Review – The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom
We, as reviewers, tend to improve our writing skills the more we actually do so. It’s like working out. As a result, I feel like my first few reviews for this website, way back in 2017, don’t exactly live up to today’s standards. I only regret one review I have written in the past, though, but that review is the one I wrote for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. No, I’m not gonna say it’s not worthy of its many high scores, or my score in particular, but I do feel that I wasn’t able to list its actual flaws, and other elements that usually show up in our brains once the hype and buzz of a new Zelda game wears off a bit. Reviewing The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, the most anticipated game of 2023, and probably the most anticipated Nintendo game since, well, its 2017 predecessor, is a very tricky beast.
We are talking about a direct sequel to a Zelda game that has had enough time to be developed in the first place. Comparing it to other previous sequels, like Majora’s Mask (which was developed under monstrous time constraints) or the Oracle games (which were developed by a small team, and in tandem with each other), is unfair. This direct sequel to Breath of the Wild had six years of development time. In fact, it may have had more time to be developed than Breath of the Wild itself, without having to worry about a new engine being coded for it, or most of its mechanics. It was six years for new content to be added to an already proven foundation, for the most part. As a result, my expectations were quite high.
I have had enough time to play Breath of the Wild for countless hours – nay, cumulative weeks – over the past years, and I have grown to dislike a handful of elements from that game, which may have not been present in my original review. I have grown to massively dislike the repetitiveness of a good chunk of its Shrines, the poor quality of its amateurish voice acting, the plot as a whole, some of its traversal mechanics, and of course, the damn weapon degradation system. Upon the announcement of Tears of the Kingdom, I wanted for it to FIX ISSUES, something rarely expected from a new Zelda game, as they have always been reinventions of the franchise as a whole. Did Tears of the Kingdom do that? Well, in some ways, yes.
Is Tears of the Kingdom better than Breath of the Wild? I think that only time will truly tell. This is a gargantuan homunculus of a game, with a sheer staggering amount of content like I have possibly never seen before in a commercially available, single-player experience. As to be expected, merely beating it will require dozens of hours, and completing it 100% might take ten times that. There is a lot of stuff I’m still discovering as I’m writing this review, and I’m sure there’s stuff I will only discover in the following weeks, maybe months. Likewise, I’m sure I have already experienced things that other players or reviewers haven’t, such is the size of this monstrosity of a game.
Now, is Tears of the Kingdom more INTERESTING than Breath of the Wild? Oh yes, absolutely, without a mere shadow of a doubt. It’s still great. Dare I say, it’s fantastic. Engrossing. Let’s talk about it in detail.
Eiji Aonuma and his team had a monumental task: taking advantage of the foundations set by Breath of the Wild, all while not making Tears of the Kingdom feel like just mere DLC. I won’t lie, I was worried at first. Would the game feel like the same playground, just with rearranged assets to give a fake impression of something worth the seventy (ouch) bucks asked in the eShop? The short answer is: no, but with caveats. Yes, the map is basically the same as before (well, the same but without Guardians, thank goodness), but that’s just one of THREE sandboxes at your disposal.
You will visit one of these new maps right from the get-go: sky islands. Think about them as a mixture between Skyward Sword and Super Mario Galaxy: small islands containing a few puzzles here and there, as well as treasure chests, items, shrines (yep, they’re back), and a lot more verticality. More on this later. They were fun to explore, if not a bit tricky to even reach in the first place. I had to take advantage of some of my new tools at my disposal in order to reach them, as, well, the damn islands are way above Hyrule. Nothing toppled the feeling of jumping from the edge of a sky island towards the surface, however.
The surface is, by and large, the same map from Breath of the Wild. Welcome back to Hyule! It’s the same, but also different. A few (unspecified) years have passed since the ending of the first game, so people have had time to rebuild the kingdom, getting rid of all Guardians, and so on. It was nice to see Tarrey Town, the highlight of the first game in terms of sidequest lore, grow even further, see a new village being built right where Hyrule Castle Town was standing, and so on. Life is good for the Hylians, for the most part.
That being said, the main, uh, “ethnic” towns in Hyrule are facing issues caused by the Upheaval (this game’s really stupid equivalent to Breath of the Wild‘s original cataclysm). Zora’s Domain is polluted. Rito Village is freezing. The Gerudo are having sand-related issues, to Anakin’s chagrin, and so on. This is where most of the plot-centric core of Tears of the Kingdom takes place, and while there are some highlights to be lauded, the plot is as thin and uninteresting as the one seen in Breath of the Wild. The poor voice acting, especially coming from Princess Zelda herself, didn’t help at all. She still sounds like an American doing a really poor Daisy Ridley impression.
