9 Reviews liked by Aiteru

(Minor spoilers for the game) At the start of the year, if you asked me what game I thought would be my favorite game of the year, I would've told you Tears of the Kingdom. However, on release, the prevailing word that I would use to describe the game is simply disappointing. Tears of the Kingdom isn't a bad game by any means, but it certainly doesn't live up to it's processor. The game feels way too safe, failing to really do anything incredibly new like every Zelda game before it. Going into Tears of the Kingdom, my expectations were that similar to a Majora's Mask type sequel, being a very quickly made sequel that uses the original formula to add new and interesting elements to the game and take risks. The game really doesn't do this at all. To find why I feel so negatively about the game, the first place to look is the back of the box with it's three main features "Explore," "Discover," and "Create".
Let's start with "Explore," mainly highlighting the addition of the two new types of areas to explore in the game: the sky and the depths. As these are good additions to the game, they aren't huge new features like the lead up would have you believe. The sky area isn't very expansive and there's a limit to how many islands you can explore before there is literally no one to get to any others and you just need to explore the ground to then get to other islands. The depths have a very similar issue with only chucks of the depths being able to be explored before having to go back to the surface and explore there more to find more holes, but it's also completely dark in the depths, making the entire design philosophy of BOTW of turning a corner and seeing more areas to explore, non-existent in the depths. This isn't great inherently in my opinion, but it gets even worse when you realize there is virtually no reason you should be exploring the overworld apart from finding different ways to explore the over sub areas, as the open world is literally the same as BOTW, which is BY FAR, the biggest issue with the game. The overworld is also a lot less interesting to explore with the lack of one key enemy type, guardians. Guardians made BOTW really fun to explore since these dangerous enemies could pop out of nowhere and just entirely fuck you up, but nothing like this exists at all within ToTK.
The issues with the overworld really fall more under the "Discover" aspect of the box since you really aren't going to be discovering anything. The overworld, which is the main area you are exploring through the game, is not new. Sure, the developers alter it slightly but it's the same layout with the same collectibles and same exact towns. Most of the weapons and clothing and shields are from BOTW, yeah there are some new ones, but me and my roommate literally counted and only like a third of the items are actually new.
Finally, is the "Create" part of the box, which can be described very easily as a janky mess. The overworld and systems in BOTW weren't created for random machines to be used to explore them and it makes it more awkward than anything to use them. Not only that but actually creating items in the game is really fucking annoying as even the slightest piece out of place or the machine being placed in a slightly wrong area will just make it so your machine simply doesn't fucking work correctly. It's so frustrating and this is the big new selling point.
Quickly going other issues I had with the game is how the systems overall are just way too overcomplicated compared to BOTW, with all the new abilities being also very clunky and not as simple as in BOTW, mainly is fuse which is a fun idea, but having to navigate menus to do anything really interesting with the ability and pulling out items just kills part of the enjoyment of fusing. Finally, as much as I'm sucking BOTW off in this review, it isn't a perfect game, but none of the major critiques of BOTW are really addressed. Starting off wit dungeons, sure, they are better than BOTW's but like, not much at all. The dungeon themes were better but the designs were just about the same, the next game better at least go back to the key dungeon design of the prior Zelda games. The other major critique of BOTW is the rain effecting climbing and making exploring basically impossible in the rain, and TOTK addresses this a bit with the frog suit, but it barely does anything and takes most of the game to even fucking get it.
This review has been more of a rant than anything at this point but I didn't outright hate the game, there are some positives of the game. The ending section was a lot meatier and overall just better than BOTW with entire fight sequence being really fun and well designed. The fusion system had it's issues but it was fun to fuse weapons with items you scavenged to make even more powerful weapons. The recall ability was also really fun, had a lot of interesting uses and led to some cool and inventive puzzle solutions. The towers were also better in ToTK with more interesting ways to unlock them apart from just climbing. One of the champions was really really cool and was fun to screw around with. The story was a bit more interesting than BOTW's, even if it fucks up the entire Zelda timeline for no reason.
After 6 years of waiting, overall, Tears of the Kingdom was very disappointing for me, being a safe sequel that really fails to understand what made the original so great.

This is just BotW with balancing issues, aimless mechanics that weren't really thought out, and a half-hearted attempt to actually address anything people asked for. I loved botw, I just wrote a review of it and wind waker to go into how well the series has tackled being a true open world before this. But THIS is pretty unacceptable. I was already not thrilled with it being a direct sequel taking place in the same world map, but getting into the meat of it and finding out almost nothing I liked from botw actually made it over, almost nothing I asked for to improve on botw was even attempted, AND it ate up 6 years of dev time with almost nothing to show?! Giving the benefit of the doubt, there's no way this would have taken 6 years to make without Covid time. I refuse to believe this glorified expansion had 6 years of dedicated development. Majora's mask, Wind Waker, and Twilight Princess all came out within a 6 year span of each other and Nintendo's telling me they spent a whole year polishing some half baked vehicle creator?
I've had a very aggressive roller coaster of an experience with this game. It just does not lead you around naturally even a fraction as well as botw did. Trying to play this like I did the first, I turned off quest markers and just roamed around. This was an almost entirely miserable experience that really killed my desire to keep playing. Massive landscapes that were a joy to explore in botw now felt tired and lifeless. Not helping is that there's no guardians in this game so any area that they guarded is now literally empty. The giant towers now very rarely hold any meaningful content around them, or on the way to them, ignoring one of the most important design decisions that made botw actually fun to play. At most now you'll trudge up to one and do some meager quest to get the door open. And like, maybe one or two of them was actually vaguely interesting. They added caves to the game which was exciting at first until you remember the game's sticking to the botw formla really firmly to the point of copying its entire game structure. Meaning you're not going to get ANY meaningful rewards for exploring the caves aside from very rarely, outfit pieces (which are just outfits copy pasted from the first game, there's a LOT of copy paste content here) And doing the shrines just felt exhausting. I really think the game could have been a LOT better and stood on its own as a proper sequel if they just ditched the shrines alltogether. It feels like they're only there because "oh well...we gotta put one near every single stable and town and around every corner too so you can have adequate fast travel points" So it quickly feels like they're not making shrines because they want to, they're doing it because botw needed them. Not even thinking that this game didn't strictly need to be limited to what botw needed. The zelda formula needed botw to begin with because by skyward sword, they had been accumulating design flaws that kept getting bigger and bigger and they just kept doing them out of tradition. Well here they are 2 games into this new style and they're already bending over backwards to stick to the formula even if it hurts the game dramatically. They made the same mistake here. Except it's worse because now because we have to trudge through the entirety of the previous game just to find the nuggets of content they made specifically for this game that don't just feel derivative and/or lazy.
The open ended exploration was a flop so I turned on quest markers and followed the questlines. And when I did this, I started enjoying it a bit more. And I started to think I understood the game. After all I wouldn't mind at all if this one was more about the main quest, the first game excelled at open world exploration that doesn't mean this one needs to do the same thing. Did the water temple and the desert temple. Especially the Gerudo's segment felt substantial and even featured new enemies (a genuine rarity for this game) I even started heading towards all the story tears the game was named after. Some of it was fairly dry but it was great to see Ganondorf, he's a lot of fun. And I just happened to experience the story in the exact right set of circumstances to make certain story revelations SUPER cool and very memorable. I'm not sure everyone will have the same experience though. You can do all of it in any order, I just happened to get lucky to have stumbled across each of its individual pieces in an order that felt impactful. I can see a number of ways certain aspects wouldn't be quite as strong if you did things in a different order. And it's not like the game gives you so much as a nudge in the order it wants you to do things in. But, I had a good time with the story that was presented to me. Where the story falters is in the main quest tied to the 4 dungeons.
