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The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is a masterpiece. (Op-Ed)

After the critical success of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (BOTW) changed the gaming industry forever, it is not surprising that the sequel, Tears of the Kingdom (TOTK), would do the same. BOTW, released in 2017, inspired many game developers to expand upon the creativity and mechanics of open-world games; Genshin Impact, Ghost of Tsushima, Immortals: Fenyx Rising, Halo Infinite, and Elden Ring are but a few games that were heavily inspired by BOTW’s breathtaking visuals, sandbox world, and reactive-physics mechanics. Damien Monnier, designer of smash hit The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, said that BOTW managed to bring classic open-world mechanics together while not relying on them to guide the player through its world, encouraging players to explore. TOTK, released in 2023, is not just a clone of its predecessor with updated technology and a new plot. TOTK is a masterpiece in its own right and does not live in BOTW’s shadow.

When “BOTW 2” was announced, long-time Zelda fans and new players who were immersed in the original game lost their minds. When Nintendo finally revealed the full title, Tears of the Kingdom, we all collectively lost our minds. As we anxiously awaited May 12th, Nintendo surprised us by revealing the full trailer. The emotionally moving cinematic left many tears in the eyes of fans who had longed to hear Princess Zelda’s lilting voice once more. Upon release, fans rushed to their local retailer and waited in line to pick up a copy, praying that they did not run out, or grateful that their preorder was secure.

While critics were concerned that a sequel would lack originality and suffer from being too similar to BOTW, this was not the case at all. Hidemaro Fujibayashi returned to direct yet another masterpiece with plenty of riveting surprises and new ways to explore, play, and solve puzzles. While the base map is rather similar, the addition of sky islands and deep, dark dungeons creates a multi-layered map that adds not one new dimension, but two. Where BOTW was limited by the technology present at the time, TOTK was engineered with precision and depth. Updated graphics, smoother movements, and quicker loading times are all wonderful upgrades, but TOTK shines on its own for its intense, emotional story. While comparable in gameplay, the sheer heart and soul of the story are phenomenal. As Zelda is sent back in time to the very start of Hyrule, Link races against time to find her and bring her home. We meet new characters, descended from the Champions of the first game, and help them gain powerful abilities to make their ancestors proud and help defeat the evil under Hyrule’s castle that has imprisoned the princess.

Zelda’s haunting voice calls out to Link, and her story is more defined. While we do not have the opportunity to play as Zelda, we can find memories scattered throughout the map in the form of Dragon Tears that let us see where she is and what she is up to. Zelda works alongside the first King and Queen of Hyrule, her ancient ancestors, and takes direct action to not only help Link but to mend a broken kingdom. Her presence is much clearer and more direct. We truly see her personality shine; she’s a pure-hearted young woman with endless empathy for those around her.

TOTK does not take a backseat to the powerhouse that was BOTW. It’s more than an expansion, it is rightfully its own title. When I finished TOTK, I sobbed. The music, the animation, and the story are what make TOTK so incredibly moving for so many fans of the series.

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