Even though many potential winners are slated for release this year, the long-awaited direct sequel to 2017’s Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was highest on my list. When Nintendo announced the sequel during E3 2019, I was genuinely surprised that the game would continue the where BoTW’s story left off. While BOTW was a huge success, and it was safe to assume they’d continue to make more Zelda games, Nintendo often opts to create Zelda games that are disconnected from the others. There are exceptions to this, of course, but the Zelda franchise is well known for its ambiguity in terms of timeline and even universe placement. Each game features a wise-beyond-her-years princess, a young boy with the courage of a hero, and a cunning evil that seeks to upset the balance. The setting is often in Hyrule, but most of the details are left up to the player to figure out. Tears of the Kingdom is an excellent sequel that has proved to be even more popular than its predecessor, and its free open-world gameplay continues to be a fun and refreshing way to play a classic series.
The Main Quest
The game is big. The world is packed full of content behind every turn, and it’s exceedingly easy to get distracted. While the nature of an open-world game encourages the player to constantly be curious about a place they haven’t explored yet or a building in the distance they’ve never seen before, the main quest offers a more linear approach. ToTK offers a more substantial main quest and story than BoTW, but it also lets you rush straight for the final boss at any time. Historically, Zelda games have been very linear and the player always knew where to go and what the current task was. In lots of cases, a new area could only be unlocked by obtaining an item found by completing a dungeon in the previous area. BoTW allowed players to explore any part of the map at any time they wanted, and ToTK was no different. In fact, I was so distracted by things to do in BoTW I never actually completed the main quest to defeat the final boss.
Since ToTK’s main questline was more involved and offered more quests, I was invested in seeing it to the end and managed to complete the main story before doing too much else. This was definitely unusual for me, as open-world games tend to highlight my short attention span. Where BoTW had themes of isolation and loneliness after Link wakes up from his hundred-year nap with a small case of amnesia and a changed world, ToTK went in the opposite direction. Link had lots of friends to depend on, if the main story is completed before challenging the final boss, and besides giving the game more detail, the stakes are higher as Link is motivated to save his friends as well as Zelda.
Temples make their return in the main story, an exciting addition for many Zelda players who regard temples and puzzle-solving as a core mechanic to the series. While the temples in ToTK are shorter and less involved than in some other entries, they are an improvement over the Divine Beasts from BoTW and went a long way into making the game seem like a “true” Zelda title. Even more fun was meeting individuals from the main four Hyrule regions (plus one more) and learning more about them as you work with them.
While Nintendo likes to keep Zelda lore somewhat ambiguous, they had also released their lore book, Hyrule Historia, which details the chronological Zelda timeline starting with Skyward Sword and branching off into multiple timelines after Ocarina of Time. This has led fans to search for clues in every game which hint at references and connections to others in the series. Nintendo believes that the magic of The Legend of Zelda is with each player interpreting the story for themselves, and with the massive amount of fan theories and content covering lore, I’d have to say I agree with them. The Zonai, an ancient race briefly mentioned in BoTW, were majorly involved in the plot of the game which has caused much speculation and confusion about where ToTK falls on the timeline.
A popular theory not confirmed by Nintendo is that BoTW and its sequel ToTK take place at the end of the three branching timelines as a way to merge everything back together into one. There are lots of reasons why people think this, being that the Zora and Rito have never both existed in the same timeline before, and all the references to different games throughout the series. With the Zonai being introduced as an ancient race, almost god-like in Hylian reverence for them, it throws all previous theories into question. Skyward Sword is the canon first game in the Zelda chronology, at a time before Hylians (not yet called Hylians) leave Skyloft and settle the land of Hyrule. Yet, ToTK tells us that the Zonai lived among Hylians and even helped build the Kingdom of Hyrule. Hyrule’s first King, Rauru, was a Zonai who had a Hylian wife, and the Hyrulean royal family is revealed to have Zonai blood. Where does Skyward Sword fall into the timeline given this new information? Did the Zonai descend shortly after the Humans from Skyloft came to the surface, then go on to work together to stop the first reincarnation of Demise? Maybe it isn’t all connected after all. Maybe BoTW and ToTK are such re-inventions of what a Zelda game is that Nintendo decided the easiest thing to do would be to tell an entirely new story disconnected from everything else.
Questions for a Future Game
The release of ToTK was even more successful than its predecessor, which is an impressive feat. With it being a sequel to one of the most popular and successful Zelda games and pairing it with fun new abilities and even more refined open-world gameplay, I think it’s safe to say that Nintendo know they have something special with their current game engine. Besides that, there’s still lots of mystery surrounding the Zonai as most of the game wasn’t actually about them. In ToTK, they were an intriguing story element meant to propel Link forward in his quest to find Zelda, but there’s still lots of unanswered questions. Why do they have such advanced technology? As they seemingly descended from the sky, revered as gods, do they actually originate from another world? Are the Secret Stones their version of the Triforce? The ending to the game leaves things open and optimistic for the future, so I’ll continue to enjoy the game and hope for the return of Hudson Construction.