Very quickly you realize the moment your companion reaches the dungeon you're in for copy paste cutscenes across all 4 both in the beginning and end of their dungeons. In botw the drive to do all 4 dungeons was very well communicated. You're activating these giant mechs to give you the upper hand against Ganon. The story was very clearly all about EVERYTHING you do in botw being about building up to getting strong enough to take on the final boss. And it was very natural to go to the ending once you do get all 4 divine beasts. In TotK though you do them all and just turn in the quest at the NPC who told you to do it and it just completes like a normal quest in any mmo. They basically just go "cool thanks for doing that, great research, still not sure what's going on exactly". Then you get baited into going into hyrule castle, are locked into a room where you fight 3 bokoblins...and then nothing. You're just supposed to go finish the game now. No build up or real prompting or story reason. Literally just "botw's finale took place in the middle of the map and we know you played botw so whenever you're done with the game just go to the middle of the map and do the final boss" Hyrule castle in botw is one of my favorite moments in the series but in this game the ending dungeon is just a linear cave system where you effortlessly run past a bunch of enemies for a few minutes.
So yeah like, some of the dungeons were alright. It was nice to see that they put more effort into the theming. Especially the boss fights were nice as they're all original monsters instead of all being the same thing in botw. But functionally the temples are just lame versions of the divine beasts. Every single one is just about finding and activating the 5 objects to trigger the boss into spawning. But now you're not on a huge mech who's pieces you have control of, you're in THE smallest dungeons the series has ever seen, largely solving 3-4 totally isolated puzzles to beat them. Not helping is that they mark on your map where each thing you need to activate is so it's not really possible to be that challenged. The gerudo one was the best one, feeling the most like a traditional Zelda dungeon. Goron's kinda sucked, it was literally just attaching a fan to a mine cart then putting it on a rail over and over again which is what you did already outside of the dungeon. And its boss fell back on OOT boss design of use new item on boss, attack eye, slay in about a minute The other two temples were pretty samey, being all about floating islands. This is because one is the air temple and the other is water. And since they couldn't exactly do anything with water given botw didn't have any meaningful water mechanics like the older games did... and TotK isn't about to try to add anything substantial to the formula...just ignoring the problem was their solution.
Following the main quest and optional storyline sort of won me back over but sort of fell flat by the end anyway. And worst of all it really just feels like you're rushing through the game playing this way. Each of the 4 dungeons are beaten so quickly and it makes me feel like I'm not engaging with most of what new the game has to offer outside of sticking horns on my swords to have higher attack damage.
Leading to the actually new additions. Gluing anything you want onto your weapons is cool conceptually. But it ultimately doesn't add a whole lot. One of the biggest things they added...Strapping a rock to your sword to be able to mine things you were already mining in the first game without it. Or strapping the same enemy drops onto every single weapon throughout the entire game because it's the only thing that makes sense to do most of the time. For such a seemingly huge addition there's not much room to explore with it...The major issue is this system makes your damage output WAY higher than in botw. As a bandaid fix they spawn higher tiered bokoblins WAY earlier than botw would have. Leading to you trudging through 50 shrines just to have enough health to survive any basic encounter for one. But also enemies are damage sponges unless you attach one of their damage buffing drops onto your weapons. I'm not gonna pretend this system where I can attach literally any object to my sword is that interesting when my options are "gee do I attach a leaf, an acorn, a wooden box, another rusty sword with +3 attack damage, or a spike that triples my damage output?" It's pretty novel attaching a super long sword or spear with the same super long sword/spear. Got that sephiroth reach. Arrows and shields don't fare much better. For example with arrows you now just clunkily manually add the item onto it every single time you want to use a fire arrow. Whereas in the original you could just select fire arrow and throw them out one after another seamlessly. Heck you could do this in Ocarina of Time. Different arrow types aren't new for this series, being able to get a homing arrow for the one flying enemy in the game by putting a bat eye on the tip isn't worth making the entire system cumbersome. There's some cool things you can put on your shield but most of the time they break obnoxiously fast. Never hated the durability system but the way it interacts with a lot of the fusable objects is lame. And it still feels stupid to be rewarded with weapons in any circumstance. It's almost worse now because durability is naturally raised through fusion but now my inventory is full 100% of the time as a result. Almost like the original system WAS actually thought out despite it being divisive. Also taking out small monster parts to fuse from your menu is extremely clunky and poorly implemented and overall just not really worth bothering with. Otherwise it's pretty superfluous and only forces the devs to throw in more damage sponge enemies than ever.
Enemies being stronger variants early on just ends up being annoying. Especially considering they made unlocking the great fairies into a much bigger ordeal and grind (for the exact same upgrades as in botw) Speaks to this game's design philosophy shift. In botw you simply spent rupees to access the Great Fairies. This meant every single thing you do naturally lead to you unlocking the fairies considering all of your materials are worth money. Works real well in an open world setting all about freedom and avoiding player restriction. But here in the sequel you need to follow a linear set of the same side quest over and over again. And you better hope you find the start of the quest first before finding 3 other fairies and no way to save them. And that's where the shifts with this game over the original are. It's taking botw's freedom first focus, and stitching low quality open world fare content on top of it to justify its own existence as a new game.
Enemy variety improvements were something I was desperately asking for if nothing else. But with the removal of guardians...it's almost worse than in botw. There's three new overworld mini bosses, one for each of the 3 tiers of map (chasm, surface, and sky) the rest are the same rock monsters and giant cyclopses from botw. Normal enemy types well there's the new robots that are pretty lifeless and functionally just bokoblins that can use your own combine ability on their weapons. Some flying dudes that they kept showing in trailers that die to one shot of literally anything (even just shield bumping them kills them) I explored the underground chasm for give or take 30 hours and found 0 new enemies aside from some tiny frog things that also die in 1-2 hits and aren't threats at all. The returning redeads can't actually be fought and don't really do much of anything. They don't scream and stun you like before. You literally just use lightning or fire on them and they're as good as dead. Like-likes are back but they're stagnant enemies who are attached to walls and ceilings. They're ignorable most of the time, if you wanna fight them you just wait for them to spit out their glowing weak point and smack it, they're then stunned and you can usually kill them in 1 cycle. There's a new fat bokoblin that doesn't add much. And to round out this incredibly lame list of new enemies we got some new cave-monsters that try to poke you with long sticks on cave ceilings. Unless it's a white one they don't really survive for more than 2-3 sword swings too and they're generally easily ignorable.
Whenever you say this game didn't have enough content to warrant even existing people go But the chasms and the sky islands! They basically added two entire new worlds to explore But the underworld chasms are straight up 99% empty. So unthreatening and unengaging that you don't even need to light it up. Seriously you can just hold forward towards the next light-root and a majority of the time you won't be stopped. I only ever lit up the areas between light roots when I needed to see how high a cliff was to plan a climb. Otherwise it's empty ground. Then what's down here exactly? A lot of the exact same enemy camps you see above ground. A few pitifully easy Yiga clan boss fights. A miniboss that can be stunlocked by throwing bombs into its mouth like king dodongo...I WAS hyped to find an NPC asking for Poe souls and rushed down into a chasm, excited to see Poes come back. Only to find they've been reduced to being tiny flames you collect like normal items, scattered aimlessly everywhere by the hundreds. All you do with them is turn them in for dark link outfit pieces from the first game, and then an outfit that makes the gloom even easier to ignore than it already was. They also hide a lot of the amiibo outfits and botw's dlc costumes down here. Which is kind of nice but means nothing to me as someone who has the amiibo and played botw's dlc already...And even if I didn't, they're just costumes, many of which you can't upgrade. Or worse, weapons that'll break 3 minutes later.
