The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom Review
Where to begin? There’s a distinct majesty when describing Breath of the Wild’s adoration. The title bolstered the Nintendo Switch’s success early on and was proven to be the pinnacle of the Zelda series with monumental changes that were arguably pragmatic toward its appeal. While The Legend of Zelda has always been considered second to the Super Mario Bros. franchise, for the Switch Era, it has lead the charge with great prominence, extrapolating its core fundamentals from every entry before it, taking inspiration from other key series outside Nintendo’s wheelhouse, and amalgamating a fresh, new, and vital experience for a wider audience than its target fanbase. This is solely where Breath of the Wild has taken top spot for many, and has unequivocally changed the franchise forever.
This imperative change to The Legend of Zelda’s structure has lead us to the rare instance of a direct sequel to the Nintendo Switch’s tour de force; its coup de maître, if it were. Tears of the Kingdom lands our Hero of the Wild back into the crumbling kingdom of Hyrule, as its ongoing saga against a deadly threat continues to rip it apart from the inside-out. Our golden maned knight continues his quest to protect the princess, but overly confident monarch may have bitten off more than she could chew. Her desire to seek out the truths of her past, while investigating an unearthly miasma in the depths of Hyrule have lead both she and Link to perilous pitfalls, quite literally. The destructive nature of a turbulent Hyrule under the guise of a benevolent demiurge promulgates a proliferous issue for Hylians, its citizens and those bound to its lands.
Taking place sometime after the demise of Calamity Ganon, his stranglehold on Hyrule and holding Princess Zelda captive for over one hundred years, Link is again reunited with the fairly forward monarch, but not all is right in the land with remnants of the Calamity remaining – known as “the gloom” – have struck its patrons ill, as the lingering crimson substance wafts through multiple regions, coercing more unhinged chaos. Almost reluctant in their navigation below Hyrule Castle, Link and Zelda discover carvings of the Zonai, deities believed responsible for Hyrule and its royals, while unearthing an eerie depiction of a Demon lord and its army attacking the Zonai, expelling them from the land. Elated in her findings, Zelda uses the new Purah Pad to document it, taking pictures of the stone art.
She identifies the story told as “the great war”, with her ancestors being descendants of the Zonai from the heavens, and the Demon lord lifting a holy trinket of sorts that gives the being ultimate power. The war lays in the annals of Hyrule’s history but suggests the Zonai-to-Hyrule lineage to be a cyclical turn-about, just as the creators of the series have revealed time and time again, only this time actually canonising it of sorts. The pair’s expedition leads them toward an unsealed tomb that houses an unidentified corpse. A detached arm grips the chest of the dead body, but as Zelda and Link draw closer the arm relinquishes its grip, dropping an amulet that mirrors the one shown in the wall carvings, and the source of the gloom is revealed to be from the heart of the corpse itself as the being re-animates, scorching Link’s arm while the knight protects his princess.
The Master Sword shatters, with a piece leaving a slight lesion on the face of the corpse. The undead being addresses both Zelda and Link, identifying them both to which they then use the gloom to cause mass destruction to the surface above, while destroying the Earth below leaving the corpse to collapse into the unknown along with Princess Zelda, with Link’s efforts being for naught. Before Zelda’s demise within the darkly depths, she is blinked out of sight by a shining light, and Link is saved by a spiritual arm similar to the one attached to corpse earlier. The land of Hyrule has succumbed to the tyranny of a calamitous being again as its regions are under threat, with ruins of historical landmarks floating above the kingdom. Link is awoken by an unknown voice that aids him in his first steps through the Sky Islands, with a new arm entailing new abilities.
And so begins another adventure through the Wild Kingdom, only this time we’re taking through a tumultuous ride through multiple tiers that are spread high and low in this vast world. If you thought Breath of the Wild was massive, wait until you see how they’ve expanded on its pre-existing architecture. Let’s get a few things clear right off the bat however, this is not a Breath of the Wild DLC expansion of sorts. The game is a standalone sequel that follows-up on the events of its direct predecessor, but if you have not played Breath of the Wild, fear not as it’s not essential to begin your quest in Tears of the Kingdom, but is suggested to understand more of this immediate timeline’s telling’s and experiences. For those that have traversed through the Wild beforehand will adapt quick, with many of Link’s ‘Ultrahand’ powers mimicking the many different features of the old Sheikah Slate.
