So, recently, I decided to try Zelda – Tears of The Kingdom. While the game is visually beautiful, it lacks something, and I wasn’t sure what it is, until I found a gameplay of the whole game (and experienced parts of it myself) so I will try to summarize my discomfort with it.
Obviously, this post is full of spoilers for both Tears of the Kingdom and Zelda – a Link to the Past (the SNES game) so if you didn’t play them and intend to do, then don’t read more. But if you’re not interested in playing any of them (especially if you don’t intend to play A Link to the Past, because in my opinion it is a better game) and you’re interested in having my thoughts (which, obviously, are mine only, and only my personal opinions of course) then…
I won’t get into too many details about the Hero’s Journey, but let’s start by Link to the Past: Link wakes up on a rainy night, receiving a message from Zelda; she says that she’s a prisoner on the Hyrule Castle, and that the wizard is responsible, and the other princesses are nowhere to be found. Link’s uncle probably heard it too, because he takes a sword and shield and tries to be a hero himself.
Link tries to follow him, but every path is isolated by guards that don’t attack him – but they do say “go back home” or something, showing that something is clearly wrong there. Ok, sure, so you receive another message from Zelda where she says there’s a secret passage to the castle. You find it, and there your uncle lays, hurt, saying that he couldn’t do it, so now, armed with a sword and shield, you’re on your own. Now that you are clearly trespassing the castle and you have a sword in hands, the guards do attack you – and you get harder and harder guards the further you go, when you find Zelda, save her, and get her to safety at the Sanctuary.
Now, there’s a legend that the Master Sword can repel evil, and you have no chance against the wizard without it, so you are on your mission to retrieve it… but of course, you must first prove your worth by getting the pendant of courage, wisdom, and power. But it won’t be easy, because the wizard also is framing you for kidnapping Zelda, and that’s why wherever you go, there are guards trying to stop you…
The weakest Link
Now, on Tears of the Kingdom, you start with a full-powered Link investigating the remains of Hyrule castle with Zelda. You eventually find a mummy, being held down by an arm – and then, the mummy wakes up, throws some “gloom” at you, and you lose all your power (health and stamina), your arm, and the Master Sword shatters.
Now it’s up to you, armed with a stick, to find weapons around and then try to kill enemies. Most enemies will kill you in one hit, so be careful. There’s also no rhyme or reason if a weapon is strong or weak, and it doesn’t really matter anyway because they break. All the time. Sometimes, they break if you swing it and don’t hit anything. Amazing.
Ok, so you discover your “new arm” (that was somehow restored) belongs to the first Hyrule King, and he is lending his power to you. Which basically means – most of the “powers” you’ll get are not “yours” – they are from the first king. But your’re the chosen one, of course because… well… Zelda traveled to the past and told them…
Let’s compare that to ALTTP (common acronym for A Link to the Past): Link is a boy that woke up, decided to continue his uncle’s quest, met a wise man (sage in some versions), proved himself to be the hero by finding the three pendants of virtue against literally all odds (basically, the whole castle and guards where against him, together with all the monsters and such) and then claimed the Master Sword, becoming a hero… compared to TOTK, where he’s only a hero because Zelda told people in the distant past he is. Great….
Also, weapons. He can’t use a shield while he’s holding most weapons; long swords, Link takes a BIG SWING to attack, which leaves him completely vulnerable to other attacks; he’s weak, and most enemies will kill him in one hit at the beginning, and even if you get A LOT of hearts, you still need armor upgrades to at least not be killed in two or three hits…
Non-player characters usually offer you help, or may be antagonists, offer some tips, need some help, etc. In ALTTP, you have Sahasrahla that sends you to a test, and if you succeed, he believes you’re the hero everybody is waiting for, and give you tips, lore, and an item in return. Sahasrahla also have a family in Kakariko village that helps you earlier in the game, and you have some NPCs that are afraid of you (because they believe you kidnapped Zelda), there are others that need help (for good reasons – there’s a blacksmith that’s been trapped in the dark world behind a very heavy stone), an old man trapped in a cave because he lost his lantern, and Zelda that tries to help you when she can.
This basically means – NPCs in ALTTP have a reason to exist. The Blacksmith can’t help you because he can’t do the job alone, he needs his helper; Sahasrahla can’t help you unless you prove you’re the hero (why should he? I mean, imagine that a kid enters your house with a sword in hand saying he will destroy the evil monster, would you believe him without a trial?), etc.
In TOTK (Tears of the Kingdom), besides maybe Zelda, Link, and Purah, if you sum all NPCs’ IQ, double it, you might get 50. Or maybe lower.
