By: Caroline MacLellan
June 5th, 2023
The Legend of Zelda is one of the most beloved video game franchises of all time. Its first game was released in Japan in 1986, and in 1987 it received an American release. Since then The Legend of Zelda games have garnered a massive player base.
The most recently released game in the franchise is titled The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, and was released on May 12, 2023. Tears of the Kingdom is the sequel to award-winning game The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, released in 2017.
After a six year period, during which the Zelda franchise saw a downturn in popularity, the release of Breath of the Wild rejuvenated the Zelda fanbase and attracted entirely new gamers to the franchise. For many, Breath of the Wild is the first or only Zelda game they’ve ever played. Even among seasoned players, it’s usually ranked as the best Zelda game of all time. However, Tears of the Kingdom seems to be knocking its predecessor down just one peg, now topping a multitude of best Zelda game lists after only two weeks. One ranker described it as “an unfathomable follow-up to one of the greatest games ever made.”
Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom are receiving this praise for a reason. For starters, these two Zelda games are among some of the biggest open-world games to exist. Breath of the Wild certainly has a massive map, but the sequel features another two maps on top of the original map, further expanding the game’s mysteries. The series also features a multitude of new and unique ideas, including the special abilities given to main character Link in both titles.
The games are massive, but without appealing visuals, neither would be as critically acclaimed. Despite the pitfalls of the Nintendo Switch, which is often criticized for its storage capacity and graphics quality, both games feature visually stunning landscapes and gameplay. Of course, the beauty of these two games isn’t the only reason for the franchise’s success. Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom give the player an entirely new kind of gaming experience in the action-adventure genre.
Both games are open-world role-playing games that take place in the Kingdom of Hyrule. Gamers play as Link, a Hylian warrior sworn to protect Princess Zelda. In almost all of the Zelda games, Link must defeat the evil Ganon, who wishes to destroy Hyrule, and rescue Princess Zelda from his clutches. Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom are no different.
But the strengths of these two games are the ways in which they craft the adventure. While they feature a main quest and side quests like most RPGs, these two games provide the player with little direction on how to do so, or even where to proceed once you complete the tutorial. There’s no checklist of things to complete, and quests are marked with their starting points 90% of the time, rather than the ending point. Players of Breath of the Wild starting its sequel are already familiar with the way the game should be played. That is, that you play it however you want.
In fact, you don’t even need to complete any of the other quests in either game to fight Ganon. You can completely ignore the little yellow markers flashing on your map and head straight to the final boss. Or, you can explore the entire map and avoid all boss fights completely until the very end. Most games require you to do things in a set order, whether that includes specific quests, objectives, etc. But the design of these two games offers an alternative to this common style of gameplay.
The freedom and versatility offered by the very design of the game is therefore one of its main selling points, and the increased uniqueness in Tears of the Kingdom simply adds to the appeal of the two games. In Breath of the Wild, Link used a tool called the Sheikah Slate to obtain unique abilities called runes.
These runes allow you to do a variety of different things, like create blocks of ice, freeze objects in time, throw bombs, and attract metal objects. Most open-world RPG gameplay focuses on fighting. But in these Zelda titles, Link can do that and more, allowing for a multitude of ways to solve puzzles, fight monsters and defeat the final boss. You can pelt monsters with bomb arrows, defeat them with a sword or you can get creative and smack them around with a metal box.
Tears of the Kingdom expands on this versatility. The abilities Link has are completely different from the previous game, and include the ability to send objects back in time, fuse items to weapons, bind objects together and ascend through layers of the map. These abilities allow the player even more creativity and freedom than ever before, such as allowing them to create flying machines and other contraptions.
Nintendo’s success with these two games, particularly with Breath of the Wild, has had a massive impact. It’s not that open-world games didn’t exist before, but the ways in which Zelda games approach the idea are new.
The versatility of game completion in both, as well as the endless freedom in an open-world to do whatever you possibly want in any order, has been a monumental contribution to the gaming industry. Other games have taken the concept and run with it, though few have succeeded as well as Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom have. Undoubtedly, these two games have influenced the way both Nintendo, and other gaming companies, will be making games in the future.
Caroline MacLellan is a senior studying Public and Professional Writing, with a minor in Japanese. In her free time, she loves watching Korean dramas, reading manga and creative writing.