The idea of writing a game review for The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is daunting. Part of me wondered, why bother? There are hundreds of reviews out there, and the game has been out for a couple of weeks; however, isn’t part of gaming all about the conversation amongst friends? No one needs to read another article on how great it is (unless you are Kotaku). Instead, I wanted to take a step back and look at the title holistically compared to other Zelda titles and to other modern games. So, let’s get started.
Title:The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom
Release Date: May 12th, 2023
Available on: Nintendo Switch
Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch (OLED model)
**SPOILER ALERT** Because of the open world nature of this game, many people may choose to take their time with the story. Therefore, this review will only contain light spoiler material, such as character discussion and gameplay. There will be no major plot points discussed.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is a direct sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. After Link and Zelda saved the kingdom of Hyrule from Calamity Ganon, the people began rebuilding in order to regain some sense of normalcy. Some years later, people within the castle fell ill to “gloom”, so Zelda and Link ventured into the castle depths. An ominous, reddish-pink fog grew thicker as they descended into areas that were previously forbidden by the king.
Zelda discovers murals and statues that depict an ancient tribe, the Zonai. While amazed by the discovery, Zelda questions why Zonai are depicted underneath Hyrule castle. Soon, Link and Zelda stumble into a vast room where a glowing hand, descending from a swirl of green symbols, is suspended in space and holding down a corpse. As if on queue, the hand falls, and the corpse reanimates.
The corpse, as we all know now as Ganondorf, knows their names and triggers the Upheaval. Gloom erupts from Ganondorf and consumes Link’s arm and shatters the Master Sword. Zelda falls into the depths, and Link fails to catch her. The people of Hyrule watch in fear as the castle rises from the ground.
After the sequence, Link awakens to a new arm, an arm that once belonged to a Zonai named Rauru. Now in spirit form, Rauru introduces you to the Great Sky Island, and this is where your journey as Link begins in The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom.
Your primary objectives is to locate Zelda, research the troubling phenomena occurring in the four primary regions of Hyrule, and find out once and for all what is going on at Hyrule Castle.
Graphics and Sound
Tears of the Kingdom retains the same art style as its predecesor. Its colorful and cell-shaded/watercolor graphics ensure that this game will age gracefully for years to come. The Zonai introduces new designs as well, focusing on bright greens and smooth lines and circles. The entrances to their shrines and the visuals while Link uses the Ascend ability feel more natural and flowing than harsh and mechanical.
The presence of the Zonai also bring new sounds to the game. While The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom retains mostly ambient music while you explore the world, we also hear new themes-from the dissonant voices when nearing Ganondorf for the first time to the remixed Champion music within certain phases of the temples. A common theme will will notice is that Nintendo retained most of Breath of the Wild’s identity but also fused (pun intended) elements of traditional Zelda–just enough to tease the palate of those who long for the old days. The music in Tears of the Kingdom therefore exceeds that of Breath of the Wild by providing a little more identity with new and old elements.
- Main Missions
There are several main missions to run through, giving us a bit more meat than The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The open world concept is still true here, as you can tackle them in almost any order. The first of the missions includes researching the four phenomena. This is Tears of the Kingdom‘s equivalent to the four Divine Beast missions in the previous game, and yet, there is a lot more built into this version. Instead of going to fix a Divine Beast, you are revisiting an area that has been drastically altered by a disaster that impacted the Zora, Goron, Rito, and Gerudo. You first must help the leader, then partner with them in search of the source of the phenomenon, explore a temple, then defeat a boss. This mission not only gathers allies but also sheds light on the history of the Sages and Imprisoning War.
In addition to the four phenomena, there are Dragon’s Tears to discover among the eleven geoglyphs found in the land. This is the equivalent to Breath of the Wild’s memories. Tracking each Tear down will provide you with a look into what happened to Zelda.
A mission tied to the Lost Woods involves, you guessed it, the Master Sword. To avoid spoilers, I won’t go into how this is done and why, but as you can see, each major mission parallels to the ones on Breath of the Wild. However, this is not necessarily a critique as Nintendo has tweaked each version into longer, more substantial, and in my opinion, more meaningful experiences (my critiques will come later).
