Posted on January 13 2020 by Sean Gadus
I love trailers. It feels incredible to get a sneak peek at a shiny, exciting new movie or game. Regardless of whether it is a game, movie, sports event (the NBA finals opening montage, for example), trailers have a special way of getting people excited for an upcoming event.
In the past few decades, trailers have played an increasingly important role in the marketing of games and films. Trailer designers and game developers spend weeks choosing what to reveal and what to conceal about a game. Inside studios across the world, people spend hours meticulously crafting trailers that fans will love, even if the game or movie turns out to be an awful mess. Overall, the process of creating a great trailer is highly calculated, but there is also an element of finesse that makes them feel like a piece of art. In rare case, some trailers can transcend the film or game they are advertising.
Of all the trailers I have ever watched, one trailer stands out vividly to me. Breath of the Wild‘s final trailer, which debuted at the Nintendo Switch reveal presentation, was first shown 3 years ago on January 12th, 2017. I still consider this three-minute adrenaline rush as the best trailer I have ever seen. Since its premiere, the trailer has been the piece of media that I use to explain “what Zelda is” to people who aren’t fans of the series. The trailer is a perfect distillation of everything I love about Zelda. The trailer is filled with beautiful scenery, exciting gameplay innovations, and impactful story moments that primed audiences for the experience of a lifetime. After three years of reminiscing and rewatching the trailer, this is my breakdown of the greatest trailer I have ever seen.
One Of The Most Anticipated Games Ever Produced
Breath of the Wild was the game I had been waiting six years to play. I bought a Wii U foolishly thinking that two or three years down the line I would be able to play the new Zelda game. Then the game got delayed. Often. During this long drought, I spent a great deal of time re-watching the E3 2014 cinematic trailer and scouring the footage from the 2014 Game Awards for tiny details and potential hints about the hugely anticipated game. As the months dragged on without word from Nintendo, I felt like the game would get delayed forever. Metroid Prime fans, I understand your pain.
E3 2016 was a big moment for me as a Zelda fan. I rushed home from a meeting for my summer teaching job to watch the Breath of the Wild reveal. Nintendo’s E3 coverage featured had a ton of new footage from the game that fans could salivate over. In addition, fans got an exciting trailer at the 2016 Game Awards called “Life In The Ruins”. After these exciting reveals, I felt a renewed sense of anticipation as I waited for the game’s release date to leak out or to be announced.
By January 2017, I had hope that the Breath of the Wild might be released soon. And when the Nintendo Switch presentation rolled around, every outlet believed that Nintendo would have important Zelda news during the conference. Late into the night of January 12th, I waited patiently for Zelda coverage. Nintendo, being the savvy company that they are, made fans wait to the very end of the presentation for their fix. The Breath of the Wild trailer was the exclamation point at the end of an exciting presentation. It was a brilliant marketing play that worked perfectly because Breath of the Wild was the game Nintendo fans had waited six years for. And with all Zelda fans watching, the company gave us the most tantalizing look at the game yet.
Teasing A Breathtaking World
From its beautiful opening shot to its dramatic closing moment, Breath of the Wild‘s final trailer teases viewers with one of the most breathtaking and varied worlds in video games. Breath of the Wild’s developers have spoken endlessly about how the world was an important character within the game, and this statement shines through in the trailer. The trailer lingers on sweeping landscapes shots that are awe inspiring to behold. A diverse world is on display; one filled with dusty deserts, snowy mountains, and beautiful shorelines. It was a world that checked every box a fantasy fan could ever dream of, with a level of detail that had never before been seen in a Nintendo game. In short, it was a dream come true.
The trailer also teases the ruins and shattered remnants of the once-powerful Kingdom of Hyrule, which were haunting reminders of the tragedy that had befallen this beautiful world. The trailer teases the tragic decline of a world that many fans had a deep connection to. Nintendo did this without giving away the secrets as to what caused the widespread decay and destruction of Hyrule. The developers provided a mystery that could only be uncovered by roaming the wild world left behind. The trailer that teased deserts, jungles, lakes, mountains, forests, and ruins also hinted that the secrets of the past would reveal themselves only to those who were willing to explore.
The Promise of Near Limitless Possibility
Nintendo didn’t just promise a breathtaking world; it also promised a world that would be a playground for players’ ingenuity and creativity. The trailer showed more of the title’s new gameplay features, like climbing and experimental magic abilities, which would revolutionize the Legend of Zelda series.
While common actions like sword fighting, archery, and horseback riding featured heavily in the thrilling trailer, it also promised game-changing features like climbing. The climbing in Breath of the Wild offered an insane promise of truly open exploration and unparalleled freedom of movement. With the ability to climb, Nintendo illustrated that creative exploration and problem solving would be key elements of the game. Players faced with a foreboding fortress or an enormous mountain could now scamper up the structure. Climbing gave the game an openness and verticality that was rarely present in fantasy games. In their trailer, Nintendo presented game mechanics that would unleash a player’s creativity and put player agency at the forefront.
Another key addition to the game were Runes, which were first introduced in the trailer and footage from the prior E3. These physics-based abilities promised to make the world a playground for your own experiments. New footage of the Magnesis Rune left many fans wondering how far they could push these new abilities before breaking the game. With the promise of a completely open world, fans left the latest trailer believing (rightly) that Breath of the Wild’s Runes offered exciting new ways to engage with the world and a near-infinite potential for experimentation, manipulation, and unchained exploration.
Thus Spoke Zelda
A crucial point of contention with Breath of the Wild was the more significant use of voice acting for key scenes and characters. Some fans wanted the series to modernize their narrative approach while others wanted the series to continue with its more traditional approach to speech and dialogue. Ultimately, the game would fall somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. The game broke new ground for the franchise with important characters receiving more voice acting in key cutscenes. In the trailer, listeners heard four new voices that would be a part of the upcoming game.