I was anticipating a surprise twist where you find out there's another 4 dungeons in the chasms or something as I felt like the underground area was completely disconnected from the rest of the game. That and the 4 dungeons weren't substantial enough to be "IT" both in story and content. Then there's the sky which is not substantial at all. There's a handful of really samey islands with the same minecraft lookin' boss on many of them. The starting tutorial island is the biggest sky island if I'm not mistaken, they're all downhill from there and that's about all I can say about them aside from there was a decent diving minigame on a few. (And the tutorial island sucks beans compared to the great plateau)
Idk sorry this is such a long review but I just don't quite get this game. The chasms are straight up empty, the sky is not substantial, the surface world itself feels disposable now that you're so easily able to fly over it. (And not flying over it is slow and miserable in a way that botw wasn't) What's there to like about this game? And to top it all off this game copy pastes botw's soundtrack. A few of the new boss themes were awesome but really? The same exact piano bits in the open world? This is where the game really had an opportunity to stand out and be something new. Give some new stylistic flair and personality. Botw's ost was minimalistic because it was all about the literal breath of the wild. But this game isn't about that, yet you still have to suffer through it and now it's for no reason this time. The building mechanic feels like it's just there for viral marketting and the occasional vaguely interesting shrine puzzle. The upgraded battery is weirdly easy to miss, and I thought it was attached to a mission in the chasms so I didn't actually even upgrade my battery til super late into the game. Frankly idk what I'd have done even if I did fully engage with the building beyond do some korok missions a bit faster. It feels like such an afterthought that has very little actual focus. Like cool people are able to make comically impractical machines for funny twitter videos, otherwise it's not something that I feel the game even knows what to do with. Like...it's vaguely interesting to make your own vehicles but we already experienced driving a motorcycle across this world in botw's dlc so even that's not exactly novel. I'm sure some people are going to get a lot out of it, and I have no doubt I could have gotten at least a bit more out of the system beyond some basic shrine puzzles. But it's not really something you have to engage with much at all for the 4 main story quests, and past that there's not a whole lot to do beyond visiting a bunch of shrines and finish the game. For such a major mechanic like this it's weirdly not-present for so much of the game. It's even extremely easy to miss major upgrades to it that make it a lot more usable. Most I got out of it was a mission they have you do 85 times where you make a structure to help this guy's sign stay up. That and escorting koroks were all I did for the first 10 hours of this game and it was mind numbing. 60 hours in I've got the entire map filled out on the surface, about 80% filled out in the chasms, every sky island I could reach, done. Hundreds of koroks found. I still felt like I had done nothing outside of the 4 incredibly small dungeons, a bunch of unmemorable shrines, and some shallow side quests with poor rewards. 60 hours in I found 3 actually new clothing sets and like 12 sets copy pasted from the first game. I found that the game still just spams bokoblins and lizards at you and they added no truly substantial new enemies. One npc said their hometown was invaded by pirates and I was excited at the prospect but was disappointed to find it was just a bunch of bokoblins on a beach and a stagnant ship I had to slay to get nothing of value in return. Was absolutely floored and crushed when I got to the end of the game and they just spammed an insane amount of bokoblins, lizards, and moblins at me before the actual boss fight (which was an ok fight tho I beat it pretty easily without even being very prepared) Like wow, 6 years of dev time and boatloads of reused content and they just resort to spamming a bunch of the exact same enemies from the first game during the finale. I was pretty hyped to see the first korok escort mission as seeing a korok be a physics object was charming and fun the first time. I was intrigued to see what missions they'd have you do for seeds this time. Only to find out that's literally the only mission they made for koroks and almost all the rest were identical to the original game's. Hope you like getting a korok from A to B a hundred times. (Ok there's one other one that's just putting a rocket on a cork every single time you got me)
Also no details but somewhat of a spoiler, the ending undoes the most interesting and cool thing that actually happens in the story. They couldn't stomach having any meaningful stakes or consequences. And Ganondorf, the funnest part of the story otherwise, has almost no screen time.
Should have been such an easy hit. Just remove shrines and hide health and stamina upgrades in the caves. Boom HUGE part of the game becomes meaningful and you remove literal tens of hours worth of needless bloat. This alone would make the game fun and stand out on its own from botw. I have so much negative to say but this core design change would change so much. Because as it is, you have no legitimate reason to explore this map. "But you need shrines to fast travel" people say like there's any reason they can't just let you fast travel to towns you've already been to and let you place more of your own fast travel points. They could have done anything they wanted to make it work. Make more original music that plays in each section of the map, have more than 4 completely disconnected and tiny questlines and dungeons holding together your game you're meant to spend a hundred hours playing. And maybe don't spend literal years of development on a mechanic that ultimately adds very little to the game beyond mobility that's often not even more convenient than just riding your horse.
My hero's path in botw showed the ENTIRE map covered from head to toe. In this game it's a bunch of straight lines as I flew over the map to all the actually new content, most of the bigger picture untouched. I played for about 70 hours and it felt like I rushed through the game yet I didn't really have anything left to do. I don't really feel like I missed anything whatsoever. Like what's left beyond a few side quests that'll give me either nothing OR some clothing item (Likely from the first game) that I probably won't wear anyway. At most I'd just be doing another 60 samey shrines for no reason. Hard pass. There's so many points I would have just stopped playing if this wasn't a Zelda game, making me feel obligated to see it through. And I don't often drop games with zero interest in picking them back up.
This game is just botw without any of the smart game design and innovation, lacking any new novelty, and lacking in direction in general. As I did shrines for hours it just felt like I was playing an unfinished tech demo for an indie physics puzzle game with no personality. I was worried at the idea of the future of the Zelda series after botw because I didn't just want the series to become one predictable open world after another. What I didn't expect was for them to literally copy paste the same world. When you don't have the novelty and game design backing up this world, all you have to focus on is the new content. And said new content feels like every other open world game, as in, lazy and unsatisfying. This game steps on every mistake BotW tried so hard to avoid.
Worst Zelda by a long shot. Nuts and bolts did physics based vehicle creating significantly better in 2008, and did a way better job integrating it into the game. Because when you spend literal years making a mechanic maybe design the game around it? Only lingering thought is gee would I have a more positive experience if I tried it again but made better vehicles? Then I remember I'd have to sit through a horrendously long intro segment spanning hours, then do an obscene amount of boring shrines to get hearts (many of which being extremely slow tutorial shrines explaining basic botw mechanics because they forgot they made botw to get away from horrible tutorials like this), and then all I'd have left to do is 4 tiny dungeons that don't even utilize the vehicles anyway.
Aonuma says: "We always try to create something that offers more than previous titles. In that respect, we really aren't concerned with our older games anymore. We prefer to look to the future." Right after he makes a game that lifts 80% of the game they made 6 years ago, and forgets why he even made that first one to begin with. He also says he finds the old Zelda style restricting. Again, ironic considering this new style wastes over half a decade of dev time with nothing to show for it apparently. Story and music are some of the biggest parts of the franchise and they've NEVER been "restricted" until this new style came along. Dungeons were never this small and meaningless. They weren't forced to make 120 lifeless physics testing shrines in the old format. They used to be able to make thoroughly thought out, iconic locations. Now they have to invert the world and turn the lights off as a cheap way to get an extra 30+ hours of playtime out of a game they made like 5 hours of actual content for. There sure used to be a lot more dev time focused on enemy variety, set pieces, and the tight, smart design Nintendo is known for. But now that they're "not limited" they gotta spend so long coding physics objects they just have to slap them onto a game they already made because they wasted too much time already.
Man...botw really sold me on the new direction in a lot of ways but this makes me forget I ever liked it in the first place.

This game just did not grab me at all. I was hoping for something magical, but it never seemed to appear for me. The world is too big, with two new areas to explore in the sky and underground. It just feels like it's too big of a game, and I honestly don't get the appeal of such a vast and empty world.