Speaking of, the Sheikah Slate is now replaced with the Purah Pad and much like the slate taking on the appearance of a Wii U Gamepad, the Purah Pad adapts the likeness of the Nintendo Switch – quite the apropos Easter egg. So how do you gain each attribute to progress through the Wild again? Well this may hurt to hear, but you do indeed have to unlock new Shrines where you will be graced by the deity known as Rauru. Here, the spirit being will lay upon Link his first taste of features for the Ultrahand to utilise. Just as it were in Breath of the Wild with the magnet power, the arm will activate its titular feature and grab certain objects within the area. With this feature you can fuse certain materials to build rafts, makeshift copters, protective walls, or even a stilt to help a lowly devout soldier to lean some signage upon.
Fist of Fusion...
✔️ Not a DLC, a direct sequel to the greatest Zelda of all time.
✔️ Ultrahand makes it so easy to explore Hyrule this time around.
✔️ Quite possibly the most polished Zelda tale ever told in its rich history.
❌ Performance issues may arise without applying the day one patch.
As the flywheel of abilities grow, your newfound attributes will make for seamless progression, as long as you stick with the story’s intended route and campaign flow. As an open world, you’re free to roam Hyrule however you please and take on objectives at your leisure, but when it comes to pinpointing tasks and taking the natural steps in your next objective, it becomes a mandated decision as to where your quest will lead you next. This will indeed break the hearts of many speedrunners that ultimately broke Breath of the Wild’s timely records, as you will need to complete a lexicon of landmark tasks to infiltrate Hyrule Castle at its climax.
But as it stands, Tears of the Kingdom’s restraint vies to keep players immersed with its world rather than forcefully hand off its campaign to the player. Whether this was a good decision remains for debate, but I could see the quandary Nintendo were primarily faced with in its open world structure that divided its audience. Nonetheless, the ultrahand poses more poised features for expanded exploration and expendable weaponry. Yes, it’s going to be a soft blow to some but weapon degradation is once again a prevalent feature in Tears of the Kingdom.
While I personally would have loved to have seen it loosened a little, and given more leeway in certifiability, the fact is we’re still in the same universe and have to accept that this is how it was in Breath of the Wild. I will note that fusing weaponry with other objects to make more artillery can strengthen some pre-disposed weapons that may be on the way out, but this also dependent on said weapon and attached items own respective attributes. Enemies in different areas may also carry their own fused items that Link will have the opportunity to steal and capitalise on. A paramount feature in Tears of the Kingdom is ‘Ascend’, which is again activated through the ultrahand, and allows Link to pass through solid ceilings and surfaces. This gives players an opportunity to form express paths upwards rather than the tedious task of climbing ultimately eliminating the monotony of slippery walls that become too slick to climb in wet environments.
To round-off the beginners round of ultrahand features unlocked during the initial act of the campaign, is the Recall feature that rewinds and objects path. This aids Link to transition between some Sky Island platforms that may be out of reach, or solving puzzles in certain areas that have secret objects that may have been moved some time ago. The ultrahand spinwheel gives the player the ability to unlock skins with certain amiibo, and gives the player a shortcut to Hyrule’s multi-map that is discerned into tiers that helps identify local landmarks and their new whereabouts, whether they be in the Sky or on Hyrule’s surface. More features are unlocked as you journey through Hyrule and unlock new shrines, but you may find roadblocks that mandate more exploration, while hinting at a more linear path to the missing princess.
Saying this, the campaign itself delivers the plot in a merriment of arcs that are intertwined but fixed without parlayed effect beyond its placement in the timeline. This is shown with four pinpoint mission objectives given by Purah near the beginning of the campaign, just after landing in front of Hyrule Castle. As it were with Breath of the Wild, the map is located in your menu alongside your objectives, pictures and character profiles. There’s a slew of new characters to keep up with so this definitely came in handy. While the standard pause menu has aesthetic changes made, its initial structure remains the same with Zonai Devices being the only new addition. For those needing to place pins on Hyrule locale, you can again with the same highlighted multi-coloured tacks that show on your Purah Pad’s internal camera while investigating the respective area.
Tiers of the Kingdom..
Now while you take your brisk jaunt across the vastly plains and different regions, you’re once again adorned with divergent weather patterns that can affect Link and his health. Cold snaps will slowly but gradually deplete your heart containers, but can be avoided by either cooking up a spicy meal that will leave you invulnerable to the blistering cold, or carrying a weapon with a heat source to keep you warm so long it survives any swarms of oncoming enemies in the precinct, will let you explore without a worry. Just make sure you’re also rugged up appropriately for the trip. Clothing can be collected or purchased depending on which character or vendor you come in contact with. The vendor will sell the item at a fixed cost, to which you must collect a nice bankroll of rupees in the traditional sense – you know? Smash some pots, mow the lawn, that deal.
