Even though Legend of Zelda adventure games harken all the way back to 1986, it’s 2017’s critically acclaimed The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild that many think of when they hear the name Zelda. And The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is that game’s highly anticipated direct sequel.
Tears begins with the Kingdom of Hyrule’s power couple, Link and Zelda, exploring a newly found passageway beneath the castle of Hyrule. Queen Zelda is quite curious about its origins and the corrupting “gloom” that seems to be seeping up from some unknown depths and making people sick. And, of course, who would she choose to accompany her but her trusted, stalwart and ever-silent friend?
They find statues and hieroglyphs that call back to Hyrule’s founding days. Those relics depict a time when god-like beings called Zonai descended from the heavens and formed a union with hyrulians in the form of King Rauru (a Zonian) and Queen Sonia (of Hyrule). Link and Zelda also find a mummy swirling with dark, corrupting gloom. And unexpectedly that shriveled creature comes to life.
After a brief battle between Link and the power-imbued creature, Zelda is swept off to some unknown era and Link is left nearly mortally wounded: His powerful Master Sword is broken and his right arm has been obliterated. Given a new arm by the spiritual echo of Rauru himself, Link must set off on a vast journey to find his precious missing friend and save the land from death and destruction.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom and its open-world main quest will take players some 50 to 70 hours to complete (depending on their pace). And if they take on all the quests and activities, they can expect to be playing north of 100 hours as they traverse Sky Islands, explore huge chunks of the Hyrulian kingdom and delve into a vast pitch-black underworld called The Depths.
One of the parts of play that drew gamers to Breath of the Wild was Link gaining special abilities during his travels. And that’s emphasized in new ways in Tears through Link’s transplanted arm. As he explores the lands and solves shrine puzzles, he gains a fistful of unique abilities.
Ultrahand, for instance, gives gamers the power to magically lift and attach different objects, constructing the means to overcome obstacles and gaps in their path. Fuse allows Link to combine things and concoct a creative array of quirky weapons, such as linking a boulder with a rusty sword or putting a powerful fan on the end of a stout tree branch. Ascend gives Link the ability to literally swim magically up through solid surfaces overhead. Etc.
Along with new abilities to try; massive maps to explore; new life-restoring recipes to experiment with; a plethora of puzzles to solve; and quests to fulfill, Tears also offers a creative story that twists its way through time and several Hyrulian eras. The gamemakers have separated Link and Zelda by eons while still keeping them connected as they both emotionally fight and sacrifice for the good of the other.
With the addition of Tears’ new construction system, this game opens new possibilities for gamers to take their play in unique directions with their own creative choices. Gamers young and old can create a variety of vehicles, planes and boats to get around in and find their own imaginative ways to best the obstacles before them.
Link has a strong, built-in desire to sacrifice for the good of others. That’s a core tenant of play here. But this game also repeatedly illustrates and emphasizes that we need to rely on others, too. Using the strengths and the help of friends around you is an important part of beating the bosses and making it to the game’s conclusion.
There is a very prevalent spirituality in Tears’ story mix. And while there is much that Christian parents might balk at (more on that in the next section) there are also broad parallels to faith that can be drawn.
For instance, blessings and light dispel and weaken the corrupting evil and gloom of the enemy. Link is something of a messenger of light as he uses his gifts to destroy evil. And Zelda makes a self-sacrificial choice that she full well knows could lead to losing everything she holds dear.
The above-mentioned spirituality is more broad fantasy than anything else, but it’s everywhere. The Zonai are described as a god-like race of people that “descended from the heavens.” And they have special, magical powers of light that they share with Link. Link gains these powers when he visits shrines on Sky Island. He also stops to “pray” at a stone goddess statue to gain a special boost.
Link can visit several Great Fairies in a series of quests. These huge female beings (with fleshy feminine physiques covered by slightly revealing layers of leaves) blow blessings upon Link. Some characters (including Zelda) carry “secret stones” that amplify the magical powers of their owner. (Those powers include the ability to manipulate time and light, and the power to spiritually leave your body.) And if a holder swallows the stone, it transforms them into an immortal dragon.
This spirituality has a dark and corrupting evil side. A discovered mummy creature turns out to be a demon that slowly regains his full, foul, magical strength. This creature is large and is surrounded by swirling waves of red and black power. That energy can wound and burn, and it eventually turns the demon into a gigantic fiery beast. This Demon King Ganondorf wants nothing more than to destroy and consume every form of sentient life in Hyrule.
Of course, there’s also quite a bit of battle amid the play. Link can wield many different types of weapons that bash and slash and burn fantastic goblin, beasty, skeletal and demon-like foes. Characters can be driven off high ledges, set aflame or engulfed in an explosion.
And though not bloody, some creatures splash open when defeated. Some characters can only be defeated by concentrating sword slashes or arrow shots at large weak areas, such as a fleshy collection of eyes. Link can be struck by weapons as well. And areas of extreme cold can sap away his life force until he crumples over and dies. (When Link dies, he’s placed back on the field for another try.)
The newest Link and Zelda adventure makes for a broad, fantastic, emotional and very balanced game. Even if you’re not a series fan there are fun things to find. But parents of young adventurers should note that spirituality abounds, and that a perilous battle with an evil demonic king is the inescapable core of Link’s very lengthy world-saving quest.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.