The first was a wizened, old women who discussed the history of Hyrule and Calamity Ganon. Many fans correctly connected the voice to a new version of Impa. Another voice was a mysterious and deep voice discussing Link’s lack of memory. This character had a mysterious connection to Link. This voice turned out to be a new version of the iconic Deku Tree. The third was a stern and regal voice that spoke about the mysterious events that occurred “one hundred years ago”. This voice was revealed at the end of trailer to belong to The King of Hyrule. This was exciting because this is a role that has been widely underused across the history of the Zelda series. Each of these three voices provided hints of how Nintendo would be handling voice acting and some clues to the tone of the cutscenes and the game overall.
Finally, viewers were finally given a more comprehensive look at Princess Zelda. While the character had been shown from different angles, the moment when she turned around to the face the camera was a huge moment for many fans. We had waited years to see the princess make her dramatic return and it was worth the wait. Listeners also heard the voice of Princess Zelda for the first time as well. While many fans have been divided over the choice to have Zelda with a proper British accent, Zelda’s voice would set a precedent that the series will continue with Breath of the Wild’s sequel. Overall, the trailer gave fans of Princess Zelda a chance to discuss her new look and her first fully-voiced role.
After the audience heard these four characters’ voices, each listener began to develop their opinion about whether voice acting would be good or bad for the series. Regardless of their opinion, however, the choice to include more significant voice acting is one that will continue in the future of the franchise and it is unlikely to go away anytime soon.
A Thunderous, Evocative Score That Matched The Visuals
With the beautiful imagery presented in the trailer, the music needed to be pitch perfect as well. The song that Nintendo created for the trailer is one of the most boisterous and exciting compositions in its long history. The song is credited to Breath of the Wild composers Manaka Kataoka, Yasuaki Iwata, and Hajimme Wakai. This trio of composers constructed an absolute beast of a song that utilizes piano, strings, brass, percussion, and choral elements to create a dramatic piece of music that sets the tone for the dramatic visuals. Without the musical score, the footage would be far less memorable than it is.
The song creates incredible tension with dramatic crescendos and decrescendos, with the tune transitioning from peaceful and scattered piano runs to outbursts of thunderous brass. The piano is used for many beautiful scenic moments, while the dramatic percussion and brass are used to underscore the more traditionally “heroic” moments within the trailer. Overall, the piece never lingers on an instrument or motif too long. The song races ahead at a lightning-fast pace that keeps the listener fully engaged for the length of the trailer. It’s a beautiful, dramatic piece that captures the joy of exploration, the tragedy of loss, and the heroism that has become a core element of The Legend of Zelda series.
This song is so revered and beloved among fans of Breath of the Wild that the Zelda Dungeon team previously argued about whether the song should be included in “Musical March Madness” last year despite the fact it never actually appeared in-game. Additionally, it is famous enough that, alongside other all-time favorite tunes, the song has its own arrangement in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.
Highlighting An Emotional Story
One aspect of the Breath of the Wild that might have been hyped too much was its story. Fans knew the basics from E3 2016. Link wakes up one hundred years after a kingdom-shattering calamity. The hero must make his way through the world and seek answers about the past. And thanks to the final trailer the following year, fans were even more excited with the story moments the game had to offer. The cinematic moments in the trailer teased a more nuanced story ripe with deep and powerful emotion.
This wasn’t just a story about Link exploring a beautiful world; it was also a story about Link coming to terms with the devastating tragedy that haunted the world. Breath of the Wild‘s final trailer presented a story filled with tragedy, failure, and pain. Some of the footage teased massive narrative moments that got fans excited to know the full story. Shots of the Master Sword rusting in a massive forest teased the moment Link would reclaim his destiny. Footage of a massive town burning to the ground and being overrun with guardians made viewers wonder whether the player would be shown flashbacks to the downfall of Hyrule. Finally, a stunning shot showed Princess Zelda bathed in divine light and using her extraordinary powers.
Unfortunately, this may be the one way in which the game didn’t live up to the trailer. Many of the best story moments of the game are in the trailer. The intense, heart wrenching moment of Zelda falling into Link’s arms was featured prominently in the trailer. I had dreamed of seeing Link and Zelda become more authentic, human characters, and finally it felt like the trailer was promising viewers powerful emotion between Link and Zelda. It is disappointing that this amazing moment was relegated to a side quest that not everyone would find. Overall, the game had very little to offer in terms of story compared to the massive amount of side quests and errands to run. Regardless of the end product, that three-minute trailer showed the potential that Breath of the Wild‘s story had to offer, even if the final game never achieved its full potential.
Conclusion: A Distillation of What I Love About The Legend of Zelda
Three years ago, Nintendo debuted a trailer that captured the elements that I love most about the Legend of Zelda series. For anyone who is trying to help someone understand what the Zelda series is, show them this trailer.
The three-minute roller coaster teased exciting tools to collect, weapons to wield, and magic to use. The game teased tricky puzzles that would force players to think creatively. The trailer included a host of exciting enemies like the massive Divine Beasts, mischievous Bokoblins, fire-breathing Lizalfos, and mysterious Yiga Clan warriors. It highlighted a story about a young man’s journey to recover his past and become a hero. And perhaps most importantly, Breath of the Wild‘s final trailer promised the viewer a beautiful, wild, and massive world for players to get lost in. The combination of these elements sums up everything I want from the Legend of Zelda series.
It is still the best trailer I have ever seen.
Sean Gadus is an Associate Editor at Zelda Dungeon. He loves playing video games, reading books, and geeking out about all things Star Wars and Batman. His first Zelda game was Ocarina of Time. He loves perfectly silent movie theaters and is currently watching The Dragon Prince and Halt and Catch Fire.