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The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom Review

A sequel to 2017’s Breath of the Wild in 2023 shows the Switch’s age.

Review Score: 8/10

I’ve been a big fan of the series since Ocarina of Time. Loved ever since. Always tried to get the special editions. I’m older now, a father, full time work, different perspective. I Can see why others may enjoy Tears of the Kingdom (TOTK) more. This perspective is important to share even though it most likely won’t be seen by the devs. I want to share what I feel could’ve improved the experience and hope to see maybe some of the ideas take shape in the next evolution of the series moving forward.

I have seen the scores on Metacritic it earned a 96 overall by critics where the user score is around 8.4. Based on my experiences during my playthrough my score falls pretty close to the user score. 

Let’s start by acknowledging that TOTK is better than Breath of the Wild by almost every measure. It’s so impressive how well MonolithSoft, the makers of another favorite game of mine from Switch, “Xenoblade Chronicles X” was able to help Nintendo optimize this game. The fact that it actually runs at any playable framerate on the Grandaddy Switch and has no smoke coming from the dock is straight-up voodoo! So big props to the devs.

TOTK takes place 5 years after Breath of the Wild (BOTW) and we begin by joining Link & Zelda exploring a forbidden underground area of Hyrule Castle. They decend upon a room with a spiralling green light emitting from the center of the room with an arm appearing to hold down a corpse.

As Link & Zelda enter the room and make their way closer, the arm falls down along with some stone-like object. Zelda picks up the stone and the corpse suddenly awakens and attacks them. Link tries to defend Zelda with the master sword but as the master sword is deflecting the dark power it breaks and the dark power envelops Link’s arm. The floor underneath them gives way and Zelda falls through.

Looking down its nothing but darkness with unrecognizable depth. Link leaps down reaching for Zelda’s hand but falls just short. As Zelda falls she appears to teleport away. Link is saved out of nowhere by the green arm, pulling him into a blinding light.

Link wakes up to see his arm which was severely damaged has been replaced by the green arm. Looking around in this unknown place a voice calls to Link, he discovers the green arm originally belonged to Rauru, the 1st King of Hyrule, who appears to Link as a spirit and explains to him what has happened and that Link is their last hope to defeat Ganon who was the corpse being kept at bay by Rauru’s arm under Hyrule Castle.

Rauru’s arm bonded to Link

The adventure starts on new Sky Islands that now populate the skies over Hyrule and the green arm that is now bonded to Link grants him new abilities to aid him on his quest.

UltraHand, the ability to attach almost any object to other objects. Recall, the ability to reverse time on objects for a short period. Ascend, the ability to ascend through some ceilings, and Fuse, the ability to fuse items to weapons or shields. 

The beginning of the game had my interest. The sky islands were new. I was looking forward to what was in store for me. Here we go! Hoping this is where I would discover something that would distinguish this game and make it stand out, to bring me in!

Sadly, the 1st hour of exploration on the Great Sky Island didn’t keep my enthusiasm up. Somehow I knew that most likely it wasn’t going to come down the road either.

The Great Sky Island is basically your tutorial ground before you really start your adventure down on the ground in Hyrule. This area I feel is where the game should have prepared you much more in terms of Zonai devices in conjunction with Ultrahand. 

Steward Constructs were creations by the Zonai people left to execute random everyday tasks. (Security, farming, training, etc.)

Steward Constructs in combination with the 1st few shrines on the Great Sky Island is your opportunity to learn how to use most of the Zonai devices, their basic functionality, and add some to your inventory for the initial section of the game.

Here on the Great Sky Island is where you should 1st encounter Zonai Dispensers and are able to use them via a tutorial task by the local steward constructs.

The Last shrine before you leave the great sky island to descend into Hyrule should be where you obtain the auto-build ability.

The auto-build ability contains blueprints to existing creations that were either given to you or things you experimented and built that would be saved so you could quickly have it created for you next time.

I feel this would have made a big difference in the beginning portion of the game. You would have a good understanding of the new tools and how to use them early on and the application would be more intuitive off the bat and of course up to you if you choose to use them in that way or not.

Ultrahand and Recall abilities are cool mechanics. Early on, in game implementation of the ultrahand applications just seemed more time-consuming and confusing. 

Like when you 1st land in Hyrule and see a pile of wood that is meant for you to use and it’s also close by to an enemy camp, my first thought was ok, I want to build a wooden cart and run them over! I couldn’t do that!

