I have a confession: I’ve never got on with The Legend of Zelda games.
For those of you who are still with me, let me explain. It is the turn of the millennium and Pokémon fever is sweeping the globe. I am the proud owner of Pokémon Yellow, alongside the special edition yellow Game Boy Color. A classmate of mine approaches. He shows me a game which, while not new at the time, was to me.
A rectangular little man in a funny hat makes his way across the world. I’m told that this is a copy of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. The monochrome scenes grate on my eyes, accustomed as they are to the colorful pocket monsters of Game Freak’s newer opus. I wander the 2D plane of the world, any sense of wonder and joy eclipsed by a sense of aimlessness. After 30 minutes of struggle, I give up, and return to the familiar haven of Pokémon Yellow.
Several years later, I would try again. My newly acquired GameCube came free with a Legend of Zelda Collector’s Edition “promotional disc” complete with Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask. Unfortunately, I found the former’s tutorial (which famously took place inside an irritating giant tree) baffling and offputting, while the latter gave me nightmares.
Having grown up on RPGs such as Baldur’s Gate and Final Fantasy X, I found the world of the Zelda games to be lacking in scale and grandeur.
Modern Zelda, however, boasts buckets of grandeur; the open world of Breath of the Wild bringing the series into a new mode of immersive open-world adventure. Unfortunately, the open-world ambition of Breath of the Wild wasn’t enough to pique my interest back in 2017, since the likes of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt had already allowed me to have my fill.
With The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom poised to iterate on its predecessor's features, it’s possible that Link’s latest outing might be enough to finally pull me into the series., not because of any sense of grandeur or scale, but because it so obviously wears the series' best feature on its sleeve: its puzzles.
It started when I saw the recent Nintendo Direct, which showed off the upcoming title’s fusing and crafting mechanics. Something about the new mechanics scratched an itch inside me that I didn’t know I had.
Here was Link using objects in the environment to solve problems, not unlike what you might expect from the likes of Minecraft or even Portal 2 before it. Link could build vehicles in the overworld and then use fans and motors to power them. Renowned as modern Zelda games are for expansive and well-designed environments, these new puzzle-solving elements are an inspired move from Nintendo to have that very same environment be your toolbox.
This is when I realized a truth about The Legend of Zelda series that has alluded me for all these years: Link is a puzzle-solver, not a warrior. While he may carry a sword and shield, Link is here to find practical solutions to problems, not to just fight them. Link will ford rivers, enter temples, unearth relics, and save the world through ingenuity and quick thinking.
After all, Link bears the Triforce of Courage, not the Triforce of Power. He is not Kratos from God of War: Ragnarok, nor is he Geralt of Rivia from The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Link is the thinking person's protagonist.
It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure this out. However, seeing Link in this new light has given me a new appreciation for the series and a willingness to break my die-hard habit of avoiding the Zelda games. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom may finally set me free.
The sky's the limit
With that revelation out of the way, I could finally allow myself to embrace the hype surrounding Tears of the Kingdom’s upcoming release. I got over my childhood ambivalence and dove into the trailers, headfirst – even watching Nintendo’s handy recap video to bring me up to speed.
To my misfortune, my childhood gaming experiences were insulated by the predictable comfort of the likes of Pokémon. I had allowed myself to become blinkered by the possibilities inherent in Zelda’s freeform action-adventure puzzles. In the wake of Tears of the Kingdom’s imminent release, I recant my foolish ways. I am ready to be a convert, to lose myself in Hyrule’s lavish environments.
I do not yet know if my time with Tears of the Kingdom will live up to these expectations. However, thanks to the unique position of modern Zelda in our shared gaming tapestry, I am well and truly ready to give Link’s latest adventure every chance to win me over. See you in Hyrule.