Secondly, there are so many more new gimmicks that make this game a chore for me. The building mechanics are wonky and feel more like I'm playing Minecraft, rather than a Zelda title. It's just not my thing.
The plot just did not interest me at all. We're supposed to suddenly know who the Zonai are, yet everyone already knows who they are already. I'm also getting really bored with seeing time travel being used as a plot device in the series. It's a frankly tired trope at this point in Zelda.
I know my opinion is in the extreme minority here, but I just feel like Breath of the Wild's structure should've been a one-and-done formula.

Zelda but if Miyamoto wasn't inspired by wandering the countryside as a kid but opening up Genshin enough times to get the 30 day login bonus

I'm gonna be level with you here. Maybe im just being overly cynical, but I did not enjoy casually playing this game.
I was a big fan of breath of the wild. It was a new fresh take on Zelda, and while the plot wasn't amazing, the exploration made up for it and I had a lot of fun with it.
This game... I struggle to find very much good about it. My biggest issue is that I feel like I already played this game. Using the same map as Breath of the Wild made a significant amount of this game extremely boring, and the new content wasnt interesting enough to make exploring the whole map again. And so I didn't enjoy exploring in this game. For the first while I enjoyed the game enough, while I was exploring the Depths, some of the only fun I had in this game. But I got really frustrated by how annoying it was to just simply move around. There were rarely good places to use Ascend, and Zonai equipment was finicky to use and wasn't as easy to come by as it should have been.
I didn't have much of an issue with durability in BotW, but in this game it was unbelievably detrimental. So many boss or even regular enemies towards the end of the game just had waaaay to much HP and it just drains you of all your weapons constantly. Plus it feels like my weapons never did anything significant, no matter how strong I made them.
What this all resulted in was possibly the game that respects your time the least out of any game I've ever played. Moving anywhere takes so long, and none of the content of this game made it worth it. Puzzles take so long to solve, not because they're hard, but because building things takes so long and probably will take a few tries to get it to work right.
The dungeons were maybe a slight improvement over BotW but they still weren't all that great. The Shrines were alright I guess, but kinda boring most of the time. The quests in this game mostly felt like an insult based on just how many lazy fetch quests there were. I think there was maybe one sidequest that had any amount of intrigue to it. The minigames were so easy and boring that I ignored as many as I could.
And beyond all that, there is just too much monotonous stuff in this game. Korok seeds, signs, cave exploring, fighting hundreds of sword sponge bosses, its all just boring. I'm scared now that if I go back to BotW I'll think that game is boring too. This game just feels like it took BotW down with it.
Building stuff with Ultrahand is the only cool thing this game has to offer then that you can't experience better in other games. But building things didn't feel great to me. It's not entirely my thing, but getting pieces to stick right and getting things to work the way you want is just cumbersome and time consuming, and most of the time my creations didnt work how I wanted them to.
I guess the story was... sorta okay? Some cool moments but most of it felt the same as BotW. Minus most of the emotional impact and atmosphere that game built.
I dunno, this just left me disappointed and annoyed.
But when I realized I really didn't like the game, I stopped my casual playthrough and turned to learning glitches in the game to try and find some fun in this. And somehow, there is literally a glitch to solve just about every issue I had with playing the game.
Bad movement options? Pocket Rocket.
Weapon Durability? Master Sword Smuggling.
Sword Sponge Enemies? Zuggling.
Annoying transport quests/koroks? Auto Build Cancel.
Never having enough items? Sort Duplication.
There were even wall and floor clips too. THIS is what made the game fun for me. It was still tedious, but at least it was more fun getting to break the rules of a game that feels like it holds you back so much.
Too bad Nintendo has patched most of these glitches, because clearly they hate fun. So now all that's left in current patch is the boring BotW romhack they meant it to be.
Listen, if you liked this game, im happy for you. I'm glad you found enjoyment where I couldn't. But I dunno, this game just reeeeeeally didn't work for me.
...Man, I can't even credit this game for making Purah hot, that award goes to Age of Calamity.

Gets worse the more I reflect on it, a total waste of time. Some even more brilliant system designs are thought up for this sequel and completely overcrowd the already topologically boring world. Feels like chores within chores. Nintendo is great at making toys and horrible at making natural environments.

Oh FOMO, what a devil you are.
I was stupid, truly. This is my cross to bear. Hearing people say, 'It's like BOTW but it has a lot of the bad things removed!' 'It's BOTW but better!' 'Look, you can make a gingerbread man with a dick and get 10k retweets!'. The temptation, it got me to try a game I knew, KNEW I wouldn't like, but I felt some horrible urge to try nonetheless.
Largely, I find TOTK to be a project made from hubris. That you can generate a ton of hype and a huge amount of time on a development cycle to do absolutely fucking nothing, and still turn a profit. It's the same world, the same boring design, the same shrines, the same korok seeds. Except now, you have the option to play fortnite in the middle. What a concept. Give players the opportunity to make elaborate but ultimately pointless shit to do the marketing for you.
Dare venture into the depths or the sky, and it will feel briefly like a true sequel to the original BOTW, with new ideas and concepts being thrown around, but don't stay too long or else you'll discover that they are completely devoid of anything meaningful besides their novelty.
When people say this is BOTW but more polished, I have to wonder what people are talking about. This has -EVERY- issue that BOTW has, down to the bone marrow. It's almost like it's the same game, and the extra content was previously planned DLC or something! Same garbage item degradation, same green expanse of nothing of which most of your time is spent holding up, same repetitive shrines. Is Fortnite really that impressive to people? Am I the insane one here?
This game somehow feels more like a demo than the first game did, an idea sold not on the game it is, but what iteration on a formula could produce. Which, considering the long dev cycle this game had, isn't something I'm looking forward to.

Off the bat, there are improvements over BotW. The power set is infinitely better and, woah, actually practical to use during combat! What they achieved with the physics system is incredible and worthy of praise. But man about 15 hours in I had to throw in the towel cause the structural problems I had with BotW are virtually unchanged. They throw you in an empty sandbox with some toys and say "ok go make your own fun" and that just doesn't click with me. There's so much they could improve like hey, maybe make the rewards for me going out of my way to do something not terrible, but it just doesn't seem interested to.

Tears of the Kingdom is Breath of the Wild's Master Quest. Even when viewed strictly as a sequel to Breath of the Wild rather than a whole new Zelda game, it feels more like an extremely ambitious rom hack. It is Breath of the Wild but bigger and with different tools, and that renders it a decent video game by sheer inheritance. It also frustrates and demoralizes me more than anything I have encountered this year, and this is the same year in which FFXVI set up a fantastic story and then somehow disappointed me with it at almost every turn. TotK retains BotW's beloved looseness in its puzzles, its inspiring allowances for creativity, and to my boundless surprise, almost all of its problems.
Regardless of how bright-eyed and hopeful it made us, BotW was never without some rather noticeable deficiencies. While I have always recognized the necessity and the wisdom of the fools-loathed durability system, it brought with it the pestilence of accounting. Most of the times that I opened a chest in Breath of the Wild, I was told that I didn't have enough space to accept whatever weapon or shield the game had just tried to reward me with. This buzzkill moment would then either require me to pop open a menu and choose something to drop, or to close the chest and walk away. This frequent chicanery was one of BotW's biggest flaws, and it was drastically exacerbated by the decision to repeatedly HIDE the NPC who expands the player's inventory. As much as I liked the Korok puzzles in their position as elegant curiosity reward nuggets for any players who intuitively secret-hunted in the nooks and crannies of the world, Hestu served as a bizarre, unnecessary roadblock to put between the players and their fun.