In fact, I’d go as far as to say that Tears of the Kingdom completely obliterates what little semblance of a canonical thread the franchise had up until this moment. I am not going to dive into details, but let’s just say that it borderline invalidates Skyward Sword‘s existence, if you still cling to the franchise’s increasingly pointless and confusing storyline. I would largely prefer if each individual Zelda story was set in an alternate universe, almost like the overarching setting of Final Fantasy. It would make more sense, given how I still don’t buy how vastly ancestral races inhabiting Hyrule had access to robots and stuff, thousands of years before the game’s current setting. It was dumb with the Sheikah, and it’s even dumber in here.
The “new” ancestral race that suddenly shows up in Tears of the Kingdom, which I can only call “sentient versions of the horse-like things from The Last Jedi“, had access to electricity, motors, cars, planes, lasers, flamethrowers, guns, rockets, and much more back in their heyday. Link can use these machine parts in order to create anything the player can imagine. No, really. This is indeed Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts on steroids, but in a good way. The vehicle building in that game was super impressive, but there was little you could do with your creations. In Tears of the Kingdom, you can.
Want to reach a distant island in the ocean? Just build a boat, either with sails or turbofans. Can’t be bothered with climbing a mountain? Just build a hot air balloon, or put a rocket propeller on a platform in order to get rid of this issue. Do you think Link is too slow? Eh, just build a car. Need to haul a ton of cargo because of a fetch quest? I literally built a truck at one point just for that.
It’s not just vehicles, though. You can build platforms that attach to any surface or wall, giving you an extra means of recovering your stamina during a mountain climbing. You can build a homing robot that chases after enemies. For added sassiness, you can attach a flamethrower, or a gun, or laser beam on them. Hell, add all three if you feel like it. Or fuse them to your weapons.
“Fuse” is another of Link’s new abilities. With it, you can fuse a ton of things to your weapon, in order to enhance its strength, length, durability, element, and so on. Yes, you read that right: that freaking idiotic durability system is still present, and even more apparent now, given how the main consequence caused by the Upheaval was… weapons degradating. That’s right. An evil plague sweeps the land, and instead of making people sick, or ruining crops, all it did was make all halberds rusty. Because we really, really needed a lore explanation as to why every single sword less durable than a broken glass bottle.
By using the Fuse mechanic, you can sort of mitigate this issue. See a stick on the floor? Grab it, fuse it with a big stone, and voilà, you have a hammer. You can then use this hammer as a weapon or a means to destroy fragile pieces of wall, since you don’t have access to the bomb app on your Sheikah slate anymore. You can fuse downed monster parts with your weapons in order to increase their strength and durability, in a very stripped down equivalent to how Monster Hunter works, when you think about it. Hell, you can add two spears together in order to attack enemies from really far away without getting hit.
It’s not just your main melee weapons that can be improved with Fuse, though. You can do that with your shields and arrows as well. You can add an explosive barrel to your shield, for instance, and gain access to a one-time explosive blast whenever you defend yourself… somehow, it doesn’t hit you. Because Hylian science. You can also fuse different elemental items, such as fire-covered Chu Chu jelly, to an arrow, in order to gain access to fire arrows, ice arrows, water arrows, thunder arrows, and so on. Possibilities are indeed endless… as long as you have enough arrows, items, and intact weaponry. As a result, combat becomes fundamental in Tears of the Kingdom, if only for the possibility of hoarding materials for crafting and selling.
There are two other very important powers at Link’s disposal. Ascend allows him to quickly ascend through the ceiling of a cave, bulding, platform, in order to reach its surface. It’s useful when climbing mountains, but only when there’s a cave for you to take advantage of. Nevertheless, another fine quality of life improvement in order to deal with the annoying climbing. Recall is a time-bending mechanic that lets you rewind an object’s presence in time. It’s useful when trying to reach the aforementioned sky islands: if you see a comet falling down to the surface, use Recall on it, climb it, and easily reach the top of the map without having to build a rocketship.
The core loop revolves around using these four main powers (you can unlock two more, but they are not essential to the completion of puzzles) in order to solve Shrine puzzles. They are back, and better than ever before. Some Shrines in Breath of the Wild felt confusing, pointless, and obtuse. I did not feel the same with the Shrines featured in Tears of the Kingdom. The amount of combat gauntlets has been vastly reduced in favor of more puzzle-oriented gauntlets, mostly revolving around building contraptions in order to solve them.