<rant-mode> I mean, come on! “Oh, I found Zelda, she gave me this weird mask that brainwashed me and them she told me to feed this weird rock to my people and that enslaved them and made them all evil, and they couldn’t ever stop eating the rock, but she’s in danger, we need to help her! I mean, she should have a reason right?” or “oh, Zelda summoned a monster that attacked me, and she went to that specific place, so help her, maybe she’s in trouble!”</rant-mode>.
There’s a reason for that, actually – TOTK is an “open world” game, as they like to call it. It’s impossible to generate dialogs for all things combined that you can imagine (if you find what Zelda is, what she isn’t, who is Zelda, etc) so they… simply… made everybody stupid.
Maybe including Link – even after you see the visions of the past (the “Tears” on the ground) and know what happened with Zelda, and that there’s a monster that is disguising herself as Zelda in the current timeline, you still… don’t tell anybody. It’s like “oh, Zelda was seeing torturing innocent victims, maybe she wasn’t the Zelda we know?” and Link could say “no, it’s a fake one, the actual Zelda went to the past…” – but he doesn’t say it.
And worse yet – nobody notices.
But oh, it gets worse – soldiers are chickens. They get exposed to gloom for a little bit, get weak, then spend the whole game in the bed. No, it’s not because they’re weak – there’s literally dialog of soldiers saying “well, I feel a lot better but nobody needs to know so I will stay in bed”. And yes – that’s canon – there’s literally an old man that goes to the depths, a place full of “gloom”, and he goes back to the surface unharmed and happy – but the soldiers, oh, the can’t – a little exposure and they’re down for the rest of the game.
Some soldiers stay on the remains of Hyrule castle, a place devoid of any monsters and dangers, looking around, camping, searching for food recipes or complaining about the weapons that break all the time. Like… come on… There are also some “militia” (for the lack of a better word) that decide to take out monsters by themselves. The captain of these… always stays behind, never going to battle. And of course, because they have an IQ measured in fractions, they know about the “Blood Moon” (that revives all monsters) but keep trying to take out monsters themselves. Why? Why not protect the villages instead, knowing that the monsters will eventually revive?
So you have this dumb quest of “team up with these people, kill these monsters and bring peace to this place” just for the “blood moon” happen, the monsters be revived, and them… what, exactly? The worst part, honestly, is the NPC themselves being aware of that….
This one will be short. Link finds a lot of chests, treasures, etc, in ALTTP that helps him overthrow enemies, be stronger, access new areas, etc. This is obviously not good in TOTK, because supposedly you need to be able to do anything at all times… so if you find a treasure chest, it will almost never be something that will change your life. In most of the temples, I found myself ignoring the chests. Why bother? It’ll either be something I can get somewhere else, or it’ll be an weapon that it’ll eventually break anyway…
All temples in TOTK are non-linear. Well, except getting into the temple – you need the right “future sage” to go there, otherwise you can’t even access the “warp point” to it. So it’s non-linear except when it needs to be… and yes, I could access temples without their sages, and they won’t open.
Once you open the temple… it’s the same old bullshit of “open these 5 locks”, and you can choose the order. I can’t stress enough how not fun this is! Temples in ALTTP are fun – they have a purpose, you enter a door, and in the middle of the temple there’s a treasure that will help you and it’ll stay with you all the time, and at the heart of the temple is a boss that you can access that will give you a reward, and advance the lore. In TOTK, there’s literally nothing – in fact, there’s a F… temple that you can go to the boss directly if you find the right path (so you don’t need to unlock anything actually) but you still need to unlock stuff so that you can enter the boss room the right way so that the boss can spawn… ugh….. it’s such a bad storytelling… which brings us to the worst point of all:
In ALTTP, you are part of the history. Zelda was kidnapped, and if it wasn’t for you, she wouldn’t be free, the wizard would break the seal to the golden realm, and everything would be lost. You need to do the things you do, because Zelda was imprisoned and nobody else knows, and somehow you (and probably your uncle) are the only ones that she can contact by telepathy. Once you are in the task, she’s hidden, only you know, she can’t trust anybody else, nobody will believe you, so it’s up to you to get the Master Sword to repel evil (quite literally – the sword repels the magic from the wizard, for example) and save the world.
In TOTK, history “already happened” – you know that by seeing the visions hidden in the “tears” (that, again, you can only see because they react with the old king’s arm) and you’re not part of it. You are in the present day, finding what happened, going to temples to collect stuff that will remove the “gloom” from you and allow you to recover yourself to your full potential, so you can face Ganondorf (or the “Demon King” as they say… which is, honestly, such a generic name that’s lame).
But honestly? None of this is necessary. Ganondorf have only one strong attack – the one in the cutscene where he’s revived. After that, he’s vulnerable to normal weapons, so literally anyone strong enough could take him – he doesn’t even need the Master Sword.
