Rediscovering Hyrule: My Time with “Tears of the Kingdom”

Author: Greg Lozano

There are no spoilers in this review.

I still remember my time with Breath of the Wild. Bewildered by the fact that I could scale every mountain, mesmerized by the elemental aspect that required armor changes just to endure weather, a world so vast that I lost myself to the tranquil melody upon horseback. This was a truly masterful piece of current gaming history.

After completing it, however, I felt that it left a few things to be desired. I yearned for the dungeons that once graced the franchise. The divine beasts didn’t quite capture the Zelda spirit like most dungeons did; they lacked enemies and a distinction from one beast to the next. With how large this world was, it felt like a handful of monsters, varying color, and difficulty, missed the mark on inhabitants. The soundtrack, though excellent in its regard, didn’t quite carry the torch as it had in previous titles. Finally, it seemed strange that such a sprawling landscape could consist of no caves whatsoever, almost feeling like developers ran out of time to add such a feature that should exist in any world. Fast-forward seven years, and Tears of the Kingdom provided exactly what I had asked for and blew it out of the water.

You wanted dungeons? Got you, fam. Not only did each one play vastly differently from the next, but it oozed with the sensation that I craved in previous Zelda entries. Enemies that fill the world? Well, how about the sky, and, oh, and why don’t we add a massive amount of world bosses too? No caves? Expect to find yourself lost for hours while wandering dwellings, pits, wells, and an underground as large as the surface map. Also, the overworld has changed enough from the previous title, so it doesn’t feel like just a copy and paste or, someday, 70-dollar DLC. Did we mention that we’re topping it all off with a bangin’ soundtrack that fills your entire journey with music so great you feel it in your soul?

Tears of the Kingdom provided everything we wanted, even things we didn’t know that we wanted, all while blowing gamers’ minds with physics-based puzzles that say, “However you can think to solve this is the right way.” Long gone is the generation of one-solution puzzles. It amazes me that millions of people can play the same game and have such a different experience altogether. Long gone are only one way of conventional combat. This world is to be explored in whatever way your mind can think of. Are you the kind of person that imagines possible mechs to obliterate all that oppose you, or are you someone that believes a bridge can be the solution to every problem? There’s no wrong answer. Welcome the new overlords of whatever you can think that will be the solution.

Even all the tiny flaws that one would find in BotW were somehow improved on. Picked up a weapon from a treasure chest with a full inventory? No worries, TotK made it so you can drop existing equipment to attain this new item. Not sure what you can cook? There’s a recipe guide for everything that you made in the past. Can’t find a cooking pot? There are items that let you instantly cook anywhere! TotK set out to improve everything that BotW was missing, and I believe there entails its only real flaw. Despite all the praise I can and will give this game, it almost pains me to say I expected something a bit more original and not just improvements. Yes, they gave us everything that made BotW great and managed to make it better, but it felt like it didn’t deviate far enough from its predecessor.

Hear me out; the difference between Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask are worlds apart. Yes, they ran on the same engine (like these two titles); yes, a lot of character models were reused, but everything about the games felt entirely different. The pacing, the tone, and the overall feel of them just felt like they were their own entities, respectfully. OoT welcomed traditional Zelda weapons that let you advance from one dungeon to the next for the first time in 3D. MM took the power of masks to give you abilities never before seen, a system that had people living daily activities; it didn’t feel like it was, in any way, the same Zelda. This is honestly my only real complaint about TotK. The surface world, regardless of all the cosmetic uplifts, feels like a world I’ve already explored. Yes, it can be argued that the abilities make the world feel so different from its previous entry, and I won’t say that you are wrong about it. This is just my personal feeling toward the game, and I wholeheartedly hope that this is a case that only I feel and that others get a jaw-dropping experience of a lifetime.

I poured hundreds of hours into this game, conquered many world bosses, and experienced one of the best final battle sequences that I’ve seen in a long time (because, let’s be honest, BotW was sadly underwhelming when it came to this part). But the moment I found my final shrine and uncovered the last lightroot, I had little interest in discovering a world I’d already ventured once before. While the new Korok quests did give a pace to want to explore this newish Hyrule, I didn’t feel like I needed to fully maximize my inventory slots or get the final reward for attaining all seeds.

TotK earns a 4.5 / 5 as it was truly one of the most magical games that I’ve gotten to experience in my 35+ years of gaming. It’s the kind of game where no matter how many times you play it, there is something about it that allows it to feel like a first time each and every time. I will find myself playing this game again in the near future with new insight, and for that, I’m thankful this game exists.

Eager to share your Tears of the Kingdom moments or opinions? Comment below, and let’s spark a lively Zelda discussion!

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