The feeling of seeing your inventions work in your favor, and getting to reach the end of the puzzle, is delightful. Tears of the Kingdom sure knows how to constantly feed you with these small droplets of dopamine all throughout its runtime. At first, I was annoyed at the thought of, yet again, having to deal with shrines, but they are much better designed than Breath of the Wild‘s. It also helps that, if you’re looking for some classic Zelda-esque dungeon exploration, the game does feature four bigger temples that, while not as big or epic as the ones seen in Twilight Princess or Majora’s Mask, are exponentially more enjoyable than the dull Divine Beasts from Breath of the Wild.
If you have reached this paragraph in the review, then first of all, thank you for your patience. But you’re also asking yourself about the third explorable map I have mentioned in the beginning of the review. You see, you can explore the sky, as well as Hyrule itself, but there’s yet another vast region at your disposal: the Depths of Hyrule. Let’s just call it what it really is: Hell.
You’re in a place below the surface of Hyrule, covered by perpetual darkness, full of a substance that removes your vitality adequately called Gloom, with more sinister versions of enemies populating it, and where commercial transactions are made with Poe souls as currency. This isn’t a mere Dark World or Lorule counterpart to the surface. This is Hell to me. And a really fun Hell to explore, given how everything is pitch black when you first arrive. Faint orange glows in the distance indicate the presence of Lightroots, bizarre egg-shaped trees which can make the immediate surroundings visible, easing up exploration.
Exploring the Depths ended up being a lot more fun than expected. Sure, enemies are stupidly vicious, but the rewards outweigh the hardships. Resources found here can be used to craft improvements to your battery charge (which power up the insane vehicles you can create), as well as being an excellent source of income, for Rupees are hard to come by; you gotta sell your junk constantly. Furthermore, this Hyrule-sized map is full of neat little armor sets to acquire. Let’s just say that you can find some things in here that make the Amiibo-exclusive functionalities in Breath of the Wild obsolete, to everyone’s delight.
Somehow, I’m still not done with the brand new additions to Tears of the Kingdom. You still have access to new abilities once you complete the main dungeons, although they don’t act like passive buffs like in the predecessor. Instead, you can basically summon a JoJo-like Stand to help you out, each one with specific skills and stats, essentially giving you a sidekick throughout the game.
Sidequests are way more abundant in Tears of the Kingdom, and they are a lot more fun to tackle. Link can help a poor carpenter out by making signposts stand without falling by crafting supporting structures. You can help out a tabloid team uncover some secrets, with the reward being some super useful sets of armor. The Yiga clan can be fought yet again, but they have literal flying ships with lasers this time around. You can even buy a plot of land and build your own house, with an unncessary level of depth that makes Animal Crossing seem obsolete in comparison. It’s too damn much, and it’s great.
Some may say that the sheer amount of crap to do in Tears of the Kingdom makes it overwhelming. There is just too much to do all at once. It’s a death sentence to anyone with ADHD. It took me, no joke, sixty hours to finally beat my first dungeon, not because I was having a hard time with it, but because I would always get distracted along the way. I’d always find a Shrine to beat, a sidequest to take part on, a new cave to explore (oh yeah, there are like fifty of them in Hyrule, and they act like mini-dungeons), a new means to explore the sky, or I’d just get bored and go back to the Depths, looking for more loot.
If you want a narrative-focused Zelda experience, Tears of the Kingdom is not for you. Its plot is not exactly interesting, and the sheer amount of ludonarrative dissonance going on in this game is enough to make a Writing major reconsider his/her career. Oh no, Zelda needs to be saved! Can she wait a bit? I have just thought on a way to assemble a fully functional X-Wing and I’m going to spend the next two hours of my life acquiring all resources to make my demented dream come true.
That’s not to say The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is perfect, because, like its predecessor, it isn’t. It has flaws, some of them inherited from Breath of the Wild, and some of them being a consequence of its many new features. As to be expected as well, the game pushes the Nintendo Switch to its absolutely, most mind-boggling limits. To my surprise, the game ended up looking better than Breath of the Wild, a Wii U game, did, albeit only slightly. By and large, it’s the same basis seen in that game, and it still suffers from a myriad of small framerate hiccups, especially when you activate one of your superpowers. It’s still less than the issues seen in Breath of the Wild, so I commend Nintendo for its work. Had Game Freak developed this game, it would have made my Switch violently combust.
I was a bit annoyed with the fact that Tears of the Kingdom reused so many assets from Breath of the Wild at first. It didn’t have the time development constraint that made Majora’s Mask reuse everything present in Ocarina of Time, but at the very least, Nintendo did improve the lighting effects, resolution, and other aspects, to make the game feel less like mere Breath of the Wild DLC and more like an actual evolution of its predecessor. Not to mention that, once more, it’s three maps against one, with the Sky and Depths feeling distinct from Hyrule itself.
