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'The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom' Is Pure Video Game Magic

By Petr Navovy | Video Games | May 18, 2023 |

By Petr Navovy | Video Games | May 18, 2023 |


I told myself I wasn’t going to do it. That it didn’t matter how much the trailers increased in quality in the build-up to release, or how glowing the reviews would surely be. I just wasn’t going to do it. I wasn’t going to buy The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom on launch day.

No, I would wait.

I came to the game’s predecessor, 2017’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, a little later than most. I was on a gaming hiatus of sorts at that point in my life, so I didn’t pick it up until 2019, at which point it singlehandedly supercharged the return of video games to my life. Such was the power of what it’s become cliché to describe as one of the greatest games ever made, but for which the descriptor applies without a doubt. After I bought that game, I bought many more, and enjoyed a great renaissance in my gaming. Since 2019, however, my life had changed a lot, particularly in the last year or so—my day job had ramped up exponentially in responsibility, and the time and energy commitment required now was such that I struggled to carve out any time for gaming.

So I would wait. There’d be no point in buying Tears of the Kingdom the day it came out as I wouldn’t be able to play it properly anyway. Just like my experience with the release of The Last Of Us: Part II, however, I simply couldn’t help myself, and on Friday 12th May it was as if all autonomy was drained out of my body, my mind crystal clear in its conviction yet powerless to affect the movements or actions of the puppet responding to the pulls of a force more powerful than any it could hope to counteract.

In other words: Yeah, of course, I got the new Zelda game on launch day!

There was never any other possible outcome.

I couldn’t be happier with my decision. My reservations around not having the time or brain space to play it properly have been swept away by the sheer force of its brilliance. This game makes time. Whether it’s the Monday night when I was burned out from finishing work extremely late, my brain pulverized and leaking out of my ears, but on which I still found fifteen minutes to play. Or the Sunday that preceded it, which I promised myself I would dedicate to taking care of a number of outstanding and quite pressing life admin tasks—but which ultimately fell almost entirely to the call of Tears of the Kingdom. I’ve struggled to get invested in any game for the past year. Real-world responsibilities always intruded and ruined the experience. Zelda doesn’t care: If it’s for fifteen minutes or for eight hours, while I’m staring at that screen I forget about everything else; the world recedes entirely, and it makes me feel like a ten-year-old again. It has a unique power to make fifteen minutes turn into eight hours in the blink of an eye if you’re not careful.

Tears of the Kingdom is an interesting game, in that it’s the very first direct sequel to a Zelda title. Generally, entries in the series wipe the slate clean, and gamers are presented with a new version of Zelda, Link, Hyrule, and a fresh story to go with them. This one, however, is a direct continuation of Breath of the Wild, and knowing that was going to be the case actually added to my reservations about buying it on launch day. Despite those mouth-watering trailers and glowing reviews, my enthusiasm was still a bit dampened by the idea of not getting something new again. Would I still feel the magic, stepping back into this version of Hyrule again? How much could Nintendo have possibly done to it to make it feel fresh and exciting?

Currently, I’m about twenty hours in—only scratching the surface really (this, after all, is a game, which, like its predecessor can easily swallow up hundreds of hours of your life)—but so far, ‘magic’ is the only word that I can think of that accurately sums up the experience. The design choices stemming from the game’s story (which I won’t go into here as everything is best left experienced for yourself) mean that rather than feeling stale, returning to this Hyrule is a potent, poignant experience. The landscape, so familiar to those of us who spent untold hours exploring its every nook and cranny in the previous game, has been shifted—here subtly, there dramatically—in a way that not only resonates with the narrative’s themes, but which cleverly plays with your expectations of returning to a place that you think you know so well. It’s like returning to the place you grew up, only to find it transformed, sometimes in ways you can’t articulate, and expanded; and those memories, indelibly imprinted on your subconscious, now have to contend with the new reality you’ve been plunged into.

It’s no spoiler to say there are a host of new abilities to play with here too. Breath of the Wild had a glorious suite of powers and upgrades that made the world your playground, and Tears of the Kingdom ups the ante in that regard. Even just the ability to fuse objects together, to create structures and vehicles out of almost anything, means surely that the game’s subreddit is destined to follow the trajectory that Breath of the Wild’s did, with players posting clips of themselves using the game’s tools to do things that surely even its creators never anticipated or imagined, innovating for years and years after release. I myself have only played around a little bit with the fuse ability so far, but already I’ve had moments of utter childlike glee when some spark in my otherwise stale adult imagination flared briefly and led me down a sparkling path of ‘what if?’.

The one thing I remain most curious about is the game’s story. Breath of the Wild had a narrative that could fairly be described as ‘bare bones’. I’m sympathetic to the reasons as to why the developers made that choice: In giving the player such unprecedented levels of freedom, the kind of handholding and structure that comes with a certain kind video game storytelling had to be nigh-on abandoned. Breath of the Wild largely told its story through the landscape and the atmosphere, as well as the player’s interactions with the world—and while it did that brilliantly, there were times when I wished for more from the actual narrative. Only time will tell how Tears of the Kingdom will square that circle. Either way, I couldn’t be more invested in the journey.