Imagine my surprise then, when instead of the exact sort of basic quality of life improvement that one might expect from a sequel, Nintendo decided to quintuple down on that inventory nightmare. Hestu thankfully stays put in a predictable location after you initially find him this time, but he and his Koroks (like Great Fairies and a rather depressing number of other things) are back in exactly the same capacity as the first game. In fact, most of the Korok puzzles are in exactly the same style. Follow the little sapling, check the rustling leaves at the top of a building, shoot the balloons, hurry to the ring, match the rock formation, match the block formation... all of these return in equal force. There are new ones too, of course, but many of these new ones are far more tedious than types imported from BotW. I have now run right past roughly 80% of the cork Koroks I've seen because I just do not find them in any way amusing. The first time I saw one of the stranded backpack Koroks, I thought it was absolutely adorable, and frankly I still do. Nonetheless, every time I see one now I have to stifle a sigh. For most of the game I just picked them up with Ultrahand to manually carry them, because the thought of building yet another vehicular contraption just for this was so exhausting that I would rather choose the hike.
When I said that TotK had different tools, I was talking about Ultrahand. Sure, it has other rune replacement powers, but Ultrahand is quite obviously in a totally different class. In BotW, it felt as though a similar number of shrines were devoted to each Sheikah rune. In TotK, unless it's one of the new and improved combat shrines or the handful of Recall shrines, it's an Ultrahand shrine. We'll talk about Fuse in a minute, but Ascend is basically just an important piece of your character's mobility kit with very few puzzle applications, and while Recall wonderfully sports creative puzzle, combat, AND convenience applications, it feels tragically underutilized. Ultrahand is very definitely the limitless multitool that the player is expected to use when resolving almost every non-combat situation.
Ultrahand is Magnesis, but everything is metal and everything can be glued together. This means that you can make whatever stupid bridge you want to get over your obstacles, but more importantly it means you can build cars. Building stuff is not just something you CAN do, it's something that shrines and sidequests constantly require you to do. Part of the controversy that has publicly engulfed these building systems is that interacting with them at all requires you to fiddle with pieces and parts until you have something that might work, then you try it, screw it up, and rebuild the whole-ass thing from scratch. The sky islands (a failure of Skyward Sword that I really did not need to be reminded of) demand a particularly goddamned obnoxious amount of screwing around with stupid flying junkpiles. Now would be the opportune time to point out that saving your game does not preserve anything you have built. If your ramshackle whirligig does not have enough batteries to reach your destination or your fan distribution is off balance or if your glider doesn't fall off the edge of the island just right or if you die before you can deliver the 15 logs you've hot-glued together, it doesn't matter whether you've saved first or not. You're building that whole shit over again, and boy, I hope you don't do a worse job this time because of how bored and pissed off you are about having to do it again! The only Zelda game that has ever frustrated me as much as this particular feature of TotK is the raw difficulty and classic cruelty of Zelda 2... but I can save-state in Zelda 2. Mercifully, there IS an auto-build power buried in the game if you can actually find it. UN-mercifully it's highly particular about exact numbers of parts and demands a somewhat scarce resource to make up the difference if you're short on anything, which drastically limits its usefulness. It's good that it's here but bad that it's buried, and it feels insufficient.
Ultrahand's ability to build blows the game's puzzles wide open, and I have to applaud the team for MOSTLY succeeding at accommodating this outrageous level of player power. Between this and Ascend's utterly wild mobility, an extreme amount of attention had to be paid to every situation in every environment, and they've done a remarkable job with this. And yet... when a player has this much power to solve any problem just by building whatever weird bullshit first enters their mind, so many of those problems no longer feel like puzzles. Take the looseness of BotW any further and rather than puzzles with a few different solutions that click into place in the player's mind, you start getting things that just feel like trivial annoyances because they player doesn't feel like they "solved" something. They just feel like they nonsensed their way through some meaningless chaos that only slowed them down. Even in these shrines where the materials the developers offer you have clearly been carefully considered, things sometimes feel as though they've lost all meaning... as if that puzzle wasn't a PUZZLE, it was just a... pile of things. The player no longer feels smart for solving it. They just did the only thing that made sense to them. Doing what comes naturally until it suddenly works doesn't necessarily feel like a satisfying puzzle. Those "aha" moments usually come from being forced to think outside of your own personal box. Without the friction of having to meet the puzzle on its own terms, it just becomes you going about your basic business. Speaking of piles of things...
I hate Fuse. I'll just go right ahead and say it. The idea is clearly meant to inspire the player toward building creative custom weapons, but this is twice as much trouble as its worth. Firstly, just to get this out of the way, most of the fused weapons and shields look absolutely terrible. There are SOME things the player can make that look like reasonable, believable weapons, but especially in the early game players will be gluing boulders to the ends of sticks over and over again. In the first few hours I thought that maybe I was clever for sticking a bomb flower onto my shield, but it didn't take long for me to realize that having a ridiculous floating cartoon bomb forever hovering unstuck from my back was invasive enough to ruin my first viewing of every new cutscene. Fortunately shields aren't all that important to gameplay in general and I simply stopped fusing things to them, but to play TotK without fusing new weapons would be a task beyond misery. TotK has used its story's inciting incident as an excuse to turn every weapon in all of Hyrule into actual garbage. I consider this to have been a big, stupid mistake.
The durability system in BotW exists because while exploration should be valuable through the thrills of adventure alone, as a general rule it should also lead to treasure. In case you somehow STILL do not get this after having half a decade to think about it, your weapons break in BotW so that thirty-seven hours into the game, you will still care about finding a fiery greatsword. You churn through your rewards in order to make room for new rewards, which will still have utility. Otherwise the whole reward economy falls apart, and players start complaining that they put in a bunch of effort to explore something and didn't find anything worthwhile. These little treats are also essential for offsetting the player's opportunity cost. Exploring frequently eats into a player's resources... such as their weapon durability. In Tears of the Kingdom, almost everything that Link finds is either clothing (which is still upgraded in the same way which encourages commitment to a single set, making the player uninterested in almost all of it) or actual trash. If you want new weapons, you're going to have to cook them. I say "cook them" because the process evokes one of the most boring activities that existed in Breath of the Wild... cooking, which also returns in TotK completely unchanged because according to suit-wearers who do not actually play these games, every AAA video game of this decade must have crafting. Cooking, Fuse, and occasionally Ultrahand building all involve the player standing around and scrolling through huge lists of too many things, dropping them out from menu to game world, and then making them into the thing they need to be. With Ultrahand this can get time consuming because it takes a while to get the hang of rotating objects into their desired positions, and even WITH "the hang" it's a lot of inputs. With cooking this can get time consuming because there are too many animations and you're probably going to be making a million things at once. With Fuse this can get time consuming because you have a limited weapon inventory that you are constantly churning through and everything that you find on the ground is unusable, so you have to take time out of your life every so often to drop what you're doing and fill your inventory with things you can actually use. In the beginning you might actually be inclined to experiment with this, but before long you'll just be sticking Black Bokoblin horns onto everything because you have a ton of them, they're not super valuable, and they have decent attack power. In BotW you were likely to hold onto your fancy weapons as best you could, but as you eventually picked up better stuff, you'd end up using them sooner or later. In TotK the game keeps giving me diamonds and I have only used them to complete quests. I have enough of everything else on hand that I don't need to, and they're too valuable. Thus in the name of cost efficiency I slog through enemy health bars with mediocre weapons far more than I did in BotW. You can call this "a me thing" all you want, but this is the kind of player psychology that game development revolves around. If you don't want to stop and cook yourself some new weapons, your alternative is to waste time (and resources) slapping your enemies with pool noodles, which will then make it harder to get any of the resources you COULD use to cook more weapons, because they're all drops from high level enemies.
