The latest addition to Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda series, and direct sequel to the widely-loved Breath of the Wild, released on May 12th last week. Playing Tears of the Kingdom has recreated the same sense of wonder and curiosity I felt when stepping into Breath of the Wild for the first time despite this sequel being built on its foundation. In just the short time I have played so far, I have discovered that it is possible to create an experience that feels altogether new, yet familiar at the same time.
While I’ll be holding a lot of my thoughts until I’m further along in the game, there have already been lots of new things I’ve been getting excited about. Overall, this should be relatively brief post since the game is so new, but I just needed to write about something!
Right out of the gate, players are introduced to the word “Zonai.” This was masterfully done in the introduction and tutorial sections of the game, and definitely make sure the players know that those mysterious people will be important going forward. While I’m no Zelda historian, I’ve watched lots of lore content especially coming fresh out of Breath of the Wild and needing answers. The Zonai were only vaguely referenced in BoTW; the Barbarian armor set mentions them, and Zonai ruins can be found throughout the map with distinctive stone architecture that heavily features dragons and a particular swirl pattern. From what I understand, they were mentioned to be an ancient war-like race that often wore armor like the Barbarian set Link can find in the game. Aside from that not much else was known, and Zelda lore experts analyzed every piece of BoTW to try finding a connection between the Zonai and the rest of Zelda history.
It’s widely accepted – though, not officially confirmed by Nintendo – that BoTW signifies the convergence of all Zelda timelines into one. We think this because the game references elements of games from all of the three timelines, either through armor sets found in-game, enemies encountered, or through tales of the past. The Legend of Zelda was not a series originally planned to branch out into different timelines; in fact, it was meant to be kept obscure so that each player could decide for themselves. However, in recent years Nintendo has released a book, Hyrule Historia, which includes a page on the official Zelda timeline but does not mention BoTW since it hadn’t released yet.
Merging all three official timelines back into one will be no easy task for Nintendo, and, if true, I’ll be very curious to see how they pull it off. The Zonai might have been created as a common thread Nintendo could use to explain everything. The introduction to ToTK has Zelda making a huge discovery on the origins of the Kingdom of Hyrule: The Hylians and Zonai united to create the kingdom. Even though I’m not well-versed on Zelda lore, it’s an area of gaming that has always fascinated me due to its mysteriousness.
The New Abilities
Early on in the game, Link is introduced and shown how to use four new abilities which he will use to traverse the rest of the game. Gone are the bombs, magnets, ice blocks, and Dio’s “The World” (a wild Jojo’s reference), and in its place are abilities that are completely new and fit the Zonai theme. In fact, at times I feel like I’m cheating when using them. In ToTK, Link can fuse a barrel to his shield or, in a moment of madness, might choose to stick a bomb to that same shield which activates when struck and promptly destroys everything around him (including himself.) He can create a wagon or a hot air balloon or anything really, as long as it’s structurally sound and there’s enough materials nearby to make it. That’s not even mentioning his other abilities, which allow him to ascend upward onto a stone platform with as much ease as swimming through water. Or rewinding time on an object…
Nintendo gave us some very wacky and creative abilities in the sequel, and I’m sure I have barely scratched the surface with what’s possible. I’ve been enjoying seeing what others have been building with the Ultrahand ability and getting a glimpse into other people’s imagination. Breath of the Wild was about freedom and exploration, and ToTK built upon that already solid foundation and managed to create a game based on the same Hyrule map but somehow make it seem new.
As mentioned before, ToTK is a direct sequel which means it uses the same map as BoTW. While new and exciting will always be, well, new and exciting, a major benefit of a sequel game set in the same world is being able to show the passage of time. Sure, Hyrule might fundamentally be the same, but the story has changed and the map shows that. There might be new enemy encampments in places where there were none, towns or NPCs in places where they previously weren’t, and changes to existing places. I’m rediscovering Hyrule again, except this time I’m exploring to see what has changed and how the ending of BoTW has impacted everything.
One thing I’m looking forward to in particular is visiting Tarrey Town, once I venture over to that part of the map, to check in on Hudson. My favorite questline from BoTW was Hylian Homeowner and the quests it opened up with helping Hudson to found and build houses in his new town. Over the course of the quest, Link helps to bring new people to the village and even helps Hudson find love. So far, in BoTW, I’ve been spotting signs all over referencing Hudson as the president as his own construction company, so I’m excited to see where it all goes.
Overall, ToTK has a very different tone than BoTW. Everything about BoTW was quiet and almost somber. Link had failed to protect Hyrule and Princess Zelda, and then, 100 years later, he was revived only to rediscover the land that he failed to save. The music was minimal and sad at times, and any NPCs or villagers Link spoke to just seemed to accept the world for what it was. After Link and Zelda’s victory against Calamity Ganon, though, everyone has reason to hope. Near the beginning of the game, players will see reclamation and expedition efforts to study the affects of the Calamity, and start rebuilding. BoTW was and continues to be an amazing game that inspired countless others, and the fact that ToTK may be even better is just astounding. The adventure is truly just beginning, and I’m loving every minute of it.