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Played in 2023
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Properly finished. First the story. This game's story is even worse than BotW and honestly just very amateurish in so many areas. This is the same series that gave us Majora's Mask fuck sake.The dissonance between the memories and gameplay is even greater than in BotW, the structure of the 4 primary quests is legitimately bad, awful dialogue, just thin all over. There's maybe 2 good aspects to the story (Zelda's last memory and the final boss) but otherwise this has me scared for the future of the series. I hope Nintendo figures out how to tell a good story in this format.
However, while this game is probably the story valley of the 3D games, it definitely is the gameplay peak of the series overall. It has far, far, far and away the best gameplay in the series, I don't think it's close and probably some of the best gameplay ever. So many things to do, so many ways to do them and the level of challenge is there to back up the gameplay content. I've lost hours already playing and not caring at all about the story, that rarely happens for me these days. I'm planning on hopping back in ASAP for some more fun messing around with the mechanics and finishing most of the content. Overall, I'd probably put it above BotW purely off gameplay being substantially better and the story in BotW not being that much better. Eh, honestly mid tier Zelda's for me overall probably but I'll enjoy the kino gameplay.
This review contains spoilers
(Replay) This is mostly going to be a ramble on the story front of things (as a quick side note, pretty much what all the YouTube videos complain about for gameplay I agree with so go watch them lol) with some Tears spoilers. (just the tutorial section of it).
I was heartbroken learning that Tears basically confirms that the new games are basically in their own continuity. Having been a huge fan of the lore since I can remember on top of the Hero of Time Saga specifically being my favorite thing ever, I was left feeling betrayed and dropped Tears.
But seeing as I'm a Zelda nut, I decided to replay BotW and then finish Tears proper to at the very least have informed opinions. For this game, I think the story has grown and weakened for me at the same time. I think the story is not focused on enough, time spent on story dramatically misused and there's a big tonal disconnect between the narrative and setting/gameplay vision.
To tackle the first one, I think it's self explanatory and the one that I think most fans can empathize with. There's just large hours of just gameplay going on in this one. That's not inherently a bad thing but it's when paired with my second point where it becomes a problem. The towns, NPC's, champions etc just aren't fleshed out that much at all or at least not nearly to the potential they can be. The side quests are wasted on meaningless gameplay content instead of further enriching the games world. Zora's Domain actually has some lore bits you can find about the history of the kingdom and I'm just bashing my head thinking why more readable lore info isn't available for all areas of the game (at least most of them, some things are fine unexplained).The champions are just one layer down characters that aren't explored much at all. Worst of all is the memories of the game. I've changed my mind and now think the memories themselves are actually pretty good. Zelda is a much better character than I gave her credit for. She's struggling with her assigned role, wants to break out, explore her knack for science and is burdened by her responsibility, thus leading to her not being able to use her powers. She actually dislikes Link at first because of how he excels in his assigned role. There's tension between her and her Father who wants her to follow her role to the end unquestionably. It all ends in tragedy for her, Link and the Kingdom and it's pretty good stuff.
My issue is that, while it gives the plot reasons as to why the world is in the state it is in, these memories don't connect well tonally or thematically to main game. What does any of what I mentioned above have to do with the beauty of nature, the focus on emergent gameplay through interactivity of the mechanics and physics systems, how all the towns are basically unaffected (Hateno is said to be one of the few places unaffected by the Guardians, but like all the towns are fine lol what is going on. The world doesn't seem that much different before the fall), Etc. The 4 Guardians quests touch a tad on some characterization for the Champions but otherwise even that is sparse.
This disconnect leads to a story that doesn't have any particular points I would consider reaching any significant heights. Nothing gets that layered. This is the shell of a masterpiece. However, I now appreciate the good elements much more. I mentioned Zelda/story memories but the little personal memories you can form for yourself during gameplay hit a lot more for me now. It's actually mind-blowing how deep the mechanics are and how many endless mechanical interactions, situations and little moments can be born out of them. I did also enjoy the gameplay more this time overall , despite it having so many issues/underdeveloped elements. Which definitely helps raise my score, given just how much of a gameplay focus there is. Overall, I'd say I'm a casual fan now. I used to hate this game but I actually enjoy it now. I'm probably never going to replay it ever again but I can be satisfied here and move on to Tears with a more optimistic eye.
A borderline masterpiece. A rich, deep exploration of how much of our life is dictated by elements outside our control and how to break free from the potential negative affects of this to truly live for oneself. Also discusses the politics of the way the world handles nuclear weapons, trauma caused by war, has a great cast of characters, innovative presentation. Just a classic. Gameplay is kind of cheeks though.