The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom Review – One More Time with Feeling

    Title: The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom
    Developer: Nintendo
    Release Date: May 12, 2023
    Reviewed On: Switch
    Publisher: Nintendo
    Genre: Action-Adventure

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild took the world by storm over half a decade ago, so the anticipation for this highly-elusive sequel, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, was beyond usual perception. “Could Nintendo really surpass the heights of Breath of the Wild?” was a commonly discussed topic, and with the game now finally available, the answer seems to be a nearly unanimous “Yes.”

However, that unspecified amount is only “nearly” and not “all” because there will always be outliers who may find themselves at odds with the overall fanbase regardless of how critically acclaimed any piece of media is. For example, despite being a diehard Zelda fan for almost my entire life, Breath of the Wild did little to interest me, so I was curious to see what a sequel would do. And well, while Tears of the Kingdom is certainly nowhere near my favorite in the franchise, I found it to be an enjoyable evolution of the previous outing.

Following the events of Breath of the Wild, Tears of the Kingdom picks up with Link and Zelda investigating ominous ruins beneath Hyrule Castle. However, the two become separated once again after making a treacherous discovery, and Link finds himself with a new right arm. After these opening moments, he finds himself gaining new abilities in his quest to find Zelda. Due to this being an open-world adventure, the story’s pacing and impact are largely secondary, with a lack of memorable moments in favor of player discovery across Hyrule.

That said, I doubt anyone is strictly playing Tears of the Kingdom for narrative, but its mediocrity should be emphasized. In that sense, it’s similar to Breath of the Wild, but the introduction this time around was a bit more compelling. The tutorial has Link being guided by a visage of the Rauru, a member of the ancient Zonai race. Link’s right arm is now this individual’s, and his commentary is more compelling than the writing from the previous title. His melancholic melding of personal perceptions and some aspects of the past had me invested. Unfortunately, his presence is not a constant past this opening section, and while there are several other characters Link will encounter, they’re mostly forgettable and one-note.

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On the other hand, Tears of the Kingdom’s gameplay excels. Taking the foundations of Breath of the Wild, with several new abilities Link can utilize, fundamentally altering how one approaches this open world. For instance, there’s Ascend, letting you effortlessly reach higher elevations, and Ultrahand, enabling manipulation of crucial objects. Moreover, Recall is probably the wildest tool at your disposal as it rewinds time on a selected item. Every one of these abilities completely changes the playing field, making Hyrule feel like more of a playground than ever before. Well, a far more dangerous one, at least.

Aside from these skills having the potential to harm you if used poorly, the challenge level in Tears of the Kingdom appears higher. Even seemingly throwaway enemies can take you out in little time, which is likely intentional to account for Link’s new powers. The Fuse skill, in particular, can raise the stats of certain pieces of equipment, so you can battle foes far beyond what you initially consider your skill level to be. The weapon mechanics in Breath of the Wild always had me vexed, but thanks to these new additions, I found the experience to be much more approachable.

The Legend of Zelda Tears of the Kingdom 6

Traditional dungeons were mostly absent in Breath of the Wild. The shrines never felt like a substitute for those areas, and the Divine Beasts, while a step up, just come off as larger shrines due to their brevity and lack of visual differences. Thankfully, Tears of the Kingdom addressed this fault with fully-fleshed-out temples reflective of past entries in the series.

Admittedly, the return of the shrines and their prominent frequency bored me at points, though the arrival of these grander and more thought-provoking maps provided the adventure I was looking for. Plus, you even have companions fighting by your side in some instances, helping make the journey less lonely than before.

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In fact, this sequel emphasizes connections and relationships to a far greater extent. Thematically, I love this approach, but as stated before, few of the characters stand out enough to make lasting impacts. Also, in the same realm as this double layer of simultaneous love and hate is the world itself. Despite the foundations of the map you explore in this entry having new areas and marked structural differences, it still uses the Breath of the Wild map as its basis.

This sadly took me out of the experience at several points since you’ll come across specific locales that are borderline identical, causing a strange sense of unwelcome déjà vu. To elaborate, the concept of re-exploring previous game areas to highlight change always thrills me. Yet, when their previous appearances were only a single game ago, it can feel dull.

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This abundant familiarity clashed with the new abilities, creating a jarring mismatch across my entire journey. Even when considering the new islands in the sky that comprised a necessary and welcome identity alteration, I usually found myself yearning for complete newness on the ground.

Once again, if this were the third or fourth game in a series and we weren’t on this map since the first title, I’d be far more open to this execution. It’s just that embracing this idea only a game later feels like it’s too soon and a missed opportunity. In essence, your tools and skills are fantastic, but the world’s familiarity, dullness, and lack of additional landmarks dilute the impact of those implementations.

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I had other issues, though they’re all rather minor and did not significantly hamper the experience. For one, as far as I can tell, you can’t pause during cutscenes. Switching to the Switch home screen functions as a replacement, but you really shouldn’t have to do that for something so basic. Further, there’s no option to disable subtitles which is a minor oversight.

On another note, the framerate is usually stable; impressive given the sheer degree of environmental interaction you can perform. However, using Ultrahand specifically, and in my case, riding a horse with a harness on, really dipped the smoothness at times. That said, I always found the Ultrahand object rotation clunky and cumbersome, even as I got used to it.

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Still, for as much as it may seem like I’m nitpicking, Tears of the Kingdom boasts an almost absurd level of player freedom that can’t be understated. With Ultrahand and associated tools, you can craft and make use of inventive contraptions that allow for greater creativity than ever before. To be completely honest, this alone makes the title worth playing.

While Breath of the Wild housed a similar general gameplay design of progression solely based on player choice, Tears of the Kingdom amps it up tenfold. It truly feels like you can make anything if you have the patience for these practices; this imagination and innovation are reminiscent of how the very first Zelda game and Breath of the Wild revolutionized adventure, except in a differently applied avenue.

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The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is a thrilling, intricate journey that thrives on its imaginative and adventurous gameplay. Even with the reused map, limited compelling story beats, and unmemorable characters, the unprecedented player freedom and addictive systems pick up the slack. The return of actual dungeons was most welcomed, and the attention to delivering a genuine Zelda adventure can be found in almost every moment of this experience.

Depending on how you received Breath of the Wild, Tears of the Kingdom might rejuvenate your urge for adventure to the point where you could likely skip this first entry entirely and find enjoyment here. The new systems, conveniences, and lack of map familiarity will likely make it far more effective from a pure gameplay standpoint. Still, it’s great to see this series continue to innovate and provide a lasting experience for fans.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Orpheus Joshua

Random gamer equally confused by the mainstream and the unusual.