Then I thought ok can I Ultrahand carry a big wooden beam and swing it at them? Or chuck it at them knocking them out? Nope, I couldn’t do that either.

You could only drop things on enemies which is kinda lame and is contrary to the idea of how the mechanic works. I already felt limited. 

However, had I had access to Zonai Dispensers at that time that allows you to trade Zonai charges that you get after defeating Zonai enemies in exchange for Zonai devices then I could’ve had the necessary parts to build that cart off the get-go.

Moving on to combat, which was another system that I felt needed an upgrade from BOTW.

Since BOTW came out in 2017 there have been games that have released where intuitive combat systems showcasing excellent mobility and offensive and defensive options that could’ve inspired upgrades that would work well for Link in a sequel 5 years in the making in the year 2023.

Games like God of War, Horizon Forbidden West, and Final Fantasy 7 Remake.

Link is a swordsman who has been saving Hyrule forever but the controls for Link in battle don’t match his reputation.

Movement during combat feels clunky, slow, and not very responsive. Landing parries doesn’t feel like something you can do reliably. Link’s mobility shouldn’t feel limited in the year 2023. 

Side hop dodges feel slow and should be quick dashes instead. You should be able to dash in toward the enemy to begin your attack, dash to the side to avoid attacks, and make Link’s backflip a bit quicker. Allow Link to dash cancel out of firing arrows.

Improve Z-targeting. When you are surrounded by multiple enemies, Z- targeting between them needs to be efficient and quick.

For example, holding down the targeting button and selecting the enemy you want to attack with the right stick. Once your chosen enemy is centered release the targeting button and resume your attack or defense.

Your ability to react quickly In this game is necessary. When you are engaged with gangs of enemies surrounding you from multiple angles where single hits do a lot of damage and could sometimes one shot you; this could be the difference between surviving and the game over screen. 

Weapon durability from BOTW carries over and still sucks.

Weapons should last much longer once fused without having to go through any gimmicks. Weapons breaking is such an immersion breaker.

It completely stops you sometimes from continuing your progress because now you have to find a new weapon. Or you’ve avoided helping your favorite little woodland buddies, the koroks, missing the opportunity to add additional inventory slots for your gear. it’s Not like your busy trying to save Hyrule or anything right?

Or you are further along on your quest and your remaining weapons in your inventory don’t do enough damage because you don’t have enough good materials for fusing. Especially when weapons break during boss fights!  C’mon, not now!!

Along the way as you progress on your quest, you gain allies that join you and fight alongside you.

You can activate their unique abilities by approaching them and pressing the “A” button.

There were many times I was trying to activate a specific sage’s powers that I needed during battle and they weren’t anywhere near me. They were engaged with an enemy. Having the right sage accessible during late-game battles are critical. There is a whistle command that if you use during these moments they don’t respond the whistle is supposed to rally them back to you but it never really worked well.

When you are running around the field trying to position yourself but your desired sage is nowhere near you, you need a way to summon a specific one to you right away. Sorry Tulin, I need Yunobo or Riju right now! I suggest a shortcut to access the desired sage.

An example shortcut could be holding down on the D-pad and a sage wheel with their photo appears on screen much like the abilities wheel when holding down the L button and using the right thumbstick to select. This would call over to you the right sage.

Lets talk some of the positives of the game. The temple designs are awesome! They are interesting, they aren’t overly long to get through, the mechanics you use to clear them are clever and the temple boss fights are fun.

The story is very interesting. The idea of dragon tears spread over Hyrule kingdom surrounded by crop-patterned areas called “geoglyphs” are the ways to see and unlock Zelda’s memories are awesome story drivers and a clever way to get you to travel to new areas and explore.

Each tear found (12 in all to discover) tells Link fragments of story of what happens to Zelda. Seeing fragments of what happened to her and bits of backstory being fleshed out made me want to seek out all the tears right away!

One thing that I want to mention since we are on the topic of traveling the kingdom is the depths.

The depths are a cool addition to the map that we are able to explore. My complaint is that there’s too much map to explore down there and a lot of it isn’t relevant to your progression.

I understand you don’t have to explore all of the depths, but my perspective I have on this is maximizing development time and resources (Quality Assurance etc.).

Food for thought time. If the Depths were 50-60% less explorable would the release date not have been pushed back? Maybe slightly reduced?