By now you've either stopped reading because you disagree with all of this and you hate me now, or you've noticed the pattern. TotK improves almost nothing from BotW and either further aggravates the old problems or invents new ones where none existed. I felt the need to establish all of this before revealing just how hung up I am on the BIGGEST problem that did not previously exist. I have already seen this entire world. Zelda as a franchise is, at its very core, about exploration. The darkest moments in the series are those at which it had forgotten this. Can you tell that I don't like Skyward Sword? TotK feels at first like it may still be full of such new frontiers, what with its glue-guns and rocketships, but once the capabilities of the player's toolset have been laid bare on a worse, more annoying version of the first game's Great Plateau (right down to being chaperoned by a king's ghost), players are dropped into the exact same world that they've already milked dry in the first game, only now there are caves and climate change and some huge, distracting pillars of detritus hanging in the clouds and ruining the view.
I am truly, sincerely stunned by how little TotK does to alter the map or your quest across it, especially after seeing it leave systems like Koroks and great fairies without even so much as a re-flavoring. Yes, there are now entrances leading down into a huge, boring, frustrating, single-biome darkness map and yes, the first game's NPCs have shuffled around a bit, but if I may spoil something that becomes evident only a few hours into the game, there has been no significant timeskip. The Korok forest has not burned down. The desert has not flooded. There are no new mountains and the civilizations of the world have scarcely budged. The biggest singular change on the entire map is the removal of a liquid from one of the previous game's four main quest areas. These four places, by the way, all reprise their exact same roles. Your main, overarching quest in Tears of the Kingdom is to go back to the same four places, and help them with a new problem in the same fashion as you did in Breath of the Wild. In each location you will meet primarily the same characters, since, again, it's been only a year or two since the last time you were there. Faron still has some cool environments and not much else. The Gerudo Highlands is still just a redundant mountain zone with a couple of shrines in it so that there isn't a big empty hole in the map. Rather than granting new and interesting significance to any of these places, perhaps precipitated by the emergence of a dungeon, we go to the same Rito village with the same layout and mostly the same inhabitants, only this time it's snowing really hard. The Gerudo Desert at least has somewhat of an interesting hook, but the only things it feels like I'm discovering in this world outside of new game mechanics and shrines is that everything is exactly where I left it. With the exception of A Link Between Worlds, a much shorter, breezier game which was an intentional return to a long forgotten, much requested form, this has never happened in the history of the franchise, and with very good reason. This is not discovery. This cannot possibly compete with a Hyrule that I have not already seen. Breath of the Wild already suffers rather grievously on repeat playthroughs as its main quest content is weak and actually going through the motions of its side content quickly becomes a slog if the player is not discovering that content afresh. I have done all of the shrines in Breath of the Wild twice. Once on release, and once a few years ago on Master Mode with all of the DLC. Going through those motions in Tears of the Kingdom is far more laborious, and I can tell you right now that I don't ever foresee myself wanting to replay it for any reason other than intellectual retrospective curiosity after a decade or two.
I can and DO obliterate Ocarina of Time over the weekend several times a year. I play it by way of its randomizer, but I'd be having almost as much fun if I were just doing the vanilla game over and over. Going through the motions with OoT is fun all of the way through. Going through these motions even ONCE with TotK has been exhausting. Even the overworld shrine quests have become far less interesting, now revolving almost exclusively around figuring out how you'd like to move a big crystal from point A to point B. In BotW they were the endpoints of more interesting sidequests, or riddles given by the game's best character, Kass, who is now mysteriously and egregiously absent from the entirety of TotK. Scrubbing this same map for a third time became a chore for me almost immediately because my wonder with this world has been long spent and the side content, like that of its predecessor, is so vast and so repetitive that I burn out and glaze over by the time I even hit 30% shrine completion. For the record, no, I have not been going for all of the Koroks or all of the bubbul frogs or even all of the lightroots. I did all of the shrines and basically all of the sidequests. I know that I didn't have to do this. I also know that the most fun I had with the game was definitely from the shrines in Akkala and that the alternatives were to not play it at all or to just play the main quest, and I know that the main quests of BOTH of these games pale in comparison to those which came before them.
When I say that, I'm not talking about story. That's another topic for another paragraph. I'm talking about dungeons and their overworld introductions. For the record, a full suite of excellent dungeons was at the absolute top of my TotK wishlist. The Divine Beasts of Breath of the Wild are its most commonly cited disappointment. There are only four of them, they're quite short, they're all very similar. In aesthetic they were virtually identical, and due to their story context as ancient mecha, they weren't even trying to feel like places. The dungeon spelunker's mystique of delving into places ancient, frightful, and beautiful was pretty much totally absent, and that's roughly half of the Zelda franchise's appeal. Please know then, that when I tell you I genuinely prefer those Divine Beasts to the dungeons in Tears of the Kingdom, and that these dungeons are my least favorite in the entire series to date, I do not say so lightly. Not all of TotK's dungeons are created equal of course... I enjoyed my second dungeon significantly more than the first. My first dungeon was that of the Rito, which is, right down to its aesthetic, almost exactly a BotW Divine Beast. It asks you to activate four terminals hidden in self-contained offshoot puzzle chambers in any order, and then activate a main, overarching device so that you can fight the painfully mediocre boss. Even if the jumping path up to the dungeon is counted as part of it, it left me even less whelmed than its BotW predecessor did because of one crucial, critical difference. You cannot move the dungeon. The only thing that kept the Divine Beasts from feeling like stapled together shrines was the fact that each one had a positional gimmick that varied in function from beast to beast. In each one, you needed to assess every state that the dungeon could be in and what the consequences of that would be when applied to the rest of the space. It may not have done so spectacularly, but it did channel the water levels of OoT's Water Temple or the central pillar of Snowpeak Ruins, or the raising and lowering of the statue in Ancient Cistern, or the multiple entrances of Skull Woods, or the pillars supporting Eagle's Tower, or any of the other twelve or so examples I could give off of the top of my head. The Gerudo dungeon which I sought out second thankfully felt like an actual place of danger that existed in the world... a dungeon, if you will. Unfortunately it finally revealed to me TotK's fatalest flaw... the kiss of death for this entire video game. TotK has systemized its entire experience all the way to hell and back. In "traditional" post-LttP Zelda games, players would find a new item in each new dungeon. This meant that they would find themselves in a new space, often with its own new, bespoke mechanics, and would be given a new tool to experiment with and learn how to use. In Breath of the Wild, the unique element of surprise was at least preserved in the different possible states of each beast. Those movements were unique to the space, and were a new mechanic to be learned, even if each was similar in concept to the last. In Tears of the Kingdom, the Lightning Temple revolves around mirrors which I had already seen and used extensively in several shrines. Every gameplay element of the dungeon was one I was already familiar with, and thus I never had to process or explore new information. Being in that dungeon felt no different from being anywhere else in the game. It was full of enemies that I simply ran past because they posed me no actual threat and killing them would have taken more resources than they were worth, and I had to find the not-so-hidden path forward until I could find the four not-shrines and get to the boss. I used the same Zonai devices I'd been seeing all game long and the same powers that I'd had all game long, in the same exact ways. More than ever before, the formula has won. In case I need to make this clear: In a game about discovery and exploration, a game that lives or dies on surprise, the formula is the enemy.