2. Shrines and Temples
This is a strength to The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. At first, I grimaced knowing the shrine mechanic remained in the sequel, but I will say I enjoyed them more than the shrines in Breath of the Wild. I’ve noticed these shrines tend to be on the easier side, but they are also more streamlined. Each have an introduction section to prepare the player, then the challenge escalates in the next room or two. Like shrines past, many can be accomplished more than one way. You collect Light of Blessing (which is just like the Spirit Orb of Breath of the Wild), and every four can get you a Heart Container or Stamina Vessel. I guess if the system isn’t broken, why fix it? The aesthetic changes are nice though, as if you stepped into a Buddhist temple or zen garden.
The temples are a welcome change to Tears of the Kingdom. Some may debate that they are no more than decorated Divine Beasts, and in some ways, they are. The Wind, Water, Fire, and Lightning Temple all have a similar premise–to unlock a final area/control by activating/unlocking four to five areas (…like terminals); however, each temple has its own them–something that was sorely missed in Breath of the Wild. The music escalates as you progress, and Nintendo ties in Divine Beast and Champion music remixes to fully immerse you until you face off with a unique boss. The days of Blight Ganons are no more!
Image Credit: Nintendo
The staggering difference is that companions fight alongside you–more on that in the character section.
There is a nod to another temple that I will remain silent on. All I can say is that I wish it was a full blown temple.
Ah, the Fuse, Ultra Hand, Ascend, and Recall. Ever since Eiji Aonuma showed them off in a demo in March, many players already were thinking on what to create. If Breath of the Wild‘s main theme is exploration, Tears of the Kingdom‘s primary theme is creation. The array if items and weapons you can fuse to your shield, arrow, or weapon is staggering. I am over sixty hours in the game, and I’m still playing around with different combos. Most players seem to enjoy Ultra Hand the most, and the internet is having a field day with videos of roasted Koroks and flying war machines.
As a person devoid of all creativity and struggles with spatial awareness, I enjoyed Ascend and Recall more. These two allow me to traverse easily throughout Hyrule and the Sky Islands. There isn’t much for me to add to these abilities other than they are great parallels (are you noticing a theme to this article?) to the tech offered by the Sheikah Slate in Breath of the Wild. For gamers who care less about the story, these abilities provide the sandbox where they can tinker and play around with for hours.
Speaking of creations, you must obtain Zonai devices for them, and there are a surprising variety. In addition to the rocket, wheels, and fan, we also get various elemental emitters, sleds, batteries, honing device, hover stones, and more as you progress. They can be obtained in what looks like massive gum ball machines. You supply various Zonai parts and charges–the better the quality, the better your haul!
4. Characters and Enemies
Characters new and old fill Tears of the Kingdom‘s roster. First and foremost, Zelda’s arc continues to strengthen her personality, and to be honest, this is my favorite version of Zelda. In Breath of the Wild, she struggled with finding her powers while Link excelled with his Master Sword. She turned to her studies to compensate for her lack of light power, which she inevitable found at the end. In Tears of the Kingdom, Zelda is more confident, and yet she still retains her insatiable curiosity and love of learning. Most of all, she realizes the stakes, and takes controls of her own destiny. Zelda makes a choice, one that is all her own, and one that would’ve doomed Hyrule if she decided not to accept that responsibility.
We see more of Tulin, Riju, Yunobo, and Sidon, whom we may unofficially coin as the new “champions”. They played relatively minor roles in Breath of the Wild and are now fully fleshed out in Tears of the Kingdom. Tulin is by far my favorite; however, I give Yunobo credit, and he seemed to change the most. His story and the phenomenon involved was the most interesting.
These characters accompany you for the most part during the phenomenon missions, and once complete, they vow to help you defeat Ganondorf. They gift you a ring that allows their avatar to fight alongside you and grant you an ability for the remainder of the game.
Image Credit: Nintendo
There are familiar faces like Bolson who continues his construction business and new faces like Cece, a fashion designer in Hateno who loves fashion but is at odds with a traditionalist mayor. Nintendo created a nice blend of old and new, although it was disheartening when most NPCs didn’t seem to remember Link.
The Great Fairies are also back, and they enhance your clothing like before. However, it isn’t so easy this time! You need to complete several side quests to unlock each one.
