When you start up The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom it all feels very familiar to the franchise’s previous game, Breath of the Wild. You start off very weak in a tutorial area, you gain some new powers, the game thrusts a massive quest upon you, and then the training wheels are taken off and you are free to your own devices. How the player chooses to approach this open world is entirely up to them. You can tackle the world’s many shrines, go to the main objectives and try to complete those quests, complete the map, or collect all the Korok seeds. This level of freedom is everywhere in both games and it’s part of what makes them such wonderful experiences. It’s also made the franchise the best it has ever been.
Not everyone is going to agree with that assessment. For many, the formula that Zelda had established with Ocarina of Time back on the Nintendo 64 is their preferred way of playing Zelda, as this newer era of breakable weapons, no consistent direction, and a smaller arsenal of items feeling far more off-putting. People who feel this way aren’t incorrect, because this is a preference and there is more than one way to make a great video game, but they’re going to be disappointed to know that this new formula is going to take hold of the franchise for the foreseeable future. Nintendo has confirmed as much in an interview with GameInformer.
When you think about people… cheating is fun! [laughs] They like it! Finding that shortcut is enjoyable. People will look for an easy way to do something if they can avoid struggling. We want to make sure that is something that stayed in this game. When thinking of games in the past that we’ve worked on, where there was a puzzle to solve and only one answer, that’s kind of the past way of developing games. Now, I’m happy that we’ve arrived at this method where we’re giving people lots of options, and there are many answers to a single problem, and all of them can potentially be correct. I feel happy that we’ve arrived at this type of development style.
That freedom that producer Eiji Aonuma and director Hidemaro Fujibayashi talk about is why this current form is the best Zelda has ever been. No longer are players constrained to a single path that the game forces them on. Players are now able to approach every single decision they make with a results-over-process kind of mindset. Why does this make the franchise the best it’s ever been? It’s the creativity it inspires. In previous games, the reward for finishing a puzzle was a feeling of accomplishment and the opportunity to move on to the next puzzle. In this new formula, players’ reward for puzzles is that they came up with a solution that works. Sometimes it’s the way the developer intended, but other times they found a solution that works better for them, and it’s great that players are rewarded for this instead of punished.
A great example of this in Tears of the Kingdom is the Korok’s. Spread throughout the world are Korok spirits who have been separated from each other and the player is tasked with reuniting them. Typically when you find one you’ll have the tools necessary to get them where they need to be usually by building some kind of contraption. Of course, the player doesn’t actually have to build the contraption. Multiple times I’ve simply picked them up and brought them to where they needed to go. Other players have used those devices for…other means.
Korok Space Program day 2: After adopting a more typical rocket shaped structure I had high hopes for this brave korok, however the extra weight had some unexpected effects of todays launch. pic.twitter.com/5wewLqESBT
— HopCat (@HopCaterpie) May 13, 2023
the korok crucifixions have begun pic.twitter.com/lFTxHSrkNP
— Kaitlyn Red Wing (@KaitlynRedWing) May 14, 2023
As funny as it is to see how players are choosing to “rescue” the Koroks, it’s also leading to a natural next step in player freedom: conversation around the game. One of the most fun aspects of Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom has been the community that they have created. Players sharing their own experiences with one another, showing off secrets, or helping each other out to solve puzzles is the kind of thing that an open formula like this creates. There is a sense of camaraderie among players as they all get this feeling like they’re playing through the game together that isn’t there when everyone is going through a linear experience. In an internet that becomes increasingly hostile to anything that could be considered a spoiler, it’s nice to be able to share a game with your friends and not be worried that you’re ruining their own experience in some way.
Tears of the Kingdom is a phenomenal game. Not that anyone is shocked by that, but it also is a legacy defining moment for the Zelda franchise. Breath of the Wild was considered this incredible departure from the norm by Nintendo as it bucked a formula that, at the time, they had been falling back on for 19 years. There is a huge amount of risk that comes with that, and it could have very easily been a one off as the developers chose to go back to what was familiar in the sequel. They didn’t do that. Instead, they iterated on it and made a game that is arguably better but follows that same formula. Breath of the Wild established the new formula and Tears of the Kingdom solidified it. The result is the best The Legend of Zelda has ever been.