The main thing that I wanted after Breath of the Wild was a Zelda game with a little less overworld and a lot more underworld. Marvel then at my audacity, as I bitch and whine about the underworld that TotK gave me, because I don't like the dungeons, I don't like the depths and I don't really like the caves all that much either. Both the depths and the caves frequently lead to situations where the answer is not in front of you. You can follow a trail of statues halfway across the depths only to find no reward except a dead end because the actual, meager reward is actually something you access from the surface, could have done all along, and has nothing to do with this goose chase you've been on. Many of the times that your shrine detector goes off (once you finally move the mountains the game asks you to move in order to re-unlock this previously free starting feature of the first game that is now withheld from the player for no sensible reason) the shrine it's leading you toward is actually only accessible through a cave entrance that's hidden a few mountains over. When fast traveling to the shrine nearest to your next destination, it is extremely common to find yourself a mile underground, looking for a decent stalactite to ascend through... a tiny and annoying surprise that adds irksome seconds onto your commute. These frustrations just barely manage to outweigh the things that I actually like about caves. Many of them are fun, shrine-like obstacle course diversions and each contains the equivalent of a Skulltula token, which like in OoT only true freakopaths will collect all of, as the worthwhile rewards cap out at around 50 of them. Of the depths however, I'm more critical.
Because the depths were kept under wraps by The Big N until the game launched, the sheer surprise at learning of another whole Hyrule-sized map in the game I think has caused people to give that map a bit too much credit. The depths are all one biome with two appearances: total darkness, or admittedly cool, spore-filled underground cavern. Total darkness is rarely fun as a game mechanic and isn't fun here either. Even if you get cute about keeping a fire weapon out or trying to fuse brightblooms to things or drinking glow potions, you're probably just going to resort to either constantly tossing brightblooms out manually or walking around in the dark. It's an annoyance that contributes pretty much nothing at all. I would have enjoyed exploring the depths significantly more if I could actually see them, because it would have meant that I wasn't continuously running into giant invisible walls and wondering how far it reaches along any spatial axis. The darkness means that I can't even tell if the reason I can't see the next lightroot is because there isn't one or because something else I can't see is blocking my sightline and I'm actually right next to it. Even when I'm willing to spam the brightblooms, finding the edges of walls and obstacles can often take an eternity and it's better just to stumble in blind frustration. Once the lightroots have made it possible to see, there simply are not that many captivating discoveries awaiting on this map, and it was not long before I started to regard it as nothing more than a whole other full-sized map for me to do my chores on. The fact that it's full of more dangerous enemies means nothing to me. Due to the resource mechanics and the sparse distribution of those enemies, I fought almost none of them. Just like in the rest of the game, there was typically no reason to. I did not enjoy feeling my way around mostly enclosed spaces like the Korok Forest, and only the couple of main dungeons found down there were able to get me anywhere near the Old Zelda tomb raiding for which I hunger.
"Found" is a fun word to use here, because I was having a bad enough time with TotK that even though I'd started my playthrough on launch day, the game had been out for three months before I finally got around to fumbling through the depths for enough hours to find either of them, and the one that surprised me wasn't the one you'd expect. The internet had already told me about the "secret" one, and once I'd heard that you could just do it whenever, I became excited. When Breath of the Wild was first showing us its trailers, I was thrilled to see that they were "doing Zelda 1." My pre-release fantasies for BotW were largely predicated on the experience of that very first game's dungeons. In Zelda 1, the player can just stumble their way into Level 8: The Lion within the first ten minutes of the game, and if they are a bad enough dude to save the president, they can totally just beat it. Having been given no guidance, they can just FIND a giant, ancient tomb swarming with danger and evil, and just DO it. I had hoped that upon finding these dungeons, be they jungle temples or graveyard mausoleums or dilapidated mansions, players would hunt in the surrounding area, do their crafting and cooking in preparation, and then venture inside to clear out that vast and perilous complex. These "hidden" main dungeons did not materialize with BotW, and as each of TotK's trailers increasingly fixated on overworld engineering and assorted sky islanding, I abandoned any hope that TotK would finish fulfilling my vision for Breath of the Wild. I was thus quite surprised to learn that players in TotK can simply FIND one of TotK's later dungeons in an unexpected location long before the game's story directs them to it. I was then quite disappointed to realize that they can't actually DO that dungeon when they find it unless they've either looked up the exact steps they have to perform on two other maps in order to open it, know those steps from a previous playthrough, or got straight up lucky while exploring a seemingly unrelated area under zero visibility. I myself was led by my shrine chasing to only a few steps away from the trigger for this sequence break, and missed what was right in front of me because I was flying blind. Even if one jumps through these hoops just to spite the very concept of linearity, they're not playing havoc with the intended storytelling in any way that's actually interesting.
Breath of the Wild had a very light touch to its storytelling. Link is informed from the start of the game that his goal is to recover his lost strength and defeat Ganon, preferably assisted by the liberated souls of his old friends. Outside of maybe a few cutscenes at the homes of those friends, BotW's storytelling is concerned with character, not plot. This makes these scenes perfect for optional content which can be experienced at any time and in any order. They're scenes in a story that we know has already ended in tragedy. Sure, it can sate our curiosities over WHY that ending came to pass, but the plot details and revelations contained therein are basically irrelevant. None of it is important to understanding anything about Link's mission. Instead BotW's memory scenes exist to invest the player emotionally in what they are avenging, and at the very least it certainly worked on me. BotW's Princess Zelda is my favorite iteration of the character by a country mile, and that prequel story with her as its focus is the emotional core of BotW. It provides Link's entire lonesome quest with a purpose both dire and beautiful, even if the Champions are a rote and hollow parade of paper-thin anime tropes.
If Tears of the Kingdom has such a core, I have not found it. I'll keep my spoilers contained to the next giant paragraph so that you can skip them if you like, but in my honest opinion, you had might as well just spoil it now. It's not worth the effort.
In the opening hour of Tears of the Kingdom, Link and Zelda are separated by a reawakened, once-defeated Ganondorf, here presented as an imposing, incredible lich-samurai who should absolutely not be speaking with Matt Mercer's most generic monster voice. For the record, I LIKE Matt Mercer. He's got talent, he seems like one of the nicest people alive, and he is definitely just giving Nintendo exactly what they asked him for. The problem is that Nintendo does horrible voice direction on anything that isn't Xenoblade. In BotW I was able to look past Princess Zelda's thick slathering of Mystical Briticism and overly breathy delivery on every line as well as the strange, hollow performances from everyone else, but I just cannot abide this English Ganondorf. In Japanese, Italian, Spanish and German in particular, he sounds absolutely divine. I played in Japanese, and the other performances have helped to crystalize my opinion that what Nintendo has is not a localization problem. Most of the Japanese performances don't feel much different from the English ones in terms of quality. While I understand that Nintendo rarely focuses on highly cinematic games, I am exhausted with this. It really, really is not that hard to get good voicework into your ultra-blockbuster AAAA automatic game-of-the-year releases in 2023, and I can no longer watch Nintendo Directs in English because the kindergarten teachers they hire to read the presentations make me want to crush my own eardrums. Thankfully the soundtrack is about as blessed as ever and benefits from a somewhat reduced focus on the previous game's piano. Of course, Kass's Theme doesn't even play ONCE, so the rules say that the OST gets a zero. Sorry, them's just the numbers. Anyway, the decision to immediately remove Zelda herself as a character in a direct sequel after she's already played her traditional damsel role is depressing for a litany of reasons that I don't think we need to work through right now. It's not exactly an uncommon sentiment. We do however acquire some things in this somewhat unfavorable trade. The first of our boons is a POV character with which to explore this game's equivalent of BotW's memory cutscenes, but rather than character-building emotional resonators, these scenes serve as lore dumps and critical plot information. Too critical in fact, because one of them unceremoniously spoils one of the other acquisitions: A situation wherein Ganondorf is "distracting" Link by having him chase phantoms of Zelda all over Hyrule. In a certain way, this is an interesting perversion of Link and Zelda's eternal relationship, with Link's entire purpose in most games being the chasing after of his princess, and