The enemies in Tears of the Kingdom once again parallel with the ones in Breath of the Wild with colored Bokoblins, Moblins, Hinox, and more, but I’m also happy to report the addition of others like Gibdos, Horriblins, and the Gleeok. Their parts not only can be used to create elixers, but they are also vital to fusing powerful weapons. This provides additional motivation to mow down a Boss Bokoblin and his lackeys. The bosses are another highlight, many of which are takes on famous Zelda bosses.
5. The World
Nintendo really outdid themselves. It is massive. Not only do you have Breath of the Wild’s Hyrule, but you also have the Sky Islands and the Depths. With regard to Hyrule proper, the landmarks are the same, but there are tweaks to the environment. Zonai landmarks that fell from the sky dot the land, most of which contains a secret or chest. The Zora, Goron, Gerudo, and Rito areas are slightly altered too as a result of the phenomenon. Koroks are still present in this game, offering their seeds (which unlocks additional weapon slots) to continue incentivizing exploration.
There are several archipelagos in the sky you can explore once you launch yourself from a Skyview Tower (or by other means). These islands usually contain a Zonai device dispenser, a few chests, a few Construct enemies, and a shrine or two. Most are simple, and I’ve heard friends say it’s barren for their taste. I would say although less interesting than the Depths, I enjoyed them more than the islands in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.
The Depths are the most interesting; it is as if you stepped into a different realm. It is mostly pitch black, and you need Brightbloom seeds to light the path. Gloom that can deplete your overall health litter the ground, and restless sprits hold onto weapons for your taking. You can mine a lot of Zonaite here, a collectible essential to forging more batteries or spending them on auto-builds of Zonai devices. There are lots of secrets to uncover in the Depths, and you may even find out what the Yiga have been up to….
Overall, this game captures a true open world that can compete with its modern competitors, and the added layers help Zelda veterans maintain their interest.
So, wait, are there any downsides? Sure, anyone playing this game can probably cough up a critique or two. Overall, the game runs well, but in time, I did find the frame rate dip on occasion, which I attribute to the console than the game.
While most parallels worked for me,I am a little disappointed at the return of the Korok seed collectathon–why not change it up to Skulltulas? Nintendo tread a very thin line between copy and pasting Breath of the Wild, and while most things differentiated enough, I felt Korok seed hunting to be repetitive and boring.
I also found the ally system challenging sometimes. While I surely cannot create a better system myself, I found my allied avatars constantly in my way OR nowhere near me when I needed them. Also, because the temples were such a strong suit, I was disappointed that I was unable to explore the last one. Speaking of allies and temples, the sequences after each one told the same story of the Imprisoning War. By the time I was on my third phenomenon, I was bored of hearing the same thing and seeing the same cut scene. Also, the overuse of the words “secret stone” felt out of place and was a little laughable.
Finally, as a lover of story-driven games, I still found Tears of the Kingdom to be light on this matter. While improved from Breath of the Wild, thanks to the inclusion of the Imprisoning War, it pales in comparison to other modern games like the Plague Tale games, Horizon games, and Detroit: Become Human. Moreover, we received most lore and story indirectly, like with the Dragon Tears–which essentially are like memories.
FINAL SCORE and conclusion
The five stars are no surprise, but let me tell you why:
- The game functions well. There is less lag than in Breath of the Wild
- The music is phenomenal
- Nintendo hit a home run with the inclusion of temples
- The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom drew most of its game are parallels of its predecessor. However, instead of a carbon copy, it builds upon them with several pleasing twists.
- This game is friendly to veterans of Zelda as well as those new to the franchise
- Game play is still king with Ultra Hand, and it works
- Although it does not bring back all traditional Zelda elements, Nintendo did provide several of them in the form of older enemies, themed temples, and the return of Ganondorf
- Although I had critiques above, these are subjective in nature of what of my experience or so minor compared to the larger picture. Nintendo prioritizes gameplay, and they went above and beyond Breath of the Wild–something I never imagined they could.
I still yearn for a traditional Zelda game, but Tears of the Kingdom earns its five stars due to its near flawless execution. This will be a game that will be talked about for years to come.
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