon, but a hundred arrows, so I had to rely almost entirely on archery. For another, I had 15 arrows and a single high-leveled weapon, so I had to make each hit count. The most tense moment, however, was when I had a single heart left, having used up Mipha’s Grace, and I saved myself by chucking my trident at the Blight seconds before its attack would have hit me. I enjoyed replaying these boss fights almost as much as I did for the first time, and that’s about the highest praise I could give a second boss encounter.
Now, if the DLC stopped here, that would have been a solid 16 shrines and 16 challenges that, when combined with DLC pack 1, would be worth twice what I paid for it, at least to me. But the final dungeon and boss take this from what would be a great addition to the game to making the DLC one of the highlights of the entire game. If not for the first-class Hyrule Castle, this would easily be my favorite dungeon. I dare not go into specifics, but it takes what was great from the four Divine Beasts and conglomerates them into this beautiful, complex working mechanism, where all of the elements of a smaller puzzle feed into one larger one. It takes about an hour to beat, especially if you go for the treasure chests, which I highly suggest. The rewards found within are crap, but the journey of going the extra mile to get to them is the real reward. And then…
The final boss. The. Final. Boss! Screw dark Link from Ocarina of Time. Screw Darknuts. Screw every other boss and enemy in Breath of the Wild! This final boss takes a million different moves from a million different enemies, and has the battle escalate further and further the second you think you’ve got his patterns down. It’s so freaking good, guys.
And now, I must transition from one of the most exciting parts of this DLC to one of the most mundane. Just like the previous DLC packs, there is a plethora of treasure chests to hunt down. Some are easy, others are poorly written and thus impossibly hard to find. Few to none are clever or fun to hunt down. On one hand, it’s nice to have an excuse to reexplore a region, but not like this. It mainly consisted of me turning my Sheikah sensor for treasure chests on and running around like a cucoo with its head cut off, trying to find these damn chests.
I have a confession to make. For any game I review here, I generally refuse to look up a guide. On my own time, I do fairly often, but if I’m reviewing it, I don’t want an outside source to color my experience from something that the game didn’t have any effect on. It is, then, with my head held low that I inform you that I looked up a guide for these chests not once, but twice. Each time, I was looking for one chest for over an hour. It was agony. If you want this gear, you can try and find most of it on your own, but for the headgear of the Royal Guard and Phantom Ganon sets, save yourself the trouble. See if you’re smarter than me for 10 minutes, and then look it up. You can thank me later.
I have no idea why you’d feel like you needed anything to “reward” you for experiencing a delicious second helping of the pinnacle of gaming, (very subjective claim there, don’t hurt me!) but if you must, The Champions’ Ballad has you covered. The first four shrines you do on the Great Plateau reward you with the usual Spirit Orbs, meaning that you can extend your life or stamina by one notch more than you would otherwise be able to. You still can’t have max stamina and life, but it’s something.
The rest of the shrines do not reward you with Spirit Orbs, but when you finish a set of three and defeat the Ganon Blight, you will have the recharge time reduced for the Blight’s respective victim’s special move. If Link wasn’t overpowered before, he certainly is now!
And then we have the cherry on top: the Master Cycle Zero. Who needs horses when you can ride a motherfreackin’ MOTORCYCLE through Hyrule?! Let me tell you, it is every bit as cool as it sounds. It looks awesome, it sounds awesome, it feels awesome. You can zoom around Hyrule at about the same speed as a horse, perhaps a little faster, but being able to turn at a second’s notice, drive up and down steep hills, not have to wait for it to regain stamina, and still being able to shoot arrows and swing your sword on it, is something I never knew I needed until I had it. You do have to put in materials every now and then to refuel it, but I’m pretty set on chuchu jelly at this point. It’s actually nice to have a use for it. Does it make sense? No. Is is completely ridiculous? Of course. Do I care? Heck no! I’ve put roughly 250 hours into Breath of the Wild at this point, the most I’ve put into any game, and I’m certainly going to spend a good 250 more cruising around on this sweet ride. Sorry, Epona.
