Ridiculously popular, known widely and a pop culture icon, you would be hard-pressed to find a gamer who hasn’t touched a Zelda game. Nintendo’s long-running The Legend of Zelda series will be turning forty in just a few short years, and they’ve released the newest entry, Tears of the Kingdom, to remind everyone why they’ve been able to keep the series alive for so long.
A sequel to the smash hit Breath of the Wild, Tears of the Kingdom manages to keep things fresh, despite being the same Hyrule and keeping a lot of the game’s signature elements. If you’re an action-adventure fan, this is not one to be missed.
Set roughly a few years after the events of Breath of the Wild, Hyrule faces a new threat as the evil aura known as “gloom” has been seeping out of the deep depths below the Hyrule Castle. Link and Zelda go down to investigate, only to end up separated, with Zelda missing and Link losing his vitality (a euphemism for losing all of his heart containers and stamina, really). This kicks off the search for the Princess, awakening the sages and adventuring across the land to face the Demon King, Ganondorf.
The story is pretty par for the course for a Zelda title, Ganondorf is trying to take over Hyrule and you’ve got to stop him. But each game manages to spice it up a bit, and Tears of the Kingdom gives you a new look at the beginning of the kingdom of Hyrule that is candy to Zelda lore fans like me. There are beautifully animated cutscenes, and plenty of environmental storytelling to keep you invested between finding those cutscenes in the overworld.
Compelling and epic, Tears of the Kingdom delivers on almost every storytelling front. However, the voice acting is still a bit clunky, just like its predecessor. It feels more like a dubbed anime, which is not the end of the world, but it can definitely take you out of the moment. Zelda is still a bit new to the voice acting game, and they will have a little catching up to do still.
Very similar to Breath of the Wild’s extraordinary combat system, Tears of the Kingdom still manages to keep it fresh with new enemies and the new fuse ability that allows Link to stick together any two weapons or any weapon and item together that he wants. The fuse ability is really the kicker here, because when I say any weapon or item, I mean any weapon or item. Do you want to fuse a rock to your sword? Maybe another sword? Do you want to fuse a mushroom to your weapon for some reason? Do it. You can build a makeshift flame blade with a ruby and a stick if you feel like it.
There are also new monsters to fight, and while you’ll find familiar baddies like Bokoblins and Hinoxes, you’re also going to run into new ones. The Gleeoks are a stand out, taking down the giant three headed beasts flying around the overworld will make you feel unstoppable. The Gloom Hands also managed to inspire the same primal fear that gripped my soul when I first ran into a guardian in Breath of the Wild, and it keeps my heart pounding even as I continue to run into them. Combat is smooth, rewarding and the right level of toughness that keeps you from just avoiding nearly any enemy you run into, which is something you can do if you want to.
While this is the same Hyrule from Breath of the Wild in terms of lore, it manages to be different anyway. Adventuring is one of the biggest draws for Zelda, and Tears of the Kingdom is no different. It was insane that in Breath of the Wild, you were able to just run straight to the final boss with a stick in your underwear, and its sequel really doesn’t want you to do that. You are encouraged to turn stones, look around and just generally get up to some tomfoolery.
Brand new areas are ripe for exploring in the sky and underground with the sky islands and the chasms that have appeared since the upheaval, and I’ve had a blast running around and using the new Zonai devices to cause some mayhem. Even the original overworld is new to explore, Koroks are in new spots, there are caves to spelunk in and new settlements have been built since Link defeated Calamity Ganon that you can run around in. Even though it’s technically the same Hyrule, it feels fresh, and it’s rewarding and just plain fun to explore it all.
What’s a Zelda game without some beautiful tunes to zone out to when you’ve been playing for six hours straight? Music has been integral to the series since 1986 and it frequently is part of discussions for best video game soundtracks. Tears of the Kingdom knows how important music is to Zelda, and they deliver absolutely gorgeous songs.
The full orchestra returns for the sequel and all I can say is wow. Sweeping themes will follow you as you journey around Hyrule, from the ancient sounds of the Zonai to the tension-building tune while you climb to the Wind Temple. The music sets the mood so well and really my only complaint is that some of it is reused from Breath of the Wild. But even then, I’m still dallying on my horse for longer than I need to just so I can hear Zelda’s Lullaby on those gorgeous strings.
And what a treat to have Link hum songs from previous Zelda games while he’s cooking! When I first heard Saria’s Song I wanted to weep with joy. Such a small detail that makes all the difference, and I never skip the cooking cutscene anymore.