Why Tears of the Kingdom Might Be the Greatest LoZ

Key Points

  • I've been playing Zelda since I could talk; Tears of the Kingdom is a big deal.

  • The Zelda Formula needed a shakeup after Skyward Sword.

  • Tears' game design has baffled players and developers alike.

  • Tears of the Kingdom is the best Zelda since Ocarina of Time

I've been playing The Legend of Zelda since I was in diapers. "Link" was one of my first words. Tears of the Kingdom might just be the best in the series. I know what you're thinking: "This guy must be new to the franchise; he must've never played Wind Waker or Ocarina!"

No, I've played every mainline game, including getting my ass handed to me in the original 1986 game and Zelda II. I've finished every single game that was released on a console, Link's Awakening, Phantom Hourglass, and a brief foray into one of the Oracle games — Ages, of course. Tears of the Kingdom might just be the best of them all.

Tears of the Kingdom Legend of Zelda

Photo source: Nintendo

I understand the gravity of such a declaration. Hyperbole isn't my favorite thing, but I can't hold it in any longer. I have to talk about Tears of the Kingdom and why it's such a goddamn big deal. I don't know how Aiji Uonuma and the other wizards at Nintendo Entertainment Planning & Development did it, but they did. Not only did they build a full-on sequel to Breath of the Wild, but they improved on the formula.

They did it so well that it makes the previous game pale in comparison. Not only that, but Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom is the best one-two punch in a genre-defining franchise. Those two back-to-back are better than Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask. Do you understand how big of a deal that is? 

Breath of the Wild marked a shift in the franchise. The classic "Zelda formula" created in 1991's A Link to the Past had shown signs of wear, particularly in Wild's direct predecessor, Skyward Sword. It was time to return to the series' roots, to players meandering wherever their hearts led them. This core tenant of player freedom and discovery resulted in one of history's most universally beloved video games, even rivaling Ocarina of Time

The truth is, I prefer Ocarina of Time to Breath of the Wild. I think if you want to talk about universal impact, iconography, music, gameplay, and narrative design, Ocarina takes the gold with Wild close behind. The biggest reason for me is that Ocarina's story is a classic Zelda tale of heroism — with dynamic dungeon design, groundbreaking combat, and diverse item mechanics — that trumps Breath of the Wild. At the same time, Wild's physics were impressive, but it lacked the same level of depth.

Tears of the Kingdom Legend of Zelda

Photo source: Nintendo

Tears of the Kingdom took my criticisms of Breath of the Wild — shallow story, wonky weapon durability, lack of dungeon diversity, and repetitive shrine puzzles — and made me eat my words. I've loved every second of my 100+ playing hours.

The Fuse ability is pure sorcery in gameplay but, more importantly, in a game design sense. I can't tell you how many times I've had moments of, "Wait, I can do that?"

Don't just take it from me; take it from Josh Scherr, Narrative Director at Crop Circle Games, who also worked on Uncharted 4 and The Last of Us Part II. Scherr tweeted: "Hey Nintendo, quick question regarding Tears of the Kingdom: how in the fuck did you make this [sic]."

He also followed up with: "[p]lease make a game with physics puzzles where players can build their own contraptions out of nearly every object available & make it work with little to no noticeable jank or breaking the game [sic]. 

99.9% of developers: [cry]
Nintendo: [rolls up sleeves] I gotchu [sic]."

Tears of the Kingdom Legend of Zelda

Photo source: Nintendo

You can Ascend through ceilings when you've delved too deep into the newly added caves. Before its release, Nintendo barely promoted this game and hardly mentioned that the map is double the size of Wild's already massive map. The biggest surprise thus far is the addition of the Depths and how Nintendo managed to keep this 40 percent of the game a secret.

Imagine with me, for a moment, that there's a pitch-black underworld of caverns, corrosive goo, alien-looking plants, glowing mushrooms, and red-eyed monsters — both crawling and tiny and gargantuan and hulking — guarding the most valuable loot in the universe. It's all underneath the ground you're standing on and is only accessible by diving into the deepest chasms. That's the Depths.

This new region is exhilarating to explore and terrifying at the same time. Since it's pitch-black, you need to find light sources and enough gear to beat back these monsters because, I promise you, they hit hard. It's a source of adventure I haven't felt since I was a little kid playing Ocarina on my N64 — y'know, the greatest console ever.

Tears of the Kingdom Legend of Zelda

Photo source: Nintendo

Tears of the Kingdom's story isn't only an improvement on its loose and passable predecessor, but it might be the most invested I've ever been in completing a Zelda story. The Demon King Ganondorf returns triumphantly and is an ever-worthy opponent for you and the Blade of Evil's Bane, the Master Sword.

Finding Princess Zelda and retrieving the Master Sword is your main objective in this tale, as in every Zelda game. Still, if you haven't experienced the game yet, you aren't prepared for the emotional upheaval you'll experience while completing the main quest. It honors the storied franchise it represents.    

I sit in wonder at what I've played. I knew Breath of the Wild was good, but it didn't challenge Ocarina like I thought it could. Tears of the Kingdom is an illustrious tapestry woven from the classic Zelda formula and this new "open-air" game that the Nintendo team aspired to iterate upon from the original 1986 title.

It's an improvement from its predecessor in nearly every way. Still, it manages to add unexpected and wildly imaginative mechanics that keep you returning to save Hyrule again and again — and I think it might just be the best the series has ever seen.

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