that being predictable and exploitable. It's too bad that any player who is thinking about what's happening AT ALL will realize almost immediately that every image of the princess they come across is an imposter, regardless of whether they bumble into the cutscene that just blurts out the fact that Ganondorf has done exactly this in the past. Whether you find this scene or you just get fed up with how overbearingly thick the game lays it on and figure it out dozens of hours too early, it's going to ruin the reveal at Hyrule Castle either way. It's a shame, because both the concept and the scene itself are rather strong, and if they had been used correctly they could have amounted to a captivating twist. Instead it constantly feels like the story is talking down to its audience, expecting them to be enthralled by the grand mystery of the Princess's behavior and to be completely unable to retain information of any kind. Each generically named dungeon follows the same stifling formula wherein one of Link's friends receives a phone call from their nameless, faceless, personality-less ancestor who bequeaths onto them the power of a sage. In the process of this, each ancestor recounts the exact same information about The Imprisoning War, a plot element which we have imported directly from A Link to the Past rather than try anything new. This same flashback information is then relayed AGAIN when all four initial dungeons are complete and the group settles in one place. I felt, quite sincerely, like I was playing Pokemon Sword or Shield. Across dozens of hours I was being presented with the same redundant information about a paper-thin non-mystery while the game expects me to respond with "The Darkest Day??????" in all the eagerness expected of a child watching Dora the Explorer. I was still receiving these cutscenes and playing hide and seek to "fall into" Ganondorf's trap literally (I've checked my play activity, though these are very rough estimates) over 100 hours after I found the spoiler cutscene, at least 140 hours after I had figured out the plot myself, and about 30 hours after I found the real princess. Finding her, by the way, is the best of our trading spoils. It's a nice re-take on an idea from Skyward Sword that provides one of the only moments of the game I found truly touching. It's also probably the only thing I liked about the memory scene replacements. As I said, this time they serve as lore dumps more than anything else. Zelda is used as a window through which the game can introduce the Zonai, our less cool Sheikah replacement race who provide the lore excuses for a whole new suite of shrines and the presence of fans, tires, and flamethrowers now covering every inch of Hyrule. I do not like them. Breath of the Wild introduced a strange and fascinating version of Hyrule that exists so far down whatever permutation of The Zelda Timeline you believe in that it become newly mysterious. Anything could have happened in that time, and the idea of exploring the lore of a far future, borderline science fiction Hyrule was captivating. Rather than a deeper exploration of that world, TotK feels like a retcon to it. The Zonai may have been teased as some vanished, mysterious tribe in BotW, but this reveal of them as techno-magical goat people from the sky were REALLY behind everything all along and who are ALSO the royalty of this Hyrule which is ALSO not any previous Hyrule but has played out almost EXACTLY like previous Hyrule because we're re-using all the same plot points, feels like an arbitrary pivot rather than a pre-planned direction. It feels as though the Zonai and their war against Ganondorf overwrite BotW, not expand upon it. It is a somewhat petty annoyance, but an annoyance all the same. More importantly, these cutscenes detailing where Zelda ended up, Ganondorf's rise and fall, and the McGuffins around which the plot kind of revolves is all sort of really important information that would be much better told in sequence. That spoiler cutscene for example feels like it's supposed to be a big dramatic twist but divorced from all of its context and build-up it doesn't much feel like anything at all. All of these should really have been split into groups and played after dungeons during the main story, while the "memory" scenes should have been character moments taking place during the gap between games. It is a story that doesn't feel optional enough for this, which is why the bare essentials of it are told to the player literally five times along the main questline, just in case that's their first time hearing it. Sure, you could just... have a flag in the code to check or change how information is distributed... or you could have people go make sandwiches through most of the main story's cutscenes. Fortunately, this story does lead up to a lovely final confrontation, and I would not hesitate to say that the final boss gauntlet of TotK is the best in the series. Considering that BotW has the worst, I'd certainly call that a victory. Ganondorf puts up a true, genuine fight, especially to someone who hasn't been upgrading their armor. It's a great finale... but it's not enough to lift my tremendous shroud of negativity.
Beyond my initial session on the sky plateau, almost every sitting that I spent knocking out shrines and sidequests in TotK felt like a wasted day. It's not even that the shrines are bad, they're really, really not, but in completing most of them I felt nothing. It's easy to say that I should have just gotten on with the main quest, but much like in BotW, that "main" content did not thrill me any more than my shrine and sidequest meanderings. If I had stuck only to those main objectives, I would not feel that I'd had an experience worth $70 any more than I currently do. The shrines at least allowed me to revel in new mechanics, even if I ultimately concluded that they were not to my taste and that I preferred BotW's diversity.
Even with all of the obvious labor that must have gone into it, I respect TotK less than any other Zelda game. I wanted BotW to be rounded out and made whole. I wanted its annoyances smoothed out and more importantly I wanted the traditional underworld half of Zelda's design to reveal itself. I wanted big, dark, vast, ominous puzzle box dungeons like in any of the previous 3D Zeldae, maybe even with such a focus that the overworld became an afterthought. BotW could have become the overworld half of the duology while TotK became the underworld half, fully representing the whole spectrum of Zelda's appeal across two enormous, beautiful games. I wanted Zelda herself to be playable, making for a more interesting story and adding a great new twist into the gameplay. I wanted a meaningfully different story structure that put a new spin on the world and kept me guessing. BotW didn't satisfy all of my wildest dreams either, but what it gave me was so fresh and exciting, so geniusly captivating, that thinking about what could have been just feels like splitting hairs. TotK enters into a world that has already played Breath of the Wild, and I never thought that I would be able to make such a direct comparison between the two. I have made it through all of this text without even once mentioning Majora's Mask and I have done so with good reason, but let me say once, here at the end, that I could not possibly make such a comparison with the N64 duology. BotW and TotK feel very much like two games attempting the same thing, and it is entirely my belief that one of them simply does that thing better. Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask are so spiritually and designomatically different that even when they share an engine, an asset library, and a protagonist, they are apples and oranges. Video gaming's news and marketing culture was vastly different in The Year Two Thousand, and so I had neither the time nor the critical faculties to burden Majora's Mask with the specificity of expectation that I had for TotK, but even if I had, I cannot fathom even my stupid eight-year-old childbrain responding to Majora's Mask in the way that I now respond to TotK. I am more than happy to accept a sequel on its own merits, under the power of its own strengths. I am more than happy to accept a masterful video game like Breath of the Wild, even if it isn't quite everything that I'd hoped it could be. Even when I put aside these desires, these things that I WANTED from TotK, I cannot feel that it is capable of standing on its own. TotK's strengths are simply BotW's strengths, and I'm left with what I can only see as an inferior version of a game I'd rather play for a third time, and given its almost infinite potential, coming from a series that even within the confines Link to the Past's endlessly exploitable formula has radically reinvented itself a dozen times over and produced something preciously unique at every turn...
Look. I said from the start that through BotW's inheritance alone, TotK is a decent video game. I meant that. It would also be extremely disingenuous of me to downplay what a humungous gamecrafting achievement it is to make a game this generously huge and then get it running on the Switch even half as well as this thing does. I had a good deal of fun with the shrines, and there were some cool moments sprinkled throughout the main story. I want to make certain that these things are clear, because I cannot mask the fact that my experience with TotK was drench-saturated with disappointment at every turn. The surprises that it offered me were few and unhappy. The tasks which it offered me did not spark joy, and as art it left me utterly unstirred. The fact that I could build an airplane, within a matter of hours, became no more thrilling to me than rotating a tetromino in Tetris. It's just the mechanic by which the game operates and once abandoned by its novelty it is reduced to tiresome execution. It is a game of endless half-satisfactions. It's a few hours of killer and a few hundred hours of filler, and that fills me with cyberpunk dread.
My backlog gets longer every time Aonuma utters the word "formula," because if I am to survive another winter, my cupboards must be full. Now if you will excuse me, I think maybe it's time to get into Baldur's Gate and Armored Core.

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