The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is setting itself up to be a tragic story that subverts Breath of the Wild’s melancholic triumph. It will ask difficult questions of the Hylians and how their past mistakes might have shaped Hyrule into the flawed place it is today. The trailers thus far tease an open world tinged in wonder and regret, with Link discovering an ancient civilization amidst the sky that has been long abandoned, all while the land below he worked so hard to save is once again brought into turmoil. It’s a compelling premise, defined by mystery that Nintendo has done a fantastic job of expressing with each new teasing reveal.
People tend to bemoan Breath of the Wild for being too cryptic, often reliant on flashbacks and environmental storytelling to express much of its character and narrative. Yet I’ve come to view it as quietly triumphant and deceptively complex in its themes. A sombre reflection of a series that for so long has told heroic tales of saving princesses and restoring the land, but here the inverse is proposed in such a fascinating way. It has the strongest renditions of Link and Zelda we’ve ever seen, the former at his most complex without ever saying a word. After awakening in a world that was once his home, he discovers his failure has killed everyone he loves and the only potential salvation comes from risking it all over again. This journey is so powerful, and its understated execution makes it work. We are trusted to piece it together.
Given it’s a direct sequel, Tears of the Kingdom has already drawn appropriate comparisons to Majora’s Mask. It appears darker, more sinister, and less willing to divulge precisely what is going on. This is the right approach, with a palpable school of red herrings already taking up refuge in our minds. Princess Zelda hasn’t been seen since falling down in a pit in the reveal trailer, while the corpse of Calamity Ganon springing back to life has resulted in theories that the man has been revived and could even be playable, questioning our ingrained view of him as a villain of irreversible evil.
He may not be redeemed, but at least explored in depth while Link and Zelda are encouraged to confront previous biases and uncover a realm their race once left to ruin. There is so much potential here, even more so when the narrative is now cemented in the present day, no longer reliant on ambiguous flashbacks and exposition.
I have questions, but I’m not frustrated or impatient. It’s more like I’m intrigued by whatever awaits. Breath of the Wild held its cards very close until launch too, hoping for players to discover its majesty for themselves instead of having everything explained ahead of time. Each reveal was a splendorous tease of its open world with Link doing random activities in ways that expressed the sheer scale and ambition of it all. The presence of characters in cutscenes we’d yet to know or see only excited me further, and Tears of the Kingdom is doubling down on this trajectory. Link and Zelda are two of the only familiar faces we’ve even seen, and maybe Nintendo will pull a Metal Gear Solid 2 and tilt the roles at the last minute. There’s just no way for us to know right now.
Fittingly, Breath of the Wild’s ending favours hopeful optimism in spite of overwhelming grief, Link and Zelda emerging to rebuild a kingdom that is almost unrecognisable. Everyone they once knew has passed away, the friends they used to bond with and citizens they used to serve were replaced by new generations of people who have an entirely different view of life. There has never been a ruler to watch over them, only daily routines of adversity to conquer until something changed. Now that status quo must be deconstructed, and I hope the sequel takes some time to see how a new routine was established, or how our heroes dealt with no longer having a world left to save. You could even use flashbacks again, and given Zelda’s aforementioned yeeting into a giant hole in the reveal trailer, chances are they will.
There are a selection of canon and secret endings to be seen, but to me, they all end with a sense of ambiguous finality. Zelda asks Link, if, after saving her life, after saving her country, after all this time, if he still remembers her. Is the Princess he waited centuries to rescue a fading memory or a long-lost companion, his silent obedience speaking far louder than words ever could. Breath of the Wild makes it clear these characters are misguided and grieving, determined in their quest to pave over broken wounds while understanding Hyrule will never be the same again. All they can do is move forward and figure out if they belong in this new place, and whether past traditions must be discarded in favour of progress.
Tears of the Kingdom needs to capitalise on this heartbreak however it can, and not leave behind the personalities its predecessors built up so perfectly. Other games have so often depicted Zelda as overly regal or aloof – with Skyward Sword’s childhood friend motif one of the few exceptions – while Breath of the Wild turns her into a tragic yet beloved personality with the unfair weight of the world on her shoulders. Link is equally troubled, yet the trauma that underpins much of his development is used as an outlet for charm and confidence, acting as a soldier to fight alongside and a shoulder to cry on for all those who need him.
It’s only a few months away, and Tears of the Kingdom still harbours unanswered questions I hope to remain a mystery.
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