Finally, there are the costumes. I’ll admit, they look pretty sweet. I’m personally a fan of having Link wear the two bottom costume pieces from Phantom Ganon to look like he has crazy abs, and then putting the silly Ravio mask on him. Now that I think of it, I want to watch the cutscene where Link pulls out the Master Sword with that exact costume. You also hilariously get armor for your horse that not only looks awesome, but can also gallop longer without getting tired and warp to wherever you are. What’s hilarious about it is that you now have access to the Master Cycle Zero, which is better than a horse in every conceivable way other than that it needs fuel. This unfortunately renders the gear a little useless, unless you’re really stingy on parts. And the Royal Guard uniform might be the classiest Link’s ever looked. Most of these costumes will give you little bonuses that you’ve seen before, but they have such low defense with no way to upgrade them that you won’t want to run around in these except for a cool photo shoot.
GRAPHICS AND AUDIO
While the content of the new memories aren’t all that impressive, the presentation is top-notch. The characters move almost like they’re dancing in the action sequences, easily making these among the best animated cutscenes in the entire game. Additionally, the soundtrack in these cutscenes sent chills down my spine, with newly composed arrangements of all of the Champions’ themes.
Outside of the cutscenes, the graphics maintain the excellent presentation of the base game. For the first four challenges on the Great Plateau, the area is cloaked in a shroud of dark blue. This perfectly complements the tenseness of searching every corner to see if there’s anything that could hurt you. The dungeon continues the aesthetics of the Divine Beasts, which has always been visually captivating through its use of saturating every square inch with fantastical machinery that you slowly discover how to use and master. And, yet again, the stage for the final boss can only be described as epic.
The music, however, is on an entirely different level. In fact, the dungeon and final boss would not have had quite as much as the effect they had on me, had it not been for the phenomenal new compositions. Just like previous Divine Beasts, the music starts out with only a few instruments, but grows and grows in complexity the further along you get in it. However, it has a much more optimistic tone than the seeming despair and gloom that permeated the themes of the Divine Beasts. Finally, the theme for the final boss takes the beauty of the motifs and instrumentation from Breath of the Wild and rearranges it into a wonderfully uncharacteristic upbeat, almost electrifyingly frenetic piece that I never expected, but nevertheless fell in love with.
The story for The Champions' Ballad wasn't the greatest in the world, but I still ended up crying at the end. It certainly wasn't about the generic lines of dialogue that came at the end. Instead, it was because of what it meant. I had experienced the end of the most magical journey I had ever embarked upon in a video game. I remember when the original 2014 E3 trailer was shown, and feeling like 2015 was ages away. Of course, the game was delayed to two years later, but the wait was absolutely worth it. Now, that game is complete, and while I still plan to dedicate hundreds hours more to do everything in Master Mode, this marks the end of new content. I know that games will come later to very likely surpass Breath of the Wild in quality, but I doubt that the feeling of pure excitement and amazement will ever be recaptured in another game, because Breath of the Wild was the first. The Champions' Ballad brings to a close not just a monumental chapter in video game history, but on a moment of my life.
The Champions’ Ballad isn’t entirely what I wanted, but I ended up loving it anyway. Plenty of games have fantastic stories, but no other game has the pure imagination, design, and freedom that Breath of the Wild has, and, by extension, The Champions’ Ballad. Of course, the DLC isn’t as much of a revelation as Breath of the Wild itself was, because it isn’t a new game. It’s an extension of the game that so many people loved. If you set aside what you wanted The Champions’ Ballad to be, and accept it as it is, this last adventure through Breath of the Wild’s Hyrule is nearly every bit as magical as the game it’s being added onto. And that’s just about the highest praise I can give.
|+ Sixteen more expertly crafted shrines||– Still underwhelming story|
|+ One-Hit Obliterator leads to very tense moments||– Ridiculous requirements for getting extra dialogue|
|+ Brilliant new dungeon and final boss|
|+ Everything about the Master Cycle Zero rocks|