I would’ve exchanged that time and resources that were spent building out the scope of the depths; being the entire map size of Hyrule and pairing it down to story-focused regions so other aspects like upgrading the combat system or something else that would’ve better improved the overall game experience would have gotten the time.

The reward for exploring the full scope of the depths isn’t worth it. 

This next point really hit home with me; especially after playing through games like Horizon Forbidden West, God of War, and Final Fantasy 7 Remake.

Link should speak. It’s time. This specific game is the game to do so. I’ll tell you why. 1st off. It’s a modern-day Zelda game and hardware isn’t holding back the ability to do so; like it may have had in the past. 

Second, we all know Link can talk, the devs chose to create a story point that keeps us from hearing him talk not because he can’t. It’s been done so many times; and being exposed by other big AAA games with dialogue I want the same from Link.

Most importantly he has so much to say about Hyrule since BOTW!

This is a place he’s spent so much time and so much has happened and changed in the past 5 years!  We want to hear his thoughts. How does the arm feel? His thoughts about Zelda or the Sages. Passing by certain locations Link shares his thoughts/memories regarding those locations, How much pressure does he feel? etc.

Every other main character in this game talks. Even hearing Zelda speak to Link and seeing Link not say anything back is awkward. I feel bad for Link that he’s the only one that doesn’t talk but he does all the work! You feel lonely while traveling across Hyrule sometimes if you aren’t fast traveling and this would fix that issue and add much more to the story. 

Perhaps a happy medium for some would be Link dialogue as an option to enable in the options menu.

On the Main screen above the weather system icons would be a Link Dialogue icon that would ping when dialogue is available with context to either your current location or progress in the game and you can press the corresponding button to play the dialogue or have it come out as subtitles.

My final section of improvements for the game is 2 things. These were things that I missed out on and didn’t discover. I’m also the type of person that doesn’t go on youtube during my playthroughs for any reason.

After my playthrough, which I sank 115 hrs into (yikes!) I went on youtube and saw other people that have shared that they’ve built a new house for Link in the game that has so many more customization options than in BOTW and allows you to inventory up to 3 weapons, 3 bows, and 3 shields! What a fun inclusion to the game…that I missed out on…sigh…

There’s also a Yiga Clan quest that grants you a new combat ability called earthwake where Link charges up his fist and slams the ground creating a quake that travels toward the enemy and hits them!  Again, sigh LOL

What! How could I miss this!? I wish so much that I could’ve played at least half of my playthrough with these 2 things, access to my own house to store extra inventory and earthwake to spice up the combat.

 I’m sure a good amount of people like me missed this. It’s customary in Zelda games to have cool secrets but in this case, missing out on something like this that would’ve added so much more to your playthrough really hurts.

Many people only have but so much time to play through the game. We all aren’t kids anymore with endless summers and long holiday breaks to invest in 1 game. 

I feel that these 2 quests should be suggested side quests on the quest screen. It doesn’t have to be on the main line quest but it shouldn’t be a discoverable quest that you could easily miss.

This is a long game and I don’t have the time to replay it because I missed those things. Missing a chance to get the hylian shield? Sure it would be nice but no biggie, things like that is ok.

I know it might seem that I’m being really hard on a game that is held back partially by old hardware. I’m hoping by putting all this out into the world there might be a future where possibly on a next-gen system we can get a Zelda game that addresses a lot of the requests I’ve asked for.

I feel with these changes you could get people’s initial playthroughs around the 50-60 hr mark to finish the main story as well as include some exploration. This would be a good balance of time spent and diminishing returns and if you want to explore beyond that for extra side questing, have at it!

This series is special to me and to many. I wish for nothing but its continued success and that’s why in my review I am so critical.

This is the first Zelda game where I really had to force myself to finish the playthrough because I wasn’t really having the fun I was accustomed to like on previous main-line Zelda adventures that normally happen only once every hardware cycle.

It takes a long time usually between Zelda games so that’s why I really just put my head down and completed the story. I am glad I did, the last fight with Ganon was awesome. The story ending however was meh to me. Another example of Link contributing with dialogue would go a long way. 

Every Zelda game we get about 4- 5 years older. When BOTW came out my daughter was 10 months old. I started TOTK she was about to turn 7 years old!

Many of us are happy to grow old with this series but are hoping the series evolves each iteration; while we can still enjoy them. Here’s hoping the next game doesn’t take as long and it delivers on setting a new bar for the series and perhaps a new bar for the genre.

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