I was impressed with how seemless the transition from sky to surface was. No loading times. No framerate hiccups. You can jump from three thousand feet and reach the surface with a stable framerate. The same cannot be said about the transition from Hyrule to the Depths. You can only do so via a few chasms, which are clearly used as a means to hide loading times. Framerate hiccups occur during this transition as well, but once you fall down to Hell itself, the game operates at a rock-solid 30fps, largely due to how less detailed this area is when compared to the surface.
The soundtrack is also a notable improvement over the minimalist collection of sounds seen in Breath of the Wild. Sure, for the most part, it’s actually the same damn thing, as the vast majority of that game’s tunes and sound effects are just reused in Tears of the Kingdom. A bit disappointing, granted, but what’s new is much better than anything seen in Breath of the Wild, by far, especially during cutscenes and inside dungeons. Even if the voice acting is subpar, the music sure isn’t. I also loved the little music nods to previous games, such as Link randomly humming tunes from Link’s Awakening or Ocarina of Time while waiting for his steak to cook. It’s the little things that captivated me the most.
There is one aspect in which I honestly think Tears of the Kingdom feels actually worse than its predecessor: its controls. For the most part, sure, it’s the same damn thing, but that’s where hindsight kicks in, as well as my aforementioned regret towards not mentioning my actual issues with Breath of the Wild‘s controls. That button placement isn’t great, to put it mildly. Running with B, jumping with X, aiming and shooting arrows with ZR, it’s just not natural. It’s something you can absolutely get used to, and the controls themselves are phenomenally responsive but it never feels ideal. To make matters worse, in true Nintendo (as in, monstrously behind the times) fashion, you cannot map the controls to your liking. Very few accessibility options. Because it’s our problem, not theirs.
There are also some issues related to quality of life mishaps, but I also need to clarify some important quality of life improvements. It almost feels like that there was a new issue for every new fix. Fusing is great, but you cannot fuse items with weapons directly from the main menu. Making vehicles is fun as hell, with shockingly intuitive controls, but you cannot store them in a garage like how you can do with horses. There are lots of new features, at the cost of slightly more convoluted menu interfaces. The pros undoubtedly outweigh the cons, however, because there’s no denying to the most obvious fact: Tears of the Kingdom is just too damn fun for these issues to hinder my experience with it.
It’s almost bizarre… although I have a lot of small gripes with its design and Nintendo’s jurassic take on accessibility, I can’t hide the fact that I basically became a hermit over the past week. I couldn’t stop playing the damn game. I cancelled appointments, sent out review codes I had dibbed to other reviewers, went to sleep late at night because I just couldn’t put the game down. If that isn’t a sign of a bonafide hit, then I don’t know what is.
Whatever gripes I may have faced during my dozens, perhaps hundreds of hours with Tears of the Kingdom, don’t make it any less engrossing and amazing. It’s not perfect, it’s not my favorite Zelda game of all time, it’s not even the best game we’ve played and reviewed in 2023. But does that really matter? At the end of the day, it’s an improvement over Breath of the Wild, a really impossible task that Eiji Aonuma managed to achieve. The ultimate “get lost and write your own experience with it” adventure, the one game to shut up those who complain about framerates and resolutions, and possibly a mic drop of a swan song for the Nintendo Switch, because we sure as hell need a successor to it. In short, Tears of the Kingdom lived up to the hype. And I couldn’t be happier about it.
It pushes the Nintendo Switch’s hardware to its limits, resulting in gorgeous vistas and surprising lighting and shadow effects. That being said, it is the same basis seen in Breath of the Wild, a Wii U game, and it still suffers from framerate issues, albeit less than its predecessor.
There’s a vast improvement on the scale of its exploration. I also loved the building mechanics, adding a layer of creativity never seen before in a Zelda game. Some quality of life mishaps and the lack of accessibility options are small blemishes, but nothing too absurd. The control layout, on the other hand, did annoy me.
In a way, its minimalistic soundtrack is a bit better than the one seen in Breath of the Wild. Some improved sound effects and nostalgia-driven cues deserve a nod as well. The amateurish voice acting still hasn’t improved, though, and I still wonder why did Nintendo decide to double down on it to begin with.
Fun Factor: 10
Whatever gripes I may have faced during my dozens, perhaps hundreds of hours with Tears of the Kingdom don’t make it any less engrossing and amazing. It is, indeed, the ultimate “get lost and make your own experience” adventure.
Final Verdict: 9.5
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is available now on Nintendo Switch.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.