Okay, but he have a third form, and for that, you need the Master Sword, right? Well, sure – but he only reaches his third form when he swallows his “secret stone” (wow, another lame name!) – so… you just defeat him, tie him, and cut his secret stone. That’s it. Link is completely unnecessary for it, and the only reason it makes sense for Link to be the one to destroy Ganondorf is because, well, NPCs are stupid coward weaklings that prefer to complain and to camp instead of fighting.
Most parts have no music, just a few notes here and there; the depths is always the same no matter how far you go; there’s a beautiful, wonderful world around you, but it’s such a pain to travel because you have stamina limitations, have no real way to travel fast, horses don’t follow you (and there are places that horses can’t go), and that the best way to travel is to find a couple of towers, unlock them, be thrown into the air, and then parachute your way to the place you want to go, stopping on a few islands to recover your breath. Honestly… is this what people call “fun”?
I know it’s an open-world, but this takes away the “world” part, leaving only the “open”. I can avoid enemies (and why shouldn’t I, when they don’t offer anything new), avoid seeing the scenario, and the worst part of this trip is when either my stamina or the descent is over, so I have to walk to the place I want to be, to move around mountains or have to scale them, etc…
And here’s the problem: every “ambient” thing is meant to screw you. When it’s raining, you can’t climb things; when there are thunderstorms, you can’t use anything with metal at all (it doesn’t matter if you’re flying in the air, because in this world, lightning hits things that don’t ground… poor birds!), if it’s too hot, you need clothes that protect you, if it’s too cold, you need warm clothes, if you’re in a mountain area, you need faster climbing things, if you’re in a dark area, clothes that light up stuff… none of the ambient stuff is there to help you in any way!
Also, the “epic” factor – in ALLTP, when you exit your home for the first time, the music is tense, it’s raining, and you get a feeling of “something is not right”; when you are inside a temple, the music is tense, but different – in a way, it sounds like something being prepared for you, something strange lurking in the shadows; the castle theme is pompous, showing the power of Hyrule, and the famous overworld theme is present all the time. The ending shows how many people you helped, in an amazing epic theme that screams “I am the hero!” all over – none of this exist in TOTK.
Hard monsters are not “hard difficulty” if you can save just before fighting them. In ALTTP, dying means going back A LONG WAY and having to redo lots of steps; if you were in a temple, it meant you would be back to the beginning of the temple. In TOTK, dying is sometimes even desirable: supposing I miss a step to a floating island, and that I would need lots of steps to redo the stuff, you know what I actually do? Just jump to my death. There are basically zero consequences to dying, and the game will put me back to the last save point; considering the game auto-saves, I won’t miss much (whereas if I didn’t die I would have to redo a lot of steps).
But even them, if I am falling to my death, I can pause stuff and teleport away. Or I can eat something that replenishes my stamina while I am falling (how does that even work anyway???). The same is true for things like fighting (dying? Just eat something – you can have basically infinite food, so no consequences for eating in the middle of the battle), swimming (eat something to swim faster, while you are swimming, or to boost stamina, whatever), or dying from heat or cold (again, food), etc… basically, there are no consequences to anything, you can avoid almost every pitfall to the game, you don’t need any real equipment to do anything, to the point that, if you’re good enough, you can go to Ganondorf directly after completing the “tutorial” part of the game, to the point that speedrunners only use glitches to copy stuff and go out of bounds to access Ganondorf faster – again, no consequences for not playing the game! And worse yet, that is on purpose!
Honestly, I’m not the only one complaining about this, and it pains me to see the comment Why do you want to go back to a type of game where you’re more limited or more restricted in the types of things or ways you can play?
No, Mr. Aonuma, it’s not “more limited or restricted”. It’s about being fun. I don’t want to hunt shrines that are boring, bland, that feel like “grinding”; I don’t want “collect” missions like the plague of all MMORPGs “kill five monsters and give me their tails”; I don’t want temple to be reduced to “find these 5 things and push a button on them”.
Look, let me spell that for you: let’s take a normal apartment as an example. If you made an apartment using TOTK as a base, the building would have an always-open gate with different stairs for each apartment, or an elevator that would take you directly to the inside of one; each apartment would be just a big room with every other place connected to it, and you would have stairs going to every window, in case you don’t want to take the elevator. Or, a teleporter, or whatever. In summary, everything would be built in a way that optimizes “choosing what you want to do”.
But here’s the thing: the real world is not like that. If you want to enter a building, you need to have access to it – be it by legal means or not. If you want to drive a car, you need to have a driver’s license; to have a driver’s license, you need to have 18 years, and do some tests, etc… life is non-linear, but there are some linear things that need to be done. TOTK removes all of that, and by doing that, it also removes consequences, and it fells, simply put, plain – a beautiful scenario with essentially zero depth.