An insurmountable smattering of rare items in each area can be collected to cook yourself a banquet fit for a king. It’s encouraged you do so for your own survival as earning heart containers early on can be a trivial task depending on which shrines you find. Of course, upon collecting a certain amount then taking them to a Goddess statue will earn you either a new container or more stamina – and yes Stamina is another drawback to expeditious exploration. Without it, expect a monotonous saunter through Hyrule. Being a master archer in Hyrule comes with its advantages as well, but fusing items with your bow and arrow goes beyond what we’ve come to love in Breath of the Wild’s initial experimentation of lighting a cue on fire and letting it flare a Bokoblin’s camp. Collecting fruits and other objects will allow you to quickly place a special feature on the arrow, whether its a chili pepper that sets it ablaze, or a Chuchu Jelly that splashes some liquid across a muddy covered area, it’s all relative to the title’s brand new fusion attributes.
Mini-bosses are sparse, but there are a plethora of challenges that are laid out in each objective that may lead to confrontation with mammoths. This is where Link’s respective attributes are in need of fine tuning before diving deep into an altercation. I found myself being swiped with one strike deaths early on, and left me grinding out more Shrines for Orbs to earn more containers. So yes, a formulaic pattern that saw Breath of the Wild’s polarising success returns, and it may even be more prominent in Tears of the Kingdom despite the reintroduction of dungeons. I wouldn’t say that the dungeons included here are of the classic Zelda variety but are certainly present without question. It’s the reliance on shrines that will have critics crying foul. The beginning of the campaign can be perceived as a glorified fetch quest to some, but its not a sprint, most certainly is a marathon and Tears of the Kingdom’s race is a lofty, bountiful and rich adventure.
Now let’s talk performance. I will note that I’ve played the pre-patch version, and the patched version that rolled out this week. To say that there’s a definitive difference between the two would be an overstatement. I had problems from the beginning with and without the patch applied, but I’m sure we’ll see more improvements made in coming weeks but the beginning cutscene coming to a sudden halt, then have the audio desync beyond expectation was concerning to say the least. Then continuing my journey through Hyrule and having the game’s framerate dip to a disgusting low was not something I was pleased about. It’s a telling sign that the Switch hardware has reached its limit, and Tears of the Kingdom made a valiant effort to give us an example of this but does it no favours in delivering a polished experience.
It was a tough decision whether to knock gameplay or presentation down a peg due to the performance issues experienced, but the positives justly outweigh this one negative that will surely – SURELY – be ironed out in days. It is unfortunate however, as its performance dips are evident in busy moments of the game, including multiple enemies on screen at one time or rainy conditions that take it down a notch then mix that with an overly crowded area almost makes the game play like a slideshow. It’s not ideal, and most definitely a sore eye to the Nintendo Switch and its proposed elongated life cycle, which I hope is coming to an end sometime soon. If Tears of the Kingdom is the Nintendo Switch’s swansong, then it’s the perfect curtain call for a generation that began with this story, to end with it as well, but I digress.
While our protagonist remains silent, the series carries over an excellent feature first seen in Breath of the Wild with casted voice actors portraying favourites. Without giving away any spoilers, the roll call of coinciding cast members lending their vocal talents include; Patricia Summersett (Arknights, Breath of the Wild) whom reprises her role as Princess Zelda, Jamie Mortellaro (Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV, Breath of the Wild) returning to the role of Sidon, Elizabeth Maxwell (Persona 5 Royal, Breath of the Wild), Cristina ‘Vee’ Valenzuela (Advance Wars: The Remake, Octopath Traveler II), and Matthew Mercer (Critical Role, Persona 5 Royal) in what may be his biggest role in gaming, yet. The contemporary trademark melodies of Nintendo in-house composer Manaka Kataoka, make a prominent return with some of the best music in the entire series. While you do venture through some areas of Hyrule in silence, there are moments that swell an orchestra’s grace that delivers spine tingling moments for memorable chapters within the plot.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom will pry for top place in the franchise against its predecessor. Whether it claims it will be up to the fans. However, there’s no definitive way to describe the title as the best in the series regardless of undeniable feats it will accomplish on the market, and in gamers hands but it will be a conversational piece within the Zelda universe for years to come. It will undoubtedly be a divisive title like Breath of the Wild, but that’s what popularised its prequel and made it a commercial success. It had everyone talking, and there’s no question that gamers will be discussing Tears of the Kingdom’s impact on The Legend of Zelda’s legacy, the Nintendo Switch’s lifespan and its influences in modern gaming culture. There’s a tale told with great ambition and aspiration behind its lore, its successes and how it will act as a defiant moment in Nintendo’s growth, but The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is set to be 2023’s landmark achievement in gaming – nothing short of extraordinary.
Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom Review
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